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 BLOG >> October 2014

Back To The Wild [Nature
Posted on October 31, 2014 @ 09:36:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I came accross an interesting link this week. The link takes you to a page with recorded interviews from people who are leaders in wilderness teachings of one type or another. The leaders were part of a Back to the Wild Summit that took place in 2013. You might find some interviews a bit new-agy but I've enjoyed listening to 3 of the interviews so far. The first listed interview with Arther Haines called Where Past Meets Future is worth listening to in order to determine if you want to listen to any more interviews.

I did some foraging this morning for a valuable medicinal tree mushroom (not hallucinigenic if you are wondering) that is supposed to grow around here. I scouted out the mushroom yesterday and packed up a ladder and some tools this morning so I could harvest a bit of it. Apparently mushroom collectors are quite secretive about their finds and I will not be releasing any more details :-)

Ladder used to scale ravine and climb tree.


Tree Investing [Investing
Posted on October 29, 2014 @ 07:39:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I am down at my farm getting it ready for winter. One of my tasks is to do some final tree planting for the year. I planted apple trees, high bush blueberries and grape vines in the spring but the fall is also a good time to plant around here because we get good rainfall so the plants get watered in. Also, in the spring they will get water from snow melt and spring rains so again the trees gets watered in which is crucial for young trees that have been transplanted out to their final destination. When you plant in the fall, even though the leaves are now falling off the trees, the roots can still be growing and rooting into the soil.

Here is a picture of a wheel barrow with the trees I planted. On the left are 3 maple trees that will have nice bi-colored leaves, in the center are 8 sea buckthorn plants that I used to reinforce a windbreak (also edible berries, tea producing leaves, and nitrogen fixer), in the back are 3 hazelnut trees to add more variety to our mix of nut trees, and finally 2 raspberry bushes that I planted out amidst my group of berry producing shrubs.

My total investment was 80 dollars for these trees and shrubs. To me it seems like a good investment. Many of these trees and shrubs will produce edible fruit and nuts while the maple trees will add aesthetics and shade that are also important functions. All of them are experiments to see whether they will survive the winter months, the ravaging winds, the icy snow, the moles and the voles, and an excess of water during snow melt and spring rains. I am optimistic but would not be suprised to see carnage in the spring. Whatever the outcome I will have the opportunity in the spring to learn something about how nature works up here by setting up 16 experiments, one for each tree plant. That alone is worth the 80 dollars I invested. I'll be profiting significantly from my investment if the trees grow and perform the various functions that I hope they will provide.

There is an element of patience in tree investing that is both frustrating and rewarding. It is frustrating because the payback period can take longer than you would like. You can pay more for an older and taller tree to shorten the payback period but I wanted more trees and tree variety so I went with younger trees. The longer payback period for a tree can also be rewarding when you see your trees grow from young whips into mature fruit and nut bearing trees. Or, you could be substantially wiped out for a whole host of causes during the seemingly long time it takes for a tree to grow. I say "seemingly" because as I grow older the time involved to grow a tree seems a shorter span than when I was younger. It is now a fraction of my age rather than a multiple.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage you all to consider investing in trees. There are a whole host of environmental reasons I could cite, but these are relatively far removed from some of educational, nutritional, and experiential reasons which I have tried to cite in this blog. A food forest or unique diversity of trees can also be legacy that can outlast your lifetime if designed in a way that remains valuable to future generations.

Late winter and very early spring is when I do most of my tree investing. From now on, fall will be the second time of year when I'll be making tree investments. Prices can be better in the fall as nurseries would rather move a good chunk of tree stock at a lower price than have to store it away for another year. There is also less demand.


Innovative Weed Control [Agriculture
Posted on October 27, 2014 @ 07:27:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Last week I browsed some agriculture-related journals at the local university and came across a new method for weeding vegetable plants that I thought was promising. The method is called Propelled Abrasive Grits (PAG) Management and the idea is to blast the area around your vegetable plants with a combination of air pressure and "grits" flying out the end of a nozzle. The nozzle gets pointed at the base of your plant so the propelled grits also hit the stalk of your vegetable plant, however, the idea is that certain types of vegetable plants (e.g,. corn, tomatoes, peppers) are demonstrably hardier than the emergent weeds so can survive the PAG onslaught. Frank Forcella is one of the main and early proponents of this technique and has developed the prototype PAG weeder shown below.

