Sunday, July 20, 2008

Water - The New Oil


T. Boone Pickens thinks water is the new oil—and he's betting $100 million that he's right. Roberts County is a neat square in a remote corner of the Texas Panhandle, a land of rolling hills, tall grass, oak trees, mesquite, and cattle. It has a desolate beauty, a striking sparseness. The county encompasses 924 square miles and is home to fewer than 900 people. One of them is T. Boone Pickens, the oilman and corporate raider, who first bought some property here in 1971 to hunt quail. He's now the largest landowner in the county: His Mesa Vista ranch sprawls across some 68,000 acres. Pickens has also bought up the rights to a considerable amount of water that lies below this part of the High Plains in a vast aquifer that came into existence millions of years ago.
If water is the new oil, T. Boone Pickens is a modern-day John D. Rockefeller. Pickens owns more water than any other individual in the U.S. and is looking to control even more. He hopes to sell the water he already has, some 65 billion gallons a year, to Dallas, transporting it over 250 miles, 11 counties, and about 650 tracts of private property. The electricity generated by an enormous wind farm he is setting up in the Panhandle would also flow along that corridor. As far as Pickens is concerned, he could be selling wind, water, natural gas, or uranium; it's all a matter of supply and demand. "There are people who will buy the water when they need it. And the people who have the water want to sell it. That's the blood, guts, and feathers of the thing," he says.
In the coming decades, as growing numbers of people live in urban areas and climate change makes some regions much more prone to drought, water—or what many are calling "blue gold"—will become an increasingly scarce resource. By 2030 nearly half of the world's population will inhabit areas with severe water stress, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. Pickens understands that. And while Texas is unusually lax in its laws about pumping groundwater, the rush to control water resources is gathering speed around the planet. In Australia, now in the sixth year of a drought, brokers in urban areas are buying up water rights from farmers. Rural residents around the U.S. are trying to sell their land (and water) to multi- national water bottlers like NestlĂ© (BW—Apr. 14). Companies that use large quantities of the precious resource to run their businesses are seeking to lock up water supplies. One is Royal Dutch Shell, which is buying groundwater rights in Colorado as it prepares to drill for oil in the shale deposits there.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What I'm Harvesting




Blackeyed Peas

Mandy beans



Corn (the ears are all dried up and the kernels have to be saoked before cooking)

What's Blooming Today

Cypress Vine (Ipomoea quamoclit)

Coral Vine (Antiginon leptopus)




Oregano (all kinds)

Dittany of Crete (Origanum dictamnus)

Morning glory

Mutabilis Rose (China rose)

Madame Alfred Carriere (noisette rose)

Knockout Rose (hybrid tea)

A few other hybrid teas, just barely (the blooms get crispy and ugly within a day of fully opening, but they can be cut as buds and brought into the house, where they will open and last for a while)

miniature roses - all varieties

Zinnias - all varieities


Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

Blush Noisette rose - I'd highly recommend this "antique rose" (developed in 1817) for gardeners with hot summers. It keeps blooming throughout the summer. Mid-fall is the heaviest blooming time in my garden. It's pretty much pest-resistant, though it does get light infestations of black spot in the spring and fall if there is a long rainy period.

Perennial Phlox Texas Superstar 'John Fanick' - beautiful, fragrant, loves hot weather (Phlox paniculata)

Vinca minor

sunflowers of all kinds

canna lily

crinum - genus Amaryllidaceae, don't know the variety. I got the original bulbs around 12 years ago from an elderly neighbor who'd been growing them for many years in her garden here in Lockhart. They seem to thrive in any kind of soil. I've grown them in Lockhart, San Antonio, and also in my garden in the sand hills, where they've naturalized. The ones that are blooming now are dusky pink. There's also one with spiderly white bloom. I think it may be Crinum purpurascens.

day lily - I can't keep up with all the different varieties, so I don't know which ones are blooming now.

Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)

four o'clocks

althea hibiscus (Rose of Sharon)

Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata)

Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) - It rained a bit over the past week, and the Cenizos are covered with lavender blooms. Very pretty, especially with the silver-leaved variety.

Did I mentioned cedar sage? (Salvia roemeriana) The hardest part of listing What's Blooming is that every time I go out in the garden I notice something I forgot to include.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Invertebrates increase the sensitivity of non-labile soil carbon to climate change

The fate of global soil carbon stores in response to predicted climate change is a ‘hotly’ debated topic. Considerable uncertainties remain as to the temperature sensitivity of non-labile soil organic matter (SOM) to decomposition. Currently, models assume that organic matter decomposition is solely controlled by the interaction between climatic conditions and soil mineral characteristics. Consequently, little attention has been paid to adaptive responses of soil decomposer organisms to climate change and their impacts on the turnover of long-standing terrestrial carbon reservoirs. Using a radiocarbon approach we found that warming increased soil invertebrate populations (Enchytraeid worms) leading to a greater turnover of older soil carbon pools. The implication of this finding is that until soil physiology and biology are meaningfully represented in ecosystem carbon models, predictions will underestimate soil carbon turnover.

