A Chicken Named Dog

Adventures with a Flock Family

Category: almost-organic

Cinder Block Gardening: Safe For Food or Contaminated With Coal Ash?

I am always looking for new gardening beds, ways to construct raise beds, and since my grandmother has recently stated that she needs raised beds, I became interested in building raised beds out of cinder block. I saw some beautiful examples of raised cinder block beds on Pinterest and other sites.

cinder block raised garden bed

Here is another example of  a raised cinder block bed that I think it beautiful.

Raised beds at San Diego National Convention Garden Tour 2004

The problem with these beds is that I don’t know if the building material is safe for growing food. It’s obvious that people do grow garden foods in raised cinder block beds, but what is in the cinder blocks? The ornamental garden shown above has treated timbers as its base, and I wouldn’t want to grow in that. I do have some branches from fallen trees, so I was thinking maybe I could use those to build cinder block beds, but then I saw a post about how cinder blocks may be contaminated with “cinder ash,” a by-product of the coal industry. That’s not what I want to grow food in.

I am offering a warning of the possibility of poisons in this product and stressing that I would never grow my food in it. The product Fly Ash is used as a Portland Cement replacement for up to 30% of the cement used to manufacture these products. For those of you unaware, Fly Ash is a by product of burning coal. The EPA is and has for the last year been doing a study to decide whether or not to label Fly Ash as a Hazardous Waste due to the high levels of mercury, arsenic, and lead; leaving some “Industry Folk” to refer to concrete as the “New Asbestos” or the “New Lead Paint”. Though there is no definite date set for a decision the ball has started rolling.

That was a Facebook post, and since I generally don’t believe anything I read on Facebook, I thought I would check into the ways in which concrete or “cinder blocks” are made. Are they really made with cinders from burning coal?

Someone’s blog post, with unnamed sources, says that cinder blocks are made with coal ash:

Hazardous waste.  Yes, there are small amounts of heavy metals in concrete products.  Typically the main composition of Class C fly ash contains 3.5 to 40% calcium oxide, 0.5 to 40% aluminum oxide, and 2.5 to 25% Magnesium oxide.  However smaller percentages of strontium, chromium, nickel, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other heavy metals are also present which cause it to be classified as hazardous waste by the EPA.

The spherical particle size of coal fly ash varies from 5-120 microns which is similar to that of silty sand to silty clay.  The good news is that this material is bonded, insoluble, and immobile in concrete.  However if the concrete or blocks are pulverized in destruction or become soluble with acids, the surface area exposed is greatly increased and the heavy metals may become mobile.  Example: You would not want to use pulverized concrete to “lime” a garden where it could be acted upon by microbes and organic acids.

Since soil decomposes plant materials that become acidic, any decomposition process could, ostensibly leach if exposed to acids.

I did a quick Wikipedia search on cinder blocks and fount that their source for defining cinder blocks came from the dictionary, not necessarily proof that cement blocks are cinder blocks:

Those that use cinders (fly ash or bottom ash) are called cinder blocks in Canada, the US and New Zealand, breeze blocks (breeze is a synonym of ash)[1] in the UK and New Zealand, and hollow blocksin the Philippines.

Apparently it’s all in the name. Are the blocks used in the raised beds made of concrete or cinder? Now, I don’t know which is which. How to tell?  Menards lists the blocks that I had thought of as cinder blocks as concrete blocks. Maybe cinder blocks were made of ash residue, but cement blocks are made of cement aggregate?

Menards’ website says that the blocks I have always called “cinder blocks” are actually concrete blocks, not made of cinders:

  • Standard gray color
  • Made of strong and durable concrete
  • Made in the USA
  • Exceeds ASTM C-90 certified for strength and absorption

Mendards also says they are made by Midwest Manufacturing. I looked up Midwest Manufacturing, but I didn’t see any mention on their website of the way they manufactured cement blocks, nor their chemical composition. Then, I looked up another website, for a report from the coal mining industry that was published in 2014:

“The regulatory uncertainty that has impeded the beneficial use of coal ash for half a decade has finally come to an end,” affirms ACAA Executive Director Thomas Adams. “EPA’s decision to regulate coal ash as a ‘nonhazardous’ material puts science ahead of politics and clears the way for beneficial use of ash to begin growing again— thereby keeping ash out of landfills and disposal ponds in the first place.”

