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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Raising chickens

4 week old pullets

This morning we went into town to pick up our new laying fowls. They are only 1 day old so this is a case of the chicken  coming before the egg, about 6 months before in fact. So  much Delayed Gratification because a lot  expensive food and 22 weeks goes by till a chick is at  " point of lay"(POL) . Chicks need to be kept warm. They are very contented at 37 degrees celcius , but will cheep loudly to alert their carer that they have been left out in the cold.
Organic standards demand that organic meat and egg chooks are fed and managed organically from day one, because  chicks are  fed antibiotics from day 1 or 2, so we may not buy in "started pullets", which would be heaps easier. Started pullets are 6 week old, fully feathered and able to retain their own body heat . At this point they can leave their mother ( who by now is over it and will happily go back to the hen house and begin laying eggs again), or leave the artificial brooder house. The antibiotic Coccidiostat medication is added to standard chicken crumbles, so of course we have to make our own . We grind biodynamic grain , barley this time,  fresh daily for our little girls, and add raw milk . This is in fact a great diet , balanced and high protein. The raw milk prevents coccidiosis, a bad bacterial infection of  the digestive tract which gives chickens diarrhea which they often do not survive.  I added kombuture , kelp and minerals  to their first meals today to get them off to a great start.  Sadly 20 chicks were dead on arrival, I don't know why, it is very unusual to have more than a few per hundred DOA.
 Sometimes you can revive a languishing chick by holding them under your tee shirt for a few hours.
But the remainder are vigorous, they already know my voice, and have been eating very well!  They have also been  drinking plenty of pure water . The cheeping emanating  from my bedroom only happens for one day a year ( thank heavens!) , as at dusk we insert 20 or so chicks under each of  several  clucky chooks. I only want to be their mother for one day, its pretty messy and full on, so I will hand over the job of protecting and teaching these chicky babes ASAP  to some good ol hens who have been sitting patiently on a few eggs each . After dark we will carefully remove an egg from under the fowl (who will no doubt peck us vigorously for this), and insert a chick . Soon all chickadees are safely under a warm fluffy mother.  Mum will believe ( maybe) that the eggs hatched prematurely and in the morning will be really proud of her large family, and clucking away to them, keeping them, all in order.
This young muscovey duck did us proud hatching 15 ducklings!

.If the ruse fails, the chook is actually good at maths  and figures these are imposters , she may peck them. So yes it is a delicate operation and slow and calm movements are essential to not ruffle any feathers too much  it, but mostly   it is up to how motherly the individual is.  You only get one chance at is rare for a hen to accept 2 day old chicks. If the bond fails to develop by morning, we must quickly rescue  the rejected orphans, gather them up and place them  in the good ol rammed earth solar passive designed chicken brooder with lamp.  Then not only  will we be raking out poo and replacing fresh sawdust bedding weekly, we'll be on constant vigil for the next 6 weeks against dry water bowls, goannas, rats, snakes, hawks,crows,  kookaburras, fleas , cold winds,  heat stroke or drowning.   So we dearly hope the 4 clucky chooks we have out there take to the chicks tonight. A maximum of 25 chicks per hen is advisable. The broody hen should have her own space because older chooks may have diseases, or at least keep eating the special chick food and drinking out of the special chicken drinkers, which you then need to refill much more often.

 Update: We had 2 chooks keen to take on any chick we stuck under them and 2 that were not going to take any, they just moved away .So being a very warm time of year we took full advantage of motherly instinct and crammed 35 under each co operative  mumma fowl! We considered placing the rest under a clucky duck but having never tried this.....ducks don't sleep at night like chooks, they are very alert in the dark, I predicted pandemonium: after much loud quacking from a retreating duck we would have been looking with a torch under bushes for hours trying to find the rejected chicks. So why didn't we just put them in the rammed earth chick house? Well,  I heard some rats out there . I once had 50 day old chicks killed by rats on their first night under a lamp out in a shed. Horrible!  I remember a time when there were hardly any rats, but they are now plaguing everyone I talk to, now why is that?
 We will have to  rig up a covered outdoor  pen for these chicks and bring them back inside each night.
 As you can imagine, a started pullet is an expensive bird, and we don't want to sell many. We will prepare a pullet paddock now  to grow beetles , slaters, sunflowers , alfalfa, kale  and other  greens for their consumption in their "teenage" phase before they join the layer sheds at 5 months old.
 Having got your birds to POL, imagine the  anguish , never to mention financial loss,  of losing  your  entire flock of new hens to a fox in one night. Oh yes, it has happened to me when I was 23, I still remember the pain of the day time fox incident in Neerim South Victoria. Always lock up your fowls at night because foxes will not attack very often, but when they do, there are few survivors. Foxy certainly enjoyed my tender  young birds....but  left quite a few of old tough ones  .
Foxes can jump onto tall fence posts, are extremely stealthy, will dig their way in and will often kill far more than they eat. The technique I witnessed of a day time fox was to run around  and around in circles amongst the panicked fowls, snapping their jaws wildly. In this manner they manage to kill or horribly injure heaps of chooks before they can get away. We hope beautiful Alby our Maremma dog will be onto any fox approaching our henhouses.
We also keep 2 alpacas to deter foxes but apparently the females are not as effective as a whether or Macho (entire male alpaca) . So after many trials your chicks turn into chooks and start laying pullet eggs. Hooray!!
  So  you now have more of an idea of what it takes to bring you your next dozen  beautiful golden eggs from Merri Bee Organic farm.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why I am not a vegan

Why I am not a vegan and how the planet needs us to take our place in the food chain