Global Warming - Two Book Reviews

This is one of the best pieces I've read on global warming, because it contains a very elegant solution that does not involve the impoverishment of countries such as China now in order to acheive a reduction of carbon in the future. For anyone who happens to see this blog entry and doesn't want to read the entire article, the most interesting item to me was the observation that every carbon atom in the world ends up as part of a plant within 12 years.

From the article:
There is a famous graph showing the fraction of carbon dioxide inthe atmosphere as it varies month by month and year by year [the graph is reproduced in the review]. It gives us our firmest and most accurate evidence ofeffects of human activities on our global environment. The graph isgenerally known as the Keeling graph because it summarizes thelifework of Charles David Keeling, a professor at the ScrippsInstitution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. Keeling measured the carbon dioxide abundance in the atmosphere forforty-seven years, from 1958 until his death in 2005.


At this point I return to the Keeling graph, which demonstrates thestrong coupling between atmosphere and plants. The wiggles in thegraph show us that every carbon dioxide molecule in the atmosphereis incorporated in a plant within a time of the order of twelve years. Therefore, if we can control what the plants do with thecarbon, the fate of the carbon in the atmosphere is in our hands.That is what Nordhaus meant when he mentioned "genetically engineered carbon-eating trees" as a low-cost backstop to globalwarming. The science and technology of genetic engineering are not yet ripe for large-scale use. We do not understand the language of the genome well enough to read and write it fluently. But the science is advancing rapidly, and the technology of reading and writing genomes is advancing even more rapidly. I consider it likely that we shall have "genetically engineered carbon-eating trees"within twenty years, and almost certainly within fifty years. Carbon-eating trees could convert most of the carbon that they absorb from the atmosphere into some chemically stable form and bury it underground. Or they could convert the carbon into liquid fuel sand other useful chemicals. Biotechnology is enormously powerful,capable of burying or transforming any molecule of carbon dioxidethat comes into its grasp. Keeling's wiggles prove that a big fraction of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes within thegrasp of biotechnology every decade. If one quarter of the world's forests were replanted with carbon-eating varieties of the same species, the forests would be preserved as ecological resources and as habitats for wildlife, and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by half in about fifty years.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Good article on cover crops


Cover crops could be considered the backbone of any annual cropping system that seeks to be sustainable. In this publication we summarize the principal uses and benefits of cover crops and green manures. Brief descriptions and examples are provided for winter cover crops, summer green manures, living mulches, catch crops, and some forage crops. To impart a sense of the importance of these practices in sustainable farming, we summarize the effect of cover crops and green manures on: organic matter and soil structure, nitrogen production, soil microbial activity, nutrient enhancement, rooting action, weed suppression, and soil and water conservation. Management issues addressed include vegetation management, limitations of cover crops, use in crop rotations, use in pest management, and economics of cover crops. A selection of print and Web resources are provided for further reading.


Benefits of Cover Crops and Green Manures
Organic Matter and Soil Structure
A major benefit obtained from green manures is the addition of organic matter to the soil. During the breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms, compounds are formed that are resistant to decomposition—such as gums, waxes, and resins. These compounds—and the mycelia, mucus, and slime produced by the microorganisms—help bind together soil particles as granules, or aggregates. A well-aggregated soil tills easily, is well aerated, and has a high water infiltration rate. Increased levels of organic matter also influence soil humus. Humus—the substance that results as the end product of the decay of plant and animal materials in the soil—provides a wide range of benefits to crop production.
Sod-forming grass or grass-legume mixtures are important in crop rotations because they help replenish organic matter lost during annual cultivation. However, several years of sod production are sometimes required before measurable changes in humus levels occur. In comparison, annual green manures have a negligible effect on humus levels, because tillage and cultivation are conducted each year. They do replenish the supply of active, rapidly decomposing organic matter. (1)
The contribution of organic matter to the soil from a green manure crop is comparable to the addition of 9 to 13 tons per acre of farmyard manure or 1.8 to 2.2 tons dry matter per acre.

Trumpet Vine

This is a volunteer plant growing on a fence behind the peach orchard. It loves the hot weather and blooms all summer, even during a drought.

A Few Drops of Rain

The San Antonio garden has been getting a half inch or more of rain every day since Wednesday. The Lockhart garden had gotten less than half an inch total when I got here Thursday evening. No rain at all yesterday, and only a few spatters late this afternoon.

But the little bit we've gotten, together with the 75% cloud cover has made a significant difference. I actually enjoyed being in the garden today and spent some time just sitting and relaxing this afternoon, breathing in the fragrance of 4 0'clocks, listening to the neighborhood sounds -- grackles, bluejays, cicadas, a neighbor's rock music (faintly), dogs barking. Every evening this summer until this one, a flock of wood geese has flown over toward the end of the day. I wonder where they are today ...

The Irish potatoes still survive, but I fear the heat stress has been too much for them. I don't expect a good crop. I dug up a marginal one last week. There were 8 tiny spuds attached to the roots. If the weather stays relatively cool like this, I may yet get a potato crop, but I'm not counting on it. I didn't plant the potatoes until February. It's always a crap shoot for me -- plant them too early, and they're likely to be killed by frost. Plant them too late, and they're likely to burn up before they have a chance to produce a crop. Don't know if it's something I'm doing wrong, or if this just isn't a good place to grow Irish potatoes.

There are baby melons on the cantaloupe vines.