jump to navigation

Winter birdfeeding basics. September 29, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

When our friend Ben and Silence Dogood go out to buy our monthly big bag of birdseed, we’re always amazed by the variety of birdfeeding products available. There are elaborate feeders, special seed mixes, specialty seeds, dried mealworms, literally hundreds of products. Books on birdfeeding are just as bad, making it seem like you need a special seed or seed mix for every single winter feeder. What’s someone who just wants to feed birds in winter supposed to do?

Actually, the answer’s simple. SO simple, it’s ridiculous. All you really need to feed birds in winter is a bag of black-oil sunflower seeds and a squirrel-proof tube feeder. That would be one, such as a Droll Yankees feeder, with a metal top, bottom, hanger, and feeder perches so squirrels can’t gnaw their way in. Hang it from a metal shepherd’s crook or from a branch where you can see and enjoy it, fill it up, and watch as the birds fly in. When you fill it up, don’t forget to scatter seed beneath it for ground-feeders like cardinals, juncos, and mourning doves, and you’re all set.

Sure, birds will eat other seeds. Cardinals will eat safflower seeds, goldfinches will eat nyger thistle seed. You can buy the most expensive custom blend of seeds, nuts and dried fruits imaginable and you’ll get an appreciative audience of birds. But for a fraction of the cost, you’ll attract all the same birds with plain black oil sunflower seeds.

Here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage garden OFB and Silence share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, we love sitting out on our back deck in the lazy summer mornings and evenings and beautiful autumn evenings, so we keep one tube feeder up and running all year. Most birds are busy eating bugs and berries then, but they’ll still come up to the feeder where we can see them from the deck.

Once the cold weather arrives and supplies of bugs and berries thin out, we up the ante. (Pun about ants suppressed.) First, we put away our windchimes until spring and hang more tube feeders on the windchime hooks, except for the windchime directly in back, er, front, er,?! of our deck. Years ago, someone gave us one of those cylindrical suet feeders that holds a block of suet inside and cages squirrels out. Our woodpeckers and nuthatches very happily eat black oil sunflower seed from our tube feeders, but they (and our chickadees, titmice, and so on) love the hi-cal, pre-formed blocks of suet stuffed with peanut butter, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and so on, and we can buy a six-pack at our local hardware store for less than a dollar a block, so we indulge them, and ourselves, by hanging that feeder right next to the deck.

We also have what we call a cabin feeder, a wooden feeder shaped sort of like a log cabin with a “roof” that lifts up for filling and long, shallow troughs for eating, plus glass sides so you can see when it needs refilling. It’s attached to a tree by our front door so we can check its progress by looking out the front windows. Ground-feeding birds like cardinals, bluejays, and juncos are willing to eat on its platform, so it brings them closer to eye level.

So here’s the bottom line: Feed black oil sunflower seed; everybody likes it. Hang a tube feeder where you can see and enjoy the birds (and see when the feeder’s empty). You’ll need a vermin-proof container for your seed (we have a wonderful bird-themed canister we got years ago at a wild bird store, but a small tin garbage can with a tight-fitting lid would do), plus a scoop for your seed and a way to pour it into your tube feeder. (We bought a big plastic bottle with a long nose from a wild bird store, like a giant ketchup dispenser.) If you don’t want to set up a cabin feeder, just toss some seed around on the ground (or snow) under your tube feeder for the ground-feeders. The end.

Buying a guide to winter birds in your area will certainly increase your pleasure as you watch your little visitors enjoy your offerings. The guide will provide tips you’ll want to know, such as that the olive-colored birds at your feeder in the winter are the goldfinches that lit up your garden all summer (they’ve just shed their brilliant yellow breeding plumage). Happy birdfeeding!

New stinkbug nightmares. September 21, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Silence Dogood here. If you’re familiar with any of my previous stinkbug posts, such as “When will stinkbugs go away?” (type this in on our search bar at upper right to read more), you’ll know how much I hate brown marmorated* stinkbugs, those creepy shield-shaped bugs that sneak into your house in fall, lurk unobtrusively in the curtains, then dive-bomb you when you’re, say, writing a blog post. Talk about a test of my cardiac fitness!

