Saturday, February 28, 2009

Countries Rated on Amount of Government Corruption

World-Wide Food Crisis 2009

In Central Texas, we are experiencing the worst drought since 1918. Another cold front just blew through without a trace of rain. Looking out my upstairs window at the bare tree branches convulsing in the witheringly dry wind, I had a brief and terrible vision of what the city might look like if the drought continued month after month, if the trees died.

California is suffering from severe drought (state of emergency just declared by Gov Schwarzenegger). North Carolina farmers debating whether or not the drought there will break in time to get crops started on time. Southern Australia burning up. I wondered what was happening in the rest of the world.

Found this article:

*****Catastrophic Fall in 2009 Global Food Production*****

According to this article, whose author has provided the sources listed below, many of the food producing regions of the world are suffering from severe drought, which means that food prices will probably increase significantly over the coming months. In some places, food will be hard to get at all.

I plan to go ahead with my spring garden in Lockhart, despite the dessicated land there. Will plant everything farther apart than usual, mulch heavily, and hope the La Nina weather pattern breaks up soon.

Sources for info on drought:

CHILE: Drought Raises Likelihood of Energy Rationing

Severe drought expected this time in Kerala, India

UN agencies provide food, supplies in drought-ravaged Burundi

Ethiopia said on Friday that 4.9 million of its people will need emergency food aid in the first six months of 2009 due to drought

Communities in northeast Kenya have struggled to survive without rain

foodstuff inventory data

possible 15% reduction in Europe's winter crop yield

Uruguay's intense, prolonged drought has limited summer crops, killed livestock, and scorched land

Greece forced to import water to drought stricken Aegean islands

Portugese water storage is still down from averages for the period 1990 to 2007

Prepare for possible worsening drought in Georgia-Carolina

South Africa scraps wheat import tax to ease shortage

Southern Africa: Maize Difference Yields

East Africa: Maize Difference Yield - Second Growing Season 21 January 2009

As of mid-January, cumulative rainfall across Tunisia’s growing region amounted to just about half its average level, the lowest in over five years

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Abbey of Regina Laudis

I do not know anything about this place, or the people who live there, other than what I have read online. Sometimes a place looks beautiful in pictures but turns out to be disappointing in real-life, but I have a feeling the Abbey of Regina Laudis is as represented, probably far better, because in real-life, you could smell freshly mown hay and hear the bells and the joyful sounds of the sisters' musical chanting.

Quote from Foundation History:

Robert Leather, an industrialist living in the area. He was a devout Congregationalist who cherished a piece of land he owned as a place of prayer. He wanted this pine-covered hill to be held intact and in perpetuity. He gave it to the nuns, knowing that they would care for it as a sacred place. This pine hill eventually became the heart of the 400 acres of land, both cultivated and wild, that comprise the Abbey of Regina Laudis today. <Foundation History)>

I found this monastery as I was doing a search on raw milk legislation. The sisters of Regina Laudis care for a small herd of Dutch Belted cows and sell the milk and cheese they do not need for their own use. Connecticutt residents are facing the same restraints on personal freedom that we are presently facing in Texas -- legilation that would prevent the sale of raw cow's milk except at the site on which it is produced, and then only to the ultimate consumer. I was feeling upset about the pending bill here in Texas, because I very much prefer the taste of raw milk over pasteurized. I have no educated opinion about the health benefits of raw milk over pasteurized, but it makes sense that some of the nutrients would be destroyed by heating -- certainly to useful bacteria would be killed along with the potentially harmful. Anyhow, I was feeling upset that I might no longer be able to buy raw milk at the Life Emporium, my neighborhood health shop when I came upon a story about the monastery. Learning that the monastery exists cheered me greatly. Just knowing that places of peace and joy exist in the same world as all the terrible stuff one hears about is vastly comforting.

The sisters have recorded some of their beautiful chants and sell them in their online shop, where one can listen to portions of some of the chants.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Modified Genes Spread to Local Maize (Mexico)

NATURE|Vol 456|13 November 2008

Transgenes from genetically modified (GM) maize (corn) crops have been found in traditional
‘landrace’ maize in the Mexican heartland, a study says. The work largely confirms a similar, controversial result published in Nature in 2001 (ref. 1) and may re-ignite the
debate in Mexico over GM crops. The paper reports finding transgenes in three of the 23 locations that were sampled in 2001, and again in two of those locations using samples taken in 2004. Written by a team led by Elena Álvarez-Buylla of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, the study will be published in the journal Molecular Ecology.


