Thursday, March 26, 2009

Growth Spurts: Wild Bee Shelters from Plastic Totes

Corrugated plastic bins can be reused durable nesting shelters for wild bees, according to an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) research entomologist.

Female wild bees will readily use a properly placed, suitably furnished tote as a shelter for their nests, according to James H. Caneof the ARS Pollinating Insects Biology, Management and Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah.

Turned on their long side, the totes can be held firmly in place on a wooden or metal post by means of a lightweight steel chain and a customized metal support frame.

Cane came up with the idea of using corrugated plastic totes (like those used for handling mail and packages) as nesting shelters, and has tested them during spring and summer in California, Oregon, Wyoming and Utah. His experiments show that the lightweight, rectangular bins, each 23-1/2 inches long by 15-1/2 inches wide by 15-1/2 inches high, serve as a sturdy, inexpensive and reusable shelter for protecting bee nests against wind and rain.

Growers, professional and hobbyist beekeepers, and backyard gardeners who want wild bees to live near and work in their fields, orchards, vineyards or home gardens can use the totes to house nesting materials, such as five-sixteenths-inch diameter paper drinking straws enclosed in cardboard tubes and stuffed inside empty cardboard milk cartons. Wild female bees such as the blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria, can use the straws as homes for a new generation of pollinators.

Wild bees are needed now, perhaps more than ever, to help with jobs usually handled by America's premier pollinator, the European honey bee, Apis mellifera. Many of the nation's honey bee colonies have been decimated by the puzzling colony collapse disorder or weakened by varroa and tracheal mites or the microbes that cause diseases such as chalkbrood and foulbrood.

A single corrugated plastic tote can accommodate as many as 3,000 young, enough to pollinate one-half to one-acre of orchard. And, unlike bulky or stationary shelters, the tote houses can easily be moved from one site to the next.

Source: Agricultural Research Service

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rural Delivery: A Fist Full of Memories

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1994. All rights reserved.

There is something about life in the country that makes a person start collecting things.

Sure, city people collect things too. But often there's a difference in what they collect and why. Stamps. Coins. Paintings. Those are urban collectibles. A good investment, some would say.

Rural collectibles are more often things like wrenches and feed sacks and old tobacco tins. I've been in farmhouses where long rows of salt and pepper shakers lined the walls and others where toy tractors were parked prominently above the hearth.

Some of this stuff has value, especially to like-minded collectors. But the kind of collection that grows in the country usually isn't for sale, even if there were a market for well-worn ballcaps, old motor oil cans, or seashells.

Take Hattiie Gietzen's collection, for example:

Last time I saw her she was holding a piece of the Holy Land in one hand. In the other palm she gripped part of Hawaii. And on shelves and bureaus throughout her tidy Idaho home were portions of Belize, Death Valley, Alaska, Panama, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf of Mexico.``

Hattie, 89 years old at the time, had been collecting sand from all over the world for more than 20 years. The samples -- hundreds of them -- were gathered in small baby food jars marked with neat labels identifying the source of the sand.

"This one here is from the oldest pyramid in Egypt," she said, holding up a jar of white sand. "My niece brought me that one in 1983 after she went on a tour over there."

Each jar of pink and green and pale yellow sand has a history. One grandson brought back sand from the beach at Cape May, New Jersey. Another gave her a jar from his backyard in Chicago. Some samples Hattie collected herself, like the jar of ash from the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, and others were gathered by friends and relatives during their travels.

"When my son and daughter-in-law were on a trip to Belize they went through the Panama Canal," Hattie recalled with a chuckle. "As they were passing through they hollared out to a guy on the shore, 'Sand! Sand!' He didn't speak English, but he finally got the idea and scooped up a handful of sand and handed to them on the boat as they were going by."

The first jar in Hattie's collection was filled with sand from Fire Island Park on Long Island. An old friend had a small collection of sand sitting in plastic cottage cheese containers on a table in his basement.

"Why don't you put the sand in glass jars so you can see it?" Hattie asked him. The friend said he'd do that someday, but never did.

When Hattie's grandchildren asked her what they could bring her from their travels she jokingly requested handfuls of sand. They've been bringing her samples ever since.