Not that they bite or sting or anything. Though I did have a friend who drank one in her coffee. (She said it took days to get the taste out of her mouth.) It’s just scary to hear a buzz come out of nowhere and a bug land on your tee-shirt, pillow, or whatever. They also don’t “stink” in the common sense of the term: They don’t smell like manure, like rotting food, like burned rubber or hair, like garbage, like body odor, like a fish market, or basically like anything else I’ve ever smelled. They smell like stinkbug. Once you’ve smelled one, you’ll never forget that smell.

This is stinkbug season, when the stinkbugs start migrating into house walls to spend a restful winter hibernating away from the cold and brutal outdoor conditions. And, always, some of those stinkbugs get into your house, and the dive-bombing begins. The news has been full of warnings about this. But yesterday, I saw the worst stinkbug news I could ever have imagined: Finally, we have a predator for these Asian imports.

Now, this should be great news. Normally, the reason pests like Japanese beetles spread and ravage our landscapes is that they’re inadvertently imported with produce or whatever and the predators that keep them in check back home aren’t. Once they arrive here, none of our native birds and other natural predators of insects want anything to do with them. So they proliferate, wreaking havoc on our fruits, veggies, and ornamental plants.

But a superhero bug has shown up to consume the evil stinkbug! Only it’s worse than any stinkbug could be for homeowners. At least, for homeowners like me. According to the article I read yesterday, stinkbug carcasses in your home attract carpet beetles. And carpet beetles, as their name suggests, are attracted to carpets. As Sue Kittek, author of the article, chillingly puts it, “after the [carpet] beetles are done with the stinkbugs, they’ll move on to eat woolens and dried goods stored in your house.” In my case, that means the priceless oriental carpets I inherited from my parents. Nooooo!!!!

Fortunately, Sue has an easy solution for this: Make sure you get rid of the dead stinkbugs, either by vacuuming them up or by hand-picking them and then disposing of them. This means regular patrolling of the house. We’re good about this here at Hawk’s Haven, and have never found enough to warrant vacuuming; we just pick up the dead ones and trash them, and pick up the live ones and toss them out the door. (If you do have enough to vacuum, everyone says that you should dispose of your vacuum bags to avoid a dreadful stink.) Whatever the case, don’t forget about those carpet beetles. Yikes! And during stinkbug season, always look in your mug or glass before you drink.

‘Til next time,

Silence

* Apparently, “marmorated” means “marbled,” given the ornate if unimpressive squiggles on the backs of their shells.

Don’t tread on me. September 16, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, critters, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to explain why a rattlesnake became a major symbol of American resistance and independence. Our friend Ben recently asked me if the yellow flag with the coiled rattlesnake and “Don’t Tread on Me” motto hadn’t been created by our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. Then Silence Dogood said, “No, Ben, that was the flag of the rebellion in New Hampshire.” Well, no.

Ben Franklin does get all the credit for promoting the rattlesnake as a symbol of the American spirit. In 1751, Franklin, publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette, satirically suggested that, since Britain made a policy of sending criminals to America, America might return the favor by sending rattlesnakes to England. Then in 1754, during the French and Indian War, Franklin published the first-ever political cartoon, showing a rattlesnake cut into eight pieces to represent the 13 Colonies (all New England was compressed into the head) with the message “Join, or Die.”

This “cartoon” was so powerful that it was used in the opening credits of the marvelous TV docudrama “John Adams,” and it was what our friend Ben was thinking of instead of the “Don’t Tread on Me” coiled rattlesnake flag. During the vote to ratify the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Franklin echoed the sentiment in his famous statement “Gentlemen, we had better all hang together [i.e., ratify the Declaration], or we shall most assuredly hang separately.”

So where did the “Don’t Tread on Me” (originally “Dont Tread on Me,” punctuation wasn’t that great in the Colonial period) flag originate? In South Carolina, Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden designed the flag, based on a concept initiated by the first American Marines, and presented it in 1775 to the first Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, who flew it on his mainmast. No wonder OFB and Silence found it in the Naval Academy gift shop on a recent trip to Annapolis! Historians usually refer to it as the “Gadsden Flag” for that reason.

