Sustaining the Okanagan 13: Public Hardwood Lumber Woodlots

Plant a maple tree. Plant it beside a road.P1180856

Roads collect water. Roads shed water. Ditches, which line roads, collect water. Or maybe they’re just barren spaces, and just for show and meeting government regulations, but great for gophers, yes. Yes, great for gophers. (Note: Don’t worry. I didn’t fall over. I was just lurching. Don’t know why.)

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Or rocks. You could get all up-to-date, low-maintenance, weedless, hip and modern. It’ll cost a fortune, I know, but with dump trucks and loaders and diesel engines all over the place, which is fun, and, bonus, you’ll never have to do a thing again, ever.  Ever. Ever ever ever.

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Well, maybe not weedless.

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Maybe rocks collect dust and water and seeds, which is the whole point of rocks.

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Well, forget the ditches, then. Just do the whole yard in gravel. That way you won’t have to mow.

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Oh, right. Gravel is small rocks. Rocks and dust and water and seed all have a thing going. Shoot.

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So, back to basics.

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Plant a maple seed. After all, a road is just a big long rock, that collects dust and water and seeds. You can help, right? In a dry climate, where water gets more expensive and harder to source every year, why don’t we do away with ditches that don’t ditch and plant trees that take all that water away. I know, I know, they’re going to look pretty great and be full of orioles and gold finches and blue birds, but, hey, trees are like rocks. They collect things.

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For the cost of a handful of maple seeds, our grandchildren will have a hardwood lumber industry. No irrigation required. The choice is clear: either no labour with that or hours of weed whacking every year with this:

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And gophers eating your carrots. Sustainability is not hard. It’s often the easiest thing of all.

Giving the Children Water: The Bigger Educational Picture

Last night, I wrote about the benefits of environmental transformation that could come through the simple mechanism of attaching a wetland to every school in the Okanagan. It’s worth elaborating on, because the concept is vital. So, let’s dive in.

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1.Why schools?

In the culture politically and socially dominant in the Okanagan Valley today, it is commonly accepted that schools are where children will be educated, that they will be educated in groups, along certain subject areas, and by professional teachers. In many cases, the work done in these schools is inspired. In many cases, the children who go there are inspired. Nonetheless, these institutions embody cultural choices, not human verities, and they come with costs.

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2. What about classrooms ?

Culturally, schools today are divided into a number of rooms, each with approximately 30 students, a professional teacher, and, depending on the class mix, one or more assistants to help with students unable to thrive independently in the classroom environment. The goal of the classrooms is to help each student realize their full individual potential, with oversight from a professional trained in multiple modes of learning, with time to adapt instruction to the individual needs of each child. The goal is also to make this process affordable for society, by grouping students together for this work. Much of classroom time is accordingly spent managing the social dynamics of this concentration of students within this particular instructional model. This is one of the costs and benefits of the system: so much attention is devoted to social dynamics that they become a prime educational tool and even a goal of the educational process. The assumption is that the social skills learned in this immersive process will be expressed in the adult society of which the students will ultimately be a part. That is all admirable. Nonetheless, these rooms do a few other things: they divide children into manageable groups, they align them by age and subject of study, they often place adults in positions of authority, curriculum is set at a distance (not in particulars but structurally), and they are reliant on imported representations of the world: books, videos, reports, tweets, photographs, and so on. This is a cultural choice, not a human verity. It is also not the cultural choice of traditional (Syilx) cultures in this valley.

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3. What is this cultural choice?

The cultural choice is ultimately scientific. It employs the profoundly powerful scientific method of breaking unified experience down into abstract categories, which can be simplified to a high degree, logically understood, and reassembled into new world views with a bias towards intervention, management, and industrialization. Given that Okanagan culture is a part of a larger capitalist culture, ultimately these world views are developed in order to be capitalized, either as public infrastructure or for private profit. It is a model that matches the classroom model.

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4. What about “culture”?