However, the new paper doesn’t confirm an important conclusion from the original Nature paper — whether the transgenes had been integrated into landrace genomes and passed along to progeny plants. Álvarez- Buylla suspects this may be the case, but she’s not interested in pursuing another round of politically charged battles — and will leave that work to others.

Another Way to Fight Off a Cold

I just received this advice from my brother: on the day when the very first symptoms appear, wear a surgical mask when you sleep. This will slightly raise the temperature of the respiratory tract, making it impossible for the virus to replicate. The person my brother got this tip from has not had a cold in 20 years, and my brother says he's had cold symptoms three times since learning this, has used the mask each time, and has not developed a full-blown cold.

Makes sense to me -- I shall definitely give it a try next time I feel a cold coming on. In fact, I already have some lovely washable and reusable silk masks that I wear when there's lots of pollen or mold spores in the air, and when I'm outside in cold weather. In fact, it's just occurred to me that when I was wearing the silk comfort mask every night, I never got a cold. I had stopped using it temporarily, because the elastic had stretched out, and I did not want to take the time to replace the elastic or order a new mask. Big mistake!

Here's a link to the website where you can buy one of these masks:

The photos are from the website. I often use the mask when I'm working in the garden. Looks a bit weird (my husband, the very famous and hilariously witty novelist, critic, futurist and polymath Dr. Damien Broderick, says it makes me look like a puppy -- a cute one, of course), but it surely keeps me breathing easier.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How to Fight Off a Cold

Last night, my throat felt a little sore, and I took a couple of zinc tablets and irrigated my sinuses. This morning when I woke up my throat was really sore, and I had the generally yucky feeling that goes with a cold. I used to get very, very sick with colds -- the initial viral infection would almost always be followed by a secondary bacterial infection. I'd be sick for at least two weeks.

For the last few years, I've been able to cut the process short by taking zinc tablets at the first sign of a cold and irrigating my sinuses every 3 or 4 hours with a neti pot, and eating citrus. Taking vitamin C tablets doesn't help, nor does frozen orange juice; it has to be fresh citrus.

This cold that started last night, though, was one virulent infection. For a while, I was sure it was going to lay me low. Still, it was worth trying to fight it. I added a 30 second gargle with Listerine to the routine, every time I used the neti pot, but I kept getting worse. About noon, I went out to the garden and dug up an echinacea root. I've added a photo of the very root at the top of this entry. Some research articles say the echinacea helps the immune system; others say it doesn't. One thing I can say for sure -- it works to ease sore throat pain. The inside of the root is brownish gray with dark brown rings. What I do is slice off little bits of the root and chew it, holding it in my mouth for a while. The taste isn't bad at all, a bit like a radish. At first, it makes the tongue feel prickly, then the prickles spread to the nasal sinuses and throat. Then the pain just goes away. It's similar to the way aloe vera leaves stop the pain of minor burns.

I've eaten a slice of echinacea root every couple of hours for about six hours. For a while, my throat felt better, but the rest of me kept feeling worse, but around 6:00 I started feeling better all over. I now feel almost normal, but I've continued the treatment. I'm a little worried that the virus will get the upper hand again during the night, since I won't be doing the treatment as often. But I feel so good, perhaps my immune system has things under control.

I suspect that the conflicting echinacea research may be due, at least in part, to the types of echinacea used. For example, most of the inexpensive echinacea you find at grocery stores consists of dried leaves. The good stuff is mostly in the roots; there isn't much of it in the leaves, especially, I'd think, after they've been dried. The dried leaves aren't of any use, except maybe as a placebo.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Good Machine Friend

I never would have admitted to this, if I had not discovered that other seemingly normal people feel the same way. I think of my chainsaw as a friend.

The orange chainsaw in the photo is my second Stihl. The first one burned when one of Bluebonnet Electric Co-op's poles fell on a neighbor's land and started a brush fire that ended up burning down my house, workshop, chicken pens, rabbit hutches, and storage sheds. Luckily, I was living in the city at the time, so no one was killed or injured, except possibly the pack rat who had set up housekeeping under a futon (I hope the little creature smelled the smoke and got away in time).