Such use has trended negatively against historical patterns since the agency initiated CCR management and disposal rulemaking in June 2009. The proposed rule offered two CCR classification options under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act: Subtitle D, tasking states with significant coal ash handling, storage and disposal oversight; and, Subtitle C, inviting “hazardous waste” labeling of landfill-bound ash and federal scrutiny of material management and disposal. The latter option sparked concern among cement and concrete interests over the stigma fly ash would carry as a material with essentially the same chemical properties as one EPA labeled hazardous. ACAA and allied groups endorsed aspects of the Subtitle D option, the course EPA ultimately chose.

According to ACAA’s most recent “Production and Use Survey,” released two days before the EPA final CCR rule, coal ash utilization hovered below 2008 levels for the fifth consecutive year in 2013. If the past five years had simply remained equal with 2008’s utilization, the association estimates, 26.4 million tons less coal ash would have been disposed.

“As an organization devoted to using coal ash in environmentally responsible and technically sound ways, we look forward to finally being able to focus all of our attention back on growing these uses,” Adams affirms. Coal ash has never qualified as a “hazardous waste” based on its toxicity, he adds, as its trace levels of metals are comparable to those materials it replaces in common recycling applications.

None of this tells me anything other than the fact that the EPA didn’t register fly ash as a carcinogen, which means nothing to me, as I don’t believe the EPA defines anything as a carcinogen. The EPA seems to live in a constant state of denial at odds with the rest of the world; however, when there is a market for an industrial waste product, the EPA seems quick to determine that waste product non-hazardous. In the lead-up to the 2014 decision from the American Coal Ash Association, the complaint was that there was a lot of ash left over from producing coal that the Coal Ash industry didn’t know what to do with and then wanted to “recycle” by means of selling it to concrete manufacturers. When the EPA found that the American Coal Ash Association wanted to sell the coal ash, it determined that coal ash was safe to “recycle” by selling it to concrete manufacturers. Notice that there is no information about how coal ash was determined safe for humans. The history of the 2014 decision was outlined in this article published in 2009, which outlines the coal waste product and then the EPA’s recognition that it was safe (with unpublished methods) after a market was created for the coal ash waste product:

According to ACAA’s “Production and Use Survey,” 51.4 million tons of coal combustion products (CCP) were beneficially used in 2013 —down from 51.9 million tons in 2012 and well below the 2008 peak of 60.6 million tons. In the closely watched category of fly ash consumed in concrete mixes, utilization increased only slightly to 12.3 million tons, up by 577,705 tons over 2012, but still below 12.6 million tons in 2008.

The decline occurred as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed coal ash management regulations that could have designated the material as “hazardous waste” when disposed. A final rule issued in late December averts that label and acknowledges the large volume of recycling embodied in ASTM C618-grade fly ash marketing and related concrete specifications.

Prior to the final rule, ACAA observed growing numbers of ash producers, specifiers and customers restricting coal ash use in light of the regulatory uncertainty and publicity surrounding EPA rulemaking activities. “Regulatory certainty is imperative if we are to increase volumes of coal ash that are beneficially used rather than disposed,” Executive Director Thomas Adams noted upon release of the 2013 Production and Use Survey results. “People don’t just wake up one day and decide to recycle more. It takes planning and investment that are difficult to justify in an environment of regulatory uncertainty and misleading publicity about the safety of coal ash.”

The decline in 2009-13 recycling volumes stands in stark contrast to the previous decade’s trend, he adds: “In 2000, when the recycling volume was 32.1 million tons, the EPA issued its Final Regulatory Determination that regulation of ash as a ‘hazardous waste’ was not warranted. Over the next eight years, EPA also began actively promoting the beneficial use of coal ash and the recycling volume soared to 60.6 million tons.

Strangely enough, and aren’t all things with the EPA strange, the EPA began “actively promoting the beneficial use of coal ash” after the market for its purchase was created. The big question for me is: is there cinder ash or coal mining residue in the blocks I want to buy at Menards to build a raised garden bed?

