Natural Beekeeping Conference This Weekend!

13900131_1415069945173422_1735699895366642927_nAll the big names in the natural beekeeping movement (including Michael Bush and Dee Lusby and many more) are coming to SoCal this weekend. And I’ll be doing a crazy talk on Sunday morning as well as scoring some future podcast guests. Hope to see some of you there. More info and the schedule can be found here.

Join HoneyLove August 19-21, 2016 for an unforgettable weekend filled with educational lectures and workshops, hands-on demonstrations, the latest in natural beekeeping techniques and findings, an elite collection of exhibitors and sponsors, rare opportunities for you to connect with likeminded beeks, sweet raw honey tastings from around the world AND OUR ANNUAL YELLOW TIE EVENT on August 19th, 6-9pm!

There will also be “Special Interest Groups” on both days covering a wide range of topics for both beginner and advanced beekeepers (see full schedule at the bottom of this page).

All who are interested in bees and beekeeping are welcomed to attend! #HLONBC

Limited tickets available to this awesome weekend so REGISTER NOW!

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The problem with polar fleece: it’s in the ocean, it’s in sea creatures, it’s on our plates

Every earth-crunchy, green, neo-hippie, tree-hugging, back to the lander type (like myself) seeks out natural fibers when buying clothes, understanding them as the healthy, sustainable choice. Yet at the same time, outdoor apparel companies who cater, to a large extent, to people who love being out in the healthy pristine wilderness, specialize in selling us expensive specialized clothing made out of artificial fibers in the name of performance and even safety. (Remember kids, cotton kills!)

The ascendancy of the tech fibers has made it difficult, and expensive, to find natural fiber alternatives in the field of outdoor clothing. And admittedly, these materials have their strong points: they are lightweight, durable, non-itchy, moth proof, easy to wash, etc. And while this stuff can be expensive when sold by specialty retailers, over the years cheap fleece goods have become ubiquitous at chain stores, in everything from baby clothing to home decoration.

As a result, at this point, only the most militant lentil eating do-gooder, the most pure of the pure, do not have at least one polar fleece (polyester fleece) pullover in their wardrobe or blanket on their bed. I have a few polar fleece items, and as with all artificial fibers, I knew when I bought them that these things will never decompose, will clog the landfills along with all the other detritus I’ve generated throughout my life. But really, what is a fleece beanie in comparison to the foam and polyester monstrosity which is our mattress? Or what about the long chain of discarded electronic devices trailing in my wake? Fleece pullovers seemed such a small sin in the greater balance of things.

Now I’m not so sure.

classic-1Turns out that polyester fleece (and probably all synthetic fabric, more on that later) sheds teeny tiny microfibers in the wash water, and that passes through the waste treatment plants and ends up in watershed, where they not only add to our terrible problem of plastic pollution in the ocean, they are also consumed by marine life. They enter the food chain. Confused bivalves and shrimp eat this stuff, and we eat them. In short, we are eating our fleece jackets. And nobody knows what health impacts all this ingestion of microplastics will have for us, or the sea creatures.

The news first came to me, ironically enough, via Patagonia, purveyors of very expensive polar fleece. They’d commissioned a study on this, which showed that all fleece sheds significantly in the wash. High quality fleece sheds less initially than budget fleece, but they even out as they age, and aged fleece sheds significantly more than new fleece. They also found that puffy fiberfill jackets are significant shedders as well–apparently the tiny fibers migrate out the seams. Currently Patagonia is puzzling over how to weave non-shedding fleece, or perhaps convince washing machine manufacturers to install better filtration devices on home machines.

I’m going to point you to this Outside Online article for the details–it’s well worth the read.

Patagonia certainly did not break this news–I just stumbled on it via their recently released study. As the article above describes, the first whistleblower may have been marine biologist Mark Browne. Environmental organizations focused on ocean health, like The Plastic Soup Foundation and Save the Mermaids have been working on this problem for a while now, and they produced the cheeky PSA video above for a European audience back in 2015. (It’s worth noting that you pretty much have to offer a striptease to get the average viewer to sit through a video about ocean health.)

