Wednesday, July 28, 2010

For the science geeks!

Once you visit this link, you will want to bookmark it!


This is a collection of real time images of our world: Sun, Earth, magnetosphere, particles, GOES satellite images of clouds and IR, and so on. The page refreshes every fifteen minutes. It even includes sea surface temperatures and jet stream forecasts too!

Wowza, my hats are off to the guys who put this together-you guys rock!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's summer?

I find it slightly ironic that today is the first day in about a month, that it is not actually raining. Or misting. Or just quit raining, or is sprinkling, coming down in buckets, or has low scud, fog and/or thick clouds.

This past month has just flat......sucked. The past week, the highs have been maybe 54 degrees at my place. A few days ago, I had a whopping 40 degrees overnight. Yes, just 40 degrees! What in heck has happened to summer here?

I mean, I know we do get the occasional summer season where it does tend to stay wet, but this is ridiculous! Last Sunday it rained so hard it stripped flowers off my hanging baskets, left huge puddles in low spots, and sent creeklets running down the driveway. Last night I had puddles in the sand at the arena, and not even the big dog would run and play in that slop. I have not had to refill the stock tanks for a couple weeks now-due to run off from the roof of the barn.

The greenhouse is suffering. The garden is suffering. And heaven knows my mood is suffering too. Bah humbug.

Dozens of green tomatoes, nothing ripe. The corn has stalled for about three weeks now, it needs heat to finish. I have had blossoms on the green beans in their too, for at least two weeks-again, no fruits. I've had aphid attacks on a couple peppers (first time!) despite keeping a fan going for good air circulation. I do have a pretty good crop of cucumbers, despite the lack of sun. None of the specialty melons are going to fruit, darn it. Way too late now, just not enough sun and heat.

In the veggie garden, things aren't much better. The cabbages and cauliflower are going great guns-and I do have some zucchini. In the other side I have green beans which have hardly any buds on them. The broccoli has sat at one size of head for about three weeks now and the brussel sprouts have stalled out also. Sigh. Big disappointment, for all my high hopes. A few days back I managed to get a hoop rigged up for the beans, but its been raining too hard to even try to get visqueen up and over it.

In the barn, the chickens are not flooded out-yet. They too, would appreciate some sun. I do give them a big armful of greens every day. The horses' feet are soft, and the pens are a mess with manure that's been very difficult to get picked up. It's pretty hard to talk yourself into mucking manure when the wheelbarrow sinks deeply into soft slay and mud.

Because of this awful weather pattern, very little hay has been put up locally. Its actually been a very good hay year due to the rain-we just haven't had four or five days in a row of dry weather for the process. I've been waiting on one hay farmer whose hay my horses do very well on....he called the other day, to let me know he hasn't been able to get anything up. I knew that, his weather has been no better than mine. A couple weeks ago I basically ran out of hay, and purchased a local round bale for the horses. It turned out to be very very bad in the center and was moldy enough it set the ponies to coughing something awful. This past week, I found a clean round bale, and they are very happy horses now-whinnying for meals.

On the up side of that, I can use the round bale for composting, now that I have a place picked out for that. Yes, it will mean some work, but in the end, having good compost will be a marvelous benefit for my continually growing gardens. But until then, may I say:


Monday, July 19, 2010

The big news

Continues to be the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. I have done so much reading, so much digging into various websites and technical data...I am overwhelmed with the knowledge I have gained.

First, the bestest website for real data, interpreted by oil industry professionals:

Just about anything you want to know about the Macondo 252 and Deepwater Horizon is there, plus detailed information about Q4000 and the many vessels and support operations in the GOM. Through the many discussions there, numerous wild claims have been patiently debunked, or proven true as the case may be. If you chose, you could pick up quite the layman's education in the technical aspects of fluid dynamics, mudding, casings, cements, and so on. It's a great site, their main focus is, of course, the slow slide down after Peak Oil.

In the first week, I caught a news report that cited that the well had a gas content of around 40%. I thought that was very high...and sure enough, it is. Usually content is in the 5% range for oil wells.

Since then, I have watched (along with just about everyone in America and millions more around the world) as events have unfolded. I have tried to reassure online friends who live along the Gulf that eventually Mother Nature will recover. I point out what happened up here in 89 with the Exxon Valdez as an example. It does not help one bit of course, to people whose entire lives are being wiped out a little more each day.

