Mar 27, 2010

Seed-Starting 101 : Part 6 of 6 : Transplanting and Troubleshooting Hudson Valley Seed Library - Garden Notes for Seedy Folks

While the forecast calls for a brief return to a wintery chill the next few days, the calendar is progressing headlong into spring, and the earliest daffodils–along with the just-unfurling green buds on the dreaded and omnipresent multiflora rose–are here. Soon, the earth will warm, and your seedlings will eagerly sink their bound roots into the big, living universe of your own garden’s soil.
Transplanted seedlings in rows.
Transplanted seedlings in rows.
Transplanting is an intuitive and extremely satisfying garden activity. Before transplanting, your bed is empty and shapeless; after transplanting, your garden comes alive with the rhythm and structure created by the rows, grids, circles, and freeform shapes your new transplants trace.

Most of us began our garden journey with an act of transplanting, usually a few tomato or basil or lettuce seedlings purchased from a garden center. And while transplanting is quite straightforward, there are definitely some things to keep in mind for the best results. Here are five thoughts.

Only transplant properly hardened off seedlings. Hardening off seedlings–the process of gradually exposing them to longer and longer periods of unprotected, outdoor conditions (starting with about two hours per day, working up to ten or twelve over several days)–is essential to ensure the survival of seedlings grown indoors. There’s no room for fudging here–especially with warm-weather crops such as peppers, eggplants, melons, and tomatoes. If you grew it indoors, it must adjust gradually to outdoor conditions. If you raise your seedlings in a cold frame, full hardening off is not necessary–just set your trays outside your cold frame for a day before transplanting.
Transplant only on cloudy days or on late afternoons of sunny days. The act of transplanting is, by nature, stressful on the seedling. Bright, hot sun and dessicating winds amplify the shock: the poor seedling spends its limited resources in a struggle for water and purchase in the soil, rather than just settling in. Young seedlings are much happier when they are given a cool, moist, dark breather before facing their first day in a whole new environment.
Prepare your bed thoroughly first. Incorporate compost and soil amendments before transplanting. It’s best if the seedling can have at least a few days without much disturbance to its root system. It also needs a good, fertile environment in which to sink its roots, and few weeds to out-compete it. Work to provide these conditions before putting the seedling in the ground. Even if the seedling is getting root-bound, even if the calendar says its time to transplant, wait: the work of correcting poorly prepared soil is far more painful than exerting a little patience beforehand.
Transplant gently. Once all the above conditions have been met, cut into the surface of your soil with a trowel or hand-held hoe to create a space for your seedling. Eject your seedling carefully from its container, and then set it into the space you’ve made. Except for tomatoes, nearly all vegetables should be transplanted so that the level of the soil surrounding the seedling is even with the level of the garden soil (tomatoes can be sunk more deeply–all the little hairs on the stem grow into roots). With your hands, push the surrounding soil towards the seedling to “seal it in”; pat the soil down so that the seedling is held in place firmly, as vertically as you can get it. Water in with a gentle setting on your hose (longer than you think–be sure that you do more than just a surface watering), and you’re done!
Consider the cutworm. If you’re gardening a new plot–and often if you’re not–you may face the dreaded cutworm, a small crawly creature that loves to fell young seedlings. It does its thing by forming a circle fully around the stem of a seedling and then chomping down. You’ll instantly recognize the damage–it really does look like a felled tree. It mainly affects tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, but it occasionally visits the stemmy bottoms of brassicas, too. To prevent this heartbreaker from ruining your day, put two toothpicks alongside and touching the stems of your transplants, one on each side of the stem. Do this at transplant time. The cutworm won’t be able to fully encircle the seedling and will give up. (Rarely do cutworms venture higher than the height of an average toothpick.)
That’s pretty much it! A few days after transplanting, your seedling should be well rooted, and cultivation with a hoe can take place.


Growing a garden is an invitation for trouble: thousands of other beings–from deer and woodchucks to bacteria and fungi–will be eyeing your vegetables just as hungrily as you are. While a good fence will keep the larger foes from your crops, the smaller ones are usually held at bay by the plant’s own defense systems. The key is providing the conditions that allow the plant to be as strong and resilient as possible.

Below is a list of common troubles seen in garden plants during their early years, along with tips on keeping your seedlings strong, healthy, and resilient.

