Archive for December, 2021

A Biblical Fruit Orchard in Georgia?

December 31, 2021

I covered lots of ground when I used to work for the Augusta Chronicle circulation department, collecting, soliciting, delivering papers, and handling customer complaints. I often saw wildlife while driving during the wee hours of the morning, and I came across interesting plants people grew in their yards. I was surprised to find a fruiting pomegranate tree on 1 occasion. I now know pomegranate trees can grow locally, but I didn’t think of planting them in my yard until my wife’s friend brought some over from her brother’s fruit orchard. This inspired me to plant pomegranates from seeds. Online sources claim the seeds germinate easily and produce good quality fruit in just 3 years. So far, the seeds haven’t germinated, but I am considering planting an orchard consisting of all the fruits mentioned in the bible. I think it would be an interesting showcase. The bible mentions at least 230 species of plants, including 9 kinds of fruits and nuts.

The bible mentions pomegranate 23 times in the Old Testament and 3 times in the Koran. Pomegranates have been cultivated for 5000 years, and Spanish settlers brought them to southeastern North America about 500 years ago, and they are still found in people’s yards. I am aware of 1 experimental pomegranate orchard near Alma, Georgia. George Wade, the farmer who maintains this orchard, says he removes and replaces trees that don’t produce at least 50 pounds of pomegranates. Pomegranates are hardy and can survive temperatures as low as 12 degrees F. A bigger problem is the summer humidity that causes blemishes. The fruit is still good to eat, but farmers can’t sell blemished fruit at the market.

My proposed biblical fruit orchard is halfway begun because I have been growing grapes and figs for decades. Grapes are mentioned 72 times in the Old Testament, 6 times in the New Testament, and 12 times in the Koran–more than any other fruit. Grapes have been cultivated for thousands of years and are native to North America.

Figs are mentioned 37 times in the Old Testament, 13 times in the New Testament, and once in the Koran. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together when they discovered their nakedness. Figs are 1 of the oldest cultivated plants, and there is archaeological evidence of figs in a human household, dating to 11,400 years BP (during the late Pleistocene).

Olives are the 2nd most common fruit mentioned in the bible. They are mentioned 49 times in the Old Testament, 12 times in the New Testament, and 6 times in the Koran. Olives are grown, albeit on a small scale, in Georgia. Blueberry farms are abundant in Georgia, and the surplus fruit depresses prices. Blueberry farmers are switching to olives because the same machinery can be used to harvest both. Olives can survive temperatures as low as 17 degrees F. It has been many years since it has gotten that cold at my house. Olives have also been cultivated for thousands of years. Remarkably, people learned to make the toxic fruit edible by soaking the olives in salt water and fermenting them.

I already grow the most common fruit mentioned in the bible–grapes. My grape vines are over 30 years old.
I also already grow figs, but I am having trouble getting a productive bush re-established.
This is an experimental pomegranate orchard near Alma, Georgia. Photo from youtube,
This is an olive orchard in Glennville, Georgia just west of Savannah. Virgin olive oil processed in Georgia costs $35 for 500 ml.

Dates are the 3rd most mentioned fruit in the bible. They are mentioned 34 times in the Old Testament, 8 times in the New Testament, and 22 times in the Koran. This is the only biblical fruit I probably won’t have success with. They can’t survive temperatures below 32 degrees F, and they won’t produce fruit in humid climates. However, I may be able to substitute jujubes, also known as Chinese dates or red dates. Jujubes are not true dates. Real dates grow on palm trees in hot dry deserts. Jujubes are large shade trees able to survive in a wide range of climates. Jujubes are possibly referred to in the bible twice. Scholars think the parable of the trees in Judges refers to the jujube, and they think the crown of thorns Jesus was forced to wear was made from jujube branches. Jujubes taste like dried apples.

Almonds are mentioned 10 times in the Old Testament. My late grandparents successfully grew almonds in Winder, Georgia. However, I am sure I would have the same problems with almonds as I do with my peaches. Almonds and peaches are closely related, and I have trouble with plum curculio infestations and fungus rot on my peaches.

Apples may be mentioned 5 times in the Old Testament, but scholars aren’t sure of the Old Hebrew world tuppuah. It may refer to citron instead.

