Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Compost and its Importance to the Food We Eat

Sitric Compost Garden Community -

Dan Barber, US chef extraordinaire and champion of sustainable agriculture ( explains that COMPOST is the most important ingredient in his recipe for the best tasting salad.
Compost warms the greenhouse seedlings. Compost does so much more .

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Scientists say California hasn’t been this dry in 500 years

Scientists say California hasn’t been this dry in 500 years
By Darryl Fears
September 2015 

A snowboarder threads his way through patches of dirt in Olympic Valley, Calif. Many Tahoe-area ski resorts have closed due to low snowfall as California’s historic drought continues. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Researchers knew California’s drought was already a record breaker when they set out to find its exact place in history, but they were surprised by what they discovered: It has been 500 years since what is now the Golden State has been this dry.

California is in the fourth year of a severe drought with temperatures so high and precipitation so low that rain and snow evaporate almost as soon as they hit the ground. A research paper released Monday said an analysis of blue oak tree rings in the state’s Central Valley showed that the amount of mountain snow California relies on for moisture hasn’t been so low since the 1500s. That was around the time when European explorers landed in what became San Diego, when Columbus set off on a final voyage to the Caribbean, when King Henry VIII was alive.

A team of researchers embarked on the study in April when state officials announced they had found “no snow whatsoever” in the Sierra Nevada mountains for the first time in 75 years of measuring. The research showed the level of snowpack is actually the lowest it has been in five centuries. Mountain snowpack provides 30 percent of California’s annual water supply when it melts and flows to rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs. Across the state, the levels of water in those bodies are nearing historic lows.

[Global warming worsened the California drought, scientists say]

“The results were astonishing,” Valerie Trouet, an associate professor at the University of Arizona who was a senior author for the study published in the journal Nature. “We knew it was an all-time low over a historical period, but to see this as a low for the last 500 years, we didn’t expect that. There’s very little doubt about it.”

Drought plagues California
Climate models suggest many Western states will face longer and harsher droughts in the decades to come.

In a statement, Nature said the “findings highlight the critical condition” of California’s reservoirs and groundwater, where water the state needs for municipalities and agriculture is stored. Both of those sources are slowly being drained, with little precipitation to replenish the rivers and lakes that supply them.

The small amount of moisture stored in plants and the soil is quickly evaporating into the state’s dry atmosphere, exposing the parched ground to lightning strikes that spark wildfires. California has experienced about a thousand more wildfires this fire season compared to last, including two that are currently raging in the northern part of the state.

California is having its “second-busiest season in a decade,” said Stanton Florea, a spokesman for the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region, which manages 21 million acres of wildlands in California.

In April, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) ordered the state’s first mandatory water cut for metropolitan areas. He announced the restriction from a dry patch of grass in the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe that normally would have been wet from melting snow.

Since that day, the state’s 400 water utilities have implemented water cuts of up to 35 percent in some areas, and farmers who long enjoyed the right to freely take water from rivers to water crops and hydrate livestock gave up a quarter of those rights for fear that the state would restrict them even more. Federal and state officials have used convoys to truck salmon and other fish from one part of the state to another, fearing a mass die-off if they tried to migrate to the Pacific Ocean in rivers that are abnormally low and completely dry in places.

[10 animals that will disappear with Western sagebrush]

And the news keeps getting worse. A study by scientists at NASA and Columbia University said California was one of several states in the Southwest facing a mega-drought that could last up to 30 years if greenhouse gas emissions are not dramatically curtailed by 2050. A study by scientists at Stanford University said a future of more-frequent drought in California is a near certainty because temperatures are increasing at a time when precipitation rates are steady, allowing heat to overwhelm the moisture. And another Columbia study said California’s current drought is part of a natural pattern, but human-caused climate change has made it significantly worse.

The Columbia study analyzed month-to-month climate data between 1901 and 2014 to find fluctuations in precipitation, wind, temperature and humidity. It said average temperatures in California have increased by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit over 113 years. And, starting in the 1960s, heat increased with the introduction of more greenhouse gases from automobiles and other sources.