Though the Patagonia study focused on fleece, it seems all synthetic fibers shed and add to the problem. This is mind boggling when you start to think of everything in your household which contains synthetic fibers and which may end up in the wash now and again–from fleece blankets to underwear to stretchy jeans to stuffed animals.

What to do?

I think the quick take-away here is that your instincts about the superiority of natural fibers were always right and you should stick with them and phase out synthetics as much as you can, at least until we either figure out how to make a non-shedding synthetic or figure out how to filter waste water more effectively.

I find it interesting that none of the articles I’ve been reading are presenting this as an simple solution to the problem. But there it is.

According to the video above you can lessen the shedding by using liquid detergent and fabric softener in a cold water wash, but this is not a solution, just a mitigation.

It turns out that over the years here at our house we’ve sent a good deal of these stray fibers into the soil around our house, since we’ve been using a greywater system. I’m not sure what to think about that. I doubt that the fibers are as disruptive in the soil as they are in a marine ecosystem, but still, it’s not good, and I don’t like it.

Thinking about my own household, I’m targeting certain items for disposal. I have some very old fleece in my life: a 15 year old bathrobe, a blanket and a throw of nearly same age. These are things I have no special love for, and yet must be major shedders when I wash them. Rather than give them to the thrift store (because their new owners will continue to wash them), I’m going to consign them to the landfill. This makes me unhappy, but it was always their ultimate fate, anyway. I have wool and cotton things to take their place, and in the future, can continue to use natural fibers for these purposes.

I have a few other items which are newer and don’t really need to be washed for a few years, which I’ll keep for now, like a fleece vest and hat, but one day they will go to the landfill as well. I’m going to transition more to woolen outdoor items, even though they are expensive. Despite the fact that marketers have convinced us we can’t go outside without being all geared up in high tech fabrics, our grandfathers were happy enough tromping through the woods in those snappy plaid wool coats, and early mountaineers did impressive climbing in wool knee socks and knickers.

Even more tricky are items that just don’t translate well into natural fibers. We can wear baggy underwear held up by drawstrings, but do we want to? What about tights and socks? And I don’t know if anyone wants to go back to the days of woolen bathing suits! Erik suggests we all start bareass swimming, which is the aquatic analog of barefoot running.

Indeed, maybe we should be like the Greeks and exercise naked and barefoot, removing whole categories of unnecessary clothing and equipment across the board. Although I have to admit that a vision of naked yoga gives me serious pause. However, no ancient yogi every wore cute stretchy pants and a strappy top to do his practice. Yoga wear, like most athletic wear, is about fashion, not necessity, and we could do most of our exercising, whatever the type, in cotton, hemp, linen or wool.

Realistically, no matter how strict we try to be, I believe will always have some synthetics in the mix, in the form of elastic if nothing else, but if we are conscious and careful, the amount that ends up in the seas, in our food, in our bodies, it will be a far cry from the amount of pollution we are causing right now, out of pure ignorance.

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As a side note, this plastic business brings up two ongoing projects of mine which regular readers will know about, and may be wondering what’s happening with them.

The first is homemade mattresses. There are developments on that front, and for the moment all I will say is a teasing more soon!

The second is my quest to develop a sort of uniform and make my own clothes. This project is going slowly, but I have to say that all this inspires me to work harder. I want to have very few clothes, but those I have should be well made, and made out of well sourced natural materials. I do not have to sew them myself, but I do want to sew the more simple things, and source out complex items–like wool coats. I think this is possible, and even affordable if a wardrobe is considered to be a very small collection of treasured investments.

In Praise of Turkish Towels

turkish vs. terry towel

Turkish towel above a terry towel of the same size. I like to store them rolled, as on top.

I’m done with terry cloth towels. They’re too bulky, take up too much space in the cupboard, the laundry basket and the washer. And while a soft fluffy towel warm out of the dryer is indisputably a very pleasant thing, a stiff, scratchy towel off the laundry line is not–and we do all of our drying by line.

