bee strawberries

The economic importance of bees is significantly undervalued, according to a European study released this week.

Strawberries pollinated by bees were of far higher commercial value than fruit that was self-pollinated or pollinated by the wind, researchers in Germany reported Wednesday.

Bee pollination strongly increased the commercial value of strawberries by producing well-shaped fruit of increased weight, according to the study.

In addition, it increased shelf life, enhanced coloring and lowered sugar-acid ratios of most varieties of strawberries.

The study, by a team at the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Göttingen in Germany, comes on the heels of a 2011 report by the UN Environment Program that showed that pollination by bees and other insects contributed about a little more than $204 billion, or 9.5 percent, of the total global value of food production.

But the most recent analysis offers evidence that the 2011 estimate could have substantially devalued the agricultural impact of the bees.

The Germany team conducted its study by planting nine commercial strawberry varieties in an experimental field. Plants were either covered with special gauze bags to allow pollination by the wind or other parts of the plant, or were left open for visiting by bees.

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Bay Psalm Book

A Colonial-era tome, auctioned last week in New York, easily set a new record as the world’s most expensive printed book.

A first-edition copy of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book was sold at Sotheby’s New York for $14.2 million, breaking the previous mark of $11.5 million, set in 2010, when a copy of John James Audubon’s “The Birds of America” was auctioned.

The Bay Psalm Book, one of 11 surviving examples, was sold by Boston’s famed Old South Church.

The Church sold the Bay Psalm Book from its collection to cover the cost of building repairs and to fund future endeavors after taking a vote of its congregants in 2012, according to a statement issued by its senior minister, Nancy Taylor.

The book is one of two copies owned by the church, which dates to 1669.

The Bay Psalm Book is one of the rarest books in the world and among the finest surviving copies of original 1,700 that were printed, according to Reuters.

The Bay Psalm Book was published in Cambridge, Mass., by the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

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cotton clarendon county 003

A recent drive through rural South Carolina shows evidence of a healthy cotton crop, albeit one that was late to mature.

Cotton pickers and module builders are just now ramping up in the Carolinas, Georgia and many other parts of the Deep South, the result of a growing season slowed by unusually large amounts of rain this year.

Much of South Carolina, for example, has received 50 or more inches of rain in 2013, anywhere from 8 to 18 inches above average precipitation levels. The same appears to be the case across the region.

In years past, lack of rain has been an issue for cotton farmers, particularly in Texas, a major cotton-growing area, so why is excessive rain an issue?

It’s a factor for several reasons, according to Mark Crosby, Emanuel County (Ga.) extension coordinator:

Heavy rainfall caused excessive erosion on sloping fields and in places in fields where the water puddled, the cotton plants stood in water. The worst fields had areas where the cotton drowned, but, in much of the cotton land, the plants stood in soggy, wet soil for weeks and weeks.

Examination of the crop roots showed very little tap root development and shallow feeder roots. Shallow feeder and tap roots limited the plants ability to take up fertilizer because of a lack of oxygen in the soil.

As soils become more and more saturated and eventually became waterlogged, the effects on cotton plants included yellowing, reduced shoot growth, reduced nutrient uptake, altered hormone levels, and other problems. Some fields of cotton had symptoms of reddening leaves and stems being too wet, as well as typical nitrogen deficiency symptoms.

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fabrege egg

A Russian billionaire opened a museum Tuesday to display his collection of Fabergé eggs, the famed creations jeweler Carl Fabregé made for the Russian royal family in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Viktor Vekselberg’s museum, called the Fabergé Museum, is located in the Shuvalov Palace in the center of the former imperial capital of Saint Petersburg

The museum features nine Fabregé eggs, originally made for the Russian Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II as Easter gifts for their wives and mothers, as well as thousands of jeweled objets d’art.

Vekselberg bought the collection of eggs from the estate of the Malcolm Forbes, the late publisher of Forbes magazine, in 2004, vowing to bring them back to Russia, according to Agence France-Presse.

The jeweled eggs with enamel and painted details include one given by Nicholas II to his mother, Maria Fyodorovna, which is decorated with his portrait as well as that of his heir, Alexei.

Another egg made in 1895 to celebrate the first anniversary of Nicholas II’s coronation has a surprise inside: a model of a tiny gold carriage. Others contain a gold hen and an enameled rosebud.

Nicholas, Alexei and the rest of the immediate royal family, along with the family’s medical doctor and several servants, were executed by the Bolsheviks in July 1918.

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A South Carolina businessman recently donated one of the most impressive private fossil collections in the world – totaling more than 1,500 specimens – to the College of Charleston.

Mace Brown of Mt. Pleasant, SC, began collecting fossils when he was in his early teens; today his collection, valued at more than $1.6 million, includes complete skeletons of such creatures as a giant armadillo, a cave bear and a saber-toothed cat, along with Tyrannosaurus rex teeth and Triceratops horns.

The collection focuses on North American land and sea creatures. More than 90 percent of the fossilized creatures in the collection inhabited South Carolina over a 400-million-year span, according to a College of Charleston press release.

“I wanted the collection to be in Charleston, in a location where fossils were the focus and a place where the public could see the specimens up close, not stored in cabinets out of the sight of the public,” said Brown, renown as an international fossil collector.

Brown’s passion for collecting and recording fossils was sparked by a rock collection when he was 13. By age 45, he had amassed more than 87 species of shark teeth.

Over the next decade and a half, Brown expanded his collection with fossils from around the world.

The collection, which will be housed in the Mace Brown Natural History Museum at the College of Charleston, also features saltwater mosasaurs with snakelike detaching jaws; skeletons of a warthog-looking, buffalo-sized pig; and a dog-sized horse and camel.

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money kite

Economics is often perceived as equal parts boring, dreary and as dry as the Texas high plains in late July.

That view is based in no small part on the experience of decades of college underclassmen driven into a confused stupor by such concepts as marginal cost curves and aggregate demand-aggregate supply models.

If professors and economists want to catch the attention of students and others, they would do well to employ more real-life examples in their teaching and studies.

Case in point is a new book by British historian Frederick Taylor, titled “The Downfall of Money: Germany’s Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class.”

Taylor’s topic is the financial and social disaster that struck Weimar Germany in the early to mid-1920s, when, after the nation was saddled with a huge war reparations bill following World War I, it began mass printing of bank notes to buy foreign currency, which was in turn used to pay compensation to the Allies.

In November 1921, the date the first reparation payment was due, the rate of exchange was approximately 330 German papiermarks per one US dollar. That was already up sharply from two years earlier, when the ratio was approximately seven to one.

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sorghum field

The burgeoning US-China agriculture-trade relationship was evident late last week when the first-ever bulk shipment of American grain sorghum reached the Asian nation.

The 2.36 million bushel shipment, the first of several scheduled for China this year, reached the port city of Guangzhou, the south China city historically known as Canton, on Oct. 18.

The cargo is designated for animal feed and demonstrates the continued modernization of China’s feed industry, according to Bryan Lohmar, US Grains Council director in China.

“The Council believes US sorghum has significant potential to become a regular feed ingredient in China,” he said. “Sorghum imports from the United States can help keep food prices low and improve China’s overall food security.”

Sorghum, a grain, is among the most efficient crops in conversion of solar energy and use of water. It is known as a high-energy, drought tolerant crop, according to the National Sorghum Producers.

Sorghum was planted on approximately 6.2 million US acres in 2012, with Kansas, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and South Dakota the top five-Sorghum producing states.

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1861 counterfeit dime

The practice of counterfeiting money is as old as money itself.

Archaeologists have discovered counterfeit examples of coins produced in Lydia, a Roman province said to be the locale of the first metallic coinage, dating back to the 7th century BC.

Today, we tend to think of counterfeiters as individuals who mass produce paper money, usually in large denominations – $20 or higher.

But until relatively recently, nearly all counterfeit money came in coin form. This was because until relatively recently nearly all money came in coin form, and was known as “hard money” because it contained a commodity such as gold or silver which gave it intrinsic value.

A short 1884 article in the New York Times highlighted just how valuable even small coins – albeit those made of silver – were 130 years ago.

MARLBOROUGH, N.Y. – Counterfeit silver dollars, quarters and ten-cent pieces are being circulated in a number of the Hudson River counties. The quarter dollars and dimes are said to be very good imitations of genuine money. It is said that ticket agents on the line of the Hudson River Railroad have been told to scrutinize carefully all silver offered in payment for tickets. It is believed that the counterfeits were first put in circulation about three weeks ago.

Today it seems difficult to imagine someone going to the difficulty of attempting to counterfeit a dime, never mind working hard enough at it to do it well.

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square watermelons

Among the benefits of living in an agriculture-rich area is the ability during much of the year to drive along most any stretch of back road for no more than a few miles without coming upon someone selling produce from the bed of a pickup.

Not only are the fruit and vegetables invariably fresh, but the price is almost always less than what comparable items sell for in a supermarket.

Nice ripe watermelons, for example, tend to go for $3 or $4 each, while a basket of peaches can be had for between $5 and $7.

One imagines there aren’t a lot of roadside vendors in Japan. The country, in fact, appears to have a fixation with perfectly formed fruit, to the point musk melons can sell for as much $18,000 and cantaloupes for $16,000.

And this past July, a single bunch of “Ruby Roman” grapes reportedly sold for $4,000, meaning each individual grape was worth $110.

While the above are unusual cases, top-grade fruit is a valuable commodity in the Japanese world of business and as a seasonal gift. It is used to indicate how much importance the giver attaches to a relationship, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

The boutique fruit industry has remained strong in the face of Japan’s sluggish economy, according to the wire service.

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It appears pecan lovers can expect to pay more for their treasured treat.

Record soggy weather in many parts of the Southeastern US has left pecan orchards vulnerable to Cladosporium caryigenum, more commonly known as scab, a fungal disease that scars the husks of pecans, cuts yield and hurts quality.

“We’ve had some wet years before, but not like it has been this summer where it has rained all summer long,” Tom Stevenson, a south Georgia-based pecan orchard manager, told Southeast Farm Press.

The heavy rains which have only abated in the past couple of weeks, hit Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas – among the nation’s main pecan-growing states – particularly hard.

Georgia, the top producer of pecans nationwide, has half of its approximately 150,000 acres of commercial orchards planted in pecan varieties that are susceptible to scab, according to Lenny Wells, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension pecan specialist.

To try to reduce the risk of scab, farmers such as Stevenson have increased spraying of fungicide, according to Southeast Farm Press.

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