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Most of us have at least passing knowledge of the Irish Potato Famine, a catastrophe of epic proportions during which one to one and a half million died from starvation and disease.

What many may not know is that there are important lessons to be learned from it --- because, you see, the Potato Famines in general, and the Irish Potato Famine in particular, are classic examples of the dangers of monoculture and dependence on a single food source, and the importance of biodiversity.


Although overwhelming blame for the Irish Potato Famine can be laid at the feet of British colonialism and the landlord-tenant system, its initial emergence and severity were consequences of monoculture --- in particular, overreliance on a single food source (potatoes) and lack of genetic variation in that food source:

Today, evolutionary theory tells us that relying on crops with low genetic variation can lead to disaster. Heeding the warnings of scientists and history may help us prevent wide-scale crop devastation due to changing environmental conditions.

Now, it is one thing for a season (or several seasons) of a crop to be lost, due to pestilence, drought, whatever. In fact, such loss is simply a given; it happens all the time.

If, however, that crop comprises a primary food source, its loss becomes problematic.

And if there is no genetic diversity in that crop and no access to other food sources, then famine is a very real possibility, especially given the right political, social and economic factors. And, as recent history has shown us, those right factors are all too common.

The blight which began the Irish Potato Famine was neither an unusual nor isolated event. Previous potato crops had been lost and famine had occurred before in Ireland. Besides, the same blight affected much of Europe, but most areas fared better, not only because of more favorable soils and climate, and more functional governmental and trade systems, but because a diversity of crops were available.

The other crops of Ireland, however, were exported by the British and the landlords, and the people who actually grew those crops were substantially dependent on the potato. Their landholdings were often small so, unlike today when we know about squarefoot and lasagna gardening, potatoes became the crop of choice to feed families.

And not just the potato: the lumper potato. The problem:

The genetically identical lumpers were all susceptible to a rot caused by Phytophthora infestans, which turns non-resistant potatoes to inedible slime.

The result: one to one and one half million dead from starvation, typhus, dysentery, cholera and other diseases.

First hand accounts, like the following from the magistrate of Cork, Nicholas Cummins, paint a desperate picture:

"I entered some of the hovels," he wrote, "and the scenes which presented themselves were such as no tongue or pen can convey the slightest idea of. In the first, six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horsecloth, their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees. I approached with horror, and found by a low moaning they were alive -- they were in fever, four children, a woman and what had once been a man. It is impossible to go through the detail. Suffice it to say, that in a few minutes I was surrounded by at least 200 such phantoms, such frightful spectres as no words can describe, [suffering] either from famine or from fever. Their demoniac yells are still ringing in my ears, and their horrible images are fixed upon my brain." [...]

In some cabins, the dead remained for days or weeks among the living who were too weak to move the bodies outside.

But it can't happen here

I wish I had your confidence.

But --- not to go TEOTWAWKI or anything --- I wouldn't be so confident, especially with changing climate, an endangered water supply, consolidation of seed and livestock suppliers, and loss of extraordinary biodiversity in the last 100 years alone.

Consider this: in 2001, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization stated that two breeds of farm animals disappear each week, and 1,350 breeds face extinction. They further note:

... over time 10,000 plant species were used for human food and agriculture. Now no more than 120 cultivated species provide 90 percent of human food supplied by plants.

More than 90 percent of the agricultural diversity that existed at the start of the 20th century has been lost.

Given the expected doubling of food needs in the next three decades as the world's population grows, biodiversity will be essential to food security, the FAO says.

And as our food supply becomes more corporatized, biodiversity becomes even more threatened. Michael Greger, M.D., Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States notes that as of 2000, more than 95% of the poultry breeds in the world were supplied by only four turkey breeding companies, five egg-laying chicken breeders, and five broiler breeder companies.

This erosion of biodiversity has human public health consequences. The American Association of Swine Veterinarians has explained why the genetic bottlenecking created by narrowly focused breeding schemes may be a main reason for the mounting concern over human zoonotic diseases. "As genetic improvement falls into the hands of fewer companies and the trend towards intense multiplication of a limited range of genotypes (monoculture, cloning) develops, there is mounting concern that large populations may have increasingly uniform vulnerability to particular pathogens." This is the risk posed by any type of agricultural mono-cropping.

We can learn from past mistakes. In the early 1970s, for example, the U.S. corn industry developed "Tcms" corn, a highly profitable strain adapted for large-scale farming. Only after 85% of the nation’s seed corn acreage was covered with the new variety did the industry realize that the strain also happened to be particularly susceptible to a rare form of leaf blight fungus that then wiped out areas of the U.S. corn belt.

In the 1800's, our cotton crops were decimated by the boll weevil. When our corn crops were destroyed, we had to turn to Mexico for new varieties to plant. And, during the 1980's, a new pest infested California vinyards.

All due to monoculture. Because, you see:

The rapid replacement of numerous locally adapted varieties with one or two high-yielding strains in large contiguous areas would result in the spread of serious diseases capable of wiping out entire crops, as happened prior to the Irish potato famine of 1854 and the Bengal rice famine in 1942.

Let's Talk about Extinction

Extinctions are irreversible. When a species or variety goes extinct, it is gone, evolution notwithstanding. True, it might reemerge in a billion or so years. But that's kind of meaningless for now, isn't it?

And plant species, including both native and agricultural plants, are just as vulnerable as animal species. Consider this:

If present trends continue, scientists warn, two-thirds of the world’s 300,000 plant species will disappear by the end of the next century.

In the United States alone, one out of every three plants is in danger of extinction. This includes:

14 percent of rose species, 32 percent of lilies, 32 percent of irises, 14 percent of cherry species and 29 percent of palms [and} Coniferous trees as a group

The extinction or disappearance of one species in an ecosystem can create a domino effect, as cohesive systems are composed of critters which are dependent on one another. And if other critters are specialized for the species which disappears, then they, too, become endangered and possibly disappear, either from that unique ecosystem --- or from everywhere.

Oh, so what? Things go extinct - why should we worry?

Now, bear in mind that famine itself does not generally arise from a simple lack of food or loss of a single species, but from numerous factors, including political and economic policies, weather conditions, like drought and El Ninos, and overpopulation.

However, at this point in time, we're looking at a collision of factors, including changing weather patterns due to global warming, high population levels, movement toward monopolization of our seed, livestock and food supplies by a very few corporations, and an agricultural system based on a rapidly diminishing resource - petroleum. The effects of each are extremely problematic. In combination, however, they spell potential disaster.


And this is far from a comprehensive list of factors which put us in jeopardy.

Some solutions

We are not wholly powerless and in fact, there are concrete things each of us can do. Perhaps the most important is to support a diversified food supply with your pocketbook. You can do this a number of ways.

  • Support the ability of local farmers and critter keepers to maintain and acquire diverse plant and critter stock.

That means being open to actually trying new varieties of fruits and vegetables offered at your farmer's market and coops. That means knowing who in your area raises heritage chicken and turkey breeds, and buying their eggs and critters.

  • Cut down on the amount of meat you eat and stop buying meat products from CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).

You don't have to quit eating meat. But you don't really need it at every meal. Consider switching to using it as a flavoring in soups and stews, and only having a big hunk of it every few days. And buy the best meat you can --- that factory farmed stuff is not only unbelievably nasty, it poses very real threats to our health, both now and in the future. Manure runoff is poisoning our waterways and groundwater, and our very soil is suffering from - well, from too much shit.

  • Don't eat at McDonald's and other multinational fast food joints. They're a big reason we're losing so much forest and arable land to livestock operations.

And there are things to do beyond your choices in food.

  • Save seeds.

If you're an avid gardener or wannabe farmer (like me), buy your seeds from companies who are committed to maintaining biodiversity. That means avoiding seed companies owned by corporations like Monsanto, who are busily moving toward monopolization of our seed supplies, and asking companies which distribute seed from Seminis (owned by Monsanto) which of their seeds are Seminis and which aren't.

I personally like to buy my seeds from J. L. Hudson, Renee's Garden (which is Renee Shepherd's new company), NoThyme and a few other places. In fact, it's pretty easy to avoid corporate seed --- but you have to look around.

