How Do Authorities and Businesses Protect the Air from Pollution?

Air Pollution

When most people think of the environment, pollution and the air around us, they think about all of the carbon dioxide that’s being released into the atmosphere – the gas, which will continue to contribute heavily to climate change for a very long time to come. What many people forget about however, particularly recently, is that the other chemicals and particles released by our consuming of resources can also pose a very significant threat. This one can be more direct too; physically causing harm to those that breathe it in large or even potentially small quantities. While switching off the lights when you don’t need them is one of the ways you at home are helping to reduce energy consumption and therefore emissions, what is it that governments and large businesses are doing to combat this increasingly important issue?

Government initiatives and incentives

For governments the world over, this is all about money, and some may argue that this is the best way of reducing those pollutants in the air – not new and fancy technology, but cold hard cash. Those individuals and businesses that cause the most pollution are heavily targeted by taxes, levies and charges to discourage them from producing lots of harmful gases and particles, and incentive them to find a better way of doing things. This is beginning to move down the chain even to the consumer level as we become more and more aware of the damage that air pollution can cause. In some Chinese cities for instance, where the smog is at its worst, respiratory diseases are some of the biggest causes of death.

Diesel cars and trucks are in fact one of the big contributors, pumping huge quantities of dangerous particles into the air, and as a result, there are many places where charges are being made to those that drive diesel cars in heavily urbanised areas such as city centres.

Corporate responsibility to the environment

Of course, discouraging people from creating the pollutants in the first place is only one half of the challenge. On the business side of things, they want to continue their normal operations, but through methods that pollute the air less. This means using technologies that attempt to cut out the harmful chemicals and particles before they’re released into the atmosphere. There are many such methods, depending on what exactly needs to be removed from the exhaust gases. As an example, if the danger is an organic particle, then thermal oxidisers are the best way of prepping the gases before they escape into the atmosphere.

The answer to solving the issues of air pollution is threefold. At home, we must be aware of what we’re doing and consuming that might cause the release of harmful pollutants, businesses must work on technologies to make their operations more efficient, and governments and authorities have to continue the discouraging of pollution, and the incentive of finding solutions to the problem.

Desperate for Fossil Fuels: King Coal

Now Destroying Mountains Once Merely Raped

Patriot Coal,I spent a lot of time in Eastern Kentucky growing up, it’s where my paternal grandparents, Aunt and cousins lived and where we spent vacations no matter where else in the country (or elsewhere) we were living at the time (Navy brat). I’ve no more relatives there, the last of them died a decade ago and none of us siblings chose to live there for raising our own families or even retiring in our old age.

I do recall several very nasty UMW strikes in the mining region around Harlan, and I recall the black moonscape on the Green River near Paducah’s western shipping point that stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions, the coal tailings having turned a lovely rolling greenscape into utterly depressing nothing. I also recall learning to shoot my father’s beautiful pearl-handled six-guns at the abandoned strip mine near Laurel, and one touristy adventure in a no longer operating underground mine where we rode through in one of those little coal rail cars as if it were an amusement park ride.

These days they do things a little differently, as the deep seams get harder to work (and miners become more rare, having been decimated by Black Lung) and the easy seams have all been stripped. Now they’re going for the mid-seams, the last of the stored coal, by simply blowing up the entire mountain to get to it.

It’s called Mountaintop Removal mining, and it’s utterly devastating the southern Appalachians in the traditional coal mining regions of Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. It’s a horror even worse than Mister Peabody’s tailings outside Paducah. It’s destroyed ~500 whole mountains so far, it’s polluting mountain streams that contribute to the primary water supplies for millions of people downstream, and it’s killing the abundant biodiversity these mountains are so very famous for. Most of all, for those of us who dearly love these gorgeous mountains, it’s very, very tragic. Some of the mines are as big as the Island of Manhattan.

map

When growing up with strong ties to Kentucky, I learned from my Aunt – a state social worker – that King Coal was an “economic boom” to the people who traditionally made their means by doing things for themselves with what the mountains provided. Yet what I saw was crushing poverty, Black Lung, and a hopeless generation of young people who couldn’t wait to get as far away from their family’s traditional homesteads as possible. It’s not like the miners and their families got any of the great wealth King Coal brought to the mining companies, their stockholders and the industrial consumers of the coal taken out of their ground.

