Friday, 30 March 2012

Waste Management

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I received an interesting piece of junk mail the other day. It was a mass mailing postcard from the local trash and recycling pick-up company, obviously sent out to addresses not currently using their services. It quoted about $20 a month for weekly garbage and bi-weekly recycling service. What I found interesting was that they then compared their rate to, by their accounting, the much more expensive option of hauling your own garbage and recycling to the landfill.

Now I live in a semi-rural part of a mid-sized town in the western United States. It's the part of the country where many people drive, or at least own, a pick-up truck. So hauling our own trash to the dump is a viable option for us. The local landfill recently doubled their rates, going from $5 to $10 for an average truck load. The dump is clear over on the other side of town from us, maybe 7 - 8 miles away. The truck gets an average of 20 miles to the gallon of gas. So, with gas going up all the time, add in maybe $2.50 - $3 for the gas to get there and back. So, a full-load trip to the dump costs us less than $15.

They came up with $15 per trip as their "haul your own" figure - that's reasonably accurate, I'd say. But what I found interesting was that they then used twice-a-month trips (therefore $30 per month, at least) as their comparison to show that using their service would cost less. Do most folks really generate that much trash?

We make dump (and recycling) runs about once every three months. We take a daily newspaper, but some of that gets used as wood stove fire-starter (our only heat source) half the year, at least. Instead of a garbage disposal we have a chicken bucket and a big set of compost bins built from salvaged pallets. I buy my milk in cardboard cartons instead of plastic. Whenever I have space in my freezer, I refill the cartons with water and freeze them - a handy ice source for camping or cooling a batch of homemade beer. When I buy juice, it's usually frozen concentrate instead of plastic jugs. We reuse bail-closure bottles for beer, hard cider, and kombucha; reuse glass canning jars and freezer bags for garden produce. I cook from scratch and do a lot of my own baking. I buy pantry items in bulk (those I don't grow and dehydrate myself) and then use 5-gallon tins and gallon glass jars for storage. For other shopping, I'm mindful of excess packaging as well.

I have a recycling area set up under the back side of my kitchen counter (that also holds light bulbs and other electrical items, empty bottles awaiting reuse or a trip out to the crates in the shed, and paper grocery bags I'll reuse until they are falling apart - and then I use them to hold newspaper recycling). I also reuse paper grocery bags to separate plastics, glass, and metals, folding down the top edges so they'll last longer. Those are emptied into plastic tubs on a shelf out by the garage maybe once a month. We have a local business that pays for metals for recycling, so we have a 55-gallon drum for aluminum and another smaller can for copper or steel - maybe a once-a-year trip, if even that, to empty those.

Out by the garage, we have three 44-gallon rubber trash barrels, and then a few 2- and a couple of 5-gallon metal cans for stove ashes (we have an old non-catalytic wood stove, enabling us to burn pallets and scrap wood, so our ashes have quite a few nails in them). To be honest, we'll fill up those cans before we do the trash barrels. We've never (knock on wood) had any problems with our garbage barrels and bears or raccoons. I do try to keep smelly trash to a minimum - rinsing, bagging, or wrapping everything - and there are good lock-down lids on the barrels (a necessity because of our infamous Washoe Zephyr). And, to be honest once again, I live in a desert climate - stuff is more likely to dry out than rot.

My husband has a couple of buddies he'll call, too, before making a dump run, and they return the favor. So a truck load is most often a combination from three homes, each taking a turn paying the landfill entrance fee. So for our trash, garbage, and recycling, we'd pay $5 a month without his buddies; averaging more like $2 per month on the dump-buddy three-month system. I think we'll stick with the "haul your own" option.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

We really REALLY need to talk about resilience.

Aurora@Island Dreaming

Yesterday the news broke in the UK that sizable numbers of tanker drivers had balloted to go on strike, possibly as early as next week. The UK has been here before, most spectacularly during the fuel protests of 2000 when fuel refineries were blockaded and the country was a mere '9 meals from anarchy'. Media coverage and a few either well placed (if you're cynical) or incredibly dumb (if you're cynical) comments from a few high profile politicians urging people to top up their tanks and have a jerry can of petrol on standby have led to queues and panic buying.

My own nation desperately needs to start talking about resilience. It doesn't really matter if tanker drivers go on strike for a few weeks. Well it matters, it will cause pain and disruption to a lot of already stretched people, but it doesn't matter anywhere near as much as the fact that we collectively and individually saddle our entire beings on the availability of a rapidly depleting, mostly imported, polluting, nonrenewable liquid fuel. THAT is a real problem; and judging by the commentary in today's papers, the majority of the UK public still doesn't get that. According to the International Energy Authority, 'conventional' oil production peaked in 2006. The potential short term pain we are about to feel is nothing in comparison with what awaits us in the next few decades if we don't wake up.

