Saturday, April 28, 2007

How To Tell If Your Boat Is Too Small

Summertime will soon be here, kayakers will be out in full force. As a matter of fact, I was just kayaking on the Ecofina River in March, but I didn't have to worry about sharks. This photo is real.

Ancient Rainforest Found In Coal Mine

What comes to mind when you hear the word rainforest?

Do you picture South America, Africa, Australia, Asia, the Amazon, lots of humidity, wetlands, ferns, tropical plants, tropical wildlife species, and huge trees?

But would the location of Danville, Illinois come to mind?

It's amazing to me how much the earth has changed over the last few million years. Now more fern fossils found confirm that Illinois used to be the site of an ancient rainforest. Check out Live Science's article.

Monday, April 23, 2007

More Studies On Parkinson Disease & Pesticides

More significance being shown from research on pesticide use and developing Parkinson's disease.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Patch Perfect Isn't

Have you seen the latest commercial about the new grass seed that grows on cement blocks, driveways, anywhere? I was horrified to think how many people are going to purchase this product without really looking into it. Is it a scam?

Watching the video on their site, they show grass that grows on cement. How deep will that lawn's root system be? In summertime, it will need watering every day to survive. Well, let's just say that the grass on tv isn't always greener in your own yard once you buy it.

The grass concoction is a slurry of easily-germinated, northern rye and fescue seeds combined that has fertilizer mixed in and retains moisture to allow it to grow quickly. I repeat: northern grass seeds. It won't survive our Florida humidity and heat.

Now there is a method of hydroseeding that is effective for stopping erosion and can be effective with grass seeds.

If you don't have a green thumb, before buying any shrub, perennial or grass plugs online, check with your local county Extension office or Master Gardener Clinic. They will give you the unbiased facts about any horticultural sales pitch or plant that you read or hear about.

The other grass product that makes me laugh is the advertisement for "miracle grass" you find in the local Sunday comic section. There's a reason it's been placed in the cartoon section rather than the Home and Garden section.

Purchasing plant material locally and only from recognized online and catalog sources is the smartest move. You'll keep more of your green stuff in your wallet that way.

Getting Hands Dirty Is Good For The Soul

I've known for years that digging in the dirt, gardening with vigor is good for your soul. It does a body good.

Well, now science is backing that up. The latest research out of the United Kingdom suggests that a type of good bacteria found in dirt may affect the brain in a similar way as antidepressants.

Researchers from Bristol University and University College London discovered using laboratory mice, that a "friendly" bacteria commonly found in soil activated brain cells to produce the brain chemical serotonin and altered the mice's behaviour in a similar way to antidepressants.

They are suggesting this could explain why immune system imbalance could make some people vulnerable to mood disorders like depression.

Lead author, Dr Chris Lowry from Bristol University said, "These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health".

"They also leave us wondering if we shouldn't all be spending more time playing in the dirt," he added.

Dr Lowry and colleagues became interested in the project when they heard that cancer patients treated with the bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae reported increases in their quality of life. They speculated this could be because the bacteria were activating brain cells to release more serotonin.

Check out "Gardening With Soul" and find out why gardening is good for you. I promise you will feel better afterwards.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Taking A Bite Out Of Stupidity

So maybe the Taiwanese vet "de Milo" didn't have a handle on the situation...

A zookeeper in Taiwan has undergone seven hours of surgery to have his arm reattached after it was bitten off by a crocodile, while another zoo worker in Argentina was today fighting for her life following a freak attack by an anteater.

In Taiwan, doctors today announced they had completed the intensive surgery to reattach Chang Po-yu's forearm after a 440-pound Nile crocodile bit it clean off.

The country's Liberty Times newspaper reported that the country's accident happened at the Shaoshan Zoo in the southern city of Kaohsiung, when the veterinarian tried to retrieve a tranquiliser dart from the reptile’s hide so he could give it medication.

Okay, this just needs to be said: "Sometimes it doesn't pay to go out on a limb to help animals."

Goats, Cats, And Dogs Oh My!

The Galapagos Islands are an Darwinist's Paradise, but it's quickly descending into evolutionary hell with tourism and exotic species.

Tourism, overpopulation and non-native species are threatening the ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, the archipelago which inspired British naturalist Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, experts say.

The islands, which attract hordes of tourists each year for their unique array of flora and fauna unseen elsewhere in the world, are "at risk" due to a heavily imperiled ecosystem, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has declared.

In order to protect the UNESCO World Heritage site, Correa this week issued orders to restrict tourist traffic, overhead flights and residence permits on the isles 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) from Ecuador's coast.

The situation is so grave that a UNESCO delegation has been dispatched to determine if the archipelago should be officially listed as one of the major world heritage sites that are "in danger."

"We have not yet drawn our conclusions but it should not be any secret to anyone that we are concerned about the islands," said World Conservation Union program director Robert Hofstede. The mission's findings will be examined from June 23 to July 2 by an intergovernmental committee on world heritage sites in New Zealand.

