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Pruning Season 16/03/2015

Posted by zoidion in Long Emergency, Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: Astronomical winter is still with us, for a few more days, while meteorological spring has definitely arrived. The temperature hit seventy degrees F here yesterday with a hazy sun, for the first time this year, capping a remarkable weather week that began with temperatures much below average. 

The thin snow cover melted quickly, enabling temperatures to soar and giving way to a few days of ground puddles before the ground was sufficiently thawed to absorb the scanty moisture. So little snow was on the garage roof that the runoff was insufficient to fill either of the barrels placed at two corners.

Just as the thaw started, I had a younger man climb up in the big river birch tree in the front of the house, and take down the trunk (one of four) that was leaning over the northwestern corner of the house. He and his helper on the ground piled the small branches into his pickup truck bed, but they obligingly carried the trunk and big branches to the back yard and cut them into manageable sections. The next day I busied myself in getting them off the ground and covered–in case I get motivated enough to try inoculating some with oyster mushroom spawn. (One takeaway from the seminar I attended last week at Mother Earth Gardens is that birch wood is not particularly recommended for growing mushrooms.)

It was time also, I judged, to prune the cherry tree (variety Mesabi) that’s been on-site for three years. It really should have been pruned at the nursery, if not the retail store. After three growing seasons, it was a wild and crazy-looking thang. I searched and searched in vain for the pamphlet that came with the hardy-kiwi vine plants — I’m sure it included information on care and maintenance for a wide variety of fruiting bushes and trees. So I reluctantly turned to that wild and crazy information source: the Internet.

I watched a couple of how-to-prune videos, and more than one garden-advice site was quite clear that cherry pruning should only take place in the summer, but in the end I decided to trust the guidelines of the University of Minnesota Extension Service: Prune soon before “bud-break.” (Maybe mid-March is still too early, but I didn’t want to be trampling the early-awakening sorrel and comfrey plants.)

So I kept the various principles in mind as I circled the tree — several times — with clippers and hand-saw, eventually removing about two-thirds of the branches and creating two impressive piles on the ground. (I spent some time — and wore out my wrists — the next day in chopping, with a hatchet, the twigs and small branches into small bits. They’ll go back under the tree as mulch.) And I was impressed with cherry wood’s hardness: No wonder it’s valued for fine furniture.

The big weather story is Tropical Cyclone Pam’s devastation of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu (beginning late on 12 March), after hitting the nearby Solomon Islands and Kiribati. As of today, at least twenty-four people are confirmed dead, and over three thousand homeless. In the capital, Port Vila — which took a direct hit from the storm — the Oxfam Australia relief organization reported that up to ninety percent of housing has been damaged, including vital supplies of food and water. Port Vila’s hospital was evacuated because of structural damage. In addition: “Severe storm surge flooding has occurred in vulnerable coastal areas. The extreme winds destroyed poorly-constructed structures and damaged others. Torrential rainfall triggered flash flooding and may trigger landslides.”

I had to look up the place in the trusty Merriam-Webster’s Geographical Dictionary (1997), learning it’s the former New Hebrides island chain northeast of Australia and and north-northwest of New Zealand, and independent of Great Britain since 1980.

The larger islands are volcanic in origin, with three active volcanoes and a major earthquake fault line, and less than ten percent of the land is conducive to agriculture. Even so, more than 78,000 hectares of land have been used of late for major crops including coconut, palm oil (a major ecological impact through the Indonesian archipelago), taro and vanilla. It seems reasonable to expect that the storm has devastated those croplands and, based on reports, triggered severe erosion and many landslides.

Ironically, or significantly, Vanuatu’s president was attending an United Nations disaster conference in Japan when the cyclone struck. As well he ought: Port Vila was recently rated the world’s most exposed city to natural disasters, especially storm surges from events such as Pam.

The susceptibility of Vanuatu in this season is shown by the Neptune Ascendant line passing through the region in the astromap for the Capricorn ingress 2014 (in effect until Aries ingress 2015).


And the situation was repeated for the relevant fourth quarter Moon astromap for 14 March, with the added significance of Saturn now closer to the upper meridian of the season chart and making a very close ninety-degree angle to Neptune in the season chart. (Neptune / Poseidon represents the overwhelming force of tides and storm surges.) Plus Mercury (wind) closing in on the Ascendant of the season chart, and other astrological factors, especially Sun and Moon on the horizon and meridian for the lunation.


Bingo: The vulnerable state of Vanuatu, economically hostage to world commodities markets and tourism, has “won” a game the people likely didn’t want to play.

It seems unlikely that much of what has been destroyed will be rebuilt, regardless of what International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde said in an email statement: “We are prepared to assist Vanuatu with quick, unbureaucratic steps in dealing with the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe and rebuilding the economy over the coming months.”

Ah, but the IMF, unlike Oxfam, is not in the relief or charity business. Welcome to long-term austerity, Vanuatu. The Long Emergency has arrived.




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