Indeed. Much of contemporary Okanagan understanding of how water, wind, air, soil and sun work in the valley is based upon the detailed work and powerful methods of this approach. Much of contemporary Okanagan art and literature is also based on this method. A typical poem within the valley’s dominant culture, for example, dissects or reimagines experience, “proves” it with personal observation, and  ends in a moment of transcendance, in which this dissection, reimagination and presence is unified in a powerful image of the living, unified earth, as an expression of human understanding, or of urban space unified with logical understanding. These objects can be very moving. Then they end.

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5. What’s wrong with that?

This particular cultural choice does not allow for points of view which start at the moment of unity, because that moment goes against the basic principle of the cultural method: to take things apart so that they can be put together in a new form. In other words, this cultural choice transgresses the root understandings of syilx (indigenous) culture and teaches in the main a process of dissection, coupled with a creative process of reassembly, which uses two materials: dissected material and human physical experience. This is a perfect map of colonial experience. It contains profound, innately racist social choices which are, at least, essential to talk about, if Canada, and the Okanagan, are to be unified societies. If they are to be disunitied societies, God help us all. Furthermore, if the method is displaying itself in these subjects in this way it is likely doing so in science as well.

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7. Why Syilx?

Apart from the essential point, that a study of the culture that grew up with this landscape and maintained it for 4,000 years, in schooling situations that did not centre around classrooms, would be invaluable for the continued sustainability of human culture in this place, and the secondary point that the current lack of productivity of the natural landscapes reflects a 160-year-old turning-away from such knowledge, syilx culture is an invaluable doorway for fulfilling the current directives of the Ministry of Education of British Columbia for mandated inclusion of First Nations knowledge into the schooling curriculum. Applying a non-classroom model, centred around wetlands, would fulfill a major part of this mandate. Other benefits of a wetland-based learning area would connect the wetland with culture, history, environment, food production, and understandings of the relationships between people and the earth. Not only would such a model fulfill the Ministry’s mandate, but it would fulfill many other areas of education at the same time, without descending to a special class on Indigenous studies, without significant opportunities for it to enrich the conversation of the school with society as a whole. Besides, have you ever met any syilx people? I just plain like them.P1160057

8. Why a wetland classroom?

Schools aren’t classrooms. Classrooms are schools. Marshall McLuhan said it perhaps best: “The medium is the message.” To translate his slogan into the present, across more than half a century:

Where an action takes place determines the nature of the action.

In other words, if you have water on your mind, have the experience of water as your frame. To explain that a little more, as I mentioned last night, classrooms are courses within schools. What I meant was that the placement of children in classrooms teaches them about classification and abstraction, how to think in groups and how to put their words into sentences. That is actually the outcome of the course. Should an understanding of the environment, the earth, its air and its water, its living things and its rocks and mountains, be a desired outcome, that material has to be brought into the classroom in a broken form, and abstractly reconstructed in childrens’ heads. No one is building a mountain on the teacher’s desk. Better to make it the teacher’s desk.

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Nonetheless, bringing material in abstracted form into a classroom is not entirely a bad thing, of course, because it is one means of teaching invaluable and much-needed abstract reasoning skills. Nonetheless, it is a cultural choice, and does not represent the breadth and depth of responses to and relationships with the environment which we will need to survive here in the long term, or to have a living earth to survive in. This is where the idea of a wetland classroom in every school comes in: if the room is the outcome of the course, and an improved or different outcome is desired, change the room. If we want children to solve our water issues (and, boy, we have them) twenty years from now, it starts with a wetland classroom now. That will be their environment. They will know more than we ever did, and will have relationships most of us today, and most likely almost all of our engineers, do not have. If we wait five years, the outcome will be delayed five years, if not more.

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9. What kind of thinking can we expect?

Well, ultimately I would love every single child to have an intimate, unmediated experience with water that they will remember for their entire lives and which will inspire them towards dance, science, agriculture, mathematics, hydrology, family life, canoeing, literature, urban design… and on and on and on. I want the children to lead us, by their delight and wonder and I want them to have this experience when they are young enough that what they experience is not limited by, or pre-determined by, words and structured experience, whether in film, books, lectures, explanations, scientific diagrams, and so on, because as wondrous as those are, and as powerful and necessary as they are, they should come after the moment that changes childrens’ lives; if they come before it they will determine the shape of that moment in accordance with existing knowledge, and what we need right now is new knowledge. We need our children.We need them to teach us wonder and to help us live on the earth.