“When greenhouse gases accumulate, it’s like a bully showing up at your door to demand that you give it more and more every year,” said the study’s lead author, Park Williams, a bio-climatologist at Columbia University’s Earth Science Institute. In California, that meant more moisture evaporated from rain and from groundwater sprayed on crops in farming regions such as the Central Valley.

Thursday’s study “confirms the same message” of the earlier studies, and supports their warnings about the impacts of climate change, Trouet said. “It’s dry. We’re not just confirming, we’re refining.”

The historic nature of the current drought was well known, but how it ranked over time was not. When Trouet and her team learned in April that snowpack that usually supplies 30 percent of the California’s potable water each year was so low, “we realized we had the data from previous research to put this into context for the longer term,” she said.

What they didn’t have were fresh tree samples, so Stahle of Arkansas traveled to the Central Valley and extracted a core sample from blue oak trees. Blue oaks love winter rain, and their tree rings express it with wide bands. Low periods of moisture result in narrow bands. “It’s like a bar code,” said Trouet.

A warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
Blue oaks in the valley are a long way from the Sierra Nevada mountains in the northern part of the state, but the same weather systems that supply rain to the low elevations where they stand result in snow in high mountain elevations. Analyzing the new core samples and others taken in previous years, the scientists didn’t observe rings as narrow at low elevations as today’s until a period that dated from the 1500s.

“We looked at the past 500 years,” Trouet said. “This is the most extreme. It doesn’t mean this won’t happen again for another 500 years. It’s likely that this will happen more often in the future because of the low amount of precipitation combined with higher temperatures makes it likely that they will occur together more often, causing droughts.”

Hundreds of homes destroyed in Calif. Valley Fire  ----  Play Video1:12
A fast-moving wildfire in north-central California has destroyed hundreds of building since igniting Saturday. Thousands of residents have been forced to flee Middletown and nearby communities. (Reuters)

 Darryl Fears has worked at The Washington Post for more than a decade, mostly as a reporter on the National staff. He currently covers the environment, focusing on the Chesapeake Bay and issues affecting wildlife.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Organic farming continues to rise across the globe

World Progress Watch

2 million of the world’s 1.5 billion farmers are now producing organically, with nearly 80 percent based in developing countries. India boasts the most certified organic producers, followed by Uganda and Mexico.

By Kendra Nordin, Staff writer February 17, 2015

 Across the decades of boom and bust that characterize agricultural history runs a trend: the rise and recognition of organic farming worldwide.

According to the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), 2 million of the world’s 1.5 billion farmers are now producing organically, with nearly 80 percent based in developing countries. India boasts the most certified organic producers, followed by Uganda and Mexico.

Currently 164 nations have certified organic farms, powering an industry worth $63.9 billion. (In 2000, there were 86 countries with certified farms producing $15.2 billion.) With this growth come opportunities for farmers to add value to their products and access expanding markets.

While the 94 million acres of certified organic agricultural land constitutes less than 1 percent of total global agricultural land, industry analysts call the growth of organics significant, also noting that the certified numbers fail to account for the vast numbers of small-scale farmers who use organic methods by default.

“[There are] probably 500 million small family farms worldwide; most of those are traditional farmers who farm primarily through organic principles,” says Andre Leu, president of IFOAM.

He adds that 200,000 organic farmers become newly certified each year. “In most places there is still a dramatic loss [in the numbers] of farmers and ... where we see growth is in the organic sector.”

Farmers today, battling climate swings and plummeting farm incomes, are essentially faced with four options: leave farming completely, obtain off-farm income, expand and play the commodity game more efficiently, or find ways to add value per unit of production, says Joel Gruver, a soil science professor at Western Illinois University in Macomb.

“Basically, organic farming anywhere in the world – if you are certified – is the one label that is most clearly defined,” says Professor Gruver, the university’s director of organic research. “Each nation has its own rules in how they define organic, but the general set of rules is very much the same,” he says. Organic methods eschew chemical additives and rely on such practices as crop rotation to harness ecological processes that promote healthy soils and fight disease, weeds, and pests.

For consumers, organic farming addresses a range of issues on which many feel conventional farming falls short: environmental impact, pesticide residues, and nutritional quality. It addresses concerns about energy consumption and climate change, and even restores a social connection to the land that many feel commodity farming has eroded.
In fact, consumer demand is the driving force behind the growth. In 2012 in the United States and Europe, markets with a healthy appetite for organic goods, there was a 10 percent year-on-year rise in sales.