Reference:

Jannick, Jules

“Fruits of the Bible”

Horticultural Science 42 (7) August 2007

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Bird Species Nesting in a Managed Grassland at Panola Mountain State Park, Central Georgia

December 23, 2021

In southeastern North America Native-Americans used to set fire to the woods every year, an activity that created a mosaic of open woodland and grassland. They also abandoned their corn patches when soil fertility became depleted, and warm season grasses would take over the fields. Many species of birds prefer to nest in a landscaped dominated by tall grasses consisting of little and big bluestem. Modern farmers suppress fires and plant non-native cool season grasses that grow in fall and winter. The hay from these species of grasses is mowed in the middle of summer. The mowing destroys bird nests, and as a consequence, birds that like to nest in grassy areas are in decline. Ecologists are restoring a native grassland in Panola Mountain State Park located just south of Atlanta, Georgia. They have replaced non-native cool season grasses with native warm season grasses, and they set fire to half of the tract every other year during late winter or early spring.

A recent study found 52 bird nests on this tract, and 35% of them were successful. 11 species of birds nest on the tract including bluebird, Carolina wren, common yellowthroat warbler, field sparrow, blue grosbeak, tree swallow, indigo bunting, red-winged blackbird, white-eyed vireo, Carolina chickadee, and killdeer plover. Bluebirds, Carolina wrens, and yellowthroat warblers were the most common species. Surprisingly, the most successful nests were located on the ground. The least successful nests were those located in nesting boxes near water or trails. The authors of this study think predators drawn toward water are more likely to find the nest boxes located there.

Eastern bluebird. Photo from the Indiana Audubon Society
Carolina wren. Photo from Salt Magazine.
Common yellowthroat. Photo from the Mitch Waite Group.

After reading this study I am inspired to visit Panola Mountain State Park, but I will wait until spring when birds are more active, hunting for insects to feed their young. The park also features a granite monadnock and a wetland.

Reference:

Allen, K. and K. Stumpf

“Avian Reproduction Success is Associated with Multiple Vegetation Characteristics at an Active Grassland Restoration Site in Central Georgia”

Georgia Journal of Science 79 (2) 2021

Wolves and Spotted Hyenas Competed for Prey on the British Isles during Interstadials

December 16, 2021

Today, timber wolves (Canis lupus) and spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) do not have overlapping ranges, but during the Pleistocene they co-existed throughout much of Eurasia. A recent study of bone chemistry from specimens of wolves and hyenas from 3 fossil sites located in southwestern England suggests they competed for the same prey items. Fossils from these 3 sites date to 3 different interglacial and interstadial climate phases. The oldest site yields fossils dating from between 220,000 years BP to 190,000 years BP. This was a warm interglacial, and grasslands were thought to be widespread here then. Fossil specimens from this site include elk, wild boar, mountain hare, lion, wolf, hyena, red fox, and cat. Wolves and hyenas primarily ate horse and hare during this time period. The 2nd oldest site yields fossils dating from 90,000 years BP to 80,000 years BP–an interstadial during the early Wisconsinian Ice Age when average temperatures temporarily reversed back to more temperate conditions. Fossils found at this site include bison, caribou, red fox, arctic fox, wolverine, brown bear, and wolf. Wolves primarily ate bison and caribou during this climate phase. The 3rd site yields fossils dating from 60,000 years BP to 25,000 years BP, a phase of rapidly fluctuating climates bouncing back and forth from cold stadial to warm interstadial. Fossils from this site include horse, wooly mammoth, wooly rhino, bison, caribou, hyena, wolf, hare, and elk. Wolves and hyenas primarily ate horse, rhino, and bison during this phase. Spotted hyenas disappeared from the British Isles during the Last Glacial Maximum when most of it was covered in glacial ice. Wolves persisted on the islands until man wiped them out during the 1700s.

Comparison between timber wolf and spotted hyena. Today, their ranges do not overlap, but they did occur together throughout Eurasia during the Pleistocene. They likely competed for the same prey items. Pleistocene hyenas outweighed wolves by about 50 pounds on average. I ripped this image off google images.
Map of fossil sites where wolf and hyena specimens used in the below referenced study were excavated. Image from the below referenced study.