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10. What about creativity?

In the book-classroom-dissection model of contemporary dominant culture, creativity is the practice of reassembling cognitively examined segments of continuous experience into a new understanding, which is a way of saying “assembling them into a new self.” That is a culturally-specific process, as I noted above, and not determined by human nature. I went on in my discussion last night with the observation that if wetlands became the natural habitat of our children, as they were here 150 years ago (and, heck, 50 years ago I was splashing through them, too, watching dippers dive under the water and rise out of it again in a splash of light, chasing tadpoles, and marvelling at little minnows frozen in the winter ice.), and surprising things might happen. I can image this, in this dry, dry climate, which is only dry because we have turned our collective knowledge away from the wetlands that stretch the entire length of the valley in an unbroken chain. Here’s what I said:

We could have a wetland city, in this dry climate, 400 miles long. We could work to extend water rather than to extend roads and parking lots, and could work hard to find room, here and there, for roads, as we now do for water.

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First the water, then the water. It’s that simple. We don’t have to reimagine anything — none of our infrastructure, not a thing. We just have to give our children water to live in, teachers to guide them, and let them become the water keepers, like the beaver of Conconully above. There will be time for the hard questions. This has been the time for the vision. P2200975Welcome home.

 

Kelowna: The Inhuman City

At a certain point, when physical and social urban space is continually built out of practical considerations, usually the manipulation of people for purposes of efficiency and budgetary accountability, the city becomes an anti-human space. Witness this image from downtown Kelowna…P1150381

Anyone Waiting for a Public Bus Has to Stare at … Garbage. 

(And walk past it to board the vehicle.)

… the city that defines itself as “The Okanagan,” i.e. the city that defines this …

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(Okanagan, Not Kelowna)

… as itself. We can’t keep making excuses. The city attempts to humanize the space just around the corner from its insulting bus stop with this pretty image:P1150383

Notice how the landscape is portrayed as clothing on a youthful goddess figure, presumably Mother Earth, with apples (pine cones?) for breasts and a waterfall for a vagina, and a sacred rose spilling out of her fingers. Presumably, this …

red

… is viewed in this depersonalized view of Earth-Human relations in the Okanagan as clothing on Mother Earth. This city has a problem. Clothing is a human social affair. Dressing the earth in it is as much as manipulating people. I think it’s the city …

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… that needs to be manipulated. Not this:

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Creating parks is not the answer. It is only an opening proposition in an ethical conversation, and wealth held in reserve until the city can unify with the earth. We need to have that conversation. We can’t keep making excuses.

Eliminate Black Plastic Now

This is today’s post on creating a sustainable Okanagan. Like the others, it is archived above.
Black plastic sheeting serves 4 purposes, but all look like this:

  1. It warms the soil for earlier crops.
  2. It keeps trickle irrigation from evaporating.
  3. It replaces human employment for weed control with profits for the petroleum industry, and rural economies with urban ones.
  4. It makes the investment in an expensive tractor worthwhile (tractors lay this stuff.)

The thing is, at the end of the season the plastic is taken to the landfill, the soil is depleted, people have no income, huge public investment is made in separating water systems so that there is no back suction of fertilizer-enriched water into freshwater systems (yes, every house owner subsidizes farmers on this one), weed seeds in the uncovered strips are laid down astronomically, and the difference between the actual labour cost of growing food and this enhanced cost becomes the farmer’s profit, minus the inputs of supplies and machinery, rather than the profit being the farmer’s labour. In other words, the whole system pays for the supplies and machinery, in order to replace farm-based economies with bank-based ones. That’s simply unsustainable.

