Showing posts with label agriculture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label agriculture. Show all posts

October 25, 2018

"Fields End Freedom"

Harvested cornfield and corn bins, North Dakota
"As centuries, then millennia passed, the areas open for retreat [back to a hunter-gatherer way of life] dwindled, and farming culture became ingrained and habitual. The assumption of its  'superiority' has likewise become ingrained in us, its modern inheritors.This is the assumption that we now have to question. Superior it certainly was in most cases as the mode of production at the base of a new competitive complex — the militarized urban-agrarian state. But in terms of the quality of life for the general run of the population at the time of its introduction, as opposed to the elite? It seems doubtful. It must be remembered: fields end freedom. Whatever the astonishing subsequent achievements of civilization, it had a little-recognized price: humanity itself became one of its own domesticated species. We enslaved ourselves to conquer."

Chapter 5, "War and the Logic of Short-term Advantage."

May 11, 2016

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Colorado Flower Growers Assn. carnation ad 
(Morgan Library, Colorado State University).

That line from Pete Seeger's anti-war ballad is appropriate because this story starts (for me) in the 1960s.

I was in Miss Carter's sixth-grade class at Kullerstrand Elementary School in Wheat Ridge, a Denver suburb, and one day she took us on a class trip to her fiancé's family business.

They were commercial carnation growers with a complex of greenhouses somewhere in west Denver, and we were told all about the growing and dyeing (yes, many were dyed) of carnations.

Denver was the "carnation capital of the world," as far as the locals were concerned. The greenhouse industry took off in the 1870s as irrigation systems were built. By 1928 there ws a Colorado Flower Growers trade association, and carnation-growing peaked around the time that Miss Carter became Mrs. Davis (I think), and we kids had to accustom ourselves to her new name.

What happened? This timeline from an online history of the Colorado flower trade tells part of the story:
1976 – The carnation industry in Colorado begins to decline due to increasing competition from Californian and South American flower growers, the rising cost of fuel for heating and air-conditioning the greenhouses, and limited expansion of greenhouses in the state.
Two further explanations: The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 led to the sudden jump in prices for heating oil, gasoline, propane, diesel, etc. And the "increasing competition" from South American cut-flower producers was a direct result of the War on (Some) Drugs, with American dollars going to (chiefly Colombian) growers on the theory that building i[ that industry would make producing cocaine, etc., less attractive.

Judge for yourself how well that scheme worked out, but at least roses and carnations got cheaper at the grocery store flower counter. People were selling cheap carnations on street corners — remember that?

By the time I was in my twenties, you could find numerous empty greenhouses in certain Denver neighborhoods—shattered glass roofs, no sign of vegetative life but weeds. Many were located on sites that were probably attractive to developers.

I wonder, though, what happened to my teacher and her husband. Did they see what was coming and bail out? Did they go bankrupt, eternally bitter at the U.S. government for subsidizing their competitors? Did they close the business, sell the land, and find something new?

That story came crashing back when I saw this headline: "Major Flower Business Fears Migration to Marijuana."
The  CEO of 1-800-Flowers frets he might lose some of his best suppliers in states that have burgeoning marijuana industries, saying he’s afraid growers will realize that cannabis could be a more lucrative profession.

Such an exodus would expand the ranks of marijuana growers, adding a crop of seasoned veterans to the industry’s ranks.
 Too late for the Davises.

December 28, 2015

Massive 2015 Year-End Link Dump! Something for Everyone!

Chef Jess Noy. See squirrel item.
I too often save a link to blog about it but them am too busy to do so. So here they are! All free!

Aspens in western Oregon could be "refugees" from Ice Age floods.

An article on Outdoor Wire wondered if the movie Wild would give a boost to backpacking or if The Hunger Games would increase the sale of archery gear. Well, did they?

• Not sure how this turned out: a Jewish kind-of-guru and a land-use battle in the Huerfano Valley of southern Colorado.

• What is the best survival knife? I would say that it's the knife you have with you. But, gear heads, read this article.