When my family determined to move back to the land 16 years ago to see if we could re-invent self-sufficiency and commune with nature instead of a million-plus other humans in immediate proximity, we chose Western North Carolina instead of Kentucky. Or Tennessee. Or West Virginia, or even Virginia (the most perfectly beautiful and well-maintained state in the union, IMO). We chose it for being Appalachia and beautiful (tourism is our largest industry), for more sophisticated residents and politics, for then-reasonable land prices, and for not being enslaved to King Coal.

movementBut alas, this is the land of Duke Energy, and a thriving piedmont and coast full of large energy consumers. Turns out that North Carolina is the #1 consumer of coal mined by means of Mountaintop Removal. Thus I was greatly pleased when the NC State Legislature introduced a bill in May of 2008 to ban the use of coal mined by this method within the borders of our beautiful state!

There will be a lengthy legislative fight over the bill, but hope in the very fact that we did get a law back in 1983 banning development on high ridge lines – thereby destroying the mountain views from which a majority of residents make their living. Because the mountains are a gold mine simply for their beauty, there is strong incentive to keep them beautiful.

I realize that many or most of my readers don’t live in these mountains, but any of us who love the land and work hard to make our way lightly on this earth should get to know about how desperate the corporate evil-doers are to squeeze (and blast) the very last drop of profit from the earth, not caring how much irrevocable damage they do to it in the process. Educate yourself about the issue by perusing some of the great links below. Write to your state and federal representatives about your concerns, talk to activists about how to ban the burning of this ill-gotten coal in your state, and support some of these efforts to save the mountains. Please!

If there is no market for this coal, King Coal has no reason to destroy the mountains.

Links:

WattHead: Taking Mountain Top Removal On
Appalachian Voices: Geography of Mountaintop Removal
iLoveMountains: Mountaintop Removal
DKos: Mountain Mondays v 1.0
RAN: Bringing the Climate Fight to King Coal
Southern Environmental Law Center: Mountaintop Removal [TN]
NYT: Ravaging Appalachia
Stop Mountaintop Removal

Earthlodge: The Original Sod Home

earth lodgeI read an interesting article on the “earthlodges” of Native Americans in the Dakotas the other day. I’d learned early in my life when the family moved from New York to “Indian Territory” – Oklahoma – that not all Native Americans lived in those portable teepee tents so prevalent on the plains. I knew the ‘civilized’ tribes of the southeastern United States were able constructors of log cabins for their permanent villages, and of course knew about those spectacular adobe pueblos in the southwest. And while I learned in junior high Oklahoma history about the sod-roofed shanties built by white settlers (and for which Oklahoma was famous), I’d never heard of earthlodges.

Earthlodges are large round structures from 20 to 50 feet in diameter which are built to be much more permanent than the yurts that basically amount to a Mongolian version of teepee for migratory people. Lots of people these days have deck-mounted yurts that are popular as camp cabins or gazebos, but they’re not really something stable or well-insulated enough to live in full time.

In contrast, the earthlodge is dug into the ground and framed with logs, covered with woven willow mats and then covered completely (except for a smoke hole in the middle of the roof) with mud and sod. Your basic hobbit house, but as its own hill rather than dug into a pre-existing hill. Of course, there are some modern earthlodge designs that combine aspects of natural landscaping and lodge building, which are actually quite nice if you don’t care much about windows. It would be quite easy to engineer one of these with skylights, so interior darkness can be alleviated.

earth lodgeThe original earthlodges were built communally, often housing between 15 and 25 people. They provided solid, very well-insulated shelter for harsh Dakota winters, and stayed naturally cool in hot Dakota summers. They lasted only as long as the palisade poles and main support logs lasted in the ground, about 7 to 10 years before they’d rotted enough to need replacing. Since it took only about a week for a group to construct an earthlodge from scratch, the old one would simply be torn down and a new one erected in its place. The old logs recycled into firewood made this village system quite efficient given that the Dakotas do not enjoy the thick, lush forests of the American southeast.

