Friday, February 15, 2013

Meteorite Hit Indiana!

I posted this image earlier today on twitter as a tease, asking if anyone knew what it is. It is proof that a meteorite struck Indiana! Before my passion for the planet turned green, I studied exploration geophysics. A science-y background is serving me well as a BathroomFarmer because I have a science-y vocabulary and can read serious science-y publications without dying of boredom and I can fail forward on the BathroomFarm in a systematic science-y way so no one in the future has to make the same mistakes when growing an indoor garden of his own!

If you have ever been to Newton or Benton Counties in Indiana, you know it has some of the best farmland in the world. It's nice and flat with a thick topsoil of glacial till washed all the way down to Central Indiana from the glaciers that carved the Great Lakes. There's nothing but farm for miles around and that also makes it an ideal place for a giant wind farm spanning several counties, too. Well, except around Kentland, IN,  where it gets a little weird.

Here's the weird. This is called the Kentland Structure. Around 97 million years ago, a really big meteorite impacted this spot. It is one of the biggest impact features in the world and the 4th largest known such structure in the United States. I won't bore you with all of the ho-hum science, but this area is a quarry today. The "money rock" at this operation is called St. Peter sandstone. It's a white sandstone that is almost pure quartz and is used in glass manufacturing.

This is a hand sample of what St. Peter sandstone normally looks like and what the grains look like under magnification. It is glistening and gorgeous in large outcrops. There's plenty of this rock at Kentland, but there's also something amiss about some of the sandstone, too. My rock sample at the top of this post is called a shatter cone and is pretty well recognized today as a result of meteorite impact. I visited this quarry in 1979 with a class. We toted tripods and theodolites all over that quarry and measured locations and angles of the St. Peter sandstone that was altered by catastophe and now looked like dull, gray cones. Some of these cones were more than 3 feet long. We were trying to replicate the study behind a hugely controversial theory from one of the most famous geophysicists ever. In the old days, when we carved our class notes into the same tablets of stone we studied, people thought Robert Sinclair Dietz was a little, well, "out there".


I still think it's pretty cool that his original scientific theory was formulated and, now agreed, proven, right here in the Great State of Indiana. What makes the Kentland Structure the location for the study is the almost complete flatness of the area, which has always been flat throughout the history of the planet. There is, therefore, no necessity to reconstruct the position of the rocks at the exact time of impact. When we say that nothing changes in Indiana, we truly do mean EVER. Once we measured angles of the cones, it was possible to calculate per Dietz's idea, where the points of the cones intersected above the ground. That's the actual point of the impact. Almost no very large meteorites ever hit the ground. Friction from our atmosphere cause the explosion to occur well above the ground, which is the case here.

It still packed a giant PUNCH, though. It blew a dome 12.5 kilometers in diameter and created faults in the process. It exposed some really valuable rock that was deeply buried. It pulvarized the quartz particles in some of the St. Peter sandstone into rock flour. Some of this rock flour was instantaneously rehardened by intense, fast heat and pressure into cones making a record of the event. In case you ever need something smart to say at a cocktail party, the shock metamorphism that made the shatter cones is technically called cryptoexplosion deformation. How big was the blast that made the Kentland Structure? It would be the equivalent of the force of an earthquake measuring XII+ in the Mercalli Scale, but concentrated in a tiny area.

Persons settling "these parts" in Benton County, IN had no idea what was hidden beneath their crops. As erosion thinned the topsoil, revealing rock with economic use and quarrying began, people observed the big clues to a catastrophic past. Studies conducted in this site have contributed to a better understanding meteorite impacts that are studied all over the world. No doubt, geophysicists will be heading to Russia with their tripods and theodolites to look for the new clues. What makes the Valentine's Day Impact very exciting to study is that there are videos and eyewitness accounts to add to the information in the rocks! Who'd a thunk all this ruckus started back home on Indiana farmland?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Free Lunch for the BathroomFarm

I have to be a little bit careful about letting people into the inner sanctum of my sustainist lifestyle where doing more with less is a way of life. One day I happened to open my freezer in the presence of a longtime friend who happened to notice an unusual container in there. Not being shy, he had to inquire why I keep garbage in there. Uh-oh.

It wasn't ANY OLD GARBAGE. No-sir-ee. It was the beginnings of a new carefully curated experiment of supplementing specific nutrients in the BathroomFarm. I don't have a worm bin of my own, so I order worm poo (castings) from an Etsy seller which is an ideal all-purpose fertilizer to add to my potting mix. But, it has also come to my attention that plants have specific nutritional requirements for better growth and designer plant food can be pricey. Remember, my goal is to keep the cost of growing an indoor garden as close to being free as possible.

