Monday, July 26, 2010

Spring Fats vs. Fall Fats

I read an article recently that has me thinking. The article contends that our bodies evolved in a natural cycle with the seasons. Omega 3 fatty acids are prevalent in green, leafy vegetables. Omega 6 fatty acids are prevalent in seeds and grains. In spring, greens are prevalent and make up the bulk of a hunter-gatherer’s diet. In fall, seeds dominate the diet. As a survival mechanism, the Omega 6 fatty acids trigger our metabolisms to prepare for lean months ahead and they make us fat, causing heart disease and other such problems in the process. But when spring comes around, the Omega 3 fatty acids trigger our metabolism to revert to a more active state, repairing the damage done over the winter. We in modern society have a problem. We live off of an industrialized food system , which means that our diet is grain based all year long. Worse, those leafy greens that we should be eating lots of are largely absent from our diets. The average American gets about a tenth of a serving of green leafy vegetables a week.

I typically grow a lot of greens in the garden, particularly purslane, which is really loaded with Omega 3s. Looks like I need to keep up the trend.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Herbivores vs. Vegetarians

Okay, here's today's random thought: Are vegetarians the largest true herbivore ever to walk the earth? Sure, we have had lots and lots of really large herbivores that have walked the earth, but how many of the big ones really have a 100% vegetable diet? Let me put it to you this way: have you ever gotten a bug on your vegetables? Now think about how meticulously we wash them and look them over before eating them. Cows barely look before taking a mouthful. There is even a parasite whose life cycle depends on the fact that large herbivores don't look before eating. It invades an ant's body and takes over its mind, causing it to climb as high as it can on grass to hopefully be eaten by whatever is eating the grass.

So, what nutritional benefit do large herbivores get from the bugs they inevitably eat and, more importantly, is it a source of protein they rely on, or is it just incidental to their diet?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wasps: Friend or Foe?

A few years ago I had a thriving crop of broccoli in my garden. Then the leaves started getting holes. The holes got bigger. I looked for the culprit and found little green caterpillars, probably cabbage loopers. I picked off as many as I could find. I continued to do so for 2 or 3 weeks and didn’t really seem to make any headway. They reproduced faster than I could remove them and removed foliage as fast as it grew. Then one day I noticed that I had finally gotten ahead of the caterpillars. The damage seemed to be abating and I couldn’t find a single one. As I looked over my plants, trying to find any of the little green caterpillars I may have missed, I noticed I was not the only one. A wasp came to the plant and flew over each leaf in what was obviously a search pattern. It occurred to me right then that I probably had nothing to do with the lack of pests while the wasp had everything to do with it.

Wasps are voracious predators of a wide variety of garden pests. While the adults eat a varied diet, consisting mostly of pollen, nectar, and insects, the young are a bit more specialized. They eat insects. Many wasp larvae are actually parasitic, meaning that they live inside the bodies of larger insects, eventually killing them when the wasp matures. This means the adult wasps, many of which are good parents, go out and find large insects to feed to their young, often choosing ones that damage our gardens. An active wasp nest can seriously deplete your pest population in a hurry.

So what is a gardener to do? Well, first of all, if you are allergic to wasp stings, I strongly recommend not taking the chance. I am not allergic, so I let them be, mostly. Most wasps spend a little time on the plants, do their stuff, and then move on. I let those be. I do swat the ones that take a special interest in me, my children, or my food, though.

Let me leave you with one last wasp story. When I was about 15 years old, I got my first pitcher plant, a carnivore that needed a steady supply of insects. It was small, with only 3 or 4 traps and only an inch and a half tall or so. So I put the whole terrarium outside for the summer. I wanted to attract insects, so I put a little piece of peach in the terrarium with it, thinking it would attract fruit flies. I got a few fruit flies, but the fruit was dominated by wasps, which mostly scared the fruit flies away. I was pretty upset about it, but didn’t know what to do. I thought about it for a few days and then looked again. One of my tiny traps had a wasp abdomen sticking out of it. I was sure the wasp would rot and kill the trap, but it didn’t. I soon stopped providing fruit and the pitcher plant did just fine attracting the wasps itself, catching 2 or 3 a week all summer. By the end of the summer my pitcher plant was 3 or 4 inches tall and had 15 to 20 traps on it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Job Search

I have made it a point to not beg forgiveness when I am behind on posts. It is boring to read. Besides, it is my blog, dammit, and I'll put up a post when I darn well feel like it. But this time is a little different. Posts have been sporadic for the month or so because I am looking for a new job. So if any of you know anyone who might be interested in hiring a registered professional civil engineer with experience in both design and project management, and who knows about all the things I talk about in this blog, let me know. I would prefer to stay in Arizona.

Image is an example of a 416 foot long 10 food diameter pipe I designed pipe being constructed.