Sunday Reads: Mad about the Boy and Sunflowers…Radioactive Sunflowers

Good Morning.

Last night I saw one of the best movies ever made, Sunset Blvd…and I have to say, like Norma Desmond…I am mad about the boy. The “boy” being William Holden.

Funny what you remember isn’t it

There was a song that was popular when I was in high school, I never liked it much but it was recorded live in Tom’s Diner…the same diner that was used for the street shots of Monk’s coffee shop on Seinfeld. This song’s lyrics mention the death of William Holden…

I open
Up the paper
There’s a story
Of an actor

Who had died
While he was drinking
It was no one
I had heard of

Oh, you can be sure I knew who Suzanne Vega was talking about…Damn, he was one hell of a leading man!

Anyway, on with the news reads for this morning.

Lee is on his way up to Banjoland, but now the rain is falling in New Orleans.

This is one slow-moving storm…New Orleans feeling lucky, wary as storm nears land | Reuters

Southern Louisiana was coping fairly well with heavy rains from Tropical Storm Lee on Saturday but New Orleans officials warned residents against rising winds and complacency amid the storm’s slow onslaught.

“This storm is moving painfully slow,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at a briefing on Saturday afternoon. “Don’t go to sleep on this storm,” he added. “The message today is that we are not out of the woods.”

Hope all is well Dak!

I have some interesting links for you today, we will start over in Japan. Remember that Fukushima Nuclear Plant?

Nuclear legacy: photos tell tale of 2 ghost towns  |

Twenty-five years after a reactor at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded and melted down, its surroundings are well-explored territory, including the abandoned workers’ town of Pripyat, two kilometers (about a mile) from the plant. The guides who take visitors through the area know exactly where to go and, more important, what to avoid.


The people who fled Futaba, the town nearest to the Fukushima plant, need only look to Pripyat, some 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) away, for a hint of what it will probably turn into: a ghost town forever looking as though it expects its 7,000-plus people to return any minute.

In Futaba, unlike in Pripyat, you are in uncharted territory. There are no guides. The radioactive hot spots are uncharted, and behind every corner, danger may lurk that will not turn malignant for years, even decades. Radiation cannot be sensed like a hum or a smell. The sun shines and the wind blows, and only the beeping of your Geiger counter tells you something is wrong.

There are two images that I want to point out:

In this Thursday, April 21, 2011 photo, a dog walks across a street in the deserted town of Futaba, inside the 20-kilometer (12-mile) evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

In this Sunday, April 2, 2006 photo, a dog walks in the deserted town of Pripyat, Ukraine, some 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) from the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

Well, those pictures say a hell of a lot…and so does this one:  Japan is open for business – The Washington Post

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES – Sunflowers are seen in the tsunami hit field in in Natori, in Miyagi prefecture, and were planted by local elementary school children on July 15, 2011. Japan has a campaign to grow sunflowers to help decontaminate radioactive soil.

Yes, Japan is planting sunflowers to help remove the cesium.  Sunflowers rise to battle Japan’s nuclear winter – Technology & science – Science –

About 80,000 people were forced to evacuate from a vast swath of land around the reactor as engineers battled radiation leaks, hydrogen explosions and overheating fuel rods. They have no idea when, if ever, they can return to homes that have been in their families for generations.

Worse still, radiation spread well outside the mandatory evacuation zone, nestling in “hot spots” and contaminating the ground in what remains a largely agricultural region.

Rice, still a significant staple, has not been planted in many areas. Others face stringent tests and potentially harmful shipping bans after radioactive caesium was found in rice straw.

Excessive radiation levels have also been found in beef, vegetables, milk, seafood and water. In hot spots more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the plant, the tea is radioactive.

Sunflower campaign
In an effort to lift the spirits of area residents as well as lighten the impact of the radiation, Abe began growing and distributing sunflowers and other plants.

“We plant sunflowers, field mustard, amaranthus and cockscomb, which are all believed to absorb radiation,” said the monk. “So far we have grown at least 200,000 flowers (at this temple) and distributed many more seeds. At least 8 million sunflowers blooming in Fukushima originated from here.”

Sunflowers were also used to clean up contaminated soil near Chernobyl.  Imagine, once the flowers grow they must be disposed of properly.  Yes, the big yellow flowers are radioactive… atomic… a sea of golden toxic waste!  Japanese Scientists Get Creative With Nuclear Contamination Clean-Up

Sunflowers near Chernobyl

After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, sunflowers and rape blossoms were used to decontaminate soil in Ukraine.

