Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas lights on the Internet

Courtesy Ken and Rebecca-Ellen Woods, everyone out there in Internet-land is invited to play with their Christmas lights via the Internet. I am re-posting that invitation here:
As part of our Christmas tradition, Rebecca-Ellen and I have onceagain connected our Christmas lights to the internet. This year we'rein a new house and have a new baby!
http://christmasinfairbanks.com
This project started in 2010, when we connected our Christmas treelights to the internet and allowed visitors from around the world toturn the lights on and off.
The lights moved outside in 2011, as it was quite annoying to have thelights blink on and off ALL THE TIME inside the house.
The 2012 season offered more lights, but Christmas 2013 brought pressattention. We received over 6.5 million visitors after beinginterviewed by NPR.
We moved into a new house in February 2014. And Kenny and I welcomedour son, Axel, to the world in July. You'll likely see all three of uscoming and going as you turn the lights on and off! You're not goingto break anything by messing with them, so don't be shy.
There might be some delay depending on the number of current userstrying to view the lights. The site works best with Chrome, Firefox,and Safari (it's operational with Internet Explorer, but it takes awhile for the site to load because IE is an awful web browser).
Feel free to send this far and wide. Post on Facebook, twitter, writeit in your Christmas card, whatever you wish. The site will remainactive until mid-January 2015.
Have fun, and a merry solstice to all!

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Bobblehead University strikes again

Well, the Board of Regents has generated some REALLY bad publicity by offering UA President Gamble a $320,000 bonus to stay on an extra year at a time when programs, faculty, adjuncts, staff, maintenance, new facilities, and services are being cut. Naturally inspiring? Not so much. President Gamble hasn't yet accepted the money, but he would do well to follow this university president's example and at the very least refuse it. He's not exactly hurting for cash, what with full medical benefits (no copays, by the way), a military pension and a railroad pension.

But things haven't changed much at our university. President Hamilton was given a $210,000 bonus, remember? Same thing: cuts all over, to fund a bonus.

So here's a bit of entertainment for those of you who see the absurdity in UA's long and silly administrative history:


Bobblehead Leadership at Our Swell University

by Richard Seifert
The Ester Republic, Volume 10, Number 3, p. 3

During that bleakest of months, February, one can be forgiven a bit of slouching and moping about, with the fifth straight month of winter woe, and twenty below in the forecast. But even a poetic sensibility can’t mask the utter cornucopia of bad taste splashed across that other paper in Fairbanks on February 18. Bobbleheads? To improve the image of our noble local seat of higher learning? Who knew that our University of Alaska promoters could fall this far? Surely you jest, Herr Professor Seifert! “No,” I wanted to say, “This is not really happening! Please make it stop!” But there it was…

This foray into rear car window cult history was intended to raise the awareness of legislators in Juneau, and they were sent there first I suspect. 1200 of the groovy little wobblers, some looking suspiciously like major UA administrators in their youth, some female, some bespectacled, some with lab coats. It’s just so underwhelmingly cute. How many can I put you down for? That any actual adult could imagine this was a remotely grand scheme escapes me. It’s the “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Juneau’s desperate money race, only not as successful as the first Bay of Pigs. I need some sort of consolation, and right now. So I google “bobble heads”. Immediately I was quizzed, “Do you mean bobbleheads?” Well, yes I suppose I do.

I was directed to, what else, “Bobblehead World”. And what a world it is! UAF either has gotten into the wrong meds, or they discovered that the Republican elephant bobbleheads were sold out (they actually are: www.toylounge.com/politicians.html) and so they went for the ‘demean the student’ concept. There is the Donald Trump bobblehead, blue suit and all, and that “hair”, authentically portrayed. Jesus and the Virgin Mary are bobbing heads too, and they are flanked by Elvis. Any bobblehead can be customized, I see. And there is a Top Ten Bobbleheads list, which is led by Jesus. I just can’t put my arms around what that actually says about modern America, but at least UA isn’t responsible for that market. Here’s the rest of the list from www.bobbleheadworld.com:

2. Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers
3. Homer Simpson
4. Family guy Stewie
5. Virgin Mary (How uncomfortable does this make you?)
6. Darth Vader
7. Beavis and Butthead
8. Ringtail Lemur of Madagascar (No, I am NOT making any of this up!)
9. McDonald’s Hamburglar
10. Mr. T