I am reminded of a section of a book I just bought and read about the science of soil acidity, in The Garden Explored (2013) by Mia Amato , and the woman writes in chapter 3 that her family had a Douglas fir at Christmas that they planted, and it languished near the garage until her father repaired the garage with a mix of lime and cement, upon which followed rains and a leaching of chemical components into the soil that made the tree shoot up in height over that summer. This was an encouraging story until I realized that concrete leached something into the soil, and then if that concrete is contaminated with coal ash residue, it doesn’t seem safe to eat.

My sister just suffered through the removal of all the large trees in her yard in her Midland house when Dow chemical announced that the soil in her neighborhood was contaminated with dioxin and that trees in her yard were also contaminated. Dow wouldn’t have cleaned it up but for regulatory forcing, and Dow removed all the plants, soil, and trees that were contaminated from contaminated soil. Isn’t that what had happened to the woman in the story about the family Christmas tree next to the garage?

I looked up the following table on Wikipedia under the search term “concrete” to find the following handy table:

Property Portland
(ASTM C618 Class F)
Fly Ash
(ASTM C618 Class C)
Fly Ash
SiO2 content (%) 21.9 52 35 35 85–97
Al2O3 content (%) 6.9 23 18 12
Fe2O3 content (%) 3 11 6 1
CaO content (%) 63 5 21 40 < 1
MgO content (%) 2.5
SO3 content (%) 1.7
Specific surfaceb
370 420 420 400 15,000–
Specific gravity 3.15 2.38 2.65 2.94 2.22
General use
in concrete
aValues shown are approximate: those of a specific material may vary.
bSpecific surface measurements for silica fume by nitrogen adsorption (BET) method,
others by air permeability method (Blaine).

Fly ash is the coal ash waste product. So, it’s not as simple as a nomenclature to determine if the blocks are cinder or cement, because cement often includes cinder ash.

Wikipedia lists the following description for concrete or cement:

A major component of concrete is cement, which similarly exerts environmental and social effects.[54]:142The cement industry is one of the three primary producers of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas (the other two being the energy production and transportation industries). As of 2001, the production of Portland cement contributed 7% to global anthropogenic CO2 emissions, largely due to the sintering of limestone and clay at 1,500 °C (2,730 °F).[78]

Concrete is used to create hard surfaces that contribute to surface runoff, which can cause heavy soil erosion, water pollution, and flooding, but conversely can be used to divert, dam, and control flooding.

Concrete is a contributor to the urban heat island effect, though less so than asphalt.[79]

Workers who cut, grind or polish concrete are at risk of inhaling airborne silica, which can lead tosilicosis.[80]

Concrete or cinder blocks both could have fly ash or coal manufacturing residue in them. Does this mean that it’s good for growing garden beds for food consumption? It appears that even the people who support the addition of fly ash or coal cinder into cement blocks or cinder blocks outright assert that the material isn’t for consumption:

“In North America, the burning of coal for power generates about a half a cubic foot per person per year,” explains Bruce King, P.E., director, Ecological Building Network, San Rafael, Calif., and author of the book, “Making Better Concrete: Guidelines to Using Fly Ash for Higher Quality, Eco-Friendly Structures.”

“That’s a bucket of ash in the name of every man, woman and child in America, every year,” he says. “Whether we like it or not, we have to do something with it.”

“Even the guys who sell fly ash would tell you not to put this stuff on your pancakes,” quips King. “Like most of the substances in the natural world, fly ash is not for consumption or respiration. Does that mean we—or rather, the EPA—should formally declare it a hazardous substance, thus ending any chance of beneficial reuse or recycling?”

If this stuff isn’t for consumption, why recycle it? Well, it seems that most people don’t lick buildings, and under this premise, fly ash additive or coal waste could be added to cement to make it stronger if only, if only the EPA would allow it to be “recycled.” Note that a large part of the recycling drive is that the coal industry has created a toxic product that pollutes the environment, so it needs some way to add this waste product to something, and concrete seems to be the mix:

CalStar’s patented process actually takes this even further as fly ash fully replaces cement in their products, which are also not fired in an energy-intensive kiln. As a result, the company reports an 85% reduction in energy and CO2 emissions for their products. It’s easy to see why so many companies have put so much emphasis on fly ash as a “green” path forward.

Fly ash is also known to increase the concrete’s durability, so “longer service life means that much less material and energy will be used to repair, rebuild or replace constructions,” adds Kren.

