Silkies being odd.

I had a persistent little guest in  the layer coop the other day.  I was cleaning it out – bagging up the thick accumulated layer of hay and crap for relocation to the garden (my chicken mulch cycle), and along came Granny.

img_5402I lifted her out a couple of times, because she was definitely in the way, but she came right back in.  She was determined to do something, but it wasn’t clear what.  She just sort of dottered around, and I had to relocate her to work around her.  I think she might be losing her vision.

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All the contents removed from mesh floor
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Oh, is that the goal? A good nest box?

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Ahhhh. I stay here now.

Then, for more bizarre behavior, along came a Silkie rooster, who got all worked up scratching and wiggling down in the clean hay in a corner, gurgling and clucking for all the world like a hen that’s very pleased with finding an awesome place to lay an egg.  He was just giddy with his burrowing.  WTH?  There’s hay all over to wriggle in.  He was really excited about this corner, though.

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What a weirdo!img_5414

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Granny’s all What the heck are you doing over there?
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Now here comes a hen: I live here! That’s my next box, and what’s with the dude in the corner?

Seedy Saturday!

I got all the seeds I needed for the year (including tobacco!) at Seedy Saturday, hosted by Helping Nature Heal, in Bridgewater.

Nova Scotia’s  “big” organic seed companies were all there vending seeds – Hope Seeds, Annapolis Seed, Cochrane Family Seeds, plus more – Twisted Brook,  Yonder Hill, Storm Cast, and the South Shore Public Library’s Seed Library.

Then there was the free seed table, where attendees dropped off their surplus saved seeds for others to take- lots of flower seeds!

Since I was saving so much on shipping costs, I came home with a few “flights of fancy” seeds (peanuts?!) that will make this year’s experiments.

I met Nikki Jabbour, local celebrity author and year-round gardener, who gave the morning lecture, and there was a delicious soup or chili lunch with bread and popcorn, donations accepted for the food bank.

This was Helping Nature Heal‘s 11th Seedy Saturday, but the first time I made it.  It was packed, unsurprisingly.

 

Bedtime is nigh

Could it be?  Almost time for the big rooster to go to bed in the coop?

I got him in November, when my last, most excellent and sorely missed, rooster was eaten.  He persisted in going to roost on the roof of the coop every night.  No biggie.  Every night, grab him and set him on the ramp, and he walks up it remarking on how that‘s where all the hens got to.  Eventually, through repeatedly waking up inside the coop,  he will figure out that that is where he is meant to begin his night.  It works for all chickens, usually in a few days.  Even the most stubborn little pile of chicks changed their habits in a few weeks.

So for Copperhead, it’s getting on three months.  Just when we were starting to notice that he was extra persistent with his roof roosting, I got three new-to-me hens.  HW didn’t know about the new arrivals and came in from evening lock-up outraged, that “that new rooster is teaching the hens bad habits.  THREE of them were out on the roof with him!”  Whereupon I momentarily forgot all about the new arrivals as well and exclaimed  “Really?  Three of them?”

The three “new” hens showed surprising attachment to the rooster and roof, also bedding on the roof, night after night.  They would arrange themselves in the same order, make the same indignant sounds when grabbed and displaced to the ramp.

The rooster even came to know the whole routine.  Our arrival after dusk means a grabbing, and he’d stand up and get nervous as soon as the door opened.  We had to strategize; alternate grabbing him or the hens first, because he started to ran away once all the hens had been removed; he knew it was his turn.  We tried agitating him off the roof right at dusk, and then, it being too dark to fly up again, he’d walk around and find his way up the ramp himself “Oh, that’s where all you ladies went!” We were hopeful.  It didn’t work.

one hen left

HW has been casting aspersions on his intelligence from the beginning, and this isn’t helping.

Days went by.  Weeks.  Rooster and three hens, evening lockup = nightly roo-grab.  Then one night, there were only two hens.  One hen had figured it out!  She turned out to be the precocious one of the three.  More days passed, turning into two weeks.  Then another hen went to bed on her own (four days ago).  And tonight, oh frabjous day! the rooster was out there alone!  Looking pouty and forlorn, too.  Now, now surely he will get the hint!

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You’re gonna grab me, aren’t you?

(I wrote this a week ago.  He’s still holding out alone on the roof.)

Poultry podiatry

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some hang their legs out straightMy poultry podiatry methods have advanced.  Still a hilarious procedure though.

Instead of a miticide foot bath, followed by Vaseline, I’ve found that the best approach is just to Vaseline the little feet, and preferably, do it again 2-3 days later.  Even if they have it bad (it being the scaly leg mite that’s such a problem for Silkies in particular), the Vaseline softens up the scales and the unwanted stuff sloughs right off.  I think it would be enough to treat them like this 3 or 4 times a year for a preventative.