The researchers believe growing sunflowers will remove the radioactive caesium in the ground. Radioactive caesium is similar to kalium, a commonly used fertilizer. If kalium is not present, sunflowers will absorb caesium instead.

Yamashita’s team plans to remove the harvested sunflowers through burning, so that the radioactive caesium could be dispersed in smoke instead of requiring storage.

Alternatively, the researchers are also considering using hyperthermophilic aerobic bacteria to decompose the plants. The decomposing process will reduce the sunflowers to about 1 percent of their previous volume, which will slash the amount of radioactive waste that needs to be disposed.

As for the radiation that is seaborne, and not in the soil…Modelling the dispersion of Fukushima-Daichii nuclear power plant release (H/T Susie Madrak)

Take a look at that link, there are moving computer images of the dispersion of the radioactive plume as it traveled the Pacific currents away from Japan.

So, lets move from toxic radioactive particles to toxic radioactive candidates…GOP candidates that is.

Republican Candidates Turn Attacks on One Another –

The Republican field is entering a pivotal stage in the nominating contest as candidates increasingly move beyond criticizing President Obama and start to run against one another.

The outcome of three debates in the next three weeks — starting Wednesday night, the first time Mr. Perry, Mr. Romney and Mrs. Bachmann will face one another — will influence fund-raising, shape strategy and set perceptions as the candidates hurtle toward the start of voting early next year.

In both parties, there is now a sense that the president’s political frailty, underscored by the report on Friday that showed zero net job creation in August and new projections that unemployment will remain elevated through Election Day next year, is even greater than it appeared at the start of the summer, injecting additional energy and urgency into the Republican primary race.

While many Democrats once hoped that perceived deficiencies among the Republican contenders could provide a lifeline to Mr. Obama, the prospect of losing the presidency is no longer summarily dismissed by his advisers.

In other words, they are going to “eat” their own kind in the next few weeks…should be some great fodder for the late night political comedians.

Early this week, this article was published on Colorlines.  The Definitive Guide to Bigotry in the 2012 Republican Primaries (So Far) – COLORLINES

There is a reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital. Stretched out between the memories of two presidents, the water reminds us that politics are merely a reflection of American society, for better or worse. The best of our society was on display 48 years ago when hundreds of thousands of Americans stood in scenic unity along the reflecting pool in support of civil rights. Today, the 2012 presidential elections reflect a nation still plagued by bias and inequality. Troubled and ugly waters indeed.

The following is a guide to use when you consider casting a vote for one of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates. You may be among the Americans who have lost faith in Obama or the Democratic Party and pondering a step to the right. Faulty as the Democrats may be, read this guide and remember that liberals still believe abolishing slavery was a good idea and that women should not be confined to the kitchen—which is not something you can say about all of the Republican contenders.

Check out this link, and read the entire article, because it breaks down the candidates and some of the questionable remarks that these 2012 GOP hopefuls have made. (Some will not come as a surprise to you, but Colorlines really does a great job of writing it down.)

From the bigoted remarks and beliefs to the religious fervor that most of the GOP 2012s are pimping left and right. This next article is from Time and discusses the Articles of Faith: What Journalists Should Be Asking Politicians About Religion | Swampland

A few weeks ago, I opened up my Twitter feed early in the morning and immediately wondered if I was being punk’d. Instead of the usual horse race speculation, my colleagues in the political press corps were discussing the writings of evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer and debating the definition of Dominionism. The same week, a conservative journalist had posed a question about submission theology in a GOP debate, and David Gregory had grilled Michele Bachmann about whether God would guide her decision-making if she became President.

The combination of religion and politics is a combustible one. And while I’m thrilled to see journalists taking on these topics, it seemed to me a few guidelines might be helpful in covering religion on the campaign trail:

Ask relevant questions.

It’s tempting to get into whether a Catholic candidate takes communion or if an evangelical politician actually thinks she speaks to God. But if a candidate brings up his faith on the campaign trail, there are two main questions journalists need to ask: 1) Would your religious beliefs have any bearing on the actions you would take in office? and 2) If so, how?

This is also a rather long article, and discusses the kinds of “faith” related questions the media needs to focus on.  From policy to Jeremiah Wright…so please read the entire article if you can.

From the Minx Missing Link File:  There was a plane crash this past week just off the coast in Chile…some of you may have missed this news. The plane crashed when extremely bad weather hit the area. Chile says no survivors from Pacific Ocean air crash | Reuters

“One arrives at the conclusion that the impact was so strong that it must have killed those aboard instantly,” Defense Minister Andres Allamand said.