It’s easy to see why Libertarians adopted the flag as their symbol: They want to mind their own business and for the government to keep out of their private affairs. But when the Tea Party took it up, that sort of tainted it, turning it into a symbol of intolerance, bigotry, and reactionary thinking. How demoralizing for everyone who would like to display the flag as a comment on their personal feelings, without any connection to the Tea Party! It’s rather like when the Cross of Christ was co-opted as the masthead of the Spanish Inquisition. Many good Christians were tortured and died while being shown the very Cross that was the foundation of their faith.

So there you have it: What Benjamin Franklin began in 1751 and immortalized in 1754 with “Join, or Die” morphed into “Don’t Tread on Me” in 1775 and electrified the U.S. Navy into victorious action. By then, Ben’s snake cut into eight parts had indeed been united into one, coiled and ready to strike, with 13 rattles representing the 13 Colonies. More than any other symbol of American freedom, the rattlesnake ended up standing for us.

Incidentally, Silence’s mistake comes from New Hampshire’s official motto, “Live Free or Die,” penned by its Revolutionary War hero General John Stark. Do you know your state’s official motto?

Warmly,

Richard Saunders

A three-part food disposal system. September 11, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. There’s nothing as demoralizing as wasting food, but we all do it. It’s not just a shame, but a sin, when people all over the globe, people in our own cities, are going hungry. Yet we’ve all had the experience of opening our vegetable drawer and finding produce that’s past its prime, or discovering a container of leftovers that makes us go “Eeeeewww!!!,” or looking forward to our morning toast and finding a moldy loaf of bread (sob).

No worries, this food needn’t go to waste. Our friend Ben and I have a three-part food-disposal system that takes care of pretty much everything. Well, actually, I guess it’s four-part. The first line of defense is our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and our yellow-naped Amazon parrot Plutarch. They do a pretty decent job of eating scraps of cheese, veggies, chips, nuts, and the like.

The second line of defense is our flock of six heritage-breed chickens. They’ll eat that moldy bread, overripe tomato, leftover rice or pasta, wilted greens, or what-have-you with relish. The only thing I’ve ever seen chickens reject is zucchini. If that’s not a statement, I don’t know what is.

Then there’s our earthworm composter. Earthworms also love leftover fruits, salad greens, and veggies, but they’ll also eat things like coffee grounds and tea bags, turning them into rich fertilizer for greenhouse and garden plants.

Finally, there are our compost bins. We can put anything in them, with these exceptions: diseased plants, meat, dairy, grease. Diseased plants will contaminate the compost, infecting whatever you put it on, while the other contaminants will attract rats and other vermin to your compost bins. I’d also advise against putting weeds, especially weeds that can harm you like poison ivy or aggressive weeds like thistle that can spread throughout your garden, in your compost bins. Sometimes, the trash can is the only option.

However, between pets, chickens, earthworms, and the compost bin, a lot of potentially wasted food gets returned to the earth and enjoyed. I love to cook and use fresh seasonal produce, but I never feel guilty about eating out. OFB and I make a point of bringing every single thing we don’t eat home. I’ll bring a meal home that’s big enough for the two of us for another supper. OFB will bring his leftover French fries and half a bun home for the always-thrilled chickens. With our pets, our chickens, our earthworms, our compost bins, and, well okay, ourselves, there’s never an excuse to waste food. As our beloved hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would say, “Waste not, want not.”

‘Til next time,

Silence

Where have the houseflies gone? September 3, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

Our friend Ben was busy in our home office when I noticed a small, winged insect buzzing around. At first, I thought it must be a young housefly, those annoying nuisances that always seem to find their way into the house in warm weather, no matter how hard you try to stop them. (Thus flyswatters, flypaper, and the like have been with us for a very long time; try as we might, we just can’t seem to keep the critters out.)

Eventually, I realized that the buzzing noise wasn’t housefly-like; the insect was something else. But it made me realize that, unlike past years, I hadn’t seen a single housefly, in or out of the house, this year. Not one. I wondered if America had been struck with housefly decline. For once, global warming couldn’t be to blame, since the flies love hot weather, but maybe last year’s super-cold winter killed them off. Or maybe, like the poor honeybees, they’d been struck with some dreadful malady. Our friend Ben decided to head to my good friend Google to find out.