Plus it’s way easier than organizing a tub of warm water.  Just have a rag on hand to wipe your greasy hand on before touching their feathers again.

some hold them up in front of them

I don’t wait for night any more either.  I used to put a toque over their heads to grab them out of the coop at night.  I think partly they’re just used to the routine now and are resigned to it.  I can do it any time of day.  Everyone screams when they’re first grabbed, but then as soon as you start rubbing their feet, they quiet right down and hold still.  They seem to thoroughly enjoy it.  Who doesn’t love a foot rub?

img_5308 img_5304 img_5303 My chickens’ feet are doing quite well now.  I’ve gone through the Silkies twice this winter (they are most afflicted, with the feathered feet) with Vaseline treatment, and my layers once, some of whom arrived with visible scaly mite troubles, and now everyone’s legs look very good, except the three oldest Silkies, whose legs are merely “not bad”.make sure to get the legs up to the joint

I’ve heard that the true cure for Scaly mite is oregano!  Put oregano in their feed, or oil of oregano in their water, and the mites jump right off their legs!  Exciting to know a possible cure, but it will be a while before enough evidence is gathered.

Can I please be put down now?

Quiet after the storm

We got snow.  It’s over my knees everywhere that it isn’t drifted even higher.

The blizzard is over, but it will take us a while to dig out.  Now 5300 in the province are out of power.I’m sore from slogging around on snowshoes yesterday, and HW is sleepless from ice beating on the windows all night.

The animals are all fine, grosbeaks and goldfinches back.  There’s a dozy bunny resting in the snow 20 ft from the house with eyes half closed.  Been there more than two hours now.  Took a break to wash himself like a cat, including licking front paws (so cute!).  Now the rabbits can reach all the hardwood bark that was too high before.

And the squirrel is back above ground.

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The nuthatch isn't very good at using the feeder
The nuthatch isn’t very good at using the feeder
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You’re doing it wrong.
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Haven’t seen a blue jay in ages

 

Blizzard squirrel!

We’re getting a proper storm now, after a couple of “weather events” that I would call normal winter snowfall, but were hyped up out of proportion before hand (and got me all excited) but fizzled.img_5377

This is a real storm.  We had a foot of snow overnight and supposed to get another foot during the day today, with blistering winds.  2300 Nova Scotians are already out of power, and only emergency workers are allowed to drive (in some places, the plows aren’t even out-near us, one went off the road).  The snow is piled up on our windowsills and we had to push the door open through the snow.  Nicely corniced drifts curve around any structures.img_5373 img_5382

The chickens are cozy in the chicken dome.  The chickadees are at work.  Bunnies are taking refuge under our house (when we kick our boots off on the threshold it scares them and they come shooting out), and the squirrel is hungry.

Hungry enough to tackle the squirrel proof bird feeder.

This time, the pictures are fuzzy because of the blowing snow.img_5365

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The chickadees were waiting to get the feeder back

Frustrated by the feeder, he retreated to a branch to warm up his hands.  The wind was blowing his tail around.

Suddenly, he ran down the tree and disappeared into the snow at the base of the trunk!

A minute later, he popped up through the snow under the feeder like a gopher, having tunneled under.

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He spent a while burrowing around, finding all the spilled seeds from the last couple days in the snow.  img_5341 img_5344

When a big gust came up, he would vanish below the snow again for a moment.

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Squirrel “ventilation shafts” in the snow.

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And the one at the base of the tree.

I went out to cast more seed multiple times during the day, as the snow was gumming up the feeders and there were 11 chickadees here but having a hard time in the wind.  They were doing best staying low and eating off the snow, but the snow would cover seed rapidly, soooo, I essayed out to feed my dependents again and again.

This is where I keep the seed:

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There was a snow cave dug into the dome of snow on top of the can!img_5379

A proper snow cave, with a back door:)

Nor’easter

A proper storm’s blowing up.  The kind where snow swirls in the door when you open it and the wind is biting.  Sleet is skittering on the steel roof and the white stuff is starting to accumulate.

The hens are conserving their energy.  Only two eggs today – two!  Today was a nice days, but obviously their inner barometers consider the future, and said to hold on to their egg energy.

We’re supposed to get 30-40cm (1ft), which will be cool in ways- it will be normal; feel like a proper Canadian winter.  The winter so far has been weird as heck, with yoyo-ing temperatures, and not very much snow.  It might be a snow day!  It’s fun to be snowed in.  It would be nice for the ground to get a blanket on it.

Not so cool – it’s bound to knock half the province out of power again and make it dangerous and miserable for anyone who can’t have a fun snow day.  Plus it will be mad drifted with the wind.

Granny

We have an old hen.

img_5281She’s the last of the original three – her and the Grandpa – the big boss of the greenhouse.  He’s not showing his age at all, but Granny is obvious.

She’s tiny, she moves slow, she’s not very white anymore, her head tips forward, no one bosses her, and her poof of hair feathers overhangs her eyes in a way that makes her look wizened.

img_5279She is the progenitor of half of all the Silkies in the greenhouse, but I think her hatching days are over. Every morning she eats with gusto but then toddles back to the coop, hops on the ramp, and goes back to bed.  One of these days she won’t wake up in the morning.

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The little house gets a floor

We installed black hardwood floor in the tiny house this weekend.  A whole 120 sq ft!  Two days: first we moved/shoved everything from one side of the house (room) to the other side, did the floor, and then moved everything from the second side to the first side to do that half of the floor.

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We installed with an ordinary brad nailer, but each nail needed to be set, to not interfere with the T&G

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It’s so smooth!  Perfect for sock feet skating (a whole two strides across the room).

Very nice to cover the raw wood subfloor that has been the floor surface for two years, and recording all the stains of life in its grain.

