The Pests That Make Cacao Productive

midge-flower-min

Forcipomyia spp. pollinating a cacao flower. Goodman Cacao Estate, Killaloe, Australia, 2017. Credit: Samantha J. Forbes

This 12-minute primer on Soundcloud gives a reason to appreciate these otherwise very annoying pests:

Chocolate: Brought To You By Bugs

midge-min

Forcipomyia spp. SEM image. Goodman Cacao Estate, Killaloe, Australia, 2017. Credit: Samantha J. Forbes

Chocolate starts as a beautiful yellow and cream-colored blossom, with blushes of pink and magenta. The flowers, sprouting straight from the bark of the cacao tree, are no bigger than a dime—and they’re pollinated by something much smaller: a barely visible fly related to biting no-see-ums, or midges. Continue reading

Rules Of Gardening, Reconsidered

11renkl-master768

Tatsuro Kiuchi

Ok, while we are at it, let’s find some rules to break around the home (thanks to Margaret Renkl and the New York Times for such diverse op-ed contributors):

Let Your Winter Garden Go Wild

NASHVILLE — The snow was three inches deep, a blizzard by Nashville standards, when I got a text from a parent supervising the neighborhood sledding: “It’s a robin migration out in your front yard. Do you put food out there for them?”

I went to the window to look. There are nine bird feeders around my house, but I’ve never seen a robin at a single one of them. In winter, robins do gather in great flocks here in Middle Tennessee, and our yard is always popular with them because we have a birdbath with a heating element that keeps it from freezing. Even in winter, birds need to bathe — a seemingly counterintuitive behavior that keeps their feathers in shape for maximum insulation. Continue reading

Rules Of Experiencing Nature, Reconsidered

tnc_76472733_preview_cropped

A woman and her young children hike through a grassy field in Pleasant Valley Preserve near the Eightmile River in Lyme, Connecticut. Photo © Jerry Monkman

Just when we thought we knew what we were doing out in nature, this:

Why Staying on the Trail Is Bad for Nature

Stay on the trail. Look, don’t touch. Take only photographs, leave only footprints.

These and similar rules have become a standard component of a refined environmental ethic; any reasonable outdoor education class is going to emphasize them.

I have a confession to make: As a kid I violated every one of those rules, frequently and without guilt. It made me a conservationist. Continue reading

Big Chicken

BookCoverMaryn McKenna escaped our notice until now, as did her recent book Big Chicken:

In this provocative narrative, acclaimed journalist Maryn McKenna reveals the fascinating history of chicken—and how the common backyard bird became an industrial commodity impacting human health around the world. Crucial to its meteoric rise: the routine use of antibiotics, a practice that would transform agriculture, change the world’s eating habits, and contribute to the deadly rise of drug-resistant infections around the globe.

Bringing us on an extraordinary journey from the vast poultry farms of the United States to laboratories, kitchens and sidewalk markets around the world, McKenna reveals how economic, political and cultural forces converged to make America’s favorite meat a hidden danger—and how companies, activists, farmers and chefs are carving a path back to better, safer food.

Named a Best Science Book of 2017 by Amazon, Smithsonian, and Science News; an Essential Science Read by Wired; a Best Health Book by the Toronto Globe and Mail; and a Best Food Book of 2017 by Civil Eats and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Antibiotics changed the world.

Then we gave them to the animals we eat.

This is the story of what happened next. Continue reading

Banana Futures

dsc_0647_custom-a81d4e41b86f8c114eb1264a2095b0fbfebb1907-s1300-c85

Japanese Mongee bananas debuted this winter, bred to be cold-resistant and pesticide-free. Plus: you can eat the peel. Courtesy of D&T Farm Inc

When we talk about the future of bananas, it is often looking backwards protectively. But forward is an option as this story below illustrates, as with other edibles, likewise:

A Banana Grown At Subzero Temps Also Has An Edible Peel

BananaA Japanese farm introduced a new crop this winter: an organic banana with a peel that’s thin enough to eat. In a nod to this appealing outer covering, Setsuzo Tanaka, the banana’s inventor, has named his creation the Mongee (“mon-gay”) banana — which means “incredible banana” in Japanese.

