Signs of Spring

Despite the cold, rainy weather we’ve been seeing signs of spring outside in the gardens as a few things start to peek their heads up out of the leaf litter, mulch and debris left by the winter.

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Not the best photos in the world but I took these with the iPhone 7. I’ve only had it for about three weeks and I haven’t used it much for photography and I’m still trying to get used to it’s quirks.

It’s certainly better than the camera in the iPhone 6 was, but it’s still not even close to what something like a, oh, a mid-range Nikon or Cannon pocket sized camera could do for about a third of the price.

And unless I’m doing something wrong, the iPhone camera has some rather serious, for me anyway, issues. The color seems off to me. Color rendition actually seems worse than it was with the iPhone 6. Photos seem darker than they should be except under bright sunlight. The autofocus is constantly changing as it struggles to try to find something to focus on when taking closeups.

I’ve seen some spectacular photography that was done with the iP7, but I’m beginning to wonder how many of those photos were taken under ideal, artificial conditions or even had considerable post processing done to them. If I can work up enough ambition I should go out with the good camera and take side by side photos with both the Fuji and the iP7 so I can compare them side by side.

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This image was taken with the Fuji. I wish you could see it full size because the detail is so good at full resolution it would more than fill your entire screen and is so sharp you can count the hairs on the bee’s legs. And the Fujifilm camera I use isn’t exactly a high end camera/lens system and has been out of production for a few years now.

I suppose it comes down to the lens system being used. I don’t care what kind of optical systems they develop for these phone cameras, it comes down to basic physics. A lens that’s not much bigger than the head of a match isn’t going to produce results as good as what I get with something like my Fuji’s macro/zoom lens.

Catching Up

Catching up with what happened this past week.

Sleep

As in I wish I could. I occasionally suffer from insomnia and it’s been pretty bad the last Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 10.20.56 AMfew days. I’m not sure why. Which is why I’m writing this at two in the morning instead of being asleep. I know, I’ll try looking at photos of, oh, blossoming apple trees. That will put me to sleep!

Ah, well, apparently not. Didn’t work. Still it’s a really pretty tree.

Spring!

Spring is coming! I hope. Getting so tired of cold, wet weather, and especially the lack of sun. So I’m going to drop in some photos of spring and summer flowers in an attempt to lure spring a bit closer.

Agriculture Secretary Hearings

The senate ag committee hearings and questioning of the administration’s nominee

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Sunny Flower, not Sonny Perdue

Sonny Perdue finally took place on March 23. Unlike the hearings for most of the administration’s nominees, this one was relatively short, cordial and even pleasant for the most part. Mr. Perdue is perhaps the least controversial nominee put forward by the administration. He is also unusual in that he actually seems to know something about the agency he would be running.

Brazil Beef Scandal

The government of Brazil arrested 38 people involved in an alleged scam where inspectors were bribed to permit rotten and tainted beef to be passed for sale at a beef exporters JBS

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Wouldn’t you rather look at chive flowers than diseased beef? I know I would.

and BRF. Several countries have instituted temporary bans against beef imports from Brazil. Here in the US some government officials are calling for a ban as well but there is none as yet. USDA says it is stepping up inspection of meat coming from the country. But USDA also certified Brazil’s inspection system as being as good as that here in the US, so who knows…

Addendum: Since the US was forced to repeal the Country Of Origin Labeling law (known as COOL) US consumers no longer have any idea where their food comes from. But there is nothing to prevent beef processors, wholesalers, etc. from doing it voluntarily.

The Great Water Fight

It seems to have slipped under the radar of most media, but there is a rather nasty (and expensive) fight going on between the state of Mississippi and the city of Memphis, Tennessee. At the core of the fight is the question of exactly who owns the water being pumped out of wells.

Memphis sits on the Mississippi river but gets it’s water from wells that draw from the

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I wish I could remember where I took this picture

Memphis Sand Aquifer that stretches under Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. And like most aquifers, water is being pulled out of the ground far faster that it is being replaced.

