Poison in the Compost

No, not that Poison

I’ve blogged about the dangers of  herbicides in compost before, but it’s worth repeating. Mother Earth News has been doing some excellent reporting on two herbicides, clopyralid and aminopyralid, that can decimate your garden for years should your compost get contaminated by them. I received the following note from Mother Earth news:

“As the garden season ramps up, we at Mother Earth News want to let you and Homegrown Evolution readers know that you may want to screen any hay, grass clippings or compost you bring into your gardens, to assure the materials are not contaminated with persistent herbicide residues (most often clopyralid and aminopyralid). As our reports included below indicate, these chemical residues can kill plants or severely stunt their production, costing gardeners money and time.

What do you need to know about contaminated compost?

  • Affected plants show signs of curled, cupped leaves, wilting new growth and poor germination in tomatoes, peas, beans, lettuce and other garden crops.
  • The chemical residues causing the problem can be present in grass clippings, in manure of livestock that has eaten sprayed plant matter or in compost made from contaminated materials. These herbicides do not biodegrade during composting and can persist in your soil for several years.
  • Contaminated materials have been found in municipal, organic and conventional bagged compost.
  • To prevent contamination, ask questions before buying manure or compost that contains manure. If the seller doesn’t know if it’s safe, don’t buy it, or use this cheap and easy home test to be sure it’s safe.
  • Anyone who suspects they have detected contaminated material should notify their local Extension agent and news media, as well as Richard Keigwin at the EPA and the product manufacturer (if purchased).”

[email protected]>

[email protected]> I’ve done the home test linked to above and so far I’ve not found any problems. My friend Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms has done the same and also found no herbicide residues. That being said, it pays to be careful. And let Mr. Keigwin at the EPA know that, as organic gardeners, we’d all apprciate that these poisons not be used in the first place.

Pallet Mania

A chicken coop built from pallets

I’m a sucker for anything built with pallets. Why? Quite simply, they are the most useful bit of detritus in a constellation of easily scavenged items that includes used tires, milk crates, futon frames, headboards and shopping carts. Reader Mike “Garden Daddy” Millson from Jackson, Tennessee, who blogs at www.gardendaddy.blogspot.com sent me an interesting link to a Canadian pallet enthusiast who has built some nice structures and saved himself a load of Canadian dollars. Check them out here:

http://summerville-novascotia.com/PalletShed/

The amateur architect critic in me will note that many of these structures look better before they were completed, but I’m in a much more forgiving climate that allows for open air experimentation. Note the wise practice of keeping pallets whole and using them like large bricks. Smart, because the things split up like crazy if you try to take them apart.

Now will someone please build a house with those headboards and futon frames?

How to Raise Poultry

How to Raise Poultry (How to Raise...)One of the great tragedies of modern factory farming is the loss of biodiversity in our livestock. Robust, diverse genetics have been sacrificed in the name of cheap and abundant, but low quality food. To use a poultry metaphor, we’re putting all our eggs in one genetic basket, with the consequence being that our whole agricultural system feels like a ticking time bomb. We’ve seen how these short sighted practices have decimated commercial beekeeping in recent years and I fear we may see a similar disaster with our poultry soon. Author Christine Heinrichs, through her books, blog, and work for the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities is countering these trends which is why I was delighted to get a copy of her latest book How to Raise Poultry.

How to Raise Poultry covers our familiar feathered friends, chickens, ducks and turkeys but also details the history and husbandry of everything from swans to emus. While I may never keep ostriches, it certainly was entertaining to read about them (don’t mess with an angry one and get yourself a very tall fence!).

Throughout the book Heinrichs stresses the importance of preserving our agricultural heritage through keeping rare breeds and out of favor fowl. Paradoxically I can assure that there will be more geese by eating one. As Frank Bob Reese, a farmer Heinrichs quotes in the book puts it, “The best way to save the old-time poultry is to return them to our dining tables.”