You can find and check the quality of a seed supplier at The Garden Watchdog --- I never buy from a new company without running them through Garden Watchdog. And I've found all kinds of unique little suppliers through them.

And don't be afraid to try unusual and exotic varieties. So something fails --- well, gee, now you know. And hopefully, you hung onto some of the seeds, which you'll either save or pass onto someone else - or both.

Which brings me to ...

  • Buy a copy of The Seed Starter's Handbook by Nancy Bubel. Halcyon suggested it to me some months ago, and it's great. It gives very basic instructions on how to save seeds, test germination rates and more.

But what if you're not a farmer or a gardener and don't even believe catastrophe looms? I say ...

  • Save seeds anyway!

And when you're positively ancient and one day suddenly disintegrate into a tiny pile of dust, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will, at first, giggle ... then plant that tin of ancient seeds for plants they've never even heard of. And some of them will grow. And the world will welcome the return of a little more biodiversity, all as a result of your forethought.

Okay, a big one:

  • Plant trees native to your area.

In a word: screw Bradford pears. Find out what trees are native to your area and plant them.

Hunt down dKossian Land of Enchantment and either read his VMD or ask him about tree planting --- or both!

Me, I just planted some crab apple trees, and have some pecan and hickory trees in pots waiting to go in, come fall. Sure, I could plant some fast growing, non-native variety --- but I would rather contribute to the health of my little ecological niche here than have the satisfaction of a tree that reaches 80 feet in four years, then falls over the first time A Big Wind blows through.

  • Find out about invasives and start battling them.

Here's a great set of links which can help you figure out what's native to your area and which trees and plants are posing the greatest dangers.

Invasives are big trouble.

And finally ...

  • Compost!

Especially if you live in your own home.

Hm. Composting recipes may be a good idea for a future What's For Dinner?

Originally posted to cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 06:25 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Funny... (22+ / 0-)

    I actually have a number of friends who, individually, we have all discussed this together. One of my friends is convinced the peak oil crisis will instigate a lot of problems which will necessitate some of the things you mentioned here.

    As a group, we have all talked about what we would do in this type of crisis. We've mentioned starting a "compound" together, where we would each have a task in keeping us all alive together. For example, I am an avid gardner, so I would help with that task of growing food, and showing others how to help me do it.

    Another idea is to have a group of friends, and each person agree to grow a few types of food plants at their own home. Then we each share them with each other when harvested. That way, it is less individual work, and more food for each of us.

    Just a few ideas that have been floating around out there!

    Georgie Porgie Puddin Pie
    All he could ever do was lie.
    When the kids came out to play
    Georgie had planted landmines.

    by jetskreemr on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 06:35:46 AM PDT

  •  I love my compost heaps... (21+ / 0-)

    ..piles, bins, cages, mounds!  Dallas dirt is largely black, sticky clay that devours compost, and I know there is a Compost Monster living under the west herb garden, which is all right, because I don't want my herbs to get fat and flower too easily..
     If there are foodies who love food, I suppose that makes me a.....compostess?
     Note for seed freaks - sometimes grocery stores will offer a selection of "heirloom" tomatoes, which are, shall we say, unique looking - but they are really tasty, and you can save the seeds for your garden.  I have grown Krim, Donna, Genovese tomatoes from seeds I saved from grocery store tomatoes.  
     A question for experienced veggie gardeners - I have grown lots of different peppers, and I am sure that they are doing the old nasty at night, because the seeds they have produced have yielded some unexpected (but delightful) "mutants" like sweet jalapenos and hot bell peppers.  What other vegetables do this, and do I need to worry about my mutant pepper seeds?

    In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. - George Orwell

    by drchelo on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 06:38:04 AM PDT

  •  I was conscious of invasive species when I owned (18+ / 0-)

    a home, but now that I live in an apartment, there's not that much planting I can do. OTOH, my deck faces South, so I could plant a tree or two in planters. They would even hlp block out some of the sun coming in during the Summer as well.

  •  Thanks, cookiebear. the loss of diversity is a (16+ / 0-)

    really important issue. In the UK the rare breeds trust works to preserve old breeds of farm animals. The assault on biodiversity began with the beginnings of farming 12k years ago. The situation is far worse now due to the factory farms. Not only is our food supply threatened, but the taste is lost. Heirloom tomatoes taste better than those awful tomatoes that are sold in the supermarkets. Many modern rose plants don't even smell like roses. The bottom line is grow your own and patronize farmers' markets where local farmers grow older varieties.

  •  A beautiful post, much appreciated (17+ / 0-)

    Thanks for all the good resource material. This is the issue that people don't get around climate change and land use, we depend on our living planet to survive. The disconnection between most people living in the urban and suburban population centers and working in various corporations has made people blind to their relationship to nature.

    Climate change will impact food because it will impact water, soil, temperature, wind, and insects. If things go the way they could we will have a lot of south to north migration and starvation. It will make the potato famine, and the dust bowl, look like the good old days.

    I am going to start raised bed food production at home this spring, probably next weekend, and am looking forward to getting back in touch, or really in touch for the first time, with what I really depend on, earth, water etc.

    Our economy sucks up our environment, people, and government. Redesign it at Beyond Political Center

    by Bob Guyer on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 06:50:21 AM PDT

    •  Funny you should mention raised beds (5+ / 0-)

      This diary caused me to make a visit to Organic Gardening magazine this morning for some reminiscence time (I haven't had a garden in waaaay too many years, and miss it). While there, I came across this wonderful article: Plan A Beautiful Vegetable Garden which, among other things, talks about the glory of raised beds.

      Raise your beds
      Once you've imagined the exterior shape possibilities of your space, consider the dual concepts of "raised" and "multiple" bedding plans as the interior design ideal. Early gardeners, from the Aztecs at Tenochtitlan to the ancient Egyptians to 9th-century Swiss monks, recognized that a bed raised even a scant 6 inches above path level provided infinitely better drainage than a bed built flush with the soil. Gardeners today also find that raised beds heat up faster in spring, adding days (or even weeks) to your growing season. Raised beds allow for far easier soil amendment, too. Build up a bed 12 or 18 inches above path grade, and you can fill it with the ideal mix of topsoil and other amendments. And when the soil is at shin level, weeding and harvesting are less of a strain on your back.

      Vegetable gardeners across every continent have learned that beds built no broader than 4 to 5 feet, separated by paths, allow you to reach into the middle of each bed without stepping into it. This keeps you from ranging through your seedlings, compacting the soil and crushing plants underfoot. Moreover, you can work with your feet planted in a nice, clean path rather than in the middle of a muddy bed.

      Plant a Tapestry
      Once you have this marvelous pattern of multiple raised beds around you like a huge Turkish carpet, you can plant it just as you would a decorative flower border. You can select from literally thousands of kinds of vegetables, born in all corners of the globe: some nearly as old as time, others introduced yesterday, in every shape and coloration and savor imaginable. Think about height and texture and leaf form and foliage color. Think of contrast and juxtaposition and vegetables that will reward you with flowers, as well.

      It's a wonderful article, will set your mind and heart racing with possibilities. Man oh man, I'm gonna have to settle down eventually and reacquaint myself with tilling the earth...

      We find that after years of struggle we do not take a journey, but rather a journey takes us. John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

      by tigerdog on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 09:33:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This one goes to the hotlist... (12+ / 0-)

    I've got a new house and for the first time I actually have a yard where I'd planned to give gardening a shot and to plant a couple of trees.

    Thanks for this info! Now, my upcoming efforts will be more earth-friendly.

    "We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders." Molly Ivins

    by VetGrl on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 06:51:48 AM PDT

  •  Great diary, Cookie! (15+ / 0-)

    A couple of notes about details -

    My pick for organic potato source (many varieties red, white and blue) is Ronniger Potato Farm in Colorado. .

    BEware of composting meat, cheesse, eggs (but shells are fine). I always separate these from what gets composted, because they encourage the "wrong kind" of nematodes even after composting, when added to beds. Will also encourage pest insects and help spread blight.

    Rotating crops in the beds is necessary - my rule is to NEVER grow tomatoes in the same place twice in a row. Tried that once, they all turned black.

