NEWS FLASH: Tiny parasitic wasps may be used as pesticides to protect crops

Tell your local farming buddies…

The group of scientists who sequenced the genomes of three different minute wasp species, say that their work has proven that the bees have qualities, useful for both pest control and medicine. They could even improve understanding of genetics and evolution.

The tiny insects lay their eggs inside larger hosts, including caterpillars. When the eggs hatch, they kill the unsuspecting host from the inside out. Very Machiavellian of them…

The wasps all fall in the Nasonia genus, and they present other gifts too, outside of the pesticidal forum. Like the fruit fly, a common genetic research subject, the wasps are small, easily grown in a laboratory and reproduce quickly, but they only have one set of chromosomes. Singe chromosome sets, more commonly found in lower single-celled organisms, like yeast, is a wonderfully handy genetic tool. It especially facilitates the study of how genes interact with one another. Socialable genes…

The scientists also discovered that the wasps have acquired genes related to the human smallpox virus. This revelation may have applications for the study of evolutionary processes.

Here’s what John Werren, a professor of biology at the University of Rochester in New York had to say about this beesness:

Parasitic wasps attack and kill pest insects, but many of them are smaller than the head of a pin, so people don’t even notice them or know of their important role in keeping pest numbers down…there are over 600,000 species of these amazing critters, and we owe them a lot. If it weren’t for parasitoids and other natural enemies, we would be knee-deep in pest insects…therefore, if we can harness their full potential, they would be vastly preferable to chemical pesticides, which broadly kill or poison many organisms in the environment, including a single set of chromosomes, which is more commonly found in lower single-celled organisms such as yeast, is a handy genetic tool, particularly for studying how genes interact with each other…emerging from these genome studies are a lot of opportunities for exploiting Nasonia in topics ranging from pest control to medicine, genetics, and evolution…”

800 Year Old Apple The Healthiest

It’s called the Pendragon apple, and it’s been grown in England since the 12th century.

“Of all the organic varieties, Pendragon was the best apple variety and contained seven of the eight kinds of healthy components at the highest levels,” said pharmacist Michael Wakeman, who, like most of the people quoted on the internet, does not get specific enough and it annoys me. At least, the sound bites all sound too general. What are the components, man?

ApplesHere’s a little more information I found. The apples were tested for a range of plant compounds which have been linked to reducing cholesterol, inflammation and blood sugar levels. They also had anti-cancer properties, which we’re always for.

And here’s something interesting. The fact that they (organic apples I mean) aren’t grown with pesticides, means that they have to naturally develop more immunity to bugs and pests. Those compounds that the apples naturally develop to protect themselves are the very ones that are the healthy ones. This is theoretical, but it sounds logical, and could prove to be correct with a little more research. We’ll keep you updated.

His findings come just weeks after the Food Standards Agency found little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and non-organic foods.

“This research confirms that while some measures of organic versus non-organic food benefits might appear equivocal, more sophisticated analysis of compounds which are newly recognized as being of importance to good health do show a significant difference.” Until the next study comes out of course.

My opinion is that this is less of an issue of personal health than it is an issue of planetary health. It just seems right that plants should be protecting themselves instead of being pesticided to death, and the planet doesn’t seem to like when people do that too much.

The Pendragon is not available to buy in supermarkets and had to be obtained by the researchers from a private orchard that specializes in conserving old varieties of fruit.

The anti-cancer compounds the apples were tested for are called phenols, which evidence shows may fight the development of lung cancer.

A Picture of an Organic Farm in North Dakota

organic-wheat-500x375They are Duane and Chantra Boehm, and they have a small organic farm.

For people new to this blog, the term “organic” means farmers avoid pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Everything they put in, they grow. The farm becomes an inner nature cycle instead of having input form outside sources.

Of course, they have to fight the same things conventional farmers have to fight. Weeds, pests, lack of nutrients in the soil. They have ways of doing that, of course. “We use tillage and crop rotations to control weeds and crop rotations for soil building and fertilizer,” Duane Boehm said.

