Sunday, June 28, 2009

Vermicomposting Start

I have mentioned vermicomposting, or worm composting, a couple of times now...and since I feel that every household should have at least a small set up I thought I had better get one going. The little system here in my condo has been running for about a month now so its time to show a bit.

I have been reading on this topic here and there for several months now. My favorite source of information so far is (I got distracted reading a post there just by going to fetch the link for this post). Bentley is a passionate vermicomposter who operates 3 websites and a mail order business. I recommend his sites to anyone with even the slightest interest in this topic. My own first container follows his start up directions.

Since the whole condo is carpeted and I did not want to take the chance of moisture leakage, and I wanted to be able to allow good side and bottom aeration, I went with the slightly more expensive two container version. The wooden spacers in the bottom tub keep the working tub elevated so aeration holes are not blocked. As the pictures show, I have yet to have any moisture drip out of the working tub.

So far, what my system seems to be best at is growing sprouts. When I first started the bin I thought I would try using some dried out and lightly chopped up weed grass roots, that I had dug up earlier this spring, as part of the bedding. Well this kind of grass root develops new sprouts incredibly easily so when I checked my bin the first week after adding the worms, I discovered a field of probably 75 4-5 inch sprouts coming up out of the top layer of bedding. I had also added potato peelings as food, but since they had not begun to rot before they were added...they had sprouted as well and were actually over half of the growing sprout population. I yanked out all these sprouts, chopped them up and fed them to the 4 old hens in the tractor.

The sprouts in the above pictures are primarily more potato sprouts that have grown in over the last week. Its amazing how fast these buggers grow and it is also amazing just how filled with life is this compost tub....perhaps a bit too much so. I`ve got potato sprouts growing where there is barely any potato, and one that I found was even growing little leaves.

*side note: Potato sprouts are actually one type of sprout that people, and chickens, should not eat much of. Solanine, found especially in green potatoes, is often highly concentrated in the sprouts. I did not know this when I fed them to the hens. I wonder if that was the catalyst of their current, and off-season, molting phase that has them not laying. I doubt it since there really were not that many sprouts.

The rest of the bedding material that I have used consists of torn up recycled cardboard material from used fast food drink trays and egg cartons, as well as torn up toilet and paper towel tubes. Some paper can be used as well so I have added some ripped up paper bags that were being saved to recycle. I think the energy involved here is much better energy than that which would be required to turn those bags back into something else, perhaps more drink trays that really shouldn`t be so needed.

Then there is the star of the show. Because I initially wanted to get an idea of reproduction and food consumption rates, and for a couple of other reasons, I ended up buying the last 3 packets of live red worm bait from Canadian Tire to start things off. This meant I had about 75 worms for that big old tub. I knew they were not going to be able to process much waste by themselves and I`d be waiting quite some time for any significant population increase so I bought another 6 packets, or about 150 worms last Tuesday. I am very curious to see how this population will grow and consume (I guess process is really a better word) over the next 6 months.

Now that I know I can keep a compost worm population fairly stable, I am going to look at ordering 5-10 pounds and starting some intensive processing. We have a huge pile of winter barn bedding and manure to process and my hope is to start contracting to remove barn waste from local farms who are not interested in composting, and perhaps even to accepting kitchen wastes from city restaurants. If I can keep a large population active and reproducing over our Zone 2 winter, this could have some very nice potential. I will post on these experiments and developments as time passes.

Peace and comfort to all.

Friday, June 26, 2009

We Should Be Ashamed

Something has been bugging me all day but I couldn't lay a finger on it until I stumbled across an article while doing some other light research. I do not care for the article itself, the reason for which is clear I hope, but here is a link so that anyone may judge for themselves. The issue that was bugging me is that all attention, particularly in North America, is suddenly on the death of a massively disturbed, albeit talented, celebrity.

As the article does point out, with all the horror and bullshit that is present in the world right now, if there is a death we should be focusing on right now it is that of Neda Agah-Soltan, the young Iranian student who was killed in Iran on June 20. This young lady has become the face of resistance to injustice and oppression in Iran. It certainly doesn't say anything good about our society that Michael Jackson's death is what so many are upset about.

We are such hypocrites.

Note: It's later in the day now, and I thought I would add something to balance out the tone of this post. Back in May I shared a lucky, but blustery, day that I had. I mentioned that I had seen a pair of rare ducks (Buffleheads) on our forest dugout and that I hoped they were nesting there. Well...

Friday, June 19, 2009

On Food

One of my favorite bloggers (and an appreciated commenter here), Linda of Rebel Pigs, raised some important questions about organic/local food and its accessibility in a recent post. I hope I am not oversimplifying by saying that at the heart of the matter is the question of whether or not locally produced, organic food is a realistic option for a significant portion of the population (speaking particularly of North America). As someone who preaches the importance of personal responsibility and the fact that I am seriously considering some food production ventures, this is definitely a topic which I spend a lot of time thinking about, and which I like to discuss (which in my case seems to mean lecture about).

