Saturday Tweets: Styrofoam Catamarans, Bulb Mistakes and Luxury Bunkers

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on GMOs and the Precautionary Principle


With the prospect of a Monsanto/Bayer mashup GMOs are back in the news.

In an interview from 2015, former trader and risk management expert Nassim Nicholas Taleb presents what I think are some of the best arguments against GMOs. In this podcast Taleb tackles:

  • The statistical errors found in scientific papers
  • The need to apply the precautionary principle
  • The unacknowledged risks of catastrophe
  • The technological salvation fallacy

In short, it’s not about the health risks of eating a GMO corn chip. It’s more about the way we discount and misunderstand risk. Consider Taleb’s argument the biological equivalent of what happens in The Big Short (a film in Netflix that’s well worth viewing).

You can listen to Taleb’s interview and download it here.

What’s the Most Squirrel-Proof Fruit?


Depending on my mood I see our yard either as a sort of groovy, permacultural exercise in “abundance” or as an overpriced rodent feeder. It occurred to me this morning that we’ve been, inadvertently, running an experimental squirrel fruit buffet for ten years.

Perhaps it would be informative to see what trays in the buffet have any fruit left for the resident hominids. Towards that end, I’ve created an annoying, animated emoticon scale ranging from one to five squirrels with five being the most favored fruits and one being the least favored.

In the give up all hope category:

Figs: Squirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by Alephron
Everyone loves figs. Raccoons, squirrels, rats and even Roman emperors. I’ve even seen raccoons, in the middle of the day, feasting on our delicious Mission fig. It’s easy to see why. There’s nothing like a fresh fig. And fig season is so frustratingly short. Kind of like our youth!

Apples: Squirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by Alephron
We have two trees, a Winter Banana and a Fuji. The squirrels are welcome to the mealy Winter Banana apples. But those Fujis are just about the tastiest apple I’ve ever eaten. The squirrels usually manage to get them all.

Persimmons: Squirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by Alephron
We have both the non-astringent and astringent types of persimmons. The squirrels like to take a bite out of them before they are ripe, thus leaving them to rot on the tree. Persimmons take so long to mature that I doubt I’m going to get any this year before the squirrels get to them.

Peaches: Squirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by Alephron
I managed to harvest a few thanks to throwing some netting over the tree. But I was so stressed out by the prospect of finding the tree stripped of fruit that I became unpleasant to live with.

On the more hopeful side:

Avocados: Squirrel Icon by AlephronSquirrel Icon by Alephron
The damage here is more from rats than squirrels, I think. Typically, I’ll find an avocado with one bite near the stem on the ground. The good news is that those partially chewed avocados are, usually, still edible.

Pomegranates: Squirrel Icon by Alephron
I think this is the real winner in the squirrel/human fruit buffet fight. I’ve found squirrels trying to eat them but they have to chew through the thick and unappetizing skin. Plus the tree has hidden, wicked thorns. The downside is that these two qualities also make them difficult to harvest and eat. I use what we call the pomegranate spanking method to release the seeds. Squirrels have not yet figured this out.

What fruits do you manage to wrestle from the squirrels? What have you noticed in your garden?

Tomato Grafting Fail


The results are in on the tomato grafting project I last wrote about in July and they aren’t pretty. The plants grew slowly and reluctantly. The tomatoes had blossom end rot and were inedible. I even managed to attract tomato hornworms for the first time ever.

Two early mistakes led to subsequent problems. First, I should have purchased or made a seed starting mix rather than the potting soil I used. I ended up with weak seedlings. Secondly, I did not manage the post-graft period well. Having a greenhouse within which to create a “healing chamber” for the grafted plants would have made the process much easier.

Since I have no space or desire to build a greenhouse I’m, most likely, going to give up on attempting to graft my own tomatoes. I did this project out of a geeky sense of fun but it resulted in a summer with no homegrown tomatoes and that’s a life not worth living.

A better project, for our climate, would be to figure out how to grow tomatoes with little or no supplemental water. The feral tomatoes on the side of my mom’s house prove this is possible. For years, we also used to have volunteer cherry tomatoes along a wall now dominated by a massive Vitus californica vine. Next year I’m going to keep things simple, choose a drought tolerant tomato from Native Seed Search and plant it directly in the ground early in the season.

How did your tomatoes do this year? What kind did you grow?