“Housefly decline” didn’t bring up anything, so I went on Wikipedia to see what it had to say about houseflies. Yowie kazowie! I learned three things I didn’t know about houseflies. First, that the females can lay 9,000 eggs (yes, you read that right) over a lifetime, producing many, many generations in a single year. (So, where are they?!) Next, that once flies emerge from their pupal cases, whether they’re huge or tiny depends on how much food they got as maggots (which feed on rotting food and rotten or decaying flesh, as well as manure, yum). In other words, little flies don’t grow into bigger flies; little flies just didn’t get enough to eat in their maggot (sickening white, worm-like) stage. And last, that houseflies can carry diseases like cholera and tuberculosis (and plenty of others).

That’s sort of the opposite of all those movies like “Gladiator” where you see maggots eating away at rotting flesh on living men and saving them from infection, gangrene, and death. Which reminds me of the fourth thing I didn’t know about houseflies: They’re not just here in the good old USA, but occur around the world, and apparently always have.

So what’s become of them? Have you noticed fewer (or no) houseflies in your home this year? Let us know. I have to say, this is one creature I wouldn’t mind seeing on the decline.

Emergency preparedness: Buy toilet paper. September 2, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

There may have been something funny about the theme of this year’s Disaster Prevention Day in Japan, “Let’s stockpile toilet paper!” But there’s nothing funny about the disaster that prompted Disaster Prevention Day, held every September 1st. One Spetember 1, 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck an area of Tokyo and killed more than 140,000 people. Most of the lives were lost due to fires sweeping through the area and burning down the closely packed buildings, which were made of wood, bamboo and paper and used flames for cooking, heat, and light. In a country prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, being prepared for a disaster makes a lot of sense.

Our friend Ben also approves of stockpiling toilet paper, tissues and the like for emergency purposes. The Japanese government suggested keeping a month’s supply for every household member in reserve; in Japan, they sell special emergency rolls that are something like 460 feet long and are rolled so tightly they look like those big rolls sold in the U.S. I wish we had those here!

I’d take this even further. Of course you could blow your nose with toilet paper if you ran out of tissue. But if you’re dependent on a well for all your water, as we are here at Hawk’s Haven, if the electricity goes out, your water stops running. Normally, we try to never use “picnic products” like paper plates and bowls, paper or plastic cups, and plastic knives, forks, and spoons. But we keep a supply on hand for emergencies, and actually used some of them when the power went off for almost a week last winter. When you have to drink bottled water, use it to brush your teeth, and use it to flush the toilet, you don’t want to waste it washing dishes! Paper towels and napkins are lifesavers here, too. Not to mention extra toothpaste, soap, and so on.

Even if you’re on a sewer and get city water, if something contaminated your city’s water supply so the water was basically unusable for drinking, bathing, etc., you’ll want a backup supply of bottled water. Those big gallon jugs are great for flushing the toilet, but we find that, over time, they deteriorate and spring leaks. We use them in our greenhouse and to water our raised beds and container plants, but always keep an eye on them and recycle any that spring leaks. We also keep some on hand for the toilet, but keep an eagle eye on them to make sure they’re not leaking on our mudroom and laundry room floors! For permanent, leak-proof water storage, our friend Ben recommends those perfectly clear plastic jugs that a lot of “spring water” is sold in. They’ll never leak unless you step on one. And for drinking water, we get cases of real spring water in glass jugs, which we’ll also use for tooth-brushing in an emergency.

Besides toilet paper, the Japanese government recommends stores of food and water, a portable toilet, and a first-aid kit. I don’t know what they mean by “portable toilet,” but our friend Ben doubts that it’s a Port-a-Potty. Instead, it’s probably one of those sturdy buckets with toilet seats that are sold at camping, hunting, and sporting-goods stores like Cabela’s. You put a plastic bag (like a plastic grocery bag) inside the bucket, anchoring it with the lid, then go when you need to go and toss the bag when it’s full.

If you have a lawn and garden, you might think about buying a chamber pot (a porcelain receptacle for urine) at a flea market and pouring the nitrogen-rich urine on your lawn and flowers (not your food garden!). Urine has been known for eons as an excellent natural fertilizer.