The lavishly illustrated How to Raise Poultry will get you thinking about where your food comes from and what we’ve lost by our over-reliance on just a few varieties of poultry such as the Cornish Cross meat chicken. Hopefully it will inspire hobbyists and farmers alike to bring back the amazing diversity and beauty of thousands of years of living with domesticated birds.

Birds on a Wire

A neighbor told me this morning that when the house next door to him was for sale the owners asked him not to hang laundry on his clothesline because it would, “bring down their property value.” And, of course, many housing developments have the same anti-clothesline restriction. Is it some distant cultural memory of 19th century tenement buildings, an id-based Ralph Kramden, an intense fear of anything urban? Maybe this clever design by Fabian van Sprecklsen might tip the balance for the clotheslineophobes. The ends are shaped like telephone poles and the clothes pins are shaped like little birds. I’m tempted to pull out a saber saw and make a copy, but that would be stealing! Via Doornob, an inspiring design blog I highly recommend.

Keeping Chickens by Ashley English

Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock It’s about time someone got around to writing this book. The people have been demanding a concise, clearly illustrated guide to raising chickens for eggs in urban and suburban situations and Ashley English has delivered the goods with Keeping Chickens All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock. You may remember Ashley from our first, and so far only, Homegrown Evolution podcast. Keeping Chickens covers breeds, how to get chickens, how to build a coop, hatching eggs, feeding and more. There’s also a few really nice recipes for what to do with all those eggs including an omelet recipe I’ve been using since I got the review copy. You can see that recipe and a few sample pages on Ashley’s website Small Measure. Good straightforward advice here, all delivered with really nice photos. If you’re thinking of starting a backyard flock I’d pick up this handy book. Now go out and build that coop!

A Redneck Rocket Stove

From Wes Duncan, the “High Tech Redneck,” a rocket stove made out of cinder blocks. I’ve built one of these too and can confirm that they work great. And you can’t beat the price. Time for some redneck cookin’!

Update: As several readers have pointed out, this design ain’t safe. Cinder blocks can explode and were not meant to be placed next to a heat source–that’s what fire bricks are for. See our post about our backyard rocket stove for a safe design that uses metal pipe.

Garden Edibles

We’ve pretty much just been growing Italian vegetable varieties for almost ten years now and have never looked back. Which is why we were really excited to hear that Homegrown Evolution pal Craig Ruggless has a new website: www.gardenedibles.com that imports seeds from the Larosa Emanuele Sementi company of Italy. Craig reminded us recently about something we remember from our trip to Italy a few years ago that, for Italians, vegetables are like wine. Wine comes in many varieties, so should vegetables. What a shame it is that when you go to a supermarket here in the US there is often only one variety of any given vegetable even at high-end stores.

So you gotta grow your own. Coming soon (again, as soon as book #2 is done), we’ll list what we grew this winter and what we plan on growing this summer. From Garden Edibles, this summer, we’re planting San Marzano 2 tomatoes and Rosso Dolce Da Appendere peppers. We always have some San Marzanos growing because they are so damn reliable. But we’re particularly excited about the peppers. And the tomato at left? It’s been rescued from extinction by a group of farmers in Puglia. It’s that region’s answer to the San Marzano–Pugliese families use to make their winter tomato sauce.

Ciao! Back to the book . . .

A Humanure Powered Prius!

 Photo by Thom Watson

Our days as struggling bloggers are over! This morning Toyoto Motors announced an exciting new partnership between their Prius division and Root Simple. Toyota is forming a task force, that includes Root Simple, to explore the most abundant fuel source on the planet: gassified humanure. Toyota anticipates a hybrid methane/electric Prius vehicle in showrooms as early as 2012. “We’re accelerating the research and design process and we predict that methane/electric hybrids will be a major movement in the automobile industry,” said Toyota president and CEO Akio Toyoda.

As part of the pilot program Root Simple will be saving human waste in five gallon buckets–an ordinary dry toilet! The waste will be added to proprietary inflatable bladders located in the basement.