I became aware of peak oil several years ago, along with tottering housing markets, banking collapse, austerity drives and the potential for civil unrest. What did I do with that awareness? Well, I read voraciously for a few years. I read Richard Heinberg's 'The Party's Over' (a very good if somewhat gloomy introduction to peak oil if you need one) and many of the titles in its bibliography. I read and read and read and made moves to change my own life and become more resilient. Some of these I wrote about on my blog, preaching to the already converted. Who else did I tell? Pretty much no one. As all of these dire warnings became reality, I found myself unable to really talk about them effectively. These are not isolated problems that can be blamed on or palmed off on others to solve and as such are hard to talk about. Talk about bogeymen is cheap and this is instead a conversation  predominantly about personal responsibility.

I came across this video last week that explains the problems we are facing in a natty animation. I posted it to my Facebook page and it got a single like - from someone already in the know.

I think I understand why KONY2012 went viral and generated so much interest, when videos like this one do not. Murderous individuals are so much easier to 'solve' than murderous circumstances. You watch and post the video, you have done your bit - doesn't it feel good? You have helped change the world. You watch a video about the triple whammy reality of resource depletion, economic collapse and environmental degradation and within minutes you start to feel a little off colour. You may try to rationalize it away as extremist nonsense and stop watching. If you can't quite manage to rationalize it away and continue to take in uncomfortable information, you won't feel good for a very long time to come. Watching the video is only the very start of your contribution to the solution, because in essence, the problem is all of us choosing convenience over resilience every step of the way. The change has to come from within and comes to bear on every lifestyle decision you make.

This lack of resilience thinking also explains why the prospect of oil tanker drivers going on strike is causing such a furore here at home. Yes, it is going to be very inconvenient - but wouldn't it be better to stop the bellyaching and use this as a practice run for real energy shocks and disruptions that are undoubtedly going to be a part of our future. Resilience is not having a jerry can on stand by and sending out the army to deliver fuel. Resilience is designing our lives so that a temporary disruption to petrol supply doesn't warrant such attention, because other systems are already in place to take up the slack. It is sharing lifts and getting fit enough to walk a few miles instead of driving. It is buying a bike and learning to maintain it. It is maintaining a pantry and a kitchen  garden. Resilience demands forethought over immediacy. It demands that we make changes and choices and lobby government, but that we don't expect them to listen or to create a resilient society for us.

I haven't communicated any of this and it is time to own my own frustration. These issues encapsulate some of my deepest fears for my children, my community, myself. If I can't communicate these deepest fears and hopes to my nearest and dearest, in the same way that they express their own insecurities to me, then I am not really communicating, am I? It isn't a case of preaching, it is a case of revealing a little more of yourself and potentially taking flack and ridicule for it. So this week I aim to introduce these issues to someone who currently doesn't know or care and a tanker strike is the perfect opportunity. And then I will do it again with someone else next week. I aim to fill my barren Facebook feed with videos and links like the one above, promoting everything from economic collapse theory to up cycling old furniture and repairing bikes. Resilience is the very issue of our time and won't become a reality until the majority of people embrace it as a filter through which to view the world. I aim to start a conversation.

What do you do to promote resilience? Should we even try?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Treasure What You Have

written by Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.
"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; 

but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for"
-Epicurus, Greek Philosopher (341 BC - 270 BC)
I found this quote when stumbling through the web the other day, and it got me thinking. I remembered reading about a psychological effect that describes this quote to a tee. It is called the ‘DIDEROT EFFECT'.

Let me explain.  Have you ever purchased something, something you really wanted, only to discover that it made the rest of your stuff seem a bit old and dated?  Rather than accepting some variance in the style against your older possessions, have you then been tempted to upgrade your old and dated stuff? This is called the ‘Diderot Effect’, named after the French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–84) who first described the effect in an essay titled "Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown".  In this essay he describes how a gift of a brand new scarlet dressing gown leads to unexpected results, nearly making him bankrupt in the process.  

How do you become bankrupt just by receiving a gift of a new, sleek and beautiful scarlet dressing gown (aka smoking jacket).  Well the effect kind of tricks you like this.  Have you ever bought nice new shirt, and thought that your old pants now look shabby against it?  So you go and buy new pants to match, and shoes, and a handbag, and a belt, etc.  You get the picture.  The same can be said for putting a new piece of furniture into a room of existing pieces.  Soon you are shopping at the mall or high street to buy new furniture and fittings to make the original purchase look at home probably to the detriment of your bank account.

