Greetings fellow growers!
I know it has been a while and I have had quite a few inquiries as to my whereabouts. Well, last winter just about did me in mentally and physically as I am sure it did many of you. We did manage to get to Florida for a couple of weeks in January to visit a dear friend and got home the night before the first big blizzard. Wonderful timing! Because I had to build a big new light chamber to dramatically increase production for the 2015 season, we jumped into the fire the 1st of February. From that day on we were either building in the greenhouse, planting slow crops like onions, leeks, petunias and herbs, or moving snow from one place to another. That went on and on and on and on…. You get the picture.
We made it to the end of April thinking that we were “there”. Wrong! I had a couple of days when I felt VERY sick and ended up going to a walk in clinic to get checked out. That night I was in the critical care unit of the hospital trying to stay alive. True to form, I had an unusual and potentially fatal condition – viral spinal meningitis! The first week in the hospital was a blur – I was that ill. I crawled out of the hole the second week but was still barely able to walk, talk, eat or even sit up in bed. One more week in the hospital and then off to a rehab facility for another week. Back home the first week of June. Of course May is THE busiest week of the year and I left Loretta with 40,000 seedlings to water, feed, move around and deliver to 3 store locations. A near heroic feat! I still don’t know how she pulled it off. Actually I do – working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week for the entire month of May and the first couple weeks of June. I am still experiencing a LOT of neurological issues from the meningitis and expect them to continue for quite a few months into the future. I’ve had a lot of physical trauma and disease episodes but this one is right up there near the top. I am working out as hard as I can considering the issues I am dealing with but that has been the key factor in my steady progress. If you’ve experienced spinal meningitis – I’d love to hear your account of recovery, lasting effects etc. But bottom line – I am healing and glad to be alive! Definitely another major “re-evaluating priorities” event!!
Because of all the physical, neurological and emotional stress of the winter and spring I got behind. Our garden got in late (2nd week of June) and is smaller than usual (of course that means fewer weeds!) but is now producing well. The good news is that we have been neglecting our weeding duties to spend more time at the beach this year. Not too difficult to get used to I must admit.
Things have been VERY busy on the hydroponics front. A LOT of people switched over this year from in ground to in container hydroponic growing. Fewer weeds, quicker growth, greater production, easier, automated and moveable. I am now in the process of putting the 4th New England Blue Seal store on line with a comprehensive hydroponics department. I am a science consultant for a leading LED lighting manufacturer based in the Pacific Northwest. New Hampshire has just approved four medical cannabis dispensaries and I am already involved in the science discussions surrounding their development and implementation. I am also a science consultant to a variety of licensed grow operations in Maine.
For the home or commercial grower of winter greens and herbs, I am still at the Rochester Blue Seal store most Saturdays from about 10:30am until about 2:00pm to answer any questions you might have.
I am planning a comprehensive lighting and environmental control seminar for the Bangor Blue Seal store sometime in September or October. They are planning a big expansion of their department to become THE leader in hydroponic supply and science support in central and northern Maine.
Hydroponic operations producing both winter and summer foods will increasingly become part of the total food production picture as we move forward.
For years there has been a back and forth debate between those who feel that any food production method that deviates from time tested “Organic” methods of our fathers and grandfathers is bordering on the criminal and those who advocate the incorporation of modern science into the food production model. Here is an interesting article from the current issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. It is titled LIVING OFF THE LAND and is co written by Linus Blomquist, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger, all from the Breakthrough Institute in Oaklnad, California. It is thought provoking at least.
“For the villager, who asks to be identified only as Bernadette, life is a running battle. On tiny plots of corn, millet and sweet potatoes next to Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she and her neighbors scrape a bare subsistence for themselves and their children. Her sweet potatoes, she told us last year, are under constant attack from baboons and elephants that stray from the park in search of food. Deep agrarian poverty of this kind is hard on nature, too. Virunga is home to half the world’s endangered elephants and antelope. The park’s forests are under pressure from the charcoal trade, and in 2007 the local charcoal mafia assassinated seven of the park’s gorillas in retaliation for a crackdown on illegal logging. Poachers have killed 250 of Virunga’s 300 elephants in recent years, probably with the acquiescence of residents fed up with crop raiding by the animals.
Rising affluence over the past several centuries has been hard on the environment. But on the front lines of conservation, where people live intimately with primary forests, biodiversity hot spots and endangered species, it is often grinding poverty that drives destruction.
Improvements in productivity, as exampled by Shigeharu Shimamura’s farm in Japan, could hold the key for conservation in the 21st century. Shimamura oversees a 25,000 square foot farm at the site of a former Sony microchip factory. Everything grows safely indoors. With a combination of water, plant food and 17,500 LEDs, he harvests as much as 10,000 heads of lettuce a day – 100 times more per square foot than an ordinary farm – using 90% less water and producing 80% less waste. Humans use about half the world’s ice-free surface, mostly for food production. Yet with continuing technological improvements, population and its impact on the environment could peak and then decline within the next few decades.
