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.

More Pallet Composters

Thanks readers for sending links to some attractive pallet compost bins. The one above is at http://thriftify.wordpress.com/2009/03/12/easy-to-build-pallet-compost-bin/.

Another nice one at http://www.ecodaddyo.com/node/94, though I like to keep the bottom open and the compost in contact with the ground. Correction: the bottom is open on this composter.

It ain’t made of pallets but it looks like it will work nicely and you sure can’t beat the scenery. From Devon Morgan.

Compost Bin Project From Our New Book

Natural Home and Garden magazine has excerpted a shipping pallet compost bin project from our new book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World.

I’ve been using shipping pallets as a compost bin for a few years now and they work great. A compost pile, in my humble opinion, should be a minimum of a cubic yard in order to jump start the heat and microbial life that makes for good compost. Nail together a couple of pallets and you’ve got a cubic yard sized pile. 

I’ve got two bins, side by side, but wish I had three. Mine also look like hell since I put them together in a hurry. I much prefer the bin the folks at Motuv in Kansas City created:

To answer ahead of time a question that always comes up–am I concerned about contaminated pallets? In short, no. A longer explanation will have to wait for another blog post.

Leave a comment on how you store compost. And if you’ve got an aesthetically pleasing bin I’m especially interested. Leave a link to a photo.

Going Wired

Cat 5 o’ nine tails via BoingBoing

The dangers of radiation from cellphones has been in the news lately and, from what I understand, existing studies are either inconclusive or deeply flawed. But it got me thinking about the safety of wireless internet networks–should I be concerned about possible health effects?

In terms of a direct physical effect, probably not.  Dr Michael Clark of Britain’s Health Protection Agency, speaking in a 2006 Sunday Times article says,

When we have conducted measurements in schools, typical exposures from wi-fi are around 20 millionths of the international guideline levels of exposure to radiation. As a comparison, a child on a mobile phone receives up to 50 per cent of guideline levels. So a year sitting in a classroom near a wireless network is roughly equivalent to 20 minutes on a mobile.

So I’m probably not going to get cancer from a wireless internet network and the jury’s still out on cellphones. But what about the power of suggestion, so often neglected in our materialistic world? What about the symbolism of a world crowded with cellphones, wireless telephones, radio stations and now ubiquitous wireless internet networks? What about a kind of negative placebo effect?

I think we should acknowledge the symbolic implications of the technologies we use as well as the power of the unconscious mind. Even if we fancy ourselves thoroughly modern, what about those lingering doubts buried in our subconscious? Couldn’t those doubts cause deleterious effects both mental and physical? The placebo effect is real.

Our wireless modem recently failed, giving me the opportunity to put my theory into action by going “wired.” A neighbor gave me a hundred feet of ethernet cable, so all I needed was a few other supplies and a trip through the crawl space under the house to make it work. Initially the clerk at Radio Shack thought that I was insane when I told him I wanted to get rid of our wireless network. After several visits the clerk eventually warmed to my eccentricities and kind of got into the project, looking up things on the internet in the store for me. After a few hours on the phone with AT&T tech support (located in the Philippines!) we went fully wired.

Like the Radio Shack clerk, Mrs. Homegrown also thinks I’m crazy but I hope she appreciates the non-ethereal benefits of our wired network: greater security and higher speeds.

For more on the advantages of an ethernet network see this comparison of wired vs. wireless.

And, as Marshall McCluhan used to say, if you don’t like that idea I’ve got others . . .

SoilWeb: An Online Soil Survey Resource

One of the highlights of the California Master Gardener Conference I just spoke at was a lecture by Toby O’Geen, Ph.D., Assistant Soil Resource Specialist at UC Extension. O’Geen mentioned an amazing online soil resource called SoilWeb, avaliable at http://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/drupal/node/902.

SoilWeb overlays detailed soil information on Google Maps and Google Earth. There’s even a SoilWeb iPhone app allowing you to use the GPS capabilities of your phone to assist in shopping for, say, the perfect vineyard location.

SoilWeb maps cover most, but not all, areas of the US (Los Angeles isn’t included for some reason). While highly technical, terms are explained via hyperlinks. You click on the table to the right of the map for more detailed information including suitability for farming.

Of course in urban areas you never know what unpleasant surprises lurk beneath the surface such as concrete chunks and lead. SoilWeb won’t tip you off to those things, but it does give a good overall picture of the kind of soil you’ll be dealing with.