Here in scenic PA, we’re in the path of the aftereffects of major environmental disasters rather than on the front lines. We won’t have to face off against earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, or other terrible acts of nature. But we could certainly suffer their effects, as well as terrible droughts and winter ice and snowstorms. It’s always best to be prepared.

We always have a cord of wood curing for our woodstove, since if the power fails it could mean the difference between frozen pipes (and frozen us) and reasonable warmth. Our gas stove can be lit by matches if the electricity goes off, so we can have warm food, even in winter (you can also use your outdoor grill if you have one). But we also have canned food that we can eat cold if we must, along with food that’s durable and fine at room temperature like crackers, nuts, dried fruit and cheese.

Since we’re not in the eye of a storm or other catastrophe that would force us to abandon our home, we’ve basically tried to disaster-proof our home so we could continue to live in it in the face of a power disruption, ice storm, or whatever. But we have stocked our cars with durable emergency items (including first-aid kits and space blankets, toilet paper, bottled water, tissues, sani-wipes, condiments, utensils, etc.) just in case.

Last but by no means least are your pets and critters, who’ll find themselves cut off just like you. Making sure you have extra food (and litter, in the case of cats) for your pets on hand at all times just makes sense. We keep our cat, dog and wild bird seed in big pest-proof tins and our parrot and parakeet food in pest-proof glass jars. The chickens’ scratch grains and egg-layer pellets are stored in metal garbage cans in the chicken yard, safe from invasion.

“Be prepared” is more than a Boy Scout motto. It could be a lifesaver!

Monarch butterflies: The next passenger pigeon? August 31, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

Our friend Rudy sent us a wonderful article about passenger pigeons (this year marks the 100th anniversary of their extinction). It was packed with fascinating facts about these once-plentiful birds, such as that they once numbered in the billions, comprising as much as 25 to 40% of America’s total bird population, and that their flocks, numbering millions of birds, could blot out the sun for hours. (People who’d never seen a passenger pigeon flock before, hearing the thunder of millions of wings and watching darkness blot out the sun, feared that the End Times were upon them, or at least that a tornado was bearing down on them and making their personal end time imminent.)

Another thing our friend Ben learned from the article was that, unlike something like, say, the ivory-billed woodpecker, people knew exactly when the passenger pigeon became extinct. Martha, the last living passenger pigeon, died at a Cincinnati zoo in 1914 and was shipped to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for preservation and study. Poor Martha! From billions to just one. Then none.

Human behavior drove the passenger pigeon extinction. People had always eaten the abundant birds, a cheap (or free, if you were a good shot) source of protein. But Dan Greenberg, one of the experts quoted in the article, blamed their extinction on two inventions that would appear to have nothing to do with birds: the telegraph and the railroad. The two had to come together to make the extinction happen: the telegraph, because its miles of wires gave the birds a convenient place to roost, which they would do in huge flocks. On the wires, they were easy to find, and they perched so close together that a single shot could down multiple birds. And the railroad, because the birds could be packed on ice and shipped to major urban areas, guaranteeing an insatiable market of poor urban laborers desperate for some cheap meat.

The extinction of the passenger pigeon, and the awareness and acknowledgment that human actions were responsible, helped launch the conservation movement, and probably saved the buffalo (hunted for their tongues, considered a delicacy on the East Coast) and the beaver (whose fur was used for fashionable top hats) from a similar fate. So at least the pigeon didn’t die in vain.

But the aspect of the article that really snagged our friend Ben’s attention was when the interviewer asked another expert, Steve Sullivan, what he’d consider to be today’s passenger pigeon. And he answered, “the monarch butterfly.”

You probably used to see monarchs all over the place, floating through your yard, drifting along roadsides. I’ve even seen them migrating south at nearby Hawk Mountain alongside the hawks and other raptors. You might even have been lucky enough to see one of their beautiful sea-green chrysalises, in which the monarch caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. But in recent years, I’ve seen fewer and fewer monarchs, and I’ll bet you have, too. (Unless, like our friend Mark, you mistake the brown-and-orange admiral for a monarch.)

