Tag Archives: wildlife

Visualizing What Can’t Be Seen

“Seeing is believing” is a time honored quote that has a lot of wisdom attached to it. However, in agriculture this saying can hold back change.

I have become more and more aware of the importance of feeding the soil before anything else, which can no longer be just a nice thought but a mandatory practice.  Feeding the soil is an ongoing process that is 75% visualizing what’s going on as you can’t see beneath the soil surface.  “Seeing is believing” is the other 25%.  The 25% proof is healthily growing things all around that you can see and touch.  The soil that we all stand on everyday has more life in the top one foot than all the life from the surface of our planet to the stratosphere.  Most of that life is microscopic, so to feed these critters you need a real small spoon.  That real small spoon is called a Compost Tea Brewer.  It takes compost and washes all the microscopic life leaving it suspended in water, which can then be distributed over the soil.

For most of us, me included, we have much more faith in “seeing is believing ” than in what can’t be seen.  But that is exactly what we must do.  We must put the same amount of faith into the the unseen:  the microscopic world of bacteria, fungi, nematodes and many more critters that make up soil microbiology.  This then becomes the Achilles heel of feeding the soil first.  This method that requires a certain amount of faith matched against “seeing is believing” has a tough row to hoe.

We have weeds, so we buy a herbicide;  in short order that weed is dead. We have bugs eating our crops, so we buy a pesticide; those bugs that came to put me out of business soon lay dead upon the ground.  Our crop has a somewhat sickly look, we bring a sack of Nitrogen fertilizer to the rescue and in a matter of days a healthy green look returns.  Why would anyone in their right mind want to change a system that gives off so much instant gratification?

For many years I drank the Kool-Aid with the rest, but I can no longer turn a deaf ear to all of the disturbing events that present themselves almost on a daily basis.  The chemical industry has produced some 80,000 new chemicals, which do not exist in nature.  What disturbs me is the fact that not all these chemicals are user friendly to us or the environment.  I know that the whole world is one big chemical factory, but Mother Nature has her chemical factory in perfect balance.  I’m not so sure our man made factory is as well balanced.  In fact I’m sure it’s not.  So I’m going to cast my lot first with the microscopic world knowing that Mother Nature doesn’t deceive.  Then I’ll add some patience and I’m sure that happy green growing stuff will sure enough surround me.
See Ya
Jack

Comfortable Shoes

When I was young and in my prime I used to wear those traditional cowboy boots with the pointed toe and high heel.  At the top of each boot was a loop big enough to put your index finger into.  Then with some grunting, heavy breathing and pulling, your foot slipped into place just like a tongue giving a French kiss.  Back then, any cowboy worth his salt knew that this style of footwear allowed your foot to come out of the stirrup if your horse was really serious about bucking you off.  I was in the camp who knew that getting bucked of was more likely than staying on and the ground was going to greet me shortly.  With that in mind, I’d better be looking for the best place to land, and I didn’t want my foot hung up in the stirrup when I took my high-dive.

But no more!  Today I ride my friend Fuzz, who assures me that he doesn’t want to use all his energy to put me on the ground.  Besides, we have a mutual admiration for each other.  With hitting the ground no longer an issue, and no longer wanting to make a fashion statement, comfortable shoes with no point-to-the-toe here I come!  Today my toes can wander, no longer trapped inside like a bunch of folks squeezed into one of those high rise elevators in New York City.

I’m also finding pleasure riding a new horse who my daughter has loaned me for the spring cattle drives.  Bugs is closer to the ground, so gravity is not such a big issue.  I can throw my saddle on without having to grunt and groan.  Getting on a tall horse used to be a big event that required hunting for a log or a rock to stand on.  With Bugs, why, I can just get to his high side and hop on like I could in my younger years.  Yes, comfort is more important these days than the pain of breaking in new shoes.  My current shoes have take care of my feet for the past four years. They are so comfortable that they are going to get the call for almost any occasion.  Happy toes are more important to me than people’s opinions.  I mean the people who see me coming and whisper to each other that if that guy had just saved for his older years he wouldn’t have to wear those scruffy, comfortable shoes.
See Ya
Jack