It is said so often that “going vegan” is the best thing we can do for our health and the planet. Not True.
In this talk I will  alert vegans to the health dangers of their diet and make the argument that grass fed, organic and local animal products are the by far the most nutritious foods and are our best hope of reversing climate change 
Terrible climate change
When...the Australian  tax office business line has as its first  keypad option "press one if you have been affected by a natural disaster", we must be doing it tough. But like the frog in the water being slowly brought to the boil, we are getting use to climate change, we just turn up the air con and go shopping. However in many shops the air con really isn't coping and really things are becoming uncomfortable.. Farmers are scrambling to find more ways to grow with less rainfall, but last year for the first time since the great Depression many didn't bother to plant a crop, the banks would not lend them any more money to do it. These are the times predicted long ago by the great Indian Chief Seattle who knew where the ways of the white man were leading: “the end of living and the beginning of survival”.
A significant cause of climate change …..desertification.....the unravelling of ecosystems
When the cause of a problem and the symptoms of it are thge same thing, you have a compounding problem . One symptom of a sick ecosystem  is desertification. Deserts growing ever larger are both the cause of climate change and the result. A drier climate is leading to more deserts and these treeless landscapes do not form clouds which yield rain. Some deserts may for a time receive rainfall but with fewer plants and animals now, whose residues and remains made the humus (that carbon rich material that soaks it up) nutrients stop cycling. Now rainfall is not effective ...80% evaporates or runs off. The remaining plants are without shade, are thirsty and stressed ,and are prone to pressure from ever hungrier wildlife, insect pest and disease. As vegetation sickens and dies, soil is easily lost. When a rain event does occur, we can lose tons of the thin layer of soil that feeds us all and took thousands of years to build up.
Trees are vital to the planet's systems not least their function of releasing organic particles that seed the clouds to make rain. Deserts are growing not just in 3rd world countries but everywhere especially Texas and Australia. We are witnessing desertification right here in Nannup . The Blackwood river runs red after rain events alongside the Balingup Rd where the plantations and native forests in the upper slopes are disappearing, decimated by frequent fires, fiercer sun ,dwindling rainfall and associated insect damage. This may not be immediately apparent to the travellers along the valley, once a very pretty tourist drive.
Have you been in one place with your hands in the soil for 30 years.20 ?10? If so you are well qualified to answer the questionis climate change for real?” If not, find an old timer and ask them.
How I hoped, wishfully believed, that the predictions of GW and the “Green House Effect “ prevalent in my youth, were false or at least exagerated .However they were spot on , in fact they were too optimistic.
Denial …..progressing to "Can't someone else fix it?"
As many addicts know, it is hard to solve a problem while you are denying it exists. How many people are denying G W, or hoping the politicians will save us, hoping for a silver bullet? Nah, the problem of humanity is so huge, it's going to take every one of us, doing all we can, now. Like the humming bird. And of course that means  firstly engaging in politics and voting Green, closely followed by  cleaning up our own act and leading the way .
Old growth forest from ashes
There is a hope that ,man will see the error of his ways and quickly sit down to learn at the feet of Mother Nature for the first time in our ( homo sapiens)  mere 200,000 year history.  Vicious cycles can be reversed so that things get better and then way better. Exponential improvement has occured many times over Earth's history, rain forests prove that.
 Imagine the scene around a volcano after a major eruption...Bare and sterile rock.. So how does Mother Nature transform this lifeless site into a rain forest? By studying the progression we can mimic it and even speed it up. But first lets look briefly at the history of Earth
and see where our species fits in to the evolution of our planet so far
Earth began as a bare rock revolving in space roughly 4,5oo million ( 4.5 billion) years ago. 600 million years later it had cooled to the point that water could lie about, and seas were formed. Life began in these seas some three billion years ago . At the time, Earth's atmosphere was virtually devoid of oxygen. At about 2,4oo million years ago, oxygen was released from the seas as a by product of photosynthesis by one of the earliest life forms : cyanobacteria. Levels of the gas gradually climbed, reaching about one percent around 2,000 million years ago. 1,000 million years ago fungi came onto the land , then followed by algae. By 800 million years ago, oxygen levels reached about 21 percent and began to breathe life into more complex organisms .
About this time The oxygen-rich ozone layer was also established, shielding the Earth's surface from harmful solar radiation. Fungi teamed with algae in the form of lichen to set the stage for plants by decomposing the rocks to create small soil lenses, allowing the first plants with roots to grow about 430 million years ago. The Carboniferous period takes its name from large underground coal deposits that formed from prehistoric forests around 360 mya. This oxygen producing forest was eventually obliterated by massive volcanic activity at the Permian-Triassic transition . Huge volcanic eruptions caused not only a decline of the oxygen content to 15%, but also the largest mass extinction in geological history. Again fungi inherited the Earth, and prepared the way for plants to flourish again. Along with the flourishing , the oxygen concentration recovered and reached 26% again by the middle of the Jurassic, and probably even rose to 30% in the Cretaceous. During this time the largest dinosaurs evolved POSSIBLY DUE TO HIGH levels of FREE OXYGEN.
The end of the Cretaceous period is marked by yet another setback, this time a meteor impact lead to climate change and another mass extinction. Again fungi  pioneered the next wave of life. Photosynthesis by Cynaobacteria again raised oxygen levels to around 21%, and since then it is has remained fairly static. Homosapiens turned up just 190,000 years ago.