    If you save seeds, most can be frozen for long storage. This ensures better germination as they get older. Start tomatoes, peppers and such in flats, only transplant the strongest seedlings.

    Keep It Real! §;o)

    Satan himself had a 33% approval rating even as he was booted out of heaven.

    by Joy Busey on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 06:54:44 AM PDT

    •  Hmm-- this is interesting (7+ / 0-)

      I had always read that tomatoes were one of the few things that liked to be grown in the same spot year after year, and be composted with their own selves.  I have not had trouble, but on the other hand I don't think I've ever grown the same variety two years in a row-- perhaps that matters, as per this diary!

      •  i think it's tomatoes in general (8+ / 0-)

        i've grown tomatoes (different varieties) in the same spot before and have never lost the plants, but their vigor has been noticeably reduced

        for the best tomato plants, i've found it's best to rotate crops like anything else - the difference is extraordinary, or at least it has been for me

        No, I'm more liberal than you!

        by cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:08:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  oh NO! (11+ / 0-)

        No way, jose!

        No member of the nightshade(solanacea) family should be planted in the same spot - tomato, potato, ground cherry, eggplant, tobacco.   Modern hybrid tomatoes came about not just to produce uniform fruit but to ensure disease resistance.   My warning to anyone who grows open pollinated and heirloom tomatoes is to remember that they are frequently susceptible to a variety of diseases that hybrids are resistant to.  Failing to rotate crops can lead to a crop failure from disease.

        We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

        by Fabian on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:18:04 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The hybrids got their resistance genes (6+ / 0-)

          from the heirlooms in the first place. The reason the heirlooms don't have the 'VFN' after their names is because it doesn't pay Burpee, et. al. to do the testing.

          It's true that many heirloom varieties are more prone to cracking, cat-facing and other vagaries of weather, but the flavor can't be beat. Hybrids can't compare to Brandywines.

          Arkansas Traveller is one heirloom I've grown that produced perfect unblemished tomatoes all season, which was great for marketing, but the flavor was not special.

          •  If you don't know if your plants are resistant (6+ / 0-)

            then you should act as if they aren't.  The gardening version of Universal Precautions, I guess.

            We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

            by Fabian on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:43:43 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Actually... (6+ / 0-)

            ...some of the resistance comes from nasty wild species like Lycopersicon peruvianum. The taste's not entirely awful, but the fruit is hairy. Not much of that in the heirlooms.

            There are lots of good resistance genes in heirloom tomatoes, and they shouldn't be ignored, either to grow or as breeding stock. However, modern hybrids are the product of years of efforts to pyramid multiple resistance genes into the same plant, something that just isn't the case with heirlooms.

            You may have had good luck with the heirlooms you've grown (and Brandywines are damn good tomatoes), but assuming that they'll be up to modern standards of disease resistance may be a costly error. Burpee may not publish the testing (believe me, they've already paid for it--it doesn't cost that much and it's in their interest to know) but Universities and Cooperative Extension services have done these tests--I've seen some and they ain't pretty. I can't find much of that data online, but the link below leads to a site with some basic observations, and you'll note a fair amount of disease in there.

            Don't get me wrong--I love heirloom tomatoes. But assuming resistance where it hasn't been shown is a recipe for a lot of sick plants.

            Heirloom tomato evaluations (scroll down)

            •  Heirloom tomatoes (3+ / 0-)

              It appears those evaluations were conducted in California. Evaluations in other parts of the country could turn out differently. For instance,  Brandywine rated "poor taste" there but most east coast gardeners are thrilled with the flavor of Brandywine. It's one of the few red tomatoes I can grow in Florida that tastes like a tomato, but yes, it has its disease problems.

              "I suppose it's never any surprise that a sham, when it falls apart, falls apart so quickly and thoroughly." - from Sea of Tranquillity by Paul Russell

              by wayoutinthestix on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 10:33:04 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I think (3+ / 0-)

                Much also has to do with dirt they are grown in just like with anything else.  

                I'm not a huge fan of them myself although I will usually put in one or two of them which I use for grilling.

                When do I get to vote on your marriage?

                by tvb on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 11:15:38 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  Also... (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                cookiebear, Fabian

                There are different seed lines of heirloom tomatoes. Since they don't come from a single uniform source the way a hybrid would, they're subject to genetic drift over time.

                I kind of wonder if there's something about 'Brandywine' that some people find objectionable taste-wise, because I agree it's one of the better tasting tomatoes, yet I occasionally see surprisingly weak showings in tastings like these.

        •  also massive nitrogen suckers (3+ / 0-)

          haevy feeders should be rotated with legumes, if only to keep the soil N levels stable.

      •  Has to do probably with soil... (6+ / 0-)

        ...microbes and such generally. I can't grow brassicas anywhere in the garden due to a past owner's stupidity. Black scale gets 'em every time. Also climate - we had a short drought, then have been getting an inch of rain a day all summer. Tomatoes need sun, and have to dry out sometime. I do not compost either potato or tomato plants - I put them on the burn pile, because there are some plants that WANT to pass diseases and my compost piles (series of 3-sided bins made of pallets) are not 'hot'. There are black barrel composters you can buy that get really hot, this will kill most microbes.

        Satan himself had a 33% approval rating even as he was booted out of heaven.

        by Joy Busey on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:43:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  yes - i violate this (5+ / 0-)

      by adding yogurt to the compost

      and admittedly, i've worried over it

      but this is the first year i've done that, and we'll see what happens

      i have to tell you, though, this year is my best batch of compost ever --- not sure why, but perhaps because the core of it was frozen most of the winter (which usually doesn't happen here)

      i do think composting is worthy of a What's for Dinner? diary

      No, I'm more liberal than you!

      by cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:06:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's those filthy nematodes... (4+ / 0-)

      Years ago I replanted tomatoes and eggplants in the same spot as the previous year and the nematodes did them in. I have nothing but contempt for those evil nematodes.

      As an aside, I used to have great luck interplanting vegetables with ornamentals for insect control. For instance, planting marigolds (especially African marigolds) right up close to tomatoes helped control nematodes and nasturtiums help control white fly. At least it seemed so to me, and how lovely the garden looked with all those blooms! Likewise, I always grew garlic around my roses.

      I'm sure you all know already about the Organic Gardening magazine. It was my Bible in my garden growing youth.

      It's been over 20 years since I was able to have a garden or grow flowers and I confess that this is the one thing about living a gypsy life that I really miss.

      We find that after years of struggle we do not take a journey, but rather a journey takes us. John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

      by tigerdog on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 09:08:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Nasturtiums... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cookiebear, OrangeClouds115, tvb

        ...took over my garden! Bad as morning glory, it is! But pretty and tastes great in salads with violets and chopped tiger lily buds... Yum!

        Satan himself had a 33% approval rating even as he was booted out of heaven.

        by Joy Busey on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 10:45:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  What is a nematode? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

        I read a book on composting human waste, and it mentioned that if done properly you should be able to compost anything you want including meat and cheese and whatever else.  But it mentioned that you should keep a good level of thermophilic bacteria (which is what makes a compost pile heat up) and let it age at least a year after the bacteria has done it's work so worms can contribute to the overall quality of the compost and to kill off any lingering pathogens that the heat didn't.

        Is it a matter of the type of composting involved?  

        What's a nematode?

        You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. - John Lennon "Imagine"

        by a dumb dreamer on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 12:54:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Tomato root knot nematodes (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

          Tomato root knot nematodes are tiny, worm-like critters that are very common in soil. Tomatoes are among the most seriously affected crops, but not the only plants to be affected. The juveniles hatch from eggs, move through the soil and invade roots near the root tip. Their presence stimulates the surrounding tissues to enlarge and produce galls on the root surface. Mature female nematodes, which spend most of their lives inside those galls, then lay hundreds of eggs on the root surface and these eggs hatch to continue the life cycle.

          Above ground, affected plants will develop symptoms of stunting, wilting or yellowing. Plants may grow normally until they reach maturity, then they begin to wilt and die back with flowering, fruit set and fruit development being reduced.