The situation has worsened in the past 15 years due to the introduction of insects that are harmful to plants and other animal species that are disrupting the native balance, according to the Charles Darwin Foundation research group.

Most of the harmful changes have accompanied a three-fold increase in tourism to the island over the past 15 years as well as a similar rise in immigration, said foundation chief Graham Watkins.

"Studies show that 60 percent of the 1,880 local plants are threatened. We have discovered 490 insect species that have been introduced as well as 53 new invertebrate species, 55 of which are particularly invasive," Watkins said.

A major factor in the ecosystem's decline has been the introduction of dogs, cats, goats and donkeys -- species that were not on the island before.

"Part of the reason we are at this point is because man has introduced these species which have become the Galapagos's main predators," biologist and co-director of the Galapagos Park Carlos Valle told AFP.

Over the past three years, UN workers teamed up with the park to eliminate as many as 80,000 wild goats. These animals' eating habits were threatening the food supply of the turtles who came centuries before.

Taking The Corn Out Of Ethanol

It always seems to happen that when a good idea pops up to assuage a global issue, it creates problems in other areas. Our economy, for instance. An industrial biotechnology conference in Orlando last month came up with some ideas to help ease the transition from oil to ethanol.

The ethanol craze is putting the squeeze on corn supplies and causing food prices to rise.

Mexicans took to the streets last year to protest increased tortilla prices. The cost of chicken and beef in the United States ticked up because feed is more expensive.

That's where biotechnology comes in.

[...] Researchers are racing against time. Already, 114 U.S. ethanol biorefineries are in operation and 80 more are under construction. Producers made nearly 5 billion gallons of ethanol last year, a 25 percent increase from the previous year.

And nearly all of it was made from edible corn kernels.

That's good news for U.S. farmers, but consumers are suffering at the checkout stand because corn prices have nearly doubled over the last two years and will continue to climb.

And with farmers planting corn at unprecedented rates, often instead of other crops, prices for other products may soon rise as well.

Corn is a fundamental U.S. food ingredient, found in everything from soft drinks to cough syrup. It's also a staple throughout Latin America, where residents may feel the sting of rising corn prices the most.

Backers of alternative production methods argue that a technological change is needed soon, before corn-based ethanol grows so large that other manufacturing methods will be squeezed out of the market.

That's why genetic engineers from Berkeley to Florida are racing to produce ethanol without corn. They're looking into termite guts, the human urinary tract and sap from palm trees for exotic microbes that can produce alternative fuel sources.

Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla, the Sun Microsystems Inc. co- founder, is among the venture capitalists gambling on cellulosic ethanol. His venture capital firm has invested millions in biotech companies pursuing alternative fuel strategies.

"In a short period of time we can replace 100 percent of our gasoline use," Khosla told executives and scientists gathered last month at an industrial biotechnology conference in Orlando, Fla.

Read the entire article here.

Yo Te Quiero Taco Cacti?

Well the picture used with the article showed a spiny, prickly barrel cactus with cholla cactus in the background, so I'm confused.

But maybe it was the reporter or editor who didn't know what cactus is exactly. Or maybe the cook has to pluck the cactus first before cooking?

An Israeli farm plans to serve up a cactus surprise -- an edible and spineless plant with healing properties that can treat hypertension and diabetes, according to local reports.

The prickless preparation has been imported from Mexico, where more than 20 varieties of cactus are cultivated for
their medicinal properties, the daily Maariv said.

"In Mexico, this cactus is considered to be a delicacy," said Rahamim Shaar, director of the Emek Hefer farm north of Tel Aviv. "It can be cooked like a steak in a frying pan, or baked
in the oven wrapped in aluminium foil."

Planting Trees In Cooler Climates Could Be Hot Issue

National Academy of Sciences has published a study that makes note that planting trees in colder hemispheres could acerbate global warming. Researchers from Stanford University and Universite Montpellier II in France partnered with the Academy.

"Our study shows that only tropical rainforests are strongly beneficial in helping slow down global warming," Govindasamy Bala, an atmospheric scientist who led the research, said.

"It is a win-win situation in the tropics because trees in the tropics, in addition to absorbing carbon dioxide, promote convective clouds that help to cool the planet.

"In other locations, the warming from the albedo effect [sunlight absorption] either cancels or exceeds the net cooling from the other two effects."

[...] "When it comes to rehabilitating forests to fight global warming, carbon dioxide might be only half of the story; we also have to account for whether they help to reflect sunlight by producing clouds, or help to absorb it by shading snowy tundra," study co-author Ken Caldeira said.

However, the authors did not endorse deforestation of the boreal forests as a measure against global warming.

"Preservation of ecosystems is a primary goal of preventing global warming, and the destruction of ecosystems to prevent global warming would be a counterproductive and perverse strategy," Mr Caldeira said.

Makes sense to me. Allowing sunlight to filter through in the wintertime is why Mother Nature provides deciduous trees.