Weeks ago, I saw video showing oil seeping/leaking from the sea floor-not at the actual well head or BOP. Now of course, that has been admitted publicly. Here is where I think a couple of the real dangers lie, given what I have been able to ferret out from various sources:

First and foremost, the methane. Right now, the majority of that gas is held against the sea floor by the cold temperatures and pressures. How much is warmed enough to percolate through the ocean to the surface? No one knows for sure, but reports are alarming to say the least. There's been talk of a "methane explosion" for many weeks now, and I suppose it could happen. The oil and gas mixture, and the Corexit dispersant have surely created a toxic soup of nasties....many many people are sick. And of course, press is being shut out of this part of the story. Rather like their carefully planned photo ops with the press when a politician arrives with fanfare: The beaches are immaculately cleaned just prior to their arrival.

Secondly, the BOP is not maintaining the pressure that they had hoped for. This could mean several things, but the most likely reason is that the bore itself, or the drill stem, has been compromised. When they capped it, it will eventually find another could be the newly reported seeps, or another place. Some geologists have speculated that there could actually be a sea floor collapse, given the composition of the strata. The void created by the escaping gas/oil could create a "cavity" down hole for that scenario. Or the hydrocarbons could migrate to another area altogether, and work its way to the sea floor miles away. No one really knows.

I have heard some pretty wild numbers when it comes to the pressures down hole there, most of them bunk. Around 11,900 psi is the real number. Since I am curious sort, I asked my hub about well pressures up at Prudhoe Bay. I was surprised to discover that a number of the wells up there run in the 10 to 14,000 range. Very very dangerous pressures....even five pounds of pressure can kill someone, if you are in the wrong place at the wrong moment. I am suitably amazed at the technical expertise shown in coping with these pressures, and particularly the skill of the ROV operators.

Along with all of this, we have the Alaska situation, growing more grim by the day. You've been living under a rock if you don't think our economy is tanking here. Our Gov. Parnell shot himself in the foot last week when he refused to divulge the results of the open season for AGIA until after the elections. For, ahem, "logistical" reasons. Yeah sure, Sean, yew betcha. *choke gag*. What a load of hooey, it is our money at risk here, he should darn well release the information as soon as the season closes-about another two weeks.

Former Gov Palin's ACES plan continues to crimp development of our natural resources, and the Salazar moratorium on off shore drilling isn't helping matters. Did you know, a couple years ago that over a dozen exploratory wells were drilled up there? Last year, one. This year: None. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. Since our idiot comissioner Tom Irwin choses not to allow permits, Shell's plans to go forward with exploration has been halted as well. It's not a good situation when you take into consideration that the amount of oil being shipped down the TAPS is dropping by four to six percent a year, every single year.

Also, BP is about to be pillaged. Most people think they have it coming, and they should pay and pay and pay. I don't necessarily disagree with those sentiments. They are planning on selling off some of their North Slope assets to Apache, another oil field company. BP has already laid off many many people up north (which is not making the local press of course) and their contracts are expiring without being renewed. This means, 100s of idle Slope workers just in time for the winter, which is seriously not good. If they sell off everything, the hats will change but I am still optomistic that operations will continue up there, regardless.

And with that, I will close for now.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A few images from the garden....first, nasturtiums. Nasties are a bit of work in that you need to continue to dead head the older leaves constantly. I have found that the baskets tend to go through two different growth phases. The first growth which takes place inside a greenhouse, produces large leaves and the first shoots and flowers. After around six weeks or so, the older leaves die off, and then comes a rush of newer vines with smaller leaves-but just covered with flowers. Did you know that the blossoms are edible? Yes, they are a colorful addition to the summer plate and are slightly peppery. They also have a nice aroma and are usually covered with bees too. It's a good plant to have near a vegetable garden as it draws insects that will help with pollination.

Second is one of my all time favorites....a rather scarce pansy variety known as "Antique Shades" They may be old fashioned, but their muted colors still draw the eyes as easily as their more flashy cousins. With a relatively large bloom and bushy gowth habit, they are wonderful for garden containers-especially bowls. Like the nasturtiums, these are grown from seeds (they do not winter over here in Alaska) and are fairly difficult to germinate. I am happy if I get a 60% germination rate, and some years it is half that. The colors range from the pale peach pictured above, to a deep rose.

The last photo is of my raspberry patch. The location was one we picked in a hurry when I was gifted with these wonderful canes, and it seems to have been the "happy place" for them. They get plenty of sun in that spot, yet have a little shelter from the strong northeast winter winds. Last year I was sure I had a bumper crop, due to the amount of berries picked. Boy was I wrong! This year, the branches were loaded with blossoms and the bees were having a feast there. You could hear the bees buzzing from six or eight feet away-dozens working them for weeks on end. Now we have reached the point of unripe fruits which have weighed down the branches nearly to the ground in a couple spots. I have a hunch we'll be picking these every other day for a good long while, once they begin to ripen :)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Our summer that isn't

After our scorching temperatures in May, the weather patterns have conspired to give us week after week of cloudy and cool days. Even in mid June, I had morning temps around 40, very cold even for Southcentral. About every ten days or so, we get a day, day and a half of mostly sunny skies and that's all we get.

