Archive for November, 2011

I read this article in Grist today about how it can be hard for small livestock farmers to raise animals that are both organic and pasture-raised.

I understand that the cost of organic chicken feed may be prohibitive and agree that choosing to allow the chickens to free-range over buying organic feed for confined chickens is the right choice.  But… i wonder if the pasture that these chickens are raised on couldn’t be improved in some way to lessen the proportion of the birds’ diet that needed to come from purchased feed.

In this video, Joel Salatin of Polyface farms (of Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc. fame) describes the large variety of forage plants that grow in his pastures and how wonderful they are for his cattle.   I know that chickens did evolve to eat and digest grains (unlike cows), so it may make more sense to feed cattle on this pasture alone than chickens.   Chickens love grass and clover and… anything green- i think ours would eat the entire garden in a couple of hours if they had the run of it- but also need extra protein to produce their eggs (and to grow into nice meat birds quickly).  What about throwing some kale in the mix?  That stuff is amazingly nutritious- chock full of vitamins, calcium, and protein.   A sprinkling of wild garden kale seeds or a mix of siberian kales would probably do really well in most climates, and would self seed every spring just like other plants in the pasture.  Or grow some oats, barley, or buckwheat in there?

Of course, I don’t know what I’m talking about… I’m just sayin’… might be worth a try.

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I passed my general exam yesterday, in no small part due to the all natural gift basket that Danny sent. It was full of delicious goodies like potato sticks and whole grain chips and pistachios and fancy mustard and salsa. It all came in a customized tote bag, pictured below, with all of our pictures on it. I don’t know what I like more- that I’m wearing a blonde wig and lipstick, that David is wearing only a tie, or that Tilly is purple. Inks looks pretty normal. Also, the all natural packaging is perfect bedding for the worm bin!

Well done, Daniel!



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Turns out that the grubs we found in the worm bin are black soldier fly larvae; I identified them with this blog, which is entirely about the wonders of the black soldier fly and it’s larvae.  Apparently these little grubs (actually, they’re not very little…) can process food waste faster than red worms and like things a little slimy and wet.  This is what our worm bins usually turn into, because i can never add enough bedding to keep up with Kate and John’s wet coffee grounds and my tea bags (which increase in number exponentially when i’m home studying all day).  I’m hoping the two can co-inhabit the worm bin; worms will supposedly “finish” what the grubs have already processed, making it into even better compost material.

The adults are harmless- don’t swarm or carry disease or sting or bite- and only live for 5-8 days, so they apparently aren’t much of a nuisance.  They may also repel other types of flies, which would be faaabulous, given the fly explosion we had during the warm months of the summer. Ugh.  Also, you can harvest as many of the larvae as you want to feed your chickens, use as fish bait, or supplement your dog’s protein intake (ummm…), and more will grow.  I wouldn’t have thought of that last one, save for one comment on the blog, “can u feed grubs to ur dog?”

COOL!  Still gross, but COOL!

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Today for a study break, i finished pulling out the tomato plants (with David’s help) and hung them up with the rest in the garage.  Dave and KK say that this is the way to get your green tomatoes to ripen- hang the whole plant upside down and wait.  I picked a couple ripe sungold cherry tomatoes today from the plants i hung up last weekend, so i think it’s working…??

Then, i added worms to the new worm bin that has just been collecting food outside the back door with no worms to eat it.  I pulled back the top layer of bedding in the old bin and picked out a good handful of worms, then noticed some grub-looking things in the next layer down and picked a few of them out to show David.  We decided we didn’t want whatever they were going to grow into to take over our worm bin, so we went back out to dig them out and give them to the chickens.  We discovered there were way more of these grublets than we were expecting- a gross amount- there were just grubs on grubs on grubs.  We had been picking them out by hand and putting them in a bowl, but when we came across the mother load, David just dug in and scooped out big handfuls.  It was fairly disgusting… and stinky, since our worm bin is too wet!  In any case, we determined there were too many to dig up, so we piled what we had in the chicken run.

Chickens seem to have some sort of reptilian shape-recognition with food items.  If you put a square of cornbread or half a loaf or bread or a baked half squash in the run for them, they’re like, WTF is that?!   They’ll eventually eat it after minutes (sometimes hours) of sideways investigative glances, pecking, flicking whatever it is off their beaks all over the place.  There are other things that they just immediately know are food, even though they haven’t seen it up close yet.  If you shake anything grain-like out of a jar, they immediately come running to gobble it up.  So, small, dry, and tumbly = food.  Apparently the form of a grub- plump, oblong, sluggishly squirmy- also triggers immediate recognition and spurs them to start gobbling with out too much investigation as to what these yucky larval stage things that were just dug up out of a box of rotting food actually are.

We also picked some fall broccoli and some tomato stragglers, and collected the dry runner bean pods to save the seeds for next year.  Aren’t they beautious?

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While it may be hard for science PhDs to find jobs, apparently we still need more scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in this country!

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Science careers

My grad school buddies and I often send each other humorous articles about how we’ll never find jobs in science, or global health policy, or whatever, in some sort of sick attempt to cheer ourselves up about being stuck in grad school.  Melanie just sent this one, which actually does cheer me up a bit.

These are my favorite two career paths that the article mentions:

Science advocacy
Let’s face it: Scientists aren’t great at expressing themselves. We end up saying things like, “Hepatitis kills over 1 million people every year. THEREFORE GIVE ME MONEY TO BUILD A MECHANIZED KANGAROO WITH LASERS.” That’s why there are science advocates, people who explain to nonscientists why we matter. And if I have to explain why that’s important, I guess that makes me a science advocate advocate.
Science policy
Unlike a consulting firm, which overpays you to advise wealthy companies to rely too heavily on your minimally informed advice, a job in science policy will pay you to advise lawmakers who’ll ignore you. “We value your advice!” they’ll tell you, then go vote against the laws of thermodynamics.

Hee hee hee hee!


Also, I take my general exam next Wednesday- after which point i will un-neglect my garden (the neglect of which is actually causing me more stress than the exam, even though the winter garden will only produce kale, broccoli, rutabaga, and chard and passing the general exam is arguably the most important thing in our PhD program), and begin eating real food and exercising again.  Studying so hard makes me skinny-fat.



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