The same thing happened to Diderot or so he wrote.  He thought that his new robe looked so nice, that he thought that all the stuff in his apartment looked drab and ordinary against it.  So he bought lots and lots of new and expensive stuff to spruce up his abode, with a big hit on his financial accounts.  In the end he had this to say,
"I was absolute master of my old dressing gown, but I have become a slave to my new one … Beware of the contamination of sudden wealth. The poor man may take his ease without thinking of appearances, but the rich man is always under a strain.”
Between 2001 and 2006, I too was a victim to the Diderot Effect.  I would buy a new stereo system, only to think not long afterwards that I needed a new media player or DVD player to go with it.  The old one was in good working order so I was behaving irrationally.  When I bought a new computer, I would also upgrade the display, even though the one I had was perfectly okay.  Same goes with a lawn mower that I had, which just needed a little TLC, but I dumped it and bought a new one.  My old petrol (gas) can was old and rusty, but still functional, but I bought a new one, and threw the other away with the old mower.  Yes friends, I was wasteful as well.

These are just a few example of being sucked in by consumerism for consumerisms sake.  Today I would call it the 'steak knife effect' after all of those infomercials that start off flogging you one product, but then throw in a whole bunch of other stuff (that you never wanted anyway) just to justify the deal in your mind!

It has taken me a few years since my green epiphany, and a lot of thought after reading a book by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss titled "Affluenzza - When Too Much is Never Enough", but I am no longer influenced by this effect or most advertising for that matter.  I only replace what I need, when the old item is beyond repair, and only after I have gone without it for a few weeks to see if I can get by without it.  Case in point, my clothes dryer that broke a few months back.  You can read about how we adapted in the absence of this so called laundry necessisty on the post on my personal blog titled "Ditching the Clothes Dryer".  This is a classic example of rethinking and changing my behaviours for the better.

My warning to you all is beware the Diderot Effect and get off the consumerist treadmill which will help you stop the upward creep of material desire. Knowing how much is enough is a powerful skill to possess in this, the age of rampant consumerism.  Despite what advertisements tell us, stuff just doesn't satisfy our desire for meaning, and it is a very poor substitute for your sense of self worth within a manipulative and demeaning society.  I don't mean to sound preachy, but it feels to me that consumerism in western society is totally out of control for all the wrong reasons.

So to sum it all up, Treasure What You Have.  It will save your bank balance, and might just save a few resources in this ever declining, resource strapped, finite planet of ours.

Have you succumbed to this effect and regretted it later on?  How did it make you feel?

Sunday, 25 March 2012

First Aid on Livestock

By Danelle Stamps at My Total Perspective Vortex

One of the lifestyle changes that we quickly learned living on a farm and having animals is performing our own veterinary care on our livestock. We simply cannot call the vet for every little thing or have them come to the farm to do wound care daily. We do call the vet, but only when it is necessary and often we call to make that determination. 

That meant we had to learn to give shots. This means we manage a pharmaceutical selection in a fridge. This means we have to not be squeamish. 

Knowing this level of animal first aid, having supplies on hand, and maintaining a good relationship with our vet has saved the lives of several animals on our farm.

Last week after shearing the sheep, somehow one of the ewes sliced a tendon on a fence. I went to take naked sheep pictures and found her bleeding and limping.  

So yesterday a friend was curious and asked what this was like so I thought I would post a walk through of the wound care:

First, when any injury happens it is important to clean the injured area, with sheep that means shearing bald around the area. Then they need an antibiotic (penicillin) to ward off infection and a tetanus shot. These guys sleep outside on the ground or in hay and the common tetanus bacteria is found in dirt (not rusty metal, like most believe). 

This is wrap and bandage that has to be daily changed for a while. The cut is just above the joint.

Her niece is in with her. They are 2 weeks apart and are best friends. Sheep are social animals and need a companion or the depression that sets in can hinder healing.

First we remove the old bandage. This stuff is what we call vet wrap, but it is exactly the same thing used on people- a self sticking bandage.  This part seems to cause her more discomfort than any other part of the process.

Notice I have a towel under where I am working. That is to keep hay from getting in the wound while it is exposed.

Chad is in charge of holding her while I do the work on the wound. Keeping her calm and not freaked out keeps us all safe from injury.

This is Ichthammol: hoof treatment, and skin antiseptic goo (Ichthy-goo for short). This gets applied to the wound. Gloves keep things cleaner, but also touching the wound with my bare hands to spread the goo does not appeal to me. You know? I am double gloved so I can slip the goo'd glove off and then still have on a glove to do the next part. 

Then the clean bandage goes on. In this picture you can see the old Ichthy-goo, not blood.  The actual cut, while serious, is actually pretty small.

