Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Arctic Jet Stream is Broken!

The Arctic Jet Stream was a constant and continuous ribbon of undulating wind which circled the globe near the boundary between the subarctic and temperate regions.  It was fueled, primarily, by the temperature differences between the Arctic air mass and temperate region air masses.  It also served to separate these air masses, keeping cold Arctic air in the Arctic and warmer temperate air masses in the temperate regions.  The simple fact of the Arctic Jet Streams existence regulated and stabilized the climates in Arctic, subarctic, and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.  Meanwhile the undulations in the Arctic Jet Stream were a predictable driving force in seasonal weather patterns.  As the undulations retreated warmer weather would follow, and when they dipped down into lower latitudes temperatures would drop.

The graphic below illustrates the continuous Arctic Jet Stream band as it existed, most likely throughout all of modern human history.  Please note that the undulation shown along the West Coast of the Western Hemisphere, is not where that particular undulation usually occurred.  An undulation in that position would have heralded extremely cold temperatures along the usually more temperate West Coast.  A more usual spot for that undulation would have been over the US States of Montana and North Dakota, as well as the Great Lakes region, and the Eastern US coast.

Graphic from Wikipedia’s Jet Stream page, where you can learn more about the Jet Stream as it was.

You have probably noticed, that I am speaking of the normal function of the Jet Stream in the past tense.  Unfortunately, its normal functioning is in the past, perhaps permanently.  The following graphic shows its configuration as it is often seen in today’s climate changed world.  Please notice that it has broken up into a bunch of different eddies, with large openings that allow cold Arctic air to move down into temperate zones, while at the same time allowing warm air to reach right into the heart of the Arctic.

From SFSU Jet Stream Page.  You can access real time images of the Jet Stream with a few clicks. 

The Jet Stream has broken up, because of atmospheric carbon loading and the resultant Arctic warming.  There is no longer enough temperature difference between the Arctic and the temperate regions to provide the energy needed to maintain that huge ribbon of wind.  And this means that large Arctic cold air masses and cold winds are flowing into temperate zones while large warm air masses and warm winds travel further north.  Our weather and our climates have become increasingly unpredictable.  As the warm air brings about further melting in the Arctic, this will continue.  Unpredictable weather, unfortunately, is not good for food production.

Most of the food produced and eaten here in the North American countries of Canada and the US is produced on large corporate farms using huge heavy machinery.  Heavy machinery cannot enter fields that have been drenched by unseasonable rain, whether to plant, tend, or harvest crops. Untimely winds can knock down growing and ripening grain and other crops, making it impossible to harvest by mechanical methods.  Further, large scale farming is not adaptable to drought conditions.  Mulching to maintain soil moisture, intercropping to shade the soil, and water catchment from homes and outbuildings, which are very effective strategies for gardens and small farms, do not work for large scale modern mechanized farming.  In addition, the genetic diversity that builds resiliency in gardens and small farm, does not work at all for large scale mechanized farming.  Corporate farms, in order to harvest crops by machine, need the crop to ripen all at once and to be uniform in height, and size; which necessitates there being as little diversity as possible.  Meanwhile, unseasonable warm or cold temperatures can encourage disease and pests, which are actually much easier to manage in small diverse settings.  When there is a sudden unexpected freeze, a gardener can harvest their crops and process them for storage; while everything may be a total loss on a large mechanized farm.  Freezing temperatures, early in the growing season, can also lead to a total crop loss for large mechanized farms.  The machinery used to plant crops is exceedingly expensive, and most farms, even very large farms, either lease the equipment or hire a contractor who owns the equipment. Schedules are tight, and retooling is done between types of crops.  If you loose your field, the planting equipment is now in a different part of the country planting other crops.  By contrast, small farmers and gardeners can replant; or the can interplant cool and warm season plants to begin with, letting the weather choose which will thrive.

Large scale mechanized agriculture depends on the weather being predictable.  The more unpredictable the weather becomes; the more food prices will rise, and the more severe food shortages will become.  Please see my post on ‘Food Riots,’ for more information our current and pending food crises, as well as a few tips on the small part you can play in helping to avert the worst case scenario.

It's time to learn to garden, even if you only have room for a five gallon pot.  Gardens are much more adaptable to changing weather and climate.  Gardening will help you become more food secure as climate change continues to interfere with large scale agriculture.  If you only have room for a five gallon pot, please see this post on ‘The Power of One Turnip Seed’ for an idea of where to start.     

If you have room to do a little gardening in your yard or at a community garden, you might want to consider starting a fall garden, if you haven’t already. In addition to the greens mentioned in the ‘Fall Greens’ post, most root vegetables can be planted in the fall as well.  If your weather turns out to be too cold for seeds to germinate, most of them will come up early in the spring, providing you with an early harvest next year.  

If you already garden, saving seed is a worthy endeavor.  By saving seeds from the plants you grow, you can select the very best your garden offers.  In addition, you can easily produce more seeds than you can use, and then trade that seed for other varieties or from seed from warmer and cooler regions to build genetic diversity in your own garden.  Learn more here:

For those who already save seeds, the idea of managing your plantings and seed saving efforts to maximize diversity may interest you.  I discuss this idea, briefly, in my book, ‘Food Security and Sustainability for theTimes Ahead.  Also discussed in the book, are the ideas of growing a balanced diet in the garden, growing basic herbs for self care, as well as immune system enhancers that you can grow.  The book is available on request from book stores and libraries as well as from many on-line book sellers.

Meanwhile, you may want to delve deeper into the relationship between people and seeds, the ancient history of gardening, as well as embracing some thoughts on maintaining your personal seed bank to foster as much genetic diversity as possible.  A SeedyPerspective,’ is a good place to begin exploring all these ideas.  

Gardening and saving seeds won’t put the broken Jet Stream back together again.  However, it will help reduce your carbon footprint, and provide some food security for you and those you love.  The more we can engage in producing our own food, the more food resilient we will be!


Typos, questions, tips?  Please feel free to leave a comment!


Copyright 2015, Harvest McCampbell, all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share.  Excerpting, reprinting or reposting by permission only.


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Friday, August 21, 2015

Food Riots?

"That's the year they had food riots in Calcutta and Rio and Manila, when the world was finding out that it was easier to produce eleven billion living human beings than to feed them." 

Mike Resnick, in the story, 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm,' from the collection of his work, 'New Dreams for Old.'  This is a work of fiction, however, it is much truer than any of us would like.


 Right now, the world has about 7.3 billion people. It is estimated that we could reach 11 billion by 2060. That is less than 50 years from now. All things being equal, many of our children will still be alive, as will our grandchildren . . .  

"The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 805 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2012-2014." 

"About 21,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. This is one person every four seconds, as you can see on this display. Sadly, it is children who die most often."

Food riots are real.  They began happening in Europe in the 1700's.  However the earliest food riots were more about political maneuvering that  brought about high prices than they were about real food shortages.  Here is a list of some historical food riots with brief descriptions and links to more information:

In 2013, high food prices fueled Egypt's riots—and those in Brazil, Turkey, and Syria:

Food riots continue to happen in our modern world. Rioting and looting in Venezuela this year has become common, over food shortages brought about, at least in part, by politics.

Food shortages are expected to worsen over the next few years, and they are expected to be less based on politics and economics and more based on the fact that, because of high populations coupled with the effects of climate change, we won't be able to produce enough food for everyone.  " . . . the Impending Global Food Crisis is Real and is due to Happen in the next 15 Years."

" . . . climate change is contributing not just to melting ice caps and rising sea levels, but also to drought, food shortages and, ultimately, to global instability.  


What can you do? Eat lower on the food chain. The less animal protein you eat, the more grain is left for other people to eat. Don't eat more food than you need. Don't buy more than you will eat. If you are throwing away uneaten food on any kind of a regular basis, you are placing more demand than necessary on the world's food supplies, which contributes to rising prices, which is pricing poor people out of a place at the table. Grow a garden! The more food we can produce ourselves, the less demand we are placing on world food supplies and the more affordable food will be for the poorest people.  For more ideas on what you can do, check out my book, Food Security and Sustainability for the Times Ahead.

Park your car and grow something!  Please check out my article, Carbon Production = Oxygen Consumption.

Become a food producer.  Now is the time to think about fall gardens, which are the easiest gardens to grow.  In addition to the greens covered at the link below, most roots do well in the fall also:


If you have tips or questions on reducing your demand on world food supplies or starting a garden and becoming a producer, please leave a comment!


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Friday, August 14, 2015

Avoiding Mosquitoes in the Garden

File:Mosquito Tasmania.jpgBit or not?  What you eat matters!

I rarely get bit, but today I did, twice while at the community garden.  These were my first mosquito bites for the year and I spend a lot of time outside.  My main question was "Why?"  Why now? Why am I suddenly getting bit? 

This lament was followed by asking myself what I have been eating that I usually don’t.   I answered myself, dairy including yogurt.  Next I asked myself what I hadn't been eating much of that I usually eat lots of, and the answer was garlic and onions.  Then I did some research . . . .

First I found that mosquitoes are attracted to lactic acid; and dairy products, particularly yogurt and other fermented and aged dairy products like cheese, are high in lactic acid.  

Next I found that eating garlic and onions discourages mosquitoes.  

And then I found that apple cider vinegar also discourages them, and guess what?  I have been off my vinegar as well . . . 

I have always known that eating red meat attracts mosquitoes.  I am not much of a meat eater, which may be part of the reason they usually leave me alone.  I do eat 3-oz servings of salmon 5 times a week, and twice a month or so I usually have some other fish, sea food, or chicken--but I don't eat red meat more than once or twice a year--if even that often.  The science behind this, is that uric acid attracts mosquitoes . . . .

Turns out that people who eat a vegan diet have the highest levels of uric acid.  And it also turns out that vegetarians and people who eat fish but no meat have the lowest uric acid levels. So we can see why I rarely get bit.  I am usually avoiding foods high in lactic and uric acid which attract mosquitoes while eating the garlic, onions, and apple cider vinegar that discourage them!

Food matters!  Here's a quick recap:  Dairy, meat, and a vegan diet can help attract mosquitoes.  Fish, garlic and onions, and apple cider vinegar help repel them.   However there is more to the story, please read the links below for the whole scoop on the other foods you may be eating that may be making you especially yummy to mosquitoes.  No time to read them all?  The secret is that real food is your friend, and junk food is your enemy!  But we already knew that, didn't we?

Taste Horrible to Mosquitoes: 4 Foods to Avoid and 2 to Eat:

Why do mosquitoes like me more than anyone else?

Mosquitoes: What To Eat to Avoid Getting Bitten:

Serum uric acid concentrations in meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans:


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Have tips on naturally avoiding mosquitoes in the garden?  Please leave a comment!


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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Slug Control

When we find damage in our yards and gardens that resembles the poor rhubarb on the right, careful eyes are very likely to discover that the slugs are out of control.  

Organic slug control begins with nurturing the soil.  Soil may seem like an odd place to start a discussion on slug control, but the easiest way to control slugs over the long term is to invite slug predators to do the job for you.  Slugs are at their most vulnerable to predation as eggs in the soil and as tiny hatchlings that live for months beneath the soil surface.  To permanently reduce slug populations we need to think about our garden soil as a living and complex ecosystem.

E.O. Wilson, in the Nova DVD, Lord of the Ants waxes poetic about the soil beneath our feet.  He mentions that most people think of the surface they walk on as two dimensional.  However, he goes on to explain that soil is one of the most complex and most diverse environments on the planet.  In most natural undisturbed ecosystems this is still absolutely true.  But it may not be true in your garden, which Wilson was not considering.  

The soils were we garden have often been compacted, leveled, and groomed to death.  In addition, our gardening habits may work against the soil ecosystem.   Baring the soil to the sun causes oxidation of humus and death to most soil organisms.  Further, chemical fertilizers are toxic to most soil organisms and beneficial insects, and if your soil has ever been treated with pesticides or herbicides the soil environment has been further compromised, or possibly completely massacred. 

We can, however, turn the soil around.  This is important to slug control.  A complex living soil environment will nurture and protect the beneficial predatory insects which will happily devour slug eggs and young slugs.  By improving the soil environment, we also improve the productivity of our gardens.  That’s a double win, more productivity and less damage!

In building and nurturing living soil, we may find we need to expand our ideas of what appropriate soil care is, what we might want to dig in and bury, as well as what we think is appropriate to use as mulch.  To encourage a diverse soil environment, a diversity of organic matter needs to be incorporated into the soil.  This feeds and creates habitat for a self supporting web of life, which will help keep pests in balance and protect our gardens.

This photo is from a hole I dug in a bed in my Hoopa garden, to remove mature parsnips, garlic, potatoes, and giant snow drop bulbs.  It was about 12 inches deep, possibly a little more.  I didn’t work the soil after digging.  That's just what the bottom of the hole looked like.  And, by the way, I didn’t need a shovel, I just used my hands.  The important things to note are that there are different types and different sizes of organic matter present.  And the soil, even though it is moist, is a loose assortment of various sized crumbs.  This is your goal!  Soil that is crumbly, full of air spaces and organic matter of different types and sizes is exactly what plant roots need, exactly what the soil nutrient cycle needs, and exactly what the predatory insects that dine on slug eggs and slug hatchlings need as well.

You can achieve soil like this, easily, and without spending any money.  Everything you need is probably already produced in your garden and kitchen!   This technique is a variation on an old fashioned and little known British technique.  It is variously called garbage gardening or trash gardening, and it utilizes all kinds of organic matter.  In this technique, the garden row is prepared by trenching,  the trench is then filled with organic matter including kitchen waste, weeds, and other garden debris,  which is them buried under at least six inches of soil, and the resulting mini berm is then planted.  My modified version has been named “The Compost Hole Method” by my friends, and just uses planting holes instead of trenches.  Some of my friends have further adapted the technique to their gardens, environments, and resources.  At the community garden where I am now the coordinator, we have re-adapted the technique once again; using wide trenches and probably a full ton of weeds buried under eight inches of soil.  The two photos below show two different groups of tomato plants grown in the same garden, one over the trenched and buried weeds, and the other of tomatoes that were planted in our soil in an area that was tilled, top dressed, and then had finished compost worked into the planting holes.  The tomatoes on the left were grown over the buried weeds, the ones on the right by more traditional organic methods. The difference is amazing!

Burying your compostables including weeds, garden debris, and kitchen waste pays dividends, the very first season!

"Soil both craves life and wants to produce more life, even a hundred fold."  Fred Bahson, Soil and Sacrament, page 3.

Before we get going on the Compost Hole Method, which you can modify back as a method to prepare whole rows or to prepare wide beds, I want to share a little secret with you.  Amongst all the other organic matter you will utilize in building your living soil environment, you will want to include short sections of sticks and stalks. They are the secret ingredient for super powering organic slug control in your garden.  

Many of our garden plants produce strong stalks when we allow them to flower and begin the process of setting seed.  Clip the excess stalks into sections from about 2 – 4 inches long.  These carbon rich sticks provide plenty of surface area for beneficial bacteria, protozoa, mycelium, and other beneficial soil organisms to colonize, and the green plant matter that forms the skin and pith of the sticks (as well as the other organic matter you will be burying) provide the beneficial microorganisms with food.  As the sticks and stalks are colonized and broken down, they often become hollow.  

The combination of this hollow structure and the presence of beneficial organisms creates the perfect home and food source for the tiny soil living creatures that devour slug eggs and young slugs before they emerge from the soil.  These predators will arrive in your garden as eggs laid by their mothers.  They do not come out of their eggs big enough to slay slug eggs.  They need other smaller organisms to devour while they grow.  The hollow sticks, in addition to offering them an excellent food source, also provide them with shelter from larger predatory soil creatures.  Your soil is definitely going to be a jungle of tiny creatures.  But that’s the way it should be, and it will make your work so much easier!

In the post on Slimy Slugs, I mention creating a coarse mulch of clipped sticks.  This mulch of clipped sticks is important to mature slug predators, but now you also know how important it is to include some of these sticks in the soil itself.  An abundant garden will produce enough of this material to provide for both needs, however, it may take a few years of soil building to get to the point that you have enough sticks in production to do both.  If you don’t have a source of fresh sticks and stalks to clip, check out the straw offered for mulching and bedding at your local feed store.  Most straw is actually the leftover stalks from a variety of grain crops.  Look close at a bale, and you should see that it contains hollow tubular stems.  While these stems will decompose faster than most garden stalks will, they will serve you very well until you get an ample production of stalks from your own garden.    

Check the straw out before buying, to make sure it has fairly sturdy hollow stems.  You don’t want hay.  Hay decomposes too quickly, it has very few hollow stalks, and it is full of grain and weed seed that will sprout in your garden.  Be sure to clearly ask for straw and check it out before you purchase it.  Yes, yes, I know I did say that you could do this without spending money, and you can.  It will just take a little longer if you don’t now have fresh sticks and stalks to clip.  The fresh sticks and stalks are actually superior to straw, because they still have lots of juicy plant material that will feed beneficial microorganisms, and those microorganisms will be right inside the hollow tubes where the baby slug predators can eat them while they take shelter and grow.  Sticks and stalks are better.  Straw will help if you don’t have them.  If you don’t have money for straw, just plant extra of whatever you are growing, and let it bolt and flower—your garden can easily produce plenty of stalks in a season or two.  (Weed stalks work too!)