Damping Off. Damping off is probably the single most common ailment seen in seedlings grown indoors. It is a fungal affliction in which the young seedling’s stem withers at soil level; the seedling topples over and usually dies. The conditions that cause damping off are a combination of moisture and poor air circulation and moderate temperatures. The key to avoiding damping off is to refrain from overwatering–let the surface of the soil dry out a bit before each watering. It also helps to improve air flow, either with a fan or by moving your trays from a stuffy room to one that experiences greater air exchange. Some crops are notorious for damping off problems even when near-optimal conditions are provided: onions seem to be the most susceptible. (We lose some to damping off nearly every year.) Consider a damped off seedling or two to be a rite of passage–and then act quickly to improve conditions.
Leaves turning purple. This condition arises in April and later, mainly, when your young seedlings have exhausted the available phosphorus in their potting soil. Organic phosphorus is released slowly, and only limited amounts are available in mixes that are designed for seedlings. If your seedlings are hanging out for too long in their trays without being transplanted, you will likely see their leaves begin to turn purpleish. Luckily, nearly all seedlings will recover from this state when transplanted to a healthy, well-composted garden soil; they may shed a leaf or two, but they’ll probably do fine in the end.
Yellow leaves/failure to thrive. Yellowing leaves are usually a symptom of nitrogen deficiency, which is usually only a problem in a potting soil that is not fully amended with compost and organic amendments such as seedmeals. Be sure that if you are using a sterile soilless mix that it either comes with fertilizer included or you are providing some yourself–or, better yet, choose an organic, compost-based mix from the start. But do be aware that any potting soil has limited resources to share with a seedling; keeping a seedling in a tray for too long will allow the plant to suck all the nutrition from the soil. Staying on top of transplanting will prevent such conditions.
Tall, spindly seedlings. Thin, stretched out, pale seedlings are called “leggy.” The condition arises from two causes: inadequate light and an overcrowded tray. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: a sunny windowsill is usually not bright enough to grow good seedlings. Most leggy seedlings are grown on such a windowsill. Get a shop light with fluorescent bulbs or build a cold frame–you’ll be amazed at how legginess goes away completely. If you believe your light is sufficient, examine the density of your seedlings: once the leaves of neighboring seedlings actually begin to touch each other, a race for light and air begins that makes the seedlings grow taller without filling out horizontally at the same time. If this is the case, either transplant immediately (if the timing is right for the variety) or pot up your seedlings to larger containers.
And with that, this series on seed-starting comes to an end. There is much more that could be written–growing food is an incredibly complex (and yet straightforward!) endeavor about which I could talk or write almost indefinitely. However, there are orders to ship and seeds to sow here, soil to prepare and a fence to mend. Spring is here, and the window of opportunity for so many great garden efforts is opening. Dive in, and good luck!

Video: High tunnel seminar | Cornell High Tunnels

High tunnel seminar, Dept. of Horticulture, Cornell University from Cornell Horticulture on Vimeo.

Department of Horticulture seminar on the benefits of high tunnels for extending the season early and late for vegetables, flowers and berries. Presenters: Dr. Marvin Pritts, Dr. Chris Wien, and intern Elizabeth Buck.

Effect of biochar and biodigester effluent on growth of maize in acid soils

Biochar produced as a byproduct of the gasification of sun-dried, sugar cane bagasse (the cane stalks were passed two times through a 3-roll mill traditionally employed for making “panela”), contained 35% ash.
Application of the biochar (50 g/kg of soil) to a fertile soil (from a shaded coffee plantation) increased above ground biomass growth five-fold with no additional benefit from simultaneous application of biodigester effluent. When applied to a sub-soil, there was a synergistic effect of the biochar and the biodigester effluent; the biochar alone increased yield eight-fold but combined with biodigester effluent the increase was twenty-fold. Effects on the root biomass were similar.
The initial pH of both soils was in the range of 4.0-4.5 and was increased to 6.0-6.5 by addition of the biochar. Effluent application did not affect soil pH.
Application of ash from a wood-burning stove at 50g/kg soil also increased maize yield but to a level of only one third of that achieved with biochar. The increase in soil pH was double that observed with biochar reaching levels of between 9 and 10.

Mar 26, 2010


biochar headerBiochar 2010: U.S. Biochar Initiative Conference is designed to advance our understanding of the science and policy issues related to biochar as both an agent for carbon sequestration as well as an amendment
for soils.

On June 27 - 30, join scientists, engineers, policymakers, policy analysts, producers, and users at this event and learn of recent advances in biochar science, technology, and policy.

The Bioeconomy Institute of Iowa State University is lead sponsor, organizer, and host for the conference. USBI, the United States Biochar Initiative, is co-sponsor of the event.

Track Sessions include:

Origins and History
Agriculture, Forestry, Soil Science and Environment
Policy and Economics
Markets and Business Opportunities
Social and Community Dimensions

Mar 24, 2010

Amy Smith shares simple, lifesaving design for charcoal making | Video on

Fumes from indoor cooking fires kill more than 2 million children a year in the developing world. MIT engineer Amy Smith details an exciting but simple solution: a tool for turning farm waste into clean-burning charcoal. About Amy Smith Amy Smith designs cheap, practical fixes for tough problems in developing countries. Among her many accomplishments, the MIT engineer received a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2004 and was the… Full bio and more links

Mar 22, 2010

Celebrate World Water Day: Watch “The Story of Bottled Water”

Annie Leonard, creator of the hit internet film “The Story of Stuff” has done it again — she’s put together another great film about the “Story of Bottled Water,” which couldn’t be more useful right now. Today is World Water Day — time to stop and think about the billions without safe drinking water and adequate sanitation — and the hypocrisy of rich nations’ addiction to bottled water, when we have clean water for virtually nothing. Instead of putting our money in the pockets to multinational water bottlers, let’s put our resources toward helping to provide the infrastructure and funding necessary to provide clean, affordable water for everyone. Watch Leonard’s video and you can see why this is a necessity now:

