Chicken Hazards

November 10, 2008 in Gardening, Humble Garden

Raising your own chickens in your own backyard means having VERY fresh eggs and, should you so choose, fresh meat on occasion.

If you have roosters (which are not necessary unless you want to eat fertile eggs, love roosters, or want baby chickens) you will also be assured some drama.

Barley, that big orange chicken you see, decided that it was really offensive to him that I walked out my back door. Being so offended, it was his roosterly duty to round me up like a girl chicken and when I didn’t comply, he proceeded to attack me 5 times. I had to ward him off and now he and I, well, we are not on talking terms.

He will be lucky if he doesn’t become one with my stock pot.

While it might have amused some to see video of my experience, I am very thankful none exists!

Drying homegrown sage

November 8, 2008 in Gardening

Humble Garden 2008: Drying herbs

One of my more successful crops in our Humble Garden this year was sage. It braved cool very damp weather and repelled all chicken inquiries. Chicken might taste good roasted with sage but live chickens leave it alone!

In the photo you can also see all of the green cherry peppers that didnt get red on the plant – they are changing to red as they hang. Same with the cayenne peppers.

Once these have dried, I will put them in baggies and save in a cool dark place. I definitely will not leave them hanging out – they would get nasty dusty.

drying herbs

Food for Hope: DeGlobalizing – ReLocalizing

October 31, 2008 in Gardening, Local Food

Transition Town Handbook

I feel like I have been “all melamine – all the time” the past couple of posts, sorry. (Melamine, oh thy name is Legion and Melamine Toxic Tsunami) Its been a fast moving story and its relevant to all of us who eat food. Its my hope that, as a scientist, I can help people who might feel overwhelmed by this massive and frightening subject.

I would like to shift gears into a positive mode and tell you about what you CAN do so that this sort of problem and all of the food security problems that come from globalization can be addressed.

DeGlobalizing – ReLocalizing

In a nutshell – its all about 2 main things:

  • Refraining from buying things that require global travel
  • and
  • Building your local economy and food systems

The first thing – you can do that starting right now. You will quickly find out that you will have to do the harder second thing – rebuilding your local economy.

A couple of months ago I tried to summon the people in my community for a food security meeting on just this. I sent out a press release and got in all the relevant papers. One person showed up and she was actually confused about the topic.

This is NOT easy work!

I am not the only one who is focused on this, not at all. There is a world-wide effort on, called the Transition Initiative and it is helping people build what are called Transition Towns. The UK is the leader right now but start up groups are nucleating all across the US as I write.

If you visit this link Transition Town you can see if there is an initiative near you (anywhere in the world).

If you live in the New England region, you are lucky because there will be a Transition Training conference this November in Cambridge, MA. There are actually two of these conferences. I will be going to the later one. If you decide to go, let Rob know I referred you and also let me know you are coming and we will meet up. Perhaps there is call for live blogging it! (mind is a churning).

The following is the release from the organizer, Rob Riman. Let me know if you have any questions!

Training For Transition

November 1-2 & 22-23 – Cambridge, MA

Transition initiative Cambridge (TiC!) together with the Transition Center Portland Maine will be hosting these 2-day trainings to provide the in-depth knowledge, experiential tools and practical skills to successfully set up, run and maintain a Transition Initiative in your own community or neighborhood.

Course Objectives:

  • To understand the context for transition
  • To understand the Transition Initiatives model as it has evolved so far – from inspiration to working groups
  • To understand the inner and outer aspects of transition
  • To gain knowledge of the main ingredients of transition
  • To develop a plan of action for your self and your locality
  • To assemble the elements of an inspiring talk on Transition Initiatives
  • To connect with others who are responding to the call for transition

See complete course outline at


Saturday & Sunday November 1-2 and 22-23, 2008

Training begins at 9:00 am sharp and finish at 5:00 pm both days. Please arrive by 8:30 am on Saturday for registration and welcome.

