Friday, August 22, 2014

A Noble Endeavor

Three yellow warblers are flitting about in the quakies outside my office window. A hummingbird is checking out the hollyhocks.

We’ve had life giving rain, lots of it. It’s heaven sent for our range ground, but it’s hard to find enough dry weather to cure a hay crop. The neighboring farmers are complaining as well. Acres and acres of wheat and barley still wait for the combine. And every new shower threatens to sprout grain in the fields, which at best comprises the quality of the crop. At worst (and it's getting that bad) it means a total crop failure. 

We flew a short visit to the Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Oklahoma, to see Seth’s end-of-season presentation as a summer intern. I’ve always wanted to see what was left of the tall grass prairie. The sheer volume of biomass is impressive. I’ve heard the names before, osage orange, greenbrier and mesquite, little bluestem, tall fescue and bermuda grass, crepe myrtle in bloom, all against a backdrop of katydid singing (if you can call the clamor, singing). Way cool.

The Noble Foundation was established in 1945 by Lloyd Noble, an oil baron who knew that oil money was temporary, that the land was our true sustaining wealth. He witnessed the devastation of the dust bowl years and was determined to help agriculture producers learn how to better care for the soil. Dead at 53 from a heart attack, Noble’s oil fortune created an organization that offers free education and consultation to area ag producers and conducts forage crop research to develop traits needed to meet today's challenges, such as drought tolerance in alfalfa.

We had a great time with Seth touring the foundation's grazing lands and even had a morning-long consulting session of our own. And to top it off we had an enlightening drive back to the airport. We rode with one of the foundation’s bio-technology researchers. He was born and educated in China and now makes his home in Oklahoma. We learned that part of his research includes genetic modification trials. What followed was an intriguing ninety minute conversation about his view from the research side and our view from the consumer-driven side. He was surprised to hear that our natural beef customers are demanding GMO free beef. He couldn’t understand their health concerns, as he sees GMO crops as safer than conventionally crossbred crops because of the rigorous testing GMO crops must pass.

The conversation certainly broadened our knowledge of the topic, but we'll continue to listen and learn from both sides of the fence. One thing we know for sure is that discussions like this, often precipitated by institutions like the Noble Foundation, need to happen more often - discussions without predetermined agendas and a willingness to learn.  

previously plowed but now native vegetation in Oklahoma

the real deal native in Idaho

Friday, August 1, 2014

Growing Supper

We've had cooler weather. It's still hot during the day, but the breeze coming across our bed at night is chilly. My front flower bed is in full bloom, mostly black-eyed susans which are lovely, but the scattered purple coneflowers are what the hummingbirds and butterflies visit when they show up. 

It’s that time of year when everyone growing a garden feels pretty smug with themselves. They bypass the produce section in the grocery store and learn anew how resplendent, colorful, varied in taste and texture a vegetable really is.

I thinned the beets and served the young tubers along with the greens on top, root and all. The taste is pure mother earth. You don’t think of beets as sweet, but they seem so when contrasted with the hint of bitter in the greens, a delicious pairing.

And the new red spuds are perfection. “Like butter,” my sis would say about them, as she does anything that is as good as butter is.

I tried the Ruth Stout method of planting spuds. Not with the entire crop, just the ones I intended to harvest as the season progressed, as opposed to those I want to leave in the ground for fall harvest to be stored over the winter. You lay the cut spud on top of the ground with an eye or two on top, then cover it with a heavy layer of mulch. A sprout develops and comes up through the mulch and grows a large plant while under the mulch a feeler comes out to start a new potato. You can reach under the mulch and see the whole process, harvest what you want, and then pull the mulch back over without disturbing the little ones. My grandmother, who liked to sneak a few spuds out mid-season, called this careful harvest “tickling” for potatoes.

There are lots of yards around but few vegetable gardens. I don't understand why anyone with a patch of earth, owned or rented or borrowed, wouldn’t put in a seed and grow some food. I think if we all nurtured a cucumber or squash, a few plants of basil or beans, many of our planet’s problems would abate - just from the knowledge gained by grasping the power of dirt. We’re all dependent on it; we’re just romanced by supermarkets and restaurants, fooled into thinking we don’t owe our lives each day to soil and water and sunshine.

yes, it's all edible