Having raised two children with her late husband, Frank, Hattie had six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Together with devoted nieces and nephews, this small army of sand gatherers literally brought the world to her door.

When a niece had a well drilled on her property she brought over a jar of sand from 200 feet beneath the surface. A small note is attached to its lid.

"May we all contribute to your sand collection," Hattie read with a big smile.

"I wanted to keep a specimen for myself, but figured that people who kept jars of sand around might be considered odd."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Open Air: Waianae Farmers' Market in Hawaii

The Waianae Farmers' Market in Waianae, Hawaii, has relocated to the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center at 86-260 Farrington Highway.

Held every Saturday from 8:30 am to noon, the year-round market operated by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation offers fresh, local produce and locally prepared foods.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Husbandry: Houseflies at Poultry Farms Carrying Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Houseflies congregating around broiler poultry farms have once again been linked to drug-resistant bacteria, creating increased risk for human exposure.

The findings of researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health demonstrate another potential link between industrial food animal production and exposures to antibiotic resistant pathogens. Previous studies have linked antibiotic use in poultry production to antibiotic resistant bacteria in farm workers, consumer poultry products and the environment surrounding confined poultry operations, as well as releases from poultry transport.

"Flies are well-known vectors of disease and have been implicated in the spread of various viral and bacterial infections affecting humans, including enteric fever, cholera, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis and shigellosis," said Dr. Jay Graham. "Our study found similarities in the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both the flies and poultry litter we sampled. The evidence is another example of the risks associated with the inadequate treatment of animal wastes."

Graham and his colleagues collected flies and samples of poultry litter from poultry houses along the Delmarva Peninsula, a coastal region shared by Maryland, Delaware and Virginia that has one of the highest densities of broiler chickens per acre in the United States. The analysis by the research team isolated antibiotic-resistant enterococci and staphylococci bacteria from both flies and litter. The bacteria isolated from flies had very similar resistance characteristics and resistance genes to bacteria found in the poultry litter.

Flies have ready access to both stored poultry waste and to poultry houses. A study by researchers in Denmark estimated that as many as 30,000 flies could enter a poultry house over the course of a six-week period.

Source: Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Inuit Antler Carvings from Arviat, Nunavut

Inuit Antler Carvings by artist O. Anoee of Arviat in the Canadian province of Nunavut are listed on the Buy Direct Directory for Artwork and Portraiture and Carvings at Farmer's Market Online.

Drum dance scenes are featured in O. Anoee' listing, which links to the artist's email address. Photos of available artwork will be emailed to interested parties.

Look for links to O. Anoee and antler carvings on the Artwork and Carvings pages in Handmade Crafts as well as on the Buy Direct Directory for Nunavut.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pickles from Gold Beach, Oregon

In recognition of St. Patrick's Day, we went looking for something green in the market and found pickles available from one of the greenest of states, Oregon.

'Tis Tasty of Gold Beach, Oregon, lists its all natural homemade pickles on the Buy Direct Directory. The pickles are made in 43 different varieties using locally grown vegetables, pure cane sugar, fresh and dried herbs, and quality vinegars. Each batch is prepared in small quantities and packed by hand.

Look for links to 'Tis Tasty's pickles on the Pickles page as well as on the Buy Direct Directory for Oregon and the Oregon Farmers Markets Directory.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Growth Spurts: No-Till Has Its Limits

Recognized globally as an ideal means of conserving soil and water while also storing soil carbon, the agricultural practice known as "no-till" may not be applicable under all environmental conditions.

No-till farming means leaving residue left on the soil surface after harvest in place rather than plowing it under. Compared to plowing, no-till has myriad benefits: less labor, less machinery wear, decreased fossil fuel consumption, reduced soil erosion, improved soil productivity, increased wildlife habitats and a better method of maintaining and conserving soil water.

No-till is considered a successful carbon sequestration practice when carbon input (storage) exceeds carbon output (loss). Carbon input includes crop residues, winter cover crops, complex farming systems, and use of compost and manure. The output includes losses of carbon by decompositon, erosion and leaching.

Ohio State University soil scientists recently measured carbon levels in no-till fields throughout seven states and found that soil texture, moisture, temperature, and terrain parameters affected the amount of carbon stored on the soil surface.

