Tuesday, October 29, 2019

What Effect Do Fire Retardants Have on Vineyard Soil?

Can anyone point me to any research on this?

Here's the only article I've found so far:

Monday, October 28, 2019

Timely | Stephen Pyne's TED Talk: How Fire Shapes Everything

Stephen J. Pyne: The Pyrocene

I am posting Stephen Pyne's magnificent summary of the history of fire on the planet. I just discovered his work today, and it seems so timely.

His initiation into the world of fire started at 18 when he began working on a fire crew, work he continued for 15 years, first during the summers when he was an undergraduate at Stanford. Later he became a professor, authored 35 books and was awarded a MacArthur fellow. He retired from Arizona State University in 2018.

Winter Isn't Coming - Prepare for the Pyrocene

Millions of acres are burning in the Arctic, thousands of fires blaze in the Amazon, and with seemingly endless flareups in between, from California to Gran Canaria – fire seems everywhere, and everywhere dangerous and destabilizing. With a worsening climate, the fires dappling Earth from the tropics to the tundra appear as the pilot flames of an advancing apocalypse.  To some commentators, so dire, so unprecedented are the forecast changes that they argue we have no language or narrative to express them.

Actually, the fire scene is worse than the headlines and breathless commentaries suggest because it is not just about bad burns that crash into towns and trash countrysides.  It’s equally about the good fires that have vanished because they are suppressed or no longer lit.  More of the world suffers from a famine of good fires than from a surfeit of bad ones; the bad ones are filling a void; they are not so much wild as feral.

Underwriting both is that immense inflection in which humans turned from burning living landscapes to burning lithic ones in the form of fossil fuels.  That is the Big Burn of today, acting as a performance enhancer on all aspects of fire’s global presence.  So vast is the magnitude of these changes that we might rightly speak of a coming Fire Age equivalent in stature to the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene.  Call it the Pyrocene.

So there does exist a narrative, one of the oldest known to humanity, and one that has defined our distinctive ecological agency. It’s the story of fire.  Earth is a uniquely fire planet – it has been since life clambered onto the continents.  Equally, humans are a uniquely fire creature, not only the keystone species for fire but a species monopolist over its manipulation.  The fires in the Arctic testify to the planetary antiquity of fire.  Nearly all are kindled by lightning and burn biotas nicely adapted to fire; many could be suppressed, but extinguishing them will only put off, not put out, the flames. By contrast, the fires in the Amazon bear witness to a Faustian pact that hominins made with fire so long ago it is coded into our genome.  They are set by people in circumstances that people made, well outside ecological barriers and historical buffers.

This is a narrative so ancient it is prelapsarian. Our alliance with fire has become a veritable symbiosis.  We got small guts and big heads because we learned to cook food.  We went to the top of the food chain because we learned to cook landscapes.  Now we have become a geological force because we have begun to cook the planet.  We have taken fire to places and times it could never have reached on its own, and it has taken us everywhere, even off world. We have leveraged fire; fire has leveraged us.

How this happened is a largely hidden history – hidden in plain sight.  Fire disappeared as an integral subject about the time we hid fire into Franklin stoves and steam engines.  (The only fire department at a university is the one that sends emergency vehicles when an alarm sounds.)  It lost standing as a topic in its own right.  As with the fires of today, its use in history has been to illustrate other themes, not to track a narrative of its own.

Yet how the present scene came to be is clear enough in its general contours.  How, outfitted with firesticks early humans could take over select biotas.  How, with axes and plows and livestock as fire fulcrums, societies could recode the patches and pulses of vast swathes of land for agriculture.  How, hungering for ever more firepower, we turned from burning living landscapes to burning lithic ones – once-living biomass converted over eons into oil, gas, lignite, and coal.  Our firepower became unbounded.

That is literally true.  The old quest for sources has morphed into one for sinks.  The search for more stuff to burn has become a problem of where to put all the effluent.  Industrial combustion can burn without any of the old ecological checks-and-balances: it can burn day and night, winter and summer, through drought and deluge.  We are taking stuff out of the geologic past and unleashing it into the geologic future.