Agribusiness and the Food Crisis: A new thrust at anti-trust - TripleCrisis

by Timothy A. Wise The food crisis has a new villain: agribusiness. A recent report by Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, on “Agribusiness and the Right to Food” takes a close look at the contribution of commodity buyers, food processors, and retailers to the food insecurity now plaguing over one billion people in the world. Why agribusiness? Aren’t they driving prices down? Well, yes and no, and both are a problem. If they are so big they can exert monopoly control over key markets, they can raise prices for lack of competition, hurting all food consumers. And if they have excessive market power over suppliers – particularly farmers – they can exert monopsony control and force down crop prices. That can benefit food consumers if low prices are passed through to consumers, but monopoly can rear its head again there. In any case, the price squeeze puts smallholder farmers in a precarious position. That contributes to the global food crisis because the majority of the world’s hungry are small-scale farmers. Among De Schutter’s recommendations: strengthen anti-trust enforcement nationally and globally with a particular emphasis on “excessive buyer power in the agrifood sector,” which he considers more worrisome than seller power. This month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an unprecedented process to consider doing just that. In Ankeny, Iowa, 800 farmers jammed a community college auditorium March 12 for the first of five public hearings this year on corporate concentration and anti-competitive practices in U.S. agriculture. Convened jointly by the DOJ and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the session took on Monsanto and the seed conglomerates, which are among the most concentrated sectors in the industry. Obama’s DOJ has already launched an investigation into Monsanto’s practices in licensing its genetically modified seeds. Monsanto presents a classic case of monopoly selling power. Seed prices overall have risen an astounding 146% since 1999, and 64% in just the last three years, according to a report by the Farmer to Farmer campaign. Monsanto controls an estimated 93% of the U.S. soybean seed market. An Iowa grain farmer told the crowd that he had no choice but to buy Monsanto’s GM traits and that the prices eroded any gains he got from higher yield. Others told of legal threats from Monsanto for planting its seeds without a license. The hearings may be more significant, though, for their explicit focus on monopsony buyer power. “When agribusiness purchasing power is reduced to a small number of companies, does that create such an unlevel playing field that it compels those in the middle to either get bigger or get out?” asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, whose presence, along with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his chief anti-trust officer, Christine Varney, lent weight to the proceedings. U.S. anti-trust law has always recognized buyer power as an anti-competitive practice, but authorities have rarely taken the issue seriously when reviewing the agribusiness mergers that in the last two decades have placed the majority of the world’s food in the hands of a small number of corporations. Ever-larger supermarket chains, from Walmart on down, force down prices from their increasingly concentrated suppliers, which in turn demand rock-bottom prices from their own suppliers. At the bottom of this food chain are farmers. It is a race to the bottom that squeezes the life out of farms, particularly the smallest farms. And it contributes to food insecurity not just from unsustainable farm prices but by forcing down wages, for agricultural laborers, packing workers, and other workers in the industry. The issue is particularly urgent for independent livestock farmers, who have seen the meat conglomerates gobble each other up, with the DOJ blessing the carnage. DOJ did its standard investigation of pork giant Smithfield’s 2007 takeover of Premium Standard Farms, a merger that consolidated the largest U.S. hog producer and pork packer with the country’s second largest hog producer and sixth largest packer. The concerns about uncompetitive practices and undue buyer power were particularly important in the southeastern part of the country, where the merged company left 2,500 independent hog producers with just one regional buyer for their market-ready animals. Despite USDA studies documenting Smithfield’s buyer power in the region even before the merger, Bush’s DOJ ruled that “the merged firm is not likely to harm competition, consumers or farmers.” The August DOJ hearing will focus precisely on this kind of buyer power in livestock. Family farmers will be waiting to see if President Obama is all hope and no change when it comes to anti-trust enforcement.

Book Review: The Value of Nothing

The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy by Raj Patel
by Tracy Kurowski on Mon 22 Mar 2010

To many explanations about the cause of our economic crisis focus on the excesses of Wall Street, and rightly so. Be they derivatives, short sales, credit default swaps, or mortgage bundling, the many financial “products” invented to create profits out of thin air brought us to the brink of a great depression, where we still precariously stand.

Economist Raj Patel describes these financial instruments and other follies of the neo-liberal economic model in his newest book, The Value of Nothing. Citing such sources as the guru of neo-liberalism himself, Alan Greenspan, Patel ably deconstructs the myth of Chicago-school economics – the model that has ruled conventional wisdom and American foreign and domestic policies over the past fifty years – that deregulation of markets for the benefit of corporations is the best way to manage the world’s economy.

Early in the book, Patel quotes Alan Greenspan during a hearing before the House Oversight Committee. Not long after the stock market lost half its value in the fall of 2008, Greenspan was called to testify about what went wrong. When prodded by Chairman Henry Waxman about why the market failed, despite the conventional wisdom that “free competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies,” Greenspan responded that he “found a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak”.

Certainly surprised at such a candid admittance, Waxman reiterated to Greenspan what he thought he heard. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working.” But even more surprising in this exchange was Greenspan’s agreement with Waxman’s analysis. “Precisely. That is precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

As Patel explains, this was no small exchange in an obscure hearing room in the Capital. This was the Don himself, the head of the Federal Reserve admitting that the economic system that had created the financial bubble, that had dismantled the American manufacturing sector over a generation, that had dramatically shifted wealth into fewer and fewer hands was in fact unsustainable and flawed.

