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Denesse and I are headed to a 35th annual EcoFarm Conference at Pacific Grove’s Asilomar this week. Many organic farmers were first awakened to complex life underfoot at that venue some twenty years ago when pioneering soil microbial ecologists Elaine Ingham and Vicki Bess made rousing presentations. However, as each strove to develop commercial, practical methods for characterizing the diversity and health of vast, largely invisible, living communities in farmers’ soils, animosity ensued. Bess, while admitting fewer than 5% of soil-dwelling species could be grown on artificial media, argued that a handful she cultured in petri dishes were indicative of the many. Ingham insisted on direct microscopic observation, even though she could not distinguish one bacterial species from another and fungi’s value could only be inferred from hyphal width. [Read more…]
Willey family just returned from our annual pilgrimage to Yosemite’s water temple, where the big rumpus is over two blokes’ midwinter free-climbing of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, never before scaled by mere hands and feet. Dry and warm weather favors this youthful pair’s attempt to conquer “the world’s most arduous free-climb”. It favors no one else. I sadly characterize our Yosemite watershed’s snow cover as little more than a dusting after we encountered just six inches of the white stuff at an elevation where six feet is not uncommon for early January. Spring melt from what’s up there now, halfway through this rainy season, will not fill many reservoirs. Retired UCSB anthropologist Brian Fagan’s Before California cites evidence that one extended drought cycle threatened food supplies and the social stability of California’s long-established native communities around 1000 A.D. [Read more…]
I was humbled when Australian farmer and International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) president Andre Leu drove here recently from San Francisco to record a “Down on the Farm” radio show before winging it back Down Under. Leu seemed as genuinely pleased to be touring our 75-acre Madera farm as he’d been to address World Soil Day celebrants at United Nations’ New York headquarters several days before. He farms a half-dozen exotic Asian fruits, only two of which I had ever heard, in Queensland, Australia’s tropical north. It was hard to imagine Andre, whose orchard is commonly drenched by 200 inches of annual rain, having any insight into a drought stricken operation. As we surveyed our yet unharvested winter potato crop, I explained how recent warm falls boost yields but increase dreaded late blight disease, apparent in several patches across the field. He recommended a practice I’d heard of but thought odd. [Read more…]
Though not for lack of trying, Steve Pavich and I failed to land an audience with plant intelligence “guru” Stephano Mancuso in Tuscany last month. As Pavich’s sidekick, I’d less than enthusiastically agreed to visit a weird Tuscan vineyard whose Sangiovese grapes are serenaded 24/7 by strains of Mozart, Hayden and Vivaldi over loudspeakers. Eccentric winemaker Carlo Cignozzi has carried on like this for over a decade, aiming to enhance vineyard health and his vintage’s quality. Nearby University of Florence’s Professor Mancuso’s data indicates ￼￼plant intelligence. [Read more…]
I don’t like to quibble with the Good Book. Though Matthew 5:45 alleges “He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike”, that was not the case last week. Without regard to which Californians might be of higher virtue, Fresno-Madera’s half-inch storm total was exceeded in Los Angeles by four times and by ninefold in San Francisco! Yosemite National Park’s Superintendent Don Neubacher extolled the restoration of roaring flows over long-silent Yosemite Falls. Even in generous precipitation years, the watershed feeding that cascade, commencing at 7,000 feet, should be a frozen wonderland by December, releasing little more than a midday trickle. [Read more…]