Are there real reasons for farmers needing to sell their souls like this? Of course there are. But let’s just look at it: we need to efficiently distribute and conserve water, we need labour costs in balance with prices, we need heat, and we need healthy food and healthy growing conditions. What we don’t need is plastic. It’s amazing that society can subsidize, to the tunes of trillions of dollars a year, infrastructure to move more-or-less unnecessary automobiles …

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…. when the same infrastructure could heat tomato plants, and feed us. Now, I’m not proposing that we ban automobiles or plant tomatoes and peppers in the middle of the asphalt, but imagine if we built permanent fields, using rock to gather heat, and planted tomatoes there. I did it with wood. My tomatoes will be ready in 3 weeks.

Sure, some efficiencies of scale would be lost by a rock wall method. Farmers wouldn’t get to drive around on tractors, so much, either, but, hey, the darn things cost major coin, and, besides, what I didn’t tell you was that the farm I showed you above was a self-pick operation. Farmers aren’t doing the labour of harvest in the first place! In short, no tractor is  actually necessary. Walking tractors would do …

Or maybe just a wheelbarrow. What would you need a tractor for? Moving manure once a year? Moving tomatoes four or five times? Tractors are useful machines, but I reckon that if we’re going to sell tomatoes as healthful products, as better than industrial tomatoes sold in supermarkets, we shouldn’t be compacting the soil with heavy machinery and killing it, reducing our yield rather rapidly over time, or growing tomatoes on plastic, destroying the soil, using unnecessary hydrocarbons, creating tremendous waste (it’s cheaper to lose 50% of a crop than to pick it yourself) …

… and hauling all that plastic to the dump at the end of the season, just to provide income for farmers on the difference between the potential cost of their labour and the actual cost of their supplies and equipment, on a pricing structure that incorporates all this waste and charges more than twice the cost for self-picked fruit than for fruit picked by the farmer. That is a way of moving wealth from the land to manufacturing centres, on the backs of the land. It might provide an economy on paper, but it doesn’t provide my black krims…

… or my late season Christmas tomatoes, protected against frost by a reusable (and recycled) tarp, months after the plastic-grown tomatoes are all finished and the only thing available is industrial, from the supermarket, shipped in from thousands of miles and grown there by people using walking tractors.

By the way, my insect control system is that marigold. That’s it. I don’t need more than that. One other point, if I may: I have these late October tomatoes because I don’t prune off the extra branches from my plants, to ensure even ripening in a concentrated season on a single stalk, which is the recommended method. I’d rather have fresh tomatoes for 5 months, a bucket every three days, than all of them at once and then nothing. What I’m proposing is a ban on black plastic. We don’t need it. I’d love to go further, with public infrastructure for growing food. Supermarkets, with their huge parking lots, are already displacing huge amounts of growing space. Community gardens and farmers markets already exist, on a small scale. It’s time to be done with the myth that farmer’s knowledge and cleverness can solve these problems, when the problems have to do with forcing agriculture into a non-agricultural business model. If we want food, the movement has to be the other way: the society provides the infrastructure; the framers fill it. That’s what’s happening right now, but the infrastructure is incapable of providing healthy food or of using the common resource of water wisely. It will take a lot to change this, but it’s not really that complicated, and the first step is simple: outlaw the use of black plastic for agricultural production, period. Let’s get smart again. Let’s stop doing this:

Call this removal of unpicked self-picked (and overpriced) fruit what you like, but if you call it farming you’re romanticizing the growing of money. We can’t afford this. There are too many of us in a small space.

 

Landscaping for Water Capture

Welcome to the second of a series of posts on creating a sustainable Okanagan. They are archived on the menu bar above. Today: smart water. Read on…

Wherever there is a crack, stuff grows in the Okanagan. P1050147 That crack above has yellow clover and feral grasses, but there are cracks, right on the sidewalk beside the main highway through town, which are growing wireweed, purslane, amaranth, wild lettuce and plantain, which is to say four food crops and one medicinal plant great against mosquito bites. As for downtown Kelowna, the Okanagan’s urban knot, have a look at this wild lettuce, growing behind a downtown restaurant.