For a new homesteader looking for cheap, eco-friendly housing on a tract of raw land, it’s not difficult to see how the problem of ground-rot could be simply eliminated by seating the anchor and palisade logs in concrete. The thermal mass of palisade logs plus dirt/sod can be nearly warm in winter and cool in summer as 3-foot thick adobe walls. More modern – and fully waterproof – coverings take the place of those woven willow mats, and fewer palisade poles would allow for regular insulated walls or an opportunity to place windows and/or exits to porticos, or to build storage rooms or closets off the main structure. For a truly permanent structure, some research on new under-sod waterproof roofing material would probably be a good idea.

The niftiest thing about this kind of permanent shelter is that if your land is raw enough to need some clearing, the logs and poles can be taken as part of your clearing plans. These will have to be de-barked and dried above the ground, there are many good Do It Yourself books and plans out there for site-built log homes that have clear instructions on how to do this. If you’re planning to grow crops, the sod shouldn’t be hard to come by. Rather than a big central fire pit and large hole in the roof, a central wood stove with just a pipe running up through the roof will protect from the elements much better than the wicker baskets the Mandan people used to cover their smoke holes when it rained.

It also strikes me that the side walls could be constructed of straw bales and covered with mesh and stucco or adobe instead of mud and sod and still be as easy to heat and cool. Some may consider rock as well, if the land has an overabundance of those that need removing before crops can be grown. Any of these alternatives for some or all of the side walls would make for a very handsome home. The sod roof does have great appeal, I’ve always envisioned a hobbit house with wildflowers instead of just more grass to have to mow.

The interior, once you’ve got the central roof supports and planned your walls, can of course be framed and subdivided as you please for cooking sleeping and living areas, bathrooms and utility as you wish. The Dream Green link above also offers a plan for a ‘multi-lodge’ made up of several octagonal earthlodges connected to a front portico area. This idea offers the possibility for future expansion as the family grows.

So chalk this up as yet another eco-friendly green construction to think about if you’re new to homesteading or are planning to build more structures on your homestead than you’ve already got. A far less modern (more true to origin) version of earthlodge would make a very serviceable combo barn, root/wine cellar and tool/vehicle storage shed. For as long as you can keep the livestock from eating the walls and roof, that is.

Links:

Indians 101: The Earthlodge
Dream Green Homes Earth Lodge
Blue Ridge Yurts

Houses of Straw

Leonard Leslie Brooke illustration
Leonard Leslie Brooke illustration
Sure, we all remember the children’s story about three pigs and a big, bad wolf, who could huff and puff and blow the house down (unless it was made of bricks). The stick house held up a little bit better, but the straw house didn’t provide much in the way of protection at all. But these days, houses made of straw and stucco are getting quite sophisticated. Even looking sturdy enough to stand up to a good, stiff breeze, whether it comes from a wolf or a hurricane.

Bales of straw (usually wheat straw) as building material isn’t exactly new, though perhaps not as old as the Three Little Pigs tale. late 19th century homesteaders out on the Nebraska plains are credited with building the first straw bale and mud-wattle houses, much as Oklahoma homesteaders pioneered stone and earth-sheltered homes with sod roofs. These early examples of hardy home-building with whatever’s handy largely escaped modern notice until the early 1970s, when the hippie “back to the land” movement took off. Most straw bale houses built over the following couple of decades were non-code off-the-grid shelters, but the benefits of bale construction have gained new fans.

