Gardening & Environment
The family of grasses, the Poaceae, is the fifth largest, with 12,000 species. Their physical stature varies enormously, from low growing bents on golf greens, to pretty ornamental grasses grown in gardens, to the bamboos and elephant grasses used to feed pandas and burn for energy.
Grasses are also crucial for life. They act as a larger carbon sink than the Amazon rainforest and are used to manage floodwaters, improve soil health and provide erosion control on slopes and roadside verges.
The blogs I write here demonstrate how gardeners and researchers are increasingly using grasses to create amazing gardens, as well as helping to save our planet.
Grazing guru and biologist Allan Savoury recently gave an inspirational TED talk (riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world at www.ted.com). It has already had over 600,000 views – so it’s certainly hitting a chord.
His key messages are: Two thirds of the world (yes two thirds) is turning to desert – rainfall that falls onto bare earth quickly evaporates, carbon is also released into the air and the soils below are dead. Nothing will grow.
West Dorset dairy farmer Jason Barber is creating quite a stir with his Black Cow Vodka – launched last May. The world’s first pure milk vodka is made entirely from the milk of grass grazed cows and nothing else.
It might sound a bit odd – but nomads in Siberia have been making alcohol from fermented mare’s milk to help fend off the chill of long, cold winters for centuries. Following in their footsteps, young Mr Barber has developed an exceptionally smooth vodka with a unique creamy character.
The Prince of Wales is encouraging the planting of at least 60 new wildflower meadows in honour of the diamond anniversary of The Queen’s coronation this year. Species-rich native grassland in this country has been pretty much decimated over the past 70 years, with 97% loss since the 1940’s.
Air accidents caused by wild birds cause an estimated 3billion $US of damage worldwide each year, and in the worst cases can bring planes down. Indeed the incredible emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York in 2009 was precipitated by bird-strike. The problem is that most runways are surrounded grassy areas which attract both herbivorous and insect-eating birds. But work carried out by scientists at AgResearch in New Zealand, has produced a bird-deterrent grass that can reduce avian numbers at airports.
Gloucestershire cattle farmers Paul and Kirsty Westaway produce the best beef in the world – and that’s official! In a recent blind taste trial carried out by EBLEX, which compared steaks from around the world – including the USA, South America and Australia – their beef came out top.
Marram grass – that grey, green prickly grass that catches your legs when climbing up sand dunes, is fantastically adapted to life by the sea. Metres-long roots reach down in search of moisture, while creeping stems called rhizomes extend widthways below the surface, sending down even more ladder-like rooting structures along their length.