Root Simple’s New CritterCam

Say hello to Root Simple’s new CritterCam and to some of Los Angeles’ many enterprising rats!

For my recent birthday Kelly got me a Moultrie M-990i game camera, a device used by hunters and wildlife researchers. It’s a digital still and video camera with a infrared flash and a motion detector. If something moves in front of the camera a picture or video is taken. It also stamps the time and records temperature and moon phase. [See update at the end of this post--this is probably the wrong camera for the application I intend. Thanks Max!]

My plan is to use it for some urban, backyard citizen science. Specifically I want to figure out a few things:

  • What mammals are visiting the backyard?
  • What paths do they take through the yard?
  • What kinds of birds are visiting the bird bath?
  • Have my skunk proofing efforts worked?
  • What’s the most active time in the night for mammalian activity?
  • How many cats are visiting and what time do they come through?
  • What’s the best way to critter proof fruit trees and vegetable gardens?
  • What mammal is chewing on our fruit?
  • How often do coyotes visit and at what time? (We’ve seen them two times in the backyard).
  • Are rats visiting our chicken feeder?
  • When does a broody hen get up to eat?
  • What critters are hanging around the chicken coop at night?
  • Use the camera’s time lapse function to look at shade patterns in the yard.

I’ll share the results on the blog over the next year.

The first night I used the camera I pointed it at the grape arbor where I know rats visit. The resulting images, that I strung together into the video above, show at least two rats who set off the camera around 30 times throughout the night between 8:30 PM and 5:30 AM.

This is the first year that we’ve got a significant crop off of either of our two grapevines. I think I could have prevented most of the rat problem by picking all the grapes just slightly before they were fully ripe.

What critters visit your backyard?

Update: I may have the wrong camera for, at least, capturing rats. The images I got may be just because I set the camera up close to where the rats were feeding. Root Simple reader Max sent in the following letter from Moultrie:

The PIR, of our game cameras, is set to pick up larger movement and eliminate false triggering of the smaller game that you have listed. This is because the people that rely on our cameras for game management do not want numerous pictures of squirrels, and such, when focused on larger game. Our sister company – Wingscapes – is better suited for the things that you are interested in. We suggest looking at the BirdCam Pro and the Wildlife Cam offered at http://www.wingscapes.com/products/cameras.

Picture Sundays: Homebrew Birthday Cards

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Caroline Clerc, the talented artist who drew the little figures that dance across the top of this blog, gave me a personalized birthday greeting (I’m getting near the half century mark). The card depicts the inside of my brain which has been contaminated by toxoplasmosis and is thus full of cats.

Lora Hall, a.k.a. Homegrown Neighbor took a craft class recently and made a bunch of cards including this Star Wars mashup that she gave me:

birthdaycard 2

It depictis what happens when you hit 50 with toxoplasmosis.

Saturday Linkages: Bike Racks, Sugary Drinks and . . . CATS!!!!

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Krokig £3 bike rack – IKEA Hackers

One-Day Protected Bike Lane Demos Have Swept America this Summer

Sugary drinks are hiding under a ‘health halo’

Architecture meets horses–ACE Center builds an environment for learning at Taking the Reins

Setting the Record Straight on the Legality of Seed Libraries (via )

DIY Hidden Cat Ladder:

Vintage viral cat photo: via

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

Koreatown Market Tour with Hae Jung Cho

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Chef and Master Food Preserver Hae Jung Cho, who was a guest on episode 6 of the Root Simple Podcast, is leading a Koreatown Market Tour on Saturday August 23, from 10 to 1:

Ever wonder which products at the Korean market are organic or what kind of pepper flakes to buy for making kimchi? Join me for a guided tour of supermarkets and specialty food shops in Koreatown. The tour is geared toward people who want to cook and eat Korean food at home, especially those who want to make kimchi. Cost: $25. (Bring extra cash for snacks etc.)

Head over here to sign up.

This class would have prevented the head scratching trip Kelly and I took down the Korean chili powder section of our local Asian market recently!

2,000 Year Old Bread

A Root Simple reader sent me a link to this video from the British Museum showing a chef recreating a 2,000 thousand year old loaf of bread found in one of the ovens of Pompeii.

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Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Bread A Global History by William Rubel. Rubel puts forth a couple of theories about the history of bread. One, that there’s nothing new about white bread. The elites have been eating white bread for a long time. Ironically, healthier whole wheat breads tended to go to poor folks. Also he says that the Pompeian bread would most likely, as this chef proves, look and taste a lot like contemporary “artisinal” sourdoughs. In other words, the bread you buy at a fancy bakery like Tartine in San Francisco hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years.

The British Museum has helpfully provided a recipe should you want to make your own version of this bread.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, GMOs and Risk Management

I can understand why Neil deGrasse Tyson made these off the cuff remarks about genetically modified organisms. There’s a lot of tin foil hat thinking on the anti-GMO side. But his comments also reveal that Tyson does not understand the difference between conventional plant breeding (something human beings have been up to for thousands of years) and GMOs.