Featured in this New York Times article is a rather spectacular example in the Catskills hand-crafted with loving care over a period of years by Clark Sanders. For the new revival in homesteading pioneers for the 21st century, there are a number of outfits and websites offering education in straw bale building techniques, helpful hints, and contacts for associated material like stuccos and plasters, wall lattice, etc. Some of the most interesting and useful are listed below. There are even some very nice straw bale house plans that can be built as offered or altered to your own site’s needs and combined with other green technologies such as earth sheltering, etc.

A relatively small straw bale shelter could be built fairly quickly and cheaply by new homesteaders on their land as a place to live while developing the various water and energy systems that will support something more permanent at a later date. If sited well and built sturdily, such a shelter built into a berm or hillside could later serve as a well-insulated root cellar for food storage, or a cool shelter barn for ruminant livestock. Just be sure your plastering job keeps up with the normal wear and tear of time, or the livestock just might eat their own barn!

Check out some of the listed sites and their offerings, see if straw bale construction might serve you well in some application. All told, the recurring benefit theme of this construction method is low cost. Which is always something modern homesteaders need to consider.

Links:

Straw Bale Construction
StrawBale dot Com
Bale Watch: 50 House Plans
A House of Straw

Tiny Houses: Part 3 – Cities Developing Tiny Housing

tiny_houseThis blog has examined the new trend toward “micro-housing” in terms of sub-urban and rural settings in the articles Teeny, Tiny Houses in July of 2011, and Tiny Houses: Part 2 in March of 2012. The trend for small, efficiently-designed housing doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon despite a slight bounce-back of the general real estate markets.

Now we are hearing more about big cities either looking into developing “micro-housing units” convenient to downtown workplaces and shopping, at reasonable prices (and rental prices) for young workers, middle income singles and couples without children, and segments of the elderly population.

The Christian Science Monitor for September 25th asks, “Could you live in 150 square feet? Cities try out micro-housing.” They report that San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York have begun trials of ever-smaller ‘efficiency’ apartments – dubbed micro-housing – in the hearts of their metro areas. For those who would eschew living as Bruce Willis’ character in the movie The Fifth Element, the very thought of living in a single room is uncomfortable. For many singles, childless couples and young people coming out of college (where they’ve lived in a dorm room for awhile), living small in the midst of the city doesn’t sound so bad.

Think about it. If you work 8-10 hours a day (sometimes more), what do you really need from ‘home’ apart from some privacy, a kitchenette to store and prep the few meals that aren’t eaten out, a suitable bathroom, a TV chair, a place to do any take-home work they’ve got, and a comfy bed to sleep in?

There is a notorious lack of affordable housing in urban, downtown areas all over the country, and despite the recent economic collapse, the costs aren’t going down. The Japanese have long been pioneers in living in small spaces, but how many Westerners would be happy in 250 square feet or less? New York designer/architect Alexander Gendell, whose company Foliture specializes in fold-away furniture for tight spaces (think Murphy Bed), told CSM…

Low quality of life does not have to go hand in hand with limited living space, he says. He points to Tokyo, where the Japanese have figured out how to make every inch of living space count, he says. “It’s entirely possible to live well in 200 square feet of living space,” he says, as long as every function has been well thought out.

“We are certainly not the first ones to deal with this issue,” Mr. Gendell says with a laugh. “We are blessed in this country with more living space,” he says, but many other nations have proved that it is entirely possible to live in a more concentrated living environment – one that would be better for the planet.

Chicago has built thousands of downtown dorm units in high-density buildings in recent decades, for the income-challenged and homeless population. As housing prices in cities begin to rise again, these small units will become increasingly popular. Moreover, I’d be willing to suggest that as “living small” becomes a somewhat normal thing in cities, the suburban and rural movement toward tiny houses will also benefit. Even stay-at-home homesteaders tend to spend more time outside than in as we work toward our idyllic self-sufficient dreams, many of us are nearing retirement age and the children are on their own. The whole “Tread Lightly On The Earth” philosophy has merits that perhaps in coming years our city cousins can learn to appreciate as much as we do. They’ll need outdoor activities to occupy their time too, so perhaps we can expect a boom in rooftop community gardens as this micro-housing trend takes off.

