Insect Army


Sometimes I wonder what people use for brains. The Pentagon is looking into whether insects can be used to spread bioengineered viruses to make immediate (as in within a single season) genetic modifications to plants. Supposedly this would allow the military to take such actions as protecting plants stressed by drought by changing growth rates so they could mature earlier. Also supposedly these changes would only affect the current crop and not be passed on to succeeding generations. Scientists who disagree with the concepts have raised concerns about the technology being used as a bioweapon.
The program is proceeding under the umbrella of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. Colloquially known as Insect Allies, the program would use aphids, leafhoppers and whiteflies to spread the modified viruses. Program manager Blake Bextine dismissed concerns, saying “the program is solely for peaceful purposes, has been reviewed by government agencies responsible for agricultural safety and has multiple layers of safeguards built into the research protocols, including total containment of the insects.”
Bextine told the Washington Post, “We are delivering positive traits to plants. We’re focused on that positive goal. We want to make sure we ensure food security, because food security is national security in our eyes.” In other words, no one would ever use what we’re doing for biological warfare or agroterrorism. Hmm – Marie Curie’s research into radium became perverted into nuclear bombs. César-Mansuète Despretz was interested in the properties of mustard gas from a purely scientific viewpoint. The Germans used his research to create the bioweapon so feared by WWI soldiers.
I find this level of naivete disturbing. It is the height of stupidity to say a potential biological weapon won’t be used because the motives of the original developers are pure. No one seems to be thinking about the fact that viruses are known for their ability to mutate – often very rapidly (it’s called antigenic shift). Once let loose on the world, you have no control over what they may become. The Spanish Flu of 1918 may have been the result of such an antigenic shift, helped along by malnutrition and crowding because of the war. Spanish flu infected 500 million people and killed between three and five percent of the world’s population, most of whom were young, healthy adults. Moreover, you can’t control the insects. Odds are high that these genetically modified viruses would spread into organic and non-GMO crops.
The scientists and bureaucrats call the concept “targeted therapies.” I call it dumb, dumb, dumb.

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Passalong Plants


Indian Chief 1929

Southland 1934

Passalong plants is a term coined in the South. It refers to those plants we acquire because another gardener shares a start, cutting, bulbs or seeds. Although my family doesn’t have Southern roots, we long ago took the term – and the practice – to heart. When we go to visit, we nearly always cart along something for the garden. I’m always on the lookout for new plants. I’ve collected seeds from the local library’s Abyssinian gladioli, from crape myrtles planted on city streets and from annual flowers blooming in deserted vacant lots.
In my own garden, I have:

  • Eucalyptus, flowering quince, coreopsis and wisteria from my father.
  • Lilacs and violets from our first house.
  • Crape myrtle, hawthorn, daylilies and alders from my sister. My most recent acquisitions from her were a huge jade plant, a pinkish-gray succulent called graptosedum and a dozen Watsonia bulbs.
  • A purple re-blooming iris, rain lilies and a coral trumpet vine from a woman with whom I’ve been friends for over 40 years.
  • Iris from my grandmother’s garden. They were her favorite flower and she grew dozens of different varieties. Over the course of her 98-year lifetime, she gifted thousands of iris plants to family members and friends.
  • Mystic Melody 1949

    Natchez Trace 1964

    Currently I have my eye on starts from the Cecile Brunner rose that was planted next to the original house on the ranch my parents bought when I was in my late teens. Since the man who sold it to them had lived there at least 50 years, the rose bush is probably closing in on a century of bloom. Our neighbor just up the road has an iris collection planted by the former owner that badly needs to be thinned, so that’s on the agenda for this fall. One of the leggy tomato seeds I rescued this spring turned out to be a delicious orange cherry tomato, so I saved seeds from several plants.
    What passalong plants do you have in your garden?

    Beverly Sills 1979

    Coral Magic 1979

    Edith Wolford 1986

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    IANS – Vegetable Oils


    Go for the real thing – raw milk butter.

    It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

    When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 100 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS).

    Eating fats made from corn, soy and canola is perfectly healthy.
    Where do I start? First, vegetable oils are commonly made from seeds and beans that are commercially grown with pesticides and herbicides. They are also likely to be grown from GMO seeds, especially soybean oil. None of these plants actually produce ‘oil.’ In order to turn the liquid from the seeds/beans into what is called oil, they must be crushed and exposed to hexane solvents. Then the product is heated to extract the solvent. Next the oil is degummed or treated with alkali, refined again to remove waxes and steam-distilled to deodorize it. Whatever’s left when they get through processing it is called oil. These oils are loaded with Omega-6 fatty acids, which cause inflammation in the body and change the way your cell membranes work (that’s NOT a good thing!). They are full of trans-fats and increase the risk of heart disease and cancer, among other things. There’s evidence that they may increase the risk of asthma and eczema in children, as well as the risk of severe depression in adults. Most have additives like BHT and BHA – artificial antioxidants used to prevent these oils from becoming rancid. These compounds have been linked to cancer, kidney damage, infertility and immune system problems. Sunflower seeds really do have oil, but they’re still extracted with these methods, so it’s really not any better for you. True cold-pressed sunflower oil, in which the seeds are ground and very slowly squeezed through rollers, is OK, but most “cold-pressed” oils are run through a fine grind and a high velocity screw press, which increases temperatures to the point that the heat damages the oil. Much better to stick with butter, ghee, cream, coconut oil, palm oil, avocado oil and olive oil.

    Take a Missouri Approach
    Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum is credited as the person who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. In fact, there’s no evidence that he did say it; however, there is some evidence that it was said about Barnum’s tactics, by a banker named David Hannum. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.

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