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Beaver Wars

November 27, 2015

When we bought our farm, we were assured that this pond had never gone dry and, sure enough, it did not during the 2011 drought. This year the water level has increased by two feet. The pond drains out to a small creek to the west side in a heavily wooded area and we have assumed for some time that a dam had been built on that creek, and we theorized that beavers were the experts at work. Now we know. We planted this cypress ten years ago, so that beaver has started a war.
Beaver pelts anyone?

Fear and hate are not American or Christian values

November 16, 2015

In 1972 I was driving a group of actors from Berea College through Alabama. We were touring a production of James Baldwin’s “Amen Corner” to Talledega College. All the actors were black. We were in a loaned white limo. George Wallace was running for president on a segregationist platform. At one long stop, due to construction delays, two men with flattop haircuts were putting “Wallace for President” stickers on passing cars. When all the tinted windows rolled down and they saw a limo full of black people, they played up the process and it inspired David and Francis to get out of the car and confront them. In 1972, if you were openly gay, you were quite flamboyant and these guys were truly actors to the core. They pranced around these men, who could snap them easily, talking a mile a minute until I got out and threatened to leave them. I was a bit nervous but I quickly noticed that the two men were seriously scared. Not only had two black men invaded their personal space, but two gay black men. Fear is the harbinger of hate.
It is sad that some Americans are willing to turn their backs on our values out of fear. Many of these governors, preachers and social media posters claim to be Christians. If Christ and all the early Christians had let fear cower them into a corner like our Texas governor is doing, Christianity would not be a choice we have. They welcomed the immigrant and spread their beliefs to the Romans. And doing so was not safe.
Values are something you don’t just have when it is convenient. Our country has always welcomed the refugee that is fleeing political turmoil. It is even more important for us to welcome people fleeing conditions when we share in the blame.
From before the time that the CIA overthrew Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossaddegh and installed the brutal Shah Pahlavi as dictator in 1953, until now as we try and finish a war against our previous favorite despot, Saddam Hussein, the west has exported war and suppression to the middle east and supplied billions of dollars of weapons that are being used by all sides of each conflict. The fact that most of the young people in the area know more about war than they know about peace is partially a product of our creation.
Of course, we need to know the refugees. Nothing connects most of these Syrian refugees to ISIS except that they are fleeing ISIS. I, too, would flee. Most of the ISIS fighters are not Syrian and many of them are from western countries. Should we now ban Belgium citizens from Texas after they were connected to the Paris attacks?
The desire to keep muslim refugees from entering the US is about hate and fear.
I have many casual acquaintances who are muslim. They shop at my market. I have taught a seminar at an Islamic school to attentive, intelligent children. Immigrants add vitality to our economy and fit in easily in a town like Houston.
My values have not changed due to these unpleasant realities. I grew up with Christian values of love and compassion and they are too engrained in me to resort to hate.
ISIS must be stopped, but hate will not do the job, it will only generate more radicals.
I truly do not understand people who want to punish those who are fleeing these brutal terrorists. One thing for sure–the Americans that harbor this hate of Islam do not hold Christian or American values.
It is anger and disenfranchisement that are leading these young people to terrorism. Religion is only a crutch, where they cherry pick a bit here and a bit there, the way some Christians do, to validate their actions.
It might be best that our response is measured and well thought out. Not an angry attempt to disenfranchise more of them.

Now, as Christmas is approaching, let us remember that Mary and Joseph were Middle Eastern refugees.