When shopping for prefinished hardwood for under $1/sq ft, there are limitations on your choice.  In our case, there was a half-box too little of the black, so we finished it off with 3 courses of a different colour (but matching tongue).  It will all be hidden under the “kitchen”.

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Among all the “stuff” that had to be shifted out of the second side is the kitchen – a 1×4″ affair supporting the countertop that I knocked up in an afternoon for temporary function – two years ago.  That had to come out to floor underneath it, and we put plywood up behind it so I can eventually tile a backsplash.

that's the kitchen "counter" doing workbench duty in the middle of the room now img_5263SOMEday, we’ll put some proper cabinetry under the counter, instead of this legs and shelves business.

It looks a little too nice now, like the rest of the place has a ways to go to live up to the floor now.  So warm underfoot now (the advantage of black in the sunshine).

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Total amount of waste and leftovers after job done. A shoebox worth.

Shifting play structures

I moved the haybale play structure from its former location in the south corner of the greenhouse…

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…to the opposite side of the greenhouse.

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Long necks- everyone is curious

I have about 9 bales left, that are very dry and falling apart, that I am cycling through the coops as bedding and then to the garden for mulch.  img_4595While stored in the greenhouse, the bales  are providing caves, entertainment, and vantage points for the bored birds.  And carbon for the ground.

I dropped one unstrung bale into the middle of the room.  There’s little they like more than to take apart a bale of hay.  The normally uptight guineas, in a rare moment of repose, used it to cash out in the sunshine, and fell mercifully silent for a good hour.

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The haybale move –my every move closely monitored by short attendants – served two purposes.  The sitting haybales had kept a big patch of dirt wet and scratchable, so each bale I moved, the hens rushed in behind me to dig. It’s fun to work among the hens, them all up in my business, making interested noises, having their own dramas.

The new play structure was a novelty, therefore highly entertaining to explore.

You know when something is overwhelmingly interesting when ALL the birds fall silent.  They’re that busy.  Too absorbed to talk about it, to make announcements. Then little burbles of speculation.

All three of the resident breeds explored the new apparatus, hopping up and over it and sidestepping along the high poles, but – I didn’t anticipate this- the Silkies wholly claimed it as their own.

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Tentative inspection
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Heads down, butts up. At least three days worth of fascination in the former location.

Three dead mice were unearthed, precipitating the inevitable lively mouse run.

img_5064After a thorough inspection and finding it pleasing, the Silkie tribe moved in en masse… img_5057

and settled in for some hard lounging.

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I’m going to move the bales at least once more, and I expect similar excitement and results.  In return they will thoroughly distribute a mulch layer in the greenhouse for me.

 

 

Great White Flakes

Outside the snow is falling heavy in thick white flakes.  5-10 cm on its way.  Parts of New Brunswick are still without power, eight days after an ice storm that only grazed Nova Scotia.

img_5188It made the trees glassy, bent them to thump on the windows, and pruned  branches that fell to clutter our paths.

Inside, the hair band is posing:img_5189

The big birds are sharing a snack of kale.img_5156

This one has figured out how to stand on the kale and rip it apart.  As opposed to beating it on the ground.  img_5216And a novelty snow cone ball splat.  There’s a few that love eating snow and ice.  I know not why.  img_5021

Egg production is up, and it’s cozy in the greenhouse, but colder temps are coming…

Breakthrough Kefir hacks

I just started making kefir again.  I think it took me a while to get over the loss of the culture I had going for years, and I needed time to be ready for a new culture in my life.  This new culture is exceedingly vigorous, like it’s got something to prove.

Throughout all those years rinsing the grains with my fingers, it never occurred to me there might be a better way.

I finally had an aha moment, though.  I sewed a little bag out of nylon screen (like, bug screen), that fits into a mason mouth.  Simple, open on top.

Then the grains get rinsed off while they’re in the bag! You don’t have to chase after them.   Genius!

I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of something of the sort ages ago.

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Name that owl! Trail cam pictures

1019482710235281When I look through my trail cam pictures, I expect to see a squirrel.

 

 

Maybe a squirrel eating a snack…

 

 

 

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Maybe a squirrel tail.

 

 

 

 

Maybe a squirrel tail at night.

 

Ok, maybe several hundred pictures of a squirrel.10164449

Apparently I set up my camera where the squirrel hangs out to survey the domain of which he is master.

It’s really not my place at all.

 

And THEN, there are the real shockers.

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WOW!

What kind of owl is that?

 

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I’m used to the little barred owls, but they don’t have that distinctly outlined face.

Awesome!

Three nests

In the winter, all the nests become apparent.  img_5176

Completely hidden in plain sight when the leaves are on, exposed when they come off.  These well-made little nests are sewn right on to the branches, feats of micro engineering that stay whole, bowled, and upright in the storms.

The first is in an alder between the greenhouse and the beehive.  Well traveled spot.  They don’t seem to go to too much trouble to avoid us and our movements.  img_5175

The next is on a long arm of one of the big regal apple trees right by the farmhouse.  Also in the thick of activity.  This may have been a robin nest as the robin was acting furtive around the apple trees quite a bit.  But it seems so small.  Also precarious, but looks are deceiving.

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The third I found earlier in the winter when a guinea fowl was snatched in the middle of the day (ending the hens’ good-weather outdoor privileges).  There was no sign of foul play, and hopeful she was only lost, I mounted a search, walking in ever wider circles, becoming upset and resigned to the truth.

