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State of Siege 28/04/2014

Posted by zoidion in agriculture, Long Emergency, Weather.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Twin Cities ephemera: Another round of rain is lashing at the window just beyond this keyboard, and I hear a roof vent frequently flapping in the wind. Looking up, I can see the spots where, before the deluge began, I plugged in the veggies I started indoors. For the early-season species, which I’d been “hardening off” for a couple of weeks, I figured they could make it through any further frosts. (The average last-frost date is still ten days away.)

It was a bit of extra work–requiring extra push when I was feeling unwell–but I put individual chickenwire cages in place around all of the cabbage seedlings. Otherwise, the rabbits around here would have them chewed down to naked stems within a week.

It’s also good that I’ve been developing raised beds–otherwise, those little plants might be drowning in the rain that’s fallen in the forty-eight hours up to seven a.m. : 2.62 inches.

Perhaps I was too early, though, in putting in sprouting potato eyes, but it’s too soon to give up on those. I suspect the soil was not quite warm enough, even though I’ve been taking its temperature weekly. I was trying to have my potato crop and eat the potato too.

Perennials are showing little more growth than two weeks ago, and no wonder: There have been too few warm and sunny days to heat up the soil.

It’s a slow start to the growing season: close to what I expected.

Earth Day was a chilly one around here, so I layered up for my bike ride to a breakfast featuring some of the efforts–both urban and rural–of the Land Stewardship Project. The piece that I found most striking was about the impact of elder women on land management practices: The contingent of women as inheritors of farmland has been growing significantly, and many of them are interested in conservation approaches in their relationships with inherited renters of their land. And they are not on their own in an unfamiliar realm: LSP has established a learning group that provides resources for conservation leases, and helps in framing conversations with tenants.

In a conversation I had with the leader of the “Women Caring for the Land” program, I heard that some small but measurable reduction in the level of agricultural chemical pollution has taken place in the Chippewa River watershed in western Minnesota–a disproportionate contributor to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Good news, or at least, news of a good trend.

In late afternoon, I attended a rally in the state capitol rotunda in support of funding for clean energy projects and employment. Followed by a presentation by former Oil Drum researcher / writer Nate Hagens at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus: the natural resources and agriculture division. It was a curious experience for me, who, not having been an Oil Drum reader, had only heard his name recently.

I expected the venue to be a lecture hall, but no: just a classroom. No crowd, but a modest group, largely professors and researchers, attending on a reservation-only basis. The intimacy was welcome, and I had the feeling that all of us were cooking individual and collective senses of purpose, as together we focused on the predicaments of our time.

Hagens touched on the emotional: Economic wants feel better than having. On the universality of cognitive biases (delusions are normal), his example being the brilliant Stephen Hawking’s support of notions of humans colonizing Mars. On cultural blindness, as in the widespread failure to recognize that economy is part of environment. On the industrial-age tilt of biomass toward the human-“controlled” realm: The mass of humans plus domestic animals has reached a fifty-to-one ratio over wild animals.

On the turn toward unreal wealth: Uneconomic growth (the financialization of wealth) has been the norm for the past generation. Real surpluses have been replaced by monetary measures of surplus. (Which, to my mind, calls a question: How are reserves of foods holding up?)

Hagens urged his audience to change words and thinking about energy: fossil hydrocarbon (a once-in-human-history reservoir), not fossil fuel (meant to be burned).

It wasn’t until the following morning that I had a chance to have a look at Paul Douglas’ weather blog, and saw his Earth Day message. (I broke out laughing.)

I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like to save money. Skeptics may perk up when they realize clean energy options will eventually put more green in their wallets. Solar power is catching on as innovation causes prices to fall dramatically, but that’s just the beginning.

Last year I traded in 2 gas-powered cars for a Tesla Model S, an all electric vehicle that I charge up every night in my garage. It has a range of 200 miles and is continually connected to the Internet, allowing streaming media on a super-sized iPad-like center console. Software upgrades are sent automatically, making it the rough equivalent of an iPhone on wheels. I’m a car nut, and I can safely say this is the most fun I’ve had in a vehicle in 40 years. The best part: I’m saving $600/year on insurance and my electricity rates have yet to blip upward. The dream is to drive for free, powered by the sun. Some day soon.

Well, sorry Paul, but even this less-than-expert observer can some spot major blind spots and unwarranted assumptions here. For one thing, “innovation causes prices to fall.” Really? From what I’ve read more than once, the drop in the price of solar panels has been due in recent years to massive Chinese subsidies to undercut competition. (But that situation is unlikely to hold up as China runs into deeper economic bubble trouble.)

And the Tesla–you’re talking high-end price that few people can afford. Did you consider the energy and environmental cost embedded in that Tesla? I doubt it. And that “clean” energy with which you’re filling up the batteries each night? A great deal of that comes from burning fossil hydrocarbons. I’d like to see you try powering that Tesla on your own solar panels. I dare say your range would prove to be a good deal less than 200 miles. (Gotta love that “some day soon.”)

I know you mean well, Paul, but I think you’d do well to stick to what you know: weather and, to some degree, climate.

What are the indicators, you may ask, for so much rain here just now? There are several in the relevant lunation charts: the one for the fourth quarter Moon on 22 April, and the one for the New Moon (solar eclipse) on the 29th.