They also use crop residues for fertilizer and “green manure” crops such as alfalfa. The nutrients they need for the crops, they grow with other crops. The Boehms are certified as organic growers by the Organic Crop Improvement Association, but they don’t even have a computer. They keep records the old fashion way, and file them away. “We keep track of when we plant every field, what seeds and inputs are used, cultivation practices, whatever,” Duane said. Records are critical to maintaining certification.

However, their farm is not certified chemical-free. “The main thing, is we’re not certifying our product is chemical free,” Duane said. “We certify to how we grow it. In the real world, there’s no way I can prove my product hasn’t been exposed to airplane and wind drift. We certify to our practices.” Those practices are minimizing soil inputs. The only ones he uses, he says, are seeds, and diesel fuel to run the farm equipment.

To help prevent wind drift from pesticides, a 30-foot buffer encircles the farm, and the neighbors don’t mind at all.

On the average, Boehm said his yields probably are less than his conventional farming neighbors, but the Boehm make more money off the grain because of its status. That, and there’s not much overhead costs when you don’t use fertilizer or other inputs.

The Boehms market their products directly to the flour mill after cleaning it, and demand appears to be growing. Some is even shipped overseas.

They agree organic farming is more hands-on and more labor intensive, but, “The bottom line is the integrity of the product. We’d rather not say we’re producing crops. We produce food.”

African Tree Automatically Fertilizes Crops

Plant crops under this tree, and watch your crop yields increase dramatically. The tree has the potential to aid farmers throughout Africa, South America, and much of south and Southeast Asia.

African Tree Automatically Fertilizes CropsThe issue here is nitrogen. It’s a very important component of fertilizer, and is currently provided through man made manufactured fertilizer. It can get really expensive, especially in cash strapped continents like Africa. The tree’s name is Faidherbia albida. It’s one of several trees that can capture nitrogen from the air through its roots and incorporate it into its leaves.

The kicker is that it grows in the dry season and drops its leaves in the rainy season, when crops start growing. The leaves drop with the nitrogen in them, and fertilize the crops below. That is, if they’re planted below.
Three- to four-fold increases in corn yields were reported, as well as yields for millet and cotton.

Why wasn’t this reported before? Other potentials for this tree are that it makes mining for fertilizer less necessary, once you have a natural source that sucks it out of the air and puts it in its leaves. That clears up a lot of pollution and industrial activity that is invested in producing potash, and things of the like.

Spices as Pesticides? Seems Healthy, Tastes Good, Too

pesticide useThe demand for organically grown food is growing, and with it, the demand for natural pesticides. It’s been found that rosemary, thyme, clove, and mint aren’t only good in your spaghetti and tea. They also shoo away bugs that’ll eat your crops. If you’ve ever wanted to eat a pesticide before without having to go to the hospital, eat those.

It’s the oil in these spices that does the job. So well, in fact, they’re called “killer spices.”
“We are exploring the potential use of natural pesticides based on plant essential oils – commonly used in foods and beverages as flavorings,” said study presenter Murray Isman, of the University of British Columbia. To make it into a pesticide, farmers generally put small amounts of the species in water, and the rest is history. The bugs either die, or they’re repelled away.

Farmers are already using the new method, which has shown some success in protecting organic strawberry, spinach, and tomato crops. And unlike other chemical pesticides, they don’t need approval for use. After all, it’s just rosemary, so come on! That, and insects can’t evolve a resistance to natural killer spices, whereas they generally can adapt to a chemical poison after some time.

They even show promise in killing and/or repelling home pests. Flies, roaches (I’ve got plenty of those at home) so take some spice, grind it up, put it in some water and see what happens. Comment. Let us know if it works.
Want some more homemade pesticide ideas? Watch this.

Down Economy Raises Back to Nature Movement

Obama's Garden PlanningThe down economy seems to be pushing us to a simpler and back to basics state of mind, which may turn out to be a good (dare I say it – great) thing. As more people are looking for ways to cut back on those expenses the coming warm season is going to see a surge in home grown produce. This trend was discussed here:

“We’re seeing a lot of new faces, a lot of questions that beginning gardeners have,” said Kathie Simmons, co-owner of G&M Pet and Garden Center. “I’ve had people say I spent so much on green beans last year, they realized they can grow them for quite a bit less.”