Bacon Bits

Van Gogh’s Starry Night rendered in bacon (via Doug Harvey)


With the death of print advertising venues, publicists are, apparently, desperately reaching out to bloggers to hype their client’s offerings. The result? Take a look at this tempest over garden bloggers taking ad revenue and going on junkets. Normally I compost publicist’s attempts to get mentioned on this blog into April Fool’s Day hoaxes. But, at the risk of dispensing free publicity, I had to share this one:

River Run Village in Keystone, Colorado is going whole hog this summer when the Blue River Bacon Tour comes to town . . . Over 3,000 pounds of bacon from a variety of purveyors will be on hand for sampling at the Bacon Showcase alongside live music and bacon lectures compliments of Leo Landis, Professor of Baconology. Yes, that’s his job!

The Blue Ribbon Bacon package is available for $35 and includes admission to the three-day event, a commemorative hat, $10 in Bacon Bucks, a beer koozie, unlimited bacon samples at the Bacon Showcase, live music, bacon educational lectures, and a free drink. General admission tickets are also available for $30 per person.

Keystone’s award winning golf courses are extending special offers to bacon lovers who wish to burn off some of those delicious calories. Tee off after 5pm on June 24-26 and the cost is $55 per person.

While indulging in all things bacon, Keystone Resort is offering rooms from $109 per night.

Bacon bucks? Is this a currency backed by bacon? Will this result in a mass “quantitative easing” at the Keystone Resort after “indulging in all things bacon?”

A note to publicists: While I enjoy your creativity, I’m guided by this quote from the late Terence McKenna. Do a little reading before clogging up my in-box with press releases. I’m not against advertising, but if we ever take on any sponsors they have to gibe with our goals and must be kept separate from our editorial content.

Mosaics

Above is a table the Kelly and I made many years ago with glass mosaic tile. We copied a portion of an ancient Roman mosaic depicting sea life. It took about 40 hours of painstaking work.

We still have a box of glass tile sitting in the garage and I’m thinking about breaking up the ugly concrete patio in the back yard and doing some mosaics. Kelly is less than enthused about this for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it will take me away from more pressing matters such as a back door that doesn’t open and a non-functioning computer network.

Nevertheless I was inspired to return to mosaic work after seeing the stunning garden designs of Portland, Oregon based pebble mosaic master Jeffrey Bale.

A pebble mosaic from Jeffrey Bale’s blog

You can view Bale’s work on his blog and read a great how-to article Bale wrote for Fine Gardening Magazine.

Our squid table was made by gluing the tiles directly to the wood and grouting once all the tiles were in place. This would not work for exterior mosaics. Instead, for my patio I would glue the tiles to a piece of paper and then set them into a mortar mix in place (the indirect method).

Using pebbles as opposed to glass mosaic tile, by the way, cuts costs way down. Should I get permission to do the back patio I’m thinking of combining pebbles with small areas of glass tile. In fact, I may just stop answering emails so that I’ll have the time to do this!

Friday Quiz Answer

The answer to our “Freaky Friday Fungal Quiz”: slime mold. And I should not have used “fungal” in the title. Slime molds are no longer classified as fungi. But I’ll stick with “freaky.” According to UC Berkeley, slime molds fall into three categories,

Plasmodial slime molds, like Physarum . . ., are basically enormous single cells with thousands of nuclei. They are formed when individual flagellated cells swarm together and fuse. The result is one large bag of cytoplasm with many diploid nuclei. These “giant cells” have been extremely useful in studies of cytoplasmic streaming (the movement of cell contents) because it is possible to see this happening even under relatively low magnification. In addition, the large size of the slime mold “cell” makes them easier to manipulate than most cells.

A second group, the cellular slime molds, spend most of their lives as separate single-celled amoeboid protists, but upon the release of a chemical signal, the individual cells aggregate into a great swarm. Cellular slime molds are thus of great interest to cell and developmental biologists, because they provide a comparatively simple and easily manipulated system for understanding how cells interact to generate a multicellular organism. There are two groups of cellular slime molds, the Dictyostelida and the Acrasida, which may not be closely related to each other.

A third group, the Labyrinthulomycota or slime nets, are also called “slime molds”, but appear to be more closely related to the Chromista, and not relatives of the other “slime mold” groups.