Wednesday, December 5, 2012


            Is it just me, or does time compress between Thanksgiving and New Years? I’ve taken to setting the stove’s timer to keep me from taking more than an hour to make and record the first weather observation of the day, change the cats’ water, clear the dish drainer, shift whatever laundry’s going to the next phase, answer important emails and delete the junk, and down my two cups of joe. I can never quite believe it when the series of triple beeps start. This morning, for instance, I thought it was the dryer and let it continue for five minutes.

            In the interest of not having to think too much, this post will consist of some bits and bobs gleaned from the November issue of “The Avant Gardener” newsletter. A subscription to this excellent publication would make a dandy stocking stuffer for the computer-literate dirt-monkey in your life: since the venerable Tom Powell retired, Derek Fell has taken the digest online. But it is still soooo worthwhile.


A shelf full of neonicotinoids
            Hooray for Europe. Light-years ahead of the U.S. when it comes to sustainable agriculture, Germany, France and Italy have banned neonicotinoid pesticides, according to an article by Shelley Stonebrook in the August/September Mother Earth News. A growing body of evidence implicates synthetic neonicotinoids (pronounced “knee-oh-knee-COT-in-oydz,” so called because their chemical makeup resembles that of nicotine), a particularly virulent class of systemic insecticides, in the ongoing malaise of European honeybees. Systemic pesticides work by insinuating themselves into every cell of treated plants, from roots to shoots to fruits, and their residual presence is truly impressive. One study cited by Stonebrook found the harvested fruits and vegetables from plants treated with the stuff retained a scary 12% residue. Another study, published in 2012 in Japan, found a correlation between neonicotinoid residues and brain damage in mammals. Beekeepers on this side of the pond want the EPA to get them off the shelves pronto. So far, no dice.

            No big surprise there. Can you say "chemical industry lobby"?

The Swiss member of the Big Three
            Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta are the largest food-crop seed producers in the world. The main business of all three is synthetic chemical production with heavy investment in biotechnology (i.e., genetically modified organisms, or GMOs) to make their patented plants weed- and pest-resistant. Anybody else see a conflict of interest here?  Avant Gardener says, “… who wants to eat a food that has its own built-in insect control even if it is considered biologically safe, or a food that can withstand spraying with a weed-killer? In a nutshell, that is what the controversy over GMO seed is all about, and why some countries of Europe have enforced labeling of GMO food crops, and why similar consumer groups in the U.S. are agitating for GMO labeling laws.”

            Nutshell, indeed. Should be nuthouse, don’t you think?

Your basic female deer tick
            Here’s a bulletin for you: gardeners have a higher-than-average chance of contracting Lyme disease because they, along with hikers, have a higher-than-average chance of attracting deer ticks. Wait! There’s more! Successful treatment of the disease depends on early diagnosis, but: 1) the alleged characteristic bull’s-eye pattern around the bite site often fails to materialize; 2) symptoms—which include fatigue, congestion, headache and joint pain—mimic about 3000 other malaises, like flu, hay fever, arthritis and aging; and 3) the currently available tests for the disease are unreliable. What to do? The “perfectly safe” crowd advocates wearing biohazard suits at all times and hermetically sealing one’s living quarters against mice, who also host the tiny arachnids. Sane people merely maintain routine watchfulness when showering (helps if you have a shower-buddy) and occasionally remind themselves of how few actual victims of the disease they personally know.

            Well, this didn’t turn into the easy-peasy piece I’d anticipated. I forgot how hard it is to avoid plagiarism when excerpting from a text. Bugger.

Stay tuned for a perkier piece next time. And thanks for dropping by.