12,000 years ago he moved from being a hunter/ gatherer to farming. Omniverous man hunted and gathered for 178,000 years. For many long ages before this , atmospheric CO2 oscillated between 240 and 290 ppm (in ice age or interglacial periods respectively ). In the last hundred years we know that this figure has risen way past what climate scientists agree confers to us a safe climate ( 350 ppm)We are currently at 400 and rising . And BTW, We have also entered 6 X....the 6th mass extinction event in the history of Earth . Typically we lose 10 organisms a year as shown by the fossil record. Now we are losing 20 to 30,000 species every year. It was biodiversity that got us all here today. We are the cause and will most likely be the victim of this massive extinction event. How are we causing mass extinction? By releasing toxins into the environment, by logging, by burning vegetation and de-stocking. Our habit of burning fossil fuels may not be as significant a contributor as the first 3.
So what can we do?
We've now peaked at how  Mother Nature builds soil ( the largest carbon sink we have) and revegetates and transforms bare rock into a thriving  ecosystem. Each step builds upon itself and small improvements lead to bigger improvements. Fertility is ever accelerating unless there is a set back such as a bushfire, toxic insult or feral pig population explosion.
Famous farmers showing the way
Many examples abound of M. N's methods working for farmer Joel Salatin's farm in the Shannandoah Valley U.S. was eroded down to parent rock when his father bought the land in 1940. Using cell grazing he has rebuilt the soil to a foot depth or more. He is selling pasture fed poultry, eggs , pork and beef. People travel long distances to buy his produce as it tastes so much better than the usually available factory farmed offering. ( Don't want to blow my own bugle but we have been described as a mini Polyface Farm and use similar methods here in WA, but unlike Poly Face we buy in nothing but organic grain). 
Allan Savory from Africa has returned huge deserts to lush landscapes by cell grazing livestock and wildlife. Inspiring photos of Allan Savory's work  illustrate his great results in his Ted X speech available on you tube.
We've personally witnessed great  results from his “Holistic Management” methods  on our  farm .
Another great example has been documented by soil scientist John Liu , who filmed how the Loess Plateau , a barren dry mountainside that was being massively eroded every year and silting up the Yellow River in China became a lush fertile paradise flowing with streams and populated by endangered species wildlife some 12 years later. His documentary Hope in a changing Climate is indeed very hope full .
Tony Rinaudo has managed to change practices in Nigere..... in the 80's it was a growing desert area where many died of starvation. Millions of world vision dollars devoted to tree planting were getting no where and Tony nearly gave up , but then he noticed something vital . The underground root system was still there , the trees were still sending up sprouts but the people falsely believed trees competed with their millet crops and were cutting them all down for firewood. Tony asked them to try taking all but one sprout, to try leaving one trunk of a tree for shade and to see if it really did effect crops. Under the fierce sun, the millet yielded better in the shade! The trees quickly grew back and were soon providing far more food, fibre, fodder, dyes , medicine ,precipitation and income than the dry sands could ever produce before. Kids climbed the trees and picked fruit and sold it to the old people who were overjoyed to see the ingredients for local dishes they had not seen for 40 years. The kids bought school books with the money etc etc.... They said Mr Tony, we are too much happy”
Word spread amongst the Africans . Tony's influence can be seen from space as vast deserts have turned into about 12.5 million acres of forests with 2 00 million trees . Precipitation is now reliable.
Surprising to most, water tables started to rise before the rains came back. Let me explain why:
A Financial Review article entitled "logging dries up W.A". highlighted a report from U W A's Centre for Water Research, connecting logging to our drying climate. A century ago, wet years occurred every 2nd year. Now, a wet year has failed to materialise in 2 decades, said the report, which put a figure on what percentage of our declining rainfall in the last 40 years can be attributed to clearing of forest: 62%. Forests improve everything: air quality, rainfall , temperature , runoff into dams, etc with trees not only acting as giant condensers but also holding much water in their massive root systems and even more water in the mychorizal fungi which extends their roots. Mychorizzal fungi have the ability to make water. Thanks to forests, rain is created, absorbed , cleaned and gradually released into dams throughout the year.
In Western Australia the climate is drying rapidly. Planting trees to replace the million acres annually cleared by government decree in the 50's should be of paramount importance for the Minister for forestry and water , but at a pre -election event in Manjimup last year, Terry Redman fresh from a tour of the wheatbelt (addressing suffering farmers), scoffed at my idea that we should revegetate the wheatbelt. Later his speech revealed that he is oblivious to the science around the water cycle and that he had the dangerously false notion that the less trees there are in a catchment, the more water enters the dam. In fact the opposite is the case,
Back in Nigere, the ecosystems health is growing exponentially . There is a saying there now: Plant the rain and the plants will plant themselves”.
It is my belief that every person in every place on Earth needs to install permaculture now, just as the people of Niger have done.
Unfortunately ecological illiteracy abounds in most countries and fallacies that trees suck up the water from our dams or prevent runoff of water into dams or shade our crops (lowering yields) are fallacies which folks like the “people of Springfield” in the Simpsons, just run with . The mob doesn't investigate claims.
Here's my list of the 4 most dangerous myths out there:
Myth 1: The original myth that humans think they are of prime importance! Aboriginals don't agree, and consider trees much more important. They believe the best people are reborn as trees, and believe that their grandmothers re incarnated as trees.