Lucky for me I have a discarded old blender and lucky for me I drink lots of coffee and eat lots of eggs. I'm also really good at prowling the Internet for free samples, so I have a regular supply of organic coffee in small quantities. Any coffee is OK to use, but organic is better if you can get it. Drink the coffee and save the grounds. Likewise, eat the eggs and save the shells. I keep that mess frozen until I have a one-quart container full. Then I put it in the blender and make a frappe which is quite luscious to tomatoes and many other plants.
Mixing this goo into my regular potting mix of dollar store dirt (because its cheap and easy to get within walking distance of most urban Americans) and peat moss, perlite and a bit of worm poo makes a growing medium that's ideal for plant growth. It's very important to have extremely nutrient-rich soil for container gardens because plants deplete the nutrients quickly. It's also important to keep the medium fluffy and help it retain water better and perlite and peat moss help with that. The worm poo works wonders in providing basic nutrients as well as trace minerals. The reason for adding the coffee and eggshell frappe is to supplement calcium which is essential for tomato growth as well as increasing the acidity of the soil thanks to the coffee. You can add this goo to the soil of any calcium-loving plant that grows best in acidic soil. You can also add it to plants already potted to improve the soil.
When transplanting the seedling, I buried its intentionally leggy stem deeply in the pot and and covered it up with the potting mixture, leaving a few leaves protruding from the dirt. In general, tomatoes like being transplanted and their stems can be buried to sprout a better root system.
It seems happy and healthy immediately after transplanting. And, though taking awhile to sprout roots along the buried stem, it has started growing like crazy! I've had less than perfect results with tomatoes, but I am more optimistic than ever after putting more thought into the composition of the soil.

I made a tripod trellis from sticks found in my naturalized yard to wind this vine around to keep it compact and less unruly. Go little tomato plant, go! I'm glad you liked your free lunch from common kitchen scraps!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Do You Know Your Seeds, Really?

EIEIO! It's Super Sow Sunday, the day that officially kicks off the North American gardening season and when we begin starting seeds indoors in anticipation of warmer days ahead. My BathroomFarm is not a seasonal garden. It grows all year 'round, but I look forward to the participating in the community of gardening at this time of the year. I, like everyone else, have a desk full of seed catalogs. But, really, these days, we need to stop and think about how well we know our seeds.

Look at this! This is an aging chart showing how most of the seed companies in the world are owned by chemical engineering companies. Nothing about that sounds too tasty for the table. More and more small companies are being acquired every year, so it's a good idea to check the history and ownership of the sources of your seeds. It's true that most of these companies, are supplying seeds for factory farms. It's also true that many people are growing their own food because this is exactly what they don't want.

Really, are you completely breaking free from this corporate system, and all of the creepy frankenfood associated with it, by gardening? You think that by buying heirloom or organic seeds that you are no longer supporting the downward spiral in biodiversity.
I was shocked to learn, that in its quest to monopolize the American food production industry, that Monsanto has begun buying the names of varieties of heirloom vegetables. When you buy seeds from plants with names owned by Monsanto, Monsanto is getting paid. Money fuels their fire for world domination. There is some good news. None of these plants have been genetically modified. All that is owned is the intellectual property of the name of the plant.


The plot further thickens for farmers who grow plants from seeds whose names are owned or whose genetic patents are owned by chemical engineering companies. H. R. 193 is now pending in the United States House of Representatives. If passed, this law would require farmers, who grow seeds with intellectual property owned by another party, to register saved seeds and pay fees on them.


There is good news, though. There are plenty of ethical organic and heirloom seed companies who want your business and are willing to take a pledge to assure their customers of the integrity of their products. To make the simple act of buying seed with conscience simple again, be sure to ask your supplier if they have signed "The Safe Seed Pledge". If they have not, but want to make this commitment to quality of their products and to biodiversity, please share the link below with them. I believe that this is going to be an important factor in consumer choice in the very near future.


Once you navigate all of this madness surrounding the once-simple seed and mindfully purchase your seeds, you have some planting to do! Freshly planted seeds and tiny seedlings do need some tender loving care. I make upcycled "watering cans" from empty milk cartons. It's simple to do. Just punch holes in the cap to gently spritz water on your tiny plants.