Furthermore, I think the quality of terry towels is dropping in general. I’ve been very disappointed with my towels for years. The most recent ones began fraying after their a couple of washings. (They were from Target, FYI.  Serves me right, really.). Meanwhile, I have as exhibits of quality textiles one baby blue towel Erik brought into our relationship and which was a hand-me-down from his mother’s house. I know it must date from the 60’s or 70’s, due to its un-ironic raised paisley pattern. It reminds me very much of my childhood. And while it is worn around the edges, it is still strong and whole. I also have the bath towel my mom bought me to take to college, and while that towel does not date to the Nixon administration, it is older than I’d like to consider and still holding strong. These two venerable old towels I will be keeping, out of respect more than anything else. All the crappy new towels have to go, and they will be replaced with Turkish towels.

I’ve been using a couple of Turkish towels as my bath towels for a year or so now and I really like them. Turkish towels are thick woven cotton sheets. Lacking the tiny, thirsty loops of the terry cloth towels, they are not as instantly absorbent as terry, but they work—it just feels different on your body. After a few disconcerting  mornings spent missing terry, I grew used to them, and then fell in love. I love them because:

  • The are not as bulky as terry, so wrap and tie around the body more more easily
  • They roll up into neat little bundles and take up very little space in my bathroom cupboard
  • They dry more quickly than terry towels
  • They don’t hog the washer
  • They’re not heavy when wet
  • They dry quickly on the line and feel soft afterward
  • They make good beach towels, yoga towels, chair covers, picnic blankets, etc.
  • After a year of hard use they are showing no signs of wear.

Where do you get them? Well, one of mine I purchased online and one was a gift. Sorry I can’t be more helpful than that. I have seen them in a hipster boutique around here, which means I may be disconcertingly surfing the edge of some new artisanal towel trend. They are fairly expensive, but I think I’d rather have 4 of these guys and nothing else than a cabinet stuffed full of low quality terry. I expect they’ll last a long time.

Incidentally, those big white bar towels used for drying glassware– also called flour sack towels–make good hair and hand towels. If you have lots of long hair they probably will not be absorbent enough for you, but I like them for the same reasons I like the Turkish towels: they take up little space, they dry fast, they are well suited to line drying. They are also quite inexpensive.

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Stellarium: A Handy Desktop Planetarium

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 9.43.36 AM

Let’s say you want to plan a camping trip to coincide with an auspicious time to view a meteor shower (like the Persead shower that reached its peak last week). You’ll want to pick a time when the moon is not up. Or let’s say you want to have some friends over for some planetary viewing and a glass of bourbon (as happened last night at the Root Simple compound). In that case you might want to pick a time when you can also take a look at the moon.

In the pre-personal computer era I used to use a planisphere. I still have my 1980s era plastic planisphere. But the planisphere does not show the planets or moon. You’ve got to hunt down that info elsewhere. And my planisphere is so small that it’s hard to use.

Thankfully, there’s a powerful, free open-source solution: Stellarium. Stellarium is a computer based planetarium that comes in OS X, Windows, Linux and Ubuntu versions. You can dial in any place and time. It comes with a catalog of 600,000 stars, eclipse simulation, meteor shower information, telescope control and much more.

How can you use Stellarium with a telescope or binoculars? I face major challenges using my fully manual Dobsonian telescope in light-polluted Los Angeles. It’s very hard to find “deep sky” objects such as nebulae and star clusters when you can, literally, count the number of stars in the sky. Last night I used my old star maps and regretted not loading Stellarium on Kelly’s laptop.

Stellarium comes with a bunch of scripts that function like planetarium shows. You can watch an eclipse or take a tour of suggested celestial objects. Two inventive teachers went so far as to make their own planetarium with cardboard and use Stellarium with a video projector and mirrored dome. This is just about the best school science project ever:

There’s a beneficial feedback loop here. Kids and adults interested in the night sky will advocate for less or better artificial lighting in the future. Dark skies are essential for the health of both wildlife and us humans. Just ponder the conclusive evidence that links artificial light to breast cancer. But there’s also the beauty of a sky full of stars. While computer based, Stellarium might just get more of us outside at night to look up and ponder our place in this amazing universe.

Saturday Tweets: Figs, Cordless Tools and Dancing Sunflowers