Myth 2 : You must replace the nutrients you take out of the soil with every crop.

This rumour was begun by chemical companies when they invented the Green Revolution. You know, when the factories making nerve gas and gunpowder for the World war suddenly had no customers at wars end........they made a few changes to their formulas and started peddling these as pesticides and fertilisers respectively. Farmers believed and still believe the line that nutrients need to be replaced, so they used the synthetic fertilisers and soon had need of pesticides. The progression, or should we say regression, all makes sense when you understand the soil food web.
Soil microbiology Phd Dr Elaine Ingham says that as long as you have sand, silt and clay on your farm , even in Australia, you have all the nutrient plants need. All the minerals are there, but they need to be unlocked by soil microbes. It is the biology we often lack from past assaults on the land, nothing more, and it can be put back with properly made aerobic compost and compost tea. Fertilizers such as urea and superphosphate are killing off the microbes. This is the whole problem with agriculture. Once you harm the soil food web, the zillions of microbes and larger critters that create and maintain healthy soil, a cascade of malfunctions follows. The soil food web confers innumerable benefits to farmers and gardeners alike which will later be explained, but how do you harm it? Well, agriculture does this by clearing, burning , ploughing ( slicing, dicing , exposing to air and UV rays), chemical fertiliser, and with “icides” herbicide fungicide, nematacide or any other pesticide)
Currently the big water users such as vege growers in Myalup and dairy farms on the Scott Coastal Plain lack the soil food web, as do 99% of the farms which supply us “food”. Without microbes, soil structure is lost . Good structure means lots of air and water passageways, water holding capacity, and no compaction. Without microbes, megalitres of fresh water are extracted from underground to keep the crop alive. Much of this precious fossil water is lost to evaporation in the day time, but the poor sand which supports these “hydroponic “plants needs constant irrigation. The prodigious amounts soluble fertilizer applied leaches away into the water table to pollute it, but very little of it is absorbed by plants.. When soil is alive and functioning, irrigation water use is reduced by between 30 and 70 %.
Bacteria Archea* and Fungi are the first trophic level of the food chain of an ecosysytem. Residues and remains of plant materials are decomposed by these and the elements are now held in their biomass. In addition, fungi eats rocks, dissolves them and delivers the minerals that were hithertofore locked up in the rocks. In exchange for this constant delivery of nutrients right to the plants roots, the plant feeds the fungi sugars. Where did the sugar come from? From the excess CO2 in the air!!! YES, lets remember what we learnt about Green Plants and photosynthesis in primary school.... green leaves are solar panels, they make energy from sunlight! Green plants suck up CO2, turn it into carbohydrates, grow fruit and flowers and leaves with half this energy and the other half is leaked out through the roots to feed masses of beneficial bacteria and fungi. They in turn are eaten by protozoa, microarthropods and nematodes. Guess what? the waste materials from these predator organisms are plant available nutrient: Nitrate, sulphate, phosphate, potassium......the entire array of elements in soluble form. And guess what else?....a well fed plant does not send out stress signals that attract pests and disease. And guess what else? Plants growing in a dead soil of just sand silt and clay ( no microbes) do not do this exudate thing. They don't bother to sequester carbon in the form of carbohydrate to a dead soil. Remember at this point the vast acreages under the control of conventional farmers, who remove all living things from their vast acreage to grow their crop, from the microbes up to the wedgetail eagle. Plants, btw, will grow to resemble a healthy plant as long as the farmer forks out for regular applications of man made fertilizer. Man made with massive amounts of fresh water and fossil fuel that is. Do you see why Agri business corporations said 25 years ago:”We will be 5 companies controlling food and health” ? Today, I realise a chilling fact: Five corporations do in fact supply the poisons that grow nearly all the food found in supermarkets and also sell the cancer detection machines and pharmaceuticals you will soon need if you eat mainstream style. Conventional produce and even some poorly grown organic foods are often low in minerals. Properly made compost and arerobic compost teas derived from them are no doubt the vital key to sweet, colourful, tasty and truly nutritious produce containing the full spectrum of known and yet to be discovered nutrients.
* Archea were only first discovered in 1970. They are as small as bacteria and are found everywhere. So different are they that scientists have called them the 3rd Kingdom of life. There are now plants , animals and archea! Archeons are important to carbon and Nitrogen cycling.
Dangerous Myth 3:
Sheep and Cattle are bad. They burp methane . Don't you hear this almost daily?
A healthy soil contains an estimated 50 million different kinds of bacteria, and some of them are methantrophic , meaning they eat methane..Sydney University research has found healthy soil bacteria absorb more methane per day than a cow produces in an entire year.
"Typical methane production by beef cattle is round about 60 kilograms of methane per year, and some of the high country soils are taking more than that out of the atmosphere every day, so one hectare is taking out, or oxidising more methane than a cow produces in a year"
says Professor Mark Adams. Dean of Agriculture at Sydney University.
.While it is important to improve the soil around your house with compost , to recycle nutrients and grow as much nutrition as possible close to home, , if you want to improve vast tracts of poor soil into productive soil with a higher level of carbon and therefore a great infiltration of water and a greater biomass which sucks up CO2 on a grand scale …....... can only be done with grazing animals. But not grazing any old how. They need to be managed . Holistically managed. Enter Allan Savory, a great man and a keen observer of nature.
In his Ted X speech, Allan takes us on a historical journey of many lost civilisations & points out that we would be struggling with climate change even if we had never discovered fossil fuels. By managing our live stock so that they mimic the way  grazing animals behave in the wild, we have a fantastically powerful tool to suck carbon out of the air and put it back into the soil where it use to be before  humans came along and , frankly, stuffed everything up. Cell grazing very quickly lifts carbon levels in soil.
Every one-percent increase in soil carbon holds an additional 300,000 litres of water per acre. For soil to form, it needs to be living, and to be living, soil needs to be covered," says Australian soil scientist Christine Jones. “Without a cover of plants in various stages of growth and decomposition, much soil carbon oxidizes and enters the atmosphere as CO2.”

Following on from this myth , we come to a most pernicious myth, the one I mentioned at the beginning :

Adopting a vegan diet is the best thing you can do for yourself and the planet.

For decades I have listened in frustration to high profile environmentalists denouncing meat. There are 600 million vegetarians in the world, and many of them say they avoid meat for reasons of  animal cruelty and health . The notion that vegan is the ultimate is popular and not going away, if a large audience at the Melbourne town hall in June is anything to go by. They were there to watch a debate and eventually voted in droves for the affirmative team on the topic  " Should Meat be off the Menu" . Its on you tube. Sadly there was no distinction made by the affirmative team of vegans between factory farmed and grass fed animal products regards animal welfare and harm to the environment, let alone from a human nutrition aspect. These systems are poles apart ! Chalk and cheese. One is our most destructive invention, the other is possibly our major solution to the challenges we face.....challenges which we will need all our wits and energy to deal with. Wits and energy are often reduced by a vegan diet, and the science behind this phenomenon is unfolding.
No one especially me advocates factory farming or big abattoirs. Both are un necessary and cruel. The eggs, milk or  meat produced in CAFO's, feedlots and factory farms, even free range farms consisting of bare dirt paddocks , is no doubt carcinogenic and poor quality ( low in nutrition). These disgusting factory farms do untold environmental damage. Just watch “Rivers if Waste”. … outrageous! For but one example from the doco: arsenic is fed to broiler hens , there's a mountain of arsenic laced manure to deal with and no one knows how.... children living nearby are getting cancer. I haven't had any cheap fingerlicking good take away chicken for 10 years now and never will again. The practice of injecting steroids into beef cattle is widespread and profitable. It is most often GM canola or soy being delivered to the silos attached to the feedlots, piggeries, egg and broiler sheds . It is only because these animals are killed young ( 6 weeks for broiler hens) that they do not die before slaughter date is reached. Pollution of nearby waterways is guaranteed and effects everybody downstream.
From an ecological and health point of view however, there is every reason to seek out and consume  grass fed animal products and to  take our place in the food chain.  I see no cruelty to humanely killed , naturally raised animals. Organic pasture fed animal products are incredibly nutrient dense foods- high in Omega 3 oils, the fat to assimlate its protein and essential elements like selenium, zinc and the fat soluble vitamins A , D and K. To illustrate, a dairy farm could be a great  asset to its customers and the environment if organic, or an outright disaster if conventionally run. Simply by deciding to apply superphosphate on the advice of an agronomist ( chemical salesman ) a chain of events is set in motion and the ecosystem in the area unravells.
 A huge biomass of  archea, bacteria and fungi create soil ( the biggest carbon sink on the planet)  and for at least 3 billion years these soil food web organisms , who need animals (as does grass), have cycled nutrients and  sequestered vast amounts of  atmospheric carbon and methane and kept everything sweetly balanced . Like feral pigs, man lays the soil bare to plant seeds. The result, unless great care is taken , is desertification—these symptoms bear witness that the carbon cycle has gone awry.
Soil needs plants. Grass needs animals. Allan Savory shows us National parks where grazing animals have been excluded and the grasses are grey . ..sitting there slowly oxidizing for 70 years, land turning to desert.
Since  about 1930 mechanization has allowed grand scale logging, ploughing and use of agrichemicals. GM is at the extreme end of industrial farming where poisons like RoundUp are applied from the air. At the same time The Amazon is daily cleared for growing soyabeans. Yes a lot is fed to animals, but if PETRA gets its way, many animals would no longer exist and we would all be eating soyabeans ...many tonnes would be required . For how many years could the land be cropped without an animal grazing rotation?
On Merri Bee Organic Farm we avoid petrol driven machines as they may not be available in future, so animals are used to control weeds and even to plough. Often, plants farmers are taught to consider as weeds they need to extinguish are in fact great mineral rich herbs which animals soon re-learn to like. Transformed into manure before setting seed, and then processed through soil biota such as earthworms our weed problems are transformed into soil to grow the next generation of plants, (and indeed a more productive set of plants thanks to higher fertility soil).