          You can get a lot of good information (and a pic of an infected plant's roots) here:

          We find that after years of struggle we do not take a journey, but rather a journey takes us. John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

          by tigerdog on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 02:01:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Yay, we're using "Hunter caps" today! (16+ / 0-)

    Great diary, cookie!

    This is a humongous subject, hard to encompass from every relevant angle.  I might just add for starters (I don't think you covered it): monoculture also exploits soil mercilessly, because different plants require different nutrients, and growing the same crop year after year across wide swaths of land will severely deplete it of the nutrients that crop needs... leading to the necessary application of inorganic fertilizers, etc.

    Hence growing a diverse and changing set of organisms will also lead to a more sustainable growing medium with continuing fertility.

    I used to live near Heritage Farms in Iowa, headquarters of the Seed Savers Exchange.  That is another good resource for heirloom plant varieties, I think.

    •  love the Hunter Caps! (7+ / 0-)

      and yes, it's a huge, huge subject

      i barely touched the tip of the iceberg with it - and admittedly was kind of hoping some smart-pants like you :=D would contribute info

      i mean, i had to study a lot of ecology, but i am lightyears from being an ecologist (although i honestly wish i were)

      so thanks! i'm hoping Land of Enchantment shows up, too, and offers more info

      No, I'm more liberal than you!

      by cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:02:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's just that it's so enormous... (5+ / 0-)

        ...and I certainly didn't mean it was your fault you couldn't cover it all.  Anything that gets into ecology can just spread forever, and all be relevant, right?  Like, do you wanna talk about worms?  Butterflies?  Cow pies?  Tiny tiny mites?  And then, if it's farming ecology, so much social and economic stuff becomes relevant.  Petroleum politics.  Supermarket business practices.  Income inequality.  It's mind-boggling!  I thought your diary actually did a terrific job of pointing in a lot of different directions at once.  :)  

        Are you going to write some more of these?  You should.

      •  I compost with worms... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

        ...not sure what difference it makes.  Except they compost paper, too.  And it never gets very hot, so doesn't sterilize that way.  They seem to survive the winter OK, too.  They probably digest most of the seeds, but I occasionally get a germination.  No big deal.

        I'm clueless on nematodes, but have a hunch they're little enough that the worms eat those, too, and perhaps keep 'em down.  Would be glad to hear from someone who does know.

        "Every single Democratic candidate is immeasurably better than what we have in the White House now." - Sen. Joe Biden paraphrased

        by Land of Enchantment on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 11:09:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There are like 50 zillion species of nematodes (3+ / 0-)

          seriously, many many.  Rivalling beetles and by and large not named or identified.  And they fulfill all kinds of different ecological roles, which is why gardeners talk about beneficial nematodes vs. the nematodes that are killing their tomatoes or whatever.  

          So, basically, I have nothing to offer, except the information that nematode ecology would be way complicated.

  •  fascinating post (8+ / 0-)

    I have tried my hand, not so successfully, at backyard organic gardening the past several years. (Last summer I managed the most lovely rows of cornstalks, which never produced a single ear of corn...alas.)

    This spring, as I prepare to take another crack at it, I will definitely seek out seeds from companies that promote agricultural diversity.

    Thanks for raising awareness on this subject.

  •  Definitive book on seed saving: (16+ / 0-)

    Suzanne Ashworth's Seed to Seed.

    Seed Savers Exchange is a membership organization that is dedicated to saving heirloom (non-hybrid) seed. The members share seed among themselves via the annual Seed Savers Yearbook, which is as thick as a telephone directory with listings of thousands of varieties of the tastiest vegetables for every climate. Seed Savers also puts out a catalog from which anyone can order organically grown heirloom seeds produced on the Seed Savers' Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa. There is a good selection of books also, and they have a store in Madison.

    Many immigrants in years past sewed seeds into the hems of their garments for safe transport to the New World.

    GM contamination of food stocks scares me almost as much as genetic loss.

    NAIS threatens to reduce further the breeds of food animals. Most of the commercial breeds are not very resistant to disease. Alleles for disease-resistance are threatened.

    Our landscapes are being destroyed of their genetic diversity, such that they will not revert to the abundant variety we found when humans arrived. Chances are the life of a future hunter-gatherer would not be very healthy or well-nourished. We've soiled our nest rather badly.

    Excellent diary cookiebear.

    •  Thanks for mentioning (6+ / 0-)

      Seed Savers; I knew they existed but couldn't remember the name.

      The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

      by sidnora on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:12:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  i was hoping you'd show up (12+ / 0-)

      i worry some people think this stuff only matters to gardeners and farmers

      but every single one of us can participate in preserving plant diversity, just by buying seeds of unusual and/or heirloom varieties and saving those seeds

      and one issue i didn't get into in this diary, mostly because i'm just now starting to investigate it, is the transmission of diseases as a result of factory farming and animal migration

      i've run into that in my own home (ehrlichiosis in two dogs so far - with ehrlichiosis being a completely unknown disease here five years ago --- here due to migration and loss & change of habitat and global warming) and know of someone whose critters have acquired neospora, a new disease in cattle --- and a disease which i am certain is a consequence of factory farming

      huge, gigantic issue

      No, I'm more liberal than you!

      by cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:14:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ehrlichiosis is one of the two other (7+ / 0-)

        bacterial/parasitic infections associated with Lyme disease. Babesiosis is the third one. Did the vet implicate ticks? We use Frontline on our dogs. Our Airedale got Lyme when she was two, despite being vaccinated. I've been bitten by a deer tick and went through the prophylactic antibiotic treatment. My next door neighbor's doctor refused to prescribe antibiotics for her and she's crippled with Lyme. She's finally walking without a cane for the first time in three years. She was an avid gardener and horsewoman.

      •  Not to minimize SeedSavers or personal efforts... (8+ / 0-)

        Because these are important and absolutely critical in some instances, but we also need to support the efforts by the USDA to preserve genetic resources. The germplasm collections of the USDA are second to none in the world, but the research side of the USDA lives in perpetual danger of defunding, especially now that the bulk of our budget goes to killing people rather than feeding people (of course maybe that's always been the case...)  I've got a number of acquaintances who are scientists with the USDA, and the situation looks rather dire at the moment. Officials I've contacted assure me there's no risk, but if the people actually involved are worried, I am too.

        If we lose the funding to maintain these collections, the loss will be enormous--in a very real sense the USDA's germplasm collection efforts have been the foundation of American agriculture for a very long time. (Just for an example--the soybean was essentially unknown outside of China until it was introduced by Frank Meyer, who collected plant material for the USDA).

        •  damn ... (2+ / 0-)

          ... straight

          one of my purposes here was to get people to understand they CAN do something on an individual basis --- because, too often, people decided it's just too overwhelming or only the gov't can do or something

          but getting individuals to do it is also a way of raising their consciousness about it, so they understand how absolutely crucial to gov't seed banks are

          i would love to see you (or someone) diary about them --- many people don't even know they exist or understand how very important they are

          No, I'm more liberal than you!

          by cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 11:04:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

            I would like to start writing diaries on such things--a fair amount of what I write on this site is in these Vegetables of Mass Destruction threads, and I feel a little bad because it seems like I have a tendency to be the person playing Devil's advocate, or defending biotech, or just generally being contrary. For the record, I'm by no means in disagreement with 99% of what gets said in VMD diaries. It's just when I agree I'm much less likely to write anything.

            I really appreciate the efforts you folks put into these things--this country needs to start being a bit (or a lot) more aware of how and where it's food is made.

            •  LOL, as I read your comment (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I tried to guess who was saying it before scrolling down to see your handle. If you've been playing devil's advocate that's a good thing... your name doesn't stand out as someone whose been rude or anything. There is 1 particular person who can be a real ass about things, particuarly biotech issues, and I was worried the comment came from him (or her?).

              VMD T-shirts featuring The Gryffin's artwork!

              by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 11:26:00 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I try to stay civil. (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

                Like I said, I like what you're doing--why piss off people who are tackling issues I think are important, even if I sometimes disagree with your take on them? I will admit to getting a little snippy now and then (not so much here as other online discussions). Mostly I just want to make sure that both sides of an issue are being told. (Also, I'm way too busy these days to routinely be an ass).