Furthermore, fly ash enhances concrete performance—including increased strength, improved sulfate resistance, decreased permeability, a reduction in the water/cement ratio required, and enhancement of pumpability and workability of the concrete, according to Shepherd.

Of course, the other reality that needs to be dealt with is the sheer volume of fly ash which is produced by coal combustion every year

There is the very real possibility that encasing something hazardous in stone may be considered a way to dispose of something so toxic that it pollutes anything it touches. Greenbuilder.com says that the coal waste/fly ash becomes chemically different when heated in the cement mix; however, I can’t find out who has validated this “finding” that coal waste becomes inert when heated in a cement slurry:

In fact, when concrete is produced, “much of the fly ash reacts with the Portland cement products of combustion to become, get this—calcium silicate hydrate—the same mineral that gives concrete its strength,” explains Michael Chusid, RA, FCSI, CCS, principal of the Tarzana, Calif.-based architectural technology consulting firm, Chusid Associates. “Any trace amount of heavy metal gets entrapped in the hydrated cement crystals and will have a very difficult time becoming liberated.”

Filling in more details on this unique chemical reaction, David Shepherd, AIA, LEED AP, sustainable development director, Portland Cement Association, Skokie, Ill., explains, “unlike some encapsulation techniques which coat a contaminant with material to ‘glue’ it into place, fly ash chemically reacts with cement during the hydration process and becomes an integral part of the new crystalline structure.”

Consequently, many independent building professionals, and even some environmental groups, are on board with the EPA’s current position that the encapsulated use of fly ash is a very good alternative to sending the ash to the landfills where it faces a greater risk of environmental catastrophe such as the collapse of a Tennessee Valley Authority’s fly ash containment structure in 2008, which sent 5.4 million cubit yards of toxic sludge across 300 acres in Kingston, Tenn.

It appears, for the time being, that there is no nomenclature solution to my problem of using either cinder or cement blocks in creating a raised bed for my grandmother to garden in, as it appears that coal waste products in the form of fly ash are added to both cinder blocks and concrete.

If fly ash/coal waste is already being added to cement, we may well be in the same position with any of our buildings in the U.S., safe unless we lick them or eat out of them. We also may cause a leaching of dangerous chemical contaminants if we put soil or organic matter that is naturally acidic into cement blocks and that acid change makes the chemicals of the fly ash/coal waste additive leach out into our food, a form of licking that I don’t want to try.

Think  I am crazy to think about licking buildings, or even mentioning whether they are edible, there are, in fact, salty buildings that people lick, like the Salt Palace in Saline, Texas.

Saline, Texas

Or, there is a salt hotel in South America, in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni,

Palacio de Sal Uyuni

I, personally, would not lick the salt walls in the Palacio de Sal Uyuni, as this salt from Bolivia contains a large amount of lithium, which is used in manufacturing batteries here in the United States.

Bolivia holds about 43% of the world’s lithium reserves;[13] most of those are located in the Salar de Uyuni.

Lithium is concentrated in the brine under the salt crust at a relatively high concentration of about 0.3%. It is also present in the top layers of the porous halite body lying under the brine; however the liquid brine is easier to extract, by boring into the crust and pumping out the brine.[14]

Actually, we covered this in a class I taught on South American Geography, and while the buildings made from salt brick in the Bolivian salt flats are stunning to look at, I wouldn’t consider them safe to lick. I also wouldn’t consider the concrete blocks made in the U.S. here safe to lick or eat plants out of, either. I will have to settle for shots like this, and perhaps plan a succulent garden that I won’t eat and neither will Grandma Kay.

Cement Block Raised Beds

Safe To Grow Ornamentals Not Food

Of course, if you would prefer not to support the coal mining/burning industry, it appears cement beds are out, as well. I am off to find the next garden wonder, and hope I don’t find any toxic political mess in that newest solution. I will keep you posted.

Controversy Over Straw Bale Gardening And 2,4-D Dangers: Our Children As Unwitting 2,4-D Test Subjects

An experiment with straw bale gardening sounds innocuous, and before my father and I started having “discussions” about using treated straw, I never would have imagined straw bale gardening could be a source of discontent. Turns out, my father and I can disagree about anything, straw bales included.

