Wednesday, December 30, 2009

צמחים עמידים בפני בצורת

צמחים עמידים בפני בצורת


Israel’s water tech hits the Valley


It is almost mind-boggling that Israel, a country with such a dearth of fresh water resources, has become a leader in water technologies. That is, until you learn about Mekorot.
Most of Israel's $1.4 billion in water tech exports last year wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the government-owned water carrier and water tech company, chairman Eli Ronen tells ISRAEL21c. Mekorot transformed Israel into a global water leader by making water research and policy a national priority decades ago.
Now Mekorot's expertise in water management, specifically in desalinating water, is on its way to south California. Ronen confirms that Mekorot has signed an MOU with Water Solutions Technologies (WST) of Fresno, California.
The company's activities in California will extend to water-poor areas such as Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley and other regions like it. The contract between Mekorot and WST was signed at the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center where Ronen recently lectured to about 800 people about Israel's water solutions.

Fresno is America's number one agricultural producer and new solutions for the large quantities of water needed to sustain agriculture there are badly needed. Poor water allocations for farmers have forced them to leave thousands of acres to lie fallow and many farmers are in a holding pattern.
"California suffers from the same problems that Israel suffers from, especially in its southern parts and it needs to overcome these difficulties," says Ronen. "We hope to be the one who can help."

Allocation of Water

I like to pay attention to books and articles on water allocation in countries such as Israel and Australia. The part of Texas in which I live is subject to frequent droughts, but during the past 75 or 80 years, we have not had to worry much about water use, aside from restrictions on lawn watering in the summer. Israel and Australia are ahead of us in such areas as desalinating soil and growing drought resistant food crops.

In central Texas, we can easily import food from other states in the USA or from other countries. But increasing shortages of water and salinization of irrigated soils could change this situation, as could more frequent droughts in other parts of the world. In my own garden, I have learned to conserve water by mulching, using drip irrigation, growing perennial crops that can get by with less frequent watering, incorporating trees that produce "light" shade, such as mesquite, into the garden and planting annual food crops in such a way that they get partial shade from the trees.

The article below is about allocation of water in Israel. One of the author's suggestions for conserving water is to reduce agricultural exports and eliminate subsidies for agricultural water.

Stress Resistant Crops

VAI Researchers Find Long Awaited Key to Creating Drought Resistant Crops

Findings published in the journal Nature could help engineer hardier plants and have implications for stress disorders in humans

PR Log (Press Release)Dec 03, 2009 – Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) researchers have determined precisely how the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) works at the molecular level to help plants respond to environmental stresses such as drought and cold. Their findings, published in the journal Nature, could help engineer crops that thrive in harsh environments around the world and combat global food shortages. The findings could also have implications for stress disorders in humans.

VARI scientists have determined the structure of the receptors that plants use to sense ABA, a hormone that keeps seeds dormant and keeps buds from sprouting until the climate is right. Locating these receptors and understanding how they work is a key finding — one that has eluded researchers for nearly a half-century. This discovery is crucial to understanding how plants respond when they are under stress from extreme temperatures or lack of water.

“The plant community has been waiting for this discovery for many years,” said VARI Research Scientist Karsten Melcher, Ph.D., one of the lead authors of the study. “It could have major effects on nutrition and crop yields, especially as fresh water sources become scarcer.”

“The work by Dr. Xu and his colleagues, published in one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, will undoubtedly become known as an historic defining moment in our understanding of the mode of action of the important plant hormone abscisic acid,” said Grand Valley State University Plant Development Biologist Sheila A. Blackman, Ph.D. “They show how the signaling molecule and its receptor initiate a cascade of events that ultimately affects the expression of genes that are critical for a plant’s survival under harsh conditions. This work has enormous implications for global food supply.”

Melcher works in the VARI Laboratory of Structural Biology led by Distinguished Scientific Investigator H. Eric Xu, Ph.D. The lab began studying abscisic acid signaling in March this year because a proposed ABA receptor was reported to be a member of G-protein coupled receptors, a group of proteins that the lab studies. More than 50% of all drugs on the market target these proteins, but it has been extremely difficult to determine their atomic structure.

Xu’s laboratory uses a technique known as X-ray crystallography to determine exactly how and why the drug compounds work in molecular detail, which can then help drug developers engineer more potent drugs that have fewer unwanted side effects.

Although it later resulted that the abscisic acid receptors were found to be members of another protein family, Xu’s lab continued their studies on the newly identified ABA receptors. Their findings could help to develop crops that grow in drought, cold, salt water environments, and other harsh conditions, perhaps aiding in stemming or reversing food shortages around the world. Additionally, proteins central to ABA sensing are related to human proteins involved in cellular stress responses and may have implications for stress disorders in humans.

“Proteins with similarities to plant ABA receptors are also found in humans,” said Xu. “Further studies in this area could reveal important implications for people with stress disorders.”

The lab worked with specialists in plant biology at other institutions to validate the data, including the National Center for Plant Gene Research in Beijing, China, the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at the University of California at Riverside, the Center for Plant Stress Genomics and Technology at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, and the Department of Biochemistry at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“A finding of this importance helps demonstrate how discoveries at the molecular level in plants can have profound implications for the diseases of humans.” said VARI President and Research Director Dr. Jeffrey Trent. “Remarkably Dr. Xu’s findings (made in only a few short months) will open a decade of research on both plants and man. From a key role in the ripening of fruit through increased understanding of how stress affects a myriad of diseases in man – this finding starts a new chapter in plant and animal biology.”