                Thanks for writing these diaries--I'm infinitely pleased to see an effort to explicitly tie food issues into the progressive cause, beyond just a blanket sort of environmentalism or "we should all be vegetarians 'cause it's good for the planet" kind of things, which is where it's usually relegated. These are critical issues, not only on an environmental level, but also on the level of health and even national security.

                There's no more basic need then food (okay, maybe air, but we've still got that one covered pretty well for the moment) and yet most people would just like to blithely assume that perfectly good food will always magically appear for them when they need it.

  •  yay biodiversity! (11+ / 0-)

    That's my favorite cause - yet it's so hard to explain to people why it is so important.  The potato famine is the best example we have of the potential disaster any monoculture can suffer.  It doesn't have to be an edible crop - lawns, tree plantations or any cultivated crop can be devastated by pest or disease.

    Emerald Ash borer, Dutch elm disease and so on.  Those are the ones we know about.

    We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

    by Fabian on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:10:28 AM PDT

  •  HAD to login! great post! (14+ / 0-)

    i'm a lasagna-composter for 3 yrs now.  i wish every city in the country would try it with their grass clippings.   it saves on water, too.  i have hooge plants in the landscape...not sure i'd do lasagna style composting for my food crops with what I have around the yard, but i do have a tumbler for my raised beds, and i dig banana peels and coffee grounds directly into the soil.  
    some funny ol' ladies in iowa as well as in my ext. serv. master gardening classes taught me about direct composting in an every other year kinda way.  it works easiest with rows, but could be adapted for any planting system.  one improves one's soil by taking scraps and digging them daily down 10 in. to a foot into the area between rows.  the next year you plant where you composted.  (did i explain that right?   my husband was reading the sports page outloud to me as i was writing this.)
    anyway, it takes out the need for a space for composting, as i have a small garden now.
    i used to have jokes about monoculturists, from the aesthetic and feminist side o' it seems that i can snark it up from the science side, too.  thnx, cookieb.

    •  interesting (6+ / 0-)

      i've heard about direct composting, but have been frankly too busy to really learn about it (note the wannabe farmer label :=D it do keep me busy!)

      i'm trying that for next year

      and lasagna gardening? man, you can't beat it. easy easy eay. people keep trying to convince me to get someone to till my rocky pitiful soil (because they assume i'm not tilling because i'm too short to run the tiller) and i keep telling them i don't because i get better results doing lasagna AND am improving the soil at the same time ...

      ... and they even see things like me being one of the only people whose gardens survived the boiling heat last summer, thanks to lasagna gardening ...

      ... but they keep telling me to till! and i keep saying NO WAY!!!

      No, I'm more liberal than you!

      by cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:26:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Lasagna works (5+ / 0-)

        Great diary, cookiebear!!!

        The lasagna method works great on my very sandy soil- the leaves go directly on the beds in fall and in the spring, just dig a hole large enough for your seedlings, push the leaves back around the plant and you are good to go- i often do not need to water until late July/Aug.

        Also, for those of you in apartments, you can grow a good salad garden in a window box on a deck or porch- just make sure your area gets at least 6 hours of strong sunlight per day.

        From the flatlands of Blue NH

        by flowerfarmer on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:17:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Please educate the uneducated (4+ / 0-)

      What's lasagna composting?

      If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

      by marykk on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:18:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Lasgna gardening revealed (6+ / 0-)

         Basically, lasagna gardening is a low maintenance, no-till method of gardening that gives your soil a chance to establish beneficial fungi.

         Everyone seems to develope their own method- here is mine-

         To prepare a brand new garden bed for planting the next year, layer fall leaves, compost, grass clippings in layers - the deeper, the better- 6"-8" is ok, 10 is better- your layers will reduce in depth as your layers break down.
        I have used just leaves and this works well also.

         Your work is done.

         In the spring, start or buy seedlings, part the layers just enough to get the roots into the soil, push layer close around new planting- new garden is done. New layers can be added throughout the growing season- grass clippings  are a hot source for extra nitrogen.

        I also use an emergency spring method....separate hay bales into 'leaves' about 6" thick, lay closely, on 6 layers of newspaper, on desired space in March. At planting time, either pull these off, plant your seedlings and fluff the hay around them or use some of the previously mentioned ingredients in layers with your hay- well rotted hay, left outside thru the winter, is particularly good.


        From the flatlands of Blue NH

        by flowerfarmer on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 09:57:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary, cookie! (9+ / 0-)

    I do what I can, from my concrete jungle, by "eating diverse". It's an easy thing for me to do since I'm easily bored and I'm always ready to try something new. Lemon cucumbers, black tomatoes, blue potatoes, fractal-geometric Romanesco cauliflower - bring 'em on!

    I do have a question, though: what's TEOTWAWKI? And why are we using Hunter caps? I want to know before I start using them too.

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

    by sidnora on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:18:47 AM PDT

  •  Yes! Biodiversity is critical (8+ / 0-)

    I want to share a link to this organization Native Seed/Search which operates in my town. For years they have been collecting and preserving in seed banks the seeds of plants used by Native Americans in the Southwest region. Here is the info about their seed bank

    There is a lot of really useful info on the site.

    Ideally, every bio region in the US and ultimately , the world, should have such an organization and seed bank to preserve the native seeds from each significant micro climate.

    Thanks for this diary, Cookie!

    It's always because we love that we are rebellious; it takes a great deal of love to give a damn ~Kenneth Patchen~

    by cosmic debris on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:21:01 AM PDT

  •  Great Diary (10+ / 0-)

    The USDA's National Animal ID (NAIS) Program is threatening the existance of the small ranchers (and bio-diversity) because of the cost overheads:

    Regulations vary from state to state, but in Texas we cannot sell our beef directly to the consumer. The consumer actually buys half or a quarter of a cow and agrees to take delivery of the cow in the form of processed meat. If NAIS goes through then each of everyone of our consumers will find themselves in the USDA's database as a livestock owner. They will be required to fill out USDA paperwork, such as NASS surveys, and failure to comply could results in fines. Definitely not good for the small beef business. We really need the help of you all.

  •  keepin it real (7+ / 0-)

    I was thinkin of ya the other day when I was out turning over a couple beds for the first time this year. It was the first actually 'warm' day of the year, and I was trying to decide what I would put in them this year. It occured to me that it didn't really matter much, just something simple, prosaic, nothing to impress the neighbors or win me points. The state of grace is just in the doing of it, to be down in the dirt, pulling up roots, smelling the soil, seeing the worms and bugs, hearing the breeze through the trees, and bringing some order to a disshevelled space. Plant a seed, watch it grow. Funny, sometimes I think I would have as much in common with a gardener with bad politics as someone who professes ethical positions but who doesn't value that state of grace.  

    •  it is a state of grace (5+ / 0-)

      just watching the progressive of seed germination in my flats is breath taking for me

      nothing one hour - the next, suddenly a tiny little green head sticking up

      and working the soil, nothing is better. i nearly threw my back out yesterday shoveling compost, and realized eh - so i throw my back out - i wouldn't trade doing this for nothing.

      No, I'm more liberal than you!

      by cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:38:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Another problematic example (9+ / 0-)

    For years Forestry practice in the US has tended towards monoculture. Diverse northwest forests of hemlock, spruce, fir, pine, alder and cedar have been clearcut and planted exclusively with pine, fir or spruce.

    The monoculture practice is good for profits because of more ease in management and harvesting, but bad when disease or insects set in. Same thing as with the potato famine. Whole forests are dying off leading to all kinds of other ecosystem problems.

    I haven't kept up on the subject since I moved to the land where cacti grow, but I'm sure the USFS and Universities with Forestry Departments have documented all the problems with monoculture. Well, let me take that back, the USFS probably still expounds upon the virtues of monocropping! Anyway... diversity is the only way for long term survival, for any species.