Our current bone of contention is innocuous enough: straw bale gardening. My father read the book Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten. My father also attended a popular lecture given by a local woman named Carleen Rose at our Big Rapids Community Library, popular in part due to Ms. Rose’s accidental mis-speak characterizing the organisms growing in her straw bales as “orgasms.” It went something along the lines of: “I saw all these orgasms all over my straw bales and was so excited! Oh my goodness, did I just say orgasms?? I meant organisms. There were organisms in my straw bales, not orgasms…” That was the first time I had heard of straw bale gardening being linked to orgasms, multiple ones at that. In essence, and mainly by accident, straw bale gardening became a popular topic of conversation in the local community.

To set the scene for straw bale gardening’s attractiveness for my father, it’s important to mention that my father tilled another patch of ground west of our Main Garden while his father, my grandfather (Grandpa Williams, to me), was undergoing a failed chemotherapy treatment for leukemia that eventually resulted in his death. While our family was struggling with my grandfather’s illness and death, my father tilled. He tilled and tilled, putting on his ear protection as his father had warned him to do (my Grandpa Williams had to retire from his law practice due to hearing loss), and my father tilled himself another garden, christened as my father’s West Garden.

My father’s garden has a surface of sand that my father thinks is hydrophobic, a type of sand placed in the location by the drilling company that came to drill for oil many years ago. My parents opposed the drilling and the destruction of the trees and land that came with it, but they had no means to stop it, because they didn’t own the mineral and drilling rights to the property. For the uninitiated, the drilling and mining right ownership meant that other owners were able to do a prospective drill to see if there were any harvestable oil or natural gas wells beneath the land. There weren’t any, thank goodness, but the sand that was left is considered by my father to be “hydrophobic,” meaning it repels water.

Hydrophobic soils can be naturally occurring, arising after extreme heat from fires changes the crystalline structure of soil. Hydrophobic soil can also arise from a waxy-type or oily residue in soil, but since my father believes the sand in his West Garden is hydrophobic,  my father has seen a possible means of addressing the poor soil in his West Garden  through straw bale gardening.

The West Garden is named in relation to our Main Garden, the family garden shared by my father and I, home to our animals, digging spots for my baby nieces and nephews and the bean crops we can every year, as well as the main tomato crops that we also can. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of the Main Garden, acting as a nucleus to all of our family activities at my parents’ property. It is so central to our activities, in fact, that as we walk away from it, the babies routinely feel that they are leaving my parents’ property and eventually refuse to walk further down the trail. Leaving the property would be tough for a baby to do given that my parents own close to 300 acres, but the draw of the Main Garden is so intense, that even the babies recognize it, and all other designations of location emanate from the Main Garden.

My father has  moved away from chemical use in the Main Garden in deference to the animals consuming those chemicals and because I suffered horrible blistering burns on my face and hands after unwittingly putting straw in nesting boxes that I had not known was treated with 2,4-D. It took weeks for my face and hands to heal, and my family doctor told me I had suffered chemical burns. I tried to cover up the painful blisters, but they peeled and my face was a burning mess for a solid 6 weeks. We didn’t know the straw had been sprayed, but word to the wise, it’s always best to ask about a straw bale’s origins, something I know now to do with diligence.

Because it is convenient to pick up at our local feed store, and because my father believes he can overcome his soil deficiencies in the West Garden, my father has begun long rows of chemically treated straw under the belief that it won’t impact his garden, nor does it remain in the straw. We know the straw has been sprayed with 2,4-D because the local feed store employees told us when we asked that they only carried sprayed straw.

Since placing the straw in the West Garden, on two separate occasions, my father has had burning red skin on his face, itchy and watering eyes, an allergenic response that he sought treatment for at the doctor’s office, and my father believes it is from a medication he is taking. The doctor said it was an allergic reaction, most likely from the medication, but he also didn’t know about the straw. Twice now my father has had these reactions, each time he handles the straw, but he maintains it is not linked to the straw whatsoever.

Who knew you could argue about straw? I never did. Who knew that the book Straw Bale Gardens Complete would trigger family discord? I didn’t. The author of Straw Bale Gardens suggests doing a simple bioassay, a test crop, which really means planting some crops in the treated straw to see if it kills the crops, peas and tomatoes being good test crops. The problem is this: we have a very short season and don’t have time to try to grow two sets of crops. If straw bale gardening fails, we lose all of our produce for the season and have to try again a year later. That’s a big hit to take for an experiment, no garden produce whatsoever. It’s not really feasible to try.