The CASA 212 military plane tried twice to land on Friday before it went missing as heavy winds and sporadic rains hit the area.

Among the passengers were five TVN national television staff members, including well-known presenter Felipe Camiroaga, who were planning to film a report about reconstruction on the islands after last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The islands were badly hit by the tsunami.

21 people were aboard that plane, all are presumed dead.

Friday there was a 6.7 magnitude earthquake that hit in Argentina and a 6.8 earthquake the struck off the Fox Islands, in the Aleutian chain of islands in Alaska. Mother nature has been on the rampage lately.

Easy Like Sunday Morning Link of the Week:  This is one cool looking Woolly Rhino, isn’t it? BBC News – ‘Oldest’ woolly rhino discovered

Woolly rhino impression (Julie Naylor) The discovery team says it might have used its horn as a paddle to sweep snow from vegetation

As a fiber nut, the first thing I thought about when I saw that picture was…ooo, I bet that spins up like yak or maybe Icelandic fleece, one of the primitive sheep whose fleece has a dual coat. One layer is guard hair, straight and more “hairy” like, it makes a very strong and stable yarn…great for use as warps in weaving and the lower woolly fleece, that is soft and wavy, with lots of loft and crimp, that makes a great flexible yarn because it has more “give” for knitting and use as weft in weaving.

A woolly rhino fossil dug up on the Tibetan Plateau is believed to be the oldest specimen of its kind yet found.

The creature lived some 3.6 million years ago – long before similar beasts roamed northern Asia and Europe in the ice ages that gripped those regions.

The discovery team says the existence of this ancient rhino supports the idea that the frosty Tibetan foothills of the Himalayas were the evolutionary cradle for these later animals.

The report appears in Science journal.

“It is the oldest specimen discovered so far,” said Xiaoming Wang from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, US.

“It is at least a million years older, or more, than any other woolly rhinos we have known.
“It’s quite well preserved – just a little crushed, so not quite in the original shape; but the complete skull and lower jaw are preserved,” he told BBC News.

Well, that is all for me this morning. Enjoy your first Sunday in September, and I will catch you all later in the comments.

Monday Afternoon, Sky Dancing in the Garden

I was thinking about writing a gardening and food post, then Kat mentioned gardening in the Monday Reads and so I ran with it.

Up here in the northern-westernest part of the lower 48 La Nina has been mighty boring. I’m grateful for this, but sorry that her pattern of weather moved south and blasted the rest of the country with such misery. We’ve had normal temps and less rain that usual, although that is changing. This means my partner and I have been out working on the farm. He got the parts of the field we need later this month and next tilled and ready for planting. I’ve been working on conquering the weeds in the herb garden.

A plain and simple rose, in Sima's garden

Weeds (northeastern, northwestern, california, midwest and south): the bane of life with organic gardening, little tiny buggers that grow from the very air it seems, seeds stored for 20 years or more in buried earth just waiting for a bit of sun and light, little bothersome indicators of both soil gone wrong and soil gone right, rotten, overpowering… bleh. Weeds. Since our farm started as a cow pasture and hay field, our worst weeds are grasses, particularly what we call ‘zip’ grass, because of the sound it makes when you rip it out by the roots and discover to your horror the roots run right under the 3 feet of weed matted and graveled pathway and out the other side. Ziiiipppp indeed. One little stem of that stuff and it’ll grow another 4 foot long run of root, little grasslets sprouting all along the way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow-up: GM Alfalfa

I wrote about GM Alfalfa several days ago, and wanted to post a short followup.

First, do we really need GM Alfalfa? Probably not. It’s not like Alfalfa is riddled with a weed problem in this country. Michael Pollan points out that 93% of the alfalfa in this country is raised without any herbicides at all. This makes sense, alfalfa as fodder can benefit from the addition of other plants (although not poisonous ones, obviously). My goats thrive on weedy alfalfa. Anyway, GM Alfalfa says Pollan, ‘is a bad solution to a problem that doesn’t exist’.

The Center for Food Safety is going to continue bringing Monsanto to court over GM Alfalfa. ‘by tackling a new angle, Page Tomaselli, staff attorney at the Center for Food Safety, explained Friday at the Eco-Farm Conference. Their strategy will hinge on the “gene flow” risk accepted by the Supreme Court last June as harmful and illegal under current environment protections.’ The Public Patent Foundation is also going to sue Monsanto (or continue suing Monsanto. The foundation has been fighting Monsanto’s patents for a while now). If the foundation succeeds (and it just won a court battle to declare patents concerning human genes invalid), most of Monsanto’s patents concerning living things will be rendered irrelevant. Yes!