    It's always because we love that we are rebellious; it takes a great deal of love to give a damn ~Kenneth Patchen~

    by cosmic debris on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:35:58 AM PDT

    •  yea, that's confusing, isn't it? (6+ / 0-)

      i was looking at planting some slash pine here, and learned the forest service was suggesting it for clearcut areas, etc, because it grows so quickly, etc

      it took me a while to work through their rationalizations --- actually, it took talking to some plant people who grow slash pines for wholesale distribution --- but it's not a good idea

      but it's taken hold --- i see land around here planted with nothing but it and one or two other pine varieties. not good. and strange, given we're in spitting distance of natural pine forest which overlaps with our hardwood forests here

      No, I'm more liberal than you!

      by cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:42:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  There's more to it--and a practical step (6+ / 0-)

    Lack of biodiversity in the fields is another important factor. When we were a land of true prairies, we had dozens of kinds of grasses in every acre. Now a single grass (perhaps one Monsanto corn) grows there, and the pests that specialize in that single crop grow wild. Lack of biodiversity is a critical problem.

    There's actually a very tasty way to make a tiny statement about this problem. Make sure to buy fair traded (songbird safe) coffee. It's grown in biodiverse fields, where the shade of the coffee trees encourages other plants to grow. Less pesticide (naturally)--a quarter more (maybe) at Starbucks or from a local community warehouse, and much better coffee.

  •  Potato famine not-so-trivia (8+ / 0-)

    The fungus that caused the blight also causes severe birth defects like spina bifida so those who lived through those years had decades of heartbreak ahead.

    Just a side note, but the effects of narrowing our crops and lowering the biodiversity of our fields can't be predicted or underestimated.

    •  i had no idea (5+ / 0-)

      but it doesn't surprise me


      No, I'm more liberal than you!

      by cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:01:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Culture is Still Being Affected by Aftermath (6+ / 0-)

      Ireland's population was cut in half between famine and emigration.

      The upside in the mind of many of us here is Irish-Americans, who contributed considerably to American liberalism.

      The bad news for us today is, there's no place for any of us us to go.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:15:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Fascinating book "Indian Givers" tells gifts we (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

        got worldwide from North and South American natives.  I had not know potatoes were taken to Europe from the Americas. Nor how vitamin C in spuds improved poor folks diet there (until blight.)It follows economic results of gold, silver, jewel mining.  Gives a better picture of their trade routes etc. Includes theory that "We People" could rule without kings btw.
           I was amazed at varieties of corn, potatoes, etc. and how our ancestors failed to realize tribes were migrating to plant or harvest crops scattered in among forests etc. Sounds like "lasagna". They burnt prairies to feed and ease new spring growth. The "savages" understood plant medicines etc. We are just now "getting" some of their wisdom like bio-diversity.

        Don't feed the hand that bites you. FAUX NOISE - it's no debate. (All count or none count. REVOTE FL 13!)

        by Neon Mama on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 07:12:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Your reference to monoculture (6+ / 0-)

    Struck a chord with me.  Dedicating one's life to Caribbean Studies makes one conscious of the role of monoculture in our persistent poverty.

    Although I haven't read it in its entirety, you might be interested in Breaking Up the Monoculture (pdf) by Helena Norberg-Hodge.

    'Be the change you want to see in the world.' Mahatma Gandhi

    by maracatu on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:00:42 AM PDT

  •  coq a vin et arsenic (7+ / 0-)

    from skippy...

    not something the late spy and chef extraordinaire julia child would recommend. the news, is, well, a little feather ruffling.

    arsenic's use in chicken feed troubles health advocates. public health advocates and some contract growers are calling on the poultry industry to stop its practice of adding arsenic products to chicken feed, saying the toxic element gets into chicken meat in trace quantities and can seep into farm fields and drinking water. baltimore sun

    the amount is not enough to kill anyone in one fell swoop, but arsenic is a recognized cancer-causing agent and many experts say that no level should be considered safe. Arsenic may also contribute to other life-threatening illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes, and to a decline in mental functioning. - nytimes

    the u.s. department of agriculture fails to test for arsenic in the chicken breasts or thighs that americans mostly eat, and does not make public results of its testing of individual brands. - organic consumers association

    I'm not going anywhere. I'm standing up, which is how one speaks in opposition in a civilized world. - Ainsley Hayes

    by jillian on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:01:19 AM PDT

  •  I'm so glad you made me look this up... (6+ / 0-)

    in Sat Morn Garden Blogging someone pointed me to this site for potatoes:

    Moose Tubers  

    I thought I still had some time, but their final orders are taken this week and shipped later.


  •  Ireland Continued to Export Crops All Through the (6+ / 0-)


    If we continue to allow power to concentrate in the hyper-rich and giga-corporations, if diseases or severe weather should strike, something more similar to Ireland's fate than we wish could happen here.

    New Orleans couldn't happen here either.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:11:14 AM PDT

    •  So glad you mentioned that, Gooserock (5+ / 0-)

      a study of the "famine" will demonstrate that it was really a single crop failure at a time that, for politico-economic reasons, other available food sources were kept from the starving natives.  There is even more than a little indication of intentional neglect on the part of the upper classes who benefitted from the evictions and the diminution of the population.

      At the same time, when "charity" arrived it often did so in the form of unmilled grain, which resulted in punctured intestines and excruciating deaths to many who, in their desparation, attempted to eat it "as is."

      Cecil Woodham Smith's The Great Hunger tells this story as chillingly as Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" described life in the Chicago Stockyards.

      If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

      by marykk on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:23:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You might be correct (4+ / 0-)

        and you probably are.

        for politico-economic reasons, other available food sources were kept from the starving natives.

        There's another economic angle, however. In an economy like that, in which the populace did have some food variety before the potato famine, the failure of the potato crop made them poorer and ironically forced greater dependence on potatoes. Very messy thing, economics.

  •  Great post, cb! Very interesting topic. (3+ / 0-)

    If there were a scoop-like site for seed savers, I think I'd be over there a whole lot!

    It's time to get serious about renewables and efficiency. It's time to win the oil endgame.

    by by foot on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:26:46 AM PDT

  •  I think it should be illegal for corporations (4+ / 0-)

    to market seeds whose offspring seeds are sterile, as Monsanto does. I also think it should be illegal for corporations, or anybody, to be allowed to patent genomes of natural organisms. These are huge problems that require strong international action, and I just don't foresee it.

    I have the eery feeling that everything cookiebear said, masterful as it is, is only the beginning of the discussion. I wish we knew more about the international consequences of Western imperious imperial trade policies. I know I'm ignorant, and our corporate media are decreasing their international coverage.

    •  it is only the beginning (4+ / 0-)

      i'm an annoyingly optimistic person by nature, and this stuff gives me the serious heebie-jeebies

      but i purposely tried to stay a little light - go too TEOTWAWKI, and people freak out and do nothing

      but every little bit counts

      as for the illegality of what's happening to our food supply (including seeds), i agree. we used to know our very lives depended on people saving seeds, on limited patents, etc. we seem to have forgotten all of that, though. one of the hazards of urbanization, i suppose.

      No, I'm more liberal than you!

      by cookiebear on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 08:44:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  That's just silly. (3+ / 0-)

      What about say, seedless watermelons?

      I really think its a bad move to start legislating how we breed plants. If you want to save seeds, don't buy stuff with sterile seeds. It's not that complicated.

      Also, despite the hype, Monsanto is not, to my knowledge, actually selling the "terminator" seeds. They've developed (or actually bought, I think) the technology, but there's been a moratorium on it for years, which was upheld last year until at least 2008.

      I do agree that patenting naturally occuring gene constructs, either as small as a stretch of a few dozen bases or as large as an entire genome should be illegal, as it very clearly should have been from the start with anything resembling a sane reading of patent law (having dealt with patent inspectors some in the past, I've always suspected that somebody with no idea what was being dealt with gave the okay on the first one, and rather than back down, they've just stuck behind their bad decision. Some patent inspectors clearly know the area they're dealing with, and some have no idea and just put up random hoops for you to jump through to feel like they've been sufficiently demanding).

      •  I don't think it's silly. (3+ / 0-)

        I'll try to find out about the market status of terminator seeds. I thought they were being sold internationally, but I could well be wrong. It's the international scene that concerns me more than U.S. agriculture. If they are or will be sold in Africa, for example, I can easily see a monopolized distribution system that doesn't allow small farmers a choice. The U.S. is thankfully different.