Joel Karsten had one small section in his book about using treated straw, and while I remember reading it, I can’t find it listed in the index section to give you a place to read it for yourself, if you so choose. Karsten mentions testing with crops, there is only a small reference to this problem amidst a 176-page endorsement of the method, a method that without a good bale of straw, is for us, catastrophic. Given the importance of the growing material to the book’s purpose, the amount of attention given to using treated material is wholly inadequate. The illustrations of successful imagined gardens on pages 66-75 are beautiful, but there is virtually no information about how to make sure you are using a viable growing material without planting crops just to see if they die, which makes this method virtually unusable for anyone with a short growing season and no idea how to identify good straw, upon which the title itself is based.

Just because I start with the beginning, I looked to see what the chemical giant Monsanto had to say about herbicides and came up with this entertaining video about how harmless Round-Up is for people to drink, harmless enough to justify its use worldwide, but when offered a cup of Round-Up in water to drink, the Monsanto-mouthpiece refuses to drink it himself saying he is “not an idiot.” Life doesn’t get much better, so I would recommend a watch:

Apparently herbicides are safe for OTHER people to drink, not Monsanto supporters.

My father had routinely said that herbicides “break down” in Nature, that they don’t have a long-lasting effect. Whenever I am told that a chemical “breaks down,” I always wonder how quickly this happens and how, especially considering that the burns I suffered from 2,4-D treated straw did not seem to demonstrate any chemical break down. I began looking at scientific studies about 2,4-D to find out about the breakdown, and the information has perhaps been, if one is generous, reported with a positive but less than accurate slant, or if one is being honest, most likely just a misleading representation.

Strangely enough, tests on 2,4-D breaking down in soil are few and far between reports the World Health Organization:

In contrast to the large amount of work done on the analytical methodology of 2,4-D residues in plant material, the opposite is true for soils. Only two reports concerning the extraction of 2,4-D from soils have appeared, in which acidic ether (Woodham et al. l9l 1) and acidic acetone (Gutenman and Lisk 1964) were used to give recoveries of 84-102% and 79-81%, respectively, from fortified soils. Modifications of both these methods were used and a comparison of results was made. All samples were analyzed on a Microtek MT 220 equipped with a Ni63 electron capture detector and a Coulson electrolytic conductivity detector (CCD) Model C 321 operating in the halide mode.

Saying that “recoveries” of 84-102% in soils of chemical contaminants is not encouraging for the concept of these chemicals breaking down.

There is the conflicting report that “despite breakdown,” the chemical has been found in our water supplies, even back in 1996:

Despite its short half-life in soil and in aquatic environments, the compound has been detected in groundwater supplies in at least five States and in Canada [20]. Very low concentrations have also been detected in surface waters throughout the U.S. [23].

So, even if there are chemical residues in the soils, are their chemical residues in the food? Say we didn’t touch the soil ( I know, I know, impossible when you harvest your own food), would there be any risk to the family eating the food?

I looked for the old studies, the ones upon which current data is supposedly based, and it turns out that in our climate, the growing season is too short to allow the residue to break down on cereal grains or straw, which explains why I had such bad chemical burns just from handling the straw:

No residues were found in the harvested grain or threshed straw collected after 80 days. Klingman et al. (1966) found 58 ppm 2,4-D acid within one half-hour after spraying forage with 2.25 kg butyl ester/ha, which decreased to 5 ppm on the 7th day. Recoveries of 2,4-D residues from fortified soil samples using acidic acetone or acidic ether extraction gave recoveries in the range 8l-95%, with a lower limit of detection at the 0.01 ppm level

This means that although the chemical residues decreased with time, the scientists were still able to “recover from the soil, chemical residues.” Recovery in this sense means being able to find the chemical in the soil. The scientists were also able to find chemical residues on the food crops and straw up to sometime around the 2 and half month mark after spray application. After 2.5 months, the residues on the straw and grain must have broken down, because in 1966, no residue was found on the straw after 80 days. With one application of 2,4-D, breakdown on cereal grains and straw seemed complete after 80 days in 1966.