Thrashing through the brush, I ran into a knee-high nest, a precious little thing built by some grass-nester.  Two dead leaves that happened to fall into it curled up in it like they’re at rest.

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This is why we can’t get anything done in the spring.  If we’re not early enough, there are birds nesting everywhere we want to clear brush or trees.

Garden plan!

My brain is melting!  I’ve been working on my garden plan for 2017.

What do I want to grow?  When do they go in? (Work backwards from last spring frost date- a wild guess semi-informed by the average of the last 7 years)  When do they need to be started inside?  How much to I hope to produce, therefore, how many plants?  How many starts should I attempt to be sure to get enough, and how many square feet do I need to allocate?   Gah!  I’m not even at examining crop rotation and where they will be placed this year yet.  I don’t have a clean system for that yet.

After a page full of tiny digits, math, and an eraser, I’m sure this is the sort of thing I should definitely do a spreadsheet for.  Then all the dates will adjust to an input frost date, and the square feet will output from a desired quantity.  But it just feels wrong to do it with a spreadsheet, and I don’t need to spend any more time staring at a screen.

This is the right time to be doing a garden plan, since the first seeds need to start inside on Feb 2, apparently, and I know for sure that if I don’t do this possibly too-meticulous planning, that half my starts will be ready to go out too early, the other half not early enough, and I’ll get not enough potatoes and far too many spaghetti squash.  What is up with spaghetti squash?  They grow like zucchinis! 

If I do do this detailed planning, then climate change will sweep through to put me 2-4 weeks off; slugs, rabbits, and other emergencies will happen and it will be all thrown awry anyway, but, it won’t be my fault:)

The squirrel proof bird feeder

We got a “squirrel-proof” bird feeder for Christmas. The central core is a hopper and seed tray that is held stationary by the hanging rod, but the outer box, consisting of the clear roof and perching rails, is free to swivel around (and around and around), should a squirrel try to hang on it.

We were expecting a good show.

For several days, it saw no action at all.  Then one rainy day, this little guy was out there.  Apparently just hangin’ out in a dry place.img_4922Or was he resting between attempted assaults?

img_4918  Over the top….img_4920

Slide down to a scrambly grip on the perch – whoaa!img_4921

This is as close as he got to conquering it- straddling both perches, which keeps the outer canister balanced and makes the seeds accessible.  But I’m guessing at this point, he doesn’t have any free hands to reach the seeds.

He gave up quite soon.

How to be a Dumpster Diving ninja

Wanna join the craze, feel the rush, get utterly depressed by the unavoidable awareness of this society’s pointless waste?

Dumpster Ninja Skills 101 – A Comprehensive Guide to the Cold Hard Precautions
Think like a ninja, dress like a ninja
1. Casing the joint

Case your local grocery stores, very sneakily.

First, outside in the daytime , find the garbage bin.  Does this store have a crusher?  Well, you’re done there.  Does it have a locked dumpster?  Some days those are filled too full to be closed and locked.  Sometimes employees get careless.  Many times it appears to be locked and isn’t.(the padlock hang)

Are there loading hours posted on the dock?  Then you can expect there to be workers in the store at least an hour earlier than that.  Is there a bakery in the store?  Then the bakers are there in the very very early morning.

Are there security cameras?  Then you might go hardcore and wear balaclavas or headsocks like real robbers, and if you have vehicle assistance, make a good parking and loading plan so your vehicle doesn’t get ID’d.  Keep checking for cameras, btw, in case they install some after noticing that someone is sifting through their garbage.

Take a casual stroll by a couple times at night to sess the scene and plan your timing. Between 11 and 3 or 4am are probably the best hours, but that’s really up to your location.  Is your dumpster well lit?  That makes your work easier but gives less cover.  Are there cleaners working in the store?  Determine their days and hours.  Any security?  Note cars in the parking lot. What else is going on in the area?  What businesses are around?  Diving right when clubs are closing or getting going is not great.  Are there late night restaurants where employees, or cleaners, could come out the back doors to smoke and bust you?   And probably most important, is this open dumpster in a “bad” part of town where there’s a remote possibility of garbage other than the store’s getting tossed in there?  By that I mean sharps.  Don’t ever take a chance like that.

Why all the cloak and dagger?

Because if you find the motherlode of all dumpsters, it could feed you for months, and you won’t want to lose it.   I had one location produce insane amounts of food for over a year, then they got a crusher.  It was heartbreaking.  If you don’t take precautions, that wellspring could all be carelessly lost in one embarrassing evening.  If you get seen, but escape, you probably wont want to go back, and if you do, I bet there’ll be a padlock on that dumpster now.  So BE SNEAKY.

Trust me, it’s fun.  The whole thing is hilarious.

2. The gear you need:

Wear dark clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty, but also don’t “stick out” for approach and leaving the scene (dress like a normal ninja person, not crazy dumpster diving ninja person), and good shoes.  For jumping in.  Feet first;  dive is a figure of speech.    If you’re squeamish, bring work glovesHats or hoods cover your hair and face.  A flashlight is absolutely essential, bc even if the area’s lit, the depths of the bin will be shadowed. Ideally, a headlamp. Bring backpacks and/or fabric shopping bags on bike or foot missions.  There will be zillions of boxes around to use if you’re going by vehicle.