The new wrap goes on. To get the tension right and not too tight, pull the length out to wrap and then wrap it around. I  took this one twice around the wound, once below the joint and once at the joint. 

And then she's good. It does look like it is healing and she is starting to put weight on it. I might have the vet come out and look at it next week to assess the next step in wound care- leaving it open to air and wrapping at night maybe? Or going more days between changing. Not sure how long we have to use Ichthy-goo either. We are learning that is for sure.

This wound is different than the predator injuries we have dealt with before. It was a clean cut and small. That doesn't mean it isn't serious though. The vet's first assessment was that if we don't get through this she might need amputation or to be put down. We are making this huge effort so we at least save her lamb. Even so, the vet is happy with her progress this week: clean wound and putting pressure on the leg to walk with it.

What we didn't have when we had our first animal related emergency injury was any supplies at all. I called a neighbor at midnight because when Chad hauled 4 injured lambs last year into my kitchen, all bleeding and torn up by a fresh coyote attack I had not a clue what to do or what to use. If I could go back and give the old me a list of basics this would be it:

Vet wrap. Lots of it. AT least 3 rolls.
Vet spray- a gel type spray on wound cleaner and protecting cover
Gauze pads, lots of them
Honey (to get the animals out of shock and hydrated, we mixed honey in warm water)
Penicillin and disposable hypodermic needles
Tetnus and disposable hypodermic needles
rubber gloves, both surgical ad dish gloves
a shearing razor, electric
mints, strong ones for people to suck on while working so the awful smells don't cause additional problems (like people puking)
fly spray made for wounds- we lost a ewe last year to screw fly larvae and almost lost our Hobbit dog too.

and bottled clean water.

Most of this can be kept in a fishing tackle box for easy to go access. Often we use a 5 gallon bucket with a cover though.

It isn't much, but that's a better start than the nothing we had on hand two years ago.

What would you have?

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Wildlife That Bites

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

It's been a wet wet wet summer, second La Nina year in a row, and all the dams and tanks are full. There are puddles in every hollow and anything left out fills up with water. I swore during the decade and a half of severe drought that we've just been through that I would never complain about rain ever again, and I'm not. The upside - flowing creeks, green hills, no catastrophic bushfire risk - is definitely worth it. But there is a downside.

It's a great year for mozzies.  

This week they seem to have all metamorphosed from wrigglers at once, and for the first time we have had to start putting the mosquito net over our bed down of a night. It's nice sleeping under a mosquito net, specially now the nights are a little cooler. But it is interesting that it is only now that they've managed to outbreed the predators, and I wonder why.

Up until now, the control measures for mozzies have consisted of what we don't do. We don't use glyphosate, anywhere.  There is still a lot of vigorous debate around the internet about the safety of glyphosate for humans. The Agrarian Urbanites had a great post a little while ago. My own opinion is that it is not just unsafe but evil in the same vein as Phillip Morris and James Hardie. But there is no debate, hasn't been for a long while, that it is deadly to frogs in minute minute quantities. The frogs around our place are very happy, very amorously noisily happy. We get used to it, but visitors remark about the cacophony. For a small creature, they make a lot of noise, and they eat a lot of mosquitos and wrigglers.

We don't spray or whack spiders, and only destroy their webs if they really are pushing the friendship by building across the doorway or the garden path. I know many people hate spiders - maybe it is a genetic, primal thing designed to stop our ancestors trying to eat them. But the feeling is mutual, and spiders have a lot more rational a fear. I took this photo a while ago. Once you realise what you are looking at, you can see literally hundreds of webs in the trees below our house. I defy a mozzie to make it's way unscathed through that lot!
We don't do anything at all about the microbats. Years ago, a pair used to live in my son's closet, hanging upside down from the hanging rail in the darkest back corner during the day. I took the photo at the top of this post one time when I found them sleeping in some doonas I had hung on the verandah line to air. Mostly I don't know where they live, but sometimes we hear them swooping around the bedroom, scoffing mozzies. I know there are bat-bourne diseases, but I figure I'm in way more danger from mosquito bourne diseases.

But now the mozzies have broken through the predator protection barrier, we shall sleep under a mosquito net at night, and use my lemon oil spray around dusk when they come out. It's very easy to make. In lemon season, I use a vegetable peeler to peel the outer layer of skin from a lot of lemons, enough to pack a glass jar full, and cover with rubbing alcohol.  After a couple of weeks, the peels all go white, the oil in them dissolved out into the spirits. It makes a great massage oil, and a small amount in a spray bottle full of water makes a nice smelling, lemony mozzie repellent.  

It's just coming into lemon season now, but I still have a jar full left from last year.  And I figure with the amount of noise those frogs are making, there should be lots of baby frogs to catch up before I run out.