The two main culprits in the fourth quarter chart are the Moon exactly on the ascendant and Saturn near the upper meridian.

4Q April 2014

Moon indicates moisture aplenty, while Saturn represents persistent, cloudy, stormy conditions. The techno-meteorologists are calling it a cut-off low: a lingering storm system, nearly stationary, drawing in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and dropping much of it in the upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes region.

Two more points borne out in the past week: Venus (moisture) in water sign Pisces in the weekly lunation chart is in the same degree as Moon in water sign Scorpio in the season chart. Similarly, Mercury in the week’s chart is closely opposed to the place of Mars in the season chart: a warning of more violent winds.

In addition, the solar eclipse signals an imminent significant shift in wind and weather patterns, particularly (and more dangerously) affecting the midsection of the continent. The eclipse, with Mercury, is right at the lower meridian: The impacts will be most acute through this band of longitude.

New Moon (SE) April 2014

That the impacts are apt to be both large-scale and transformative–let’s admit it, a more pleasant-sounding word for “destructive”–is shown by the pair Jupiter-Pluto across the horizon. (Not forgetting that Mars and Uranus, at right angles to Jupiter-Pluto, are also part of the mix of this “interesting” time.) And for further emphasis on the call to pay close attention: The position of the previous solar eclipse (twelve degrees Scorpio on 3 November) is quite closely conjunct the upper meridian.

There’s short-term good news and bad news about all this rain. The good news is that it will likely erase any lingering drought-touched areas in the state. ( See U.S. Drought Monitor.) The bad news is that it impedes time-sensitive field work.

Taking a longer view: Ancient teachings about solar eclipses in the earth sign Taurus is that they foretell crises in agricultural systems. This is likely to appear in retrospect as the start of a period of widespread inundations–Neptune is tied in closely to the new eclipse degree.

Earth’s productive capacities, upon which all of industrial civilization depends, are threatened. In part, it is because of the play of the elements: “acts of God.” But it is also because the time of the established ways is over. Humans have lately been feeding their burgeoning numbers with energy borrowed from the distant past and the near future; we’ve been living on borrowed time.

It’s a tough time for farmers. And learning gardeners too.


(Do you remember when I identified Venezuela as a country likely to be in particular trouble in this period? It has been. It just hasn’t gotten the overall coverage that the Ukraine crisis has, and no cable network has opted to cover it to the exclusion of all else–as CNN has done with the mystery of the missing Malaysian airplane. You might have to do a bit of searching, but you can start with this video.)



1. Dave Roell - 29/04/2014

I remember potatoes. My father planted them every spring in the family garden. Usually a plot 20 x 20 feet or so, a good third of the garden overall. I remember the seed potatoes, how to cut them so that each part had two eyes. In SW Kansas, we had them in the ground by the end of March. Us kids were paid a nickel for every potato bug we found. Before I got the hang of it, I once stuffed them in a pocket, the better to get my pay. Up until I was ten we lived in trailers and kept harvested potatoes in an early camper shell hidden under the trailer itself. A lot of them were rotten by spring.

Watch out for old ladies and their land. Females have an affinity to the earth (Mother Nature), which, for some of them, grows as they age. In olden times, many of these women, widows living alone, were mistaken for witches, with ghastly consequences. Which is to say there is a real, innate power to older women living on the land that men, in particular, do not know. I will be accused of being sexist, but as long as a woman lives with her farmer husband, she will not develop this sensitivity. She must be a farmer’s widow, as city girls never get close to the land, married or not.

I fear people do not believe me when I say that Astrology is Mother Nature herself, but in fact the two are one and the same. Linking astrology to weather to mother nature is incredibly empowering, in ways we have not imagined.

Let’s throw away Greek and Roman mythology and try this. Suppose women worshiped mother nature (the Moon: men worshiped father sun) and suppose the female-based mythology that was passed down orally included “gods” and “goddesses” – or maybe “angels” which were planetary stand-ins. We would then have a range of planetary deities who created weather, more or less. In other words, and to focus the mind a bit, what planet did Pan represent?

zoidion - 30/04/2014

So, are you growing potatoes or anything else where you are? I’m aiming to get quite a few more (black) currant bushes started here. For the past two years, I’ve had two red and one black, the latter started from a cutting I took from a neighbor’s. Red currant jelly is my strongest homegrown memory from when I was a kid in southern NY; my mom would make it every year, and it was so very good. And the peaches!! Most people have a hard time believing we had really good peaches–though I suppose Georgians would strongly dispute that they could have been good.
As for the absentee farm women, I wonder how far away they tend to be. I suppose they live in nearby towns.
Amen to throwing away the Greek and Roman mythology: a major confusion factor.

Dave Roell - 30/04/2014

Tried a garden here in Maryland, but I was the only one interested. Groundhogs ate the strawberries into the ground, whereupon I chain-link fenced the perimeter. Which resulted in wall-to-wall weeds that choked everything. So now it grows wild maple trees. Last year I grabbed three and transplanted them into the yard. Two died, but the biggest and best survived. Would like to be a gardener, but I’m an indoor dreamer, always have been, always will be.

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