None of these bobbleheads actually fit the bill for a political coup that would result in the desired University love-fest. They could have chosen some actual political leader bobbleheads for the mission. George H.W. Bush, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhauer, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman are all available bobblehead emissaries. Although clearly a secular institution, the Virgin Mary bobblehead is available and actually on sale at the moment. Billy Graham’s bobblehead is available too, but both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are sold out, alas. As for celebrity options, the field is even grimmer, only because of items being sold out. But! James Dean, Sigmund Freud, Anna Nicole Smith, and William Shakespeare are available for your image enhancement needs. Think of it as a plastic lobbying service. A few others are available but send a message that might not go down too well in Juneau. There’s John Gotti, for instance, and Al Capone. These might suggest certain subpoenas and FBI tapes now making the Youtube rounds. Ouch.

So we’re left with the $12,000 worth of fabulously campy and embarrassing Chinese toys. First place to send a set would be the museum, for this is certainly something which should go down in the public record as a unique historical moment in advertising and public relations. Who says the frontier is gone? We have just shown that our university is at the cusp of a new area of imagery and persuasion. I can see a new course in political science for the fall semester: “Bobblehead diplomacy and the legislative mind. A new frontier of plastic body language.” The textbook will be the court transcripts of the Pete Kott and Vic Kohring trials.

The future, it seems, is plastic after all. That iconic movie of the sixties, The Graduate, nailed it forty years ago. Somebody needs to tell our poor administrative publicists that it was a joke then. Unfortunately, some people never got it.

Monday, July 07, 2014

A spike in viewership

Hmmm. Judging by the spike in the number of viewers on July 3rd, it looks like a lot of people were checking this page to see if and when Ester was going to hold its parade and picnic!

I have been very, very bad about writing here on a regular basis, folks. For one thing, it's summer.  My garden is EXPLODING. Every spare minute I have is spent outdoors trying to keep up with the weeds and create more potato beds. When I'm not there, then I am either a) washing the dirt off, b) relaxing at the Eagle (with smudges all over my face), c) at the library (either gardening or doing some sort of work), or d) at work on campus.

Right—and then occasionally I read a book. For a few pages.

The only reason I'm doing this right now (at 2:49 am) is because I fell into bed at 6 pm and woke up at 10:30 pm. And tomorrow's a work day!

Oh, but my review did get published: "Seeding a culture of remembering: a review of Saving More Than Seeds."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Day One at the SARE Conference: High Latitude No-Tillage

Bryce Wrigley: High-Latitude No-Tillage in Grain Production in Delta Junction

Bryce Wrigley owns and operates Wrigley Family Farms and the Alaska Flour Company in Delta Junction. He is the president of the Alaska Farm Bureau

Almost all grain production in Delta Junction is done with conventional tillage with fallowing and a rest crop. It looks all kempt and tidy, it's just dirt, and you can see things growing right away. But with no-till you can't see the new growth until the plants are about 10 inches high and get above the stubble. The no-till fields look kind of ratty and untidy, according to Wrigley. However, the problem with conventional tillage is it destroys the organic matter in the soil, and takes up soil in the wind. And wind is an issue in Delta.

After researching the type of drill to use, Wrigley and his wife, Jan, decided on the Cross-Slot (other companies seemed to all reference against this company).

Wrigley's reasons for doing no-till included: lack of labor requirement (his five kids had already left home), he wanted to maintain the value of his Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands which had been fallow for 25 years and so the carbon and quantity of organic matter in the soil, keep noxious weeds down, his area has a dry spell in spring & early summer which is counteracted by mulch on top of soil and old roots in the ground that hold moisture in the ground.

Challenges with no-till:
  • slower soil warmup
  • grass control is harder
  • pest control issues: for the first five years he found pests increase but then it stabilizes
Benefits:
  • maintains soil health
  • better moisture retention
  • no wind erosion
  • saves labor
  • less equipment
  • less fuel
  • fewer weeds
Even though emergence is a little later, the grain seems to catch up (the moisture in the ground seems to make the difference).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Breeding Workshop: trials, selections, breeding methods

Variety Trials: breeding to see what works (and what doesn't)

Jim Myers extolled the benefits of on-farm trials in his pre-conference workshop. It turns out that with participatory plant breeding, a cooperative arrangement that appeals to my grassroots heart, the variety trial is central to understanding and developing a new crop for a particular area. Myers held up a copy of an old AFES variety trial publication as an example of the kind of information breeders need to know and develop. He explained that it was important for:
  • getting to know the crop
  • expanding market potential, attracting new customers
  • addressing crop stresses
  • identifying organic info
  • on-farm variety trials for vegetables, herbs, etc. (Here Myers talked about a publication from the Organic Seed Alliance that he authored about creating on-farm experimental designs for useful variety trials. The OSA has many helpful publications on everything from policy to seed production, worksheets and webinars.)
There are two basic trial methods, the observation trial and the replicated trial.