Something like  90% of the Australian continent is too dry for cropping , and can only feed us through wildlife or livestock. We simply don’t have much arable land or water .
Many people round the globe live in harsh terrains that can only feed humans with wildlife or livestock.
The option of following a plant based  diet as the “Affirmative team” in the debate admonished us to do is really only possible in the cities of wealthy people. Whoever lives in a humid landscape could perhaps follow the modern trend of juicing- using fossil fuel instead of human jaws to transform kgs of fruit and veg into a glass of juice and a large pile of pulp. Waste full. Hmmm.... animals could be fed this waste, or worms, but they frown on keeping livestock .

Weston Price found people were incredible healthy in terrains where the only diet possible was of rye and cheese, milk and butter . Islands North of Scottland far too inhospitable to even grow trees yet , very happy and healthy people lived there eating nothing but fish and oats.
Any way of life has to be economically viable to be sustained, obviously. Decades ago the Melbourne Hari Krishna sect approached Bill Mollison to create a permaculture design which would allow them grow all their own food . As lacto vegetarians, they figured 2 cows would provide enough milk for their community. When they realised the cow would have to give birth to be in milk, and further realised with horror that the yearling calf would normally be sold for meat, they stipulated emphatically that the calves would be kept to live out their days on the property. Bill explained that a whole 100 acres of land would be needed to produce the milk from just 2 cows ( keeping all calves produced over the cows breeding life span). The said their Brahman caste would need time to consider the problem and would get back to Bill with a solution. He never heard from the Hari Krishnas again. Obviously we the Earth isnt big enough to keep all animals  ( males or otherwise unproductive) in retirement homes till their natural death.
If , like so many peoples in tougher parts of the globe, we are forced to eat the  products of animals who can convert tough indigestible ( to us)   arid land vegetation into something we can eat, we need not fear that a diet high in animal fats will lead to heart disease or cancer, contrary to the unscientific yet accepted view of the past 30 years that had us avoiding eggs and suffering the inferior  taste of  margarine . The benefits of consuming cholesterol from grass fed animals have long been espoused by the president of the Weston Price Foundation , Sally Fallon, author of best selling book “Nourishing Traditions” . Jerry Brunetti , a fantasically knowledgable person who courageously rejected chemo and cured himself of Non Hodgsons Lymphoma with nutrition, gives us the following facts on grass fed animal fats in the diet: Butter contains the Wulzen factor ….discovered by Dr Wulzen, it protects against arthritis, hardening of the arteries and cataracts. 15% of total butterfat is in fact short and medium chain fatty acids, which are immune stimulating , anti tumour minute doses.
Mr Brunetti , Sally Fallon , and Dr Terri Wahls ( medical doctor who fell ill to MS and had to go outside her profession for the nutritional information that cured her) all of whom have studied the scientific literature, say cholesterol is required to synthesise Vitamin D ( needed for mineral absorption, insulin production & healthy nerves) It is also needed to synthesize bile salts and to produce hormones ( anti -stress and sex hormones) and for cell membrane elasticity. Not only is cholesterol an anti oxidant and necessary for brain and nerve development, but it makes Seratonin available in the brain. Seratonin is the feel good chemical that is lacking in people suffering from depression. You would have heard that the major cause of death in 15 to 30 year olds in Australia is suicide?
Jerry notes that Conjugated Linoleic Acids are found in the fats of grazing animals and (genuinely) free ranging pasture fed fowls. He says CLA is the best anti cancer agent we know about to date. And he mentions the Glycosphingolipids (GSLs) in these same foods . They protect us from trace element deficiencies …. chromium, iodine, selenium, zinc, manganese , cobalt and so on, which are essential , but only in minute doses. HE points out the fact that Omega 3 oils are 20 times higher in pastured animals and essential for brain development and functioning.
Folks, $14 million dollars a minute are spent by the health department of US government trying to deal with epidemics of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, the list goes on. Many more debilitating disorders are rising: autism , Alzheimer's, food allergies, infertility, depression to name a few. Surely humanities deterioration is the direct result of poor nutrition and toxic insult?  How many people are still being spooked out of eating fat? I went for half of a 12 week government run programme to combat obesity and was told emphatically that aspartame as in diet coke and pepsi was “preferrable to amputation from diabetes”.
Lee has come home with a card each child received at school, it has the phone number of Life Line and the words ”No One has to face their problems alone”. On the back is a picture of a Big Mac and a bottle of Coke and the words:”This voucher entitles you to a free beverage with every McDonalds meal”. The voucher could be used repeatedly throughout 2012. My son was the lone child in his class to be unimpressed. He said to me ” mum, those sugar drinks make you depressed”. Ah , my boy who appears to take no notice of me, knows that B vitamins are used up in the digestion of sugar. A lack of B Vitamins causes a long list of problems: fears, fatigue, depression, paranoia, confusion, rage and anxiety. Hell oohoo.......!
Jerry Brunetti has also pointed out that many people including himself are allergic to pasteurised and homogenised milk but not to organic, raw, grass fed cow milk. The farming method is all important, I hope this is coming through? The microbes found in a healthy soil are the very same ones found in the gut of a healthy person! They are the same ones found on the skins of fruit and vegetables grown organically.
And as yet another piece to the never ending puzzle my friend and great Naturopath Sally Gray is teaching that you can not make pro biotic foods such as sauerkraut, kimchee or fermented drinks from conventional fruit and vegetables . Why? Because the beneficial lactobacillus that start the fermentation off properly are just not present on conventionally grown ingredients .
One of our customers Fiona McCay offered me the following information , as she did her thesis on the benefits of cholesterol :
The China Study [a popular book endlessly quoted as reason to go vego] is science fraud, anyone who has a research background in that area sees that it has so many faults and it is weak, like his rat studies. Colin Campbell [the author]only presents data that supports his case "that animal protein causes cancer", and if that was the case, every hunter gatherer society going back thousands of years would have died out from cancer as that is what they predominately ate. None of them were ever vegetarians, they always ate meat if it was available. These societies were free from cancer, heart disease and all the modern illnesses... they only get sick when they start eating a Western diet. Killing animals while hunting was a sacred thing, a far cry from  the factory farming of today. It is fine to choose for yourself, but if women are pregnant and they are a vegan or if others push them to be, they could damage the development of their  unborn child”.
Finally some warnings on veganism from the very straight American Dietician Association :
Although there is such a variety of potent phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables, human population studies have not shown large differences in cancer incidence or mortality rates between vegetarians and non vegetarians.” [see above Weston A Price's discoveries. Please also note that the meat eaters in all studies mentioned are eating factory farmed meat!]
(p. 1274)
A pooled analysis of 13 prospective cohort studies reported a high dietary fibre intake was not associated with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer after accounting for multiple risk factors.”

“Although very little data exist on the bone health of vegans, some studies suggest that bone density is lower among vegans compared with non vegetarians. The Asian vegan women in these studies had very low intakes of protein and calcium. An inadequate protein and low calcium intake has been shown to be associated with bone loss and fractures at the hip and spine in elderly adults. In addition, vitamin D status is compromised in some vegans”.

“Results from the EPIC-Oxford study provide evidence that the risk of bone fractures for vegetarians is similar to that of omnivores. There is a higher risk of bone fracture in vegans compared to both groups however, and this appears to be a consequence of a lower calcium intake. Although excessive protein intake may compromise bone health, evidence exists that low protein intakes may increase the risk of low bone integrity.”
Poor vitamin B-12 status has been linked to an increased risk of dementia apparently due to the hyperhomocysteinemia that is seen with vitamin B-12 deficiency”.
(p. 1276)
Further information on homocysteine from the Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School:
The higher serum homocysteine levels that have been reported in some vegetarians, apparently due to inadequate vitamin B-12 intake, may increase risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease] although not all studies support this... The Nurses’ Health Study, however, found that significantly fewer deaths, nonfatal heart attacks, or repeat angioplasties occurred among patients given folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6 compared with those who got a placebo. ...””
Apparently  babies born to life long vegetarians often have hideous birth defects due to B 12 deficiency in the mother.
I found a speech by Dr Michael McGregor on You Tube. He was haunted by the fact that a vegan famous  person had died young of a heart attack and when  asked by a vegetarian  association for his medical opinion on the diseases caused by meat consumption, he gladly did a thorough review of the latest research. It was shocking to him. He reviewed the latest published studies - one followed 27,000 vegans for many years and showed no advantage to health or longevity  from avoiding animal products . He concludes that vegans should take supplements if they want to be healthy. Yet there is much we still don't know and supplements may not provide everything we require. The latest word is that the minerals in supplements are often indigestible . My attitude to complete fertiliser and complete supplements is that we do not know enough about soil or the human body to know they are complete. 

 To summarize :
With due respect to groups concerned for the welfare of animals, veganism doesnt work for many of us who have particularly high needs for certain animal-based nutrients -- whether because of heredity, circumstance, or some combination thereof and may indeed need a diet very rich in animal products. There are no adequate vegetable sources of vitamin B 12 and if under supplied, neurological pathologies may occur . Research on B12 and Omega 3's show vegetarians are twice as likely to die of neurological  diseases, twice as likely to sustain hip fractures, higher incidence of cancer  and lo and behold, live just as long as meat eaters. We evolved eating meat and plant foods for 178,000 years. It is possible to be a healthy vegetarian eating eggs and dairy but sadly killing is still involved....the production of these requires animals to mate and 50% of their offspring will be males . Space and money precludes us from catering for unproductive herds or flocks of males till they die of old age, and in any case if we don’t cull, cruel fights to the death between the strongest males will occur. Some will argue that methane emissions from belching cows is a potent GHG, however Earth has been heavily populated by ruminant animals for millions of years, yet also heavily vegetated, and the plants ,soil and animals kept the atmosphere in balance. A healthy soil contains methantrophic bacteria which absorb far more than the herbivores on the same acreage could emit. Without grazing animals , what will vegans do with the huge amount of grasses produced in seasonal rainfall areas? It must be decomposed and turned back into soil somehow, and whether by grazers in dry climates or microbes in humid areas, the same amount of methane will be released. If animal-less man mows the grass ,fossil fuel use contributes to CC. Whether we deliberately or accidently burn the grass, tons of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases enter the atmosphere surpassing the emmissions of 4,000 cars per acre per second. Carbon is lost from the soil, deserts grow. Far more ecologically sound for grass to be broken down in the gut of grazing animals, whence it returns to the soil as manure which will soon provide the nutrients for the next generation of oxygen producing plants . The creature that came along at "a second to midnight" mostly lives in cities where large numbers have become so disconnected with natural cycles as to believe many fallacies and propose we all go vegan. Yet, just as vast tracts of the lungs of the Earth ( the Amazon rainforest ) have been burnt to make way for soy , whole landscapes are cleared, ploughed and poisoned to grow lentils in Canada. By logging, burning and de stocking, humanity has brought Earth's systems to the point of collapse. To reverse this we need to demand grass fed animal products from cell grazed animals and quickly establish perrenial plants before it is too late. PETRA is pushing soy vegelinks as an alternative Christmas dinner for a “cruelty free Christmas”. I am all for a cruelty free Christmas but will be tucking in to a local organic grass fed ham this Yule, knowing that the pig had a happy life sequestering carbon from air to soil, a quick death and that I am doing the best thing I can do to combat global warming. 
Bee Winfield 2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Worm farming, all you ever wanted to know and more.