Anyhow, when I lived at Altamira, having a nice big stack of firewood always made me feel secure, like having plenty of beans and corn stored for the winter, or having plenty of money saved up. I hate being cold. In fact, I have such a fear of being cold, one would think I'd frozen to death in a former lifetime and still carried the memory of it. There's something especially comforting about having a fire blazing in a box in my home. It's much nicer than a gas space heater, and infinitely nicer than central heat. I love almost everything about wood burning stoves. Even having to build up the fire in the morning isn't bad at all, because I always shovel out some of the ashes to make room for more wood, and there are always glowing hot coals mixed in with the ash. The bucket of warm ashes is a marvelous foot warmer.

Back to the chainsaw - since the chainsaw makes it possible to cut up much more wood in a give amount of time than I would be able to cut using a hand saw and ax, I've developed quite a fondness for it. I felt ... do I dare put this down in writing? ... incomplete without a chainsaw after my old one burned.

I think the photo will be too small to show another friend of mine, but when the photo is enlarged, you can see Alex the Savannah cat lying in his favorite spot by the stove. He's in the background, between the plastic bucket of wood and the stove.

Texas A&M Maroon Bluebonnet

These are pretty in the garden, but I prefer the blue wildflowers that make pastures look like reflections of the sky for a couple of weeks in the spring.

The Working Garden

Show gardens are lovely to wander through and look at in photos, but I find real, working gardens more interesting. I'll take a good, active compost pile over a non-functional folly any day. My own garden is probably far too much like a plant nursery (in parts) and farm yard (in other parts) for most people's taste, but I like it, even the compost piles in various states of decay and the black plastic containers of young plants that will be set out in the garden later in the spring and the bare patches of earth waiting to be seeded or to receive transplants.

For just sitting and enjoying the garden, I prefer a light-weight chair that I can move around, rather than a concrete or steel bench that stays put.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Time to Start a New Blog?

I just watched a very inspiring Wall Street Journal video, A Retiree Returns to Work, about a senior legal secretary at a large firm who retired for a couple of years but started looking for a job when her 401(k) lost 40% of its value. She said she enjoyed retirement, was very glad not to have to get up in the morning and face the stress of work each day. She now works 16 hours per week for a small firm and loves it, looks forward to going to work. She says that even if her 401(k) recovered, she would still want to keep working, because she loves the people she's working with.

I love my work as a lawyer / CPA serving small businesses. My clients are the greatest! Even at the end of very busy days I feel energized. Sure, there are bad days when things go wrong; rough times when clients can't pay their bills on time. But I can say for sure that even if I had plenty of money to live on for the rest of my life (which actually, now that I think about it, I have), I would not want to give up my work. I can't see that I'll ever have to, as long as my brain keeps working.

Anyhow, a significant % of working-age people who lose their jobs and retired people who decide to go back to work are choosing to start their own businesses. One of my missions in life has been to encourage people to work for themselves. Now seems like a good time to start a blog devoted to the concept of being one's own boss.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What's Blooming Today

Lockhart (Austin area):

Fava Beans
TAMU maroon blubonnets (just beginning to bloom)
snapdragons (first blooms just coming out)
unknown succulent (yellow flower, looks a lot like aloe vera)
coreopsis (just beginning)
dandelions (yeah, I know they're weeds, but I like to add them to salads, and the flowers are cheery)
plumbago (in protected micro environment)
sweet olive

San Antonio:

Mexican honeysuckle
Sophora (Texas Mountain Laurel)
some unidentified sweet smelling thing
purple oxalis
Carolina jessamine

Harvesting (Lockhart):

beet greens
turnip greens
Swiss chard
various herbs
green peas (shelled)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Low Quality Seeds

I highly recommend Steve Solomon's book Gardening When it Counts - Growing Food in Hard Times. One entire chapter is devoted to seeds, a topic on which Steve is very well qualified to write -- he created the Territorial Seed Company and operated the business for many years before selling it.

One of the things Steve discusses is the importance of buying seeds from conscientious sellers who actually trial the seeds they sell (by testing them for % germination and growing out some of the seeds to make sure the resulting plants are as represented).

Now I have to admit to doing a really dumb thing: last fall I bought a packet of Ferry Morse broccoli seeds at some retail store (can't recall which store). The cost was low, so the amount of cash I lost on the purchase is trivial. But I took up garden space and wasted resources (water, fertilizer, time) growing very low quality broccoli plants. It was a stupid thing to do, but there is a bright side -- it provides a great illustration for what Steve describes as "a loose flower with enormous (coarse), harsh-flavored beads that are already turning yellow and preparing to open before the flower has reached half its final size." See the photo at the top of this blog entry.