Using a PAG weeder to manage the weed load on your vegetable plants can be used as an organic technique for managing a vegetable crop. If you are propelling corn grits through your nozzle then the technique would be considered organic. If propelling conventional fertilizers, then the technique would not be organic.

The corn grits provide the "abrasive" element required to knock out emerging weed seedlings. The technique has been shown to be better than hand weeding for corn, tomatoes, and peppers so far. There is still alot of research to do into what vegetables it can be used for, whether vegetable specific techniques should be used, what types of grits work best, what the grits do for the soil, using grits that also fertilize, how the costs stack up against other weed control techniques, and so on. That being said, I think we'll see this technique leave the lab fairly quickly to be experimented with by small organic farmers using jerry-rigged grit feeders and hoses attached to air compressors.

The case of using propelled corn-grits to manage a corn crop is quite interesting because it begs the question of how much corn to you need to set aside for the purposes of managing weeds on your corn crop and is this cost competitive with buying herbicides to control your weed load? This comparison assumes the issue is only one of economics and not based on considerations of sustainability that a farmer might give more weight to than just the cost aspect. In a corn-grits to manage corn weeds scenario, you are potentially closing the loop, creating a system where and output of the system is fed back into the system as an input. This is a biodynamic loop that is nice to have when it works. Especially for corn when you consider how huge our dependence is on this particular crop for food and bioenergy. The economic and environmental importance of finding more sustainable ways to manage weed load on corn should not be underestimated.

Also interesting is the question of what these grits might be doing to the soil. PAG researchers are experimenting with propelling organic and non-organic forms of fertilizers onto/into the soil and recording what happens in terms of growth. Corn-grits can be considered an organic fertilizer but there are other types of organic grits that might be better in certain situations (see below). I'll end this blog by reproducing the abstract for a recent research paper by Sam Wortman on the PAG technique that looks interesting. Sam is another leading researcher in this area and this paper provides a sense of where the research on this technique is currently at:

Title: Integrating Weed and Vegetable Crop Management with Multifunctional Air-Propelled Abrasive Grits

Author: Sam E. Wortman. Assistant Professor, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL.


Abrasive weed control is a novel weed management tactic that has great potential to increase the profitability and sustainability of organic vegetable cropping systems. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of air-propelled organic abrasive grits (e.g., organic fertilizers) on weed seedling emergence and growth and vegetable crop growth. A series of thirteen greenhouse trials were conducted to determine the susceptibility of weeds to abrasive weed control with one of six organic materials including: corn cob grits, corn gluten meal, greensand fertilizer, walnut shell grits, soybean meal, and bone meal fertilizer. In addition, crop injury was quantified to determine the potential utility of each organic material as abrasive grits in tomato and pepper cropping systems. Of the six organic materials, corn gluten meal, greensand fertilizer, walnut shell grits, and soybean meal provided the broadest range of POST weed control. For example, one blast of corn gluten meal and greensand fertilizer reduced Palmer amaranth (one-leaf stage) seedling biomass by 95 and 100% and green foxtail (one-leaf stage) biomass by 94 and 87%, respectively. None of the organic materials suppressed weed seedling emergence when applied to the soil surface, suggesting that residual weed control with abrasive grits is unlikely. Tomato and pepper stems were relatively tolerant of abrasive grit applications, though blasting with select materials did increase stem curvature in tomato and reduced biomass (corn cob grit) and relative growth rate (corn gluten meal and greensand) in pepper. Results suggest that organic fertilizers can be effectively used as abrasive grits in vegetable crops, simultaneously providing weed suppression and supplemental crop nutrition. Field studies are needed to identify cultural practices that will increase the profitability of multifunctional abrasive weed control in organic specialty crops.

Link: http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1614/WT-D-13-00105.1


Early Startup Growth [Entrepreneurship
Posted on October 23, 2014 @ 10:48:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I've been recommending that anyone involved in a startup, especially a software-based startup, should be watching the lectures for the online course, How to Start a Startup, now being offerred by Y-Combinator to students at Standford. I recently had a chance to watch the 4th lecture by Adora Cheung, founder of Homejoy, who discusses ideas and strategies for early startup growth.

What I liked about this video was that she counters the myth that successful startups always add users quickly right out of the gate. Oftentimes early growth has much less ambitious goals and perhaps rightly so because if you are expecting to add large numbers of users every week then a) you might be very disappointed or disillusioned with your early progress, and b) you might be using the wrong marketing techniques to get started.