City homesteading can be ‘a thing’ too!

A Timber Business That Doesn’t Cut Down Trees

timber_businessIn my very rural neighborhood with lots of small-acreage homesteads that have been going for generations, there is a lumber mill. Belongs to a neighbor, mostly just a big-timber circular saw and carriage under a sturdy roof with no walls, stacked hardwood logs he and his several sometimes/part-time workers have salvaged from acreage nearby being cleared for building and/or farming. For some years his main business was ‘machining’ those logs into the makings of log homes – from small cabins to big McMansions – for a local log home outfit that has since suffered the results of recent economic and real estate troubles.

Oh, he’ll still process logs if you really want log walls for a house or cabin you’re building, but mostly his mill has been silent lately. One of his backhoes is down, though his big front-end loader is still working on some development acreage a bit south of here. We’ve contracted him to do a big job on the steep front end of our half-mile driveway, the culverts of which were crushed by heavy railroad machinery years ago. That means that whenever we or the railroad whose access IS the front section of our driveway pay to have the thing re-graded after a season’s hard rains send most of the gravel into the road down below and carves deep canyons that’ll wreck the underbelly of any non-4WD vehicle, we can be assured that the next hard rain is just going to tear it up again. He also gives us the half-round slicings off the logs that he does mill, which are excellent wood stove fodder during the cold months.

But seeing his mill idle so much of the time these days is sad, in that none of us locals are very rich even during boom-times. And I’ve wondered what other things a person could do with a homestead sawmill that could tap into the still-strong rich-people retirement and vacation home market in this area. Son-in-Law has a nice wood shop in the next county north, as he is a master cabinetmaker and woodworking artist when he’s not teaching sculpture at the area’s Community College. Has all the routers and lathes and fancy edger-type machines that can turn hardwoods into cabinets or fine furniture or anything else that can be made of fine wood. In fact, there are quite a few fine furniture woodworkers in these mountains, as it used to be how the region earned outside money – Hickory, Drexel-Heritage, Ethan Allen… all the big names in expensive generational-quality hardwood furniture before the industry closed up shop and moved to China because Americans couldn’t afford it anymore.

When I went looking around, I found several good sites dedicated to the fairly “new” industry of salvaging ancient logs from the rivers that were used when the country was young to float harvested timber to the mills. Seems that cold water preserves this old growth timber very well, and when long-lost logs salvaged from the riverbottom mud are brought up and carefully dried, it offers some of the very finest hardwood to be had anywhere outside the virgin wilderness that cannot be logged.

For at least two hundred years the rivers in our country were used to raft logs from one place to another. The trees were cut and stripped of limbs, then tied together to float downstream to a mill. Many times the river would be running high and fast, and when these rafts hit rapids they broke apart. Many logs were lost to the rivers, where they waterlogged and sank into the mud on the bottom. The cold water preserved the logs – often harvested centuries ago from virgin old growth, and now they can be used to make fine furniture and hardwood flooring with grains that simply cannot be matched by today’s early-harvest tree farms. Even better for the few with the salvage and transportation equipment, the furniture and wood flooring that can be made from the logs commands a very high price in today’s markets.

Here in North Carolina salvage timber companies are mining rivers on the coastal plain of the Neuse and Cape Fear, but the bigger rivers just over the Continental Divide – which drain into the Tennessee and eventually the Ohio on their way to the Mississippi have so far escaped the big salvage outlets. Even three or four fine timber logs salvaged and trucked here to the mill and finishing shops would bring a pretty penny to the homesteaders who cared to take advantage of the opportunity. In the sounds and bays where timber once formed walkable surface from shore to shore, thousands of such logs wait to be mined.

Wired had a 3-page story on this new industry called Reservoir Logs that detailed the salvaging and eventual end use of these precious old growth logs.

