Monday, June 17, 2013
Later in the summer, the herds will remove rush skeleton weed in some of the City of Boise’s foothills reserves. “We usually get good response from the public to the goats, because people enjoy watching them. Herbicide application freaks more people out than goats do,” said Julia Grant, Boise’s Foothills and Open Space Manager. Grant added that, despite warning signs on the low-voltage fence, people can get a shock, especially if they’re unlucky enough to fall onto the fence.
After the weed and fire seasons are over, the Linquists’ goats spend the fall cleaning up alfalfa and organic hops fields. Then the goats have a few months off before they start kidding in late March. By May, the growing kids are ready to go to work with their mothers and the cycle starts again.
When Lynda, 28, and Tim, 36, met, they discovered a shared love for goats. Lynda’s pet goat William went everywhere with her and rode shotgun in her Jeep. Tim had started with 25 goats on his five acres near Wilder, Idaho. He saw a business opportunity when a friend in California wanted brush cleared from his land: Tim increased his herd to 200 and put them all to work.
Lynda, the president of We Rent Goats, participated in Boise’s MicroEnterprise Training and Assistance (META) program. This nonprofit helps women, new Americans, minorities, and other low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs in southwest and south central Idaho. META’s business classes and coaching have been a big help to the new business owners. “I had to learn everything,” Lynda said. “They helped me write a business plan, I learned to use accounting software--everything. And I was a psych major.”
The Linquists have adopted the nomadic lifestyle of many herders before them. The couple gave up their home in Wilder for a fifth wheel travel trailer, which lets them stay near their animals on their yearly circuit of open space, waterways, and agricultural fields. The first two years on the road were challenging. “We were goat ranchers, but we had to learn about portable fencing and being a mobile goat operation. We’re fencing experts now,” Lynda said.
We Rent Goats needs to add people, too. They hire one or two summer employees every year, but they need more if they’re going to continue to grow. As Tim pointed out, though, it takes a special person to care for the goats properly, work with the dogs, and travel constantly. Acquiring land is the biggest challenge most new ranchers and farmers face. “We need a home base, someplace for the does to kid; a place to land if anything happens,” Tim said. Even agricultural lenders are surprised by the couple’s business model. While feed is a major expense for most livestock operations, the Linquists’ goats are paid to eat. “People can’t believe how low our feed costs are, especially now with hay being $200 a ton,” Tim explained.
Until they buy land, Lynda and Tim spend the off-season with their goats on empty patches of land near Boise. They find that bringing a herd of goats with them opens doors, as most people fall in love with the engaging animals. Being around the herd has a soothing effect on people and seems to bring back memories of an ancient way of life.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Our 1940s-era apartments had nooks for phones, built-in folding ironing boards, and Murphy beds, but no garbage disposals. I was most dismayed by the food I found floating with my Tevas, but I learned recently that the meatball grease probably caused more problems for the city.
Meridian, Idaho’s Go with the Flow Tour on June 6, 2013 followed the path water takes from the city’s wells to its wastewater treatment plant.
We filled bottles at one of the wells, were subjected to wet pranks at the water tower, and drove up Meridian Road, where the city is laying new water lines while the road is being widened.
We learned that the unattractive foam on wastewater is produced by a bacterium that feeds on grease.
The City of Meridian's Trash the Fat program reduces the amount of cooking grease reaching the wastewater facility. The Environmental Division gives away plastic scrapers and lids. Just scrape grease into a can, cover with the lid, and put in the fridge. The grease will solidify when it cools. Then put the can in the trash--but keep the lid for next time.
here. Don’t look while you’re eating.
If I'd known then what I know now, the almost-20-year olds living next door would have received a house-warming gift of a plastic scraper and lid.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Our raw, windy Christmas day turned to snow at dusk. The freeway between Nampa, where I spent the day, and Boise, where I live, was closed: there had been a deadly accident on the icy highway. I crept home on a tractionless and largely deserted side road.
After Christmas, the weather got worse. A large high pressure system moved in over the Pacific Northwest. It brought warm, sunny, dry air that expanded over the existing cold, moist air, trapping it in the valleys. We were socked in tighter than the Republican voting block in the Idaho legislature.
Boise festered at the bottom of the Great Inversion for a month and a half. Day after dismal day, we woke to sinister fog. We dragged ourselves out of bed and fought the urge to go the airport, walk to a ticket counter, and scream, “I don’t care what it costs; get me out of here!” We struggled through a world of suspended ice crystals that pierced our winter jacket-sweater-turtle neck-long underwear layers. We compared notes with coworkers, cashiers, and hairdressers, “I haven’t seen a winter like this in the [fill in the blank with the number of years you’ve lived in Boise] years I’ve been here!” I heard numbers as high as 36. At night, we collapsed in bed, exhausted from the effort of moving through a thousand-foot thick blanket of ice, car exhaust, wood stove smoke, and sugar beet processing plant effluent.