Although I have no doubt wolves did compete with spotted hyenas during the Pleistocene, I am highly skeptical analysis of bone chemistry can accurately determine the former diets of these ancient animals. The limited sample size of fossil specimens may not reflect the diet of the entire population. Moreover, a study of moa coprolites from New Zealand determined the results of an isotope analysis did not match the contents of moa coprolites actually found. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/trust-the-coprolites-not-the-stable-isotope-analysis/ ) In my opinion this study debunks the results of all studies using stable isotope analysis to determine the diets of ancient animals. The only sure way of knowing what an animal ate is to analyze the contents of their fossilized feces. I consider the bone chemistry studies to be interesting speculation but little better than wild guessing.

Reference:

Flower, L; D. Schreve and A. Lamb

“Nature of the Beast? Complex Drivers of Prey Choice, Competition, and Resilience in Pleistocene Wolves (Canis lupus 1754)

Quaternary Science Review 272 November 2021

Survival of the Fittest During the Anthropocene

December 9, 2021

Humans are a part of the natural world, and human activities have an enormous impact on worldwide ecosystems. The impact is so great, some scientists think the current geological era we live in now should be known as the Anthropocene. The animals and plants that are best able to adapt to Anthropocene living conditions have the best chance of surviving into the future. I call it survival of the fittest during the Anthropocene. When I used this phrase on twitter in defense of cats, whiny woke wimps showered their fury at me. One anonymous jerk called me a ninny, short for pickaninny, a derogatory term for a black child. Darren Naish, a world-renowned vertebrate zoologist, clicked on the like button for this racist tweet, then blocked me because I don’t agree that cats are detrimental to the environment. I don’t think Naish is a racist–he probably didn’t know ninny was a racist term. He may be an expert on vertebrate zoology, but his knowledge of other topics is apparently limited.

Darren Naish liked a post from someone who referred to me using a racist term, then he blocked me because I don’t agree that feral cats are detrimental to the ecosystem.
A man on twitter called me a ninny, short for pickaninny, a derogatory racist term. Darren Naish clicked on the like button.

I like animals capable of thriving during the Anthropocene. Cats are 1 of the best examples of an organism well adapted to living alongside humans. They can survive with or without people, existing in conditions ranging from being pampered to total neglect. Cats are a commensal species with humans and will occur wherever humans live, whether woke ecologists like it or not. Some scientists unfairly demonize cats. Most of the studies purporting to show how cats are detrimental to ecosystems are so bad I can’t understand how they get published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Perhaps, the most famous paper (widely regurgitated without question in the media) claimed cats killed an estimated 94 million birds per year in the U.S. The author of that paper simply made-up numbers using wild guessing. Cats do kill birds on occasion, but they are taking the place of natural predators that would live in the area, if it had remained wilderness. Some species of songbirds have artificially inflated populations in suburban locations because humans create favorable nesting structures, maintain bird feeders, and suppress natural predator populations. A cat killing a songbird in the suburbs is actually restoring a balance. Moreover, cats control rodents and rabbits, species that spread disease and actually compete with humans for food.

My outdoor cats. They control rodent populations and provide companionship.

Ross Barnett is another scientist always whining about cats on twitter. The sadistic hypocrite favors bringing the lynx back to Great Britain where they have been extirpated, but he participated in a cat eradication program in Australia. Cat eradication programs in that part of the world have been disastrous. Rat and rabbit populations exploded wherever cats were eliminated. Rats ate all the birds the eradication programs were supposed to protect, and rabbits denuded the landscape. How can Barnett lament the loss of the lynx, but favor the destruction of an animal so similar? His reasoning makes no sense.

I don’t like the term, invasive species. Every successful organism has been invasive at some point in its evolutionary history. They originated at 1 location and invaded surrounding territory. I prefer to call them newly colonizing species, and I think they increase diversity. House sparrows are 1 of my favorite newly colonizing species, and they are well adapted to surviving the Anthropocene. They are commonly found in grocery store parking lots, and some even live inside the stores. Few other birds (with the exceptions of pigeons and ring-billed gulls) can be found thriving in parking lots.

House sparrows are one of my favorite newly colonizing species. They are common in grocery store parking lots, and some times even live inside the stores.

Bradford pears are another 1 of my favorite newly colonizing species. Many ecologists revile this species because of the way they take over abandoned fields at the expense of native species. I think they contribute greatly to the beauty of the landscape. They provide white flowers in spring, attractive foliage in fall, and food and nesting for birds.