But more than just review the theories of economists – including Adam Smith, Eugene Fama, Karl Marx, Milton Friedman, Gary Becker, Polanyi, Barbara Bergman and John Stuart Mill – The Value of Nothing balances the strictly economic interpretation of human behavior with a humanist one. Patel also refers to recent studies by neurologists to help explain human motivation. He quotes psychologists, sociologists, literary critics, philosophers – even Shakespeare – to revisit the dominant ideology that has ruled our modern politics, that deregulation of markets is the best way to rule human society.

The book title is taken from an Oscar Wilde quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Part one of Patel’s book thoroughly examines neo-liberal economic flaws that place greater value on Volkswagens than water. Part two looks at alternative models of political and economic systems that redefine market society in ways that value participatory democracy over profits.

Many of these movements are led by peasants and organized by the poorest of the earth’s people. They are the majority world after all. Nearly a billion of them live in shanties on the edges of urban areas, surviving on the garbage of hyper-consumerism.

Many of the people who are demanding justice and organizing for their common good are illiterate and survive a year on what the average American earns in a week. These movements are not a modern outgrowth of capitalism, but have their origins in populist and peasant’s rights throughout history, such as the Charter of the Forest which was the companion to the Magna Carta and which had provided some basic guarantee of common social and economic rights to medieval Englanders.

Movements like the Via Campesina, the Zapatistas, and others also have their foundation in the International Bill of Human Rights, adopted in 1966 which was actually two treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The movments organize around ideas that should be quite obvious: the rights to have rights, the right to stay put, the rights over the land they occupy, the right to participate actively in the economic decisions that determine whether they will have food, medicine or even basic shelter.

The Value of Nothing is an important book for our age. As our politicians begin the great debate over how best to re-regulate an economic and political system gone mad with greed, none but the most cynical still believes in the invisible hand of markets. Unfortunately, so many of those in power are cynics.

Tracy Kurowski has been active in the labor movement for ten years, first as a member of AFSCME 3506, when she taught adult education classes at the City Colleges of Chicago. She moved to the Quad Cities in 2007 where she worked as political coordinator with the Quad City Federation of Labor, and as a caseworker for Congressman Bruce Braley from 2007 - 2009.

Tracy Kurowski writes a labor update every Monday on Blog for Iowa

Charcoal by Gary Gilmore

Great work Gary! ...

Musial - Stan "The Man"

File:Stan Musial Day 05182008 cropped.jpg
by joe posnansk on Curiously Long Posts Blog


Several people have written in to say that they cannot find the blog post I wrote a couple of years ago about Stan Musial. So I am reposting that story here — this year Musial turns 90 — and, yes, I immodestly include a “Print This Post” link if you want to do such things. It’s certainly one of the favorite things I’ve ever written on this blog, especially because I had to rewrite it after spending hours and hours chasing down the authentic version of the story that appears at the top. Anyway, hope you enjoy.

Stan Musial never got thrown out of a game. Never. Think about this for a moment. Musial played in 3,026 games in his career, or about as many as his contemporaries Joe DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky played combined. He played across different American eras — he played in the big leagues before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, and he retired a few weeks before Kennedy was shot. He played when Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller ruled the Top 40 charts, and he played when Elvis was thin, and he played when Chubby Checker twisted. He played before television, and after John Glenn orbited the earth. And he never once got thrown out of a baseball game.

There was this game, early in ‘54, that year the Edward Murrow went after Joe McCarthy and Roger Bannister ran a mile in four minutes, and Musial’s Cardinals trailed the Chicago Cubs 3-0 in the seventh inning. Cubs lefty pitcher Paul Minner was baffling the Cardinals — he had allowed just two singles, had faced one over the minimum. Then he found himself facing Musial with Wally Moon was on first base and two outs. Musial crushed a ball to deep right field, a double. Moon ran all the around the bases to score. Musial cruised into second. The whole complexion of the game had changed. And it was only then that everyone seemed to notice the first base umpire, Lee Ballanfant, was holding up his arms. He had called Musial’s double a foul ball.

Nobody quite knew how to react. The ball, at least in the Cardinals view, had clearly been fair. It was not even an especially close call. And while the crowd cheered wildly (the game was in Chicago) the guys on the Cardinals bench went crazy. They rushed on the field, shortstop Solly Hemus first, manager Eddie Stanky right behind him, and both were thrown out by home plate umpire Augie Donatelli. Funny thing, Augie would play a big role in Musial’s life. Donatelli would be one of the umpires there less than a month later when Musial hit five homers in a doubleheader. Much later, he was behind the plate for Musial’s 3,000th hit. Anyway, he was here now, taking away a Musial hit, throwing out Hemus and Stanky, threatening pinch hitter Peanuts Lowrey with ejection, clearing the saloon like an old cowboy, even though, he certainly knew, the ball had been fair.

Musial, who in the confusion had not been told anything, walked over to Donatelli. Then, according to the stories, he calmly asked, “What happened Augie? It didn’t count, huh?” Augie nodded sadly and said the umpire had called the ball foul.

“Well,” Musial said, “there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Stan Musial stepped back promptly doubled to precisely the same spot in right field. This time, Ballanfant called the ball fair. The Cardinals scored six runs in the inning and won the game.