It’s not only about changing climate, or acidifying oceans. It’s about how we live on the land. Land use is the other half of the modern dialectic of fire on Earth, and when a people shift to fossil-fuels, they alter the way they inhabit landscapes.  They rely on industrial pyrotechnologies to organize agriculture, transportation, urban patterns, even nature reserves, all of which tend to aggravate the hazards from bad fire and complicate the reintroduction of good fire. The many conflagrations sparked by powerlines nicely capture the pyric collision between living and lithic landscapes. Still, even if fossil-fuel combustion were tamed, we would yet have to work through our deranged relationship to fires on living landscapes.

Because fire is a reaction, not a substance, the scale of our fire-induced transformations can be difficult to see.  But we are fashioning the fire-informed equivalents of ice sheets, mountain glaciers, pluvial lakes, outwash plains, and of course changing sea levels, not to mention sparking wholesale extinctions.  Too much bad fire, too little good, too much combustion overall - it’s an ice age for fire.  The Pyrocene is moving from metaphor to descriptor.

It’s all there: narrative, analogue, explication.  A couple of centuries ago we began hiding our fires in machines and off site, which can make it difficult for modern urbanites to appreciate how profoundly anthropogenic fire practices inform Earth today.  We use the rampaging flames to animate other agendas, not to understand what fire is telling us.  But fire, the great shape-shifter, is fast morphing beyond our grasp.

What does a full-blown fire age look like?  We’re about to find out.

If you want more, go for the bigger enchilada:

Update: Status of Organic Vineyards in Kincade Fire Area

NOTE: 15,000 of Sonoma's 60,000 acres of vines are located in Alexander Valley.

Alexander Valley Vineyards | Facebook Update, Monday, Oct 28, 10 am:

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. These are just a few (pictured above) of the many that left their communities & families to protect ours. We didn’t get to see them all or even learn their names, but we are forever grateful to each & every one of them. Prayers for their continued safety.


Press Democrat reports:

Hank Wetzel, owner of Alexander Valley Vineyards, said several outbuildings suffered minor damage on his property. He has about 500 tons of grapes still in the vineyard, which could likely go to rot as the property does not have electricity.

“We just don’t know if we are going to get them picked at this point,” Wetzel said.

With nearly 15,000 acres of vineyards, Alexander Valley is home to 31 wineries and 82 growers. About 80 percent of the valley’s grape crop had been picked before the Kincade fire started last week, said Michael Haney, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners trade group. The valley, known for its premium cabernet sauvignon, is typically the last wine region where harvest wraps up for the season.

• Eco Terreno (Cloverdale) | Mark Lyon | Facebook Update, Monday, Oct. 28

Updates; The Vineyard, Employees and Animals are out of harms way of the Kincade Fire. Fortunately; Eco Terreno Vineyards and House are up in the Northern Part of Alexander Valley. Winds are currently pushing the fire from Southern Alexander Valley to Chalk Hill Rd. No evacuations in Cloverdale. We have delayed our harvest today; to hopefully resume tomorrow; but that’s still not certain until evacuation orders are lifted.

We are very worried about client/wineries that are on Chalk Hill Rd, along with employee/friends in the Healdsburg/Windsor communities. We hope that our brave and exhausted fire fighters can thwart the flames. These are very sad times for those who have lost homes and wineries. Our Sonoma County community is strong and will rally to help.

For now; we are hunkered down in the town of Sonoma at our house. We do have power and not under any evacuation orders. Luckily; no new fires have ignited in Sonoma County; despite fierce winds last Saturday night thru Sunday PM. We heard a transmission line blow up Saturday night. This is a nightmare and need these winds to die down.

