Sunday, February 27, 2011

cereal grains, petrochemical inputs, and speculation

looking at the numbers can be confusing, misleading, or both so i am just going to report what i found without much interpretation beyond saying that speculators will always be happy to see commodity prices rise, no matter who is is the nature of speculation to "buy cheap and sell dear"...there is litte room for altruism in that philosophy...not an editorial per se ( wrong blog for that) just saying...the good news first...the price of natural gas is down to $4.04 per 1000 cu./ft. ...aside from doing most of the cooking and heating hot water and homes, it is the feedstock for anhydrous ammonia which is what gets put on the corn fields around here by way of artificial nitrogen fertilizer ( comes in the big white tanks on wheels to tow behind the tractors in the fields...look around in late april[if it's a warm spring] or may and you'll see them )...if the natural gas price is down anhydrous ammonia will be cheper too...its cost has been down the last couple of less cost to farmer brown...what else? well, the price of wheat dropped form $348.69 a tonne to $326.09 a tonne so that may be a bit of help in food costs around the globe...but i wouldn't count on it continuing to drop just yet...that exhausts my good news...on the other side...maize is up to $303.94 from $284.06 a tonne and sorgham ( the staple of the poor of africa ) is up to $296.32 from $221.58...and all this in just a few weeks ( i think my last blog on this subject was twenty days ago)...$25 just put 7.001 gallons of 89 octane gasoline in my truck because the price of a barrel of oil was $98.23 just a few minutes ago...that isn't going to help in the cost of running farm machinery moving the feedstock to the processing plants( hardly anyone grows food least on farms), emulsifying, extruding, blending, and packaging the product, and then moving it to the distribution centers, all before it makes the trip home in the back of your station wagon, mini-van, suv, motorcycle, compact car, etc....specualtors are having a field day with oil right now...which relates back to all the disturbances that are afoot in the arab world...which are, at least in part, coupled to food prices...we are all bound together in of an integrated whole where one thing leads to another and it is all too complex for simple analyses like this or those you'd find in the media...i am certainly no expert...just trying to have a reasoned look at what's up and understand what i can...i know that agriculture almost anywhere is deeply dependent on petrochemical inputs ( and the garden is no's organic...all compost and manure in there with the plants...but that has to get to campus somehow[as well as the gardener] and the somehow is a chevy pick-up...when the university so kindly puts a spigot by the garden so i don't have to haul water form inside hawthorn hall the garden is using energy beyond sunlight again...the water has to be pumped electricity is involved.) and when the cost of a barrel of oil goes up so does the cost of food wherever you are and however much you have to spend for it may not go as far...wish it were different...hope some of the things we are trying to do in the garden shed some light on how that might come about...stay tuned...spring is nearly hear and we will be out and actually doing somethig rather than just speculating.

Monday, February 21, 2011

a family get together... what's going on under the grow light...ten trees of the original twelve are still growing...ranging from a bit over four inches to one that's not quite never took off and a small one keeled over this week...i am hopeful but wary...i never claimed to be a good gardener...just a curious one...and not afraid to try and fail in order to learn...the rouge grasses are doing well signs of tillering which puts a damper on the teosinte hopes...i am inclined to think the potting mix wasn't seed-free and the grew because i am lesss than fastidious in procedures at times...doen't really matter here at home...i can be as "content over form" as i like....on campus is anoher story...and we will be back out there soon...even though it is snowing as i write...winter took some time off last week but spring hasn't quite yet spurng...that will change next month as we unmulch and the yams and jerusalem artichokes come back of a second season to keep the root crops and grasses company...can't wait.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

lunch menu

peeled, fried in canola oil, seasoned with garlic salt...a bit sweeter than potatoes and a pretty good lunch...altogether from digging them up to finished food there was about two hours of work involved...mostly peeling.

february tubers

it has been above freezing for a few days here so ithought it might be a good time to try to recover some jerusalem artichokes...forty-three days hve passed since the last time i could get at storage system needs tweaking...i would like to find a system that allows me somewhat more consistent acess not dependent on the weather...a rudimantary root cellar has appeal and i am looking at various types i could use...the biggest issue with jerusalem artichokes is that they will shrivel in a dry thet msut be kept moist or frozen...burying them is the most convenient way of doing that ( for me ) so it will have to be in ground...i am thinking along the lines of a compartmentalized trench ( rather than just chucking them in the ground ) that will keep them in soil and frozen above the frost line, but will allow the removal of cubes of frozen soil to be thawed inside and used as desired..summer will allow time to develop a prototype and next season can be the test lab... i tapped into a vein that seemed to conatain a large number of smaller tubers so i brought in about one hundred and fifty of them...they filled the sink this time...but it took me an hour and fifteen minutes to peel the little devils..i will be frying them in canola oil at lunch to serve as a side dish for something or other ( photos later)...i still have around five hundred of these to utilize before they begin to infest my back yard with new plants...i have planted eighteen of them in known spots as it is...which should yield more tha a thousand tubers if the condidtions are good, i don't need volunteers...along with the ten or so plants in the garden on campus the second generation of sunchokes seems promising.

the campus garden has begun to emerge form the snow...the mulching has held up as well as it did last season so the yams and asparagus should be good to go...the mulch comes off at the end of next month...the teosinte goes in...spring wheat sometime in april...and then the annual root crops...i weary of being inactive beyond the apple trees ( i've lost one and another never really started after i germinated...that leaves ten doing and an update later this weekend) and am ready for the season to will be good to DO something beyond planning and reading...this stuff is addictive.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

oh they'e rouge grasses alright...