 Photo by Nic Pepsi

Waste will ferment in the bladders for a three week period. Pressure caused by the expansion of the bladder automatically forces the methane into a storage tank located in the garage. Methane is then pumped into a specially modified Prius during the evening hours using a pump powered by rooftop solar collectors.  “Ed Begley’s people are jealous” said Root Simple blogger Erik Knutzen, adding, “I can finally ditch the bike–it’s dangerous anyways with all that slippery paint the city uses to stripe bike lanes with.”

Jenny Craig has signed on as a project partner to develop microwavable entrees that maximize enzymatic methane production, increase fiber and help us all lose those extra pounds. “We’re looking at integrating our brand into the transportation sector,” said Jenny Craig spokesperson, Leonora Bertwhistle. Jenny Craig is particularly excited about the use of agave syrup to replace sugar in the meals. “Agave syrup has been shown to break down into more highly fermentable compounds that will increase the efficiency of the fuel production process,” adds Bertwhistle.

“If this proves economical we’ll be looking at other human fuel sources,” says Knutzen. “If we can harness one end of the human waste output stream, think about the other. What if we could tap into the energy used for speech, typing, press releases and blogging? We could literally power our transportation sector on hot air.”

I drank a bottle of MiricleGro and then got on my riding lawn mower

We’re deep in the middle of the deadline for our next book, coming out in November–more on that soon! Today some links:

Solar hot air collector made out of soda cans. Built-It-Solar Blog.

From the two steps forward and three steps back department. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attends a groundbreaking ceremony for a school garden. So far, so good. But it’s sponsored by Scott’s MiracleGro who chipped in some dough in return for having their name and products liberally applied to the garden. A good science lesson for the kids? LAist.

Memo to Scotts MiracleGro: Unprecedented Pesticide Contamination Found in Beehives. Beyond Pesticides Daily Blog.

And speaking of bees: sign a petition to legalize bees in Santa Monica here.

Crop Mob! Volunteers help small farmers. Cricket Bread. Via Joe Linton (thanks Joe!).

Green Roof Growers announce new sub-irrigating pot experiments. Green Roof Growers.

Last but not least: Man arrested driving riding lawn mower down the street while drunk. The Buffalo News Via Garden Rant.

UMass Soil Testing

I finally got around to trying out the University of Massachusetts’ soil testing service and can report that it’s fast and cheap. I tested two areas of my yard for both nutrients and heavy metals and found out, more or less, what I expected, that I need to add a small amount of nitrogen. Surprisingly, for having such an old house, I don’t have a lead problem. It costs just $9 for the basic test and $13 for the basic test + heavy metals. The order form and instructions can be found at http://www.umass.edu/plsoils/soiltest/. Why test? UMass sums it up nicely:

  • to optimize crop production.
  • to protect the environment from contamination by runoff and leaching of excess fertilizers.
  • to aid in the diagnosis of plant culture problems.
  • to improve the soil’s nutritional balance.
  • to save money and conserve energy by applying only the amount of fertilizer needed.
  • to identify soils contaminated with lead or other heavy metals.

The brochure they send with the results is geared towards New England soils, but beggars can’t be choosers. This test is a bargain, but I’d check first with your local extension office to see if they offer free or low cost soil testing first. Should you want the Cadillac of soil tests, vegetable gardening expert John Jeavons recommends Timberleaf Soil Testing. I’ve seen some Timberleaf reports and they are quite detailed and informative.

The cutting edge of soil testing is about the living inhabitants of the soil, all those microorganisms, fungi and other critters rather than just old “NPK.” Dr. Elaine Ingham is a pioneer in this field. She offers “Soil Foodweb” testing via her website. I’ve read some grumbling from academics about some of her ideas and her commercial endeavors, particularly related to aerated compost tea. However, soil foodweb testing makes intuitive sense to me, though I have not tried it. You can read her interesting Soil Biology Primer here, and make up your own mind. There’s also an excellent book based partially on her research, Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web.

Thanks to Cool Tools for the tip on UMass.