        Seedless watermelons and seedless cucumbers have seeds, actually. And I hate seedless watermelons. They taste unpleasantly like grass, and they're the only thing SuperFresh (A&P) and Giant supermarkets sell in my community.

        •  I still think the whole thing is overblown. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          According to (who seem like the sorts that would know) the moratorium is still on. Monsanto, roughly a year ago, once again pledged that they would not use the technology.

          I think in most cases, if some one tried to force terminator seeds on people used to saving seeds, they'd quickly find an alternative source popping up. It's not like small farmers in Africa have much use for the cutting edge cultivars du jour of American mega-agriculture, which are optimized for mechanized farming on the hundreds/thousands of acres scale. (I actually think even large scale American agriculture doesn't always gain much by changing cultivars every season or two--I know for a fact that soybean seed producers occasionally recycle old seed stocks under new variety names).

          Seedless watermelons may have seeds, but they're only very rarely viable. Ever plant them? Seedless watermelon plants are triploid, so the resulting embryos have an odd assortment of chromosomes that rarely works. I don't have much experience with seedless cucumbers, but I'd bet it's similar. (Same goes for triploid apples, not that any one's growing those by seed.)

      •  Thanks for the correction. (3+ / 0-)

        Monsanto announced a moratorium in 2000 because of massive worldwide opposition. Monsanto finally acquired Delta and Pine Land, an Arkansas business last year, apparently. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been a major supporter of the development of Terminator technology, with the goal of helping U.S. seed companies monopolize agriculture as a vehicle for massive wealth and global domination, according to an article from August 2006 here.

        F. William Engdahl is Contributing Editor of Global Research and author of the soon-to-be-released book, Seeds of Destruction: theDark Side of Genetically-engineeredFood. He also authored ‘ A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics,’ Pluto Press, He may be contacted at his website,

        (I didn't check out the engdahl URL to see if it works.)

  •  Thanks, cookiebear! (5+ / 0-)

    I am planting all sorts of plants this year from seeds -- two kinds of basil, tomatoes, chives, parsley, and a bunch of flowers. So far I have a bunch of little sprouts, though my morning glories are about 6 inches high.

    Good idea re: saving seeds and composting. I am trying to start, but my outdoor space is a 5x10 foot concrete block. Do you (or anyone) know of good closed composting kits? I don't want the smell of the compost stinking up my little porch (where my plants and I will spend the summer).

  •  Monocultural farming getting worse. (6+ / 0-)

    One thing we're really getting worried about in the Midwest is that some farmers, trying to cash in on the ethanol boom, have made the decision to grow only corn and not to rotate their crops. Plus, some air pollution controls are being modified to benefit the industry, & do you know how much water these plants use? Madness. More here. Heck, maybe I should cross-post here.

    All my peeves are my pets.

    by yinn on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 09:24:49 AM PDT

  •  Trees and Wind (3+ / 0-)

    Some observations for Cookie Bear about trees going down in wind as I live in the part of Florida that had three bad hurricanes in two years. In general, the natives fared better but there were exceptions. Nearly all the native water hickories (natural, non-planted, on their own in the woods) went down and the few remaining that are now leaning look doubtful. The soil here is very sandy which didn’t help. The live oaks, native palms and evergreen magnolias came through very well, but my Atlanta friend tells me the magnolias do very poorly in ice storms. The native slash pines did not fare well after the hurricanes. Some simply broke off about twenty feet up during storms but soon many of the surviving began to look yellow and sickly. Now 2 1/2 years later, a full third of the native pines in the area are dead.

    However, native tree seedlings are coming up everywhere. The acorn crop after the storms was amazing. The acorns were so numerous, they looked like bunches of grapes.

    "I suppose it's never any surprise that a sham, when it falls apart, falls apart so quickly and thoroughly." - from Sea of Tranquillity by Paul Russell

    by wayoutinthestix on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 09:34:44 AM PDT

  •  Totally off-topic (5+ / 0-)

    I couldn't come to What's for Dinner last night, since I was attending the NYC YearlyKos blograiser, but I thought y'all might be amused by What Was for Dinner there:
    Plame-broiled mini-burgers
    Leak tartlets
    Roasted Russert potatoes
    Scooter Pies
    No-uranium yellow cake

    All organic, all delicious, catered by Eating Liberally.

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

    by sidnora on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 09:35:31 AM PDT

    •  did anyone post photos? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cookiebear, sidnora, OrangeClouds115

      I really wanted to attend but my schedule on weekends doesn't accomodate evening events very well anymore.  Maybe next time.

      When do I get to vote on your marriage?

      by tvb on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 10:20:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Here ya go! (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cookiebear, OrangeClouds115, tvb

        Fortunately for me, the only part of me showing in any of the photos is the back of my head and a drink in my hand; that person with the videocam had it pointed at me for way too long, and I shudder to think what she got.

        Sorry you missed it; it was fun, and really thrilling to meet Marcy Wheeler, a hero to me and a revolutionary of the blogosphere. A lot of the regulars weren't there, and I can only assume that the Saturday-night timing was a factor in that. Truth to tell, I prefer weeknights myself, especially Tuesdays (if there are any NYC meetup organizers lurking out there). I hope our next one is at a more convenient time for you.

        The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

        by sidnora on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 01:51:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Plugging Local Harvest (4+ / 0-)

    I'm sure it's been discussed here--probably this is where I found out about it, but wanted to mention in this context that Local Harvest has helped me not only find organic stuff (incl. meat, seeds) that I can't obtain thru my co-op but also allow me to shop within my "100 miles."

    All my peeves are my pets.

    by yinn on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 09:37:06 AM PDT

  •  How long do seeds last? (3+ / 0-)

    I have some seeds from a since-deceased orange tree that are several years old--of course with citrus there is the problem of whether the seeds would actually reproduce the same fruit or just the rootstock. I have no idea whether the seeds are still good or not.

    I could be saving grapefruit seeds--I have two "Duncan" grapefruit trees, which could perhaps be considered heritage grapefruit? They are the old-fashioned grapefruit with lots of seeds, the type that used to be known as just "grapefruit" back before seedless-pink-ruby-red took over.

    "All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out." --I.F. Stone

    by Alice in Florida on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 09:40:34 AM PDT

    •  Citrus seeds (4+ / 0-)

      Seeds several years old, not refrigerated, will probably not be viable but you can try. Citrus seeds are polynuclear, iirc, and 90% of what sprout will be genetically identical to the mother plant. The remaining could be something better or worse. Probably ten years to find out--a long experiment. Also, citrus seedlings can be very spiny. Most are grafted for various soil-borne diseases but also affect the tree shape. An ungrafted seedling will probably be tall and willowy in comparison.

      "I suppose it's never any surprise that a sham, when it falls apart, falls apart so quickly and thoroughly." - from Sea of Tranquillity by Paul Russell

      by wayoutinthestix on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 09:58:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Cotton. (3+ / 0-)

    Not enough is said about cotton. Cotton uses only about 5% of arable land, but uses 50% of ALL the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc, used in the U.S. on ALL crops! These chemicals strip the soil of any natural life and so must be inculcated with these chemicals year after year in order to bring up a crop.

    There is an alternative.

    "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

    by CanisMaximus on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 10:03:42 AM PDT

    •  HELL YEAH! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I feel strongly about this. That's why I made the VMD shirts in organic cotton only (except for the XXL size, which wasn't available in organic). I've got a hemp skirt and hemp pants and a hemp shower curtain. It's not enough but I'm not buying new things in unsustainable fabrics either. I think work is providing me w/ an organic cotton shirt (free!) in a month or so.

      VMD T-shirts featuring The Gryffin's artwork!

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 11:44:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for all the great links! (4+ / 0-)

    We're looking at planting our first gardens at our house, and we have a distinct preference for heirloom varieties whenever possible. We also enjoy some of the "less common" garden vegetables, which seem to be easier to find in heirloom varieties.

    Since we have a small yard, the links to "square foot" and "lasagne" gardening information will be carefully read!

    When we moved into our 1914 house late last summer, our first project was building a compost bin. It got loaded with a lot of leaves, and all of our vegetable matter scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, and more go into the bin. It feels so good to not be dumping all that stuff in a landfill, and to know it will be contributing to this year's garden!