The story has been told many times, in many ways, by many people, most famously by umpire Tom Gorman. He seemed to remember that this event had happened against Brooklyn, in ‘52, and he had been behind the plate. He obviously was confusing this story with another, but that’s really not hard to figure. Stan Musial had a lot of beautiful moments. There are a lot of stories. “Stan,” Tom Gorman said often, “is in a class by himself.”

Stan Musial grew up in Donora, Pa., during the Depression. They were a family of eight in a five-room house. In Donora, the smoke and fumes from the zinc factory mushroomed so thick and poisonous that no vegetation could grow on the hill. That barren, brown hillside was a constant reminder that the air was killing them. Stan’s father, a Polish immigrant, worked in that factory and, not too many years after Stan started playing ball, died from the fumes.

Not that a tough childhood explains everything. Still, there was something about Stan Musial that did not let him forget Donora, did not allow him to change — “I’m so lucky,” he used to say every day, more than once every day, so many times that people would roll their eyes. But that seems to be how he felt, ever day, lucky.

Harry Caray, who of course first gained his fame calling Cardinals games on KMOX, would tell the story of a beaten down Musial going hitless in a Sunday doubleheader. The heat was unbearable that day — hell could not be much hotter than a St. Louis summer day — and after the game Musial walked gingerly to his car. He looked beaten down. He looked beat up. Musial never seemed to think of baseball as a job, but a daytime doubleheader in St. Louis might be the closest thing.

“Watch this,” Caray said to a friend as they watched the scene, and sure enough when Musial got to the car, there were a hundred kids waiting for him an an autograph. Stan leaned against his hot car and signed every one.

Musial. People like to say that people have changed. I don’t see that exactly. The world has changed. Technology has changed. Movie and ticket prices have changed. Gas prices have changed,. Many of the rules have changed — the reserve clause is gone, Title IX is in place, they let people swear on cable TV, airplanes and restaurants won’t let you smoke and you can no longer hold your infant in your lap in the front seat of your car. But people? I don’t know. I get a little queasy when I hear old time ballplayers talk about how none of them would have used performance enhancing drugs, and a little queasier when I hear old-time politicians talk about how they always reached across the aisle. You will still hear a lot of people romanticizing America in the 1950s. Those people tend to look a lot alike.

Still, it’s probably fair to say that there was something unique about the time that produced Stan Musial. Maybe in those days people treasured what that thing they used to call class. Maybe they expected their singers to be dressed in tuxedoes, maybe they admired strong and silent types, maybe they liked football players who did not celebrate their own touchdowns or boxers who spoke quietly, maybe they wanted their children to believe in a world where baseball players drank milk and said “golly” and married their high school sweetheart. It seems to me that the quintessential hero today is Josh Hamilton, left-handed power, supremely gifted, fallen from grace, back from the depths, crushing home runs and driving in runners while covered in tattoos that represent a time he regrets. That’s a story for our time, a story about a lost soul redeemed, and it touches our 21st Century hearts.

Musial is from his time. He smoked under stairwells to be certain that no kid saw him doing it. Friends say he drank privately, and very little, Stan the Man could not allow anyone to see him at less than his best. He often said his biggest regret was that he did not go to college. And, yes, he married Lil, his high school sweetheart, on his 19th birthday, almost 70 years ago.

He wanted to be a role model. He seemed to need to feel like he was giving kids someone to respect. That, as much as anything, drove him. Teammates had a standing wager on how many times he would use the word “Wonderful” in any given day. They usually guessed low. He was terrified of making speeches (this, friends say, is why he started playing the harmonica in public) and yet he almost never turned down a speaking engagement. He played in great pain, but nobody ever caught him running half-speed. When he felt like his skills had diminished, he asked for and received a pay cut.

Joe Black used to tell a story — he was pitching against the Cardinals, and as usual the taunts were racial. “Don’t worry Stan,” someone in the Cardinals dugout shouted, “with that dark background on the mound you shouldn’t have any problem hitting the ball. Musial kicked at the dirt, spat, and faced Black like he had not heard anything. But after the game, Black was in the clubhouse, and suddenly he looked up and there was Stan Musial. “I’m sorry that happened,” Musial whispered. “But don’t you worry about it. You’re a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games.”

Chuck Connors, the Rifleman, used to tell a story — he was a struggling hitter for the Chicago Cubs in 1951. He asked teammates what he should do. They all told him the same thing: The only guy who can save you is Musial. So Connors went to Musial and asked for his help. Musial spent 30 minutes at the cage with an opposing player. “I was a bum of a hitter just not cut out for the majors,” Connors said. “But I will never forget Stan’s kindness. When he was finished watching me cut away at the ball, Stan slapped me on the back and told me to keep swinging.”

Ed Mickelson only got 37 at-bats in the Big Leagues, but he has a story too. Musial invited him to dinner — he was always doing that stuff — and there Mickelson explained that he felt so nervous playing ball, that he could hardly perform. Musial leaned over and said quietly, “Me too, kid. Me too. When you stop feeling nervous, it’s time to quit.”

Well, there are countless stories like that, stories about Musial’s common decency and the way he could make anyone around him feel like he was worth a million bucks.

“Musial treated me like I was the Pope,” Mickelson said, and he was still in awe more than 50 years later.

Those were the emotions Musial inspired in his time. He was so beloved in New York, that the Mets held a “Stan Musial Day.” In Chicago, he once finished first in a “favorite player” poll among Cubs fans, edging out Ernie Banks. Bill Clinton and Brooks Robinson, growing up about an hour apart in Arkansas, were inspired by him.

Of course, it was mostly the playing. Stan Musial banged out 3,630 hits even though he missed a year for the war. He hit .331 for his career, banged 1,377 extra base hits (only Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds have hit more), stretched out more than 900 doubles and triples (only Tris Speaker has more) and played in 24 All-Star Games. He had that quirky and unforgettable swing, that peek-a-boo stance, and he probably inspired more famous quotes by pitchers than any other hitter.

Preacher Roe (on how to pitch Musial): “I throw him four wide ones and try to pick him off first base.”

Carl Erskine (on how to pitch Musial): “I’ve had pretty good success with Stan by throwing him best pitch and backing up third.”

Warren Spahn: “Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy.”

Don Newcombe: “I could have rolled the ball up there to Musial, and he would have pulled out a golf club and hit it out.”

And so on. Maybe pitchers felt in awe because there seemed no way to pitch him, no weaknesses in swing, fastballs up, curveballs away, forkballs in the dirt, he hit them all. In 1948, he had his most famous season, his season for the ages, .376 average, 46 doubles, 18 triples, 39 home runs, 135 runs, 131 RBIs. And yet, the thing about Musial, is that for more than 20 years he was pretty much always like that. Four other times he hit better than .350. Four other times he hit more than 46 doubles. He hit double digit triples eight times in all, he hit 30-plus homers five times, he walked more than twice as often as he struck out.

I suspect Musial can never be reflected in numbers because his resume is so all encompassing — it’s like Bob Costas said, he never hit in 56 straight games, and he did not hit 500 home runs (never hit 40 in a season), and he did not get 4,000 hits, and he did not hit .400 in any year. He was, instead, present, always, seventeen times in the Top 5 in batting average, sixteen times in the Top 5 in on-base percentage, thirteen times in the Top 5 in slugging percentage, nine times the league leader in runs created. To me, the best description of Musial through his stats is to say that 16 times in his career Musial hit 30 or more doubles. It might not make for a great movie. But all his baseball life Stan Musial hit baseballs into gaps and he ran hard out of the box.

Here’s the thing: A lot of baseball fans have forgotten Stan Musial. Anyway, it seems like that. His name is rarely mentioned when people talk about the greatest living players. He’s never had a best selling book written about him. A few years ago, when baseball was picking its All Century team, Stan Musial did not even received enough votes to be listed among the Top 10 outfielders. The Top 10.

True, he did not play in New York like the baseball icons, like Ruth and DiMaggio and Mantle and Koufax and Mays. True, he did not break the home run record like Aaron, he did not get banished from the game like Rose, he did not break barriers like Jackie, he did not swear colorfully like Ted, he did not hit three homers in a World Series game like Reggie, he did not glare like Gibson, he did not throw like Clemente and he did not say funny things like Yogi.

No, Musial just played hard and lived decently. He hit five home runs in a doubleheader, and had five hits on five swings in a game. He hit line drives right back at pitchers and then would go to the dugout after the game to make sure those pitchers were all right. He wasn’t perfect, of course, but he didn’t see the harm in letting people believe in something.

And maybe that sort of understated greatness isn’t meant to be shouted from the rooftops. Maybe Musial is just meant to be quietly appreciated. Every so often, even now, you can read an obituary somewhere in American’s heartland, and you will read about someone who “loved Stan Musial.” Everyone so often you will meet someone about 55 years old name Stan, and you will know why.

Great post on one of my heroes ... Monte

Stan Musial - Wikipedia

Mar 21, 2010

Can charcoal save the world? - Boing Boing

Image courtesy Flickr user Doug Beckers, via CC.

Maggie Koerth-Baker at 6:00 AM March 15, 2010

Terra preta means "black earth". More importantly, if less literally, it means fertile soil—created 1000s of years ago out of nutrient-starved rainforest dirt by the strange alchemy of charcoal.

No one knows exactly how Amazonian natives made terra preta, but that isn't stopping modern agriculture scientists from attempting to recreate, and build on, the successes of this ancient farming technique. Using biochar—charcoal created in an oxygen-free environment—they're hoping to improve soil quality and sequester carbon. But first, they have to deal with that pesky little thing called evidence.

Biochar really is a promising product, but we're only beginning to understand how promising it might be, where it would be most useful and, even, how it works.

The best biochar is made by pyrolysis, according to Kurt Spokas, Ph.D., a USDA-ARS soil scientist and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota. Pyrolysis takes plants, animal manure or any other kind of organic biomass, traps it in an oxygen-free environment and heats it to around 550°C. At the end, you're left with biochar, and a mixture of hot gases and some liquids. Condense the vapors and collect the liquids and you get liquid fuel and enough combustible gas to fire up the next batch of biomass.

Advocates have long hoped that biochar—spread over farm fields—would improve soil quality and crop yields, while simultaneously trapping carbon in the soil.

The science on the second goal is a little more clear-cut than the first.

Biochar definitely does imprison carbon, and does it better than normal charcoal, said John Bonitz, a farm outreach and policy advocate with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The charcoal left behind by a campfire, for instance, is chemically made up of carbon joined to lots and lots of oxygen molecules, but is primarily ash and has lost most of its carbon to burning. Like sorority girls in a slasher film, the oxygen is easily picked off by bacteria, which speeds up the process of decomposition, breaking the chemical bonds and leaving the carbon that does remain to drift back into the atmosphere.

Subtract the oxygen, however, and the carbon molecules get tough—forming ring structures that don't easily shatter and are more resistant to microbial attack, Spokas said. Lab research, done by him and others, suggests that these bonds have the potential to hold fast for anywhere between hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years. That means less carbon in the atmosphere. It's also good news for anyone who'd like to see carbon neutral, or even carbon negative, biofuel production. Of course, that's in a test tube.

"There's a whole suite of caveats that come along with those estimates because we can't mimic the natural environment in the laboratory," Spokas said.

In fact, most of what we know about biochar comes from the lab. Spokas' team is one of the first in the United States to start running tests in the (literal) field, as part of the USDA-ARS multi-location biochar and pyrolysis research initiative. However, they've only been at that for two years. Not long enough, he says, to make definitive statements, particularly when it comes to biochar's impact on soil quality. The key question—"Does biochar-infused soil lead to more crops and better soil fertility?"—is still wide open.

But there is some tantalizing data coming out of those lab tests. It seems that, by putting microbial life on slow-mo, biochar also works to trap nitrogen in the soil. Not only does that mean less nitrous oxide—another greenhouse gas&mash;in the atmosphere, it could also mean less nitrogen fertilizer applied to the ground, and less excess nitrogen leaching away into the water supply.

Spokas says field trials will make it clear what types of soil benefit the most from biochar—right now, it looks like the Midwest might not get that much of a boost, compared to, say, the sandy soils of the Southeast. Researchers also want to find out whether biochar alone will do the trick, or if a successful soil stew needs more ingredients.

"Terra preta research indicates that there was kitchen garbage discarded with the charcoal," said Bonitz. "And that would increase the bacteria and fungi activities in the final product."

Ultimately, the lack of information centers around the fact that terra preta is old and biochar, well, isn't.

"Currently all ongoing biochar research is on short time periods, maybe 10 years at most. Whereas, with terra preta, we're looking at the residual effects of 1000s of years," Spokas said. "It's a good inference that we could see some positive benefits from biochar, but we're still trying to figure it out. And if there are any short-term negative effects, we wouldn't see those in the terra preta research."

Biochar Matters - Support WECHAR

Biochar can turn the problems of forest fire risk and water inefficiency from invasive species into opportunities for carbon sequestration, renewable energy, water retention, improved soils, and rural jobs. The WECHAR bill supports sustainable biochar implementation. Do you want to see the WECHAR bill pass? If so, please sign the form at, and pass this on to friends, family, and colleagues.

MIT Biochar Report

March 13th, 2010 at 11:18 am
MIT Develops Biochar Study for Community Forestry Organization
Significant potential to make use of forest thinnings

Washington DC, March 9, 2010—A group of MBA students from the MIT Sloan School of Business traveled to Panama to look at the revenue potential of forest thinnings from Planting Empowerment's (PE) tree plantations. The team spent a week analyzing different uses for the smaller trees before recommending biochar as the most promising option.

A sustainably managed tree plantation can take ten years to produce commercially viable timber. Part of the maintenance of plantations is periodic culling of smaller trees, allowing healthier ones more space to grow. Traditionally these thinnings have little or no commercial value, and are left to rot on the forest floor or serve as firewood. As part of the MIT Sloan Entrepreneurs in International Development Club (SEID) students Lily Russell, Justin Butler, and Adam Rein studied commercial uses for these thinnings with the goal of producing earlier returns for Planting Empowerment's investors. They decided that biochar has the most potential because of its multiple uses and low initial production costs.

"When looking at alternative uses for PE’s wood fiber, we considered industrial fuel consumers (paper, pellets), furniture, a biomass power plant and a few other alternatives. However, we ultimately decided that producing biochar and fertilizer (using the biochar as an additive) were the best fit for: PE’s model, market opportunities and technical feasibility" said Lily Russell, one of the students leading the study. She added "It was fascinating to spend time with the PE team and community members involved in their projects; it gave us tremendous perspective into the social and environmental impact of the PE business model as well as the need for such initiatives. Truly impressive."

Biochar is charcoal that can be used for cooking fuel, heat source, carbon capture, or fertilizer additive. Indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin used biochar - known as terra preta (black earth) - as a soil additive. Biochar can improve soil quality by increasing moisture and nutrient retention rates. Most interesting for Planting Empowerment is its ability to increase the effectiveness of organic fertilizer. Fertilizer producers in Panama indicated that there is strong market potential for biochar.

"Some people are hesitant to invest because of how long it takes to produce returns" said Planting Empowerment co-founder Damion Croston, adding "Biochar could be a way to generate earlier income from the plantations, but is also interesting to us because it has a number of different end-uses. The MIT team did a great job of figuring out how to capitalize on biochar production and how we can use it in our own operations."