Flowering Bradford pear tree in an old field. I love this species. Woke horticulturalists suggest replacing them with native serviceberry. What a stupid suggestion. Serviceberry won’t successfully grow in most locations, like Bradford pear trees can.

Instead of lamenting all of the organisms incapable of surviving during the Anthropocene, people should appreciate the tough species that can survive in a world dominated by humans.

I am Reducing my Predicted Life Expectancy from 91 to 81

December 2, 2021

My brain is malfunctioning. I inherited essential tremor disorder from my mom. A child of a parent with essential tremor disorder has a 50% chance of developing the disorder during their lifetime. I am 59 years old, and I think my mom was the exact same age when it developed in her, and the disorder is manifesting in the same way–my head involuntarily shakes. The disorder is a result of a mutation in a gene that causes changes in the way the cerebellum communicates with the rest of the brain, but scientists don’t yet understand the mechanism behind the miscommunication. I first noticed a feeling that my head wanted to shake a few months ago. Then, it did start to shake, but I didn’t pay attention to it until a few weeks ago when I went to the gym. They have narrow mirrors in the locker room that make me look muscular, and I like to look at myself with my shirt off. But on this occasion, I looked at my face and realized I look old…and my head was shaking. The sudden epiphany reminded me of an old episode of the tv series, Dark Shadows, when a jilted lover/doctor deliberately screwed up a cure for Barnabas’s vampirism, and he suddenly aged to 100 years old. I can’t believe how old I look. I am not upset about this development, just surprised. This is the first time anything has ever gone wrong with my body. My wife is not impressed–she has been disabled and wheelchair bound for 26 years–but I am amazed. I am human after all.

I looked in the mirror at the gym the other day and suddenly realized I look old, and my head was involuntarily shaking. I inherited essential tremor disorder from my mom.
My cerebellum is malfunctioning.

Essential tremor disorder is not a fatal condition, but there is no cure for it, though the symptoms can be treated. I reject most treatment options. Beta blockers cause light-headedness. I have to take care of a disabled person 24 hours a day, and I can’t risk being dizzy when I help transfer her into and out of her wheelchair. Anti-seizure medications and tranquilizers cause drowsiness. I might as well save a trip to the drug store and drink alcohol which I am used to. For me it takes at least 2 glasses of wine, but alcohol does stop my head from shaking. Botox injections are another treatment option, but they cause muscle weakness. Brain surgery is yet another option. Surgeons can implant a probe that interrupts signals between the cerebellum and the rest of the brain. I’d rather endure head shaking than risk expensive and hazardous brain surgery, even if it is considered a minor procedure.

The biggest concern for me is the elevated risk of developing dementia. At least 13 studies have determined essential tremor disorder is associated with a higher risk of developing dementia. My mom lived with this condition for 18 years before she did develop Alzheimer’s disease. The last 2 years of her life were simply a rapid decline into ever worsening dementia until she passed away. One study found that 25% of people with essential tremor disorder develop dementia compared to 9% of people without the disorder. I could only find 1 contradictory ongoing study. Doctors are studying people in an Arizona nursing home. Most of the dementia patients in this study never had essential tremor disorder. However, this study seems to be an outlier.

I formerly estimated that I would live to be 91 years old based on the ages of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. I had great-grandparents who lived to be 98 and 92. My grandparents lived to be 90, 89, 85, and 82. My parents lived to be 84 and 79. My condition resembles my mom’s who lived to be 79, but I am physically more robust and exercise more. I think I’ll outlast her by a couple of years, unless I die of a stroke, jogging in the Georgia summertime heat on my hangover day. I am ok with dying 10 years earlier than I predicted. I wasn’t looking forward to being an octogenarian anyway. I don’t want to be a shriveled up old man who probably can’t get an erection. I don’t see the point of living if I can’t get a boner. After I die, I want to be buried in a cheap pine coffin, so paleontologists and archaeologists can dig up my bones hundreds or thousands of years from now.

References:

Janicki, S; S. Cosentae, and F. Lewis

“The Cognitive Side of Essential Tremors: What are the Therapeutic Implications?”

Ther. Adv. Dev. Disord. 6 (6) 2013

Mehto, S.

“Assessing the Relationship Between ET and Dementia”

IFFT Funded Research

Thawani, S. ; N. Shupt, and E. Louis

“Essential Tremor is Associated with Dementia”

Neurologia 73 (8) 2005