“Organic farming is the fastest growing multi-product sector in the world,” says Mr. Leu. “[I]f you go into any store now, organic products are in every section. Anything from dairy to [prepared foods] to body care products to organic clothing.... And there is no other sector like that.”

Organic farming does draw critics. Some question the consistency of its accreditation and labeling system. There is debate over whether organics deliver higher nutritional value, and concern that the certification process is too costly to allow for financial success. And there is doubt over whether organic methods can yield enough to feed an ever-growing population. Yet consumer preference continues to grow.

“[T]here is more demand than supply,” says Anna Lappé, author of “Diet for a Hot Planet.” Ms. Lappé also points out that less than 1 percent of agricultural research funding now goes toward refining proven chemical-free farming methods.

Still, there have been considerable efforts to support organic farmers. A growing number of nonprofits provide microloans. IFOAM publishes the principles of organic farming on its website for those who want to practice it but can’t yet afford certification. Countries such as Denmark and Sweden have set goals for organic agriculture. The US offers small grants and loans.

Commercial investment may gain momentum, too. Nature’s Path, an organic cereal manufacturer, recently bought 5,640 acres of farmland in Canada and northern Montana in efforts to support organic family farmers there.

Friday, February 20, 2015

How changing the way we farm could reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Certain farming practices can trap a majority of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. On a global scale, this could even lead to a net decrease in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels — or, in other words, help reverse climate change.

By Skylar Lindsay, FoodTank September 3, 2014

A recent study by the Rodale Institute documents how specific organic farming practices can trap a majority of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. On a global scale, this could even lead to a net decrease in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels — or, in other words, help reverse climate change.

The study, “Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming,” highlights soil’s natural ability to trap carbon from the atmosphere. This process, called carbon sequestration, occurs when photosynthesis removes carbon from the air faster than other biological processes, like respiration, release it.

According to the Rodale, if half of the world’s croplands were shifted to regenerative methods, the world could reduce net annual greenhouse gas emissions from 51 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent to below 41– the threshold necessary by 2020 to limit global warming to 1.5º C.

The figures are based on 75 peer-reviewed studies and on test sites throughout the world where organic and conventional methods are compared side by side. These include Rodale’s long-running Farming Systems Trial (FST) in the United States and more recent Tropical Farming Systems Trial in Costa Rica. Rodale uses this data to calculate a rate of carbon sequestration per area of land cultivated, and then scale-up to see the impact of global adoption of each practice.

For example, if all current cropland were cultivated using methods tested in Iran and Egypt, 21 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO₂e), or 40 percent of global emissions, could be sequestered annually. If applied to the world’s pasture and grassland, Rodale calculates its recommendations could sequester 37 GtCO₂e, or over 70 percent of emissions. Changing the cultivation of cropland, pasture, and grassland together could lead to a net reduction in the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Rodale’s recommendations focus on soil health, biodiversity, and avoiding farming methods that contribute to a net release of carbon including the overuse and misuse of pesticides, artificial fertilizers, and unnecessary tilling. The regenerative techniques include crop rotation, cover crops, mulching and green manure, composting, and no-till practices.

Cover cropping techniques increase soil carbon via photosynthesis and better carbon retention in topsoil layers. Perennial cover crops, called living mulches, are especially effective due to large, deep root systems. Strategic crop rotations increase soil carbon levels, and coupled with on-farm composting and cover cropping, encourages soil microbes that absorb carbon. These regenerative practices also help carbon-absorbing fungi populations.

Skylar Lindsay majors in Peace & Conflict Studies at Colgate University, where he heads the organic farming initiative and leads for the Outdoor Education program.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Beauty of Pollination - Moving Art ™

The Beauty of Pollination - Moving Art ™
- a very short, but beautiful video presented
as part of a TED Talk conference in 2011.

This video was shown at the TED conference in 2011, with scenes from "Wings of Life", a film about the threat to essential pollinators that produce over a third of the food we eat. The seductive love dance between flowers and pollinators sustains the fabric of life and is the mystical keystone event where the animal and plant worlds intersect that make the world go round.  Enjoy!!!

