Get out the recipe books…


Eggplant harvest August 22. Last year my eggplant rotted on the stem. This year I can’t pick them fast enough. The variety is Satin Beauty.


Yellow crookneck squash. Can’t pick them fast enough. I take some of the blossoms to my Mexican friends who put them in quesadillas.

This is the time of year gardeners take their vegetables to work and give it away to their friends because there is too much to use at home.


Weeds are the scourge of gardeners and farmers. If you think about it though, weeds are plants that we haven’t figured out a use for yet. I wonder if the predecessors of wheat and barley were considered to be pesky weeds in the gardens and fields of early Palestinian, Anatolian, and Syrian farmers as they began to domesticate those two crops?

In Iowa we have weeds like waterhemp, foxtail, button weed, pigweed, morning glory, canada thistle, and horse weed that plague our gardens and fields. What is the problem? There are three problems: sunshine, moisture and nutrients. That is, the weeds compete for all three with the crops and vegetables that we are trying to grow.

In July, I went out to my sweet potato bed and found a mess. In the photo you can see how much of a mess.. Thirty minutes later I had pulled all the weeds in one bed by hand. These two photos illustrate my point above.

Weedy sweet potatoes

Weedy sweet potatoes

Thirty minutes later I had hand-pulled all the weeds.

Thirty minutes later I had hand-pulled all the weeds.

Harvest 2015 begins

Harvest 2015 has been going on for a while. We have been eating greens (oakleaf lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, arugula, beet greens, kale, pea shoots), peas, new potatoes, and herbs (thyme, basil, parsley, sorrel) for some weeks. Our first big crop harvest though is the garlic harvest.

Garlic harvest 2015. We finished digging and hanging our garlic on July 2.

Garlic harvest 2015. We finished digging and hanging our German Extra Hardy garlic on July 2.

Mexican calabasa, squash blossoms, zucchini, and garlic just out of the garden.

Mexican calabasa, squash blossoms, zucchini, and garlic just out of the garden.

Dustin is mowing oat nurse crop and young alfalfa. We will big-bale this feed for the ewes and lambs. The oat grain heads and the young alfalfa should give us sheep feed over 10% protein.

Dustin is mowing our oat nurse crop and young alfalfa. We will big-bale this feed for the ewes and lambs. The oat grain heads and the young alfalfa should give us sheep feed over 10% protein. Alfalfa usually yields well for about 4 or 5 years and then we have to seed a new field to continue producing hay.

What’s the connection between public education and science in agriculture?

Without a solid education, farmers and scientists who work in agriculture-related science would not succeed. Farming requires science which means that farmers need a solid education. As well, the folks who study water quality, agronomy, agricultural engineering, and seed science must learn both the content of their fields as well as research methology.

Unfortunately, states in the midwest are  shirking their duty in funding public higher education. This is true in Minnesota, where I work at a university and it is true in Iowa and Wisconsin. These three states account for 3 of the most important land-grant universities where much agricultural research is done: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Minnesota, and Iowa State University.

This point was put well in On Wisconsin (Spring 2015) by Kirstie Danielson, a 2007 Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Writing about Wisconsin, “…the state is failing in its moral responsibility to support affordable education and opportunities for its citizens to prosper, abdicating the responsibility to overly burdened middle-class families.” She continues, “Let’s therefore hold our elected officials responsible to make sure that all who profit from an educated citizenry reinvest in future generations.”

So, the connection is that farmers and agriculture-related researchers need high-quality science-based higher education. Without this grounding in science, in climate change, seed science, water quality, soil conservation, precision agriculture, and agronomic research, the future of agriculture is in jeopardy.

What’s the difference between climate and weather?

In our discussions about human-induced climate change we sometimes get weather and climate confused. They are not the same thing. What is the difference between climate and weather?

According to the NASA article I reference above, “The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere “behaves” over relatively long periods of time.

A good source of science research into climate change can be found at Iowa State University’s Climate Science Institute

Which is more endangered?: Bees or beekeepers?

One of U.S. agriculture’s important sectors is under pressure. It’s the honey industry that is suffering from colony collapse disorder and this is leading beekeepers to doubt the wisdom of staying in business.

The Bakken pipeline in our neighborhood?


One of my neighbors has decided he doesn’t want Bakken crude flowing through his farm.

We have read recently that the Bakken pipeline, a project of Dakota Access, plans to build a pipeline across Iowa from the northwest to the southeast. Many of us are skeptical if not outright opposed to this pipeline crossing Iowa. One person who is doing something about his conviction is Ed Fallon. Ed is keeping an interesting daily blog as he walks the pipeline from southeast to northwest Iowa, “rolling the pipeline back up” as he walks.

The Meskwaki people have come out against the pipeline and the mainstream media, while not digging deep enough into the topic, is beginning to cover this challenge to agriculture and the environment in the Hawkeye State.

Not only is the Bakken pipeline through Iowa problematic (the reasons include destruction of farm drainage tile and the likelihood of leakage) the production of the oil itself is also problematic. There are two aspects to the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process (the process by which the oil is extracted from beneath the North Dakota plains), that deserve examination: first is the fracking sand industry, the second is the use of the water that is necessary for the fracking process, and a third that has to do with the way the business is being conducted on the Fort Berthold reservation.

Fracking sand is a necessary ingredient of the fracking process. A special kind of sand is required. Fracking sand mines in Trempeleau County, Wisconsin, for example, have turned the county up-side down.

A large amount of water is required for the fracking process but water is  required on both ends of the process. Water is necessary for the initial work to force the petroleum from the cracks in the underground rock and then the chemical-laden water, as a by-product of fracking, is returned underground. About 3 to 8 million gallons are used in the lifetime of one well.

Third, about 30% of the Bakken production comes from the Fort Berthold reservation where the Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara native peoples live (they were moved to this land to make way for Lake Oahe on the Missouri River). The business of oil production has been rife with corruption and shenanigans on the reservation. For interesting background about the way that the Three Affiliated Tribes (Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara) have dealt with the oil boom on their land, read about Marilyn Hudson and her research.

After all is said and done, the “sweet” crude from Bakken is not so sweet; it seems more like a bitter harvest.


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