Bailing Wire

Living 5 miles north of Parkfield makes me just about a one hour drive to our closest town, Paso Robles.  The return trip takes another hour plus shopping time so what usually happens is that most of the day is gone by the time you return home.  So, how do you fix things without going to town?  Almost on a daily basis something breaks!
A few years ago on the V6 Ranch there would have been an abundance of bailing wire.  But bailing wire has been replaced by bailing twine which has filled the void with almost as many uses as bailing wire but not quite.  For instance, you can check to see if a battery is charged by touching the positive pole to the negative with bailing wire and watch the sparks fly.
Another instance happened the other day as I was driving my pickup down a rough dirt road; my steering tie rod fell off.  So with no steering I was forced to stop and make repairs.  Looking into my big tool box under my pickup bed there they all were waiting to save me from a long walk:
1. A nice big hammer to pound the tie rod end to the steering control box.
2. My handy tool box produced some old bailing wire to keep the tie rod from falling off with a twist from my Leatherman.
3. Then to really secure this repair job there was in its entire silvery grey splendor, duck tape.
Now with all the confidence in the world I head for home.  Several days later I drive to town for a proper repair job and wheel alignment.  The mechanic grinned and said, “What do you need me for?”
My bridal reins break, my horse is kind enough to stop, bailing wire again answers the call by sewing my reins together.  And away I go. The uses for bailing wire in my era were endless so it is kind of sad to see an old friend put out to pasture.
Good bye bailing wire. I’ll miss you!
See Ya
Jack

Is Sustainability Possible?

It better be, because as I see that the status quo of our present agricultural model is not working.

The over-use of nitrogen fertilizers is causing them to leach into our underground aquifers as nitrates.  The nitrates pollute the aquifer before we pump water to the surface in a tainted form to grow our crops.  Then we wonder why so many people drink bottled water. Over-use of the herbicide RoundUp has caused weeds to mutate and become RoundUp resistant.  The list of law suites grows daily claiming the herbicide causes cancer.  The oldest agricultural practice of all, plowing the soil, is now being called into question because of the loss of top soil to erosion. This is caused by the exposed bare soil to wind and water.  I could go on and on sighting instances of farming practices that are mining our planet on a world wide scale that are not sustainable.  But before I numb you all to the pillaging that is going on 24/7 to our home called Earth, I want to pose the question: “Is their a better way?”  I believe there are better ways; some of them known and some yet to be discovered.  Those of us that raise the food and fiber for the masses must also ask the question: “Is there a better way or is there a different way?”  My frustration is that so few are willing to even ask the question.

I believe change will come as our old sclerotic farmers and ranchers pass from the scene.  What is ironic as I wait for kinder and more effective ways to raise our veggies and livestock?  The answer is showing itself with a new breed of kids on the block coming from our cities and families that don’t make their living from agriculture.  This new generation is passionate about their new found profession and are not weighted down with the millstones of tradition.  Some will argue that you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  I’ll agree to saving the baby but you must promise to at least teach him to ask the question: “Is there a better way?”
See Ya
Jack

Trying Not to be Dead

I want to be either dead or alive.  The middle ground of life would be pretty boring.  That’s why I planted pistachio trees 10 years to full production and started a cow herd this past Tuesday.  If I breed 300 heifers by artificial insemination, they will have their calves next September and will help pay the bills sometime in 2017.  I am also learning better ways to invigorate the health of our V6 ranch soils to help keep me alive.
My wife made a comment that it was nice to live for the future but what about paying the bills for today? “That’s a good thought,” I said, because the first tenet of a good steward of the land is to pay your bills so you get to hang around to see the future become the present. So I find it necessary to not look so far into the future.
I’ve got it! I think I’ve got it!  CHICKENS!  Yes that’s it, from the cradle to the grave in 10 weeks.  So with the demise of hand picked cotton in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley many 10′ by 30′ cotton trailers were left to become sign boards along our California highways and for me a perfect chicken coop.  We have an army of hungry predators that call the V6 ranch home– from foxes to raccoons, coyote to bobcats, red tail hawks to golden eagles and possibly a down and out traveler passing through.
The day old chicks will arrive next spring.  After a 2 week stay in a brooder they will move to our pistachio orchard where their job will be to eat grass and bugs in the sunshine hours and roost in their cotton trailer at night. Then they will move the length of the trailer each night (30′) to poop on the land, fertilizing the soil in a much more friendly way than a sack of ammonium sulfate.
I’m writing this blog and it’s Thanksgiving what a wonderful day not to be dead.
See Ya
Jack

Fire Will Always Impact Our Lives

Now, what are we going to do about it?!  The first thing we have to do, I believe, is to relieve Smokey The Bear of his duty as manager of our forest and grasslands.  We need to seriously question his forest management credentials because Smokey has done more damage to our forest and wild lands than all of the arsonists that ever lit a match.

Here it comes, mothers everywhere will cry out in unison, “You’re sick Jack Varian when you question the most revered bear in the woods who pontificates about the proper management of our forest and woodlands!” How could you possibly bring dishonor to this symbol that has taught generations of us to believe that his methods of forest and wild land management are above reproach and then you sully all of his friends like Bambi, Thumper Rabbit and all the Blue Birds that Walt Disney dreamed up to live in an enchanting forest that just doesn’t exist and never will.  Walt created a setting designed to give us all a case of the Warm Fuzzies that could only be cured by a trip to the movies to see Bambi.