Observation trials are okay for evaluating disease resistance or discrete traits (color growth, habit, fruit size and shape, earliness), productivity, and adaptation to the locale. An example might be planting one-row plots of 10-30 feet. Observation trials are repeated over years in the same place.

Replication trials remove variation casused by differences in the local environment & provide repeated measures. They require randomization, such as in the variety's placement within the plot.

Siting a trial: get as uniform a section as possible. Consider soils, wind direction, even elevation, shade, moisture/wet or dry spots.

Traits to evaluate depend upon intended use and kind of crop: processing, fresh market, home garden/

On-farm trials in their simplest form: plant several varieties side by side and keep notes. This requires planning!

On-farm trials II:
Arrange among a group of farmers to grow an extended set of varieties, each grower grows a set on their farm. The advantage here is that a broader set can be looked, but it requires not only more planning but also coordination, and it should include a common variety to serve as a yardstick. Varietal performance may be affected by differences in location and cultural practices, too.

NOVIC (or, see the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative)

Mother Daughter Experimental Design: this is a statistical plot design that maximizes the amount of information obtained from diverse environments.

mother site: complete randomized block design with at least three replications
daughter sites: single replicates on at least three collaborating farms

Where to find the genetic variation?

From commercial sources:
  • seed catalogs
  • Native Seed Search
  • Seed Savers Exchange
Exchange with other growers:
  • seed swaps
  • community seed banks/libraries/sanctuaries
USDA-NPGS (GRIN):
  • Plant introduction collection (not a catalog: up to you to maintain seed or accession acquired)
  • NSL # is storage of last resort, very hard to get
  • PVP; has to be deposited in GRIN, but not available until patent runs out
  • Tomato Genetic Resource Collection (genetic stocks housed at UC Davis, regular tomatoes housed at Geneva, New York)
Methods of recombination:
  • natural crossing
  • artificial 
  • selection methods: mass selection, half-sib selection, bulk breeding, pedigree selection, single-seed descent, backcross breeding
Myers went into detail about each of these, but in particular the methods of selection. The technical aspects of the workshop were impressive and I will leave them aside, as the detail was considerable, but for those who are interested in pursuing breeding vegetable varieties, he recommended a few books, among them:

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, by Carol Deppe.

The Organic Seed Grower:  A Farmer's Guide to Vegetable Seed Production, by John Navazio.

There is also a book he co-edited but did not mention, Organic Crop Breeding.

Conference Workshop: On tomatoes and breeding lines: purple, yellow, rose

Jim Myers has worked on several species and varieties, but lately has caused a stir in the gardening world for his work with the Indigo Rose purple tomato, released by Oregon State University in 2012. To tomato lovers like me, this is pretty exciting, as it represents a new range of color and antioxidants available in these delicious fruit. But Myers was here to tell us about breeding vegetables in general. (Tomatoes, one of the most popular garden plants, are largely self-pollinating.)

Managing & selecting self-pollinated crops:
  • one individual can represent variety, but more than one is better
  • roguing and selection
  • isolation distances
Maintaining stock seed:
  • take 50-100 single plant selections from a finished variety
  • grow as progeny rows, using say, 50 seeds from your plant selection
  • inspect each plant for deviations, rogue off-type plants (roguing means weeding the rogues, the plants that don't conform to the type you are looking for)
  • eliminate progeny rows with high frequency of off-types
  • harvest by progeny row
  • composite seed (mixed-up seed) from progeny rows to make up foundation seed
  • grow every year or when regeneration of variety required
Roguing and selection
  • source of off-types
  • seed mixes
  • outcrossing
  • spontaneous mutation (can come off the same plant)
Examples of off-types
  • ovals and strings in beans or peas
  • plant / fruit / flower colors that don't match the variety
  • growth habit
  • pod fiber
  • sterile off-types
  • disease resistance (could be a good thing! or the off-type could show a lack of disease or pest resistance, and so not be so good)
Isolation distances
  • depends on geography barriers, pollinators, prevailing winds
  • can isolate in time as well as space
  • no isolation needed between beans and peas (10-50 ft)
  • isolation may be needed for: endive, escarole, lettuce; tomato and eggplant (10-50 ft)
  • isolation required: peppers (75-100ft)
Myers also discussed the requirements for cross-pollinated crops and how they differ from self-pollinated crops. Cross-pollinators usually produce many small seeds, while self-pollinators usually produce a smaller amount of very large seeds (although this isn't a hard and fast rule). 
Managing & selecting cross-pollinated crops
  • many individuals to prevent inbreeding
  • maintenance
  • isolation distances
maintaining stock seed:
  • keep population sizes large: below 30-50 plants inbreeding depression will occur (plants will become weakened due to lack of sufficient genetic variety)
  • grow variety in extreme isolation (caged production ensures isolation where land is limited)
  • continuous mass selection (trimming extremes in variation)
Isolation distances:
  • depends on geography barriers, pollinators, prevailing winds
  • is the crop insect or wind pollinated?
  • can isolate in time as well space (two weeks is offten enough time)
  • Cole crops, mustard greens, radish, kale, turnips, cucurbits, scarlet runner beans, onions, carrots, celery, chicory: .5-2 mi
  • sweet corn: 66-1,320 ft
  • table beet & chard: 1-2- mi (same color) 1.5-3 if different color, 3-5 mile if different types
  • spinach .5-3 miles
Unripe Indigo Rose tomato, an open-pollinated variety incorporating anthocyanins in the skin of its ripe fruit and released by Oregon State University. For more on the variety, see OSU's FAQ page. This and other, similar tomatoes are now available from many seed companies.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes have three growth habits, controlled by a single gene: determinate, indeterminate, and semi-determinate. For example, Micro Tom is a tiny variety about 8" tall developed using regular breeding methods, which grows no taller. This is a determinate variety. An indeterminate is the norm for tomatoes, and is the vining ever-growing habit that most tomatoes will exhibit. A semi-determinate will fall somewhere in between. One attendee showed quite a bit of interest in the idea of breeding a northern-adapted variety from a small tomato such as Micro Tom.

Kurt Wold, another of the attendees at the conference and owner of Pingo Farm and Zone 1 Grown seed company, has many Russian varieties. He suggested that these cold-weather, short-season, early tomatoes make a good place from which to start breeding for Alaska's needs. He also has a small determinate variety, which would be better to start from than Micro Tom, he said, as it is already adapted to a northern climate. Myers agreed: starting with a variety that already has some of the characteristics you want will save a lot of time.

Cooperative breeding projects

In concluding his workshop, Myers asked his audience if there were any cooperative breeding projects in which people might be interested in participating. The local turnip breeding project already has a lot of adherents, and several more signed up during the conference, but others expressed interest in tomatoes, sweet or flour corn, and fava beans.

CES will set up a listserve to notify members about participatory plant breeding efforts/inquiries. For more information, contact Steve Seefeldt, CES agriculture agent for the Fairbanks area. (474-2423)

At the 2014 Sustainable Agriculture Conference: Plant Breeding Workshop

This year's SARE conference, officially the 10th annual Alaska Sustainable Agriculture Conference, hosted by CES, is being held at the Wedgewood Visitor's Center in Fairbanks. The conferences start with a pre-conference workshop day, usually one full-day workshop and one or two half-day workshops. This year's workshops included one on plant breeding and one on record keeping and taxes for agricultural businesses.

I'm at the second half of the preconference workshop on participatory plant breeding, taught by Jim Myers of Oregon State University. We've been covering plant genetics and the difference between inbreeders (selfers) and outbreeders (crossers). It's a bit of an intense short course! I was taking notes earlier for this workshop, but lost them all on the laptop computer when I shut down for lunch. Lunch was pretty good, especially the potato chowder made from local potatoes! I went back for three helpings. (Several businesses contributed locally grown food to the lunch spread, including Basically Basil, Johnson's Family Farms, and several others. Unfortunately, I don't have the list. I'll post the company names here as I find out.)

