Friday, August 31, 2012

The Farmers’ Almanac, Weather, and Snoring Cats

Update October 29, 2013  According to this report, from Accuweather to the Weather Channel and from The Old Farmer’s Almanac to NOAA, Old Man Winter is gearing up for a rough season.

Update August 2013--  The Farmers' Almanac is using words like "piercing cold," "bitterly cold" and "biting cold" to describe the upcoming winter. And if its predictions are right, the first outdoor Super Bowl in years will be a messy "Storm Bowl." 

The Farmers' Almanac, Weather, and Snoring Cats

If you’re like many of us, you sit through the ten o’clock evening news, waiting for the weather forecast, and by the time the sports segment comes on, you realize you spaced right through the 3-D maps, Doppler radar, and the meteorologist in a suit who hypnotized you with terms like “la nina,” “inverted pressure system,” and “report from our school cam in Lone Tree.” 
I call to my wife, “Hey, I’m hoping to get in the garden tomorrow. Did you catch the forecast?”  The Sudoku puzzle in her lap and pen in her hand have been decoys. She’s asleep. I’d check my smart phone if I had one, and I’m not in the mood to fire up the internet, so I grab the faithful tome on the end table next to the couch. The Farmers’ Almanac should be able to help me out, I reckon. Folks throughout the country have relied on the Almanac for more than 200 years to give them sound advice.
Their headline predictions for the coming winter seem a bit broad for my needs, so I look for other clues. Hmmm. Here’s one: “If your cat is snoring, expect foul weather.”  We have no house cat and my wife is not even purring in her sleep, so I’m not sure that helps much. I look down the list. “A fog in August indicates a severe winter and plenty of snow.”  It was too dry for much fog this past summer. I need something more tangible.
This next adage might help. “Trembling of aspen leaves in calm weather indicates an approaching storm.”  If only we had some aspen trees. We have an old oak tree in the front yard, and as I read on, I see something more promising, “If the oak is out before the ash, then we are in for a splash; but if the ash is out before the oak, we are in for a soak.”
I can’t remember what I had for supper let alone which trees leafed out earliest, but I like rhymes, so I continue with this set of weather predictors:

  • Sounds traveling far and wide, a rainy day will betide. 
  • If it thunders on All Fool’s Day, it brings good crops of corn and hay.
  • A cow with its tail to the west, makes weather the best; a cow with its tail to the east, makes weather the least.

Finally, something specific. Now I just need to walk down the lane to the pasture and see which way the cows are lying.  But by the time I tie my laces, my wife is wide awake and asking me where I’m going in my boots and Homer Simpson footy pajamas. “Cows’ tails, huh. Hand me that Almanac,” she says. “I’ve heard that when readers are asked how well these old sayings do in predicting the weather, they get an 80% positive response. But when the scientists study the facts, it’s about a 50% rate. You need to know the weather for tomorrow? I’ll get you a coin to flip. Or wait. We’ve got cable. Let’s turn on the Weather Channel.”
She eventually hands the Almanac back to me, and it’s open to a page of quotes. The first one says, “There are forty kinds of lunacy, but only one kind of common sense."  by dan gogerty (photo from