3.  Taking the plunge:

Going with someone else is way better than going alone.  Some things can be really heavy, you can keep watch for each other, and it helps with the paranoia.  It almost seems normal when you’re not alone.  And it’s definitely funny.  You want to share that.

Whisper to each other, keep rustling and banging to a minimum, keep eyes and ears open for anyone approaching.   Try to keep yourself in shadow, or tucked near the bin, or between bin and building.  Or in the bin, if you jump in, which is often necessary.    If strangers happen to pass by, don’t bolt, just crouch and freeze wherever you are, and chances are  they will pass right by and never know.  Remember, people usu. don’t expect to see people in dumpsters, and won’t be looking for you.  Do not stand tall atop the dumpster wading through and hollering about your discoveries.   They’ll notice that.

Do not ever start ripping open black garbage bags.  The really bad garbage is in garbage bags- bathrooms and deli garbage – you don’t even want to know.  The good garbage is usu. in boxes, sometimes closed, sometimes top open.  Sometimes tipped over, but that’s what washing is for.  Another reason to not rip bags is the Golden Rule -don’t make a mess.  This is for your sake.  You want to protect your interests in this gold mine.  Don’t make it obvious that you were there.  Especially if the area is all swept clean.  If you start strewing trash about at night, the poor sap who has to clean that up is going to gripe about it, and then they’re paying attention, and then you’re busted.  Employees are not likely to notice there are fewer carrots there this morning than they threw out last night, but they will notice if the whole bin has been torn apart.  And if you’re sharing a dumpster with other ninjas, then you know what they say about bad apples.

Move carefully and quietly.  Speed is less important than stealth. It takes some time to really maximize a dumpster visit, if there is a lot of food.  The best way is to pack boxes as you go through the buffet, then shuttle them quickly to a staging area, around the corner, ideally in shadow where you can drive up, load up in a minute, and take off.  If on foot, then go through it all and neatly set aside what you want to take.  If you make a return trip to pick up it’s a quick stop.

4. At home

When you get home with the bounty, wash your hands, hoot and exclaim how you can’t believe you just did that, (take pictures to share) and sort and assess all the happy food that you just gave a second life to.   Some of it might not be as good as it looked at the scene, and that’s part of the game.  Some food is perfect, some is spoiled.  Check over any packaging for cleanliness and signs of compromise.  Wash all the food  before you eat it, just in case.

Now you’re a pro…

Dumpster diving is a little addictive, because you never know what treasures might be there any given night, but going every night is near impossible.  Some nights just feel risky, or there’re cleaners or delivery trucks, besides, you’d be exhausted and soon have a full time job processing and preserving food and then trying to find people to give it away to.  It is nice to try out different days of the week though.  You’ll learn their dumping and delivering schedule and find some food comes in patterns.  Speaking of sharing your bounty, I operate on informed consent.  I can’t give someone food without telling them where I got it, so my beneficiaries are pretty tight (and amused) friends.  But that’s your call.

Dumpster diving will increase your household garbage a little with the packaging you’re carting home.  If you don’t have  compost, you might want to take more care examining food before you bring it home.  I drag it all home and then sort it out, bc I have a (flourishing) compost box.  On the bright side, if stuff goes bad bc you can’t eat or process it fast enough, well, it’s guilt free, because it was headed for the landfill anyways.  You saved it once already.  BTW, if you have pigs, then you pretty much can’t not dumpster dive, even if you’re squeamish about eating the food yourself, because it is free high quality pig feed.

And then, eat eat eat, for free, free, free.

Here’s some more tips from Rob Greenfield.  I like #4, master the fear.  Jumping at your own shadow is a real buzzkill.  This is some furtive ops, but not actually very risky.


This article first written in 2008.

Dumpster diving need not stop at food.  I was convinced that my future husband was for me when the two of us were regaling a table of “Oh I could never!” fascinated normal people with our Ultimate Score tales of Dumpsters Past.  HW thoughtfully offered that everything he was wearing was out of a dumpster.  A man at the table sputtered “What!? You look like a fucking REI model!”  It was all true.  HW looks like a fucking REI model (that’s MEC, for Canadians), and routinely dresses like one, and everything he was wearing was out of a dumpster, including the technical hiking shoes.

 

Dumpster diving: reports from the food waste front

I just found out about a 2014 movie, Just Eat It, investigating food waste in America.  It looks fantastic; I can’t wait to see it.  The premise as I grasp it, is following a couple as they search for food in dumpsters and explore the epidemic of North American food waste, living on only food that would otherwise be wasted.

Is this dirty, shameful, disgusting?  Those people are, gasp, eating garbage!?

It shouldn’t be.  Because even if you don’t want to get in it yourself, you should know what’s in the dumpster behind the store you shop at.

Why? Because the cost of that food that’s getting thrown out is part of the cost of the food that’s getting purchased, and there is a great deal more food thrown out in North America than should be.  As consumers, we should all care.

We’re not talking about finding a half eaten sandwich with a soggy napkin stuck on it or an apple core in a garbage can.  We’re talking about unopened bushel boxes of fruit, still banded (never opened since leaving the farm).  Frozen foods in complete packaging, still frozen. Boxes and boxes of mixed vegetables with tiny flaws, or no flaws.  Bags of apples, carrots, baked goods, onions, potatoes, still in their boxes and bags.  Bread by the giant clear garbage bag full.