• When I was in the 6th grade at Kullerstrand Elementary School in Wheat Ridge, Colo., my teacher, Miss Carter, became engaged to the son of a carnation-raising family. She took us on a class trip through the commercial greenhouses — there used to be operations like that all over the area. Then, boom! no more. All the cut flowers came from Colombia, thanks to the War on Drugs ("We will pay them to grow roses instead of coca.") Now, "Colorado farmers, florists seek renaissance for local flower scene."

• Cañon City commercial herb and flower grower Tammy Hartung blogs on "Protecting Wildlife in the Garden & Farm Landscape."

• BoingBoing offers "The Best Adventure Stories for Kids from 1965." Is having adventures retro-cool? Elidar was actually one of Alan Garner's weaker books, I thought.

• Counting roadkill is depressing: "Our Highways' Toll on Wildlife." A game warden in Fremont County, Colo., once told me that he figured a deer or elk was killed every night of the year by a motor vehicle. No doubt some of those drivers think that hunting is cruel.

The English discover that squirrels are tasty. Also, redheads rule.

The Salton Sea was an accident, but birds love it. I finally saw it this past March.

• It's cold this week. Are you at risk for "the frozen five"?

The "locavore movement" boosts deer hunting, in case you did not know.

• What southern Colorado needs is a good "guntry club." But I expect that northern Colorado will get (or has gotten) one sooner, since that is where the money is. Still, I can fantasize.

• Are you feeding the birds this winter? Some thoughts on where to put your feeders. And keep them clean.  And if you want birds, you have to tolerate some insects.

• What happens when a professional wedding photographer goes elk hunting.

Don't make these dumb moves when you go to a gun shop.

• I have heard some of these: "Female Hunters Share Tales of Sexism."

How to shoot down a drone. Hint: they are more like pigeons than geese.

• It kind of amazes me that Bishop's Castle is the must-see tourist attraction in the Wet Mountains. But almost everyone who rents our cabin goes there.

• When I worked at the Cañon City Daily Record, part of my job was visiting the local humane society and photographing the adoptable pet of the week. I learned some these things by trial and error, but I wish that I had had this article to read.

September 09, 2014

Transhumance Today


From northwestern Wyoming, Cat Urbigkit posts a brief video of her family's sheep coming down from summer range. The dogs, of course, are at the end.

She writes,
This video demonstrates transhumance — the season movement of livestock and people, something that occurs throughout the American West. Most range flocks include about 1,000 ewes, accompanied by their lambs.
This Wyoming flock is owned by a family ranch, one of 600 range outfits in the West. Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and this was my family's way of celebrating what wilderness means to us — cheers to man and beast!
All the dogs with black coloration are herding dogs (5 or 6 with this herd). There were 7-9 livestock guardian dogs with this bunch as well - both white and some red-coloration (representing Akbash and Central Asian Ovcharka lineages).

May 04, 2014

Blog Stew on Horseback

 ¶ Western dude ranchers are having to buy bigger horses for fatter guests.
"Little horses just aren't sturdy enough to hold up in a dude operation in the Rocky Mountains," Kipp Saile said, noting that about 15 of their 60 horses were Percheron mixes, the largest weighing 1,800 pounds.
¶ Colorado's oil and gas-drilling boom is polluting farm land (spills, drilling waste), and oil companies hope that microbes will clean up the hydrocarbons.
The number of spills reported by companies reached a 10-year peak of 578 last year (43 related to the September floods), contaminating an estimated 173,400 tons of topsoil, according to the COGCC data, which come from reports companies are required to file.

While energy companies responsible for spills recover much of the liquid hydrocarbons during cleanups, an analysis of the data shows that roughly 45 percent stays in soil.
¶ Never mind the propaganda about how corn-based ethanol is "patriotic." Even the business press, like Forbes, is moving to the position that ethanol is a loss overall. (Especially when you use High Plains Aquifer water to grow the corn.)

March 30, 2014

Blog Stew Must Have Chile Peppers

¶ Oh no! New Mexico chile production is falling. Pueblo County will just have to take up the slack.