Friday, August 24, 2012

The War on Weeds: If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Eat ‘em

Five months ago our CAST blog focused on the disturbing comeback of weeds—especially herbicide-resistant weeds. The CBS Morning Show caught weed fever last Sunday and ran an eight-minute segment, The War on Weeds. They interviewed a University of Georgia specialist known as Dr. Pigweed, and he made it clear. Palmer amaranth (pigweed) is more resilient, more prolific, and more costly than anything spawned by B-grade science fiction movies, and our crops—such as cotton—are in peril.
The CBS show continued with a general look at glyphosates, herbicide-resistant weeds, the kudzu invasion, and steps farmers might take—including goats, new chemicals, and other methods. One possibility mentioned by the morning show grabbed my attention. Hand-to-hand combat. Humans may need to step back into the arena and take on these weeds with brute force. The March CAST blog includes a lengthy description of those days when “We’d often start early to beat the heat. Dew-drenched, with mud sticking to our Keds’ tennis shoes, we’d trudge along, pulling most weeds, chopping some, and basically wrestling with the ones that seemed more like small pine trees.”
In the B.G. (Before Glyphosates) Era, soybean fields often had to be “walked,” but the move to biotech soybeans turned the fields into English gardens devoid of that old weedy character. Mobs of teens wearing cut-offs and baseball hats were no longer needed.
The weed comeback might require a return of the bean walkers. Or we could try another solution proposed on the CBS Morning Show. If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em. They interviewed a foodie who demonstrated some salad and casserole recipes that included weeds. I’m way ahead of that idea. In 1965, while trying for a Boy Scout merit badge (not sure which one, but it should have been called “hunger games”), I had to make a meal out of what I could find in the woods. I used lambs quarters and dandelions for the salad.  I probably smuggled some jelly beans in my pocket for back up. I’m not sure whether they would be classified as a fruit or a vegetable.
My wife and I also ate a well-known Midwest weed while we lived in Tokyo. In small, smoky yakkitori shops, Japanese cooks can grill anything and make it taste good. We enjoyed grilled burdock root—then again, we also ate grilled ginko nuts, fish heads, and eel. Maybe it was the sauce. We’ve since dug some burdock from the home farm in Iowa and grilled it. It definitely must have been the sauce.
I’m all for eating off the land, even if it includes weeds, but I can’t imagine dining on the cockleburrs, buttonweeds, and Canadian thistles we used to battle. We’d have diverticulitis in no time. And you should see the size of those Palmer amaranth. When it comes to pigweed and kudzu, we might want to think beyond eating. We need to be armed. It’s going to be survival of the fittest out there.
 by dan gogerty (top photo from; graphic courtesy of Jack Bacheler and Communication Sevices, N.C. State Univ. in Perspectives)
Note: CAST’s recent and influential Issue Paper, Herbicide-resistant Weeds Threaten Soil Conservation Gains: Finding a Balance for Soil and Farm Sustainability, examines the impact of certain weed management practices on soil conservation objectives and addresses ways to mitigate negative effects.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Marlboro Man Ain’t Scared of No Warnings: New Aussie Law Mandates Disgust over “Cool” on Cigarette Packs

In our fifth grade class, Bill had three things that made him seem cool. He belonged to the only farm family that still used horses instead of tractors; he once had ringworm, so he showed off the shaved spot with purplish blue medicine on his head; and he brought cigarettes to school.
Cousin Mike and I joined Bill at recess behind the baseball field backstop for a few hurried, sputtering drags, but my two-puff-a-day habit basically ended there.  Oh sure—I grew up on a farm in the 60s so I tried rolling dried corn silk in paper, but with the touch of a match, it burned faster than a fuse in Coyote’s hand lit by Roadrunner. And some wayward Boy Scout brought a few cigars to Camp Mitigwa, but most of us were too dizzy to savor the experience. A combination of luck and ineptitude kept me from becoming a smoker.
This month, the Australian government adopted more graphic measures to discourage smoking by passing “the world’s toughest law on cigarette promotion.”  The AP reports that the measure prohibits tobacco company logos on cigarette packs and instead shows cancer-riddled mouths, blinded eyeballs, and sickly children.
As you might expect, tobacco companies are gasping and wheezing about the law. They say it violates intellectual property, devalues their trademarks, and would benefit organized crime. “The illegal cigarette black market will grow further,” they contend.
Tobacco is not the only product facing labeling and packaging directives: Which products can be called “organic”? Which products can use the “probiotic” term? Should GMO foods be so designated? Trans fats labels and calorie counts are already with us.  How about salt, sugar, and chocolate warnings?
Many would say cigarettes are in a different league—they certainly aren’t a food. Maybe tobacco companies should just go with the flow. While traveling in the 90s, I met an Englishman carrying a black cigarette packet with a skull and crossbones on the front and the prominent brand name “Death” in stark, white letters. “You’re smoking death,” I chided him. “Right,” he replied. “The company either has a brilliant flair for reverse psychology or an economically fatal dose of truth-in-advertising.”
Of course I hope fifth graders don’t smoke, but I’ll leave it to others to decide about labels and packaging. From what I’ve seen of the Aussie packets, they are visually disgusting.  But considering what we were like in elementary school, the packet photos would probably have been yet another cool thing Bill had. “Hey look, a coughed-up lung. Neat!”     by dan gogerty  (cowboy photo from; cig. pack photo from