In 1975 the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues explained that 2,4-D is applied 14-21 days before harvest, so at least twice in the season, to kill off tall weeds:

However, when tall weeds growing up in the crop make harvesting
    difficult, if not impossible, 2,4-D herbicides may be applied 14-21
    days prior to harvest to destroy, defoliate or regulate the growth of
    the weeds so as to prevent interference with harvesting.

The 1975 study found that when 2,4-D is applied in the three weeks before harvest, chemical residue does taint food crops, but supposedly it shouldn’t matter because of the amount of contamination:

The data in Table 1 indicate that there is a noticeable
    accumulation of 2,4-D residues in the grain during the two weeks
    following application when treatment is made within 3 weeks of
    harvest. This is not unexpected in view of the systematic properties
    of the herbicide. However the amount of 2,4-D found in grain is not
    particularly great following normal rates of application, reaching
    levels above 0.5 mg/kg only at excessive rates of the order of
    10 kg/ha.

I always enjoy a little herbicide in the morning cereal, don’t you? Frankly, I don’t want to eat herbicides, but this mode of transmission is omitted from most toxicology study reports by the chemical industry who claim that since herbicides aren’t consumed, studies determining 2,4-D’s ability to cause cancer in rats and animals are invalid because no one eats the herbicide.  Seems like, in fact, they do. The average food consumer obviously does get exposed to 2,4-D by eating because the crops contain chemical residue.

Strangely enough, when I read the US Government’s Agency on Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Report, supposedly only people exposed to chemicals for a long time would have problems with 2,4-D, and even stranger, the Registry makes no mention of the fact that people are exposed to these chemicals since at least 1975, when one of the first reports proved people were eating these chemicals in our foods. Is 40 years of exposure long enough to cause problems?

One man who splashed pure 2,4-dichlorophenol on his arm and leg died shortly after the accident. Workers who made pesticides from chlorophenols and were exposed to chlorophenols as well as other chemicals through breathing and through the skin developed acne and mild injury to their livers. According to some studies, the risk of cancer was also slightly higher among workers who had made pesticides for a long time. These workers were exposed to very high levels of other chemicals as well as chlorophenols, so it is not certain whether the effects were caused by the chlorophenols or the other chemicals.

Animals that were given food or drinking water containing chlorophenols at high levels developed adverse or negative health effects. The major effects with exposure to high levels of chlorophenols were on the liver and the immune system. Also, the animals that ate or drank chlorophenols did not gain as much weight as the animals that ate food and drank water not containing chlorophenols.

Feeding rats and mice high doses of 2,4- dichlorophenol for a long time did not cause cancer. However, long-term treatment of rats and mice with high doses of 2,4,6-trichlorophenol in food caused leukemia in rats and liver cancer in mice, suggesting that 2,4,6-trichlorophenol may be a carcinogen. The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that 2,4,6-trichlorophenol may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that the chlorophenols as a group, are possibly carcinogenic to man. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that 2,4,6-trichlorophenol is a probable carcinogen.

Sounds like as long as you don’t bathe in it, those chemicals are supposedly perfectly safe. We may as well live in the Land of Oz and dance down the yellow-brick road. How cheerful is it that we are pretty much immune to chemical contamination? Well, unless you spill it on your arm, and then you die, or unless you tack a little “6” on the end, and then that chemical causes cancer, but without spilling it on your arm or lacking that pesky 6, we should all follow the yellow brick road.

So what about the rat study? How was it figured? The Chicago Tribune published a report on the 1995 study that is referenced in the article basically saying 2,4-D is safe to consume, unless you tack a 6 onto the end.

The EPA relied on a 1995 Dow study that found rats dosed daily with 75 milligrams of pure 2,4-D per kilogram of body weight (or mg/kg) over a two-year period gained less weight and experienced changes in kidney, thyroid, liver, lung, reproductive organ and blood chemistry measures compared with untreated rats.

Rats that consumed the next lowest dose — 5 mg/kg — showed no ill effects. This is called the “no observed adverse effect level,” and it’s the most important measure in a pesticide toxicity study.

Next came a series of math exercises. As they always do, EPA officials divided that dose by a factor of 100 to account for the fact that rats and humans are different and some people have heightened sensitivity to chemicals.

Since the mid-1990s, the EPA has been required to divide again — this time by a factor of 10 — because Landrigan’s panel found children are more vulnerable than adults. This protection may be removed only if “such margin will be safe for infants and children.”