Fortunately, Myers gave us all a CD with the full notes from his Horticulture 433 class, which is what he condensed part of his workshop from. It describes various systems of classification, from frost or cold tolerance, optimum temperature range, parts used for food, cultural groups, and botanical classification. There's 187 pages' worth of information on specific vegetables. It makes me want to cackle aloud.

Okay, so back to the notes I took from the workshop.

Myers gave us a short overview of the history of genetics and breeding in general, and how Gregor Mendel and his famous pea experiments were rediscovered in the early 1900s. We reviewed dominant and recessive genes, homozygosity and heterozygosity, and terms like allele and locus. Quite intense, as I said, and I won't go into the full details here (I can't remember them all, for one thing), but I'll explain a few things we went over.

In genetics, plants can be divided into those that have evolved such that they require no or very few crossing with other plants to maintain fertility and vigor (inbreeders or self-breeders, selfers for short), and those that do require it (out breeders or out crossers).

Inbreeders include:
  • tomatoes
  • eggplants
  • most peppers
  • beans (but not Scarlet Runner beans) (Fava beans are in between an inbreeder and an outbreeder, so one can use a small stock but not as small as true inbreeders.)
  • peas 
  • lettuces
Selfing a plant that is an F1 hybrid is a way to stabilize a variety for release. "F1" means the first generation between the cross between two distinct parents. Your hybrid starts out completely heterozygous (mixed genes of all sorts of traits). To make the plant breed true, or stabilize, breeders typically self 5 to 6 generations.

Nightshade family flowers in general have a higher percent of outcrossing, but still maintain selfing. Tomatoes may vary: some tomatoes have a style that sticks out beyond the flower (wild types), which will lend them to outcrossing.

Outcrossers include:

  • mustards & brassicas, arugula
  • melons & cucumbers, curcubits
  • mustards have a sporophytic incompatibility: chemical self-pollination prevention
  • corn (each seed has an individual silk down which pollen may travel)
  • artichokes, daisies, sunflowers
  • carrots, Queen Anne's Lace (protrandry: wind pollination)
  • chenopod flowers
  • onion family flowers: protrandry, vegetative bulblets (walking onions or Egyptian garlic also)


Saturday, March 08, 2014

Letter to the Editor: A is for Armed

March 6, 2014

To the Editor:

In the news is “Campus gun bill before committee.” There is nothing more important in the world for a student to get an A in their class. An armed student is in a much better position to negotiate with the teacher to get an A in class than an unarmed student. A student has to do whatever they have to do to get that A in class. Alaska needs their students to get as many As as possible and if that means arming students to get an A, well so be it.

John Suter 
Chugiak, Alaska

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book reviews

I am reviewing two books, and it is tough work.  Mostly it is tough because taking the time to thoroughly go through these books and give them a solid look is hard given all the other stuff I'm doing; they're very interesting works.


The first is by Catherine Phillips, Saving More Than Seeds: Practices and Politics of Seed Saving, for the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development .












The second is by a local author, Dan Osborne, Alaska's Tanana Valley Railroads. Both will go to the John Trigg Ester Library when I'm done reviewing them. JAFSCD gets my review of Phillips' book, but I'll post the review of Dan's book here.

The Penultimate Issue


Here she is at the LiBerry Music Festival, Carey Seward, musician and playwright, founder of Seward's Follies, on the cover of the penultimate issue of The Ester Republic. Or possibly the last issue, but what I put on the cover was the word "penultimate," thinking that perhaps I didn't mean it but too tired to look it up. Hah! My subconscious really didn't want to let it go.
At any rate, now I have that ambiguous possibility waiting for me, the hope left in print on the early October 2012 issue of Ester's only paper that it might in fact return, left there due to bleary eyes and a late night trying to get the last damn issue to bed and off to the printer, once again without enough of the right kind of help, despite the good intentions of so many good people.
And now, people still ask me from time to time if the Republic will ever return, or they tell me they miss it. I miss it too.

I think about what the next issue tagline could be:
  • the Resurrection Issue (implies it'll go on living, if the Romans don't get it)
  • the Zombie Issue (much more probable scenario, at least insofar as the condition of Madame Publisher is likely to be)
  • the Revival Issue (I doubt I'll get Religion, but who knows?)
  • the Reawakened Issue (it was asleep all along, just hibernating here in the north, folks)
See how much fun this could be?
However, the Republic won't be back until the library is built. I just can't handle two enormous projects at the same time. (No guarantees, folks!)