    We've found The Compost Guide and The Master Composter helpful for determining what wastes work well in a standard compost bin as well as how to keep it working.

    We built the portable wood and wire bin. We were a little crazy and did all the work without power tools. While working we talked about how we'd have been done in 1/4 the time - or less - if we'd just borrowed a few, but somehow it felt right that the first thing either of us had built in some time, and our first project in our new-old house, was done by hand, with basically the same types of tools that would have been available when they were building the house - plus a power drill. Mind, we have power tools now and they will be used!

    We're looking forward to a full summer of farmer's market shopping. There are many wonderful organic farms in the area that grow more crop varieties than I've seen in a long time. Many of them also raise breeds of chicken, pigs, and cattle that I hadn't heard of before, but are so much better than the standardised stuff that's grown/raised in bulk.

    Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that His Justice cannot sleep for ever. - Thomas Jefferson

    by Lashe on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 10:05:47 AM PDT

  •  Saving seeds (4+ / 0-)

    Saving vegetable seeds from the individual plants that do best for you is a good way to produce something that does well in your area. You will select to overcome your particular problems--bacteria, fungus, heat, humidity, short season, etc. Finally after ten years I have pole beans that do not easily succumb to leaf diseases. I started with Kentucky Wonder. I don’t know what they are now. Wayout’s way out beans?

    "I suppose it's never any surprise that a sham, when it falls apart, falls apart so quickly and thoroughly." - from Sea of Tranquillity by Paul Russell

    by wayoutinthestix on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 10:07:14 AM PDT

  •  Interesting.. (3+ / 0-)

    I've been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and they talk about corn crops and the bio-diversity (or lack thereof) in the American corn industry.  It's interesting, but I'm only a little ways in.

    It'll be nice when I have a house again and can start planting gardens.  First, though, I'll have to find a way around the black thumb.  ;P

    the snark is the only thing keeping me sane.

    by randomness on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 10:13:56 AM PDT

    •  if you read the bibliography for omnivores dilemm (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      for the corn section there was a book named that I checked out and never got too far in - but it was REALLY worth reading. I think it was "Seeing like a state" (listed under chapter 2).

      It goes into how people made a science for how to plant forests, and of course they made them monocultures. The first generation of trees grew GREAT. But after that, it was a disaster... the soil was totally shot. Apparently, mother nature knew what the hell she was doing in the first place.

      VMD T-shirts featuring The Gryffin's artwork!

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 11:47:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My gardening tips (6+ / 0-)

    My tips:
    You can compost the paper coffee filters with the coffee grounds.  I prowl the coffee stations at work and collect a couple of pounds every day.  My co-workers are used to this now.

    I save seeds for years and years.  I try to keep my seeds in the coolest part of the house.  Onion family seeds don't seem to do well after a year or two but most other types do.  Maybe I should keep the onion seeds in the freezer.  I don't have room for all my seeds in there.

    Try out amaranth and quinoa.  They are South American grains that do not have gluten like wheat.  Amaranth is easy to grow and you can eat the leaves like spinach, too.  I've had trouble with quinoa but I'm trying it again this year.

    Eat your weeds.  I have miner's lettuce in the spring and purslane in the summer. I just found out that purslane is a great source of Omega-3 fatty nutrient.

    •  (chuckle) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

      I'll never forget the time my mom tried to serve dandelion leaves as the vegetable for dinner.  My siblings and I looked at the plate in horror, but fortunately my dad then informed my mom that he'd sprayed those dandelions with weed killer about a week earlier.  Saved by the bell, and we never saw "weeds" on our plates after that.  Though that didn't stop her from trying to serve some other unusual items.

      My Karma just ran over your Dogma

      by FoundingFatherDAR on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 12:39:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Al Gore had a chapter in... (6+ / 0-)

    ...his book Earth in the Balance about the importance of wild genetic cousins of the main food crops.  Most of which come from a dozen regions from around the world, known as Vavilovian centers, after the Russian scientist who described them.  Gore says there's 12, Jules Janick of Perdue University identifies 8.  (Link for more.)

    Gore (and others) argue that these areas should be protected as global preserves for food security.  To cross breed back in a quest for disease resistance and so on.

    FWIW, potatoes come from the high Andes area in Peru.  Some argue that Macchu Picchu was (amongst other things?) an agricultural research/development area with its terraces and many many varieties of potatoes grown on site.

    "Every single Democratic candidate is immeasurably better than what we have in the White House now." - Sen. Joe Biden paraphrased

    by Land of Enchantment on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 10:38:27 AM PDT

  •  Making your own compost (6+ / 0-)

    is like making your own stocks in the kitchen. You can never have enough of ether.

  •  I'm late because (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cookiebear, OrangeClouds115, tvb

    I was doing some early plant-shopping with my mother-in-law.    

    I really want to try to stick to native plants but it seems like all I ever find are full-sun natives.  We figured I would do well with ferns, but it will be nice to see if I have any other options.  So thanks for the links!

  •  Famine in America (3+ / 0-)

    not only from monocrops but terminator seeds.  I wrote
    about the importance of the seed supply two years ago, but we all need regular reminders.  Thanks CB.

  •  Native Plant Society. (4+ / 0-)

    Support groups, universities, and others that work to save native plants and even unusual hybrids.
    CA Native Plant Society

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 11:09:51 AM PDT

  •  what effect does (4+ / 0-)

    GMO's have on this? In OR there seems to be problems with the GMO grass bread for golf courses wafting through the Willamette valley and reeking havoc with other crops. This issue is also a reason to avoid if possible buying organic produce from giant agribiz. like organic produce from Dole. In order to get organic certification rotation does not even come into the equation. Local sustainable is better.  

  •  wow!!! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, cookiebear, marykk

    What a great diary! And I am sooooo sorry I'm arriving late. I got a call as I was driving home this morning raving about what a great diary you wrote!!!

    FYI - for other urbanites and suburbanites, Whole Foods collects food scraps and other organic matter for composting. I've been bringing my stuff to them instead of attempting to compost it in my tiny studio apartment. It REALLY cuts down on the amount of garbage I generate!!!

    OK, I have to run off and do something before going to work but I promise to come back and read every comment later... I can't wait to dive into the discussions this amazing diary generated :)

    VMD T-shirts featuring The Gryffin's artwork!

    by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 11:57:14 AM PDT

  •  Cotton crops. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

    Several years ago when I was visiting Maui, the guide explained that during WWII the regular cotton crops in the U.S. were hit by some disease or insect (I forget the details.)  But they found a variety native to HI that was resistant, so they cross-bred that plant with the standard cotton.  Had it not been for the Hawaiian cotton, most of the US cotton crop would have been wiped out.

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Sun Mar 11, 2007 at 12:45:12 PM PDT

  •  Anyone in Prince William Co, Va (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

    or nearby may be interested to attend this demonatration of Restorative Forestry using Suffolk Draft Horses. Got woods? Click around the site. Awesome.

  •  A companion diary to this one (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cookiebear, OrangeClouds115, marykk

    over here entitled Ethanol Rules in Illinois. If we don't take the lead on this, monoculture will rule, and we will see worst than a dustbowl.

  •  Biodiversity doesn't cause allergies (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Great to read such a well thought out piece just days after the British govt. was presented with poorly reasoned arguments that fresh or organic foods were causing a wave of allergies

  •  Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog (0+ / 0-)

    Biodiversity is what sustains agriculture, not just in the US but the world over. You can read about global efforts to combat late blight in potatoes using genetic diversity within the cultivated potato and among its wild relatives here, for example. We post about similar examples of the use of agricultural biodiversity for sustainable development on our Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog here. In fact, coincidentally we blogged recently about genetic work on the origins of the late blight organism. And here’s our appreciation to Daily Kos for helping this topic get the attention it deserves.

    •  excellent (0+ / 0-)

      i posted a comment to you over at your blog, strongly hinting that maybe some more in-depth coverage of these issues is in order, esp. coverage by people who really know their stuff.

      your blog is great!

      No, I'm more liberal than you!

      by cookiebear on Thu Mar 15, 2007 at 06:44:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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