"Wings of Life" now streaming on Netflix!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Little Things Matter: The Impact of Toxins on the Developing Brain

From the:
Canadian Environmental Health Atlas

Published November 11, 2014
We’ve been studying the impact of toxins on children for the past 30 years and reached the inescapable conclusion: little things matter. We’ve discovered that extremely low levels of toxins can impact brain development. We have also discovered that subtle shifts in the intellectual abilities of individual children have a big impact on the number of children in a population that are challenged or gifted. Steps should be taken to reduce children's exposure to toxins or suspected toxins.

Just another reason to embrace organic food and a chemical free environment.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Wasps saved her gardens


Wasps saved her geraniums

10/18/2014 12:00 AM

Read more here:

A reader had a complaint regarding tiny green caterpillars in her geranium plants. The answer is to get rid of the white moth that lays an egg in each geranium bud. The caterpillar egg hatches out in a few days and the tiny worm eats the inside of the bud. Hence, there’s no flower or a damaged one.
The secret to my hedge rows of beautiful full-blooming geraniums is a black wasp that buzzes in and out of the bushes and leaves them thoroughly devoid of eggs and caterpillars. The wasps come to my garden uninvited. Where they come from, I do not know. They just solved a bad situation.
Margaret Tucher, Davis

You are fortunate that a beneficial insect – a parasitic wasp – is limiting pests on your geraniums, said UC master gardener Lorraine Van Kekerix.

The wasps break the life cycle of a common moth that lays eggs in several common flowering plants including petunias and geraniums, one of the moth’s preferred host plants. The adult moth does not eat the plant.

The moth’s wings are about 1 1/2 inches across; the color ranges from light green to brownish with lighter colored bars across the wings. It’s not the familiar white cabbage moth but another pest, the geranium or tobacco budworm moth.

When the moth eggs hatch, geranium budworm larvae emerge. The larvae eat the plants and do the damage. Specifically, geranium budworms eat the developing flower buds so the buds do not open. Severely affected plants may not produce flowers at all.

The geranium budworms eat flower petals as well as the buds. If the infestation is particularly large, they may eat leaves as well. While this pest prefers geraniums, petunias and tobacco (including flowering tobacco), it will also attack other flowers and plants.

What you describe in your rows of geraniums is a beneficial insect, a parasitic wasp. A parasite feeds on a host organism. Most parasites are smaller than the host and often are the larval stages of an insect. Specialized flies and wasps are the most common types of parasitic insects, and there are several types of parasitic wasps that can attack geranium budworms.

Most of these wasps are tiny and do not sting people. Parasitic wasps lay eggs in or on the geranium budworm. When the wasp larvae emerge, they develop by feeding on and killing the worm. Parasitic wasps can lay hundreds of eggs a day.

A beneficial insect is part of the natural cycle of checks and balances when it destroys or reduces a rapid increase in the pest population. We benefit as we no longer need to deal with the pest. There are many ways to protect and increase the population of these naturally occurring beneficial insects in our gardens.

Start by reducing use of broad-spectrum pesticides (that kill a wide range of insects) in the garden. Broad-spectrum pesticides often kill the beneficial insects in higher proportions than the pests. Many pesticide residues persist in the garden, and those residues can reduce the reproduction of these beneficial insects or kill them long after the pesticide was originally applied.

If a pesticide is needed, spare the beneficials by choosing a less persistent pesticide or one that kills only specific pests. For example, Bacillus thuringensis affects only caterpillars including geranium budworms, hornworms and cabbage worms.

To maintain a population of beneficial insects, design your garden to provide the food and habitat they need. These insects need nectar, pollen and shelter throughout the growing season so the population is large enough to control the pests.

Gardens with a wide variety of plants that bloom at different times throughout the seasons can provide these good guys the food and shelter they need at all life stages.

For more information on beneficial insects, visit the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management website and obtain Pest Note 74140, “Biological Control and Natural Enemies.” You can find it at

The IPM website also features a picture gallery of natural enemies, which includes beneficial insects.
The gallery is very useful in identifying beneficial insects. It’s likely you’ll recognize several that are already helping to control the pests in your garden.

Read more here: