The Math of Planting Garlic

October 10, 2013

Planting a bed of garlic at the Heifer Ranch CSA.

Planting a bed of garlic at the Heifer Ranch CSA.

One of the jobs my class helped with at the Heifer Ranch was planting garlic in the Heifer CSA garden. The gardeners had laid rows and rows of this black plastic mulch to keep down the weeds, protect the soil, and help keep the ground warm over the winter.

Laying down the plastic using a tractor. The mechanism simultaneously lays down a drip line beneath the plastic for watering.

Laying down the plastic using a tractor. The mechanism simultaneously lays down a drip line beneath the plastic for watering.

We then used an improvised puncher to put holes in the plastic through which we could plant cloves of garlic pointy side up. The puncher was a simple flat piece of plywood, about one foot by three feet in dimensions, with a set of bolts drilled through. The bolts extended a few inches below the board and would be pressed through the black plastic. Two handles on each side of the board made it easier for two people to maneuver and punch row after row of holes.

Punching holes in the plastic.

Punching holes in the plastic.

As I took my turn punching holes, we did the math to figure out just how much garlic we were planting. A quick count of the last imprint of the puncher showed about 15 holes per punch. Each row was about 200 feet long, which made for approximately 3,000 heads of garlic per row.

We managed to plant one and a half rows. That meant about 4,500 garlic cloves. With ten people planting, that meant each person planted about 450 cloves. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. The Math of Planting Garlic, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Arkansan Spiders

October 9, 2013

The Heifer Ranch is home to quite the variety of large spiders, including the tarantulas we found a couple years ago. Most of them work hard at keeping the insect pests down. Here’s a collection of some of them we ran into this year.

A green spider from near the Heifer global village's refugee camp.

A green lynx spider from near the Heifer global village’s refugee camp.

A brown spider found in the brush on the dam.

A brown spider found in the brush on the dam.

A wolf spider with babies on its back. Found in the grass near the foot of the dam.

A wolf spider with babies on its back. Found in the grass near the foot of the dam.

Yellow garden spider found in the herb garden.

Yellow garden spider found in the herb garden.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Arkansan Spiders, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Situational Morality

September 29, 2013

The stolen milk.

The stolen milk.

“Stealing is always wrong,” versus, “If I were starving, I’d steal from A. no problem.” That was the gist of our discussion the evening after spending a night in the Heifer’s global village.

The “slum dwellers” had started off with very little in the way of resources, and two of them decided, on their own initiative, to steal some “milk” for their “baby” from the “Guatemalans” who were significantly better off. However, the rest of the slum group found out there was quite a bit of dissension in the ranks.

The thieves also stole most of the rest of the milk while they were at it to trade with the other groups. Their logic — I think — was that since all the groups needed milk, and they would be distributing it, then everyone could ultimately get what they needed, while if they had not stolen the milk then the slums might not have gotten any.

The reverberations throughout the all the houses in the global village were profound, however, lots of distrust and animosity developed that had not been there before. It made it more difficult for the slums to get the other resources that they needed, because the other groups could not trust their motivations.

In fact, the other groups ended up having a harder time trading and communicating with each other because of the breakdown in trust. One other group started to lie about what they had and did not have. At first this was to deter theft, but they quickly realized that they could use this to their advantage.

Interestingly, it all worked out in the end. The slum dwellers felt guilty enough to exhibit real concern when they thought their plan had gone wrong and one of the other groups did not have any milk. The Guatemalans ended up with enough resources of their own to have a decent dinner, and even passed on some of their left-over vegetables to the slums. The slums invited everyone over to the “christening” of their water-balloon baby and everyone came. And we got to have a richer discussion than if everyone had just been nice to everyone else.

A generous donation to the slums.

A generous donation to the slums.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Situational Morality, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Milking Goats

October 20, 2011

Learning how to milk goats.

Part of the afternoon chores at the Heifer Ranch was milking the goats. It was not something required of the students, but since our barn was located right next to the goats’ milking barn, a lot of them volunteered to try it out.

Carefully milking a goat.

Most used the somewhat dainty, one handed technique, and I’ll confess I was among that group, but a few students (see first image) really got into it.

A good producing goat (doe) can produce about 3 quarts per day (McNulty et al., 1997).

After milking, the goats’ teats are dipped in iodine solution (25 ppm recommended by McNulty et al., 1997) to kill any germs and prevent infection.

Sanitizing with iodine solution.

As for the green splotches on the backs of the goats. On our first morning at the Heifer Ranch we had walked past a paddock with about half a dozen goats. A student noticed the green and asked why. Fortunately, we had a guide to explain a little about the basics of animal husbandry – apparently, the marks indicate which goats are likely to be pregnant.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Milking Goats, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

A Night in the Slums (simulated)

October 18, 2011

Uncomfortable sleeping arrangements of the (simulated) slum.

One of the highlights of the Heifer Ranch trip was the chance for students to spend a night in their global village. It’s really a set of villages, each simulating a life in an under-developed part of a different developing country.

The Thai village. Everyone wanted to end up in the Thai village.

The Guatemalan house is pretty nice; it keeps you out of the elements, you have actual beds, and running water. The Thai houses are actually pretty awesome. They stand on stilts next to the open fields, giving good air circulation and elegant views. They remind me a lot of some of the older houses from where I grew up. The refugee camp, on the other hand is pretty decrepit. The slums aren’t much better but at least have one house with a wooden floor, though the door was so broken it was pretty useless.

Our students were assigned villages at random, but varying numbers were placed in each village to replicate the population densities more accurately. One adult was assigned to each village. We were supposed to act as if we were incompetent (not hard I know), either as two-year-olds or senile elders.

I ended up in the high population slums.

A dragonfly sits on the hard ground in the slums.

On the positive side, I was not the only adult there. Mrs H., who had joined our group with her daughter for the week of activities at Heifer, was also assigned to the slums. On the negative side, she and the girls commandeered the one “posh” building that had an actual floor to sleep on. The boys and I had to sleep on the hard, stony ground.

It didn’t help that one of the boys was “pregnant”. One person in each group been given a water balloon in a sling and told to keep it with them, safe, until dinner, when they would “give birth”, at which point the others in the “family” could help take care of the “child”. A key objective was for the child to survive until morning.

The boys scouted all the houses in the village and scavenged a large piece of metal grating to sleep on. It was not great, but it was doable. Better, at least, than the concrete-hard, uneven ground.

Making dinner over an open fire in the simulated slum.

There was a lot more that happened on that night. None of the groups was given enough to be comfortable on their own. There was a lot of haggling, trading and even commando raids, but, in the end, they pulled together and made something of it.

The experience was quite useful, I think. Conditions were uncomfortable enough to register with the students, though a single night is not enough to really internalize all the challenges of urban slums where over one billion people spend their lives. But it does provide some very useful context for the poignant images of Jonas Bendiksen (Living in the Slums) and James Mollison (Where Children Sleep).

Image from the book, Where Children Sleep by James Mollison.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. A Night in the Slums (simulated), Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Fog on the Downs and Lake

October 15, 2011

Early morning.

The first few mornings at Heifer were cold. About five or six degrees Celcius (in the 40’s Fahrenheit) at sunrise. The large barn we slept in had been “converted” from housing horses to housing people. Apparently, horses prefer wide-open, drafty places.

But a warm sleeping bag goes a long way. And being forced to wake up just before the break of dawn does have certain advantages. I’m rarely up and about in time to capture the morning light. With the early morning fog drifting across the slopes and rising off the lake, those first few mornings were wonderful for photography.

Sunrise is usually the coldest time of day. After all, the Sun’s been down all night, and is only just about to start warming things up again. Cold air can’t hold as much moisture (water vapor) as warm air, so as the air cools down overnight the relative humidity gets higher and higher until it can’t hold any more – that’s called saturation humidity; 100% relative humidity. Then, when the air is saturated with water vapor, if it cools down just a little more, water droplets will start to form. The cooler it gets the more water is squeezed out of the air. Water vapor in the air is invisible, but the water droplets are what we see as fog. Clouds are big collections of water droplets too; clumps of fog in the sky.