Back in 2005 Mississippi demanded that Memphis pay for the water it was withdrawing from the aquifer, claiming that the city was actually sucking up Mississippi water. The state is demanding over $600 million from the city.

This has been dragged through the courts ever since, with Mississippi losing at every level. But now the state of Tennessee has been dragged into the case as well giving it new life, and it’s going to the Supreme Court.

This case has the potential of setting off a hornet’s nest of problems if the SC rules in favor of Mississippi. It could cause major legal problems wherever large aquifers are used for water supplies and could even extend into international disputes. it will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

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There, now I’m going to try to get some sleep!

 

Who’s Fault Is It?

Farmers in 10 states can join a possible class action lawsuit against Monsanto over the illegal use of dicamba that damaged their crops because of tine introduction of the company’s Xtend line of GM crops that are immune to the herbicide. AgWeb has a story about it here if you want to take a peek.

Source: Farmers File Class Action Against Monsanto for Dicamba Drift Damage | Agweb.com

The situation is a bit complicated so let me explain what’s going on.

A lot of weeds are becoming resistant to RoundUp and its generic equivalents. Dicamba is an herbicide that has been in use for quite a while already to fight broadleaf weeds, but it wasn’t used in this type of application because it was also toxic to the crops until Monsanto came out with it’s Xtend line which is resistant to it as well as glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp. Monsanto’s plan was to market Xtend seeds along with a new herbicide that blended dicamba with glyphosate in order to deal with weeds that were resistant to glyphosate alone.

The problem comes in because Monsanto started selling the Xtend seed before the new herbicide blend was approved for use by the government.

This is an important point. Dicamba is nasty stuff to work with. It vaporizes very easily while it is being applied, and the vapors can drift for long distances even on a relatively calm day, killing or damaging plants in fields far beyond the field being sprayed. The new herbicide blend contained dicamba in a form that was not as volatile and was safer to use as long as it was applied correctly with the right equipment. The new blend would help to prevent the herbicide drifting.

Even though the new herbicide wasn’t available, Monsanto started selling Xtend seed anyway. And you can see what’s coming, can’t you?

That’s right; now that they had a dicamba resistant seed, some growers drenched their fields with regular dicamba, ignored the application warnings and restrictions, and ended up with herbicide drifting all over the place causing damage to crops in the adjacent fields of other farmers. I’ve heard estimates that the amount of damage caused by drift is as high as 200,000 acres.

Oh, at least one murder that I know of. Yeah. Seriously. They actually shot someone over herbicide drift.

So, as the headline asks, whose fault is it?

The suit claims it’s Monsanto’s fault. They should not have released the new seeds into the market until the new herbicide designed to go with it was ready to go as well. They should have known that some growers would abuse the system and use dicamba herbicides off-label and illegally as soon as they had their hot little hands on the new seeds.

Monsanto says wait just a minute, we didn’t spray the stuff. We warned them not to, and to wait until the new herbicide was ready to go. It’s their fault, not ours.

The other side counters that any rational person should have realized that if the seed was put on sale without the herbicide some growers would use the unapproved and dangerous form of the herbicide…

And so it goes around, and around, and around. This will probably be lurching through the court system for years…

So what is the answer to that question up there? Whose fault is it?

This is one of those situations where I think both sides have a valid point. As Monsanto claims, it did not do the spraying. It’s recommendations for use indicated that Xtend seeds were to be used only with approved herbicides and approved application techniques. Once it sold the seed, it has no control over what the growers do afterwards.

On the other hand, why put seed up for sale where the primary benefit of using it is to enable the use of a herbicide that was not yet legal to use? Monsanto knew there was no reason to buy the new seed unless the growers were going to make use of the seeds capability of withstanding dicamba…

What do I think about all of this? My issues with the whole thing are at a more fundamental level. I think we’ve become locked into methods of food production that are basically unsustainable over the long haul.

