Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet

I just finished Jeffery Sachs' book Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet and wanted to recommend it to any person interested in the environment and how it might tie into global politics, economics, and social issues.

The book includes a bit of everything - science, politics, social concerns, population demographics, economics. For those who aren't as familiar with climate change, Sachs gives a nice and easy to understand summary of the scientific evidence for global climate change and the environmental consequences that will follow. There are also chapters on population growth, poverty, and global politics.

For me, the most enlightening chapters were on US foreign policy and how these policies help solve (or more correctly fail to solve) global problems. Having traveled outside of the US, it now makes sense to me WHY everyone dislikes the US so much - the US takes the attitude of "you're with us or against us" rather than one of cooperation and neighborly conduct. The problems the world faces today are ones that everyone has a hand in causing and in resolving, and one country acting like they can just let the other countries deal with their own problems will eventually be detrimental to the world.

Another interesting section in the book was the statistics on foreign aid. I never saw the statistics on it before, but there is definitely a correlation between amount of foreign aid given to developing countries and how successful they became later. Foreign aid can help stop the poverty trap and prevent civil wars and conflicts that engulf the world from happening. Countries that have a large percentage of its population in extreme poverty are more likely to have troubled communities desperate to survive. Add on the environmental stress of climate chance, such as water scarcity and food shortage, and uncontrolled population growth, and you have a potentially explosive situation on your hands. Places where civil wars and conflicts that have occurred in the last few years have all been places where there was a high percentage of young people and where there was high environmental stress.

In short, I found the book really enlightening and I highly recommend everyone to read it, especially fellow Americans!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dirty Dozen Foods

If you're looking to buy organic, but not sure where to start, here's a list of a Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables from the Environmental Working Group that research has shown to be high in pesticide residues. It's best to buy these organic to avoid long term illness from the pesticides, especially for pregnant women and children. For those on a budget, it's also a great way to prioritize which foods to buy organic and which ones you can do without.

The list includes the following fruits and vegetables
  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines (imported to US)
  7. Grapes (imported to US)
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale
Alternatives to these fruits and vegetables include
  • Watermelon, bananas, and kiwi
  • Cabbage, asparagus, and broccoli
  • Sweet potato
  • Pineapple, papaya, and mango
  • Tangerines, oranges and grapefruit
  • Radishes and onion

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chicken raising tips

We had another great permablitz on Sunday, building a chicken coop and digging out veggie patches. One of the permablitz facilitators ran a workshop on chicken raising, so here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Chickens are social creatures. They naturally live in groups where there is a strict social hierarchy. When you first get your chickens, they'll bully one another but within a week or so, they should establish their pecking order and the bullying should stop. It's best to let them sort it out, even if the pecking gets a little rough. Chickens have a short memory though and only remember up to 25 individuals, so if you have more than 25 chickens, the social pecking order will never get established and the bullying will always happen. To avoid this and have healthier chickens, either raise less than 25 chickens in the same space or have enough room for smaller groups to form. When new chickens are introduced to the group, the bullying will continue for another week until the new pecking order is established. It might be a good idea to introduce two new chickens at once so that the bullying isn't focused on one individual.

  2. Chickens remember where home is. To get your chickens to associate home with the coop you've made for them, keep them there for the first few days and don't let them out. From then onward, your chickens should always return to their coop to rest at night. If you move homes, the chickens won't have a problem if you do the same re-association exercise with the new coop.

  3. In addition to the coop area where eggs are laid and the chicken run where your chickens roam freely, it's a good idea to have an intermediate fenced off fox-proof area/straw yard connected to the coop. This straw yard should give your chickens access to grass and water where they can do their scratching and chicken business without the risk of predators and without you opening the gate to the chicken coop every morning. It doesn't have to be too big, but it should be big enough to keep your chickens sufficiently happy and well fed/watered even if you didn't let them into the larger chicken run for several days (giving you the option of going away for the weekend without worrying about the chickens). It's also a good way of giving your chickens something to do when they get up in the morning before you come and open the latch to the chicken coop (chickens get very cranky if you don't let them out).

  4. The chicken coop should be close to the house and have an easily opened latch to collect eggs from. It should also provide a roofed area from the rain for the chickens and ideally not be drafty in the winter time so the chickens can keep warm. The chicken straw yard needs to be fox-proofed via chicken wire. Fox-proofing requires digging out and placing wire about 10 cm down and 20-30 cm out from the coop. Living in the city doesn't mean there aren't going to be foxes, so make sure the area is well secured.