Do you want to sing a song while planting trees? Try this one.

Killer Trees?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Cell Phones Cause Of Bee Disappearance?

More discoveries of bee colony collapse in Europe and United Kingdom with speculation pointing a finger at telephone radiation.
Nigel Hurst, the editor of the Scottish Beekeeper magazine, said: "One or two people here have lost colonies. More and more, we are hearing about unexplained losses. "A good one-third of the food we eat is affected in some way by the bee population. The quote that's normally given is from Einstein, who said, 'If all the honey bees were wiped out, mankind would follow in about four years'."
Beekeepers across the UK have found hives deserted by bee colonies, even though there is no obvious reason, such as disease.
Mr Hurst said: "There's all kinds of guesswork going on - a lot of money is being spent in America to try and find out exactly what the problem is."
Janice Furness, the secretary of the Fife branch of the Scottish Beekeepers' Association, said: "We have had some cases - we've been calling it the Mary Celeste syndrome. A hive seems fine, then the next week it is empty and there are no more dead bees inside than you would normally expect. They have left behind developing broods and eggs. It is totally against all their instincts to do that."
Ms Furness said bees sometimes left their hives in the autumn and moved elsewhere, but that mass abandonments early in the year were extremely unusual.
She added: "If they do something like this in February, there's no chance of setting up a new colony - it's mass suicide." She said one beekeeper in her area had lost 12 out of 15 hives for no apparent reason.
Ms Furness added: "One of my beekeeping friends is convinced it has something to do with telephone masts. Bees are very sensitive to radiation from these things."
Ms Furness added that the government needed to put more money into research.
She said: "I don't think that they realise how important bees are. About 80 per cent of pollination is through honey bees. If anything affects that, it could be very serious."
In Spain, thousands of colonies are said to have been lost, and up to 40 per cent of Swiss bees are reported to have disappeared or died. Heavy losses have also been confirmed in Portugal, Italy and Greece.

Read Colony Collapse Disorder Solved?

Read Hernando County's Florida Native Plant Society member Sharon's wonderful article on Little Known Pollinators.
Read about Colony Collapse Disorder

Plight of the Bumblebee

Mobile Phones Wiping Out Bees?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

One Thing Leads To Another

Click on cartoon to enlarge.

Colony Collapse Disorder

Apiarians are starting to ask for government intervention on the rapidly disappearing bee populations in the United States.

US beekeepers have been stung in recent months by the mysterious disappearance of millions of bees threatening honey supplies as well as crops which depend on the insects for pollination.

Bee numbers on parts of the east coast and in Texas have fallen by more than 70 percent, while California has seen colonies drop by 30 to 60 percent.

According to estimates from the US Department of Agriculture, bees are vanishing across a total of 22 states, and for the time being no one really knows why.

"Approximately 40 percent of my 2,000 colonies are currently dead and this is the greatest winter colony mortality I have ever experienced in my 30 years of beekeeping," apiarist Gene Brandi, from the California State Beekeepers Association, told Congress recently.

It is normal for hives to see populations fall by some 20 percent during the winter, but the sharp loss of bees is causing concern, especially as domestic US bee colonies have been steadily decreasing since 1980.

There are some 2.4 million professional hives in the country, according to the Agriculture Department, 25 percent fewer than at the start of the 1980s.

And the number of beekeepers has halved.

Read all the theories buzzing around as to what the experts believe is causing the CCD - Colony Collapse Disorder.

Hyponasty - Dirty Word Of The Day

Great word to allude to in gardening conversations. Wait till you see the stares as you say "Have you seen my hyponastic grapefruit tree lately?"

An odd property of leaves is that the cells on one side often grow faster than the cells on the other, creating the demand for today’s word. The adjective is "hyponastic" and the adverb, "hyponastically." The antonym is epinasty "greater growth on top than on the bottom." This usually causes a downward curve in a leaf.

Etymology: Greek hypo "below, under" + nastos "pressed close" (from nassein "to press"). Greek "hypo" strangely shares an origin with English "up." The original root had a variant with an initial [s] that resulted in Latin sub "under". This root is also related to its antonym, Greek "hyper" (Latin "super"), extended by the common Indo-European suffix -er. Words often share an origin with their antonym, "cold" and "scald," are an example.

A very common slip of the tongue is an antonym substitution, e.g. "I was very cold . . . I mean, hot." Antonyms may be logically antithetical but lexically they form a close relationship.

Just make sure you don't use when referring to someone's rose hips. Like I always say... from the waist up!

Earth Shattering Gardening Back

I've been so busy that my environmental/gardening blog has had to take a back seat. Well, I'm back with much more enthusiasm, I'll post crazy veggie tales, gardening tidbits, environmental stories, earth-shattering news, and helpful advice as the seasons change. Keep me busy - send me anything you think others should know, comments, what you want to see, news items, funny items, we'll take a look and see if it's fertile enough to grow right here.