Category Archives: Health

Repeat on my posts on Tobacco and Cancers

The following post first appeared in my January 30, 2012 blog post

When I started growing tomatoes for sale, many years ago, I read quite a bit about tomato diseases.  While there are many diseases of tomatoes, the Tobacco Mosaic Virus Disease stood out in my mind because many experts mentioned that TMV (Tobacco Mosaic Virus), which is found in ALL tobacco products, can devastate tomato plants (and some other plants such as peppers and eggplants) and is especially damaging to young plants grown in greenhouses.  The potential for serious problems is so great that growers are cautioned to not let visitors enter their greenhouse if they smoked cigarettes, pipes or cigars recently.  This knowledge is what set my mind thinking…

Is the Common TMV (Tobacco Mosaic Virus) a Possible Agent that is Responsible for Some Lung, Oral and Throat Cancers?


Tom Fox

 The TMV virus, which infects many tobacco plants, resists tobacco manufacturing processes to such a degree that most commercial growers will not allow those who have recently used tobacco products to enter their greenhouse if plants from the nightshade family (e.g. tomatoes and peppers) are growing.  Many growers also do not allow tobacco use in their tomato, potato, pepper and eggplant fields.  These growers know that the TMV from tobacco will devestate their crops.  While plant viruses, such as TMV, aren’t believed to be able to replicate in human cells,  Didier Raoult of the University of the Mediterranean in Marseilles, France,  believes he had found evidence in 2010 that the PMMV (Pepper Mild Mottle Virus) can cause fever, aches and itching in humans.  Raoult  doesn’t claim he discovered direct infection of human cells by the virus, but viral RNA (ribonucleic acid) accidental interfering with the human RNA.   The possibility of TMV being involved in the etiology of lung cancer has been discussed as long ago as 1960 when P.W. Bothwell (M.D. D.P.H. Univ. of Birmingham, England ) speculated in The Lancet that perhaps the combustion processes of tobacco burning might provide the media for modifying the TMV so that it could upset the normal RNA/protein mechanism in lung cells.  While this is an interesting hypothesis, it doesn’t seem to fit the likely scenario since it has been found that smokeless tobacco use, especially snuff dipping, is also associated with above normal oral cancer rates.   Alternatively, some may argue against TMV being involved in the etiology of smoking tobacco since, they argue, the high temperatures would destroy the viruses.  This is probably true.  However, the smoke that is drawn through the non-burning part of the tobacco could easily dislodge the viral particles from the tobacco and carry it to the user. In other words, the problem could be the non-burning part of the tobacco and not directly by the burning tobacco.

Research has indicated that Benzo[a]pyrene is a carcinogen and is found in tobacco smoke. Benzo[a]pyrene is also found in many foods such as overdone charcoal broiled steak and burnt toast.  Benzo[a]pyrene, found in tobacco smoke (including cigarette smoke), was shown to cause genetic damage in lung cells that was identical to the damage observed in the DNA of most malignant lung tumors.  Since DNA damage is believed to be the underlying cause of mutations leading to cancer, it follows that it is thought that benzo[a]pyrene, may be an important etiologic agent of lung cancer.  Nonetheless, the high oral cancer rate (especially cheek and gum cancers) among snuff dippers, compared to nontobacco users, implies that tobacco itself, and not just tobacco smoke, is a carcinogen.   The chemical family of nitrosomenes occurs in both tobacco smoke and tobacco itself.  In 1956, two British scientists, John Barnes and Peter Magee, reported that dimethylnitrosamine produced liver tumours in rats. Research was undertaken and approximately 90% of nitrosamine compounds were deemed to be carcinogenic.  The problem is that nitrosomenes are found in many foods and other consumables that are consumed by both tobacco and nontobacco users.  It seems logical to assume there is something unique to tobacco that is the cause of enormously high (some data suggests a 50 fold increase!) cheek and gum cancer rates in those people who are long term snuff dippers.  While some data suggests that nitrosamines may be responsible for this increase — the Swedish usually use a pasteurizing technique, (instead of heat treating it) of curing the tobacco for snuff use (they call it snus) which results in lower nitrosamines and apparently lower cancer rate.  However, it is just possible that this unique curing technique also results in damaging or even destroying the tobacco’s TMV.  The traditional heat treatment of curing tobacco does not destroy the TMV since this method uses a maximum temperature of 72C and it is known that TMV can survive at a temperature as high as 79C.  While nitrosamines, like TMV, do contact the cells of both smokers and nonsmokers, Health New Zealand concluded, in their study, that carcinogens and toxicants were present only below harmful levels in “smokeless” tobacco products.  This data seems to point to an unknown etiologic agent that is responsible for most tobacco related cancers.  Logically, this points to the need for serious studies to determine if TMV could be this unknown etiologic agent.  If it is, the risk associated with the use of tobacco products could be reduced by the removal of or destruction of the TMV before use.