This phenomenon, called decoupling, means that people can increase their standard of living while doing less damage to the environment. Protecting remaining wilderness in the face of escalating demand for food, resources and energy will require accelerating decoupling – in other words – speeding up urbanization and intensifying modern agriculture. The idea may seem counterintuitive, but especially in the developed world, much of the harm that people inflict on the land has begun to flatten and even decline. Today, for example, humans require just half of the farmland per capita as they did 50 years ago. As a result, across much of the US and Europe, marginal farmlands are reverting to forest.
Social changes will amplify these trends. More than half of humanity now lives in cities, and that figure could reach 70% by midcentury. When rural populations move to cities, birth rates tend to drop dramatically. This is why many demographers expect human population to peak and then decline before 2100. The rural exodus drives other, mutually reinforcing efficiencies as well, increasing both economic and resource productivity.
The implication for 21st century conservation efforts are clear. Parks and protected lands remain part of the solution. But without tackling the demand side of the equation, real habitat protection will be difficult if not impossible. Success will require substituting human technology for natural resources. It will also require modern energy. Nearly three billion people still rely on solid fuels such as wood and dung. Moving all of humanity to energy technologies that are cheap, clean and abundant will improve their well-being without harming the environment.
Tools for shrinking our environmental footprint are in plain sight. Seizing the opportunities will require conservationists to focus on infrastructure and technology policies that traditionally fall outside their purview. Without accelerated decoupling, protected areas can’t resist human demand for food and energy, and the elephants and gorillas of Virunga may face doom.”
Those of you who have been reading this newsletter for some time know that I am fascinated by the level to which plants can communicate with and effect their physical environment. Some species can even recognize genetic “siblings” and change growth patterns to “accommodate” those “relatives”. I saw this article in the August issue of Science News and found it interesting. Here is an overview.
Hormone Guides Root Microbes: Plant’s salicylic acid attracts some bacteria, repels others by Tina Hesman Saey
Plants help tend their own gardens. Salicylic acid, a plant hormone that fights microbial infection in leaves, also helps plants select which bacteria colonize their roots, researchers report online July 16 in Science.
The finding provides an unexpected piece to an unsolved puzzle in plant biology: why some microbes flock to the roots of certain plants regardless of soil type.
Researchers thought there were two possibilities for how specific collections of microbes get together with roots, says Cara Haney, a microbiologist at Massachusetts general Hospital in Boston. “Either plants are just sticks in the mud that certain bacteria like to eat, or plants play a role in shaping their community”.
New experiments with a weed called Arabidosis thaliana indicate that plants play an active role. The plants normally attract Actinobacteria and Firmicutes bacteria, but the soil around their roots have less Acidobacteria, Bacteroidetes and Verrucomicrobia than surrounding soil, Sarah Lebeis of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and colleagues discovered.
The collection of microbes that live in and around the root may keep plants healthy and spur their growth. In some plants, such as legumes, bacteria that live in root nodules convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form that plants can use. Learning how plants interact with their microbes may lead to new fertilizers and pesticides, Haney suggests.
In the study, Lebeis and her colleagues created mutant Arabidosis plants that lacked the ability to make one or a combination of three defense hormones: salicylic acid, jasmonic acid and ethylene. The team found that some microbes that normally get into roots were barred from the plants that didn’t make salicylic acid while some bacteria that are normally kept at bay invaded those plant’s roots.
Growing bacteria in the lab revealed that growth of some groups is less robust in the presence of salicylic acid; others grow better. Researchers don’t yet know the mechanisms by which the hormone controls root microbes.
VALUABLE SCIENCE LINKS:
In my daily reading of science journals and other publications, I often read articles/reports that I think you might find worthwhile and/or thought provoking. Here are a couple of recent ones. The first is on some of the new data coming out of recent research on the explosive growth – unfortunately much of it in the teen and pre-teen market – of VAPING and e-cigarettes. They are marketed as “fashionable”, sexy and a “safe” alternative to traditional cigarettes. Truth is they are far from it. If anyone around you partakes in this activity, do them and yourself a favor by reading this article in the July issue of SCIENCE NEWS MAGAZINE.
The second link is more in the realm of psychology. I am sure many of you had some sort of reaction to the recent announcement by the University of New Hampshire that it would change certain words and phrases that might be “offensive” to some. This current article in the September issue of THE ATLANTIC magazine is very thought provoking and well worth the read. It is titled: THE CODLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.
The teaser for the article should get you intrigued!
” In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like, and seeking punishment of those who give even accidental offense. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education – and likely to worsen mental health on campus.”
Well – it’s good to be back! I’ll be in touch again shortly with another newsletter and updates on what will be going on this fall as far as events, clinics, new research etc. Remember, if you have any questions just drop me a line. I will get back to you usually within a day. I’ll leave you with a paragraph from the above article in THE ATLANTIC magazine:
“For millennia, philosophers have understood that we don’t see life as it is; we see a version distorted by our hopes, fears, and other attachments. The Buddha said, “Our life is a creation of our mind.” Marcus Aurelius said, “Life itself is but what you deem it”. The quest for wisdom in many traditions begins with this insight. Early Buddhists and Stoics, for example, developed practices for reducing attachments, thinking more clearly, and finding release from the emotional torments of normal mental life”.