Nature Fest this Weekend!

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Just a reminder that I’ll be at the Natural History Museum’s L.A. Nature Fest this weekend on Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 am to 5 pm. Root Simple will have a booth in which we’ll be selling copies of our rare and hard to find booklets, done in collaboration with the Ecology Center, on container gardening, rainwater harvesting, bicycle basics, backyard chickens and food preservation. They’ll be priced to fly out of those boxes in my garage! I’ll also be doing a coffee demo at 1pm on both Saturday and Sunday and dispensing free advice in the booth for the entirety of the festival. Please drop by and hang out.

And dig the book racks I built out of scrap plywood! See you this weekend!

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100 Eric Rochow of Garden Fork on Maple Syrup, Welding and Cast Iron

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Listen to “100 Eric Rochow on Maple Tapping, Welding and Cast Iron” on Spreaker.
On this, the 100th episode of the Root Simple podcast we talk with Garden Fork impresario Eric Rochow about his adventures in maple syrup making, learning how to weld and the controversial topic of maintaining cast iron. During the show we touch on a lot of things including:

Also, Eric wants to know how many Root Simple readers/listeners follow Garden Fork. Send him an email at [email protected] You can also find Eric on the Garden Fork podcast, the Garden Fork Youtube channel, Garden Fork for in Facebook and at GardenFork.tv.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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Pasture Standards for Laying Hens

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This weekend Kelly and I and our friend Dale attended the massive Natural Products Expo West, a convention where grocery and health food stores go to find the latest quinoa chip. While the vast majority of exhibitors are peddling highly processed vegetarian junk food, in recent years I’ve spotted a positive trend: pasture raised eggs and meat.

Having witnessed agricultural fraud first hand and even collusion from mainstream journalists (wish I could tell that story, but Root Simple would need an investigative division and lawyers), I’ve come to view animal husbandry claims with suspicion. With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the standards for pasture raised laying hens.

As usual, food marketing claims are confusing and often misleading. In fairness, assessing a farm’s “humaneness” isn’t a simple question and there’s no oversight from the government. The USDA does not have a pasture raised designation. Pasture certification is done by third party organizations. Thankfully the Animal Welfare Institute has a guide to animal welfare claims.

I thought I’d take a closer look at the designation I’ve seen the most, Certified Humane. One important thing to note is that a company can have the Certified Humane designation and not raise poultry on pasture. That said, the non-profit that adjudicates the Certified Humane label has pasture standards. Here’s an excerpt from those standards relating to exterior access for laying hens on pasture:

R 1: Pasture area
a. Must consist mainly of living vegetation. Coarse grit must be available to aid digestion of vegetation.
b. The pasture must be designed and actively managed to:
1. Encourage birds outside, away from the popholes, and to use the area fully;
2. Prevent and/or minimize heavily degraded, muddy/sodden, or worn areas;
3. Minimize any build-up of agents (e.g., parasites, bacteria, viruses) that may cause disease;
4. Prevent hens from coming into contact with any toxic substances.
c. The minimum outdoor space requirement is 2.5 acres (1 hectare)/1000 birds. Land used for cropping (except grass or hay) is not accepted as part of the Pasture Raised space allowance and must be excluded from space calculations.
d. The maximum distance that a hen has to walk from the perimeter fence of the pasture to the nearest door into a fixed or mobile house must be no more than 400 yards (366 m).
e. The pasture must be rotated periodically to prevent the land from becoming contaminated and or denuded, and to allow it to recover from use. A written rotational grazing plan must be in place. The written rotational grazing plan must be submitted with the application.
f. Water temperature must not be less than 50° F (10 C) or greater than 100° F (38 C).
g. Birds must be outdoors 12 months per year, every day for a minimum of 6 hours per day. In an emergency, the hens may be confined in fixed or mobile housing 24 hours per day for no more than 14 consecutive days.
h. Shade, cover and dust bathing areas
1. There must be sufficient well-drained, shaded areas for hens to rest outdoors without crowding together.
2. Cover, such as shrubs, trees or artificial structures, must be distributed throughout the pasture to reduce the fear reactions of hens to overhead predators and to encourage use of the pasture.
3. The pasture area must include patches with loose substrate suitable for dust bathing.

These standards seem reasonable to me though there are other things to consider such as de-beaking. Personally, I feel good about buying pasture raised eggs with the Certified Humane designation. But I wish that the USDA would step in and clear up the confusing and misleading egg labels such as “cage free,” and “free range.” as well as putting together a standard for “pasture raised.” I’m not holding my breath. On the positive side, we vote with our food dollars and those votes are beginning to be counted. Unfortunately, there’s going to be a few years of wading through the marketing manure and the current anti-regulation political climate.

Saturday Tweets: Counting Poultry, Cocktails and Homesteading Without a Garden

Kitchen KonMari Session, Illustrated

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Few topics in the home arts cause as much ire, backpedaling and recrimination as the techniques of tidying up guru Marie Kondo, a.k.a. “KonMari.” In the interests of full disclosure, I thought I’d show yesterday’s kitchen KonMari session, illustrated with crime scene type photos. Clutter is a crime, right?

On the day real estate speculators grab hold of our house, they’ll no doubt blow out all the walls, head to Ikea and install a cheap Dwell Magazine type kitchen with stark white melamine cabinets, acres of marble counter-tops and a bar people can saddle up to in their flip flops. What we’ve got right now is the original 1920s kitchen, a cramped and sealed off room with small cabinets. Space is as precious as in a sailboat’s galley, which is why we had to clean out the main storage cabinet. I wish I had the foresight to take a before picture of the cabinet, but I did get a “cabinet dump” photo, above, showing what happened when we emptied the contents of the cabinet into the breakfasts nook.

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KonMari suggests holding each object and asking if it “sparks joy.” When you do this with someone else there are, of course, things that are easy to part with and things that cause controversy. At one point I managed to snap a series of photos of Kelly running off with–get this–a bag of cat hair which she claimed would someday be used in some kind of highly conceptual cat hair felting project.

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After some tense moments, we managed to purge a decent number of unused kitchen items and Kelly rearranged the cabinet to place frequently used items on more accessible shelves.

Ironically, the kitchen cleaning session overlapped with the lunch hour preventing meal preparation. We decamped to a local Mexican restaurant for a meeting with a friend and Kelly finished this KonMari session on her own later.

I’d call it a victory but we’ve still got to tackle the pantry.

[An editorial note from Mrs. Homegrown: First, I cannot believe he has shared this cat hair business with the world! The age of chivalry is long gone. Also, yes, I know it’s a crazy lady thing to do, to collect cat hair, but I have an Idea and will not toss the hair just yet, not until I’ve tried it. Also, the bag of hair was not stored with our cooking stuff, which would be genuinely disturbing and wrong and taboo breaking, but rather was tucked away in our utility room off the kitchen. Erik rooted it out as sort of a decluttering sideline. I could point out that the very same day Erik clung with equal fervor to his crusty old pasta maker, despite the fact he has owned it for 15 years and made homemade pasta exactly…once? Twice? It seems we have both attached imaginary futures full of possibility to rather useless objects and are reluctant to let go of these fantasies. All in all, I figure it’s a successful session if each of us only holds on to one useless object when all is done. N.B:  A good rule of of decluttering with mates: No blame, no recrimination!]

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