“Setsuzo’s original purpose was to make a delicious banana with no pesticides,” Tetsuya Tanaka, a spokesperson for D&T Farms, the company behind the banana, writes in an email. Setsuzo Tanaka spent four decades tinkering with tropical fruit before the Mongee was born.

But if pesticides were his main concern, why not just grow a normal organic banana? Aren’t all bananas equally tasty? Continue reading

Ask Whole Foods About Wonderful

oilag-reaction_teenfriends_2

How wonderful is that?!? An organization that has been digging into the question of where all that fracking water is going in recent years. Thanks to Food & Water Watch, one of the most vigilant watchdogs helping the public become aware of fracking’s potential dangers, for asking questions that we all have reason to care about. And since the answers are not so wonderful, they are choosing perfect market-based locations to ask regular folks whether they are aware of the very cozy relationship between fracking waste water and the food we eat. Even some certified organic foods, it turns out. The image above is from their current press release:

PomWashington, D.C. — Are families around the country—and around the globe—eating California produce grown with toxic water from oil drilling? If they consume Halos Mandarins, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Wonderful pistachios, Sunview Raisins, Bee Sweet citrus or Sutter Home wine, they almonds_bottommay well be. Those companies grow some of their products in four water districts in California’s Central Valley that buy wastewater from Chevron and other oil companies’ drill sites. Now, Food & Water Watch is announcing a campaign to ban the practice, which threatens our food, farm workers and the environment, with a new documentary by noted filmmaker Jon Bowermaster and a campaign video capturing shocked reactions from people who previewed the video last week in front of Whole Foods’ headquarters in Austin, Texas. [continued below]

Thanks to WNYC for this half hour in which we learned about the study. For a decade-old but still profile of the wonderful couple who we hope will come clean on this, take a look here:

fiji_bottle_top…Lynda and her creative team immediately set to work promoting the water’s “untainted” origins. (Fiji Water comes from an aquifer on the island of Viti Levu.) The bottle’s label was retooled: the image of a waterfall (Lynda: “Surface water? Yuck!”) was replaced with a bright-pink tropical flower and palm fronds, and the company’s slogan was changed from the ho-hum “Taste of Paradise” to the more direct “Untouched by man. Until you drink it.” Since the makeover, sales have improved by three hundred per cent…

Rich, as the saying goes. Continue reading

A More Virtuous Tea

tea-dsc_4084_custom-81c744af0031bf81425ef659cb52385d07717424-s1300-c85

Tea pickers stand in the scorching sun, hand-plucking the tea leaves for about eight hours a day. Furkan Latif Khan/NPR

Thanks to Julie McCarthy and her colleagues at National Public Radio (USA) for this story posted from our old neighborhood:

Tea Farmer In India Leads Charge For Organic, Evades The Charge Of Elephants

tea-dsc_4165_custom-f26dac282301c68a7ef79adff58e4fdc2663934e-s400-c85

Tenzing Bodosa is a tea grower and a staunch practitioner of organic farming. He stands in his small tea estate beside the nature preserve he has cultivated.
Furkan Latif Khan/NPR

As you clutch a cuppa for a bit of winter warmth, spare a moment to consider the elaborate process that goes into producing that seemingly simple sip of tea.

In the biggest tea-growing region in India, the hazards alone range from red spider mites to herds of wild elephants.

Grower Tenzing Bodosa, a native of Assam, fights the former and unusually invites the latter.

From the large Bodo tribe and widely known by his first name, Tenzing stands beside the vermilion flames of a brick oven that provides the heat for a drying contraption erected in his backyard. Continue reading

Blue Planet II’s Attenborough Masterpiece

Blue Planet II_EP03_Coral Reefs

The broadclub cuttlefish is one of the psychedelic creatures featured in “Blue Planet II.” Photograph courtesy BBC

blue_planetWe have not linked to many television reviews, and the reason is simply that we instead mostly promote going and seeing instead of sitting and watching.