"No-till is not applicable everywhere as a means of practicing carbon sequestration," says Rattan Lal, soil scientist at Ohio State's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "There are situations where other carbon sequestration methods would be more effective. I'm not saying that no-till is not good. It is a good practice, but it does not work for all soils, for all crops and all conditions. We must not make carbon sequestration synonymous with no-till. The strategy is to develop a system of soil management in which carbon input into the system exceeds the output."

Lal and his colleagues studied no-till fields in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia and Maryland and identified situations where the practice was the most effective in storing carbon and where it was not.

"Basically, those soils that are well-drained, are silt/silt-loam in texture, warm quickly and have some sloping characteristics prone to erosion are excellent candidates for no-till. Clay soils or other heavy soils that drain poorly, are prone to compaction and are in areas where the ground stays cooler may not always increase carbon storage through no-till."

In Ohio, for example, the researchers found that no-till would store carbon on about 40 percent of the state's cropland. In actuality, no-till is practiced on 35 percent of Ohio's field crops, said Lal.

"Globally, no-till is practiced on only 6 percent of the total cropland and mostly practiced in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Argentina and Chile. There's a reason for that -- because it can be worked into practices in which carbon input exceeds carbon output."

In situations where no-till may not be ideal, there are plenty of other carbon sequestration methods available, including mulching, cover crops, complex crop rotations, mixed farming systems, agroforestry, and biochar (a charcoal-like biomass material).

The study also compared carbon levels between no-till and conventional tillage fields and found that, in some cases, carbon storage was greater in conventional tillage fields. But the key is soil depth.

"If you compare carbon storage between no-till and plowed fields with the plow depth, or the first 8 inches of the soil, carbon storage is generally much greater in no-till fields than in plowed fields. But if you go deeper, say 12 inches and deeper, one may find more carbon stored in plowed fields than in no-till."

Farmers should not measure soil carbon based just on surface depth. Lal recommends going to as much as 1 meter (3.25 feet) below the soil surface.

Lal said that the study is not a criticism of no-till and its benefits, but simply a way of determining where the practice best fits and where other carbon sequestration methods may work better.

"In situations where no-till is ideal, it's a sustainable soil management practice that simply can't be ignored," said Lal. "It saves time, money and wear on machinery and its profit margin is much higher than plowing."

Source: Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

Book Stall Review: Field Notes

Field Notes by Richard Quinney
Borderland Books, 2008

Reading the four essays and prologue in this volume of nature prose is like taking a stroll in the woods with a literary philosopher whose penchant for rural life informs every step and observation. These rambling conversations draw inspiration from the transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau and the naturalist Gilbert White in their respect for the lessons and wisdom that can be drawn from nature.

"Each life is a universe unto itself. A big bang. Sperm collides with egg. There you are," Richard Quinney explains. "Then a lifetime of galaxies and stars and planets and asteroids flying and orbiting in a vast and expanding space. More dark matter than light. Shiva dancing. A great mystery. And a beautiful morning it is this day. I keep notes along the way. Now and then an accounting and some reflecting."

Quinney's Field Notes, illustrated with his black-and-white photographs of rural Wisconsin, combines the ethereal reflections of literature with the palpable realities of nature observation to produce a record of the scholar's life at this point in time. "With pen in hand and camera at my side, traveling between town and country, I make my notes and live this day. One world at a time, here on earth."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Book Stall Review: Death in the Marsh

Death in the Marsh by Tom Harris.
Island Press, 1991

On certain dry plains and hillsides of the West, the Astragalus species of wildflower grows in abundance, spreading carpets of pea-shaped pink, purple or yellow blossoms across the arid landscape. The delicate colors and innocent-looking nature of the plants belie a deadly disposition.

Astragalus, more commonly known as "locoweed," thrives on soils rich in selenium, an element toxic to people and animals in high doses. Locoweed absorbs selenium and passes it along to livestock that graze on its bushy leaves, causing the infamous "loco disease" that has decimated many herds.

Irrigation water also picks up selenium as it moves through soils rich in the element, which is what happened in California's San Joaquin Valley in the 1980s when irrigation discharge emptied into the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge.