  5. The chicken straw yard can also serve as a compost area. Instead of having a separate compost bin, you can layer straw on the grass/floor of the area and dispose of your kitchen scraps on top. The chickens will eat what they want from the kitchen scraps, turn over the rest (good for compost), and add their chicken droppings, which makes excellent manure. All of this can be used as fertilizer for the garden and it saves the energy of having to overturn and maintain the compost bin yourself.

  6. Make sure that your chicken straw yard and chicken run have some shaded areas. Chickens don't take to overheating too well and will spend most of their time on hot days in the shade of fruit trees or whatever shade is available. Cool water is also essential.

  7. Besides kitchen scraps, chickens love eating greens and bugs. They will scratch at the grass and any other green vegetables you might have, so be wary of including your vegetable patch in the chicken run. The chickens do make good lawn mowers though - one effective way of doing this is to create a moveable chicken run "tunnel" that can be moved from one end of the garden to the other, mowing the grass as the chickens dig up bugs. Any bugs you find from your weeding can be given to the chickens as grub. Keep in mind though that chickens can't survive on just greens and bugs - the bulk of their food comes from grains, either seed mix or pellets. Pellets can contain ambiguous oxides, but they are less messy than seeds.

  8. Chickens may dig up lead or heavy metals in the ground from their scratching and may ingest it. If you are concerned about the soil quality or have a very active chicken coop where grass is torn out faster than it can grow back, you can try several things. Rotating where your chicken run is gives a chance for grass to grow back (thus preventing soil from being dug up by the chickens as they search for bugs). You can also put a sheet of shade cloth or other material on top of the soil/grass and layer the straw and kitchen scraps on top of that to prevent the chickens from accessing the soil. Testing the soil for contaminations is also a good idea in general, if only to know what the metal concentrations are and what vegetables can be safely planted.

  9. Make sure your chickens are vaccinated, wormed, and deloused. There are a number of diseases that the chicken should be vaccinated against before purchase, including Marek's disease, fowl pox, infectious bronchitis and Newcastle disease. The two most common diseases are

    Coccidiosis: pale combs, loss of condition, blood in droppings, drooping wings. This can be treated with an appropriate coccidiostat medication.

    Respiratory problems: typical symptoms such as a runny nose, coughing, watery eyes or swollen face. Antibiotics are available.

  10. For laying hens, the best age to buy is around 6 months, otherwise known as the pullet hens, when they are just about to lay. Laying hens are most productive in their first 2-5 years. Typically, they live to 9 years, but some have been known to live to 13-15 years.

  11. There are many different breeds of chicken, all with their advantages and disadvantages, such as looks, size, ability to scratch, laying, temperament, etc. Likewise, there are many places to buy chickens. Check for local small farm/neighborhood breeders.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Zero Carbon Australia Transporation Plan

A great clip featuring my housemate about the future of Australia's transportation system. Check it out!

Technical Director of the Zero Carbon Australia Transport plan Patrick Hearps joined ABC 24's The Drum program to discuss the future of Australia's transport system. Electric cars, trams, metros and High Speed Rail powered by renewable energy... Now that's a vision!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Time lapse of earth bag building

Here's a cool video of the earth bag building at the permablitz site. Check it out! I can't wait for the next opportunity to learn how to do the earth bagging.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A successful wicking bed building session!

Despite the slight rain on Sunday, we had a great permablitz! The wicking bed team was awesome and I had a great time facilitating the workshop. We finished our wicking bed building and even got time to plant some lettuce, beans, and strawberries into the new wicking bed. Thomas interviewed me on the wicking bed for his permablitz podcast, so I might be on air sometime soon!

I wish I had time to help out with the earthbagging, that technique seems really interesting and the garden beds that come out from the earthbagging are really flexible in shape and size, even though the bagging process is a little labor intensive.

Angela, one of the Permaculture Out West facilitators, was helping me with the wicking bed and she told me about this really great permaculture website called Deep Green Permaculture, which has tons of really detailed information on setting up a permaculture garden. Check it out if you're interested in starting your permaculture garden.

In the meantime, here are some photos from the permablitz on Sunday!

Flemington - before

before the wicking bed was built, removing the plants

Flemington - building frame

building the wicking bed frame

Flemington - building frame

estimating how high the bed should go

Flemington - drilling outlet

drilling the hole for the outlet

Flemington - drilling outlet

putting the outlet in

Flemington - filling bed

filling the wicking bed with scoria and soil

Flemington - finished bed

finished wicking bed with lettuce, beans, and strawberries!