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Now, it’s not going to fly to grow our food in these cracks beside the highway, or in alleys, due to pollutants from traffic, but let’s consider a few principles here:

  1. The roads and sidewalks are collecting water and …
  2. the cracks are delivering it and …
  3. in what appears a total desert, life is flourishing.

In other words, the Okanagan is neither a desert nor dry. Look at how a simple roadway can be a seasonal river. That water could have been easily diverted at that joint, and used to grow the thistles I mentioned yesterday, or sunflowers, for a bird seed industry, or anything you like.

The land is simply not dry. Only the air is, and not always. Here’s that alley again. Note the tree on the right, and the water pouring out of a roof drain, uselessly onto asphalt.

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Water is limited in the Okanagan, and so is agricultural land, but consider: every sidewalk and every road has cracks, and every road has ditches, and they all work on the same principle, collecting water, moving it and generating life with it. It’s not necessary for water to flow freely to create crops in this climate. With that in mind, here’s a crack:

Rocks like that are everywhere in this region, split by winter frost and spring thaw. They collect water. Not only that, they collect bird droppings, which contain saskatoon seeds, which bloom and give fruit. The image below shows a very common local sight.

The rock shelters the young plant from deer, better and more elegantly than snow fencing around inappropriate, irrigation hungry Japanese maples …

…and collects water and manure (from birds and marmots) and nutrients (from crumbling rock) to nurture the plant, despite the ongoing lack of free-flowing water. The trick in this climate is not to get water to flow but to get it to stop as soon as possible. This principle can be applied throughout the valley, for landscaping projects and even for creating farming land where no water is otherwise available. And we’re close. Look at the decorative rocks in the landscaping above. They are visually appealing (perhaps) and collect heat. They could have been arranged to collect water as well. We’re close on this one. Let’s take that one extra step.

 

 

 

 

Vancouver’s 2016 Colonization of the British Columbia Interior, Illustrated

Looks innocuous, doesn’t it. Such an exquisitely designed magazine from a liberal democracy that has long outgrown its colonial past. art

Well, looks deceive. This is a raucously colonial issue of this magazine, and since the Okanagan is the place being colonized by its pinkness, let’s have a look. First the big picture.

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That’s the land of the beaver, that is, plus some other bits. The Okanagan is off to the left. Here’s the left. The Okanagan is in the red oval.bcok

 

Here’s another look at that, the traditional territory of the Syilx (aka Okanogan) people:

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Note that the upper part of this larger oval is, well, not Okanagan. There’s a reason for that: it’s Secwepemc. To say it was Okanagan would be like saying France is Germany. People,

That would be a bad idea.

Here’s another view, this one from the Okanagan Basin Water Board. It’s about 1/10 the size of the traditional territory above. This is today’s Okanagan — to all of its 400,000 “Canadian” residents.

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I say “Canadian” because, nuts, Canadian Art Magazine has other ideas.

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What you’re looking at is the opening of an article by a citizen of a coastal city 500 kilometres from the Okanagan, called Vancouver. Writing from there, he has crafted an article about a house, which takes Vancouver aesthetics and shifts them to a place some 700 kilometres from Vancouver, give or take, Heffley Louis Creek, which is here (the red marker in the upper middle of the image). Notice that it’s 200 kilometres of driving from the furthest extension of the Okanagan (the red oval).

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Pshaw, what’s 200 kilometres? That’s the distance between Canada’s eastern capital, Ottawa, and Canada’s major cultural city, french Montreal. If anyone were to suggest that Montreal culture is Ottawa culture, the province of Quebec would immediately secede from Canada. Period. Overnight. Yet for some incomprehensible reason, Michael Turner can suggest, with a straight face, in a national magazine, that not only is imposing Vancouver culture on Secwepemc territory a good thing, which …