This is the hidden cost of your food.

At least 10 cents from every dollar of yours spent on groceries is walking out the back door and getting thrown in the trash.  The “official number” is 11%.  I suspect the reality is higher, far higher.  That’s like throwing a tenner in the trash can on the way into the store every time you spend a hundred.  Food banks don’t do that well at Christmastime.  Speaking of food banks, grocery stores almost never give their waste food to food banks, because it’s a liability.  The most progressive stores compost, but for the majority, hundreds of pounds of edible food go to landfill.

When you see the produce boy sullenly picking peppers out of the display and putting them in the cardboard box on his cart, that box is going to be closed up and thrown into the compactor. Often, when you return something to customer service, say at Walmart or Canadian Tire, it goes straight in the dumpster, not back on the shelf.  When inventory expires, or won’t be stored ’til the next holiday-appropriate season, ditto.  When everyone looks behind the front row of milk for the better expiry date and there aren’t enough suckers to take the milk in the front, it goes into the dumpster when it hits the sell-by date.  A bag of dog food gets snagged by a shopping cart and torn a little, or a box of cereal falls from the top shelf and gets a corner crushed, it goes in the garbage. When the purchaser screws up and the replacement stock arrives prematurely or in too great a quantity, the excess goes straight to the dumpster.  Every time the truck comes with the new fruit before the old fruit sells, guess where the old fruit goes?  Sometimes food goes directly to the dumpster without passing within eyeshot of the consumer.  If there are too many bananas warehoused to ever get sold – into the bin.  I’ve been told that at times, distributors sell food in combination (if you want bananas you have to take these coconuts too), and the less popular food will go directly out back.

Shall I even mention the manipulation of marketing?  Lots of exotic food (starfruit, anyone?) is stocked in produce just to give the impression of variety and possibility.  The store never expects to sell all the pink striped lemons and pluots, but their presence evokes feelings of abundance, progressiveness, and cosmopolitan choice!  Plus they make the normal lemons look much more affordable.  Guess where all that unsold showy food (imported from a great distance) ends up?  I’ve noticed a higher percentage of organics in the bin than conventional.  I guess they cost more, so sell less, so… get chucked more.

Extrapolate this across over 36 000 grocery stores in the US, and the waste of food is in the millions of tonnes.  Eleven percent of saleable produce, wasted before it’s sold.  It’s an obscenity that this much food is being wasted.  Specifically, destroyed, compacted behind grocery stores while people go hungry all over the same cities (more stores have compactors than still have open dumpsters that can be filched from and reported upon). There doesn’t seem to be much talking about it, nor lobbying against it, probably because so few people really know about it.

Ask a dumpster diver, though, and they will go off about all the great stuff they’ve hauled out of a dumpster.   They may even start rambling rhapsodically about those ultimate scores.

Funny thing though, not so many people want to admit to eating out of the garbage.

I know all about what I’ve described here, firsthand, because I’ve seen it.

Once I pulled up to our usual dumpster with my partner, and another truck was already there (yes, a truck is appropriate for the quantity of food).  The pig farmer it belonged to was standing atop the dumpster with a hayfork, stabbing 1-3 plastic bags of potatoes at a time and pitching them into his pickup bed.  The dumpster was too full to shut, with five pound bags of Yukon Golds.  He filled his truck, then we took all we could imagine eating and giving away, and left the dumpster still far from empty.

One time a Walmart dumpster right after Easter was filled with individually bagged one pound solid milk chocolate bunnies.  I mean filled.  It looked like a wharf-side container brimful of fishes, only with chocolate bunnies.  We tired of scooping them with our hands into the truck and left to drop the first shipment and return with shovels.  Yep.  Shovels.  Those rabbits exceeded our chocolate “needs” for over two years.  Chocolate chunk cookies, chocolate fondue, shaved chocolate, chocolate cakes, chocolate trail mix… you’re picturing Forrest Gump now, right?  Ok, moving on…

One time the open dumpster was mounded high with banana bunches.  Perfect bananas, even slightly green.  The bananas were piled a good 3 feet above the lip of the dumpster, and littered liberally around on the ground, like a dump truck had dropped them into the dumpster and many had spilled.  It’s a strong possibility that a forklift did dump a palletful straight into the dumpster.  Inside the store, there were multitudinous bananas for sale  as well.  They were even greener.  What can a person do with that many bananas?  Banana bread, banana muffins, banana creme pie, banana…well, that’s about it.  I tried to dehydrate the bananas and unintentionally made banana jerky.  That is not as good as it sounds.

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A 100% dumpster salad

We’re still using extra virgin organic olive oil from Trader Joes, because one jar in a case of 12 obviously had broken, oiling the labels of the other 11 bottles in the box.  Unsaleable; into the dumpster, conveniently still in the box they were delivered in.

I’ve been in a lot of dumpsters, since the early 90’s.  I’ve been flabbergasted at the quantity of food I’ve found.

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One half of one night’s good haul (the frozen foods half). Must have been a freezer-cleaning day.  Food not expired, all still frozen.