Adora talks about her goals for starting up as doubling her users every week starting with 1 user in week 1, two users in week 2, 4 users in week 3 and so on. When your growth goals are this modest early on, they seem doable and can be accomplished using low-cost localized techniques to encourage users to join. It gives you a chance to learn what works and what doesn't in your messaging and gives you a chance to personally interact with your users to better understand their motivations and desires and how they are using your product or service.

Some startups hold off on engaging in these modest attempts to gain users because they assume that a startup campaign requires a large infusion of money to get the marketing engine started. That can be a mistake when you are seeking funding because it helps to have at least a few users on board with some trickling in on a regular basis when you ask for funding for marketing/advertising. At least you have 1) established that your product or service has a real market, 2) learned something about what promotional messaging is best to use, and 3) whether your feature set is viable so that injecting money into marketing/advertising is more likely to be a worthwhile endeavor.

There are other lessons to be learned from Adora's lecture. My main take home, however, was to have modest expectations for early growth. It does not require a large marketing budget initially to get your product or service in the hands of users. Once you get to the stage where you need to start spending money to add larger numbers of users to achieve your growth targets you will have hopefully learned many useful things about how customers think about and use your product or service and this knowledge should help to ensure that advertising dollars are well spent. If your product is sufficiently good, you may not have to spend too much on advertising if you are getting positive word of mouth. I didn't get the sense that Adora was spending too much on advertising but I could be wrong.


Rent-Backed Securities [Finance
Posted on October 20, 2014 @ 05:11:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Mark Dotzour from the Texas A & M Real Estate Centre wrote a blog called Wall Street Landlords in which he discusses how Wall Street investment firms are buying large numbers of distressed single family homes that are in various stages of foreclosure. Mark published a useful table that lists the investment firms owning the largest number of such single family homes:

What many of these firms are doing with these properties is fixing them up and renting them out for income. Some may sell them when the housing market appreciates again but many of them are happy with the combination of a discounted purchase price and higher than average rental fees so will likely remain landlords for the foreseeable future.

The biggest player by quite a margin is the Blackstone Group, a huge NY-based investment firm with $248 billion in assets under management. The Blackstone Group is leading the way in devising a new financial product, rent-backed securities, based upon the rental income from these properties.

According to Brian Lynch, "Under this business model, the equity present in rental agreements will be aggregated into tranches based on confidence in the financial ability of the tenants pay their rent. The collateralized security instruments from these tranches will have various rates of return based on risk factors from the underlying leases. Should these rent-backed securities default, the security owners may even have an ownership stake in the properties to fall back on". The reason Blackstone is offering these rent-backed securities to investors is to "allow them to free up equity in these properties to purchase even more distressed homes". Investors apparently are quite excited to buy them so other large investment firms in this market are considering similar offerings.

These rent-backed securities setup an obvious positive feedback loop that will lead to Blackstone becoming an even bigger player in the single family home rental market. While institutional investors and pension funds are apparently quite happy to invest in such securities, Occupy Our Homes Atlanta is not so thrilled. They reported that:

  • Tenants wishing to stay in their homes can face automatic rent increases as much as 20% annually.
  • Survey participants living in Invitation Homes [Blackstone's brand for single family home rental properties] pay nearly $300 more in rent than the Metro Atlanta median.
  • 45% of survey participants pay more than 30% of their income on rent, by definition making the rent unaffordable.
  • Tenants face high fees, including a $200 late fee for rental payments.
  • 78% of the surveyed tenants do not have consistent or reliable access to the landlord or property manager.

It will be interesting to see how the rent-backed securities market plays out. Will the relentless profit-maximization of the Blackstone Group lead to ever more complex leveraging of the rental income and home collateral they own (e.g., rental default swaps)? Will blow back from main street put limits on the positive feedback loop that firms offering rent-backed securities can enjoy? Could there be a market failure involving large losses in rental income and investors wanting their money back - or would they end up owning all or part of the distressed homes backing these securities?

I don't have any answers but I expect that the Blackstone Group will be the company to watch in this evolving market for rent-backed securities.

I also wrote this blog in part because I'm interested in learning more about the Blackstone Group holdings in order to understand why they are the largest alternative investment firm in the world. I seem to be running into their name more frequently as a result of the many companies they have acquired or have a controlling interest in.


Automated Agriculture [Agriculture
Posted on October 14, 2014 @ 07:22:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In my research on the topic of weeds, I came across some interesting ideas about how the process of weeding might be automated. It is difficult to imagine how it might be automated, but there are some interesting attempts to see into the future. I want to share two of these with you today.

The first vision of automated weeding (see Future Directions for Automated Weed Management in Precision Agriculture by Stephen Young, George Meyer, and Wayne Woldt) sees a rover-type vehicle with a body that straddles the ground and contains different weeding devices that cultivates the soil between the rover tracks. In this depiction it has a flame weeder, a herbicide applicator, and two different mechanical devices for physically removing weeds. While the rover is going through the field crops, it is also communicating with an overhead drone perhaps to remember where and when it has completed an area and allocating it efficiently to those areas of the field that need the most immediate attention. In this vision of agriculture, the selling points are automation, precision, efficiency, and data gathering and analysis.

Not only is the vision compelling, with an air of inevitability about it, but the market for such technology could be large. Current visions are for these rovers to manage field crops occupying huge tracts of land. I wonder, however, if it will be the home garden where the technology is launched first? Why? A few reasons, but one would be battery life. It could be that we can offer batteries cheaply enough that the rovers could take care of the weeding chores at the scale of a home garden. You might be sitting in a lounge chair, sipping your favorite drink while observing your robot gardener working through your specially designed garden to help grow some of your favorite vegetables and flowers. Or maybe you are a serious gardener, a market gardener, or a disabled gardener and the agricultural robot is your best buddy helping you with a garden beyond your personal ability to manage.

These speculations seem too futuristic and perhaps not worth thinking about. We do, however, have a working agricultural rover prototype, Prospero the Robot Farmer, that successfully planted a corn field. In this video by David Dorhout, the developer of Prospero, he suggests a paradigm shift might be coming to farming.

David's idea for universal robot farmers communicating with each other is very interesting from a research and development perspective, but I think the immediate industrial market is for more specialized robots - robots that can pick grapes, apply herbicides, harvest lettuce, etc...

I do not know where the future of agriculture is headed, but automated agriculture is likely to be one of the significant directions. We already have plenty of automation coming into agriculture in the form of automatic milkers, automatic feed delivery systems, self-driving tractors, and so on, but these on-the-ground agricultural robots might be a new market opportunity given the rapid advancements in the relevant technologies (e.g., robotics, battery storage, pattern recognition, ai, precision agriculture).


Fall Colors [Nature
Posted on October 10, 2014 @ 07:10:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Today is the last day that I can take in the fall colors at my farm as I'll be heading back to my office this evening. I've been taking care of some fall tasks around the farm but have to get back to my family and suburban responsabilities.

I uploaded some photos from the last couple of days taking photographs and some from today. I plan to tour around this afternoon on a back road to enjoy the stunning colors on display right now. If you like nature photography like I do (not saying I'm particularly good at it) then you feel compelled to drop everything and take in the visual feast.


Beauty At The Dump

Fractal Maple

Former Schoolhouse

Giant Pumkins

Funny Pumkins

Corn & Apple Trees

Harbour Sunset


Learning From Weeds: Part 6 [Agriculture
Posted on October 7, 2014 @ 09:03:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In todays blog I wanted to reflect upon what a thistle plant might teach us about how to start, grow, and sustain a business. This is the 6th installment of my Learning from Weeds series (see part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5).

What distinguishes a thistle plant from other plants is that it has pickles all over its body that are considered an adaptation against herbavores grazing it down. A thistle plant spreads through its rhizomes (underground root system runners), and, like the field bindweed, can grow back from severed roots so is difficult to eradicate once it puts in a deep root system. It also relases seeds on little parachutes that aids in longer distance dispersal. It is a productive bearer of seeds but vegetative spread through its root system is still its main method of propogating itself.

Thistles come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. All of them have prickly surfaces and some other commonalities. They can be very beautiful (e.g., scotch thistle pictured above) with a nice flowering head to attract pollinators. While it might be nice looking, unless you are a bee, you probably don't want to mess with a thistle.

Finally, thistles have a wide distribution and are considered an invasive weed in many locations. So it is one of the more successful plants around and thus potentially instructive on what it takes to survive and thrive in business.

The thistle has many things going for it even if it did not have prickles over its body. It might still be capable of invasiveness, but the prickles make it even more of a contender for invasiveness. The prickles, in a sense, help you to maintain your ground once you start putting your roots down. They are a defensive strategy that is also a good offense.

Another aspect of the thistle is that it offers a prickly surface to certain types of predators (i.e., herbavores) while maintaining an attractive display for those it wants to attact (i.e., bees). This is a duality that successful businesses might also exhibit - tough to deal with if you want to compete against them, but attractive at the same time to those it wants to do business with.