Just after the New Year, I was hurrying to catch the bus, head down, watching for ice on the sidewalk, so I didn't fall and break a bone, or the laptop in my pack. As I passed a small maple tree, I thought I heard a robin chirp. “Wow; the inversion really got to me,” I thought. “I’m having auditory hallucinations of spring.”
Two weeks later, before the sun was up enough for a clear photo, the back yard of my apartment complex swarmed with dozens of flitting, hopping, flapping male robins. They gobbled juniper berries off the trees by the neighbor’s garage. So many birds were jockeying for perches that each one was only able to grab a few of the dusty, purple cones (as botanists call them) before being displaced by another male. Junipers aren’t made for sitting, so the birds fluttered frantically around the edges of the dense, bristly, branches, trying to impersonate hummingbirds long enough to find a landing spot with food nearby.
The flocks of robins returned several more early mornings over the next week. On their last visit, they were reduced to cleaning up previously rejected cones on the ground under the trees.
Monday, January 7, 2013
I selected one of the Stayman's Winesaps. They were my grand- mother’s favorite apple; she said that a “Delicious apple” was an oxymoron. When I learned Otis and Barbara had one of the trees in their Boise backyard, I banished politeness and asked for some of the fruit.
I cut around the apple’s meridian from the top to the blossom end and back up the other side. Then I trimmed away the stem and the remains of the dried blossom from each half and carefully cut around the core, or pome, which gives apples, pears, and quince their name (“pome fruit”). When she cored an apple, my grandmother left a smooth, shallow dimple. I tend to gouge out uneven divots that take some of the flesh, too: I waste good food. I can still hear my grandmother chide me whenever I reach for a vegetable peeler instead of a knife: “Peelers waste so much.”
She served chicken on one of my visits. I thought I did a fine job of cleaning my plate: I left a pile of bones connected by ligaments, tendons, and a few shreds of meat in the hard-to-reach places. My grandmother reduced her chicken to a pile of clean, dry, disarticulated bones that would have inspired a colony of dermestid beetlesto work longer hours.
Otis had ensured that their tree produced good-sized Stayman’s Winesap apples, so I cut each half into slices. Standing on his tripod orchard ladder, he had thinned the fruit when the developing apples were about the size of one of his fingernails. He removed all but one from each cluster of flowers; if there were still too many fruits along a branch, he removed entire clusters.
Biting into the first slice, I tasted the pink and white perfume of last spring’s apple blossoms. Bee legs tickled the inside of my cheek and a pollen basket might have brushed my tongue. That bee, or another one, must have spilled a few grains of pollen from one of its baskets onto the flower that produced the apple I was eating.
Most of the foods we eat, other than grains (corn, wheat, barley, etc.), must be pollinated by insects, and bees do most of the work. Whenever I see a truck loaded with hives of honeybees on their way to a pollinating job, I can’t resist waving. I wave and I worry about the bees’ dwindling numbers, as Colony Collapse Disorder ravages hives across the country. Researchers don’t completely understand the cause, or treatment, of the disorder: disease, stress, and pesticides are all suspects.
I ate the Stayman's Winesap slowly. All things in moderation; don’t be greedy; live within your means. My grandmother lived within her means. When my brothers and I were kids, she lived in the house her grandfather built in 1873. We assumed everyone’s grandmother had a commode chair with a chamber pot in the downstairs bedroom and a wood-burning range in the kitchen.
When she was 80, my grandmother built a new house, after realizing it would be cheaper than fixing up her old one. Her new house had hardwood floors, marble windowsills, thermal pane windows, a tiled fireplace hearth with a mantelpiece made from a maple tree that grew in her woods, and a small greenhouse off the garage. Her new house did not have a mortgage.
The wood-burning range went into the basement of her new house, “for when the power goes out.” The refrigerator wasn’t worn out yet, so she put it in the basement, too, and stored apples and other fruit in it. As I swallowed the last bite of my first Stayman’s Winesap, I remembered my grandmother's new kitchen. She bought a new fridge, an electric range, and her first dishwasher. The range and the dishwasher were clad in stainless steel.
More about apples
The apples we see in the grocery store are only a tiny sample of the thousands of varieties that exist. Orchards planted by early European settlers in Idaho contain valuable genetic resources. Learn how this diversity is being cataloged and preserved here.
European honeybees, which travel from orchard to orchard in hives, aren't our only pollinators. Learn more about our 4,000 species of native bees here.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
As an environmental researcher, Tye works to manage cheatgrass in the West. In her off hours, she and her husband Joe are home brewers who teach others how to turn grains, hops, yeast, and water into ales, lagers, and stouts in Reno, Nevada. When she combined her knowledge of how cheatgrass spreads with her love of brewing, Tye came up with a way to restore cheatgrass-invaded areas while producing beer. "Every time people drink our beer, they are doing something to save their desert," she told a local news outlet.
Cheatgrass lives fast and dies young
Conservationists, ranchers, and fire fighters shudder when nonnative cheatgrass dies to form a carpet of tinder in early summer.