If you’re on the shoreline or live nearby, underwater timber harvesting is remarkably quiet: no screaming chain saws or smoke-belching heavy machinery. In a steady, splashing procession, tree after tree bobs to the surface, where a small tugboat rigged with a pair of hydraulic claws grabs the trunks and tows them into something called a bunk, a partly submerged U-shaped cradle. I can see three bunks from the barge. Each stores up to 300 trees and can be raised onto a second transport barge that holds up to 1,000 logs. The Sawfish and its four-person crew will fill it in just four days.

Sure, in the highlands one could not be expected to deploy big ships and remote-operation submersibles, because the water’s not that deep and the logs not so tangled. The haul would be smaller, but the rewards just as big for the right people. For instance, consider what Desert Rose Banjo says about Recovered Old Growth Timber

Since its emergence onto the world market barely four years ago, recovered old growth timber has caused a tremendous stir in the musical instrument world. It is called submerged timber, old wood, sunken wood, water-logged wood, timeless timber, lost timber and a number of other names. Knowledgeable people are either embracing it or condemning it as “snake oil”, often both without ever seeing a piece of wood or playing an instrument using it…

Ah. The crafting of fine instruments from dulcimers to dobros to banjos to mandolins and violins has a storied history and a vibrant present in this region of True Bluegrass and traditional mountain music. Desert Rose investigated the product, and had the wood totally tested by an independent government laboratory. Its certified results documented and fully supported the claims circulating about the density, strength-to-weight ratio, modulus of elasticity and all other industry specifications. Moreover, the acoustic performance characteristics of the wood were measurably superior to land-harvest woods for making fine instruments and wind harps, wind chimes, tongue drums and vibes, etc. A single old growth salvaged hardwood log – say, maple or hickory, cherry or white oak – could make dozens of instruments, a few two-octave vibe keys, as many wind harps as any major estate could afford, and still have enough left to turn into a matched dozen fine Windsor dining chairs plus 24-foot table.

For those interested in researching this opportunity, check out some of the old growth timber flooring and veneers offered by such companies as Aqua Timber. And remember that salvaged old growth timber is environmentally friendly!

Hurricane Sandy: Solar Plan-Ahead

Hurricane_SandyWe all watched in dread fascination as Superstorm Sandy hooked a hard left right where predicted off the coast of northern Virginia to slame full-force into northern New Jersey and New York City just days before Election Day. Its storm surge was every bit as devastating as predicted, and its 1,000-mile-plus wind field wreaked havoc and whipped up 30-foot waves on Lake Erie (20-footers on Lake Ontario). The storm whipped an arctic front around the back side and dumped feet of snow on southern Appalachia. Tens of millions lost electricity in the storm, and some have still not been reconnected.

As we usually see in Florida and along the Gulf coast during hurricane seasons, home supply companies quickly ran out of portable gas-powered generators and other emergency supplies, even before we were treated to the appalling spectacle of a wind-whipped inferno taking out more than a hundred homes in Queens, which was above the surge and thought it was safe. I’m sure we’re all gratified that good forecasting and serious pre-storm planning as well as pre-placement of relief personnel and supplies kept the death toll down to less than half a percent of Katrina’s toll back in 2005. But we also learned that for all those portable gas generators that were sold to people who knew their electricity would go out, the attendant problem of gas stations being unable to dispense gasoline without power rendered most of them entirely useless.

So I’m passing along an interesting blog article entitled Use solar to survive the next storm. Now, solar panels atop a pole in the yard aren’t any more likely to survive hurricane-force winds or 14-foot waves than your bird house is. But houses in New Jersey and New York that had rooftop solar panels fared very well – there are reports of considerable damage to shingles and gutters and such, but so long as the entire roof isn’t taken off, the solar panels up there should be fine.

Now, we know that solar panels won’t provide any ready juice in the middle of the night, or when the kind of deep, rain-drenched clouds a superstorm brings are between you and the sun. But for emergency purposes you should have some batteries already charged and ready to take over at least a minimum of lighting, radio, charging of PCs and cell phones, perhaps even running your laptop or iPad for up to date information. Even your basic surge protector for computer equipment – the kind with an undersized car battery with converter built-in and plugs will serve the purpose until the sun is shining again. You can set it up to draw its full charge from the solar panels normally, even if your panels are wired into the grid. While that wiring is done, just insist on a switch that will allow you to use the solar panels exclusively whenever the grid is down.