This plant is what you might expect from seeds saved by an amateur who knows nothing about cross pollination. However, in that case, the amateur would be innocent of any moral wrong-doing and would have an opportunity to learn from her mistakes. I could say that the sorry plants now growing in my garden are the result of corporate greed ... but having spent the majority of my life working with closely held businesses, most of whose owner-managers truly want to deliver an excellent product or service, I can see that the problem of sub-standard garden seeds is at least as much a result of purchasers being more concerned with cheap price than with quality. When consumers look only at the price tag and couldn't seem to care less about quality, sellers of crap succeed, and sellers of high-quality goods and services fail.

As an example of this, here are a couple of negative reviews of Territorial Seed Company, which is one of the few conscientious sellers of high-quality seeds in the U.S. --

On January 27, 2009, d687 Guthrie, OK wrote:
I was a long time customer of this company. However I will not pay $7.95 shipping to order a few packets of seeds. Come on, Territorial Seed, become user friendly again rather than making money on shipping costs. I know for a fact that you are losing good customers and they are vocal about why they are ordering elsewhere.
On January 15, 2009, briergarden Lynnwood, WA wrote:
Have not tried seeds from this company.
They have such big shipping cost that i prefer to stay away from trying their seeds. $7.50 to have to ship some seeds, come on, people.
I bought the Ferry Morse broccoli seeds for something like $1.50. But I ended up with truly crappy broccoli that is inedible (OK, if I were starving I'd eat it, but I could just as well go out and harvest wild mustard). I would gladly have paid $7.50 or $8 shipping and handling charges for high-quality, productive seeds. Considering the value of the final product, and the time and effort spent on growing the plants from seed to maturity, $7.50 or $8 is insignificant, especially since high-quality seeds of most species will be viable for more than one year.

There are at least two reasons the Ferry Morse seeds are cheaper than seeds bought from Territorial Seed Company:
1. No attention was given to protecting the plants from which the Ferry Morse seeds were taken from cross pollination with other brassicas, including wild mustard; and
2. The Ferry-Morse seeds were not labeled for % germination, so the only thing one can be (sort of) sure of is that the seeds met the relatively low standards set by the USDA germination standards.

Part of the price one pays for high-quality seeds is the time spent by experienced growers checking for undesirable varieties and getting rid of them before they cross-pollinate with the desireable plants. Another part of the price is for time spent testing seed germination and getting rid of seeds that no longer meet the consciencious company's high standards.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Very Inspiring Video Greening the Desert

Swales, mulch, and strategically planted trees convert hyper-arid salty land into rich garden. I love to watch this video whenever I feel discouraged.

My favorite quote from the video: "You can fix all the world's problems in a garden." - Geoff Lawton

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Eggplant & Chiles

Planted 1/28/09

Rosa Bianca Eggplant (2007 seed) 85% germination
Vinca Pacifica (2008 seed) 80%
Sweet Banana pepper (2008 seed) 90%
Ping Tung Long (2008 seed) 95%
Lista De Gandia Eggplant (2005 seed) 0 germination
Chile Lombak (2008 seed) 85%
Jimmy Nardello's Italian Pepper (2008 seed) 85%
Rosita Eggplant (2008 seed) 80%
Lavender Angelonia Serena (2008 pelleted seed) 75%

Got good germination from tomatoes planted 1/26. Most of the plants now have their first true leaves. I was 3 or 4 weeks late starting tomatoes and peppers. If we have a hot, dry spring and early summer, they may not produce much. Eggplants will probably be OK.

Flowers growing in garden now include pansies, snapdragons, petunias, alyssum, violas, cyclamen, and primrose. Bluebonnets are beginning to form buds. Chandler strawberries in San Antonio garden are already blooming, but in the Austin garden they're lagging behind, not doing well at all. I was late planting them, because the local garden center where I usually buy them kept saying they would have some "next week" but they never did. By the time I finally ordered some to be shipped, I was over a month late planting them.

Not for Public Viewing

The following will be meaningless to anyone but me. I ran out of label-stakes and need to record what I planted in seedling flats, so I won't forget.