Probably the best example of a thistle strategy in business is the use of patents to protect inventions. The invention itself may be very attractive to consumers but if you try to mimic the invention in its significant aspects, then you might be faced with a lawsuit for patent infringement. The patent is a defensive strategy that is also used as an offensive strategy whereby the invention can be sold to someone on the basis of the patent. It is not a great offense, however, in terms of actually getting the invention manufactured, distributed, marketed and branded. The thistle has more strategies than just a patent to ensure it's successful spread.

So the question is, do business have to be like thistles in some respects in order to start, grow, or sustain themselves over time. Do they need a good defensive strategy as well as an offensive one in order to survive or thrive?

A thistle is the patron plant of Scotland, supposedly having to do with an invasion that was thrwarted when a Norse man encoutered a thistle and, in his distress, alerted them to their presence.

A thistle is emblamatic of the protector of the business, the defensive strategy that helps protect it from credible threats.

On another note, last night I was test driving my new Canon Powershot SX50 digital camera and spent some time photographing the spectacular moonscape that was on view last night. Tonight is supposed to be even better with the moon potentially turning red due to an eclipse event. Some are calling it the hunter moon. I'm hoping to get a photo of that event tonight if I'm up and the skies are clear, but here is a photo of the moon as it appeared last night at the farm. I can zoom a bit closer with the camera but then I don't get the whole moon. It is tricky to keep the camera steady for the shot. I use a tripod but even with that it is hard to get it centered just perfect with high resolution. The camera manual offers the tip of putting the shot on a timer to minimize movement at the point when the picture is being taken.


Learning From Screw Ups [Education
Posted on October 4, 2014 @ 10:37:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I've had to deal with three screw ups recently. I've learned quite a bit from each one.

The first screw up happened yesterday and involved knocking over my digital camera. It was mounted on a tripod at shoulder height and when it tipped over it fell lens first into the pavement. It didn't shatter the lens as the lens is offset back from the lens barrel, however, it did bend the lens rim and I think it also messed with the guides that allow it to extend out as that feature does not appear to work anymore. My initial reaction was horror at my stupidity and then frustration that I would have to shell out for a new camera. As I began living with the idea of being cameraless, I knew I couldn't remain cameraless for long as it is a nice time of year to take pictures and I usually take quite a few pictures and videos on my camera in any given week. So I started researching the sales ads that came in the mail, then I went online, and finally I went to the stores and comparison shopped in 4 different stores with good camera lines. In the end I settled with a Cannon Powershot SX50 HS. I learned what I wouldn't admit to myself before, that it was getting time for an upgrade. My previous digital camera was about 3 yrs old and while it had a nice 30x zoom in its day, my current camera has a 50x zoom and upgrades my camera in every dimension. It provides me with the next level of performance and encourages me to take my photography interests to a higher level. I'm no pro at this. If I were, the Rebel line of Canon cameras would be my choice of camera. I'm quite happy upgrading to this particular camera and have already started to learn new things about photography by purchasing it and watching some YouTube videos on it. So breaking an old device is not the end of the world if getting a newer device opens up new options and produces a better experience. It may be the event that forces you to do what you should have done to improve your hobbyist experience or professional abilities.

The second screw up was that when I was driving down to my farm last night I didn't have any running lights or dash lights. I was pulled over by a police officer who pointed this out to me and told me to run with my flashers until I got to my destination and could fix it. I run an older 1996 Mazda B3000 farm truck and my mechanice took a short cut in fixing this problem in the past. He jumpered wires from one fuse to another. I showed the officer the setup and he was not too impressed. I showed him a blown fuse which probably explained why the jumper wires weren't working. He let me go without any tickets. I stopped at the next place along my route that had an automotive store and got a fuse hoping to fix the problem. I got the running lights and dash lights to work again by putting in a new fuse with the jumper wire back in place but the jumper wire soon started to melt the fuse and then kept blowing the fuse. I wondered why the truck had not caught on fire before this. So I drove the rest of the way to my destination with no jumper wires and my flashers on as it was night time and you would have a hard time seeing the rear end of the trailer I was hauling if I didn't have the flashers going on it.