For me, the best argument against GMOs come from a risk-management perspective. Statistician, author and former Wall Street trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb, along with four co-authors, published an article, “The Precautionary Principle: Fragility and Black Swans from Policy Actions” that describes, from a risk management perspective, why GMOs are not a good idea,

Monoculture in combination with genetic engineering dramatically increases the risks being taken. Instead of a long history of evolutionary selection, these modifications rely not just on naive engineering strategies that do not appropriately consider risk in complex environments, but also explicitly reductionist approaches that ignore unintended consequences and employ very limited empirical testing . . . There is no comparison between tinkering with the selective breeding of genetic components of organisms that have previously undergone extensive histories of selection and the top-down engineering of taking a gene from a fish and putting it into a tomato. Saying that such a product is natural misses the process of natural selection by which things become “natural.” While there are claims that all organisms include transgenic materials, those genetic transfers that are currently present were subject to selection over long times and survived. The success rate is tiny. Unlike GMOs, in nature there is no immediate replication of mutated organisms to become a large fraction of the organisms of a species. Indeed, any one genetic variation is unlikely to become part of the long term genetic pool of the population. Instead, just like any other genetic variation or mutation, transgenic transfers are subject to competition and selection over many generations before becoming a significant part of the population. A new genetic transfer engineered today is not the same as one that has survived this process of selection.

With GMOs there is the chance, albeit small, of total systemic failure of the system. The “bottom up” nature of conventional breeding–a much longer time frame and localized effects–prevents this kind of systemic failure.

Hopefully Tyson will read this article himself. It’s evident from his non-apologetic backpedaling on Facebook, that he still doesn’t understand the risks of GMOs.

Taleb’s article is worth reading. In addition to his argument on GMOs, the papers serves as a convenient summary of his “black swan” theory.

012 Damnation, Good Books and Listener Questions

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In this week’s episode, Kelly and Erik discuss the documentary Damnation, what we’re reading and answer a three part reader question about bread, weeds and fertilizer.

We briefly mention our experiment in house cleaning inspired by a post on Apartment Therapy.

Those damn dams!
Go to the Damnation Website to watch the documentary trailer and find links to where you watch the whole movie.

Via Youtube, a documentary on China’s massive Three Gorges dam.

I didn’t mention it during the podcast, but I used to work at the Center for Land Use Interpretation. The CLUI did a show on towns submerged by dam building projects called Immersed Remains.

What we are Reading
Kelly is reading The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.

Erik is reading Psychomagic by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Listener Questions
We answer Gloria’s questions about making bread, weeds and fertilizer. Summary: get Josey Baker Bread, mulch and pee in your garden!

If you want 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 StitcherThe theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Matching Your Waste Stream to Your Composting Method

Image source: Philip Cohen, Wikipedia.

Image source: Philip Cohen, Wikipedia.

This past weekend I taught a composting class at a local Waldorf school to a group of adults. When I asked the students to describe their living situations, I realized I needed to take a detour from the main activity of the day, building a large biodynamic compost pile, into a discussion of worm composting.

Why? A few of the attendees lived in apartments or had very small yards. The type of composting your household does will be determined in part from how you manage your waste stream and what you intend to do with the compost. If you live in an apartment and just have a few house plants, a worm bin is going to be your best option.

Even if you have a yard and a vegetable garden you may still need to maintain a few different types of compost methods. We have three kinds of composting methods at our house, determined by the types of waste streams our household generates:

Worm bin
Our worm bin is for the trickle of food waste that comes out of the kitchen on a daily basis. This consists of vegetable trimmings, tea bags and coffee grounds.

Advantages: Can be done indoors in an apartment. Produces a compost that is higher in nutrients than a conventional compost pile.

Disadvantages: Certain foods can’t be added like citrus and onions.

Conventional compost pile
If you have a vegetable garden and want to grow organically, you’ll need to generate a large amount of compost. This is a great way to deal with yard trimmings, grass, manure, and food waste.

Advantages: makes the kind of high quality compost needed in large quantities for a vegetable garden.

Disadvantages: a lot of work, can’t be added too once the pile is built, may require car trips to gather materials.

“Disposal” compost pile
There’s also stuff that can’t go in the worm bin. And once you build a big pile it’s best not to keep adding to it. For this reason we have a kind of “disposal” pile. It’s a compost bin that gets the materials that can’t go into the other two.

Advantages: reduces the biomass of all the stuff that can’t go either in the worm bin or the big compost pile.

Disadvantages: produces a low quality compost.

Alternatives
The labor involved in building a big compost pile for a conventional vegetable garden speaks to the advantages of what I think of as alternative permaculture food crops. In our climate that’s things like prickly pear cactus, pomegranates, certain types of grapes, olives and California natives (many of which are edible or medicinal).  These useful plants don’t need compost. They pull up nutrients from the ground and, if you let the leaves fall in place, do their own composting.