Friday, August 10, 2012

Zen Cows, Horse Massage Therapists, and Blind Acupuncture

March 2014:
A suit filed against the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Board challenges a requirement that animal massage therapists must be veterinarians.
As this article from Beef Online explains, veterinary acupuncture, based on scientific research and measurable results, has proven to be beneficial and profitable across the country.
In an earlier blog (below), I consider the techniques of...

A Midwest Veterinarian Who Sticks Pins in Bulls and a Blind Japanese Acupuncturist

Roy Schnell must be one cool character—he adjusts the bones of bulls that have neck injuries, and he sticks needles into horses. The Nebraska veterinarian uses chiropractic and acupuncture techniques, along with the usual vet medical treatments. He says these exotic methods don’t replace traditional medicine, but he maintains they can be a huge benefit.
Veterinarian Roy Schnell using acupuncture on a horse
I remember the adages I grew up with on the farm: Never stand behind a horse—let alone stick a needle in it; and never get in a pen with a bull—especially if he is suffering from neck pain.
But Schnell is trained in both chiropracty and acupuncture, so he knows how to apply pressure and adjust vertebrae to improve an animal’s comfort zone. He believes that by targeting specific points and nerves, even the immune system can be favorably stimulated. I don’t know if Schnell ever uses the word “zen” to describe the type of preventative acupuncture he advocates, but he does speak of sending electrical impulses through the needles to stimulate nerves and reduce stress in livestock.
Schnell performs most of his acupuncture on horses, but he thinks it will also benefit cows. I agree, although I have to say from personal experience, I empathize with any horse or cow that feels spooked when a man with a needle approaches.
Eighteen years ago, while I was teaching in Tokyo, I pinched some nerves in my neck and shoulder, so I asked the school nurse for advice. Atsuko knew the local medical scene, and when she recommended a chiropractor, I ignored my irrational fear of an Igor neck snap (or is it Eye-gor?). The chiro was good, and I didn’t hear any ominous crunches, but the treatments didn’t end my shoulder discomfort.
Atsuko was also a trusted friend, so when she next made an appointment for me with a famed acupuncturist, I said—with fear and foreboding—OK. Atsuko added, “Oh, by the way. The acupuncturist is blind. But he is very skilled. Nothing to worry about.”
She was right, of course. The doctor had an assistant, but he located the pressure points by sense of feel—and maybe some type of inherent samurai intuition. I was lying face down with needles going into my neck, shoulder, and back. At first I was as high-strung as a horse near open flame, but soon I relaxed and decided the experience was more zen than pin cushion. Speaking of fire, the doctor also used a technique called moxibustion. A few special needles had cups on top, like inverted thimbles. He placed a moss-like herb in the cup, and the assistant lit it. The heat radiated through the needle into my nerves. At least I wasn’t worrying about my shoulder anymore.
A week or so later I was fine—or at least that’s what I told Atsuko. I was not going to find out who she would recommend next. Both my treatments had probably helped in some form.
Whatever the case, Doc Schnell, the chiro-acupuncturist vet, has my admiration. If he can get a horse to stand still while it goes under his acupuncture needles, he is gifted. If he can adjust a cantankerous bull’s aching neck, he must be brave. Now if he pulls out the moxibustion and starts lighting moss on that bull’s neck, I want to be there to see what the bull’s idea of zen really is. by dan gogerty
Check out Stephanie Smolek’s article about Roy Schnell; her article and the photo above come from the Cattle Business Weekly.