...but what kind? don't know yet, but i am assuming they stowed away in the compost or potting mix...can't feature them being teosinte from last spring laying about waiting for conditions to improve...however they all did germinate and begin growing in the soil your sloppy gardener left on the potting table ( i took photos this evening just to prove to myself i wasn't hallucinating the whole thing ) six in all so far...i just jammed them into a couple of pots to wait until they mature enough to identify...they just look like grass right now...if they begin to tiller i will yell loudly...but i do not expect them soon as some sort of id is arrived at i will tell all...and the trees are still doing well.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

are there rouge seeds in the potting mix or am i just that sloppy?

as though my photos, writing, and general deportment hadn't given this away some time ago...i can be a bit of a slob at times...sloppy with soil...sloppy with water..i have always belived in content over form...i agree with charles bukowski...when form becomes important it's because there's nothing to really there's soil and spahgnam moss and potting mix and compost all over the work table i'm growing plants on...i went down there this morning to check on things and water the plants before i left for work and what did i find growing in the soil on the tabletop? grass...this isn't the first time i've had grasses in with my trees ( which, as i believe i have pointed out, are just big grasses) and it's got me wondering...i eliminated the last grass because it was interfering with a tree (that didn't survive anyway) and it ws a choice between helping the tree or satisfying my curiosity about what it might be that had sprouted and where it had come from...i chose the tree last time, but these were growing in soil on the table top ( i didn't take my camera down there this morning...i wasn't really expecting to find plants growing on the table and i was under some time i have no photos of this event...too bad) so i chucked them into some soil in some pots and gave them some water...this is the same table i was trying to grow teosinte on last spring so i am somewhat curious as to whether these grasses that are turning up are seeds spilled on the table last spring that are now germinating, or if there are rouge seeds in the compost or potting mix taking advantage of the habitat i'm provising for the trees...whichever it is you'll know as soon as i find out...if it's a bunch grass it isn't teosinte...if it starts to tiller i will be writing and photographing from now until fall.

so far the new batch of trees are doing okay...between one and three inches tall...i have more seeds ( an apple at breakfast every day provides an abundance of seeds) that i have not put in to germoinate yet because; 1) i am waitin gto see how this batch does, and; 2) i have some issues with space...there is safety in numbers and i will be doing these things in batches until some actually become saplings...then we will think about where the orchard will be.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

salts and sustainability

"the valuable ingredients of the soil ( potash, lime, magnesia, sulphuric and phosphoric acids is the list he gives in the preceding paragraph of the book...mostly alkaline) which are water soluable, have been washed out of the soil in humid regions, like our eastern states, by the rains of centuries. on the other hand, these elements have been accumulating in the arid soils of the west during those same centuries. they lie there like an inexhaustable bank account on which the plant life of the future may draw without fear of protest.
from " the conquest of the arid west." by william ellsworth smythe published in 1900. p.38
"in the west many soils are classified as saline or alkaline. irrigation water percolates through them, then returns to the river. it is diverted downstream, used again, and returned to the river. on rivers like the colorado or the platte the same water may be used eighteen times over. it also spends a good deal of its time in reservoirs which, in desert country, may lose eight or twelve feet off their surface to the sun every year. the process continues, salts are picked up, fresh water evaporates, salts are picked up, fresh water evaporates."
"cadillac desert" mark reisner p.459

those alkalines smythe is writing about make the desert bloom under irrgation...for a while...and it can be quite a while if there's good drainage...unless, of course, the water from the river you're using to irrigate already has a healthy dose of salts in it...or if there's poor drainage like the san joauquin valley which is gaining more salts in its soils every drainage = waterlogged soils...evaporation=salts left behind...dump on more salty water and the problem just compounds...the fertile crescent grew lots of wheat 5500 yaers 4500 years ago they grew mostly barley...why? wheat is notoriously intolerant of kills wheat...barley can take mare salt in the soil...the alkaline soils of iraq have a clay underlayer that makes for poor drainage...salts accumulate until, eventually, nothing will grow...irrigation is a tricky business and the acerage in the desert southwest is as saline or alkaine as any in the about 3700 years ago there were massive crop failures in sumeria because of the salt build-up..a process that took 1800 years or so...the san joauquin valley is losing an alarming ammount of acerage to salinity in just over one hundred..that "inexhaustable bank account" is more like a loan and the balloon payments are coming due.