* The project described was supported by Grant Number 1R01GM087413-01 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Wonderful Pole Barn

My neighbor David and his crew finished working on my pole barn today, but I neglected to take a photo of it before dark. However, I have a photo taken last week, when the barn was pretty well along. The walls are 14 feet high. Looking up through the trusses, I get the feeling of being in a cathedral. I know that probably sounds silly. How can a utilitarian pole barn feel like a cathedral?

It is 25 feet wide by 36 feet long, with a lean-to on one end that extends the length another 10 feet. It's certainly the nicest garage/workshop I have ever owned.

Hard Times - Happy Day

Working on the land reclamation project was especially fun today, because of the glorious weather. There was frost on the grass this morning, but by 10:00 it was warm enough to work comfortably outside without a jacket. The afternoon was gorgeous -- clear, winter-blue sky, warm sun, cool breeze. Sitting in the garden planting fava beans, I felt perfectly content, but at the same time slightly guilty for being happy when so many people are having a terrible time.

There are always the background thoughts that at any given moment: someone in the world is dying of hunger, someone is being murdered, someone is being tortured, someone is being beaten. But today there was a more immediate sadness. A neighbor dropped by and told me that his wife has been diagnosed with lung cancer that has spread to her stomach. Why does my life continue on its happy way? I am no better than those people who are dying of hunger, whose bodies are serving as fuel for cancer cells.

I have, of course, lived through my own hard times, have come close to death on a couple of occasions; people I loved have died, and taken some part of me with them, into another dimension, or into emptiness. I am sure I will have hard times again in the future. As one gets older, hard times seem more likely. One's friends and family die off, getting up in the morning becomes painful. Death is always there, leaving little tweets and IM's in the form of an irregular beat of the heart or stinging pain the gut. So it is right, I think, to be happy while one can, within one's own small island of time and space. To cherish each calm, comfortable moment.

When digging a trench for a cable a couple of weeks ago, I came across the corner of what appeared to be an enamel-coated steel table top. This afternoon, I decided to dig it up. I was looking forward to using the table top for my outdoor kitchen. But it turned out to be something different (see photo). I think it may be the top of a rectangular electric water heater. There is a Permaglas label on the vertical portion. Well. So I didn't get my table top, but I'm sure I will find some use for the thing.

I do not believe there is even a square inch of this place that does not contain some kind of discarded human-made object. Some of it is useful, but what does one do with filthy wads of fiberglass insulation or small, disintegrating bits of gypsum board? I suppose the latter could be used in the garden.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Very Easy Baked Custard

Big Daddy Geoffrey, our Brahma Rooster

4 eggs
2 1/2 c. milk
sugar or other sweetener to taste

Beat the eggs moderately well. Put the eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla into a sauce pan and beat gently until mixed. Heat the mixture until hot, but not boiling. Place in baking dish, sprinkle more nutmeg over the top if desired and bake in a 325 degree oven for 40 minutes.

Healthier Eggs

Everyone who has eaten eggs from chickens who run loose in the grass and chickens raised in cages or warehouses knows that eggs from pastured chickens have a far superior color, structure, and taste. One would logically expect the eggs from pastured chickens to also be healthier.

Mother Earth News had eggs tested from 14 flocks in different parts of the U.S.

They found that, as compared with eggs from penned or warehoused hens, the eggs from pastured hens had:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
This is not a huge sample size, and the article does not go into details such as the variance within the results. Nevertheless, they are interesting results, and there are other studies showing similar results. The article points out what one could easily guess just by looking at the thin shells and pale yolks of warehoused "free range" chicken eggs sold in supermarkets. The USDA definition of "free range" includes hens who live in crowded warehouses and never see a blade of grass in their lives. I have a picture of such a place in another entry on this blog:
Given the misleading USDA definition, factory farms can label eggs from warehoused hens as "free range" and gullible people pay twice as much, or more, as they would pay for factory farm eggs laid by caged hens. As pathetic a life as caged hens lead, the lives led by warehoused hens is probably even more terrible.
On a happier note, my hens have a pleasant wooden house where they roost at night, and in the day time they run around eating whatever plants appeal to them, and scratching in the soil for insects. Here are the eggs I gathered from mine over the past week (minus the ones we ate).

The green and pinkish ones are from the Ameracaunas. The brown ones are from the Rhode Island Reds and Dominiques. The eggs themselves are pretty, but it's what's inside that really counts. The yolks are deep orange-yellow, rather than the insipid pale yellow of warehoused or caged hens. You should see how easy it is to separate the yolks from the whites!

Lentils & Rice


  • 1.5 cup lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • onions to taste
  • enough olive oil to sauté lentils, rice & onions
  • enough water to cook rice & beans
  • lemon juice, cumin, pepper, salt to taste
I use a slow cooker, but of course you can use a cooking pot of any kind, preferably a heavy one that will maintain a uniform temperature so the rice & lentils will not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. You can avoid sticking and burning by keeping the heat low and stirring from time to time.

Clean the lentils and rice, put them into a pot, pour in the water and start the slow cooker or bring the pot to simmer. If you want to add flavor, you can sauté the rice and beans before putting them into the slow cooker, or if you are using a cooking pot on the stove, you can saute them right in the pot before adding water. Sauté the onions until they are just beginning to turn brown and add them to the rice & beans after the rice and beans have been cooking for a while.

Cook until the rice and beans are tender and ready to eat.

I like to add the other ingredients toward the end, when the lentils and rice are almost ready to serve.

Terra Cotta Composters

These are attractive terra cotta kambhas

You can buy a license to "clone" this business to produce and sell these terra cotta composters. Far as I know, these are not being sold in the U.S.

Here is an article that shows one of these kambhas in use:

I found a U.S. terra cotta composter for sale online from $168 to $189. It is not as attractive as the Daily Dump abd cannot be stacked, but it appears to have one technological advantage: a small door at the bottom that can be opened to take out fully composted material.