There are 2 well researched,  scientific ways to produce safe and beneficial compost, and a worm farm is one.....

 Worms will only migrate away if they are not fed and watered. Neglect them and one rainy night they will up and leave.  The worm is a wonderful creature who wasn't always appreciated till Charles Darwin pointed out to the Victorian era folks who believed worms were harmful, that they need not remove them from their pot plants.Indeed the worms manure makes plants grow superbly.
Note the size of the matchbox in both these pics and the verdant green colour of the calendula plant grown  in the worm castings above.

Calendula without castings
 The worm is a predator which feeds not so much on the old lettuce leaves we toss in, as on the multitude of micro organisms that come to decompose that organic matter. The worm eats bacteria and fungi and the protozoas, microarthropods and nematodes which prey on that bacteria and fungi. Worms have a crop which grinds up their prey , releasing  cytoplasm . Worms have an extraordinary ability to destroy pathogens such as e coli, which does not survive passage through the gut of a worm or even exposure to the slime on a worms body .
 Worm manure or castings are free of pathogens and full of beneficial bacteria. The worm has a culture chamber in its rear end which innoculates material passing through the worm with good bacteria, such as bacillus serenade and  Pseudomonas. Some members of the genus Pseudomonas are able to metabolise chemical pollutants in the environment, and as a result can be used for bioremediation. You can detoxify land contaminated with DDT and dieldran using worms. Dr Elaine Ingham has detoxified a property in 3 months using compost tea made from worm castins, which is pretty normally takes 500 years.
Worms eat their own weight every day, reducing putrescent waste to valuable soil.
Worm populations will grow to cope with any size mountain of waste presented but will need time to build up in numbers. Less time in summer and autumn when temperature is mild and humidity high. 27 degrees C is optimum for worms, who will eat at the surface and happily grow to mating age, or should I say weight. When a worm attains a certain weight it will grow a band around its middle which allow it to have sex with other worms and make capsules.Each capsule or egg may have several baby worms emerging from it.
A worm exposed to ultraviolet light is a stressed worm and after 15 seconds in a dead worm.
Two disadvantages with worms over thermo composting is they do not destroy weed seeds, and only operate within a temperature range of between about 17 and 27 degrees, rather like me. They will not be active during dead winter nor happy in high summer. Provide a good foot of bedding soil for them to burrow down into at such times but no deeper as a greater depth getting excessive weighty and soggy could cause the deadly anaerobic conditions we strive to avoid. Anaerobic conditions create habitat suitable for plant pathogens (egs: fusarium, rhyzoctonia, pythium ( damping off), Phytophthora (dieback)) and human pathogens (egs: salmonella, chigella, lysteria, etc) as well as the harmful microbes metabolites like acids, alcohols , formaldehyde. Yuk! Under low oxygen conditions beneficial microbes go dormant, but if the oxygen drops too rapidly they will die. Then their bodies will lyse, releasing their valuable nutrient. We will lose minerals as smelly gasses. Where oxygen drops below 6 ppm, Nitrogen is lost as ammonia ( NH4), elemental sulphur is lost as hydrogen sulphide ( H2S) and valuable phosphorus is lost as odourless but glow -in -the -dark phosphine gas ( PO4).

There are 2 ways to worm farm, continuous flow and batch culture.
Batch culture

For this you need a worm bin with holes in the bottom. 
 . Your worm farm is best sited in a building which will moderate extremes of temperature, but failing this, make your container from the better R Value materials, and choose a site which is not too exposed to the extremes of climate. You should be able to reach it with a water hose . It could just be 4 sleepers in a rectangle, or be made with low brick or urbanite walls. You could use an old bath ( not chipped enamel as this is a lead contamination hazard), better still an old fridge . Fridges are insulated,and have nice fitting lid (the door). Hack a drainage hole into the back and lie it down on its back in the shade of a deciduous tree , then create a few small, flyscreened air holes near the lid, so there is a nice air flow.
Worms will eat anything that was once living . For example: kitchen scraps,old flowers,hay, woodchips, feathers,cardboard, grass and hair clippings, dead rabbits, fish scraps,seaweed, saw dust and wood shavings or chips.See recipe below for proportions. You need a cover to prevent ingress by worm predators such as chooks, other birds and rats, and to keep moisture levels right ( more on that later. If you have a large expired pet, such as a cow, you have a big problem which will go anaerobic. If possible the deceased  should be diced up (this goes for all materials actually, the more surface area the better) but failing this at least prod the carcass vigorously with a garden fork while no one is looking.  Then  well and truly surround and cover with copious woodchips which should be innocculated with a brew of compost and water, a handful to a bucket. After a few weeks introduce a handful of worms.
RIP BoBo Junior,our young  boar who had only fathered one litter. He was killed by a snake last Wednesday.Stew loved this hog who he raised from a weaner. Just our luck we had just despatched the aging BoBo senior, Champion Junior Pig of Woolarama 2007, a few months ago .