¶ I doubt that Timothy Bal of Belle Mead, N.J., would want to rent our vacation cabin.

How the Humane Society of the United States invests its millions. Note that there is nothing here about helping animals.
Since I work around the corner from HSUS, I know exactly what their headquarters building looks like, and I have some idea of what they know about their core business (direct mail). Suffice it to say that they have screwed that last one up so badly that they are now facing a court-approved RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit – the same one the ASPCA has already paid $9.2 million to settle.
Where does the money go? Into more direct-mail campaigns to raise more money. They call that "celebrating animals, confronting cruelty," but you can call it offshore banking. 

February 05, 2014

Ancestral Air Produced Ancestral Maize

A wild grass from Mesoamerica called teosinte is accepted as the ancestor of maize/corn, but it does not look much like varieties of corn we know:
How teosinte looks today. (Wiki Commons)
The vegetative and flowering structures of modern teosinte are very different from those of corn. These and other differences led to a century-long dispute as to whether teosinte could really be the ancestor of corn.
But some greenhouse studies that replicated different atmospheric conditions resulted in teosinte growing more modern corn-like stalks and ears! According to one of the researchers,
“When humans first began to cultivate teosinte about 10,000 years ago, it was probably more maize-like—naturally exhibiting some characteristics previously thought to result from human selection and domestication. The environment may have played a significant, if serendipitous, role in the transition through inducing phenotypic plasticity that gave early farmers a head start.”

January 05, 2014

Blog Stew Chopped with Cheap Knives

¶ Peter Grant at Bayou Renaissance Man comes down firmly in the price-versus-quality debate in regard to knives, axes, and machetes. He and I agree on Mora knives— mine are so old they have wooden handles.

¶ In all the news-media fuss over legalized recreational marijuana use in Colorado, not much is being said about the new rules on farming for hemp for industrial uses. I wonder which will be a bigger story in the long run.

¶ "Man Mistaken for Coyote Killed in Southwest Colo. Hunting Accident," said the headline. How, you wonder? Apparently a case of technology being "smarter" than people. Oh brave new world

November 16, 2013

Meanwhile in the Similkameen Valley

A 1935 Packard that functioned as a "school bus" for ranchers' and orchardists' kids in Keremeos, BC. From left: George Hodson (the driver), Ivadelle Clifton, Art Harris, Ike Harris, Wilson Clifton, Wendell Clifton, Mrs. Harris, Shirley Harris, Mrs. Louise Clifton. Photo taken probably in 1936. Click to enlarge. (Photo: Virtual Museum of Canada)

A couple of days ago I was notified of publication of a new issue of The Goose, an online publication of The Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada. The contents promised, "Harold Rhenisch’s memoir on the Similkameen Valley," which caught my attention, because my Canadian relatives either live there or originated there, particularly in Keremeos, "the fruit stand capital of Canda." (You can download the issue as a PDF.)

Three of those scruffy kids are Dad's first cousins: I still get Christmas cards from Ivadelle, who ended up living just over the line in Washington state, while Wendell and Wilson kept the cattle business going. In fact, thanks to my great-uncle Ivan's reproductive success, the Canadian Cliftons outnumber my side of the family.

"Similkameen Peaches," Rhenisch's memoir, starts in the 1960s. It's a fine piece of impressionistic writing — family, local culture, ecology, and history all tossed together. If I were still teaching nature writing, which I'd rather call nature-and-culture writing, I would assign it.
I’m cold. Men have just walked on the Moon. Charlie still owns the jungle in Vietnam, and just a few weeks ago I watched Canadian fighter jets scramble to meet American fighter jets over the Reserve down south, on the Line, as we put it around these parts, above the dwarf shrews of Nighthawk, Washington, at any rate, above the 1858 American-Canadian border, the one put in to keep the peace, although not between any of the people here. Virtually all the people here were Indians and Americans, who all walked back and forth across the border pretty much as they pleased, and saw, really, no great use for it.
And you thought people only talked that way about la frontera? Even in the 1960s, you get the feeling that in Keremeos, "Canada" was an abstraction. Someplace else.