Planting non- tropical fruit trees in Texas

November 13, 2015


DSCN0289Non-tropical fruit trees are usually planted when the tree is going dormant, the weather has cooled off a bit and the ground is moist but not saturated. The best chance of having good conditions is late November, December, January and February in Texas. This gives the tree time to acclimate before it starts putting on leaves in the spring. Most fruit trees like full sun, but berries and muscadines can do well in partial shade, and can, therefore, be used as an understory plant.
For blueberries see my earlier post on planting blueberries.
For all other trees, muscadines and berries that I sell:
Remove the weeds and grass in a five foot diameter circle. In the center dig a hole twice as wide and just the depth of the pot or, for bare root trees, large enough to spread all the roots out without bending them. Keep the graft (if grafted) a few inches above the ground. Make sure the ground drains. Fill the hole with water and if it does not drain in 3 or 4 hours you must build a raised bed. Spread about one cup of rock phosphate or bone meal in the bottom of the hole. Remove the plant from the pot and set it so that it is the same depth in the ground as it was in the pot, or even an inch higher. For bare root trees, make sure all the roots are below ground and the graft is a few inches above. Replace the same soil you took out of the hole around the plant, working in another cup of phosphate. You do not want fertilizer or compost in this soil. You want the roots to grow out far and wide seeking nutrients. Water thoroughly. Put five gallons of compost around the tree 6” from the trunk out to 2’. Mulch the five foot diameter area with at least 3” deep mulch. Make sure the mulch does not touch the trunk of the tree, as this will create a habitat for fungus and insects.
The first year they require frequent watering, equivalent to an inch of rain a week in the spring and fall. In the summer in Texas, they require twice weekly soakings the first year.
I sell fruit trees at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. This is the inventory as of Nov.13.
Fertilization schedule

Caribbean stew chicken

October 28, 2015

This chicken recipe is simple. It just has a lot of ingredients. It was in the New York Times.

One large chicken or chicken pieces

Process the following marinade in a blender
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1.5 tablespoon allspice
4 large garlic cloves
1 inch piece ginger chopped
1 medium onion cut
4 scallions roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
5 or six sprigs of cilantro
5 or 6 sprigs of thyme (1 tablespoon if dried)
4 tablespoons vinegar
1 habanero pepper

Cut the chicken into pieces about the size of a thigh or smaller, remove skin and coat the chicken with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

Heat the oven to 325˚

In a dutch oven heat 1 tablespoon oil and 3 tablespoons of sugar over medium heat until foaming and changing color. The resulting caramel will get dark brown. Add chicken pieces to the pot coating the chicken with the caramel. Add remaining marinade. Dust the chicken with about 2 tablespoons of flour, tossing in the pan. There should not be much liquid left, it should be a paste. Add enough water to coat the chicken. Stir, cover and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Let the dish rest for 30 minutes.

Red meat and the WHO

October 27, 2015

I have always been a moderate meat eater. Most of the meat I eat comes from a trusted source. Usually me or a farming friend. I raise chicken and lamb on the farm.
This World Health Organization study condemning red meat is not what the media is presenting.
This is a collection of data from random trials. When you study a group of people who eat a lot of hot dogs or other processed meats, you are probably not studying people who spend a good deal of time in the gym. These studies are based on questionnaires, not, as best I can see, on controlled scientific studies. Do they sit on the sofa in front of a TV while consuming large quantities of sausage or do they eat the sausage after a five mile run? Or even better, do they eat a grass-fed lamb chop with an organic salad and beets after a hard day of farming?
They make no distinction between grass-fed and grain-fed red meat. Meat processed by salting, fermenting, curing or smoking is different than meat preserved with sugars and nitrates.
My father died of colon cancer and I do not take the risk lightly, but I feel that the conclusions made by the WHO are not warranted from the information in the study. Possibly the average American eats too much meat and most of the meat is raised under unhealthy situations. Cows, lambs and goats cannot digest grain well and most are raised in horrible confined situations. Can we connect the stress the animal is in to the quality of the meat? Does it matter that the people raising the animal have no regard for their wellbeing?
If this declaration makes more people choose to avoid the fast food hamburger and forgo the hot dog, it will have a positive effect on the world’s diet. It should help the meat consumer become more aware of the quality of meats, and therefore, should help the small, local farmer who raises meat responsibly.
However, if you read the report, you will find that the conclusions are not good science.

Are you smart enough to be a sheep?