Because of this, many hay farmers-especially to the west at Pt MacKenzie, have been unable to successfully put up horse quality hay. Farmers around Palmer have been more fortunate due to those reliable Valley winds and a bit of good luck due to geography and a little something called "weather shadow". That's a weather phenomenon where moisture from arriving lows get held on one side of a mountain range or another. In any case, those very few Palmer farms that got their hay up, have probably already sold out. I prefer to purchase hay from a particular farm up north, and while the cooler cloudy days have produced an incredible crop, the weather just has not cooperated to get it harvested. I got a round bale to tide me over and my two are happily enjoying nonstop nibbling for the time being.

All the clouds and rain have had mixed effects on the garden too, of course. I have lots of lettuce and other greens for example, but the green beans (loaded with buds too)and zucchini are very slow-not enough heat and sun for them. In fact, most veggies are running a couple weeks behind normal. In the greenhouse, I have plenty of green tomatoes, but nothing ripe as yet. We've been eating cucumbers for a while now, but even they need more heat and sun to really produce. The corn is showing silks on some stalks but there too, not as many as in other years-the shoots are there, just not up and full yet.

Last night I noticed that I have one baby pumpkin forming (yay!!) but the other winter squashes are just basically sitting there, not growing. From here on out, I will be planting all winter type squash under row cover, no exceptions. It's all a learning curve and I must remember that. Like the old saying goes: There are lean years, and there are bean years ;) Hopefully this will turn out to be a bean year!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chicken wrangling

Nothing like chicken wrangling! This morning I found my smallest chick has somehow or other gotten out. She was happily rooting through the manure piles in the adjacent horse pen and chasing insects.

Yes, yes, I know it's good for them. And yes I don't really like having my chickens penned in the first place. The alternative would be to completely fence in my garden area (and several other beds too, plus block off the doors to my greenhouse) and somehow get netting over all of it. Which would have to be tall enough that a person could work in there too. There is just no feasible way to do this.

So I dropped the dog lead, asking him to stay, and attempted to herd the errant bird towards the gate. She was having nothing doing, of course, and allow me to state that chicks can be quick, very quick! I gave up after a few minutes, and returned to the house. She was caught by my son using our largest fishing net, and put back inside. Then we spent a few minutes attempting to figure out where she'd gotten out. Near as I can figure, she must have launched herself from the roof of the nest boxes mounted inside the chicken coop and right up and over the netting. We hastily made repairs and then we were off and running for the day. Bet you all know what I'll be doing over the weekend, right? Ayep, battening down the netting! Chickens are not that dumb, I don't think, lol

Yesterday evening we had some sun (yay!) and then today we have partly cloudy skies (yay yay!!) so this should help kick the garden and green house into gear. I may even have a cucumber to eat this weekend-over a foot long, I have been waiting for it to plump up. The lettuces have really taken off with this type of weather, so there is plenty to eat. My raspberries are just astounding this year. I have never seen so many buds and fruits (most still green of course) and you can readily hear the buzz of bees from six or eight feet away. Last night I saw easily three or four dozen, busily working the blossoms there.

Thanks to my talented SIL, I no longer have bees nests inside my greenhouse! Yippee! My SIL was a beekeeper in years past, so she knows behavior and habits pretty well. Anyhow, while I winced and ducked, she squashed the small nests for me. Two were empty and one had one single bee in it. We disposed of the papery remains, and so far, no new construction going on. She informed me that bees are typically absent during the daylight hours and its much safer to take the nests down when they are very small. The method won't work on a large nest, or when its cold and/or raining hard.

This upcoming three day weekend will mean extra time to get outside chores done. For example, weeding the vegetables. I have a bumper crop erupting from the holes in the black plastic mulch, so that is first on the list. The chickens will be thrilled to have the greens, I am sure-I've been giving them chick weed from around the lettuce, and they sure squabble over it :) The hardest part will be trying to figure out what is a beet, and what isn't....the carrots are pretty easy but the beets? I had to wait until they were a bit bigger first!

I have some baby zucchini coming along, the cabbage leaves have started to lay down, the cauliflower is about ready to head up, and the broccoli is getting taller every day. So despite this long string of cloudy and rainy skies, the garden is growing!