For an easy starter worm farm

You'll need:
- 2 polystyrene boxes with lids the same size (broccoli boxes are best)
- A strip of insect screen to fit into the bottom of the boxes
- Shredded newspaper
- A bucket of garden soil,
- Water
- Food scraps
- 1000 composting worms*
* NB: These aren't the same as ordinary earthworms. You will need to buy worms with nicknames like "Tigers", "Reds" and "Blues". They're available from garden centres and worm farmers. Many advertise in the local paper/e bay.

What you need to do
1. Take ONE of your boxes, and make some holes in the lid and in the bottom of the box. This allows oxygen in and also allows extra water and worm wee to drain out. Make your holes evenly spaced. The bigger the container, the more holes you will need. Use a pen or a screwdriver to make the holes.

Spread the insect screen in the bottom, over the holes. This lets the liquid through but stops the worms falling out.

2. Next, fill your container about a quarter  full with shredded newspaper. Dampen your newspaper with water before you add it to the box. All the newspaper should be soaked through but there should not be extra water collecting in the bottom of the bin. Put some garden soil in for initial bedding. Worm casts will gradually be added to the original bedding.

3. It's now time to add some worms to the container. How much you put in depends on the amount of food scraps you plan to compost. 1000 worms are enough to start. They will multiply if you keep them happy.

Place the container (or box) with the worms over the second box, allowing the water and worm wee to drain down into the second box.

4. Next, add some food scraps to the bin. See the chart below for what is good to compost. Make sure you don't overfeed your worms. Start by putting a small amount in one corner underneath some newspaper. See how long it takes your worms to break it down. This should give you an idea of how much your worms can handle at one time. Place your food scraps in a different spot each time.Note worms are surface feeders, just lay the food on top for them. During the cool, dark moist hours they will be feeding there at the surface.

5. Keep an eye on your worms. Make sure that the shredded newspaper does not dry out. Lay a sheet of damp cardboard on top of the food scraps and keep a cover on your box.Again, worms like it better if it's damp and dark and some people house their farms in sheds with no windows for this reason. Over the weeks, the worm wee will collect in the bottom box. You can mix this with water or use neat on your garden. Over the months, a layer of worm poo will build up in the bottom of the top box. One way of removing these castings is to feed the worms on one side of the box only for a few days before  harvest . The worms will nearly all be over in the feeding area when you harvest castings and you wont take too many worms away with the castings. After the raid, spread the remaining  half out flat and start again.

 Vegetable scraps and peelings 

Some people keep an old blender in the kitchen, put fruit and vege waste in there, whizz it up before giving to the worms. This would be helpful in the case of watermelon peel and big stalks and leaves of cauliflower. It’s really spoiling your worms but they will thrive and multiply quickly. Add a bit of water to dryish wastes. Worms like a wet environment but don’t like to swim unless the water is full of oxygen. 
Moisture levels
should be held at 60 to 70 %. An easy way to gauge moisture is to pick up a handful of food without squeezing it. At 70%, drops of water should fall from your hand. It you have to squeeze hard to get a drop of water out, the material is at 50% moisture. Spray evenly with a hose, NOW. Replace cover to keep worms damp and dark.
Serious compost production :
To make large volumes of best quality compost takes larger amounts of waste but the principals are the same.
Follow this recipe :

60% fresh “green” plant material,

30% woody, high carbon or “Brown” material and

10% high nitrogen material.

Examples of Greens:
plant materials harvested green have a high Nitrogen to carbon ratio. This includes coffee beans even though they are brown in colour. It includes fruit and vegetable waste, grass clippings and freshly chipped weeds. These are good bacterial foods.Greens remain "greens" even if they have dried out and turned brown. The simple sugars are still there to feed the bacteria, you just add water and bacteria will breed rapidly. A lot of heat will be generated.

Examples of Browns:
Complex carbohydrate plant material which matured on the plant has a high carbon to nitrogen ratio : hay, straw, chaff, grain hulls, nutshells etc. In this category also are all the wood wastes ( sawdust, shavings, bark, woodchips), paper and cardboard.These very wide C to N ratio materials are the fungal foods.

Examples of high nitrogen material:
Manures and chipped leguminous plants belong here. Worms love a slurry of manure.

A mixture as per above should make up the bulk of your feedstock. In addition, go ahead and add all sorts of household wastes- hair and nail clippings, vacuum cleaner dust ,coffee grounds and tea bags,  crushed egg shells.One thing they really love is soaked paper and cardboard.  It is a very fungal food and so will produce the desirable fungal dominated worm compost.
If you have accidentally added too much high nitrogen stuff, the mixture will heat up and steam your worms. Quickly remove it or add in high carbon things like damp sawdust.

Be careful not to overfeed your worms. Feed just enough that it will all be consumed in 3 days. If there are not enough worms at first to deal with the volumes coming from your house, the waste may get smelly and anaerobic as it sits there. Uneaten food may become a breeding ground for fruit fly . Anaerobic conditions could develop, favoring the likes of e coli. Buy some more worms or reduce food supply till they breed up.
Mature worms who have reached a certain weight are ready to breed and have a saddle around their middle. Each egg capsule ( looks like a grain of wheat in size and shape) can hatch up to 12 baby worms.

A continuous system is a set up in which the bottom inch of cast /bedding material is regularly harvested. This can be achieved by building a “never fill wormery” a la David Murphy in his book ORGANIC GARDENING WITH WORMS.
It is about the size and shape of a wheely bin with a top lid which you lift to deposit kitchen waste, but has 2 inch gap at the bottom which allows one to access the castings.BTW, such a fly proof but ventilated worm bin would be a totally safe way to process human excreta, so lets get building them for every back yard.
Worm egg capsules. 

 The wonderful Nick and Kirsten at Milkwood Permaculture have built both a family sized compost toilet and a system that deals with the wastes of big crowds. See their  wheelie-bin compost toilet system here.
Back to commercial wormfarms, many have a big worm bin on legs with mechanised cutter bar which periodically goes along underneath , slicing off the bottom inch of castings allowing them to fall through the mesh bottom of the bin for harvesting by machine.

Worm casts are miraculous and are the ideal starting material for a brilliant compost tea. Thanks worms!