It was when I was dealing with my third screw up that I realized the problem in my second screw up. My lawn tractor stopped running shortly after I turned on my night lights. I didn't have time to look into it too much when I was down last time, but I did notice that the leads running to one of my front lights had fallen off, was touching the frame below it, and the two metal leads were melted/fused together. Based on my reading I suspected that I had blown a fuse when the light leads fell onto the frame and shorted out. I put in a new fuse and that fixed the starting problem. In the course of trying to find the fuse to replace, I followed a wire leading below the mower deck. I pulled it out a bit and noticed the covering had been scraped off and exposed wire was showing. I'm going to have to fix that now. So from this little episode I learned that the electrical system on my lawn tractor is something I need to keep an eye on, not just the oil and air filters and keeping the deck underneath clean.

I then started to realize that my trucks electrical system has to deal with a trailer with running lights, signal lights, and braking lights on it. These running lights and signals draw electricity in addition to the electricity that the running, signal, and braking on the back of my truck use. My theory is that the fuse I'm using cannot handle the electricity load being put on it when I hook up my trailer. I think I need a different fuse or I need to wire things differently. As I reflect on my experience, I believe I see a pattern where, when I hooked up my trailer, my dash and running lights stopped working and I got them working again the last time when I didn't have my trailer on. The jumper wires also don't cause melting when my truck does not have the trailer attached.

So these last two screw ups are starting to teach me about how to troubleshoot some electrical problems and making me feel a bit more interested in learning some basic electrical skills and theory.

As Paul Graham said in the third lecture of How to Start a Startup (see below), the fastest way to learn how to startup a business is to just start doing it and dealing with the screw ups. Its hard to appreciate that a screw up is a learning opportunity but if you can remember this and try to figure out how you might educationally benefit from fixing the problem, then you might be able to face your screw ups with a bit more calmness and good humor instead of going off the deep end and making problems worse. My screw ups have taught me alot on the last couple of days - in proportion to the number of significant screw ups I have made some progress on resolving.


Learning From Weeds: Part 5 [Entrepreneurship
Posted on October 1, 2014 @ 08:24:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In todays blog on Learning From Weeds (see part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) I want to examine a mimicry strategy that is common among weeds that compete with grain crops. The mimicry strategy has been used successfully in business and is facilitated by the internet and globalization.

When talking about the mimicry strategy there are three agents involved - the mimic, the model, and the dupe. The mimic attempts to confuse the dupe into believing that it is the model. In the case of weeds, a weed might mimic the appearance of a desired crop plant and thereby dupe the weeder into not weeding it out. Another common way a weed dupes the weeder is mechanically by producing seeds that are similar in size and shape to the seeds that the crop plant produces. This makes it difficult to separate the crop seeds from the weed seeds and chaff during the winnowing process resulting in a situation where the weed seeds are mixed in with crop seeds which get planted out again in the field.

Mimicry is a common strategy for weeds appearing in grain crops (wheat, rye, corn, rice, barely, oats, sorghum) which are all domesticated grasses of one type or another. Often a grain crop achieved that status of being cultivated as a result of mimicry. Rye, for example, became difficult to distinguish by eye and by winnow from wheat and eventually became a cultivated crop in its own right. Cheat grass is a mimic of rye and perhaps with further evolution will become a cultivated crop as well. A similar story can be told for oats which was a mimic of barley and which eventually became a crop in its own right.

It is important to note that the mimic does not completely mimic the model and it is often these small differences that lead to its cultivation as a crop. Rye and oats, for example, can survive in conditions that wheat and barley find challenging so offer good substitutions for these crops under these conditions.

So another lesson that weeds can teach us is the importance of mimicry as a strategy for starting, growing, and maintaining a business. This is an important lesson because often when we discuss entrepreneurship we equate it with pioneering innovation. It is true that innovation can be a very profitable strategy, but it can also be a very risky strategy and oftentimes it is those who copy the product or service, with some new twist, that end up dominating in the marketplace or at least making a home for themselves alongside the pioneer in the marketplace.

Isaac Wanasika and Suzanne L. Conner have written an interesting and useful article called When is Imitation the Best Strategy? (2011) that delves into some of the nuances of mimicry as a business strategy. The importance of mimicry as a strategy in biological contexts can be appreciated by reading about all the different forms of mimicry in the Wikipedia page on Mimicry (see Vavilovian mimicry in particular). Finally, to learn more about mimicry in grain crops, you can read chapter 2 of My Weeds: A Gardener's Botany (1988) by Sara Stein. Chapter 2 is called "Wheat and Tares Sown Together". This is a biblical reference and refers to ryegrass, aka Tares, being planted alongside Wheat because Tares was a good mimic of Wheat in its early growth habit.




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