weekend reading: feeding crows, willie’s guitar, gmo grist

RENDERED A SHUT-IN or thereabouts by winter, I confess to conspicuous consumption: I eat a lot, and gobble up media, too—on topics as diverse as our world food supply and Willie Nelson’s trusty guitar. Recent fodder, both heavy and lighter fare:

willie and trigger

MY WILLIE NELSON fandom is no secret. This video tale (above) of a guitar with “a little more Django in it” that has been his sidekick since 1969 was a hit with me. Great vintage footage of Willie, who will be 82 in April, and a close look at Trigger—worse for wear, but still distinctly resonant.

gifts from on high

BUTTONS, earrings and beads are just some of the gifts crows have offered an 8-year-old Seattle girl who feeds them. That’s Gabi Mann and friends in the video above, but do get the full story via the BBC, including a look at the flown-in treasure collection.

fresh grist for the gmo debate

THIS Foodtank post chides “National Geographic” for lumping the question of GMO safety with climate change as examples of proof-positive issues that science-doubters nevertheless insist on doubting.

I claim no ESP; I don’t know the answer about whether we can feed the world without GMOs. But I do feel certain that the safety issue isn’t settled yet, so I like to keep reading both sides of the conversation, and want to see proper, unbiased research done (not just the kind funded by the chemical giants). I was glad to follow the links in the Foodtank piece, including one to Cornell, which received $5.6 million last year from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to “depolarize the charged debate around agricultural biotechnology and genetically modified organisms,” hmmmmm.

the real price of chemical fertilizer

WHAT’S THE TRUE cost of nitrogen fertilizer, when you take into account the price of cleaning up after it longterm? Food writer Jane Black offers some thinking on a different way of accounting in a new column for Stone Barns Center.

fern sex

TALK ABOUT a May-December marriage (or a really long-distance affair): According to DNA analysis, a hybrid fern from the French Pyrenees is the offspring of parents separated by 60 million years of evolution and from completely different ecosystems (read it via NPR).

the atrazine saga

PUT THIS ONE, from “The New York Times,” about Switzerland-based Syngenta chemical company’s assertion that its atrazine herbicide isn’t banned in Europe, in the “Denial is not a river in Egypt” file. It’s not by any means the first Ripley’s Believe It Or Not story I’ve read on the Syngenta/atrazine beat. A year ago, this chilling “New Yorker” story chronicled what happened when a Harvard-trained Berkeley biologist dared a close look at the widely used chemical.

‘libraries of life’

CURATED for longterm study, natural-history collections of plant and animal specimens are called “humanity’s most important libraries of life” and “the bedrock of our system of taxonomy” in this opinion piece in “The New York Times,” which voiced concern that funding cuts and other issues threaten such irreplaceable treasures.

oh, snow! a happy dance

I’LL DO a happy dance when the snow melts, and winter relents. Apparently young penguins have a different take on reasons to celebrate. (Sorry about any YouTube ads; they’re not my doing.)

  1. Margo Kuykendall says:

    If you like Willie, the Natural Gardener in Austin Texas has a larger than life planting in the shape of Trigger in one of their gardens. It’s big enough that you can see it on Google Earth. If you ever get to Austin, the Natural Gardener is worth a visit. It’s my favorite garden store.

  2. Peter Garnham says:


    The impact of GMOs (genetically engineered crops) on human and animal health is only half the problem. While I have to rely on the few independent studies of those issues, I know from my own personal observations that the severely negative effect on soil life of the pesticides that are associated with GMOs is really disastrous. This is a real threat, not only to humans but to all plant, insect, and animal life on the planet.

    For a farmer to grow GMO crops, there are three inseparable components – the genetically engineered seeds, the herbicide to which the seeds are resistant, and the fertilizers needed to make the plants grow. All three are very expensive.

    Unfortunately, the herbicides and pesticides that GMO crops require are killing ALL microbial and fungal soil life. Those organisms, under normal organic conditions, produce plant nutrients sufficient to support a healthy plant without the need for additional fertilizer. But because the chemicals have killed soil life, the plant becomes a junkie, totally dependent on its next fix of fertilizer. The soil has become an almost inert medium, incapable of supporting plant, insect, or animal life.