And we know that. We know that eventually herbicides are going to fail. They just are. We can’t keep up this endless cycle of having to develop new and ever more toxic herbicides as the old ones fail. It’s the same with insect control. The insect population eventually becomes resistant, and we have to start all over again. BT corn is a good example of this as the insects that are controlled by BT become resistant and begin to spread, and within a few more years we are going to have a root worm problem that was just as bad, if not worse, than it was before BT corn was introduced.


Side Note: I’m going to start trying to move away from talking about agriculture so much in the future. I’m not involved in the business any more, sold the farm a couple of years ago, so why do I still go babbling on and on and on about it when there are other things I’m interested in?

But then I’ve told myself that before and I keep coming back to it for some reason. Oh, well.

I’m going to try to push this onto other things I’m interested in; amateur radio and electronics, amateur astronomy, building furniture and fiddling with wood, photography…

This was never intended to be focused on a single topic in the first place, so I’m going to try to get back to that.

The War On Weeds

So, let’s talk farming. I ran into this article about weed control over at Agweb and it’s actually pretty good so go take a peek at it if you have the time.

Differentiate fact and fiction as you plan your weed control strategy. Source: Myth-Busting Weed and Herbicide Rumors | Agweb.com

Now, the reason this article has popped up (and I’m sure you will see others in the ag press similar to this in the future) is that there are a few new GM crops coming on-line now, modified to work with a couple of new blends of herbicides in an effort to deal with increasing weed resistance to glycophase. The herbicides aren’t really new, though. They are simply blends of previously existing herbicides with glycophase. They incorporate either 2,4-D or dicamba, both of which have been around for decades already. The only thing new about the system is the GM crops that have been engineered to tolerate 2,4-D and/or dicamba.

And they aren’t going to work any better than glycophase alone did. At least not in the long run. Sooner or later weeds will eventually develop resistance to these new blends as well, and we’ll be right back where we are now. In fact, there is already resistance to both of those herbicides “out in the wild” so to speak, because both have been in use for some time.

We have allowed ourselves to become dependent upon a system of weed control that we know is eventually going to fail. So, if we already know that these reformulated mixes are going to eventually fail, why are we bothering with them at at all?

Part of the reason this isn’t going to change any time soon is that over the last few decades we have adopted almost across the board farming techniques that make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to change.

 

How did we do it in the “good old days”? Well, like this:

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Oliver 70 with cultivator attachment

Now, if this text editor has managed to put the image in the right place, that is an old Oliver 70 with it’s optional corn cultivator rig. I used to drive one of those when I was a kid. For hours. And hours. And hours. And hours. And hours. And.. Well, you get the idea.

It was boring, tedious, took huge amounts of time, huge amounts of fuel. And with how expensive fuel is these days, how expensive labor is, if you can even find labor, how time consuming it is… Well, it isn’t surprising that the agricultural industry has always been looking for something, anything, to try to eliminate weeds that doesn’t involve so much time, labor and expense.

But some alternative to this never ending cycle of herbicide failures is going to have to be found. We’re running out of options. No matter what kind of chemical intervention we may come up with, sooner or later nature will figure out a loophole to work around it because that’s just how nature works.

 

I wish I could tell you that there is a solution to this, but there isn’t. People are experimenting, yes. But so far all of the efforts I’ve seen in trying to get out of this dependency on herbicides have involved techniques that simply can’t be scaled up. I’ve seen flame throwers to burn weeds, steamers to steam weeds, “cookers” that scoop up soil and literally cook it to kill weed seeds… All of them are tedious, time consuming, and worst of all, very energy hungry.

There are some new robotics and AI technologies that are looking promising. I suspect that may be one possible solution; machines that do the cultivation for you using cameras, LIDAR, GPS to guide them. Even systems that can identify weeds by sight and mechanically remove them, leaving the desired plants alone.

But those are years away, maybe decades. But who knows? Maybe there is some kind of “magic bullet” out there. Ah, well, no, there isn’t, but we keep looking for one, don’t we?