A couple of other sources of hollow sticks you might already have around your yard are butterfly bush and elderberry shrubs.  They both attract pollinators and beneficial insects, and elderberry has the additional benefit of producing berries that are edible and medicinal.  Once well established, both of these shrubs can withstand being cut back severely, and will generally regrow vigorously.  Once you’ve clipped your sticks, you might want to allow them to dry before burying them and using them or using them as a coarse mulch.  Sometimes those short clippings will sprout and root if you utilize them fresh.  That has never happened in my gardens, but I know of other gardens where it has happened.  Another alternative is to take your chances, and then pot any up that start to grow and share them with your gardening friends.  Fresh sticks are better than dried, but dried are better than none at all.  Meanwhile, you may have other plants that produce hollow stems, twigs, or sticks in your garden.  Give them your love, they deserve it!

Ok, let’s quit talking and get to work!  The first thing to do is build soil. We’ll start with The Compost Hole Method, and build some really fabulous living soil. Once your soil will provided a comfy nursery and larder for your slug eating predators, you will want to  attract their parents to your garden.  All you need to know is covered in the post on Slimy Slugs.

You are also going to want some help cleaning up the slugs the beneficial insects miss before they emerge from the soil.  Those mature slugs are the ones we hate the most after all.  Unless you live in the desert, toads and other amphibians are probably your best bet.  You will find lots of information here on creating amphibian habitat in your garden: 

If on the other hand, you live in a warm dry environment, you will want to create habitat for lizards and snakes.  Piles of rocks and downed wood, that have lots of protected and hidden spaces for hibernation, egg laying, and escape from predators are the ticket.  If you have a large garden, you will want to include this sort of reptile habitat in strategically located spots around your yard or garden.  Snakes prefer to enter their lair at the ground level.  Lizards generally like an elevated look out, say two to two and a half feet about ground level, with safe hidey holes directly below their look out. And since snakes will eat lizards, you might want to choose which creatures you want to attract to your garden and design with them in mind. In addition, all reptiles prefer their dens to be located in the sun, and to have flat areas for basking.   Think in terms of creating garden art as you create their habitat.  It doesn’t have to be a messy pile of unsightly rocks and downed wood.  It can totally be attractive, and it can include the odd whimsical element to make it fun for other sorts of garden visitors as well.

Speaking of other garden visitors, many species of birds also have a reputation for eating slugs.  While I have not ever personally found them particularly helpful in this regard, they do provide a wide range of pest reduction services.  Attracting birds for the purpose of getting them to eat pests is a little different than simply attracting them to feeders.  Learn more here:

It is going to take a little time to get your garden environment productive and diverse enough to keep the slugs from over populating.  In the meantime I suspect you will be hand picking, just like me.  I am gardening in a new location and still have lots of work and planning to do!  I use a plastic bag as a glove when hand hunting slugs, and I stash them in a jar with a tight lid. While I forgot to leave any head room in the half gallon jar pictured below (don’t forget!),  I filled it with slugs in about a half hour.  Ugh!  Left in the sun for the day, the slugs were dead the next morning.  I promptly buried them for their nitrogen boost to the soil and to garden plants.  When you do this, don’t let them age in the jar, they create a terrible stink; but when buried the soil forms a filter and the microorganisms make quick work of the rest, there’s no smell at all once they are buried.  (Quick tip, dig your hole before you open the jar!)   

Beware!  Slugs can carry disease.  Before you try this, contact your health department or cooperative agricultural extension and ask if slug borne meningitis is a problem in your area.  If it is, just get yourself a couple of plastic bags that have no holes, use one as a glove to collect the slugs, and the other as a receptacle.  When you’re done, knot the bag closed with the slugs inside, and stash it and the ‘glove’ in the trash.  And be sure to wash your hands!  Slug slime is gross!  Oh, but slug slim is actually good for the soil.  It helps the soil form that very desirable crumb texture and the beneficial soil microorganisms love it.  Slugs are not all bad.  But an over population of slugs is terrible. 

We are beginning to learn to think of the garden as an ecosystem, where all things exist in balance.  The role of the gardener is to steward that balance and in return to be deeply nourished . . .

Questions?  Additional organic slug control tips?  Please leave a comment!


Text and photos copyright Harvest McCampbell, 2015.  Updated 11.20.2016 with a quote and minor edits.   Please feel free to use the buttons below to e-mail, re-blog, tweet, share, or pin this post.  All other rights reserved.