I am not implying here with this discussion that TMV can replicate itself in a human cell or that it is infectious in a manner similar to the influenza virus.  In a way it might be appropriate to think of TMV as an environmental, natural occurring chemical that when in sufficient concentrations can damage human cell’s DNA.  Also possible is that the TMV can affect negatively the cell’s DNA repair enzymes.

One test of this theory is to eliminate the TMV by heating the tobacco to temperatures in excess of 81C.  Sterilization via irradiation is another option. The TMV eliminated tobacco can then be available for research trials.  Before this is done, however, the Swedish Snus should be tested for active TMV.  If there is a reduction in TMV levels this would seem to indicate an increase in probability that TMV is an important etiological agent for cancer and it would be fitting and proper to go ahead with the appropriate trials.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013: “An Apple a Day May Really Keep the Doctor Away.”

Years ago I read a story on some research which showed people who ate an apple a day made significantly fewer visits to a doctor.  Recently I read an online article on  WebMd titled “An Apple a Day May Really Keep the Doctor Away. This article is full of information.  One bit of information that stood out since I have had a feeling about it all the time, can be summed up by a related quote from Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet (1.5.166-7).  I LOVE that quote and think of it often when I hear doubters who seem to imply that the only things that are real are what we can see, feel and measure.  For those doubters with scientific bents I must ask them this question “What about dark matter?  It can’t be seen, felt or measured, only inferred.”

Getting back to apples here is an original quote from moi (Tom Fox): “There are many more health providing compounds than Vitamin C and Fiber in apples!”  While, as you will find out if you read the article (click here to read it) Dr. Rui Hai Liu, MD, PhD says something similar: “Over the years, no single compound has been proven to have a protective effect by itself. An apple could have hundreds of phytochemicals. We think the combination is the important thing.”

An interesting personal note here.  In the spring of last year (2012) after we were sure we wouldn’t have any apples due to the strange late winter/early spring weather (March heat wave), my daughter looked rather serious and commented “we are going to be sick this winter…”  Sad to say we were.

This year we have a real nice crop of apples.  At our stand right now we have around 30 different varieties of apples.  We have very, very sweet apples such as Gala, Tolman Sweet, Splendor, RedGold, Fuji and others and we have nice tart apples like Calville Blanc d’ Hiver, Idared, Northwest Greening, Northern Spy, and others.  We also have, apples that are both sweet and tart like Jonagold, Jonagored, Crispin/Mutsu, Hawaii (some of which have a pineapple flavor) and others.  One variety, King David, has an intense flavor (intensely sweet, intensely tart) with a wine-like flavor that reminds one of the Winesap apple, which may have been one of its parents. Our exceptionally rare apples include King David, Court Pendu Platt, Senator, Kandil Sinap, Tolman Sweet, SunCrisp, Ashmead’s Kernel and Splendor.  While most of our apples are nice and crisp right now (this includes our Red Delicious and Golden Delicious), we do have a few varieties, such as Cortland, that are soft in texture.  Personally, when I eat an apple fresh I eat it with the aid of a knife.  To get the full health benefits of eating fresh apples eat the skin along with the apple’s flesh.

When we open at 10AM we will have:

  • cherry tomatoes
  • Green and colored bell peppers, Ancho and Jalapeno peppers
  • Sweet onions
  • Beets without tops
  • Winter Squash: Acorn, Heart of Gold, Celebration, Butternut, Blue Hubbard
  • Freshly dug Carrots (by the pound, 1/2 peck, and 1/2 bushel)
  • Pie pumpkins (Learn how to make your own pumpkin puree for pies and all sorts of baked goodies HERE: How to Make Pumpkin Puree Info Paper)
  • Asian pears and Royal Riviera Pears
  • MANY varieties of apples including:  Mutsu/Crispin, Golden Delicious, Spartan, Jonathan, Splendor, Empire, Golden Russet, Tolman Sweet, Kandil Sinap, Jonagold, RedGold, Jonagored, Fuji, Northwest Greening, Idared, Roman Beauty, Calville Blanc D’Hiver, Hawaii, Honeycrisp, Gala, Cortland, Stark Jumbo, Red Delicious and samplings of Jonalicious, King David, Court Pendu Plat, SunCrisp, and Ashmead’s Kernel.
  • LARGE selection of pumpkins from miniature to giant, including many different colors such as white, tan, yellow, green, and of course orange! A large, colorful selection of Indian Corn, dried corn stalks, as well as nice quality straw bales made from oat straw for $5 each and dried corn stalks. Find all three in our greenhouse to the left of the parking lot. Watch our newest YouTube video about Fall and Giant Pumpkin harvesting!


Sweet Green Bell Peppers — half bushel $10, whole bushel $18 (that’s about 79 cents a pound). Watch our YouTube video to learn how to freeze peppers!

Limited Time Special — Jonathan and Cortland apples 1/2 bushel $6

Jalapeno Peppers — 1/2 peck for $6

Acorn, Celebration and Heart-of-Gold Winter Squash — half bushel $6 (that’s about 20 cents a pound!) – Watch our YouTube video to learn how to cook squash then read our info paper by clicking the link below!

Learn how to keep winter squash by reading our info paper: “How to Freeze Winter Squash.”

Freshly Dug Carrots — half bushel $8


Saturday, Columbus Day (October 12), 2013: What’s happening today at Magicland Farms.

Despite a rumor about some rain, today looks to be another really nice warm fall day.  Unless you are allergic to water, I wouldn’t worry today about rain.  Right now, it looks like at most we will get a tenth of inch of rain sometime between 6PM and 9PM. Tomorrow and Monday look to be absolutely gorgeous with temperatures in the 60s.  The end of next week will be cooler with average temperatures for this time of year.

Late Thursday we harvested our largest giant pumpkin – 208 pounds worth of pumpkin! It is located in our stand right in front of the red picnic table. Besides the gigantic giant pumpkin when we open at 10AM we will be having slicing, heirloom and cherry tomatoes, watermelon, sweet bell (green, red and orange), Ancho and Jalapeno peppers, sweet onions, acorn squash, Heart of Gold Squash, Celebration squash (see Special 1/2 bushel price for selected squash types and green peppers at the end of post),  spaghetti squash, butternut squash, blue Hubbard squash, pie pumpkins, Asian pears and apples including: Honeycrisp, Gala, Cortland, Stark Jumbo, Red Delicious, Snow, Spartan, Jonathan, Empire, Tolman Sweet, Kandil Sinap, RedGold, Jonagored, Northwest Greening, Hawaii and a sampling of Jonalicious.  (Note: For descriptions of Tolman Sweet, Hawaii, Candy Cane, Kandil Sinap, RedGold, Jonagored and Jonalicious apples scroll down to the end of this blog post.) We also have a large, colorful selection of Indian Corn as well as nice quality straw bales made from oat straw for $5 each and dried corn stalks. Find all three in our greenhouse to the left of the parking lot.

PUMPKIN PATCH IS OPEN! (See photos scattered throughout this post!)

Keep in mind our Pumpkin Patch is open and it is nearly full with pumpkins of all sizes — from tiny ones smaller than a baseball to huge monsters over 100 pounds!  While pumpkins have been selling well this year, we continually stock our patch with freshly picked pumpkins since we still have quite a few out in the fields yet.  In addition to Jack-O-Lantern types we have a good supply of pie pumpkins as well as small decorative gourds and corn stalks in this patch.  This is a great place to take photos!


Acorn, Celebration and Heart-of-Gold Winter Squash — half bushel $6 (that’s about 20 cents a pound!)

Spaghetti Squash– half bushel $5, whole bushel $8 (that’s about 16 cents a pound!)

Sweet Green Bell Peppers — half bushel $10. Watch our YouTube video to learn how to freeze peppers!

I am in the process of writing descriptions of our apple varieties.  In order to get this description out as soon as possible, I am leaving out the summer and early fall apples and starting with Jonamac. Since we will be selling over 40 apple varieties that ripen after Jonamac this is quite an undertaking at this busy time of the year.  To help out here I will be listing in the blog the more unusual apple varieties as we pick them.  See below for a start.

Apple Descriptions For Some Of Our Unusual Apples You May Never Have Heard About

Tolman Sweet Appearance: Fruit is medium-sized and round with yellowish-white skin  sometimes with a faint red blush. Qualities: The firm, fine-grained white flesh is juicy and very sweet with a distinctive “candy sweet apple” flavor.

History: A very old American apple believed to have originated in Dorchester Massachusetts.

CANDY CANE (a.k.a. Surprise): Appearance: A very small apple, the size may be compared to our Whitney Crab Apple. It is pale yellow, sometimes spotted with rust, and it may have a little red blush. Qualities: The flesh is crisp, flavor has a nice tart snap, and as we tell our customers – you need to bite into it to know the Surprise! Hint: Think pink! Uses: Fresh eating Harvest time and availability: October – November Storage: Good keeper. History: An obscure apple of European origin. Historical records show this being sold by southern nurseries from 1824 to 1870.

HawaiiWhen at its prime, this is an exceedingly crisp apple.  It also is quite juicy with a very sweet flavor.  The scent and taste of pineapple has been repeatedly claimed for Hawaii.  I have had quite a few Hawaii apples and found that some seem to be missing the pineapple scent (although most have the same tang found in pineapples) but I also have tasted Hawaii apples that had a definite pineapple flavor. However, you may find the only thing tropical about this apple is its name! With or without the pineapple taste this apple has consistently ranked near the top of many unbiased taste tests.

History: Hawaii was developed in California in the 1940s and is likely a cross of Golden Delicious and Gravenstein.

KANDIL SINAP: This unusual apple has a very picturesque long narrow shape with a snow white flesh that is crisp but very tender, fine grained,  juicy and moderately sweet. Kandil Sinap means “sweet apple of Sinope” and it is apparently named after the Sinop peninsula in Turkey, which juts into the Black Sea.  This variety probably arose in the early 1800s and by 1890 was a favorite in Turkey.  Its parentage is unknown. Uses:  Fresh eating.

RedGold –  Medium, school box-sized apple with gorgeous rose color overall and russet dots. Its tender flesh is yellowish-white with wonderfully sweet flavor. Especially for those who prefer low acid apples.

History: RedGold is believed to be a volunteer cross of Red and Golden Delicious.  It was discovered in 1946 in Washington state.

Jonagored Jonagored is an early ripening strain of Jonagold.

History of Jonagored: Jonagored was discovered in 1980 by Mr. Morren in Belgium, and he began propagating them in 1981. The original Jonagored arose by accident, with one branch on a Jonagold tree giving fruits that seemed to ripen a few days before the regular Jonagold, and this branch was then propagated to give more of the same.

(FYI, In a poll of nineteen apple experts in nine countries, Jonagold scored as the overall favorite.  It is a sweet-tart dessert apple (as all top dessert apples normally are) and its creamy yellow flesh of marvelous flavor is noticeably crisp and juicy and dissolves into luscious liquid in the mouth.  Its flavor and aroma comes very close to Jonathan (which has more good old fashioned apple taste than any other apple). History of Jonagold: Jonagold is a relatively new apple being released in 1968 by New York State’s Geneva Station.  It is a Jonathan and Golden Delicious Cross.)

Jonalicious   — A cross between Jonathan and one of the Delicious apples (could be either Golden or Red although most experts lean toward Golden). This apple is crisp, juicy with a delightful pronounced tartness along with a definite hint of sweetness and lots of flavor. The primary problem with this variety is that it is a very shy bearer.

History: This apple was originally developed as a seedling in Abilene, Texas and is one of the Boss’ favorite fresh eating apples, although he hates that it seldom has a good crop and despite a good crop of most varieties of apples in 2013, there were very few Jonalicious!

Snow storms remind me of having a root canal/ also started planting some onions

They’re talking about a big snowstorm Thursday and that reminds me that I just recently had a root canal.  How come?  Because the two have a lot in common.  If you have to drive a car during or just after a snowstorm you know it isn’t fun–in fact it is often painful emotionally.

The exact same thing can be said about a root canal.

Root canals cost money and time. Ditto for snowstorms.

But then all snowstorms eventually end.  Roads always clear up. And the sun always returns and its bright rays become even brighter as they reflect off the newly fallen, crystalline snow making it whiter than white. Often, when this happens–and it usually does after a snowstorm–I feel it is a taste of heaven. Whatever it is, it is a real mood booster.

In addition I must admit the long term affects of snowstorms are real positive since they are an important source of water– which helps greatly with growing stuff which is one of the things I do.

Positive thoughts though, seldom happen when slipping and sliding on the road.   But when the snow stops and the sun comes out suddenly the world looks brighter than before, for one reason it is!  After the snow has fallen and roads are in good shape, the beauty of the newly fallen snow and the lasting wonderful affects of the moisture it provides is something that lasts for a while.

What about a root canal?  Well, until the mouth heals from the procedure there is discomfort but then in just a day or so instead of suffering with a toothache and a potential infected tooth, the tooth feels fine and the world seems to be a little cheerier place.  Also, you don’t ever have to worry about a toothache again–at least in the tooth that had its root fixed–and you still can chew as before.  Too bad the snow’s wonderful effects–its cheeriness and the moisture it provides– doesn’t last as long as a root canal!

Yesterday we planted 2000 Walla Walla onion seeds in four 1020 flats.  We plan on doing more onions tomorrow and then start our onions and soon after our tomatoes for our high tunnel.

By the way, I looked at the latest weather maps and there is a fair chance we will miss the brunt of the snowstorm.  Am I happy about that?  If we had two feet of snow on the ground I would have to say yes.  But to be honest we have at most 4 inches of snow out there and the way it looks it only has a quarter inch of liquid water in it.  In other words, instead of being analogous to a root canal, one can say it looks like it could be more like a temporary filling–won’t hurt much but won’t do much good either!

Why does our home canned tomatoes taste so much better than the stuff you buy?

As we start another medium sized (about 8 quarts) batch of spaghetti sauce from our own frozen tomato sauce something comes to mind–thinking about buying some canned tomato sauce at the store.  Why is this happening?  Well, despite the fact we canned and froze over 9 bushels of tomatoes, we are starting to run low and think of the possibility that we just might buy some tomato sauce at the store in the near future.  We have tried a number of brands, many of which say they are all natural and contain only tomatoes and salt.  If you have only used commercial tomato sauce for your spaghetti and pizza sauce you might think they are fine.  However, if you are spoiled like we are, you will notice they don’t taste the same as our homemade sauce.  What’s the difference?  Well, it is hard to explain  but I guess a delightful fresh taste of the homemade sauce sure is part of its superior flavor.

Some possibilities on why our tomato sauce tastes better are:  commercial sauce is over processed, our own tomato sauce is fresher (we normally use our sauce within 9 months of canning/freezing), we grow tomato varieties that inherently taste better, we pick our tomatoes riper,  we only hand pick our tomatoes and we basically hand process our tomatoes, although we do use a Squeezo Strainer powered by a cordless drill.  While probably all of these differences add up to a better tasting product, my feeling is that the primary difference is relatively simple–we are fussy when we pick the tomatoes, when we wash the tomatoes, when we cut them up, when we put them through the Squeezo Strainer and when we can or freeze them.  We don’t pick tomatoes from dead vines or tomatoes that have bad spots on them.  The tomatoes have to look nice before we put them in our bucket.  Then while we are washing them we throw out any tomatoes that we might have picked but we shouldn’t have.  When we cut them up if they don’t look delicious inside we toss them.  In other words we are fussy.  While we don’t wind up throwing many tomaotes that we pick away, we do avoid picking tomatoes that we feel would not be the best tasting–we actually leave as many tomatoes in the field as we put in our buckets.  Do you know how commercial  tomatoes are picked?  With machines that pick EVERYTHING. I feel this is the primary difference in taste.


Two friends and good customers of ours, Ron and Ed, often discuss between themselves which is better, freezing or canning the sauce.  Ron says freezing and Ed canning.  Well we do both and we like both ways.  If we had unlimited freezer space we might just prefer freezing since its quicker and during tomato harvest time is money for us.

I do have a recommendation for those who also are running short of homemade sauce.  Tomato paste.  We have found that name brand cans of tomato paste can be substituted for sauce, all you need do is add more water to your recipe.  For some reason we prefer the flavor of spaghetti, pizza and other tomato based sauces if high quality commercial tomato paste is used instead of commercially canned tomato sauce.

By the way, we have a video on YouTube which shows in detail how we make our homemade tomato sauce.  To see this go to our youtube channel at

The fragrance of cooking spaghetti sauce from the kitchen drifting my way is starting to trigger my starving response!  Got to go…








Warning! Don’t Fall For the Sea Salt Hype!


I’m writing this to inform people that when you buy sea salt not only is it throwing money in the garbage (according to the Mayo Clinic), but it may be harmful!  To understand why, one must understand how sea salt is made.  Really simply put, seawater is evaporated and what is left is sea salt.  The logic for the hype is that sea salt contains more needed nutrients than just sodium chloride (pure salt).  This is true but dried out sewer water contains more needed nutrients as well!  Let’s face it, the sea today is basically nothing but extremely diluted sewer water since many countries dump their waste (human and industrial) directly into the sea without any treatment. Happily, the US and many other countries do treat the waste water today somewhat before dumping it in the ocean.  Even these countries didn’t do this a hundred years ago and the junk is still in the water. The EPA has put out warnings about eating swordfish and some other fish high up on the food chain since they may contain harmful amounts of mercury.  Swordfish, you see, eat smaller fish, which eat smaller fish yet, which then eat mostly plankton–you see they concentrate the mercury and other potentially harmful elements.  Remember how sea salt is made?  It is a process that basically concentrates seawater itself!  Seawater in the open ocean would be fine to drink if you just got rid of the salt.  However, when you concentrate modern seawater you wind up with elements that may be harmful.  Keep in mind the radioactivity they found in tunas which was believed to come from the March 11th 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster triggered by that huge earthquake and resultant tsunami.


Now you are probably wondering about regular table salt, the type you buy in small cylindrical blue containers with a girl carrying an umbrella.  Where does that salt come from?  From evaporated seawater. “So what’s the difference?”, you might ask.   Oh, I forgot to mention that regular table salt comes from ancient seas that had no man made pollution.  With the sun beating down, and no outlet to the major oceans because of shifting continents, these ancient seas dried up and created salt deposits.  They are now mined in salt mines.  Michigan now produces more salt than any other state with New York coming in a distant second.  Much of this salt goes directly into road salt.  With table salt, the mined salt is purified so it is nearly 100% sodium chloride and then ground up fine and then is sold as iodized (potassium iodine added) or non-iodized.  Iodine is a necessary element that the body needs.  Why do they purify the salt from ancient seas?  Well, you see, all seawater–even the ancient stuff–has traces of every non-gaseous natural element in existence — from lithium (Atomic Number 3) to uranium (Atomic Number 92).  This includes many necessary elements but also things such heavy metals (including arsenic).  If you don’t care about this (and I really don’t) and want pure ancient sea salt get your self some clean road salt and grind it up.  You won’t only save money you will get yourself what you really want when you hear about sea salt!  (BTW, for sanitary reasons and if you are serious about this, I would purchase large chunks of mined salt and then rinse them off, let dry and then grind them.  Even better yet, keep buying those little blue containers of salt and eat a balanced meal!)

CLOSED!!! Giveaway: Signed Copy of My Book “Snowball Launchers, Giant-Pumpkin Growers, and Other COOL CONTRAPTIONS.”

My Book


Robyn is the WINNER of my book!  I will be contacting her shortly!  You can tell your hubby that it does have something to do with a remote control gadget.  I will explaining exactly what it is in a new post.  I want to thank everyone for all your kind comments and suggestions about my book!



My book “Snowball Launchers, Giant-Pumpkin Growers, and Other COOL CONTRAPTIONS” was published by Sterling in 2006.  It has gone into its second printing and, I think, Sterling does not have plans for a third printing. :(  I am looking into publishing for Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Nobles’ Nook. The book is targeted at children from 6 to 15 who like to make stuff.  Many of the projects in the book were adapted from my articles that I had published in Boys’ Quest and/or Fun For Kidz magazines.  I am the Workshop editor of both magazines.

Project 15 in the book is titled “Sidewinder Thingamajig.”  Do you have any idea what this project is about?  Hint: Believe it or not it is useful and practical!  I plan on giving away a signed copy of my book to the person that describes the project the best.  This contest ends on the Ides of March (March 15).   If there are ties I will have my wife draw the winning name from my Stihl hat!  Remember, March 15th is the last date to enter this contest!

The following are two reviews of my book you might want to read.  By the way, if they weren’t flattering do you think I would mention them?

From School Library Journal

Grade 5–8—The 20 projects in this collection range from a simple “Heartbeat Monitor” to a fairly complex “Moth-Bot,” a wheeled vehicle that moves toward light with the flick of a switch. Most have strong kid appeal, though the “Snowball Launcher” and “Super-Duper Water Shooter” are likely to generate more interest than the “Drinking-Straw Dispenser.” Energetic writing makes all of the projects sound intriguing, and the process of creating working gadgets can be as much fun as the end result. Instructions are written in an engaging, conversational tone, with background information about concepts such as gravity and electricity woven into the text. The directions are fairly easy to follow, although the complexity of some of the later “contraptions” will require especially careful attention and possibly adult consultation. Diagrams are also helpful; several steps are often combined in a single illustration, but clear and consistent labeling makes them effective. Most of the projects use household materials, along with basic craft or electronic supplies. The last seven involve electricity; they are more complex and require more purchased items, such as DC motors and transistors. Fifteen of the projects have a clearly highlighted “Adult Supervision Required” note, mainly for use of drills, saws, or other sharp tools. This is a good resource for students looking for out-of-the-ordinary science projects and for curious and creative kids who just want to make something fun and different.—Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

“Does your arm get tired and start hurting right in the middle of a snowball fight?” The solution to these and other conundrums (how to get maximum range out of a water shooter; how to turn a toy car into a rocket) are presented in this accessible selection of projects, many of which have appeared in magazines such as Boys’ Quest and Hopscotch for Girls. The open layouts present diagrams and step-by-step instructions for projects that include a giant-pumpkin grower, a stethoscope, and a robot, and the author encourages kids to use recycled materials, such as empty oatmeal canisters and paper-towel tubes. Fox also discusses the scientific principles each project demonstrates, making this an excellent choice for classroom use. Younger kids will need help with both the science facts and the tools (notes indicate the projects requiring adult supervision), but older ones can confidently tackle several simple contraptions on their own. Adults will welcome this selection of high-interest projects that are ready-made for collaborative, educational fun. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

What does cloning have to do with making jams and jellies?

I’ve been perusing the textbook Modern Chemistry (2006 edition) again and I came across some interesting stuff that is related to the categories of topics I talk about on this blog.  Most specifically the Farm News and Health stuff.  When you make regular jams and jellies (not the fridge types) the table sugar, which is sucrose, you mix with the fruit and then heat breaks down into a mixture of equal parts of glucose (grape sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar).  This new mixture then tastes sweeter than the table sugar you added!  In other words, you can put less sugar than you thought and still have a nice and sweet jam or jelly to put on your toast in the morning.  What happens is that the acid and heat combination breaks down sucrose into its two components — glucose and fructose.  This is also probably the reason when you bake most fruit pies–say apple or peach — it seems sweeter than you thought it should.  Personally I prefer a less sweet pie which means I tell my wife and daughters to go light on the sugar when baking fruit pies.  Technically, this process is called hydrolysis.

Now I bet you are wondering what on earth does cloning have to do with anything here?  Well, I also was reading the textbook’s chapter on DNA and RNA and I came to a section titled Cloning.  The first sentence of the chapter goes “One meaning of the word cloning is the process of making an exact copy of an organism.”  A good definition.  Now comes the criticism.  This criticism is based on the four author’s ignorance.  This all reminds me of the saying about the definition of a specialist: “A true specialist is one who learns more and more about less and less until they know everything there is to know about nothing!”

The book’s section on cloning demonstrates this.  Here are a couple of excerpts from this section that demonstrates this.  “Cloning of plants may hold promise for increasing the yields of crops.”  Also “By planting young (cocoa) trees that are clones of plants with desirable characteristics, farmers may be able to increase their cocoa producution.”  Come on now! This sounds almost science fiction.  But the problem is, is that people have been doing this for thousands of years!  Some examples of plant clones:  Red Pontiac potatoes, Delicious apple trees, most all garlic, Redhaven peach, Weeping Willow,  Montmorency cherry, Concord Grape, Bartlett pear…actually I could name thousands of clones.  We have one tree of the Court Pendu Platt apple.  Apparently the first Court Pendu Platt apple was cloned by the Romans before Jesus’s birth.  I also have some Calville Blanc D’Hiver apples which believed were first cloned in the 1500’s.  By the way, Calville has more Vitamin C then an orange and it makes the very best fall pies.  (Me thinks the od Gravenstein apple makes even better pies but it is an early fall apple in Michigan and doesn’t keep well.)  You see, every named fruit tree is a clone (this cloning is done by grafting or budding) also every named potato is a clone.  This is done by simply dropping the potato in the ground.  As a general statement (which probably has some exceptions) I can state with moderate confidence, “All types of asexual reproduction results in a cloned organism.”  Apparently, the four author’s of the textbook I refer to didn’t know this.  By the way, despite this omission I really love the book and heartily recommend it.  It is very well done!


Coldest morning of the winter so far–maybe safe now for ice fishing!

This morning (2/11/2012) the temperature dropped to 2F with crystal clear skies.  If it wasn’t for that 2 inches of snow that fell yesterday I would say for Pickerel and Kimbal lakes would be generally safe for ice fishing except for those normally slow to freeze spots.  I plan on checking the ice this morning and leaving an update on the ice condition.

(I sure hope my lettuce planting survived last night.  I did put a red 75 watt light bulb beneath the low tunnel yesterday.)

UPDATE AT 10:40AM — the ice in front of my home on Pickerel Lake is about 3 inches thick and the quality of the ice is fairly good.  Most, but not all, people think this is safe enough ice to walk on but not snowmobile on — definitely not to drive on!  Unless we have a warm rain or lots of snow the ice should stay fairly good all week.  Clear nights really help make ice even with air temps slightly above freezing.  The reason for this is simple — a clear sky has a temp reading of between -100 and -150F.  This is true even on hot summer nights as long as you can see stars clearly.  If you don’t believe it get yourself a good infrared thermometer and point it up at the clear sky.  Try this on a July day with temps in the 90s and you will get the same -100F reading–as long as you don’t point the thermometer at the sun or at a cloud.  Also, checked the lettuce and it seems to have come through last night’s near zero temps!