In fact, reading and hearing and viewing photos about the Old West era there, there is a definite sensation that southern British Columbia was more like eastern Washington or Montana than anywhere else. Ontario? Quebec? Far away and sort of foreign.

(A memory of Wendell slapping the table in a Keremeos cafe: "Ottawa wants to take away our guns!")

Maybe that "Old West" unity broke down somewhat after World War I and Prohibition emphasized the differences between the nations. But there is still a lot of similarity.

My great-uncle made no conscious decision to emigrate, as I understand; he was just a young guy moving from one railroad-telegrapher job to the next. Then he put down roots, literally — fruit trees — and later the cattle business. I remember him in his mid-nineties, tottering out to the barn to show me "my boys," the prize bulls.

October 28, 2013

Blog Stew: Now with Quicksand!

¶ Trapped by quicksand: A hunter tells Denver Post columnist Scott Willoughby how he nearly died along the South Platte River.

¶ The Bureau of Land Management offered some big solar-power sites for auction — and there were no bidders.

I wish that we could understand that the best place for solar power is at the point of use — on top of the office buildings, etc. Not tearing up the desert (or in this case the near-desert San Luis Valley) and then building more transmission lines, etc.

¶ Evidently if you are Chinese, you set the bar for "harmony with nature" pretty low. Other funny stuff about Americans at the link as well.

¶ Ammonia from feedlots, big dairy farms, and other ag operations is affecting Rocky Mountain National Park.  At least they are not totally pretending that there is no problem:
“So if we can just get more exact data about how and when that ammonia is moving into Rocky Mountain National Park ... and then develop a warning system ... that could really go a long way in fixing the problem,” said Bill Hammerich, CEO of the Colorado Livestock Association. “We know we’re not the only contributor to the issue, but we certainly want to do our part to help fix it.”

October 08, 2013

Blog Stew on the River

¶ Legal challenges to zee artiste Christo's "Over the River" continue.

¶ Do vultures take baths? Chris Weems has the video. Also owls.

¶ Colorado's first legal industrial hemp crop is harvested.
Loflin used social media to line up about 45 volunteers to hand-harvest his crop on Saturday and Sunday
Probably not a long-term harvesting model, however. Don't the Canadians have a combine head for hemp?

August 02, 2013

Making Money in a Mountain Subdivision

A while back we were visiting someone who lives in one of those typical Colorado mountain subdivisions — winding gravel roads, five-acre lots, the whole wildland-urban interface picture.

M. goes walking and meets this thirtyish guy — let's call him Zach — out with his dog. He seemed eager for conversation. Before long, he invites us down to his camping trailer-plus-attached shed summer home to show us his plants. His six legal Colorado medical marijuana plants, that is. We duly admired the greenhouse that he had built and the well-tended and labeled plants.

Then he gestures down toward a copse of trees down in a ravine, where the other cannabis is growing. Why was I not surprised?

Walking back to our hostess's place, we pass the house that Zach says is his landlord's. It looks fairly new, and given the potential views, M. wonders why one two-story wall has no windows. That's the "grow room," I say, half-seriously.

Heck, yeah. Zach, whose didgeridoo playing echoed up from his greenhouse in the evening, takes us in there the next day. It's a communal growing operation between his landlord, some friends, and him, all Mylar-faced insulation and bright lights.

He had started growing on the East Coast, did his "post-graduate" work in Mendocino County — he is very proud of that — and discourses at length on varieties, propagation, fertilization, and the rest.

But he misses his partner and their kid, who are elsewhere, hopes to see them soon, and meanwhile gets out a couple of days a week to play in a pick-up band at a tavern in a nearby tiny town.

We talk about the changing law and habits, the growing popularity of "vaping," etc.

"Twenty years from now," he speculates, "people will be saying, 'Do you know they used to roll this up in paper and smoke it?' "

He is probably right about that.

At last, a form of economic activity that you can practice in your mountain subdivision, where there is not enough forage for livestock and the outdoor growing season is too short for many vegetables.