The catastrophic decline of the monarchs is also directly related to human activity, and also to a one-two punch like the one that brought down the passenger pigeon. Every year, more and more herbicides are dumped on farm fields, lawns, and gardens. GMO crops are specifically bred to withstand the ever-increasing use of these poisons, so vast acreages of corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, and the like can take even stronger herbicide applications. What can’t withstand the herbicides are the “weeds,” which is to say, the diversity of plant life. And some of the weeds that herbicides kill are milkweeds, the only source of food for monarch butterfly larvae.

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood make room for plenty of milkweeds here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. But even so, our monarch populations have dwindled to the point where I think I saw one so far this year. (We also have pawpaws for the zebra swallowtail larvae, which are totally dependent on them.)

I urge everyone to have a butterfly garden in their backyards, or in containers on their deck or apartment balcony, to try to save our beautiful butterflies from the onslaught of herbicides. Milkweeds have gorgeous flower clusters that last a long time (Asclepias tuberosa, the very popular “butterfly weed” that brightens sunny, well-drained gardens and wildflower meadows with clusters of yellow, orange, and red flowers, is a milkweed). Butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) sport beautiful plumes of blooms in colors from white through mauve and purple to maroon, and during their summer bloom season, there’s lots of added color from visiting butterflies. (We planted one called “Miss Molly” on our beloved golden retriever Molly’s grave.) And there are many, many more.

But monarchs aren’t just threatened by America’s obsession with herbicides. As you doubtless know, they migrate south for the winter and cluster by the thousands on the trunks of trees in pine and fir forests in their wintering grounds near Mexico City—trees that are being decimated by illegal logging. The monarchs depend on their winter habitat being there. After all, they’ve just flown thousands of miles to get there, and they have a collective memory of the forest where they overwinter and return to it. What if it isn’t there?

Monarch populations have crashed in recent years due to this combination of herbicides and loss of winter habitat. In 1995, they covered 44.5 acres of trees in their wintering grounds in Mexico. Last winter, their population was so reduced that they only covered 1.65 acres. How much more will they have to decline before the last “Martha” is on display in some zoo’s butterfly conservatory?

Please plant butterfly-friendly plants, refrain from herbicide use, and try to urge your neighbors and your community to do the same, to create corridors where butterflies can move and eat freely, as safe from herbicides as any of us can be in this day. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Don’t throw out those fish and frogs! August 26, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

When our friend Ben moved to scenic PA after grad school, I set up a goldfish tank in my new apartment. One day, I returned from work to find my biggest goldfish, Agamemnon, lying stiff, dry, and to all intents dead on the floor. (After that, I always put a hood on my aquariums. It never occurred to me that anybody would try to jump out.) Picking up the seemingly lifeless fish, I decided that there was nothing to lose, so I threw it back in the tank. Within minutes, Agamemnon, now aka Lazarus, had revived and was swimming around as if nothing had happened. He lived for many more years.

Our friend Ben was reminded of this today when I went into the kitchen and saw one of our two aquarium frogs lying stretched at full length on the floor in a pile of our dog Shiloh’s fur. It looked like a poster frog for rigor mortis, but I picked it up and began removing the dog hair. Eventually, its legs started moving, so I tossed it back in the tank. (Our current aquarium has a tight-fitting hood, so I have no idea how it escaped.) Soon enough, it was swimming around with the other frog and the fish, seemingly unfazed by its misadventure.

If you have an aquarium, or are thinking of setting one up, my advice to you is this: If something dies in the aquarium, it’s dead. But if it “dies” outside the aquarium, it ain’t necessarily so. Put it back in and see if it revives. And always put a hood on your tank!

Eating money. August 11, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

—Based on a Cree saying

This Cree warning of the horrors of environmental destruction in the service of human greed is certainly powerful. But these days, it’s apparently not true. People collectively known as “biohackers” have set out to prove that farms, plants and animals aren’t necessary to feed people—all we need are labs.

The first of these to make headlines were the creators of Soylent, a chemical concoction with the appearance and flavor of sludge, named ironically for “Soylent Green,” the only food given a utopian/dystopian population in the novel of the same name. In the novel, Soylent Green turns out to be made from dead people. In the lab, Soylent is composed of a cocktail of chemicals, vitamins and minerals that support human life. It was developed by a tech creator who was sick of making runs to Costco for corndogs and the like. Surely there was a faster way to glog down nutrients so you could concentrate on things that mattered, like creating new video games?