Here are some nifty portable solar generators that would in this storm have proven way more useful than a gasoline generator you couldn’t get gas for, once the next day dawned. Goal Zero offers emergency solar kits in personal, family and household sizes. Home Depot and Lowes have a variety of solar products and generators too, and the prices are getting more reasonable every year. Cabela’s outfitters offers portable solar generators too, a little tougher-built and a little more expensive. Truly industrial-level portables with steel containers of batteries are available through several companies, those by Mobile Solar are impressive, can even be sized for off-grid living.

We homesteaders don’t generally live in big cities, but there are urban homesteaders all over the place these days coming up with sustainable means of living in cities. How about having street lights with solar panels and batteries? Solar powered stoplights and such as well, to switch over from grid whenever there’s an interruption?

At any rate, for those of us who know enough science to be expecting increasingly violent weather from global climate change need to ensure our emergency supplies and power are well thought-out. It seems to me that NOT having to rely on the power company that’s been cutting service personnel for years to increase profits is better than sitting in the dark for days or weeks at a time. It also seems smarter to NOT have to find a source of gasoline in the aftermath of a hugely destructive event just so you can plug in your computer and charge your cell phone. Whether you just want an emergency supply or are able to install an ample rooftop array you can switch over when the grid goes down is of course dependent on your situation. But all of us should be thinking solar for this aspect of emergency planning.

Bayer & Monsanto Killing Bees

The numbers are in, and they add up to devastating.

bees Bee Informed Partnership this month released its preliminary report on honey bee colony losses in the US for 2013-2014. The partnership, along with the Apiary Inspectors of America [AIA] and the USDA have been surveying beekeepers for 8 years in an attempt to get a handle on how many of the nation’s bee colonies are succumbing to what has been a mysterious mass die-off called “Colony Collapse Disorder” [CCD]. Last winter 23.2% of managed honey bee colonies died. That’s lower than the previous year’s estimate of 30.5%, but it does confirm that harm is still being done to these important pollinators. Loss estimate for the 12-month period between April 1, 2012 and March 30, 2013 was 45.2%. The bees are still dying, and now we know why.

Dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies have been published over the past decade linking CCD to pesticide use, and honey bees aren’t the only victims. More specifically, the culprit is a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids. Rather than being sprayed just on the surface of plants, neonics are absorbed and spread through the entire plant, including pollen and nectar. They persist in the environment and can accumulate quickly. This has led to contamination of surface water, groundwater and soil, endangering species inhabiting those ecosystems.

Neonic pesticides are manufactured and marketed primarily by Bayer Crop Science and Monsanto. The Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] sued the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] after it failed to release Bayer’s underlying studies on the safety of its neonicotinoids. EPA approval for neonics hinged on the claim that amounts in pollen and nectar were non-lethal to bees, but studies have shown that even at low doses the pesticides have effects that impair bees’ learning and memory. The EU has banned neonics, but EPA is not considering doing so in the US. 30-50% losses annually is unsustainable, and about a quarter of the food Americans eat relies on bee pollination.

In March of 2012 the Canter for Food Safety [CFS] joined with 25 prominent beekeepers to file an Emergency Petition to the EPA asking for suspension on the use of certain neonicotinoids. When that brought no action, CFS and a coalition of 4 beekeepers and 5 environmental and consumer groups filed a formal lawsuit against EPA for failure to protect pollinators as well as seeking suspension.

Check out the Sierra Club’s Pollinator Protection Campaign to see how you can help convince Congress and the administration that bees are more valuable than Bayer’s or Monsanto’s profit margins.