Early morning fog drifts over the lake.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Fog on the Downs and Lake, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Tarantulas near the Global Village

October 14, 2011

Tarantula encountered on the path between the Zambia and Thailand (at the Heifer International Global Village).

We ran into this young tarantula on the path between the Zambian and Thai houses in Heifer International’s global village in Arkansas. We were taking the tour, and while this young fellow (probably male according to Zaq our guide) was not part of the regular schedule, we were lucky to find him. While tarantulas are venomous (mildly), and some have stinging hairs, their bites are about as painful as a bee sting (Warriner, 2011). But they are large, and, since most of us have a visceral fear of large arachnids, they’re pretty awesome to encounter (charismatic megafauna – is the term I like to use).

Zaq branished the wooden Spoon of Silence and shouted, "Hey. Take a look at this."

Tarantulas arrived in Arkansas about 8000 years ago (Warriner, 2011) at the height of the warmer, drier climate that followed the melting of the great North American glaciers about 10,000 years ago. The climate of Arkansas has gotten a bit wetter since then, but the spiders survive in isolated, drier upland areas (according to the Arkansas Tarantula Survey), like bits of grassland surrounded by forest. Pretty much like the grassy slope between the Thai and Zambian houses in the global village.

They can live to be 10-20 years old, which I think is pretty impressive for a spider.

Tarantulas usually just hang out at the mouth of their burrow and ambush anything that looks like prey to them. This includes insects and other spiders, but sometimes even lizards and very small mammals.

Identifying tarantula species is apparently difficult because their differences are usually quite subtle. The Arkansas chocolate tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi), “is presumed to be Arkansas’ only tarantula species” (Barnes, 2002).

If you annoy them (with something like the Wooden Spoon of Silence) tarantulas will rear up and look menacing. Which is pretty awesome.

A slightly annoyed tarantula.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Tarantulas near the Global Village, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

A Wasp and its Prey

October 11, 2011

A mason wasp (Monobia quadridens) catches a caterpillar.

Maggie E. has a wonderful eye for spotting small fauna. She found this mason wasp (Monobia quadridens) while we were weeding the Heifer Ranch’s herb garden. It had caught this caterpillar and was trying to take off with it. It was a difficult job – the caterpillar probably weighed as much as the wasp – but it finally managed to take it away.

The wasp found the caterpillar difficult to move.

According to the Atlas of Vespidae, these wasps prey on small moth caterpillars. Which is probably why they are usually found in open habitats with flowers; hence the herb garden.

They also use caterpillars to feed their larvae (Wikipedia, 2011). They’ll lay an egg in a cell of their nest and stick a paralyzed beetle larvae, spider or caterpillar in with the egg to feed the wasp larvae when it hatches.

References

The wasp finally managed to drag the caterpillar to the edge of the wooden bench before it could take off.

Identifying these wasps was not too hard. The first image in the google search for “wasp caterpillar” looked just like the bug we found, carrying almost the same type of caterpillar.

The image was from the wonderful “What is that bug?” where you can send in bug pictures and the author (Daniel Marlos) will try to identify them.

What’s That Bug referenced the BugGuide which gives the full taxonomic classification and a lot of information about habitat, food and life cycle that’s in an easily readable form.

The BugGuide, in turn, cites some of the more serious resources – books and such. But it turns out that an excellent reference for the wasps (Vespidae) of northern and eastern North America is available online. It’s the Identification Atlas of the Vespidae (Hymenoptera, Aculeata) of the northeastern Nearctic region (Buck et al., 2008).

The Atlas is hosted on another excellent resource, the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification, which is a web-based journal dedicated to documenting Canadian arthropods.

In flight. If you squint properly you can see a black blur, which is the wasp, carrying a yellowish blur, which is the caterpillar.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. A Wasp and its Prey, Retrieved April 26th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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