Biochar Results: Mixed


Image: Wikipedia.

Results from the first ever scientific study of biochar by researchers at the University of Southampton have been released. Plant growth was stimulated (up to 100%!) but,

the positive impacts of biochar were coupled with negative findings for a suite of genes that are known to determine the ability of a plant to withstand attack from pests and pathogens. These defence genes were consistently reduced following biochar application to the soil, for example jasmonic and salcyclic acid and ethylene, suggesting that crops grown on biochar may be more susceptible to attack by pests and pathogens. This was a surprising finding and suggests that if reproduced in the field at larger scales, could have wide implications for the use of biochar on commercial crops.

The researchers concluded:

Our findings provide the very first insight into how biochar stimulates plant growth — we now know that cell expansion is stimulated in roots and leaves alike and this appears to be the consequence of a complex signalling network that is focused around two plant growth hormones. However, the finding for plant defense genes was entirely unpredicted and could have serious consequences for the commercial development and deployment of biochar in future. Any risk to agriculture is likely to prevent wide scale use of biochar and we now need to see which pest and pathogens are sensitive to the gene expression changes.

Thanks to Michael Tortorello for the tip.

A Year After the Age of Limits: Mr. Homegrown’s Take


Our culture tends towards false dichotomies, in the case of last year’s Age of Limits conference, the “desparium” of climate change and resource limits versus the broader culture’s “hopium” of techno-utopianism. As filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsy once said, “One day, someone showed me a glass of water that was half full. And he said, “Is it half full or half empty?” So I drank the water. No more problem.”

In her post Mrs. Homegrown mentioned that I had more to say about last year’s Age of Limits Conference. I don’t have much. She’s is a much better writer than I and she said pretty much everything I would have said.

Not to minimize the challenges we all face from resource limits or climate change, but we humans are very bad at predicting the future. And we have a tendency to turn our desires into apocalyptic fantasies. Whether we have or have not passed the point of no return with these problems, it is immoral not to try to come to the aid of all beings and work to maintain the paradise that is the living earth. I’m especially concerned when I hear dark fantasies about sudden population decline combined with notions that the plucky and righteous survivors will get to choose who lives and who dies. More than one participant suggested such a scenario at the conference.

And, I have to get this off my chest: the fabricated rituals dealing with both personal and societal grief bugged me. Far from helping, they seemed to reinforce a depressive and unproductive group dynamic. Meaningful ritual comes from deep in the collective unconscious. It’s not something you can wing with some bad poetry, encounter sessions and bongos.

On the positive side, it was a pleasure to hang out with and talk to John Michael Greer. Throughout the conference he held court outside the tent and discussed many of my favorite topics: organic gardening, Ham radio, appropriate technology, fraternal societies and even letterpress printing. When a talk or activity annoyed me, I’d walk out and find Greer.

What I would have liked to have seen at the Age of Limits was a wider range of voices. A few mainstream climate scientists would have been a good start. Instead, we were only hearing the most extreme points of view.

One of the organizers emailed us shortly after the conference to ask us to return this year and speak. I wrote back and said I’d do it but never heard back. Perhaps my email ended up in a spam box. I’m glad that I’m not going. I’ve got bread to bake, talks to give and a much delayed vegetable garden to plant.

What is that black and orange bug in my garden?

4 bugs

The suggestions on a recent “what’s this bug? post on this blog made me realize how hard it was to tell apart several common garden bugs: the harlequin bug, the bagrada bug, the milkweed bug and the boxelder bug. They are all flattish, orange/red and black, under an inch long, and seem to always be mating.

After doing the research, I really wanted to see all the bugs side by side, so I made this picture and this simple reference chart. It is now my gift to you. You are welcome.

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A Year after The Age of Limits: 5 Responses to the End Times


photo by Sansculotte on de.wikipedia

Ever since Erik and I and our friend John attended the Age of Limits conference a year ago, I’ve been meaning to offer some kind of measured response to the conference.  (The Age of Limits conference is a sort of woodsy fiesta for doomers held annually in Pennsylvania. For more info, follow the link.).  I’ve hesitated to do so, though, for two reasons.

The first reason was that I wasn’t sure if I should engage with the topic. Erik will rant now and then, but overall neither of us likes to preach or “opinionate.” We’d rather just focus on the lifestyle, and let people find their own reasons for reading whatever it is we happen to be blogging about.

The second reason was ambition. In my head, a proper response to such complex topics required long, thoughtful essays with footnotes.  That was a surefire way to keep myself from writing anything at all.

Yet a year out, memories of the Age of Limits conference nag at me. I wish I were an excellent long form journalist so that I could describe the entire event in detail, because it was such a strange trip, full of interesting characters, unforgettable moments, and strong emotions. We met some really good people there.

I can’t describe the event,  not unless you come over to my house and let me ramble on for about two hours, with many asides and breaks for snacks. But I can distill my overall reaction into a handful of concepts which relate more to the overall “doomosphere” than to the conference in particular.

And since this is the Internet, the home of unfounded opinion, I’ve realized I can say whatever I want, with no footnotes. So, if you want to keep reading, I’ve whittled my responses down to five points, but it’s still long.

N.B. This is what I think, not what Erik thinks. He has his own post to write.

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