September 20, 2015


I have been approached several times with comments like “aren’t sheep stupid?” or “I couldn’t work with sheep. They are too dumb”. My reply is “It depends on what you are raising them for.” If you want them to do cognitive analysis they do not excel at that. However, with their instinctual behavior they have no use for analytics. They work fine in their social organization without control task or strategical analysis.
It reminds me of a story where the farmer in Africa was raising cattle. He bragged that his cattle were the smartest cattle in the country. When asked how he knew that, he explained that his cattle grazed on the fields during the day and were put in secure pens at night. His cattle never figured out how to get out of the evening pens, and therefore were not eaten by lions. Then there is the horseman who described a horse as smart because it discovered the secret of opening its own pen, got out, got hit by a car and died. “Too smart for his own good.”
We anthropomorphize intelligence, deciding an intelligent animal is the one most like a human?
Our situations are not the same. My ewes give birth on pasture and I just show up one morning and there is a new lamb, all cleaned and nursing with the placenta, a predator attractor, nowhere to be seen.
Some plants are poisonous at one stage of life and edible at another and the grazing animal instinctually knows this. He does not learn it from watching another sheep keel over after munching on a nightshade plant.
The herding instinct, which I have to acknowledge people, especially teenagers, share, helps to protect the individual. However, when adversity happens, like a predator’s smell, they pull together, and do not turn on one another. Individualism is not a smart thing for a sheep. So when I have a sheep that has figured she can jump the fencing and go away from the herd, like Lefty used to do, and eat fresher grass, she becomes vulnerable and I say “Get back in there you stupid ewe”.
They are smart enough to know that when it is 100˚ you should sleep in the shade, grazing in the morning and evening. As Noel Coward penned, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen stay out in the midday sun”. However, I see road crews on asphalt, landscapers mowing, and roofers working on the sunny side of the roof, not to mention the joggers on Memorial Park trails in the hottest part of the day, and they are not Englishmen nor mad dogs.
Sheep are smart enough to adjust their “work” schedule.
Gulf coast native sheep have evolved over centuries and are able to thrive in their environment, both socially and ecologically .
Meanwhile, my sheep are not planting a garden, digging a trench, or listening to presidential candidates.
They just breed and eat.

Jimmy Carter, Habitat for Humanity and Me

August 15, 2015

IMG_3744I met Jimmy Carter in 1998 when he came to Houston to help Habitat for Humanity build 100 houses in one week. Saint Paul’s Methodist Church quickly raised the donations to sponsor one of the houses, but, while recruiting volunteers, we found ourselves lacking in construction expertise. It seemed there were no professional builders or carpenters at the church. If we had needed lawyers or doctors we would have been ok.
I volunteered to be on the crew, acknowledging that I was a pretty good handyman, but no builder.
Never-the-less I was anointed the “house head”, a position way above my head. But with the help of an interior designer, an engineer and an insurance agent as the rest of the supervisory crew, and a great education program that Habitat offered us, 50+ of us met at 7:00 am one Monday morning in June and started building. We worked rotating crews for 16 hours a day and certified professionals (electricians, plumbers and hvac) worked during the night shift.
President Carter came by the site almost every day, accompanied by secret service agents wearing fishing vests instead of suit coats to accentuate the casualness of the situation. Every day that week it got over 100˚.
Volunteers came around every few hours to thank us for being there and make sure we were hydrated and fed, but Jimmy Carter came by to get the job done. After a quick introduction and a handshake, his first comment to me was something like “Do you have everything you need? It looks like you are a few hours behind on window installation, do you need help? Will the interior doors be installed today?” the next day “The sheetrock ceilings need to be hung today. Can you assure me you will get this done?”. He pushed us, encouraged us and motivated us.
We finished our Habitat house on Saturday morning and the doorbell did not work due to an electrical problem. The family was delayed 8 days before they could move in because of a doorbell that I could have fixed, but not legally.
President Carter moved on to his next project and I went back to painting decorative art and watering my 100 square foot garden near the University of Houston.
Two years later I used much of what I learned there and built another house, the one I am sitting in now.
I wish President Jimmy Carter the best of luck in his struggle against cancer. He is my model for outreach, religious values and helping make this world better. I wish there were more like him.


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