Yes, I was introduced to the bounty of back alleys when I was a messed up homeless kid and needed to eat, but that was a long time ago.  My on and off dumpster diving adventures for the last 20 years have had little to do with not being able to afford what’s inside the front door,  and everything to do with curiosity and fascination with what’s out the back door.

It’s just too damn interesting and easy; it’s straight up fun, with a dash of social subversion!  Coming next: a piece I wrote in 2008 on how to be a dumpster diving ninja.

Let me say that I am effing fortunate to be able to brag that I don’t need to dumpster dive; I do it for kicks.  Many people do need to.  It’s a social crime that 1 in 10 people are hungry in this culture of bounty and perfection that throws out so much.  Hunger is a tragic aspect of this story.

A modest night's haul of fruit (packages opened for display)
A modest night’s haul of fruit

This story of food waste is a layer cake of problems.  We garbage food instead of sharing it with the needy, because it’s too legally risky. It’s inconvenient to separate waste on the commercial scale and compost.   We’ve made salvaging food from the garbage illegal (it’s theft or trespassing), and employees are forbidden to take the waste food.  We use fossil fuels to grow the food, then more fossil fuels to transport the food 100’s of miles to throw 11% of it in the garbage, and then burn more fossil fuels driving it to the landfill where it creates more carbon emissions rotting.  Food prices are high, and rising, while a thick slice of the percentage of food produced is garbaged!  The expectation of food waste is built into the planning of the grocery store so that the shopper can have a certain experience – how is this ok???   How did we get here?

And this is just the post-retail waste.  Waste happens at the harvest point, in transportation, and if it is sold, is also wasted by the consumer, spoiling in the fridge and going uneaten.  With all the tiers of food waste, it’s possible 40% of edible food is wasted in North America.  I’m not even touching the extravagant waste that happens before food even reaches the grocery store, and after, when I talk about dumpster diving.  The film covers that(My numbers are old.  It’s closer to 50% )

Every time I’ve furtively approached a dumpster, opened the heavy lid with a metallic creak, and gasped with delight and shock when I look in at a mountain of food treasure, I’ve simultaneously felt a heart-sinking sense of the tragic imbalance of things.  This should not be!  Our culture is seriously sick, to have arrived here, where beautiful, fresh, edible food is discarded for no legitimate reason.

A typical box of "culls"- flawed veggies picked out of the displays
A typical box of “culls”- flawed veggies picked out of the displays.  Sometimes the flaws are hard to discern.

 

What to do?

I’ll be the first to admit that dumpster diving is not for everyone.  That’s why those who do should report from the front.  What (else) is there to do about food waste? Talk to your grocery store and ask what they do with food waste.  Ask for a percentage.  Pester the stock boy and the grocery manager.  Do they give their produce waste to pig farmers?  I was once told No never, store policy.  Why?  Because of all the pesticides on the produce (What?  But what about the people eating the food?).   Just like fair trade policies and worker benefits on the food production end, retail stores should brag about their low waste percentages, food bank donations (Maranatha does it), composting programs, and discounting past due date foods, because we should care about these things!

Here in Nova Scotia now, I’m thrilled to see the practice of reducing food at it’s due date by 50%.  This is unusual.  Pink 50% off stickers pop up all over the Atlantic Superstores, from produce to dairy to deli to bakery to natural foods.  That is all food that I’ve seen in dumpsters elsewhere in these two countries.  Good job Superstore.

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If I didn’t know better, I’d be confused. Is this food ready to shelve, or ready to throw out?

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About this article.  After writing most of it in 2012, and then editing it in 2015, inspired at the time by the discussion popping up in the media and the Just Eat It movie, I somehow continued to fail to post it despite friends begging for it and the importance of the subject.  Until now.   I’ve lost many of my “great score” pictures due to hard drive breakdown and still have not recovered them, but am posting anyway.

I’ve seen Just Eat It.  It’s fantastic.  It’s super fun to watch new dumpster divers learn the tricks, and they totally capture the delight of discovery, comingled with the stomach sinking disgust that this is what our society has come to, that can only be experienced standing on the brim of a dumpster filled with clean, packaged, edible food.  They also discuss the other tiers of food waste, and present some happily encouraging alternative types of food handling.  I beyond recommend it!

The movie:  Just Eat It.

Rob Greenfield says all that I just said here, only better and faster.

Flawed fruit and veggies for sale – what a notion!

wastedfood.com

utne reader on dumpstering

Tristram Stuart

 

Habitica has changed my life.

It makes no sense.

Habitica is a productivity website/app for organizing based on role playing game software.  Instead of a paper list of things to do which you cross off, with Habitica you create your to-do lists online, and when you click to check items off, you are rewarded with “points”.  These points build up until you achieve the next “level”.  Also, as you meet your real-life goals, you collect “money”, “pets”, and “food” to feed your pets.  Feeding the pets is not mandatory, like a Tamagotchi (thankfully).  The money buys accessories to jazz up your avatar.

My first mount, back when I was just a level 23Let me be clear – the points, levels, pets, and food are all completely virtual.  Imaginary.  Very low-fi pixellated graphics, at that.  The to-do lists you create are real – your own real life.

Totally meaningless “points” and pixellated tiny “pets”, yet somehow this is meaningful enough affirmative feedback to make a difference?  Yes. Yes it is.