The Center for Food Safety has issued a press release pointing out that Vilsack’s decision leaves many problems. Who’s liable if a farmer’s crop is destroyed by GM pollen? Who pays damages? WHo is going to monitor and control herbicide useage on a crop that doesn’t need it, unless it’s ‘Round-Up Ready’? Who is liable for the super-weeds that will result?

From the Department of ‘Of Course, We Should have Known!’ (via Kat) comes this news. Media reports suggest that the reason Vilsack disregarded the comments of 200,000+, the recommendations of Aphis and so on has to do with pressure from the White House. So I wonder, is Obama actually fake? I mean, is he, like, made by Monsanto and the others? Just a gas-bag filled with whatever, maybe Round-Up, and tuned to say certain things that get frat boys excited? I wonder what Michelle, organic gardening proponent that she is, thinks about this? I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Just more proof everyone up ‘high’ is bought and paid for by the time they are weaned.

Sky Dancing in the Garden: Here comes Dream time!

Note: I’m posting this on Monday because Sunday was super busy, both personally and on the blog!

And now, for something entirely frivolous and decadent.

This year’s gardening catalogs.

Many a garden writer has said it before, and many will say it again (in fact, this one is just about to).. catalogs are for dreaming. In catalogs there are no slugs, no snails, no powdery mildew and no late blight. The plants are a glistening glossy green, with bright shiny flowers that stand out like beacons under the perpetual benevolent sunshine. Every plant is wonderful, superlative, the cream of the crop. The vegetables look, taste, and even smell better in your favorite garden catalog, or at least, so say their descriptions.

Watering? Only from this stylish classic verdigris water can on page 25 or the oh-so-environmentally conscious drip irrigation ‘system’ on page 50.

Bugs? NEVER! But if you might see a stray sign of a leaf-hopper on the poor neighbor’s fuscia, head out to page 65 for a complete list of bug preventatives.

The thing that draws me in every time, every single dang time, is the ‘NEW VARIETIES!’ I love reading about new vegetable varieties. I’ll read a bit, then my gaze’ll wander and I’ll stare out the window at the cold, grey, wet winter’s day. In my mind’s eye I see this or that great new broccoli variety, or corn, or swiss chard, or whatever, growing proudly in long rows; producing abundant, life-sustaining nutrition (and a few bucks for the poor farmer). And this or that great new variety will be innately resistant to slugs and will scoff at both heat and cold, wet and dry. It’s such a great variety, it’ll grow under your bed, or on the moon! Ok, I’m getting a bit carried away.

Catalog season generally starts in December. It can run into April in some areas of the country or end as early as February in others, because it ends as soon as planting begins and reality sets in. I keep all the farming and gardening related catalogs in the same pile and look through them before I go to bed, or when I have a few free moments. It’s a peaceful, dreamy time.

If you’re anything like me, you get tons of gardening catalogs from seed suppliers from all over the country. It’s hard to tell the good seed company from the bad, hard to tell what will grow in your area and what won’t. Therefore, here’s a few tips.

Do a bit of google research to explore where a seed company is getting their seed. Few actually grow seeds themselves (although some do). Many smaller seed companies still offer non-Monsanto (or other huge agri-business) controlled seed.

Beware of seed that is copyrighted or trademarked. This doesn’t mean it’s an F1 hybrid, this means it’s actually illegal to grow it yourself. If it’s that important to some business, you probably don’t need it.

To determine if a variety will grow in your area: Start with the basic hardiness zones. If the variety is within your zone, it’ll probably grow. But remember, many varieties need heat, so a zone 8 in the PacNW is not going to get as much heat as a zone 8 in northern California. This matters for things like corn and eggplant and many flower varieties. Most catalogs do not give heat requirements (known as degree days), so here’s how I figure it out. I use a catalog provided by a local (to me) seed merchant; Territorial Seeds. This is a great company, and they do a lot of their own growing and testing down in Oregon. I look at the days to maturity they give for different varieties of vegetables and flowers. Although the days to maturity are still a bit low, because they are in Oregon and I’m in Washington, I at least get in the ballpark. Then I compare these days to those in other catalogs. For each vegetable, this gives me an offset for each of the other catalogs, which I can use to get a semi-accurate guess whether something will grow for me or not.