But this one seems a perfect exception to the norm because the series narrator is such a frequent guest in these pages, for good reason after many good reasons. This show may be his own sense of a masterpiece, if you consider what he says in a recent interview to a confirmed urbanist, which is worth half an hour of listening to in addition to the review below:

“Blue Planet II” Reviewed: The Ocean Continues to Impress

The seven-episode follow-up to the 2001 series flexes the BBC’s mastery of a genre that it created.

By Troy Patterson

The nature documentary “Blue Planet II” is oceanic in topic, tone, scope, and majesty. A production of the BBC Natural History Unit, the seven-episode series flexes its broadcaster’s mastery of a genre that it created. Over excellent footage shot on a circumglobal photo safari, the venerable narrator David Attenborough orates zoological narratives as if delivering a state-of-nature address. “Blue Planet II” follows the network’s “The Blue Planet,” which dropped in 2001, but it is less a sequel than a subsequent quest, like the second voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, or Apollo 14. Continue reading

Intact Coral And Its Above-Water Counterparts

 

Coral

Heron Island and its hundreds of species have so far been spared the worst of the crisis. But scientists there fear what the future may hold.  Illustration by Lily Padula

Helen Sullivan, founding editor of the South African literary magazine Prufrock, shares a short essay for the environmentally-minded:

On a recent trip to Heron Island, a speck of sand and foliage on the southern end of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I found myself on a walking tour of the local birdlife. My group’s guide was young, determinedly friendly, and seemed to feel not a little trapped. She looked as though she might, at any moment, reconsider everything and run as far as she could—which is to say, not very far: Heron is just half a mile long. We began with the egrets, which inspired the island’s not altogether accurate name, and which are born either black or white; our guide pointed out monochrome pairs roosting together in the trees. Then it was on to the buff-banded rails, which reminded me of thin, shifty, omnivorous quails. Beneath a Pisonia tree, also known as a grand devil’s-claws, we encountered a rowdy group of white-capped noddies. (The caps, our guide told us cheerfully, were to stop the birds’ brains from overheating in the sun.) Noddies, which feed on fish and make their nests by glueing together fallen Pisonia leaves, lead perilous lives. The trees’ seeds are sticky, often adhering to the birds’ charcoal-feathered bodies. Sometimes, a noddie will get covered in so many seeds that it can no longer fly, and so it falls to the ground and starves to death, its carcass fertilizing the nutrient-poor sand in which the Pisonia grows. “The noddies have a really special relationship with the devil’s-claws,” our guide said.

Heron Island is also home to the Barrier Reef’s oldest research station, where Sophie Dove, a biology professor at the University of Queensland, has lately been studying the effects of climate change on corals. Though she was off on the mainland when I visited, we caught up a few days later. Continue reading

The Idea Gets Greater, In Chile

webTHOMPKINSmap-460

Protecting More Wilderness
Map shows the scope of Tompkins Conservation park projects in Chile and Argentina. Eight Chilean parks, shown in boldface, comprise the latest expansion of wilderness areas, an area roughly twice the size of Massachusetts. Source: Tompkins Conservation. By The New York Times

When the news was first reported, just the facts were enough. Then yesterday we had some commentary that made us think more on how important this news really was, from a global perspective. Now, the story behind the facts, and this op-ed by Kristine McDivitt Tompkins echoes the greatest idea:

We need a new story about the Earth that isn’t just a litany of alarming statistics about crashing wildlife populations, polluted air and water, and climate chaos. We need a story that reminds us that the continuing degradation of landscapes and the seas is not necessarily a one-way street toward irreversible destruction.

On Monday we began to write such a story with the government of Chile. Under the wide skies of the new Patagonia National Park, President Michelle Bachelet and I formalized the largest-ever expansion of a national park system prompted by a donation of private land. Continue reading