Monday, February 7, 2011

cereal grain prices

so what's going on here? i've been noticing food prices rising a bit over the last six or seven months...milk, bread, butter, in my house...even macdonald's is mulling a price know when fast food raises its prices somethig must be going on...but what? have a look at cereal grain prices and many things may become clearer...let's just look at price rises in the last seven months since july of 2010 ( and here's where i got the data )
barley went from $156.36 a tonne to $189.60...okay barley is not a big time staple so who's going to notice except, maybe, beer drinkers or those who like barley in their soups ( which is what it gets used for here)...maize was $163.92 and is now $284.06 ( all these are prices per tonne) wheat went from $195.82 to $348.69 ( that explains the cost of a bunch of things at the local supermarket).. rice was $470.68 and is now $536.98 ( clearly the most expensive of all the cereals...for want of a better explanation[and i am open to hearing better ones] i have to think demand is the key here...more people eat rice as a staple so the demand keeps prices up) finally sorghum went from $132.40 to $221.58...not the steepest price rise, but it is the fifth most important cereal grain grown in the world and feeds the poorest of the poor in south america and especially in africa...any increase in its price is going to financially squeeze those who can least afford it and who already expend most of their income on why the spike in prices? well...the hacks at the national corn growers association are for ever gushing about the wonders of ethanol and biofuels and how corn is great raw material for those processes...which it may be...but in the food system we live in corn is feedstock for the processd and fast food industries...from high fructose corn syrup to feed for beef it is the raw material that makes fast food work...every kernel of corn that goes into the fuel tank doesn't go into hot pockets or big macs...just competes with the dollar menu is up for inflation...wheat? well some big wheat producers like russia and australia have been having some climate issues that have impacted their crops ( brazil too)...climate nina...wild fires...just bad luck...whatever you want to put down as the cause the fact is the price is up because supply is down and demand is probably might want to ascribe sorghum prices as being subject to poor production methods, bad transport systems, corrupt governments, and a host of other third world ills..and that could be part of it...globalitarian export model economics and austrerity measures crammed down the throats of debtor nations ( debtor nations without thermonuclear weapons and advanced militaries, that is )by the world bank, imf, and archer daniels midaland, doing their part to destroy tarditional cultures and their agricultural systems may play a less than minor part as well...things are a bit unsettled around the world right now...people are unhappy with many facets of life and they are disinclined to be quietist any longer...lots of people in the streets...mostly in the, to use unforunately industriocentric definitions, "developing" and "underdeveloped" world...i have to wonder how much of that unrest is the result of an ominous rise in food prices...whatever the cause of that increase might paraphrase orwell..."if you want to eat your christmas dinner in peace you'd do well to insure everyone else has one too." we need to take a close look at how we do business and how we treat the ecosystems we are a part of ( despite our human exceptionalism that tells us we just happen to live on the planet and don't have to take it seriously) before the ecosystems show us exactly how dependent we are on them.

the photos, incidently, are of hard red winter wheat in the half barrel ( and a few beds) in my back yard, and in the garden on campus...i will be planting spring wheat at home and on campus as well, and, if we can keep the starlings off it ( i am told the bird tape will do the trick...and it won't harm the starlings...just distract and unsettle them) we'll see how it is such a small crop that i can water it so the vagaries of climate should not be an issue for it...but who knows what will go on between now and harvest.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

if something of a tedious pattern is emerging... could, i suppose. blame me for continuing to post when not a lot is going on...then again i'm doing the apple trees precisiely because there's not alot of anything else to do at the moment...there's about a foot-and-a-half of snow in my backyard...the beds are buried...and my storage experiment is in obvious need of a substantial embarassment i know...but i am learning as i go so bear with me...there is research going on into that and i wll be writing more about my thoughts on how to make next year's harvest of jerusalem artichokes more readily accessable through the winter as the thoughts and information coalesce into a plan...meanwhile there are a dozen apple trees in various stages of development under the light ( the original two are no longer unfortunately...these are sprouted form apples grown in michigan and i am hopeful of a better success rate)...the first photo is of one that hasn't fully ejected its seedcase is greening up nicely and will free itself soon enough...the second photo is of a seedling that escaped form its case yesterday and is preparing to turn towards the light and open ( i know this is self-evident...pardon my geekieness at it all)...and the last photo is of a tree that has been loose for a week...i have more seeds but i have not started the germinating process yet because 1) i want to see how this set does and, 2) there is a dearth of room for any more plants right now and i will be starting tomatoes at the end of this month...unless i scrounge up a third table, more apple trees will have to's winter and everything is out of patient please...more variety in plants and subject matter ( storage, water use, erosion, photos of seedling corn to compare morphology with teosinte, the official opening of the garden on campus for its second season, winter wheat, spring wheat, wheat grass, gamagrass, yams, etc.) is forthcoming as it finds its time.