It makes no sense, but it works.

I got into Habitica hesitantly; an Icelandic blogger mentioned it, and I thought “why not”.  Coincidentally, I then read the popular and amazing book by Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit.  The insights about how our brains, memory, and reward mechanisms function explain to me why Habitica works, so damn well.

The Power of Habit explains why Habitica works

There’s limited satisfaction in checking off or crossing off a to-do list item on paper.  One “should” feel satisfaction and accomplishment for having moved one step further towards the life one wants to live, right?  Our brains don’t work like that though.  The future big payoff is meaningless.  The very small incremental difference of checking off the same thing on Habitica, for an imaginary and slightly ludicrous reward? Well, that makes the brain sing.  Sometimes you’re tired, and you just can’t summon up the big picture in the context of which your tiny accomplishment today is in service of.  Click for points?  Satisfaction.  I’ll do it again tomorrow, and all the other tomorrows, until it’s a habit.  Automatic.

The key is there is a reward. Something just external enough to go beyond your own mental pat on the back, and it doesn’t matter that the “reward” is completely imaginary.

There is so much in The Powscreen-shot-2016-12-31-at-1-01-04-pmer of Habit, possibly the best book I read in 2016, that if you care about self-improvement and want to become more effective, just read it.  Forming habits takes work, willpower, and requires reward.  The brain wants to form habits all the time, because once an act is habitual, it takes less mental effort.  The hard part is directing the show, to form the habits that you want to have, that will lead to a more successful, fulfilling life.  The point is to automate the actions that you wish to repeat.  Habits that you want to have won’t form without intentionality.  Enter Habitica, intentionality in three columns.

Habitica’s basic format (the Tasks page) is well-designed and adaptable.  The three columns are: Habits (that you wish to build to increase points, or bad habits that will reduce your points- who would put those?), Dailies (if you fail to complete, your “life force” suffers), and To-Dos (projects and one-offs to tick off).  You can organize your lists with tags and headers, indicate the difficulty of each item, and set schedules or deadlines.  You can break tasks down to checklists, fiddle with the font size and categories (tags). Continue reading Habitica has changed my life.

All growth

2016 was a tough year.  The defining event was the loss of our dog, which continues to be very painful.  Sure, I got even more done than usual, but I get tireder every year and the list stretches out in front of me to the horizon like a never-ending road.

There is every reason to be completely incapacitated by depression.  Natural systems and species are being destroyed, Syria is being destroyed by war, nations are falling apart, and society as a whole seems more incompetent than ever at correcting the course.  I’ve been frightened for our fate, that feeling seems pretty darn appropriate, and I can’t do a whole lot about it.

And so, this sentiment, embroidered by my new friend (one bright light of my 2016), that about sums up the year.  All Growth does not Take Place in Sunlight.  My new favourite phrase.

And a quote:

“You must not lose faith in humanity.  Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”  -Gandhi

Recycling calendars

It’s almost time to turn over the calendar again.

One of my favorite things is re-using an old calendar, because great calendars are works of art worth saving, and the years do come around again (although you have to wait a while longer to pull Garfield 1992 out of storage -2020).  Leap years are tough.

Those 2016 calendars you just about finished with come back around in 2044.

But 2017 is a repeat of 2006, which was only ten years ago.  Cats and Kittens ’06 is probably just under a stack of papers downstairs.

This is my master list of calendar reuse.  Of course, it’s online.img_4643

And if you want a shiny new one, then my photographer brother has a selection of calendars of his work (Iceland, New England, Utah, PNW, horses, etc) available at zazzle.com/derekkind.  They’re amazing; I’m not just saying that.

Since he started making calendars in 2010, I’m saving them all and looking forward to the years returning so I can use them again:)

 

Driving Ms. Daisies

There’s little I enjoy more than driving home new hens.  Usually in some ersatz container – sheet over stock tank, random boxes. Today my coat over a box with no bottom.

I like carrying them hugged in my arm for the first time, telling them they’re going to a new home now, their heads bobbing around looking at everything from 4´ higher up than usual.  Sliding them into the carrying container du jour.  The quiet that falls once we get on the road, broken by a few questioning little chirps from the backseat, some shuffling on tight corners.  I sing to them, or play the radio

Today I picked up three hens I hadn’t known I would be, leftovers from the year’s laying flock that were hanging around as outlaws in the barn.  I can’t resist a good hen, especially when it’s otherwise doomed.

They’re nice.  Low hens, tame and easy to catch. Curious, as they always are, but laid back.  In the dark I carried the broken-bottomed box of birds on my forearms, with their feet sticking through and grabbing onto me, from my truck to the greenhouse  to tuck them into the coop, their new home.

Tomorrow they will meet the rooster.

Time for a nap!

We got snow today, and are now properly snowed in, which is the best.

We were both out in it for awhile too, as more than 15cm fell in a few hours, from 8ish to lunchtime.  It was kind of fun to be out in, in a creeping along an un-plowed rural highway in a blowing whiteout through snow deep enough to rub the belly of the vehicle kind of way.  Things that are funnest once you’ve made it home safe and warm.  Then for extra fun the temperature suddenly rose to change all that snow to heavy snowball snow in the afternoon.

Interestingly, it seems there was snow all across Canada today, including on Vancouver Island– how singular!

Happy about living naturally