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… is just plain insulting and is patronizing to a territory that has suffered enough already from government policy, including the heinous Indian Act, but is also suggesting by default that the nearly 250-year-old pre-European treaty between the Syilx of the Okanagan and the Secwepemc of the Thompson River and Shuswap Lake, as they are called today, is null and void, because to him it’s all the Okanagan now: a high country without even a connection to the Okanagan watershed, or the Columbia Watershed of which it’s a part, and with an entirely different climate and history. If you ever, ever were tempted to think that Canada is a post-colonial country, I’m sorry to say that someone lied to you, because colonialism and elite privilege are going strong, and this is what it looks like. Ah, but maybe the art is exquisite and new! Yes, maybe. Have a look:

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Yuppers, “back-to-the-landers” built thousands of structures like this here 40 and 50 years ago. The only difference is that they wanted to become a part of the place. The new folks haven’t even bothered to find out where they are. I wish they’d go back to their own country. It would be such an unpleasantness to have to invade theirs. Look for it soon: Vancouver: the Okanagan’s newest wine-growing district. A lot of houses would have to be levelled, at 1,000,000-3,000,000 buckaroos a pop, but it can’t be helped. They’re going to be in the way, but, folks, don’t worry:

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Why use words that can mean anything at all in the world and all of them insulting? What’s the point of that?

Environmentally Friendly House Trends in the Okanagan: Your Choice

Single Family Detached House.
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Lots of room to play your own music.

Multi-story Condominium.

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Best to keep the music down and enjoy the company.

It’s your choice.

~
Top: Red Wing Blackbird, BX Trail
Bottom: BX Great Blue Heron Rookery

High Quality Apples in the Okanagan Valley?

Yesterday I showed you how the lack of art in farming, and the lack of memory, is rendering the land not only valueless but turning it into debt. Today, I’ll show you a modern orchard. These are Nicola apples on Malling 9 roots, grown on a slender spindle system of some 2200 trees per acre, to produce, at most, 10 pounds of very large apples per tree. A dozen apples, let’s say.P1010725

I showed you yesterday as well a government press release which talked about taking “low value” apples out of production. To be clear, we’re talking about trees that in the 1970s produced up to 800 pounds per tree, or maybe 2400 apples. Those are long gone, but the ones that replaced them, which produced half that volume, are now the “low value” ones being torn out:

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To be clear, these are MacIntosh apples, a Canadian classic. The apples are great. The low value is in their inability to withstand industrial packing, storage and marketing without looking like bruise and tasting like mush. Still, people are lining up for food banks, so, really, the apples are of high value. It’s just that they can’t be capitalized very well, which means that in a capitalist monopoly they have no capacity to transform capital into profit, and without that, well, it doesn’t work. This doesn’t work either, though:

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That’s the “orchard” I showed you yesterday, from the south east side. Here you can see rows of trees that were grafted too late last year being grafted again, the slow expensive way, because the first grafts were done at the wrong time, out of ignorance. The weeds are magnificent.P1010841

Here’s a closer view:

P1010836 What a mess. Here’s a closer view:
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These look like very pricey Ambrosia grafts. I’m going to presume that they are replacements for the failed ones from last year, at the government’s cost. What you’re looking at is a short stick (3 buds long), cut at an angle and laid onto the growing layer of the rootstock (ridiculously crooked, which is going to create many problems in the future), which has also been bared with a side cut, bound with tape and painted with latex. The buds on the grafts are starting to push (grow). It looks like the cuts were mechanically made. This is not the standard way of doing grafts like this, at any rate, and not the one with the most contact, which would lead to the most growth, but it’s the easiest. No training required.
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One downside is that poor unions lead to poor trees, especially on these Malling 9 rootstocks, which are extremely dwarfing, in part because they make poor unions at the best of times. A poor union means poor sap flow. On a variety like Ambrosia, with its tendency to produce fruit towers rather than growing trees, this is likely to be a problem, plus these aren’t going to produce the “high quality” apples the government invested in.graft

A country that can’t feed itself is a country that grows only the most expensive food, for those who can pay more than the going rate. They will be coming out, I promise, on land so expensive that the pressure to grow houses on it instead of food is only going to increase, so, really, ideological abuse like this hurts our children. I hate that.