    My own observations, through a microscope, of organic and treated soils have proved this beyond doubt. I took soil samples from healthy organic soil, and from an identical soil type a short distance away that had been treated with Roundup. The organic soil was teeming with bacterial and fungal life. The treated soil had hardly any microbial life at all.

    The bad news for farmers is that genetically engineered (GMO) crops have failed to produce their advertised benefits. Crop yields are no greater (and in some cases less) than conventional or organic crops. The cost to a farmer of seed, herbicide/pesticide, and fertilizer are substantially greater, and increasing every year.

    Worse, the market for GMO crops is decreasing as consumers in dozens of countries refuse to buy them. GMOs are banned in 30 countries and 72 other countries require GMO labeling.

    In addition, crops that produce their own insecticide – Bt corn, for example – and seeds treated with neonicotinoids are having a colossal impact on beneficial insects, including bees (both wild and domesticated) and butterflies.

    The U.S. and Canada stand almost alone in continuing to allow and support this destructive form of agriculture, due solely to the influence of lobbyists and political campaign contributions. The White House, Congress, and the regulatory agencies (and some future presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton) have been wooed and seduced by chemical company insiders.

    For the sake of human and animal health, and that of the planet, this must change.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Peter, for your very well-put point of view. I think everyone knows where I stand, since I am a longtime organic gardener who doesn’t even use “organic” pesticides and herbicides let alone synthetic ones, and only buys organic seeds and so on. But I always like to be clear that I am not here to tell anyone with certainty things that are in dispute — and that I like to read both sides no matter which one I agree with, just to get a sense of the evolving landscape under discussion. I didn’t mean to be wishy-washy. :)

  3. Judith Henry says:

    Great offerings this week. Loved the video on Willie Nelson and Trigger. Never knew the back story. And that penguin? Pure joy.
    P.S. I’m thinking you should invest in a pair of pajamas with feet in them. Enough with the cold and snow already. Take care. Judith

  4. suza joy says:

    Oh how I too love Willie, his red sneakers and trigger…Bless u for this post along with the others…PS : Will be doing straw-bale garden next month, considering New yard filled with gravel..

  5. Terry says:

    Wow! Thanks so much for sharing that RS video about Willie Nelson! Really enjoyed it! Very interesting! Never knew about his guitar “Trigger.” And while I’m at it, I thank you for all your gardening sharing too! I do enjoy your newsletter/website, your books and the garden visits at your house! It’s all a wonderful sharing. Informative, interesting and such a pleasure. Inspiring! Many thanks…

  6. jcb says:

    We love Willie. There is an almost life size bronze statue of Willie and Trigger on Willie Nelson Boulevard, AKA Second Street in downtown Austin.

  7. Barbara says:

    New to your website…and don’t live too far away, either…I am a HUGE Willie fan as well…
    Loved the story about Trigger…Last saw Willie this past summer @Bethel Woods…Can’t wait to see him again!

  8. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    Did I just read somewhere recently that Vermont is the FIRST state to require GMO labeling ? Now I can’t find the place where I saw that – magazine? website? newspaper?

    I hope it’s true and I hope all 49 other states fall in line like Dominoes in requiring labeling. Consumers deserve to be able to choose what they eat and this information is important to know.

    If a gardener is uninformed about GMO’s, s/he should definitely look into the issue and become educated. Thank you Margaret for helping to keep the GMO discussion going.

  9. Gaye Sinclair says:

    I found this book very interesting, by an organic farmer married to a geneticist and plant breeder: ‘Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food,” by Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak. Also GMO versus greenpeace, a 5 minute video debate from The Guardian.

  10. Karen says:

    I have 12 hens that refuse to eat corn in the scratch mix produced by a well known pet food company. I mentioned this to the man at the feed store and told him I suspected GMO corn in the mix. I thought he would think I was crazy but he said I was not the first to observe the corn not eaten and he wondered the same thing. Perhaps our bird brained friends are trying to tell us something. He and I chose grains that we were pretty sure hadn’t been tampered with yet to make a scratch mix for my girls. They are much happier and I have less waste of food and money.

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