Today, a new group of biohackers have made headlines. They’re not trying to make glop for techno-nerds. They’re just trying to bypass the agricultural process to make meat and dairy products in labs. The meat producers use stem cells to grow lab meats, so that animals no longer need to be slaughtered. The non-dairy people, with names like Muufri (moo-free, get it?!), are more aligned with Soylent, making their dairy products from lab-concocted chemical combinations. Both groups tout how “clean,” how sterile their production tanks are compared to farms.

And both Soylent and the Muufri groups can proudly claim to be vegan—no animals are harmed, or used in any way, in their products. One reviewer noted that, if these lab-grown products were adopted by the public, animals would be so happy because they weren’t being milked or raised for meat, even on free-range organic farms. Well, no. If there were no agricultural reason to raise them, they would be allowed to go extinct. An extinct animal is not a happy animal. If someone asked you if you’d prefer a year or more enjoying a free life on open pasture under the sun, or never being born at all, what would you choose? There are plenty of non-meat, non-dairy options for vegans now that don’t involve the extermination of domesticated animals.

Of course, the parent of this trend is GMO crops, the Monsanto-led monsters that create a chemical soup of toxic herbicides, then create genetically modified crops that can withstand them, knowing all along that weeds will gain resistance to their chemical soup so they can sell ever-more toxic herbicide combos to the farmers who now depend on them and their GMO-modified seeds.

The lab rats who “biohack” pseudo-foods would be the last to identify themselves with Monsanto, though the inventor of Soylent has said that his product was the ultimate anti-organic food, being 100% chemical. Yet they fail to see the weakness in their system: The giant food price increases that could come if market giants bought their nifty startups, the market monopolies that could come if their techno-foods drove real food out of business, the end of actual food, real vegetables, real fruits, real cheese, real flavor. And then, if they were co-opted by some evil monster like Monsanto, the end of the world. “Buy our monstrous, lab-produced food or else!” Soylent Green is coming.

There’s a dog in my soup. June 28, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!”

Thus begins the hoary old joke we’ve all heard so many times. But it’s not so funny when it comes to some real-life object in our food that shouldn’t be there. Just today, two news items on Yahoo news featured unintended items that ended up in people’s food.

Over in England, a 7-year-old boy bit into what he thought was a fried piece of boneless chicken breast from KFC, only to discover that the crispy fried coating concealed not chicken but a blue kitchen towel (the kind made of paper, not cloth). Our friend Ben figured that KFC would quickly offer his family free chicken for the rest of their lives to avoid a suit, but no: The franchise offered the boy and his mother one free meal, and that only after the distraught mother had returned to the restaurant to complain and been told to call customer service instead, and the story had gone viral. Oliver, the little boy involved, declined this generous offer.

Meanwhile, back in the States, a family ordering fries from a Sonic drive-in discovered an unexpected item in their take-out container: a bag of marijuana. “Free pot with every purchase!” or “Get high on our fries!” would probably do wonders for the franchise’s bottom line, but our friend Ben suspects that the fries just went to the wrong customer. There probably will still be an uptick in patronage as customers hope to get lucky.

Given how many meals fast-food restaurants serve, and the emphasis being on speedy service, it’s amazing that stories like this don’t hit the news every day. (Well, maybe not the pot story.) Which means that most fast-food franchises must be doing a darned good job of monitoring their kitchens.

Not that there aren’t the occasional scandals caused by other actions, like substituting, say, cat for chicken a few years ago at KFC franchises in China. (Though cat might be a perfectly acceptable meat source in China, just as the very popular dog stew is in Korea.)

Nor are the alien objects limited to fast-food restaurants. Years ago, our friend Ben accompanied Silence Dogood to one of the few vegetarian restaurants then extant in the South. We had barely raised our forks when a little boy at a nearby table announced that there was a cockroach in his food. Far from expressing outrage, his parents suggested that he simply stop complaining and order another dish from the menu. But for some reason, like little Oliver in the UK, the child had lost his appetite. And so had we.

Being an omnivore, after all, shouldn’t involve eating dish towels. And being a vegetarian, by definition, means not eating insects. Or dogs.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 178 other followers