You think people like Zach are not exporting beyond the legal MMJ marketplace and the new, liberal laws in Colorado? Of course they are.
Last year, police across the country made at least 274 highway seizures of marijuana that investigators linked back to Colorado. According to the report, the seized pot — 3½ tons of it in 2012 — was destined for 37 different states, most frequently Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.
There is a lot to sort out here.

July 20, 2013

Like Cattle, We Were Raised for Export

In a recent interview, Robert Rebein talks about his homeland — western Kansas, particularly Dodge City.

I think a couple of lessons have come [from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s]. The first lesson is that Kansas as a place is never going to be Texas or Colorado or Ohio. It’s too dry, too far from everything else, and the businesses that do best there—farming, ranching, energy exploration and production—do not require a lot of people. The other lesson is that if you do want to draw people and businesses to the state, you better try. You better understand that the lingering image of your state is a mix of the Dust Bowl, Superman, and The Wizard of Oz. If you want businesses to buy into you despite all that, you better put your best foot forward.
Here is the Vimeo trailer for Rebein's book, Dragging Wyatt Earp: A Personal History of Dodge City.

A west-Kansas blogger, Jeffro of The Poor Farm, was impressed by Rebein's book: "He has captured the essence of teenage prairie living, and in fact, life on the prairie, period, for all ages."

This passage hit him hard:
Wyatt Earp, the historical figure, really didn't make a dent in our lives. The street probably had more influence on us. But another observation Rebein makes really hit home for me:
What is it about growing up in a small town in the West that breeds such bravado, such innocence and blind faith? Was it our isolation? The vaunted self-reliance of the region? The fact that our parents and teachers praised us inordinately or that acceptance into any of the state colleges was a fait accompli? Maybe but I have another explanation:  we were leaving. And not just for a year or five years, but forever. Like the region's cattle, wheat and corn, we'd been raised for export, and most of us had learned this at about the same time we learned that Santa Claus was a fiction.  
We'd been raised for export.

It's true. Since day one, most of us knew that our parents wanted something better for us, that we were to get an education away from cattle and farming, and leave. Find a job we could love, get married and raise kids in a more forgiving climate.  

He has decided to stick it out, however. Some people do.

Not me. I go out on the prairie for hunting, for archaeological visits, or just because I must cross its expanse. Sometimes I just want to see the big sky. But I always feel a little like I am leaving a harbor in the foothills and sailing out onto the sea.

That probably comes of living as a kid on the "big island" that is the Black Hills, surrounded by wide-open country. The prairie is familiar, but it is not home.

July 07, 2013

Blog Stew with 'High Value' Plants

Someone (several someones, probably) tore up 6,500 "Round-Up ready" genetically modified sugar beet plants in southern Oregon last month.

But this is the part that made me smile:
Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba issued a statement about the sabotage.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time someone has deliberately taken the cowardly step of uprooting high value plants growing in our state."
"High-value plants"? You mean no one has ever raided a cannabis plantation before? But that was governmental uprooting, so it doesn't count.

• A claim about Bigfoot DNA shot down by lab testing. Bigfoot researcher offers convoluted rebuttal. (Why does this remind me of the pro-Anna Anderson camp's arguments after the DNA analysis showed that she was not the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia?)

• Does your rabbit have a disaster plan?

June 03, 2013

High Plains Aquifers, Crop Changes, and the 'Secret Government'

I posted recently about the galloping depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer ("We're on the last kick," he said. "The bulk water is gone").

Chad Love explains how modern agricultural methods also make it harder for the aquifer to recharge itself: "The Ogallala is Ogaleavin' "

Here in Colorado, agriculture traditionally takes about 80 percent of the water and municipalities 20 percent, but that balance is changing as farmers sell or lease water to cities. Consequence: A shift to dryland crops, just as will probably happen on the High Plains where groundwater has been going to corn crops for ethanol, feedlots, and hog barns.

John Orr at Coyote Gulch links to a Greeley Tribune story on how winter wheat is supplanting other thirstier crops.

