Saturday Tweets: Eating Decay, Monk Mornings and a Suitcase Boombox

Atomic Gardening

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The always entertaining podcast 99% Invisible has a new episode, “Atom in the Garden” about the forgotten 1950s fad of gardening with radiation. Essentially, it was a crude form of genetic engineering. Plants were zapped with radiation in the hopes of creating useful mutations.

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While it didn’t work well, it did produce several varieties grown to this day including Rio Star Grapefruit. There was also a strong amateur interest in irradiated seeds supported by the Atomic Gardening Society.

The 1950s “gamma gardening” craze feels credulous today but it’s not like there’s no uncritical scientism in 2017 (Elon Musk solving LA traffic with tunnels, perhaps?).

Will We Keep Keeping Chickens?

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One of our eggs on the left and an egg from Vital Farms on the right.

I love our current flock of chickens. They’re a strikingly beautiful genetic mashup of Barnevelders and Americana hens that we got from the folks at Winnetka Farms (Craig was a guest on episode 56 and 57 of the podcast). They’ve proved to be a healthy, peaceful bunch who are still laying eggs after five years.

We let our hens live out their natural lives which can vary between just a few years and a decade or so. Lately, I’ve found myself pondering the day we have to decide to either get more chickens or close up poultry operations. There’s a lot of negatives for keeping chickens in our small, urban backyard. We have lead and zinc in the soil, so many predators that the hens have to live in what I call “chicken Guantanamo,” and a small irregular piece of property that makes using a chicken tractor impossible. While I built a generous run for our four hens, I really wish that they could wander more freely, but that’s just not possible where we live.

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Another big change that’s happened since we started keeping hens ten years ago is the wide availability of pasture raised eggs. As most readers of this blog know, the supermarket egg labeling game, “cage free” and “free range”, is a load of . . . chicken poo. Cage free and free range supermarket eggs are from chickens crammed in huge sheds. These chickens never see the light of day and live in appalling conditions. You might be able to get eggs from chickens that live outdoors at a local farmer’s market, but beware of unscrupulous vendors.

A number of companies, such as Vital Farms and Red Hill Farms, have responded to consumer concerns and are marketing eggs raised on pasture. These pastured eggs are expensive when compared to the “cage free” and “free range” alternatives but probably cheaper than my feed and coop costs (though an accountant would argue I’ve already sunk the money into that coop!). And check out the yolk color in the photo above–the pastured eggs I’ve bought at the supermarket (during the winter–I don’t put a light in our coop) have a much darker yolk color than our ladies’ eggs. I should note that while I have spoken to Vital Farms sales reps I have not done full due diligence on any of the companies marketing pastured eggs.

I’m pleased to see our food system respond to the concern that motivated many of us backyard chicken keepers in the first place, namely the inhumane conditions in factory poultry operations. Perhaps the pasture raised eggs we can now buy at the supermarket would not have come to be without so many of us taking the extraordinary step of welcoming poultry back into the city.

What do you think? Do you keep chickens? Why?

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How to Roast Coffee Photonovel

coffee roasting picYesterday afternoon, on a whim, I decided to experiment with a new/old educational format: the photonovel. It’s something you see more in Latin America and Italy than in English speaking countries. I thought I’d use this genre to tackle one of my favorite homesteading activities: stove-top coffee roasting. You can download my brief coffee roasting photonovel here (PDF). It’s a rough draft but if you like it I’ll do more, and maybe turn one into a telenovela.

And, please, try roasting coffee sometime. It’s my favorite activity here at Root Simple labs!

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Saturday Tweets: Foxes, Library Hand and Pyracantha