• Medlock Ames | Facebook Update Sunday, Oct. 27, 10 am

Update: another scary night. Our tasting room on Alexander Valley and our winery on Chalk Hill are still standing but remain threatened by #kincadefire. Our hearts ache for our neighbors who weren’t as lucky. Our entire team has been evacuated but all are safe. We remain eternally grateful for the first responders and crews who work tirelessly to fight back the flames. We will remain closed until further notice.

Last night the #kincadefire swept quickly through our vineyards at Bell Mountain Ranch and touched almost 75% of our property. With the amazing efforts of the first responders, none of the buildings including our winery, barns and offices burned. 

A few vines out of our 55 acres were singed. 

Our wines were safe in our winery and the remaining 30 tons which we harvested quickly were brought to our friends @saintsburywinery in Carneros as soon as the evacuation order was given. 

We couldn’t be more thankful for the help of the first responders and will let them continue in their tireless efforts to protect our community. Our team remains safe albeit in different spots due to the evacuation. Thank you all for your love and support and we will share more details soon.

Here are the terraces of our Jefferson merlot block today. Still standing and #sonomastrong

• Skipstone | Facebook Update Monday, Oct. 28, 9 am

Late Wednesday night, the Kincade fire broke out in the hillsides above Skipstone, and rapidly spread throughout our region near Geyserville in Alexander Valley, including Skipstone.

The fire continues to burn to the south of our property and has grown with limited containment, but we are hopeful that the immediate threat to Skipstone and our neighborhood has passed. We're now keeping a close eye on the number of smoldering spot-burns spread across our property as the wind conditions remain concerning at this time.

Most importantly - all of the Skipstone team and our families are safe and secure. Our horses and sheep are also accounted for, and have been removed from the property to a safer zone.

The fire swept broadly through our estate grounds, and we lost several of the structures, but are fortunate that our main residence is still standing. Portions of our vineyard and olive groves also suffered some damage, but we will repair and replant as necessary in the affected areas to fully recover. 

Our wine and olive oil program will continue uninterrupted. 

The 2019 wine lots are safely fermenting and the recent vintages are aging in barrels in our remote winery, so there is no impact to any of our Skipstone wine in the very near term.

Other Sonoma wineries in Dry Creek, West County and Sonoma Coast as well as many in Napa: closed until power outages are over.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Watch This: Great Documentary from Germany (in English) on Insectageddon and How to Help

I stumbled across this last night in my YouTube feed and, after viewing, wanted to share it as widely as possible. It's a great show from German public television that follows several prominent scientists who have been studying insectageddon. Travel with them to Romania (where insects still thrive, undiminished by massive pesticide use) and into the labs and apple orchards where research is being conducted.


Friday, October 18, 2019

Mimi Casteel in New York Times and a Note for Eric Asimov on Actual Pesticide Use

Nice to see even more coverage of Mimi Casteel's pioneering regenerative philosophy and world view in the New York Times.

Read Eric Asimov's article here.

I did disagree with his statement that most wineries don't use agrochemicals. Here's my comment on the NYT site:

You write, "Today, although mass-produced wines are still largely farmed industrially, the best producers have mostly abandoned the fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and supplements that are the foundation of chemical farming." 

I so wish I could say this is true. But as the author of OrganicallyNapa.com and OrganicallySonoma.com, I can tell you these two "best producer" regions still use tons of glyphosate (carcinogen; used on more than half of Napa vines in 2017) as well as imidaclopid and boscalid (both bee and bird toxins; used on more than half of Napa vines in 2017) along with more dangerous chemicals like glufosinate-aluminum and the neurotoxin mancozeb. Sonoma growers use these at even higher rates. 

It would be wrong for consumers to think that these chemicals are not routinely used on the "best" wines. 

It's time to stop granting conventional and "sustainable" growers a free pass on their anti-eco practices and enable more transparent and honest conversations about their farming. 

There are alternatives. Eight percent of Napa's vines are certified organic. Which is why I chose to write about them, as well as other producers (including in Sonoma) who are farming at the standards most people would feel comfortable with and admire."

Here are the latest stats for Napa from the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation: