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Lowly gopher weed contains oil harvest

October 23, 1980

  • By Sara Terry Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

There’s new oil being tapped in weed- cluttered acres of the Southwest, but it’s not being drilled. It’s being grown.m The key is hydrocarbons — the organic compound found in crude oil but which nature also produces in certain plants that are now being seriously considered as a potential source of energy for an oil-thirsty world.

Several plants, including the copaiba tree found in Brazil and the jojoba bean, are known to produce a milky sap from which oil can be extracted. But the plant drawing the widest scientific scrutiny these dayss is gopherweed — a rangy, dark green weed with long spear-shaped leaves that grows wild in parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and California.

Already, researchers in the Office of Arid Land Studies at the Universtiy of Arizona — aided by a $2 million grant from a small Texas oil company — have found they can produce nine barrels of oil from one acre of gopherweed.

While that may not sound like much, Dr. Timothy Peoples, who heads the agricultural section of the university project, estimates that within a few years that yield can be more than doubled to 20 barrels an acre.

At that rate, he says, “gopheroil” could be put on the market at $20 a barrel — well below the $32 now being fetched for a barrel of crude oil, and within 10 to 15 years, Dr. Peoples predicts, 10 percent of the nation’s energy needs — approximately 800 million barrels of oil — could be supplied by gopherweed grown on “petroleum plantations.”

Although the oil crunch has helped nudge gopherweed into the energy spotlight , the first known research on Euphorbia lathyrism as an alternative fuel was actually carried out by the Italians during World War II.

Work was abandoned at the close of the war and was not picked up again until the gasoline crisis of 1974, when Melvin Calvin, a Nobel-prize-winning professor at the University of California, Berkeley, began research of his own.

Today, the US Department of Energy has earmarked only $250,000 for gopherweed research in the form of a grant won by Dr. Calvin. But rising oil prices have made gopherweed appear so viable that a number of universities and independent researchers have begun experimenting with the plant.

The most extensive work is carried on at the University of Arizona, where researchers expect the current project will continue to be funded by the Diamond Shamrock Corporation, a Cleveland-based firm dealing mostly in industrial and agricultural chemicals as well as oil and gas. Diamond Shamrock already has plans on the drawing board for a plant for extracting gopheroil.

According to Dr. Peoples, inquiries about gopherweed production have come from as far away as Egypt, Austria, the Virgin Islands, Australia, and Kenya,a country which currently imports all of its oil.

Researchers have much to learn about cultivating gopherweed — what fertilizers to use and how much water plants need, for example — before the plant can be grown on a large scale.

And while there are only about 10 acres of Euphorbia lathyrism now planted in Arizona, Dr. PEoples estimates that 1.3 million acres of gopherweed — the amount of land now farmed in the state — could make Arizona energy self-sufficient.

With 40 million acres, or slightly less than half of the acreage the US now plants in corn, Dr. Peoples estimates that the goal of meeting 10 percent of the nation’s energy needs could be reached.

“Everybody wants to get into this — it’s the place to be,” says the researcher, who adds that he initially thought the idea of growing oil was “a bunch of gargage.”

“Within 10 to 15 years, we can be growing energy in a substantial way,” he continues. “How much and where are questions that must be answered.”

There’s new oil being tapped in weed- cluttered acres of the Southwest, but it’s not being drilled. It’s being grown.m The key is hydrocarbons — t

Gophers, Moles, And Your Outdoor Cannabis Garden

Outdoor weed gardens are a blast, but they carry with them the chaos of the outside world, including the risk of pests. Moles and gophers may infiltrate your garden, and while one is benign, the other may ruin your crop. Read on to find out which is which, and how to get rid of the one that will eat your cannabis crop right under your nose.

Outdoor cannabis crops produce beautiful bud, but they come with a major drawback: the possibility of pests. In particular, your outdoor crops may be vulnerable to some mammalian marijuana meddlers: moles and gophers!

To deal with these gluttonous garden dwellers, you need to know what you’re up against. We’ll start by discussing the difference between these two animals.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MOLES AND GOPHERS

Gophers look like toothy rats and are 12–46cm long. Moles are odder-looking, with shovel-like paws, tiny pig-snouts, and eyes screwed shut; they’re 12–18cm long. Most importantly for weed-growing purposes, they have different diets: moles burrow through earth hunting for insects, while gophers eat plants.

Moles don’t pose much risk to your crops; they may even be of benefit by helping to keep the soil loose and nutrient-rich. There’s a small risk that they may damage your plants’ roots if they burrow right through them. But for the most part, they are a benign guest.

If you’ve got gophers, you’ve got problems. Gophers will chow down on your plants’ roots and may even suck them down whole. They seem to especially enjoy cannabis plants—perhaps they’re the stoners of the rodent world! Gophers are your main concern, and if they’ve made a home in your garden, you need to do something about it.

HOW TO TELL IF YOU’VE GOT GOPHERS OR MOLES

If you can spot one of the critters, you’ll be able to tell them apart fairly easily, as per the descriptions above. Even if you don’t see one, however, you’ll be able to tell the difference by observing your garden.

Molehills and gopher mounds have a distinct look. A molehill will have a “cone-like” shape, like a volcano with a hole right at the apex. A gopher mound, on the other hand, will be more rounded, perhaps even flat at the top, with the hole coming out the side at an angle.

Beyond this, the kind of damage your plants undergo will be a dead giveaway. Moles should leave your plants unharmed, with maybe some minor bending of the roots. Gophers will leave your plants’ roots chewed to the quick. If you have plants that disappear altogether, a gopher is a likely culprit.

HOW TO GET RID OF FURRY FRIENDS AND FOES

There are a few strategies you can use to get rid of unwanted mammalian pests. We’ll assume you’re dealing with gophers since, as we discussed, moles are fairly benign. Some of these approaches will merely relocate your gophers, while others will kill them. We encourage you to begin by experimenting with non-lethal options and to save the death-dealing for if you have a serious infestation that is responsive to nothing else.

1. CASTOR OIL AND GARLIC WATER

Pour castor oil and garlic water into the opening of the gopher mound, and spray a layer over your garden soil. This should repel the gophers and force them to migrate to a different area.

2. LINE YOUR GARDEN WITH HARDWARE CLOTH

Hardware cloth is wire mesh where the holes are much smaller than chicken wire. If you line the bottom and sides of your raised garden with it, the gophers will have a very hard time getting in. They may jump over the sides, but this is very rare. Even if they do so, they won’t be hard to catch.

This method may not be possible if you have a garden already in progress, or if you’re not using raised beds.

3. REPEL GOPHERS WITH ALLIUMS

From a gopher perspective, garlic and onions aren’t nearly as delicious-smelling as weed. Plant chives, garlic, and other low-maintenance alliums around your cannabis plants to repel your rodent pests.

4. CATCH AND RELEASE TRAPS

These are a lot of work for the grower, but no one ever said being ethical was easy.

You’ll want to set these traps on a day when you’re home to monitor them. Set them at each gopher opening, and check periodically to see if you’ve caught your gopher guest. Once you have, drive the trap with the struggling gopher to a nice spot in the wild, and let it free. You’ll want to use rodent handling gloves for the whole operation as the gopher might be less than gracious in accepting your kind compassion, and you don’t want to get bit.

5. USE A CAT

Letting your cat roam free in your weed garden sends a clear message to your gophers that it’s time to find new stomping grounds. Whether this option is lethal or not rests entirely in your cat’s capable (or not-so-capable) paws—it may scare your gophers away, or you may end up with a bloodied-up weed thief on your doorstep.

6. PLANT SOME DEATHLY FLOWERS

We’re onto the deadly options. Plant some toxic oleanders to poison your gopher foes—just take care not to eat any yourself, and to keep pets and small children away from your garden.

Got some mammalian pests in your outdoor weed garden? Check out our guide on gophers, moles, and how to regain control of your cannabis harvest!