Planting Empowerment will begin thinning its plantations in 2011, and will set up a small, mobile biochar production unit to process the tree thinnings. Their goal is to work through each stage of the process - from felling the trees to producing finished fertilizer.

Planting Empowerment (PE) works to alleviate tropical deforestation and poverty through sustainably managed timber plantations. Founded by four former Peace Corps Volunteers in 2006, PE partners socially and environmentally minded investors with community-based forestry projects in Central America. Since its formation in 2006, Planting Empowerment has quickly grown to become a thought leader in sustainable development and a capable on-the-ground partner. PE currently has 50 acres of mixed tree species under cultivation, with plans to expand to 250 acres in 2011.

Biochar Sales -

Photo by bdiscoe
See also: and
Current prices Hawaii:
- Wholesale: $350 per yard (27 cubic feet/~200 gallons)
$300 per yard for orders beyond 5 yards
- Retail: $14 per cubic foot bagged and labeled (for retail stores only)
All biochar comes with FREE inoculation of compost tea and/or fish hydrolysate upon request.
Deliveries available on Big Island. Shipments available statewide.
as defined by the International Biochar Initiative, is a fine grained highly porous charcoal substance.
Biochar enhances soils, and has shown amazing results in field trials.. When added to soils, biochar's impressive capacity to retain nutrients and water can reduce fertilizer requirements and increase crop yields. It can also be used with commercial potting mixtures. Unlike most other soil amendments, biochar can persist with very little decay for thousands of years.
“Soil improvements attributed to the addition of biochar include increased moisture retention, improved air permeability, elevated cation exchange capacity, increased buffering of soluble organic carbon, and synergistic interactions with soil microbial populations. “ Hugh Mclaughlin et al. 2009
Some benefits of using biochar include:
- Increased fertilizer efficiency
- Increased microbial activity
- Increased water holding capacity
- Increased cation-exchange capacity
- Moderating of soil acidity
- Greater crop yields
- Effective Carbon sequestration
!!Crop yield increases of 800% have been achieved using biochar in tropical soils that are similar to many found in Hawaii!! (Steiner et. al. 2007)
Terra Preta
Thousands of years ago, in the Amazon Basin, large civilizations did something incredible to their soils that still remains today. These soils are fertile, dark and drastically outcompete their surrounding soils in plant growth trials. The key difference is the presence of charred organic material (biochar). Exactly how it was made and used is still a mystery but it is apparent that these civilizations put large amounts of charred organic material into the soils now known as Terra Preta. To this day Terra Preta soils are valued for their fertility by farmers and sold in stores by the bag.
Global Climate Change
Release of Carbon from fossil fuels into our atmosphere has altered the balance of our planet. In an attempt to avoid disaster, effective and drastic measures may need to be taken. Energy production and agriculture account for a substantial portion of Carbon emissions worldwide, this is where biochar shines. With modern technology, production of biochar can also produce energy, when the biochar is then applied to soil the net effect is carbon negative energy production. Considering the amount of organic material waste streams in agriculture, forestry, and municipal green waste there is a lot that can be done.
Biochar Websites
International Biochar Initiative (IBI) -
Japan Biochar Association -
biochar-hawaii | Google Groups -
Hawai'i Biochar Notes -
Cornell University | Soil Fertility Management and Soil Biogeochemistry -
Biochar | NSW Department of Primary Industries -

Recommended Biochar Research Articles
(Copy and paste title onto search engine such as Google to find articles)

- Bio-Char Soil Management on Highly Weathered
Soils in the Humid Tropics
Johannes Lehmann1 and Marco Rondon2

- Bio-energy in the black
Johannes Lehmann

- Black Carbon Increases Cation Exchange Capacity in Soils
B. Liang, J. Lehmann,* D. Solomon, J. Kinyangi, J. Grossman, B. O’Neill, J. O. Skjemstad, J. Thies, F. J. Luiza˜o,
J.Petersen, and E. G. Neves

- Long term effects of manure, charcoal and mineral
fertilization on crop production and fertility on a highly
weathered Central Amazonian upland soil
Christoph Steiner · Wenceslau G. Teixeira · Johannes Lehmann ·
Thomas Nehls · Jeferson Luis Vasconcelos de MacĂȘdo ·
Winfried E. H. Blum · Wolfgang Zech

- Mycorrhizal responses to biochar in soil – concepts
and mechanisms
Daniel D. Warnock & Johannes Lehmann &
Thomas W. Kuyper & Matthias C. Rillig

- Bruno Glaser · Johannes Lehmann · Wolfgang Zech
Ameliorating physical and chemical properties
of highly weathered soils in the tropics with charcoal – a review

- All Biochars are Not Created Equal,
and How to Tell Them Apart
Hugh McLaughlin, PhD, PE(1), Paul S. Anderson, PhD(2),
Frank E. Shields(3) and Thomas B. Reed, PhD(4)

- Utilization of symbiotic microorganisms and charcoal for desert greening
Dr. Makoto Ogawa Director Biological Environment Institute
Kansai Environment Engineering Center

- Proliferation effect of aerobic microorganisms during
composting of rice bran by addition of biomass
Shuji Yoshizawa, Satoko Tanaka, Michio Ohata,
Meisei University
Shigeru Mineki, Tokyo University of Science