Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Back in the land of the almost alive

I was looking at a blog I often read, and thinking it's time for another post there. Then I came back to my own blog and realized it's much longer since I posted myself. I was away at a conference in Yorkton (I know, Eleutheros - a bunch of people in a stuffy room tossing bags of air to each other), and then church and catching up at home, and then Monday night I went down with the flu. Ohh, I was out of practise. Kids handle it so much better. Dry heaves were getting me up every hour until I finally sought the Internet's advice, got past all the suggestions that involved doctors and pharmacists, and found out I should be sipping water. Sleep at last. Nothing but water all the next morning, and then a stagger downtown for some apple juice. This morning I tried a little toast. I'm hoping that the lingering headache is just a side effect of fasting.

The conference was fun, anyway. It's a chance to catch up on friendships with like-minded people - "plant nerds," as the seed-testing guy called us. He described himself and his coworkers as "the lab geeks of the plant nerds." He gave a talk on seed testing procedures and regulations, and how native plant seed just doesn't fit the system. Boring? Not at all! He was so warmly engaging and self-deprecating, and he showed up the ironies of his work so well. Seed testing is done with reference to grade tables, which list particular crops and the standards for each. Crested wheat grass, an introduced species that invades native grassland and excludes other species, gradually simplifying the vegetation and reducing the depth and fertility of the soil profile, is a recognized crop species included in the grade tables. It's a crop, but definitely not something that you want to be planting in a native prairie reclamation project. Green needle grass, a native species widely used in seed mixes for reclamation, is not in the grade tables. So, if you send a sample of a native species - say, northern wheatgrass - for testing, the standard procedure would treat any crested wheat grass in the sample as "other crop," and any green needle grass as a "weed."

He got a good laugh with that example. He also described ways that his company will try to work within the grade tables, using alternative procedures, to give the best representation of native seed. For example, if that northern wheatgrass sample has a lot of green needle grass in it, he will look at grading it as a mix, instead of as northern wheatgrass. His name is Morgan Webb, and the company is Seed Check Technologies Inc., in Leduc, Alberta. The website gives a sense of that same warm-hearted, fun-loving spirit that Morgan showed in person. (A tip for navigating the website: no scroll bars appeared in my browser, but I found that I could just click somewhere in the text and then use the up and down arrows to scroll.)

I showed some of my winter botany photos at the members' slide night, but when Morgan mentioned that seed testers have to take 16-hour government exams and be able to identify roughly 2000 species by seed characteristics alone, well, I was humbled.

Speaking of winter, we've had a bit of snow here (just in time to give us some whiteouts and icy snowpack on the drive to Yorkton), but already the fields and ditches are going brown again. We're supposed to get a high of -18°C and a low of -33°C on Friday, but then right back up to near normal temperatures on the weekend. Normal would be a high of -7°C, but for most of this winter, it's been warmer than that. Darn, I'd take a week of -40°C nights, just to kill off some insects, but I'm afraid we aren't going to get it.

Well, if I can sit up and write this long, I must be feeling better. Time to get on with ordering garden seed. Yes, it's a little late, but not as bad as you might think. I see that our southern friends are already well into growing things, but we really shouldn't start here until around March 1st.

Six days till Garth gets home! I owe him another posting on his website, and I really need to clean up my clutter before I have to share the bedroom again. Okay. One feeble step at a time.


Jim said...


Sounds like you had fun at the conference, many of our friends are plant or animal nerds, and I learn so much from them.

It looks like Peggy & I may be assisting in the Spotted Owl surveys here again this year, which means a lot of night hikes in the forest, not bad work if you can get it.

Glad to hear your bout with the flu is waning, and now Garth is coming home, yay!

Madcap said...

I was wondering where ya got to. Glad you're back in the Land of Bloggerie.

Don't be humbled by such things as seed identification... that's a pretty specific application, and well, I hardly like to say it, but... it's somewhat smacks of .... polygamy. ;-). Who the heck needs to be able to identify 2000 different types of seeds? Reminds me of Solomon and his ravening horde of concubines. Nuthin but trouble!

Sorry, I'm probably missing the point, but I'm more impressed by how well you know and love your little plot on the earth than by tricks of that order.

CG said...

Glad you are feeling better. I'm looking forward to watching Garth come home and how that works. I can't imagine not having the good aspects of husband AND not having the bad aspects too, for a long period of time, and then having to figure out how to negotiate them again. It might turn me into the shrew (Stop that farting! And scratching!) or into Cleopatra (what are you fixing for dinner, and where IS my coffee?). But then, it is always the interpersonal that most interests me.

CG said...

And a comment specifically to MadCap -- I love your comments. I especially enjoyed one recently over at 'Spongecake's place, but I don't comment there so I couldn't tell ya! Yes, why ARE you complaining about W and what the heck good IS seed IDing 2000 species anyway? Although I would like to be better with mushrooms.

arcolaura said...

CG - "why ARE you complaining about W" - was that to me? and does W stand for winter? Well, I WANT MY WINTER! How can I be a tough Canadian if we don't have even one day of 30 below? Seriously, though, I am truly worried about the insects. Sure, if this becomes the norm, the predators will catch up, or we'll find a new balance of some sort, but I'm not looking forward to the adjustment.

Seed IDing 2000 species - well, I suppose that if you want to confidently identify a couple hundred valuable crops and noxious weeds, you almost have to know all the rest to be sure of what you're looking at. It's another of those certification things, which we wouldn't need so much if people traded locally so they could either trust each other or go look over the fence and check out the seed source for themselves.

Madcap said...

Laura, I think if you pronounce "W" as "Dubya", you'll probably make better sense of the whole exchange. ;-) Always happy to keep you entertained, CG!

You're right about the cold killing off insects - the fact that we aren't over-run with cockroaches is one of my Northern consolations. I don't know about you down in the "south", but this far up we don't have any poisonous snakes, either. Another consolation. Short on malaria too, but I suppose that ties into the insect issue.

What I'm most concerned about right now is drought. It's extremely dry right now, and unless we get some good spring rains, it's going to be another bad season for fires. We lost most of a subdivision in this area a couple years ago. The water table is really low.

It's -30 here tonight. How bout you, Laura?

arcolaura said...

Thanks for the well wishes, everyone.

CG - on Garth coming home - LOL! I am not one to be bothered much by habits, smells, etc., but I can certainly lean heavily on anyone who stands too close. Mostly, though, I am just wondering where we are going to PUT him and all his energy. And his opinions. I am doing some mental bracing, preparing to cheerfully stand up for myself. Does that sound like a recipe for disaster? Who knows. I'm hoping Nepal may have mellowed him a bit.

arcolaura said...

MCM - they're now saying -32 for tomorrow night (it never seems to get as cold as they warn in the long-range) but right now it's only about -15.

Drought is a concern here, too (although the fires are not as damaging, with so few trees). I think our water table is not too bad, but with the present snow cover, we're looking at zero runoff. Not a pretty picture.

CG said...

hey hey laura -- sorry, my comments, except for glad you are better, weren't very this blog specific. One of the parameters of blogs and comments that I sometimes violate. Sorry. But that one was to mcm and referenced a comment she made on yet someone else's blog!

I think standing up for one's self, in constructive ways of course, is always good. So is choosing your battles.

We had a drought here last summer, but we've got good water since then.