Spore 1.1


Spore 1.1 from matt kenyon on Vimeo.

From artists Matt Kenyon and Doug Easterly of S.W.A.M.P.(Studies in Work Atmospheres and Mass Production), “Spore 1.1.”

It consists of a rubber tree plant, purchased from Home Depot, that is hooked up to a self-contained watering mechanism and calibrated on a weekly basis, according to the performance of Home Depot stock. If the Home Depot stock does well, Spore 1.1 gets watered. If Home Depot stock does poorly, “Spore 1.1.” goes without. Because Home Depot guarantees all of their plants for one year, if one rubber tree dies, another will be substituted in its place.

A Common Sense View of Invasive Plants

Via the Garden Professors blog a sensible letter in Nature from Mark Davis and 18 other ecologists on the tired, in my opinion, native vs. invasive species debate:

It is time for scientists, land managers and policy-makers to ditch this preoccupation with the native–alien dichotomy and embrace more dynamic and pragmatic approaches to the conservation and management of species — approaches better suited to our fast-changing planet.

Clearly, natural-resource agencies and organizations should base their management plans on sound empirical evidence and not on unfounded claims of harm caused by non-natives. Another valuable step would be for scientists and professionals in conservation to convey to the public that many alien species are useful.

Amen.

More from that article here.

Ridiculous Press Release Tuesday

I’m not making this up

I’m getting so many off-target press releases clogging my inbox that I’ve decided to share them until the publicists who send them get a clue and actually spend some time reading this blog. One release in particular should get an award for crassness.

The American Dietetic Association has, apparently, teamed up with industrial food giant ConAgra (am I the only person who sees that pairing as a conflict of interest?) to bring us a condescending website about home food safety that I won’t link to so as not to give them free publicity. The ADA is promising bloggers a chance at winning a free iPad or Starbucks gift card for pimping a food safety website that includes things like the “cookie rookie pledge.” The pledge, aimed at kids, suggests “Wait until cookies are ooey-gooey and fully baked before digging in, ” and “Remind grown-ups to use two separate cutting boards for raw meat, like turkey, and ready-to-eat-foods like carrot sticks.”

At the risk of losing the chance to win that iPad, I can’t resist suggesting a few food safety tips for their corporate partner ConAgra: give your poultry space, sunshine and monitor their health. Compost their waste in a thermophilic (hot) compost pile. Follow these several thousand year old farming concepts and maybe we wouldn’t need the “cookie rookie pledge.” According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, ConAgra ran the most salmonella infested turkey plant in the country. The CSPI also has a nice rundown of what other food giants are in bed with the ADA.

The good news is that we can take yesterday’s stoic flow chart to heart and develop an entirely parallel food system by growing as much of our own food as we can. We might also–and I want to hear from parents on hard this would be to do–try to run this propaganda out of our schools. Perhaps it’s just time to settle down and develop some of our own memes. I have a feeling they’ll spread better, in this internet age, than the work of the ADA’s publicists.

Emergency Toilet Sanitation

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third EditionI was asked by our local neighborhood council to talk about emergency turlets for their public safety committee. Doing some preliminary research about what our government suggests concerns me.

FEMA and, it seems, all the state and local agencies I looked into rely on a poop in a bag, throw in some enzymes or bleach and throw it into a pit approach. In a short term emergency, a day or two let’s say, this might work fine. But if the emergency stretched out longer I can see some potential problems. And the cynic in me sees an opportunity for a contractor to sell toilet and enzyme kits to government agencies.

So what’s wrong with pooping in a bag? First off, it’s disgusting, something I know from backpacking. I have a feeling people might avoid latrines set up with “poop bags” and go do their business behind a bush. And I have a feeling that the government experts suggesting this approach have never tried it themselves.

Secondly, those pits full of bags could become a serious biohazard should rats, let’s say, start pulling the bags apart or should the pit get flooded.

As an alternative to the “poop bag” I was impressed with Joseph Jenkin’s humanure approach that he explains in a series of videos he shot in Haiti after the earthquake. You can see those videos here. Essentially what Jenkins did in Haiti was to forage carbon material (“bagasse” or sugar cane waste) and use that as a cover material in the latrines. This eliminates smells and maggots. He also set up a large humanure compost pile in a refugee camp using the same bagasse material as the carbon source. The hot temperatures in the compost pile kill hazardous microorganisms in human poo. As long as you’ve got a carbon source you can keep Jenkins’ sanitation system going indefinitely. With the FEMA approach you’ve got a problem when you run out of those bags and proprietary enzyme mixtures.

One problem with Jenkins’ approach could be finding a carbon source in an urban area, but I think that’s solvable (suggestions invited!). You also need water for the compost pile but it need not be potable.

I’m no sanitation expert and am interested in opinions on this topic, particularly those who have worked in emergency situations or in impoverished communities. What I like about Jenkins’ approach is that it relies more on knowledge (how to compost, set up a latrine) than equipment. The job then is to spread that knowledge. Learning how to compost should be a skill everyone knows how to do.

Jenkins’ Humanure Handbook: for purchase or free pdf download.

Rooftop SIP Garden in LA

Got to visit John Zapf’s vertiginous LA compound yesterday. He’s got an amazing rooftop vegetable garden using self irrigating pots. John has little sun in the yard so the roof is only option for veggies.

He uses drip line to refill the reservoirs. Reminds me of the Green Roof Growers of Chicago (minus the extreme weather).

His two cents on what to grow: chard good, zucchini good, corn in pots not so good.

For more info on self irrigating pots on Root Simple click on the label for this post below.

Are Pallets Safe to Reuse?

Now you know. Pallet parts have names.

As a fan and proponent of reusing pallets in building projects, such as chicken coops and compost containers, I’m often asked if I think they are safe to use given that shippers and manufacturers fumigate them with pesticides.

In the United States quarantine regulations require that pallets be treated with methyl bromide, a pesticide being phased out due to its adverse effects on the ozone layer. According to Mary Howland Technical Service Manager at Great Lakes Chemical Corporation, a supplier of methyl bromide,

Methyl bromide products are restricted use pesticides. A certified applicator license is required to purchase and use these products and strict adherence to label directions/requirements is mandatory. Under normal fumigation conditions methyl bromide is a gas and when the pallets are properly aerated according to label instructions, virtually no methyl bromide residue remains on the pallets and wood materials.

Now I’m not a methyl bromide fan and I find it’s use as a soil fumigant in agricultural applications appalling.  But I’m not too worried about reusing pallets. That being said, a Tylenol recall was linked to the use of tribromophenol (TBP) to fumigate pallets. Though, depending on if you believe the trade organizations behind wood pallets or plastic pallets (they hate each other), the Tylenol recall may have had nothing to do with TBP which is not used to fumigate pallets in the US.

So, as with most issues on this blog, no easy answer. But I’m still not concerned about using pallets as a building material.