So here goes.

We all know that food is one of the basic needs of life. All living things need to intake enough energy to at least supply that required to live and do whatever the thing is doing. We humans have also made the act of nourishing ourselves into a social and, as in modern times, entertainment activity as well. This consumptive pattern can definitely seem to support the viewing of humanity as a kind of semi conscious virus, but I don't want to digress too much. Advancing beyond the hunter/gatherer level of society has required that some members of society devote significant personal energy to growing enough extra food so that others are free to work at other tasks necessary to maintaining a society. Even if most required labor is shared throughout all members of society, certain specialties including agricultural, are necessary.

As societies grow more "advanced", more and more people move away from involvement with the production of their food. Choosing to live as a food producer has usually meant a higher debt load, lower standard of living and, even when energy intensive, often requires significant manual labor. And as big business evolved into the modern global network of massive, politically active corporations able to hide behind a sea of relatively invisible has become a controversial topic indeed. To many, it is a tool for achieving social control, and even a weapon.

Indeed, for many years, many countries held vast quantities of various grain in reserve in order to affect global and domestic prices, all while thousands starved (globally and domestically). Now many of these reserves are gone and instead we through massive amounts of calories into landfills as mere trash, because to do otherwise is deemed be some kind of irresponsible and anti-capitalist act. Our system has evolved (with significant assistance) into one which places greater emphasis on self-maintenance of the system, than on meeting the minimal needs of every human being on the planet. Indeed, in this system, the only human need that has not been near totally commodified is the need for certain atmospheric conditions...and this one is certainly also well on the way.

In recorded history, humans have never been able to create an egalitarian society of any significant population size or level of productivity. They always seem to eventually be corrupted by greed or laziness or lust for power, or all of the above.

Even if there seemed to be an acceptable egalitarian solution, it seems unlikely that any nation of souls (or larger population) would undergo such a reformation within even a generation. This means that such a solution must be created and implemented by very definitely working within the current system, as flawed and, often, corrupt as it is. This means that those choosing to take part in the production of food (for personal use or commercial as well) have two basic choices; industrial scale production (including quotas, GMO, chemicals, price fixing, etc etc) or local/small scale specialty production (including usually higher quality, organic or naturally produced and higher cost). Nowadays, it is rare for local scale production operations to be possible without non-farming income. This means that that most healthy and sustainable food production is of the "hobby" variety, greatly limiting output potential and therefore the ability to fill many mouths. It does, however, mean greater variety in that limited output, but also much higher prices.

Here's a personal example. My mother had to leave her job (about 21 years in the donut sector of the service industry) for health reasons. Without this income, we'd have done without a LOT of things, and may not have even been able to keep the farm. Now that Dad is a senior, his pension makes up for some lost income but that still means mom has no money of her own. So she decided to set up a small fresh egg business. At maximum production by the 150-200 hens she will have remaining, this will bring in about $175 per week or $700/month, before expenses, at $2/ dozen. If demand is high enough that customers will come to pick up their eggs, this should make her monthly profit around $600 per month (after initial investment is recovered, 6 months to a year) or about 1/3 of the 40 hour per week job she had. Also, it must be mentioned that a fairly significant initial investment is necessary for such a venture, in order to house that many laying hens humanely AND productively. Since we are so far north, this investment is extra high because we need to provide plenty of indoor space for winter, as well as outdoor for true free ranging in the mild seasons.

So it should be pretty clear that taking part in conscientious and local food production is rarely undertaken by anyone wishing to live a typical Western middle class existence and would not even be possible without relatively high end product pricing. This tends to mean that those with little means do not have access to much in the way of good quality, healthy, locally produced food. This also does not take into account the fact that a 100 mile diet still means that some food is being shipped 100 miles and therefore someone is having to make some kind of living off delivering that food. Therefore income AND location significantly affect accessibility.

As much as many of us are wont (myself included) to pin point blame for mass suffering and death due to social inequality, reality is rarely so straightforward. The only answer seems to be that humanity is capable of great positivity and great negativity, but for some time now we have been leaning more and more heavily to the negative. No matter how much we talk about efforts to avoid it, we seem drawn back to the self perpetuating and steadily darkening system we live within.

Personally, the only solution I see is what I have written about before, for person by person to choose to strive for balance between self and everything else. Living mostly for ourselves individually is as harmful as not living for ourselves at all. Modern group activity tends to be superficial. Rarely do people choose to meet socially for an activity involving labor (sport just doesn't count) and we primarily seem to have a system where success means not having to do any labor or unpleasant task whatsoever.

I would say that if any one thing is the reason for starvation and poverty, that definition of success is it. Dedication to such a system is why we do not seem capable of de-commodifying our needs.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Old Lady Tractor

19 posts in March and 2 in June, I must not have much to say these days.

Actually, I've felt like ranting quite a bit but the thoughts have not been cohesive or they have been a little more personal than I am really comfortable spreading around (even though I still blog fairly anonymously). Plus I have been trying to keep myself pretty busy at my folks' farm.

Mom's chicks are here now. 207 baby buff orpingtons (as I recall) are now down to 203 but those remaining seem fairly strong. If we only lose 4 it will be a minor miracle. I would share a picture or two but it seems the pictures mom said she took, did not actually make it onto my camera (that she used to take them). Ah well, no cute pictures of me on hands and knees with baby chicks all around and on and under me for you all to see.

Getting their first home ready wasn't a ton of work but it did take some time. They are beginning their lives with us in a 8 X 8 shed that has housed mom's few hens for the past 7 or 8 years. Bit of a hint for people here....USB sheathing SUCKS. Don't use it if you can help and certainly don't use it anywhere that gets wet. The stuff just falls apart. I have nearly ranted about the looming USB failure in North America a few different times but don't want to get too off track here. So yes, the shed's floor was USB. As such, this mean years of having damp from food and water soaking into the floor through wood shavings, which left a floor that had many patched over holes. No amount of cleaning was going to make this an acceptable surface for chicks so I ripped out that old crumbling mess, hosed out the whole inside of the shed, scraped the walls down some (they weren't too bad but still gross), and put in a new 3/4" plywood floor. I likely should have painted inside with linseed oil or something but I just didn't get to it in time. Either way, the babies had a lovely clean shed to move into upon their arrival (after a 3.5 hour drive in the truck with my parents). Ill post about this again soon, when I actually have pictures to share.

The fact that this shed is full of chicks now means that I also got the chicken tractor finished and into operation. The 4 old ladies weren't too happy with their new digs to begin with, and my sister's puppy rushing up to the screen to say hello to them didn't exactly help either. 2 of the old dears flew right through the meshing and ran off! They finally made their way back into their old shed where I caught them and put them back into their mobile home.

The next day, I was worried about one of the escapees. She was puffed up and laying down a lot, so I was worried that she had hurt herself while escaping and might die. But then I was looking into the nests and noticed that some of the chicken shite laying around was very little other than stringy grass. Obviously this was very suspicious and I then noticed that the poorly looking hen, also looked bulgy in the chest. I got to wondering if her gizzard was perhaps not working properly, so I gave them a container of grit which was attacked hungrily. They went through a good half litre of grit that same night (although a lot will have been scattered about the ground too). Two days later all 4 hens were their normal selves, and one looking very grateful. It was completely our fault in the first place but its awful nice to figure out what is wrong before its too late.

To give a quick idea of the building of their mobile home, here are some more pictures:

There is a 2X4 sticking out each end for a reason. It was my original plan to move the tractor by lifting at opposing corners, but the one end was much too heavy for this plan to work. 4 of us hefted it into it's first position (don't ask me why I didn't just build it there...), which was quite a lot of work, but I used a two wheel dolly at the heavy end for the next small move at the end of the first week. This was so much easier that I think my parents could do it by themselves. Thankfully the little old ladies weren't too upset by the process.

Chickens need shade so the tarp provides that. The bales are in place as wind shelter because we get some incredibly windy days here. A little extra work on each move keeps the old ladies comfortable. I am thinking of building full bale walls all around the tractor over the winter, including a simple peaked ceiling. This will provide them with more space to wander, scratch and leave their shite, while keeping them protected from our nasty -45 C (often with heavy wind) days.

Overall, I am happy with how this thing turned out, even though the carpentry should be a lot better. These skills need work or they get rusty and it has been a few years now since I did much in the way of carpentry. The next one I build will include a larger nesting/roosting box that may take up the whole upper space instead of just at one end. I can also make the unit a full 16' long which should keep about 12 or so hens, complete with an upper nesting loft for them. I doubt this design would work well for solely meat birds as they might struggle with the ramp but it should be fine for dual purpose birds.

Anyway, tha..tha..tha...that's all for now folks. Peace and comfort to all.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Remembering Tiananmen

20 years ago, a young man stood alone in front of a tank in China.

Then this brave man stepped in front of that tank when it turned to drive around him. No one knows who this man is or what happened to him after this event, but we know that several hundred of his fellow students were killed by the military who were sent to break up a peaceful student protest for democracy.

Tiananmen Square is one of those things that most Western adults have heard of. This is because a few other brave people managed to smuggle images and the odd video out of China, to then be spread throughout the free world.

But times are changing.

The world seems to be more forgiving of China's government now that they own so much Western debt and arguably the strongest current economic position. More importantly, to those of us living here, the West seems to be slipping away from "free world" status. Unfortunately this is often a difficult reality to convince people about, thanks to a plentiful supply of entertainment and consumer choices. When these distractions fail, climate change and peak resources/energy are available to be used as excuses to restrict freedom. This is especially so when such a large amount of people seem unwilling to accept that with freedom comes significant responsibility.

How many of us would step in front of that tank?