The Obama’s gardening plan is also a big push to the growing (excuse the pun) trend:

Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of the South Lawn on Friday to plant a vegetable garden, the first at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II. There will be no beets — the president does not like them — but arugula will make the cut.

The effort will be significant and as a commitment will surpass the Clinton’s rooftop plants to something a little more significant:

The Obamas will feed their love of Mexican food with cilantro, tomatillos and hot peppers. Lettuces will include red romaine, green oak leaf, butterhead, red leaf and galactic. There will be spinach, chard, collards and black kale. For desserts, there will be a patch of berries. And herbs will include some more unusual varieties, like anise hyssop and Thai basil. A White House carpenter, Charlie Brandts, who is a beekeeper, will tend two hives for honey.

Water Crisis

The world is currently suffering a major water crisis. Millions of people in impoverished countries don’t have access to adequate drinking supplies.

TIME magazine is showcasing a series of disturbing photos that deal with this stressing issues:

Water Crisis on TIME

Malaria is a disease without borders

April 25, 2008 was designated as the first annual date to commemorate the fight being made against a disease that strikes and kills millions of people all over the warmer regions of the world. Often referred to as a “disease without borders”, Malaria kills more than a million human beings annually, many of them old people and children under age 10. Malaria has been designated as the most destructive disease presently known to man, and has killed and disabled more people than any other cause since the dawn of history – including famine and warfare. The debilitating affects of the disease causes an estimated $15 billion worth of damage annually to the world’s economy due to lost productivity.

Because of the dangers of this disease, which seems to be on the upsurge in Asia, South America and Africa, the U.N. World Health Organization authorities declared in May, 2007, that a Malaria World Awareness Day would be inaugurated the following year to bring more attention to this devastating disease. And due to so many cases occurring on the African Continent, it was decided to change what was formerly called African Malaria Awareness Day to a world event to bring the problem to the attention of everyone living on this planet.

Malaria is caused by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito which carries four types of protozoan parasites. When the mosquito bites someone, it injects some of these parasites into the person’s bloodstream where they eventually reach the person’s liver. There, they multiply rapidly and cause the disease that brings on severe chills and high fever that lasts up to 48 hours or more each time the disease recurs. Malaria is a virtual “life sentence” for those infected by it, and can recur annually for the rest of a person’s life. Due to it’s severity during an attack, the disease can cause a number of severe complications, including heart failure; and as a result, it is often fatal to small children and people who are physically weak – especially older people, and those inflicted with chronic and acute ailments, such as HIV/AIDS. The most dangerous times for being exposed to the mosquitoes carrying this disease is in the evening hours when the sun sets and the early morning hours before sun-rise.

More than 100 countries, containing 40% of the world’s population, have problems with this disease. The African Rift Valley, that long, often marshy section of Eastern Africa is a virtual incubator for the Anopheles mosquito, resulting in the inhabitants of countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, the Congo, Rwanda, Zambia, and Burundi being some of the most devastated by this disease.

UN World Health authorities estimate that an investment of around $2.2 billion will be enough to control the disease. Although there are a number of medications to treat the affects of the disease, including that age old remedy quinine, the best treatment is prevention which can be had by simply providing people at risk, especially children, with mosquito netting when they go to sleep at night. With the augmentation of a world Malaria awareness day, it is hoped that more attention will be given to helping to control a scourge that has attacked mankind for centuries.

The Story of Stuff

story of stuffFrom extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the “stuff” in our lives affects our world and our communities at home and abroad in ways that are sometimes hard to comprehend. Yet most of this is intentionally hidden from the public view.

The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled, behind-the-scenes look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns in today’s society. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental, health, economic and social issues, and calls us together to create a more just and sustainable world.

It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, it will raise your awareness and it just may change the way you look at all the “stuff” in your life forever.