Why do I do this? Because my favorite seed place is Johnny’s, in Maine. And in Maine you can, for instance, grow corn varieties which won’t grow in the Puget Sound area of Washington. Maine is hotter and has more days over 60 F than Washington, even though coastal Washington has a higher hardiness zone.

Another point to consider:  Look at the natural habitat of the plant.  Make sure your garden area is similar to that natural habitat if you want carefree gardening.  For instance, rosemary is naturally a Mediterranean scrub plant.  It likes cool mornings and nights, mist, wind, quickly draining soil and hot sun.  It doesn’t like snow, and it doesn’t like places without that mist and wind.  So around my area rosemary often dies.  However, I can grow it because I live in a little valley on a peninsula with sea water within a mile or two on 3 sides.  I get the winds and the mist, boy, do I get the winds!  I then went further for my rosemary and grow it in raised beds to achieve the drainage it wants.

For farming, I use Johnny’s and Territorial seed mostly.  I get catalogs from other seed merchants, but they don’t hit a chord with me, for some reason.  I use Nichols and various other places for herbs.  I love the Heirloom seed catalogs and tomato catalogs.  I use onion starts, rather than the little onion bulbs or seeds.  I get mine from Dixondale farms.  Drip Works is a great drip irrigation site, and cheaper than the ‘system’ available in most catalogs.  Green house stuff comes from Charley’s in Washington, or Greenhouse Megastore or other places across the Internet.

So let’s hear it, what are your winter gardening dreams, 2011 gardening plans and favorite catalogs and tips for seed selection?

Sunday Growing

I’m hoping that a regular post about gardening and farming, but mostly gardening, will be useful on the blog. I’ve picked Sundays to run the post, perhaps every other Sunday at first depending upon interest, because it’s often a slow news day.

I hope to convince a few of the commenters and writers here to write about what is happening in the garden(s) in their neck of the woods. So feel free to dive in, everyone!

Up here in the PacNW it’s been rainy. No surprise there, eh? It’s also cold; we are having a cold snap with cold winds barrelling down out of the Fraser River Valley from Canada. This often means snow, but I think it’s a bit too warm for snow as we are hovering just above freezing, but the skies are clear. The fire has been burning in the wood stove all day. Outside the goats are all puffed up, like little fur puff balls on 4 stick like legs. They are out in the pasture looking for something to eat. The pasture is green (this is Washington after all) but the grass has little nutrition. So they come in to eat hay every few hours. The cats are similarly puffed up, lounging in the warm spots in the garage. The dog is in her heaven, being a northern spitz type dog. She’s only 9 months old. I can’t wait until she first encounters snow.

Frost on the Pasture

Frost on the Pasture

The plants in the herb garden are curled up against the cold. But there is still viable rosemary, thyme and some oregano. The last of the chives gave up the ghost a month or so ago. Green onions are still hanging on, hoping I won’t pick them before they can flower in the spring. In the greenhouses that I got from The Tree Center and set up last season, the last of the tomatoes have ripened and need to be picked. Their mother plants are completely brown and dead. Peppers hang here and there amidst the brown leaves of their plants. I need to get those picked and processed. We chop peppers, sweet and hot, and bag them into zip-locks. We freeze them and use them in cooking all the rest of the year. Instead of canning tomatoes I chop them, skins, seeds and all, in the cuisinart and freeze them. They too are used in cooking for the rest of the year.

Out in the fields the garlic we planted in October is showing the first of its growth. Yum! If it were to get really cold we’d have to cover it with straw, but I’d rather not. That way there’s no convenient hiding place for our garden nemesis, the slug. We also have lettuce, mesclun, carrots, broccoli, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, rutabaga, beets, turnips and more growing in the fields. Some of the plants are under cover to protect them from super cold weather. Others are left to grow as they will. I expect the beets and the swiss chard will finish shortly. I should grab some and chop it and freeze it for eating later before it turns into a brown frozen mush!

I expect we’ll have our first snow, if not over Thanksgiving where it can most effectively screw up travel plans and therefore is the chosen time of the weather gods, by early December. Before then, I hope to have the paths in the herb garden weeded, and we really need to get the plowing done.

I’d like to refer everyone to a gardening blog from our own Grayslady, Gardening in the Mud. Please visit there for information about Mid-West and North-East gardening and plants. She knows her stuff! If anyone else has a garden blog they’d like linked, let us know!

So, what’s happening in the garden in your area? Go outside and then let us know!