Our native perennial grasses and sagebrush employ a different strategy. Rather than going through the hot, dry summer as seeds, they hunker down and survive as dormant live plants. Rooted in place, they can't run and are easily killed by fire.
Lower nitrogen fertility will begin to starve out the fast-growing cheatgrass. Our native plants, with their more tortoise-like approach to the race for survival, thrive with lower soil nitrogen. Tye will monitor cheatgrass seeds and soil nutrients to know when to reseed the area with native plants to give them the best chance to develop vigorous stands that keep cheatgrass at bay.
Ira Flatow tasted Tye and Joe’s cheatgrass beer and pronounced it "delicious." Tye explained to the Science Friday host that they mix barley with the cheatgrass seeds to brew an amber ale. Barley adds enzymes that cheatgrass lacks, which turn starch in the seeds into sugars. Once the sugars are released, the yeast can convert them into alcohol.
But the couple isn’t satisfied with just one type of beer. Their company, Bromus Tech, is working with Lance Jergensen, an independent malster who specializes in local barleys for niche beers, and Ryan Quinlan, at Great Basin Brewery, to develop several different cheatgrass beers.
Tye points out that agricultural chemicals are rarely used on the rangelands that cheatgrass invades. She plans to use the seeds left after the brewing process to finish organic grass fed beef for market. Soon, you'll be able to have an organic grass-fed cheatgrass-finished burger with your cheatgrass beer.
Once they’ve perfected their line of beers and fine-tuned their restoration techniques, Tye and Joe will share their knowledge with other brewers. Tye envisions small breweries across the West harvesting local cheatgrass and producing delicious beers. "I think that Idaho cheatgrass beer would catch on like wildfire," she told Ira Flatow.
Monday, October 29, 2012
Miller moths and army cutworms east of the Rockies
Miller moths are unwelcome spring and fall visitors to the Front Range in Colorado. Although the insects are familiar pests when they cluster around lights and invade homes, few residents are aware of the impressive trip these tiny creatures make.
The moths that move through Denver and Fort Collins each spring hatched in the soil of the Great Plains the previous winter. The larvae spent the following months hiding in the soil during the day and feeding above ground at night. When active, the larvae eat young plant leaves--sometimes, down to the ground. Emerging fields of wheat, and other plants, are just the right height for the hungry “armies.” After the larvae reach full size, they pupate in the soil. When they emerge as miller moths, they are ready to migrate west.
Although the moths sometimes linger along the Front Range for weeks, their summer home is high elevation slopes of the Greater Yellowstone area. The insects feed on nectar at night and hide among the rocks of cool talus slopes during the day. The moths’ habit of congregating in certain areas makes it easy for grizzly bears to find one of their main foods. At least two popular books have described grizzlies rolling over rocks to feast on miller moths: Cold Case, by Stephen White and Blood Lure, by Nevada Barr. When the weather cools, the moths return to the Great Plains to lay eggs that will hatch the following winter.
Miller moths and army cutworms in the Intermountain West
The winter of 2002-03 was unusually warm and dry around Winnemucca, NV. That spring a BLM employee noticed bare areas where he expected to see cheatgrass. He called the new USGS plant ecologist in Boise to ask what she thought it was. I told him I didn’t know, but I’d take a look.
Despite the eyewitness account every entomologist I told the story to laughed: army cutworms couldn’t eat all the plants in an area. It took four months to find another witness, a researcher in northern Utah who saw larvae eating cheatgrass in his field plots. Finally, I found entomologists who had seen army cutworms devouring cheatgrass and young crops in western Colorado and northern New Mexico. I concluded that the rancher in Winnemucca really had seen army cutworm eating cheatgrass.
I suspect that army cutworms were at least partly responsible for the “disappearance” of nearly a million acres of cheatgrass in the Intermountain West in 2003. (Full disclosure: other researchers scoff at the idea.) I hope to learn more about these insects, their distribution, and their migration patterns west of the Rockies.
Although we haven't had a big army cutworm year since 2003, the insects are still present in the Intermountain West and will increase again with the right conditions. As our weather becomes warmer and more variable, the chances of another warm, dry winter increase. Counting miller moths each fall can tell us how many army cutworms we might have the next spring. When we see a lot of miller moths in the fall and then have a warm, dry winter, we should start looking for larvae in early spring.
Trapping Miller Moths in Military Reserve, Boise
If we knew when to expect an outbreak of army cutworms, we could be ready to reseed the bare areas with more desirable plants. The seeded plants would have a head start on the cheatgrass and it would be easier for them to grow into a healthy stand.Military Reserve, in the foothills of the Boise Front, this fall. Pheromones--scents that female moths make to attract males--lured male moths into the traps.
Julia Grant, Boise's Foothills And Open Space Manager, is collaborating in this work. Julia is using weed-eating goats and kids in soccer cleats to manage weeds and restore burned areas at Military Reserve, one of Boise's open space reserves.