Cold Duck(s) …and other critters

Cold_Duck More below freezing days and absolutely frigid nights on my homestead this week. I keep reminding myself that despite the title of “North” in my chosen home of North Carolina, we’re still ‘officially’ considered the south. But if February turns out to be colder than Alaska (which January has been this year), I’m going to be putting a lot more thought into Costa Rica in my old age…

When we first got the kids – a.k.a. the girls, our two pekins purchased at Tractor Supply as little yellow peeps for the youngest grandchildren a couple of years ago – we became studious consumers of duck facts and duck lore and ‘How To’ information on how to help them live for awhile longer than just Easter week. By last winter they were all feathered-out, white as snow for a winter in which we got no snow, and delivering 2-4 delicious free-range duck eggs per day. And it wasn’t anywhere near as cold as this winter has turned out to be.

My little bit OCD husband fretted and worried all that winter long that his poor ducks were going to freeze to death if it got down into the 20s at night. I pooh-poohed that by reminding him that they’re wearing duck down coats, which are rated to be toasty to well below zero, work even better than fur coats like our dogs and cats wear. Even better, they repel water. All that might get really cold are their feet, and they can always just sit on those for awhile, right?

Well, this winter it’s a whole lot colder, and we were advised by the “Duck Lady” at Tractor Supply when we bought our last 50-pound bag of duck food that sure enough, if it gets below 10º at night, they do need that heat lamp we got when they were just peeps, in their comfy big coop with the door closed overnight. They’ve adjusted okay to the light, and now the biggest challenge is keeping liquid water in their pen’s bowl for long enough to drink before it freezes solid.

Today I found a nice article from Countryside Magazine entitled Managing Livestock in Winter Conditions. Author Robyn Scherer, M. Agr., is a regular fond of good information talking about everything from prepping for winter before it happens, to details on shelter, wind protection, bedding, water, food, supplements, hoof care, exercise and particularly bad weather. Keeping animals old and young and of many species healthy during the high stresses of the winter season.

If your homestead boasts livestock of any variety – or you are planning to add livestock in the future – check out Countryside’s informative article so you’ll have the lowdown on how best to get your animals through the winter happy and healthy.

Antioxidants vs Radiation: Lemon Balm!

Lemon_Balm!Most of us who are committed to the homesteading lifestyle are committed because we perceive the value of living closer to the earth, taking responsibility for ourselves per the ‘conveniences’ of life, and care a great deal about the general health and well-being of ouselves, our families and our communities. A lot of us grow a lot of our own foodstuffs so that we can know “what’s in it” when we eat it, and some also raise their own livestock to receive that high quality protein from a source unconnected with the impersonal death industry that meat and dairy production has become in this modern age.

And for the general robustness of our bodily defense and repair mechanisms – so important to maintaining health and promoting longevity – the value of antioxidants is something we’re familiar with. Antioxidants serve to reduce the amount of “free radicals” in our bodies. Free radicals are loose, fast-moving electrons (and sometimes positrons) that damage molecules and cells by knocking electron shells of atoms out of whack, thereby disrupting molecular bonds. And while a certain amount of oxidative reactions are part of normal metabolic processes, excess amounts of it can cause all sorts of problems. So plants and animals maintain multiple types of antioxidants to balance the processes, such as vitamins C, A and E, glutathione, certain enzymes and peroxidases, etc. which protect against oxidative stress which can cause neurodegenerative diseases, the ailments of aging, and even cancer.

A great deal is known from medical research about antioxidants and their protective uses, and a great many people take supplements or choose high-antioxidant foods as part of their healthy diet. Here is what some doctors have to say about it…

“Free radicals appear to play a central role in virtually every disease you can name, either directly or secondarily.”
Russell A. Blaylock, M.D.

“There is now overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating that people who eat a diet rich in antioxidants and take antioxidant supplements will live longer, healthier lives.”
Lester Packer, PhD.

Okay, okay. We’re convinced. Many of us even know which of the foods we choose to grow and/or eat pack the most antioxidant whallop. But what about antioxidants that are used to prevent damage from oxidative health hazards most of us are not all that familiar with? Like, say, radiation exposure.