Back on my last newspaper job, my beat included the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. I always felt that "the water beat" was like being asked to cover the secret government — where decisions are made and court cases are fought that, years down the road, constrain what more visible government bodies can do.

Coyote Gulch is my go-to blog for secret-government news these days.

June 02, 2013

Should I Be Planting Now?

The cold spring has been hard on gardeners and commercial vegetable and fruit growers alike here in Colorado. Hal Walter writes at Farm Beet:
According to [Arkansas Valley Organic Growers] farmers many crops are between three and four weeks behind schedule, and some were destroyed by wind and extreme cold, causing farmers to have to replant.
Here are two useful tools to tell you at if it's time. The "Garden Planting Calculator"  takes your ZIP code and tells you when the best planting dates are.

If you want to make your own calculations, Roots Nursery offers tables to help you calculate when to harden-off indoor plant starts and when to sow outdoors, based on air and soil temperatures.

(Indirect hat tip to Heather Houlahan.)

May 23, 2013

“We’re on the last kick,” he said. “The bulk water is gone.”

All my adult life, I have been hearing predictions that the Ogallala Aquifer (also called the High Plains Aquifer by people unsure how to pronounce "Ogallala"), a huge sponge of water under the High Plains, was dropping . . . dropping . . . dropping.

Fly east out of Colorado Springs and look at all the irrigated circles from center-pivot irrigation. They are growing corn, mostly.

Corn to feed to cattle in High Plains stockyards. Corn for ethanol (it's patriotic!) to make us energy independent so we won't be sending money to the Middle East.

All those wells pumping groundwater have led to this result.
Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers. . . . .

A shift to growing corn, a much thirstier crop than most, has only worsened matters. Driven by demand, speculation and a government mandate to produce biofuels, the price of corn has tripled since 2002, and Kansas farmers have responded by increasing the acreage of irrigated cornfields by nearly a fifth.  
From a US Geological Survey report, quoted at Coyote Gulch, the water blog:
The study shows that, since 2000, depletion of the High Plains aquifer appears to be continuing at a high rate. The depletion during the last 8 years of record (2001–2008, inclusive) is about 32 percent of the cumulative depletion in this aquifer during the entire 20th century. The annual rate of depletion during this recent period averaged about 10.2 cubic kilometers, roughly 2 percent of the volume of water in Lake Erie.
Maybe we will see more grass-fed beef (or buffalo?)  and more winter wheat in on the High Plains in the future. That's the optimistic outlook. But that slogan from the 1970s and 1980s, "A bushel of wheat for a barrel of oil!" is still just chest-thumping nonsense.

April 27, 2013

Advances in Colorado Agriculture

Image from infohemp.org.
In far southeastern Colorado, a farmer plans the first legal hemp crop since the World War II era.
"I believe this is really going to revitalize and strengthen farm communities," said [Ryan] Loflin, 40, who grew up on a farm in Springfield but left after high school for a career in construction.

Now he returns, leasing 60 acres of his father's alfalfa farm to plant the crop and install a press to squeeze the oil from hemp seeds. He'll have a jump on other farmers, with 400 starter plants already growing at an indoor facility prior to transplanting them in the field.
M. and I were just discussing planting potatoes during breakfast. Grand Junction is lower and warmer than where we live, so people are already planting there.

One Grand Junction woman made an interesting discovery in her potato patch. All I ever found were old tin cans, etc. Some people have all the luck.

February 26, 2013

Mad Winter Tumbleweed Sex


A 2006 tumbleweed storm in Pueblo West, Colorado.

Brought from Russia in the 1870s by the Volga Germans or someone, bless their little hearts.

Q. What caliber for tumbleweeds?

A. Doesn't matter. When they die, they just spread their seeds.

February 06, 2013

Blog Stew — You Pack It Yourself

• The evolution of the external-frame backpack, starting with Ötzi. Some fascinating archaeological and historical examples.

• I was pleased when I got this "trophy" photo. But this one, on the other hand, is somewhere between "very interesting" and Paleolithic nightmare territory.

• Colorado wineries and farmers stall BLM energy leases in the North Fork Valley. The New West wins again.