Where?: The training will be at the office of the Livable Streets Alliance located at:

Livable Streets Alliance
100 Sydney Street
Cambridge, MA 02139

For directions via various modes see:

Also see the transit system map (and click on the ‘Boston Detail Map’ tab).

Bicycle parking is in front of 100 Sidney. Free weekend car parking is available on Pacific Street.

Sign up!: Course registration is via the RSVP option at The Transition Training Center Portland Maine website: (You will first need to join the group.)

Tuition:The cost for the course is $215/person and full payment or a minimum deposit of $100 should be received in advance of the course start date. Checks should be made payable to ‘Transition Center Portland Maine’ and sent to me (Rob Riman) at the below address.

Lodging:Participants are responsible for arranging their own accommodation.

If you can offer or are seeking a local homestay during the training, please reply to the related post or start a new discussion on the Meetup site message board. Note that all activity for a given discussion is trackable by clicking on Track this discussion. I also have additional leads.

For information regarding local hotels and B&B’s, please contact me.

Travel:If you can offer or would like a lift to or from either of these trainings, please reply to the related post or start a new discussion on the Meetup site message board.

To Bring:

  • 1) Any Transition related materials that you can share: posters, leaflets, brochures, any printed/audio/visual material that you have used in your Transition Initiative. This will be a mutual learning environment!
  • 2) Lunch to share in the training room. If you prefer, there are local venues to purchase food within easy walking distance. Other meals are entirely up to you. Warm beverages and light snacks will be provided throughout the day. Toward a zero-waste event, please bring your own mug, water bottle, utensils, etc. as needed (some will be available should you forget).
  • 3) Laptops and/or recording devices if you feel these might help you, however they are not necessary. Please bring a 330+ mb memory stick for copying background material and training presentations.
  • 4) Your story. Take some time to reflect on your journey regarding transition: When did you realize that we needed to make big changes to the way we live? How did you hear about Transition and what got you interested? Why do you want to be part of a Transition process?

Reading: In addition to The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, the following resources offer valuable background and will help prepare you for the course:

Resources: For more information about current Transition activities:

More Info: See who else is coming, learn about the trainers, find related events in the Northeast, etc. at:

Transition Center Portland Maine


Cambridge Trainings Coordinator:
Rob Riman
92 Henry Street
Cambridge, MA


  • Alastair Lough –
  • Pat Proulx-Lough –

Thank You to our Sponsors!

Green Decade Cambridge

Livable Streets Alliance

Mass Climate Action Network

Food 0.001 – pickling is old school

September 14, 2008 in Gardening, Humble Garden, vegetable


I have been looking forward to doing this project for several years. I have distinct memories of when I was a child in Iowa, down in our basement in the bathroom we always hid in when the tornado sirens went off several times a summer. In that bathroom, near the shower, was an antique crock that was filled with little pickling cucumbers that were floating in this fascinating brine. A plate was put on top to keep the pickles from floating onto the surface.

I remember what it smelled like – a very distinct pickle aroma that makes my mouth water as I write this. I remember also being captivated by the scum that would float on the top and how it was ok that this scary odd concoction was being grown in OUR basement and by MY mother to be eaten by US kids.

Humble Garden: lactofermented organic homegrown pickles

I say that pickles are old school because there are records of pickles going back 4400 years to Mesopotamia. If you follow this link to the Wiki page on pickles you will learn that pickling has been a strategy used by humans for a long time and also by peoples across the globe.

  • Aristotle of Ancient Greece (1100 BC – 146 BC) promoted pickles for their health promoting effects
  • People on the move with mouths to feed figured out that pickles were a GOOD THING to have – Julius Caesar‘s army ate them but likely didnt understand that it was the vitamin C in the pickles that saved them from scurvy

Pickles have been immensely popular for 1000s of years across Asia, from India to China to Japan. Each region has its own special character and history. Each type of pickle is like a barometer of local authenticity.

What you likely do NOT know about pickles is that what you think of as pickles, those mass produced jarred pickles in the hot dog section of the grocery store are very little like the ones of history and do not possess the health promoting qualities attributed to pickled foods through the ages.

Humble Garden: lactofermented organic homegrown pickles

The difference is a matter of temperature and time, namely pasteurization and lactofermentation.

Most of us know what pasteurization is – the process of heating liquids for the purpose of destroying bacteria, protozoa, molds, and yeasts. (WIKI) We know that it is used to “make safe” our milk supply. This method has been used to “clean” up a vast majority of our foods that we buy from the store.

This is all new school – it was applied to our milk back in the time around 1900 (see this link about this whole saga) when milk production was industrialized and the dairies were crashing from management issues (conditions just like CAFOs today – crap in crap out).

Cows were fed the mash from nearby distilleries, cramped into standing room only pens with crap piled knee high and never cleaned, untested workers (think tuberculosis) worked in slavery like conditions – people and cows alike dropped like flies due to the conditions.

To be able to utilize the milk, which was burdened with e coli, brucellosis, tuberculosis, high cell counts from udder disease (mastitis) pasteurization was used.

Humble Garden: organic homegrown lactofermented sauerkraut

This same broad spectrum bacterial killing method is now used in pickle making. Whats more, because bacteria are “bad guys” (ignoring the fact that our bodies are made up of something like 10% bacterial mass) pickles are not allowed to go down the fermentation route – they are pickled with vinegars or industrially produced lactic acids.


Lactofermentation is what has historically been used to make things like wine, beer, and pickles. Its what you get when you take a raw vegetable from the garden, add some salt, and then let it sit at room temperature a couple of days and then put it in the root cellar (fridge).

At first, there is a broad spectrum of bacteria and molds and yeasts, just like on your skin (no matter how many showers you take) in the jar.

Then a dance takes place.

Bacteria are like us – they care about where they live. For them it is life and death tho. Certain types of bacteria can live with oxygen, some can not tolerate oxygen at all. Some like low pH others need high pH. It goes on.

Humble Garden: organic homegrown lactofermented sauerkraut

Bacteria are used to living in a menacing environment and have evolved ways to compete. They may produce poisons that kill off predators or they may change the oxygen composition or they may change the pH.

If you culture your lactoferment in a certain environment (certain pH, oxygen concentration, temperature) then you encourage some bacterial species and not others.

Humble Garden: organic homegrown lactofermented sauerkraut

This is the art of non-toxic non-lethal very delicious lactofermentation.

Doing lactofermentation in the post-pasteurization post-modern world requires you to take a leap of faith in our ancestors or to read a bit about science and trust your eyes and the collective wisdom of your ancestors.

To successfully venture into the delights of fermentation, I think that you have to be the following:

  • be ready to experiment
  • be willing to fail
  • be curious
  • be a foodie
  • be stubborn

You can learn a whole lot about lactofermentation from Sally Fallon in her book “Nourishing Traditions” and also from Sandor Ellix Katz at Wild Fermentation.

You will find a strong anti-germ theory running through a lot of this.

As a scientist, I can tell you one VERY important take home message – absolutism is foolish and will never serve you well. Its absolutism that has created our industrialized society (along with expensive lobbyists who have pushed massive regulation of food production so that the little farm cannot compete).

It is an absolutist mindset that will reject all germs and it is the same core absolutist mindset that will reject all regulations.

Don’t get caught up in the War of Germs or Anti-Raw Milk.

Moderation is key.

Follow what the germs themselves tell you. Equilibrium with functional moderation leads to a healthy ecosystem and a healthy body.

Delve into lactofermentation, make some pickles, sauerkraut, beet kvass, beer, wine, eat them raw, but also, clean that cut, take a shower, sterilize your bathroom for goodness sakes.

I am not going to give you recipes for these pickles because I think that people need to do some reading on the basics, learn about the lactofermentative process, learn what its supposed to look like when its going well and when its going UN WELL (its pretty obvious).

I have shared shots here of our pickles and sauerkraut. They were all made recently so its not time to taste yet.

I CAN tell you tho that the smell is HEAVENLY! I can’t wait to dig in!

Humble Garden: organic homegrown lactofermented sauerkraut