"Laced with dissolved salts and minerals, the tainted drainage was a lethal brew. Too saline to leave in the fields, it was being dumped into Kesterson as part of an experiment to convert pollution into providence," writes Tom Harris in Death in the Marsh, his account of the disaster that followed in the mid-1980s.

Within a few short seasons wildlife biologists began to notice terrible changes in Kesterson's wetland ecosystem. The marsh's vegetation was dying back and fewer fish, birds and animals were being counted. The nests of waterfowl that once held chirping nestlings now yielded many stillborn embryos and, worst of all, chicks with hideous deformities like missing legs or wings, external stomachs, and twisted beaks.

Death in the Marsh details the nightmarish discoveries at Kesterson and traces the scientific search for the source of the problem with selenium, which has been alternately studied and ignored for nearly a half century.

The livestock die-offs that early-day ranchers in the West attributed to "alkali disease" may have been selenium poisonings, according to Harris.

"It wasn't until the early 1930s that researchers began to pin down the evidence that it was not the mineral salts associated with the prairie's ubiquitous alkali crust that were doing the poisoning, but selenium," Harris explains.

As an environmental reporter for the Sacramento Bee, Harris covered the Kesterson story and led an investigative report on evidence of similar problems throughout the West. With fellow reporter Jim Morris, he surveyed other federal water projects in nine states in 1985 and found potentially dangerous levels of selenium at all of them, including Idaho's Lake Lowell near Nampa.

Dave Carter of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service office in Kimberly, Idaho, said he knew of no reported toxicity problems with selenium in his state, but admitted that the potential exists.

"Wherever we have a lot of seepage water there is potential for selenium concentrations to build up," he said.

More common in southern Idaho, with its extensive layers of lava formations, is selenium deficiency. Livestock, like humans, require small amounts of selenium in their diet to remain healthy. Without it, they may lose weight and hair.

"Selenium deficiency has caused, and continues to cause, a lot of economic loss in Idaho," Carter pointed out.

For many years, livestock in Idaho were vaccinated with selenium to prevent deficiencies, he noted. Now selenium is commonly applied to alfalfa fields with fertilizer in small amounts, increasing the selenium content of crops.

Harris' book suggests that human health can be endangered by inhaling the selenium dust in feed or fertilizer additives, eating plants and animals harboring excessively high levels of the substance, or drinking selenium-tainted water. He cites the example of Burns, Oregon, rancher Girard Perkins who wasted away and died from a mysterious disease in 1972-73. Selenium counts in the man's organs were among the highest ever detected in a human, Harris reported.

How did Perkins get so much selenium in his body?

"One theory is that Perkins came across just one tainted batch of pothole water too many," according to Harris. "Like the cowpokes of an earlier generation, when he was out on solitary range rides, checking his herd, he would quench his thirst by scooping his Stetson into one of the numerous ponds, creeks, or seeps that dot the undulating plains."

According to Dr. Sandra Susten of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in Atlanta, Georgia, there have been no reports of populations in the U.S. suffering from selenium poisoning.

"There's evidence, though, that some workers might be hypersensitive to selenium," she said.

The symptoms of selenium poisoning are much the same as the symptoms for selenium deficiency: brittle hair, deformed nails, loss of feeling and control in arms and legs (in extreme cases).

Selenium, Harris's book points out, is one of the least understood and least regulated of the toxic elements -- five times more poisonous than arsenic. It underlies thousands of square miles of North America and affects the livestock that graze, the crops that grow, and the people that live on its surface. But few are aware of its presence or the dangers that it poses.

Death in the Marsh raises plenty of alarm, but offers few solutions. Selenium has helped shape the landscape of the West since at least the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. Animals have grazed upon its surface and people have dwelled near it since the last Ice Age. How did they survive its poison? Is it the massive federal water projects of this century that made selenium a threat? Or has tainted water always been a consequence of irrigation?

In his epilogue, Harris acknowledges the gloominess of his report. Selenium is so widespread in the West and its effects so poorly understood, he writes, that the chances for constructive change are daunting. Only a coordinated and well-funded program of research and intervention, Harris suggests, will reduce the threat to livestock, wildlife and human lives.

Copyright 1992 by Michael Hofferber
Outrider News Service