Starting with stake and working down,up,down etc:
zinnia pinwheel (2002 seed) (10)
zinnia elegans (2004 seed) (28)
tomato BHN 826 (2008 seed) (9) (block)
tomato BHN 444 (2008 seed) (9) (block)
marigold (2008 seed) (18)

zinnia profusion white (2008 seed) (15)
zinnia profusion coral (2008 seed) (15)
zinnia cutting (2008 seed) (25)
vinca (2008 seed) (17)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Who is Controlling world Stock Markets

The backbone of complex networks of corporations: Who is controlling whom?

Comments: 33 pages, 10 figures
Subjects: General Finance (q-fin.GN)
Cite as: arXiv:0902.0878v1 [q-fin.GN]

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Rabbit Recipe

1 rabbit
olive oil
pear brandy (white wine will also do, but the pear brandy is especially nice)
small bay leaf
a few sprigs of thyme
a pinch of ground mustard
salt & pepper

1.Cut the rabbit into manageable pieces.
2. Peel off most of the fat and put into some water with the liver and kidneys to make broth.
3.Put salt & pepper on the meat, then dredge the pieces of meat in flour and brown them in olive oil.
4. When the fat and organs have made a nice broth, remove them and add mustard, bay leaf (torn into 2 or 3 pieces) and thyme and pour over meat. If you like organ meat, chop the organs and add them to the meat.
5. Cook on low heat until the meat is tender (about 45 minutes).

I cooked rabbit tonight and served it with mashed potatoes; spinach freshly picked from the garden and steamed; and a fresh lettuce salad with dressing made from olive oil, cider vinegar, dried cranberries (sweetened), and garlic. Quick apple pie for dessert. It was a dinner whose memory I will cherish forever.

Quick apple pie:

Pour some whole wheat flour and a sprinkle of salt into a bowl. Cut in some butter. Add enough cold water to make a ball of dough. Roll the dough thin on a floured board and put it into a casserole dish or pie pan. Slice up some apples and arrange the slices on the dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Fold the dough up over the apple slices. Bake at 350 degrees F until apples are bubbling, crust looks done, and the kitchen smells heavenly.

I don't bother to measure anything. The whole operation (not including baking) takes about 5 minutes.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Potato Planting Time

Plant nurseries and feed stores in south central Texas usually have Kennebec and Red La Soda seed potatoes available in January. I always plant some of these tried & true varieties, but I also like to try a few other varities that look as though they might work. I order these online in the fall, because the seed potato growers I order from are all in the frozen north and are unable to ship early enough for our planting date.

I keep the seed potatoes in the vegetable crisper of my fridge and periodically mist them with water to keep them from drying out. This year, a terrible thing happened. I had some grape juice in a container that leaked. By the time I realized that some of the leaked grape juice had dripped down into the vegetable crisper, the potatoes on the bottom had been sitting in grape juice for several days. :-(

The potatoes that endured the grape juice soak developed blackheart, which is pockets of dark bluish-gray necrotic tissue caused by oxygen deprivation. it's quite likely that this dead tissue would have been cleaned out by earthworms and other friendly soil creatures, but I feared that it would provide an invitation to harmful bacteria or fungi, so I scooped it out.

Since blackheart is not associated with pathogens, I can't see any harm in planting to affected potatoes -- the vines won't have as good a start in life as they would have with more food available to them, but I'm willing to give them a chance.

Potatoes don't grow well in soil with a pH of 7 or higher. Since the soil here is alkaline and heavy clay to boot, I had a load of sandy loam from near the river in Bastrop brought to my yard, to use for Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other plants that do better in slightly acidic soil. I have not tested the sandy loam, but I know it's acidic, because pine trees grow well in that area.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Germination of Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) Seeds

The dense, sweet seed pods each contain a number of seeds (up to 15 or 20). I broke open the pods with pliers and found that each seed was contained within an individual pod, which I also broke open with pliers. The seeds themselves have very hard coats. Since mesquite seeds germinate best at high temperatures, I will wait another month or more before I plant them.

I found the following info on the Internet:

Although scarification is not necessary, it will speed germination. Best germination is at 29 degrees C (84 degrees F). The seeds must be fully covered with soil - .25 inch is recommended.

To make flour from the pods: dry them thoroughly in sun or oven until they are brittle, then run the whole pods through a mill - the seeds themselves will go through whole, so the flour will have to be sifted to get the seeds out before using it in bread or porridge or pancakes.

I found a book about mesquite trees -- looks like I'm not the only one who thinks it's a wonderful tree. Unfortunately, the cost of the book is $121 on amazon.