As the throngs depart the theaters across our land there’s a ground swell of anxiety about how to save our forests.  The perfect storm has been created.  Enter the public relation industry that knows nothing about forest health but a whole lot about human emotions.  “Let’s see, we need a hero to save our forests and here he comes freshly painted by some commercial artist… Say hello to Smokey the Bear with proper hat on head and what will become his famous rallying cry, ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FOREST FIRES.” That statement is a fraud, an affront to reality.  So let’s stop believing that somehow we are going to make fire disappear from our forests and grasslands by using Smokey the Bear teaching.

Instead, let’s use some science and common sense; then we can make some management decisions that recognize that fire has always been a part of the environment and always will be!

I think what needs to happen now is a new strategy that takes part of the budget from the U.S. FOREST SERVICE and from CAL FIRE.  We should spend some of these bucks on a very lack luster, tedious, totally devoid of any chance to be a hero job.  This not glorious, but quite important job will be a person correcting 100 years of governmental mismanagement by removing the decades of understory build up that has happened when Smokey was running the show.  (By the way Mother Nature and Indian tribes in times past did it for free with cold fires that kept the dead wood under control.)

Then, and this will really upset all the died in the Wool Tree Huggers, we need to do some tree thinning.  Some of it could be done by a lumber company, joined by Cal Fire and the U.S.F.S.  I’m sure this lumber company wouldn’t mind if some official monitored their methods of harvest.

Reading from Bloomberg Businessweek: Last year, the federal government spent $3 billion putting out fires.  This is five times as much as 20 years ago.  California expenditures have doubled since 1998 to $1.6 billion.

The Valley Fire took the lives of four humans, 2,000 structures, and the lives of countless domestic and wild animals.  If that is not a wake up call to challenge the status quo, then there is no hope for us to solve all the other problems that take common sense to carry the day.
See Ya
Jack

The V6 Ranch Conservation Easement: Defined

I believe that the spirit of this agreement should address the goals to be accomplished and the methods used to accomplish these objectives.

Upon the signing of the Conservation Easement, a vacuum was created by the fact that the Varian Family L.L.C. could no longer use the sale of a portion of the ranch in order to cure economic or family difficulties. The question then becomes: how do we fill the vacuum in a way that satisfies all the parties that have an interest in the sustainability of the V6 Ranch?

First, all the noble goals that this land can provide the ranch must be managed in ways that will keep it solvent so invoices are paid. Second, a policy of flexibility that allows a diverse number of practices to be employed, thus insuring that a sustainable landscape for the good of all will be preserved.

The following practices at this time we believe give management the elbow-room to operate the V6 Ranch, but it should not preclude that the future will undoubtably present new ideas that must be given fair consideration. If they have merit and meet the ranch goals, then they can be implemented.

  1. The right to amend this easement shall be maintained.
  2. The use of grazing animals that will allow the symbiotic relationship between grazer and grass to flourish is so granted.
  3. In order to provide a sustainable neighborhood for wildlife to thrive the management will emphasize the need to provide feed, water and cover.
  4. Hunting and fishing is a sustainable and necessary part of good game management.
  5. The enjoyment of the land by the public is an admirable use and will help keep The V6 Ranch economically sound. The types of recreation that are allowed must not diminish the sustainability and quality of life on The V6 Ranch.
  6. Decision making is an endless process which effects the quality of life for every living thing on The V6 Ranch. Therefore, good decisions will be grounded by considering the whole: how a decision affects the speed of water (slowing is good, speeding is bad); is the The V6 Ranch stewardship reliable and beneficial?
  7. With the ever increasing human population and our ability to literally move mountains, climate change is most likely. The V6 Ranch will do its best to help reverse climate change on our land by harvesting sunlight. We will use grazing animals to harvest growing things so the soil is left covered with litter. This encourages the percolation  of water into the soil and reduces soil temperature, thus reducing evaporation. The V6 ranch will encourage photosynthesis, the natural process that converts sunlight into organic substances (chiefly sugars) and removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (one cause of global warming), helps green things grow, sequesters carbon to the soil and puts oxygen back into the atmosphere. The V6 Ranch has the best of intentions to help arrest climate change, but we all must recognize that part of the natural course of events is chaos from drought, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and more that can lay man’s best plans to rest. So once again, flexibility is a necessary component of good management.
  8. Mutual trust and respect, if they are present then all of the above can happen, if they are absent then we will all collectively suffer the cost of mistrust

The Varian Family L.L.C.