It’s been a weird fall here in Wisconsin

This fall has been ridiculously warm. You’d think we’d like this unusually warm fall up here in the land of blizzards, frozen cars, burst water pipes and children frozen to flag poles. But we don’t. Not really. We’re not used to this.

img_0828It’s October 23, and I’m still harvesting eggplant and peppers, for heaven’s sake. I mean look at that box full I picked this morning over there on the left. And there seems to be no end in sight. The eggplant and assorted pepper plants are in full bloom, loaded with baby fruit. I’m harvesting dill for the second time this year. I have a second crop of spring onions about ready to eat. I planted those at the end of September. I have chives coming out my ears. I’d be drying those but we already have far, far more chives than we know what to do with. The greek oregano is going crazy. It’s over a foot tall and in full bloom, for the second time this year. Same with the sage. Some of my hostas have put out flower stalks for the second time this season. I was looking back in the tomato bed that I cleaned out at the end of September and found a dozen or more volunteer tomato plants newly sprouted, some six inches tall already. I’m tempted to pot some of them and see if they’ll grow indoors.

According to the recording thermometer the coldest night we’ve had has been about 41. Daytime temperatures have generally been up in the high 60s to low 70s. The only way we know it’s fall is that the days are much shorter and the trees are losing their leaves.

This isn’t a horrible thing, this extended warm streak. It certainly is keeping the heating costs down. But it’s, well, odd. It doesn’t feel right. And you can tell it’s bothering people. They seem nervous, edgy, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We all have this feeling of mild dread.

I don’t know if it’s our upbringing, or some kind of inherent human trait, but we all seem to share it. We all get this feeling that something is too good. Some malicious deity or force of nature or something is deliberately lulling us into a false sense of security, and then wham, drops ten feet of snow on us, or plunges the temperature down to -30, or — or something is going to happen.

The thing is, we like winter up here. We like the snow. We like the bone chilling cold. It’s part of our heritage. It’s part of our nature.

We complain about the cold, the winter, true. But if you listen to those complaints, you begin to realize that we also take a perverse pride in it as well, pride in our ability to deal with it. And an enormous amount of delight in laughing at the people down south when an inch of snow shuts down the entire metro Atlanta area.

Our complaints about the cold and snow are part of the fun, the bragging about how cold it was, the complaints about shoveling six feet of snow off the porch before we could even get outside to get to the outhouse.

Well, okay, the outhouse thing is a bit outdated. We’ve had real indoor plumbing here in Wisconsin for, oh, two or three years now. But you know what I mean.

What’s the point in living in Wisconsin if we can’t brag about the bad weather any more? Is it really worth putting up with living here if we can’t laugh at the people in Illinois because they don’t know how to drive in the snow any more?

 

An Odd Autumn

It’s been a rather odd autumn here in north eastern Wisconsin. Usually this time of year it’s starting to get chilly, even downright cold. It hasn’t, though. Daytime temperatures have been in the low to mid seventies, at night it has only rarely fallen below 57 – 65 degrees. And it’s also been unusually wet. They’re claiming this has been the fourth wettest season on record.

It’s had an interesting effect on the plants around here. Our roses are in full blossom once again. We have new dill plants sprouting up all over the place. It looks more like May or early June than October.

Our eggplant has gotten its second wind, so to speak, and is loaded with blossoms and new fruit. Same with our poblano and jalapeno pepper plants. We have new green onions sprouting. The oregano I cut back has regrown. Some of our hostas are blooming for the second time this season. The morning glory seed we planted back in May that never sprouted sprang up out of nowhere two or three weeks ago and is now in full flower. The roses are a riot of color, with blossoms coming so heavy the branches can hardly support them.

Rain has been our constant companion for weeks and weeks now. If you don’t live in Wisconsin you may not have heard about the flooding we’ve had; two people killed, houses washed away, roads closed, something like $20 million in damages so far. Farmers should be getting ready to start harvesting corn, should be harvesting soybeans. They can’t get into the fields without the combines sinking into the ground up to the axles, and there seems to be no end in sight.

I’m sure most of us don’t mind the warm fall, but the rain…