In the case of 2,4-D, the EPA kept it in place because its scientists couldn’t tell whether 2,4-D disrupts hormones, immunity and neurological development.

When the dividing was done, the EPA under President George W. Bush set the acceptable daily intake of 2,4-D at 0.005 mg/kg. Separate calculations showed that nobody was consuming too much, the EPA said at the time.

Safe daily limit is .005mg/kg? Back in 1975, crop residues showed that food contained .5mg/kg 2,4-D. We exceeded our daily safe limit for 2,4-D consumption by 100% back in 1975. I don’t understand the claims that people would only be exposed to 2,4-D through the skin (warning label information) when apparently the majority of consumers already eat most of our herbicide exposure, herbicides that remain on grain crops after a single diluted concentration of 2,4-D for up to 80 days.

Rat studies, rat studies. Does it all come down to rats? Maybe. If it doesn’t kill rats, it won’t kill us? Except that I did find a study that linked rat doses of 2,4-D to increased rates of cancers:

We found that 2,4-D acid iso-octylester caused the formation of atypical cell foci (ACF) in the pancreata and livers of rats. ACF that were formed experimentally by exposure to azaserine had increased diameter, volume and number of atypical cell foci/mm(2) and mm(3) after exposure to 2,4-D acid iso-octylester. Our observations indicated that this herbicide potentially is a cancer initiator.

And, it appears that absorption of 2,4-D through the skin increases when sunscreens are used and alcohol is consumed, another study on rats:

Skin from rats ingesting low (1.5 g/kg) medium (4.3 g/kg) or high (6 g/kg) ethanol doses or saline control was treated with a commercially available sunscreen containing titanium dioxide and octyl methoxycinnimate and transdermal absorption of 2,4-D was monitored. Ethanol increased penetration by a factor of 1.9, 2.0 and 2.5 for animals treated with 1.5, 4.3 and 6 g/kg respectively, demonstrating an ethanol-induced dose response. Sunscreen application to skin from ethanol gavagedrats caused 2,4-D absorption above that induced by ethanol alone by an additional factor of 1.3, 2.1 and 2.9 for 1.5, 4.3 and 6 g/kg respectively.

What are the take-aways from a rat study? Well, apparently that workers using 2,4-D shouldn’t drink alcohol but should continue with sunscreen. Of course, the chemical isn’t implicated. Rat studies are complicated.

Results of this study emphasize the importance of limiting excessive alcohol consumption in individuals with potential herbicide exposure rather than discouraging the use of sunscreens, since the consequences of UV-induced skin cancer are far more series than the risks that would be associated with observed increases in chemical exposure.

Since I can’t find THE definitive rat study that supposedly says that 2,4-D is safe, I looked for A rat study proving its safety, but this is what I came up with, a 1996 publication from the Extension Toxicology Network, a conglomeration of universities, including Michigan State, studying the effects of pesticides:

2,4-D fed to rats for 2 years caused an increase in malignant tumors [7]. Female mice given a single injection of 2,4-D developed cancer (reticulum-cell sarcomas) [7]. Another study in rodents shows a low incidence of brain tumors at moderate exposure levels (45 mg/kg/day) over a lifetime [1,7]. However, a number of questions have been raised about the validity of this evidence and thus about the carcinogenic potential of 2,4-D.

I can’t find this particular study on PubMed, which is strange, because all the other studies are easily accessible on PubMed and are available to we taxpayers, because our taxes that then become grants, help fund them. Rat studies seem to be rife with controversy, so I decided to look up whether or not people showed an effect from chemical exposure, and it turns out that the more chemicals are sprayed, the more children in the US are born with birth defects, particularly those children in areas where the most chemicals are sprayed:

To evaluate this hypothesis, 935 births to 34,772 state-licensed, private pesticide appliers in Minnesota occurring between 1989 and 1992 were linked to the Minnesota state birth registry containing 210,723 live births in this timeframe. The birth defect rate for all birth anomalies was significantly increased in children born to private appliers. Specific birth defect categories, circulatory/respiratory, urogenital, and musculoskeletal/integumental, showed significant increases. For the general population and for appliers, the birth anomaly rate differed by corp-growing region. Western Minnesota, a major wheat, sugar beet, and potato growing region, showed the highest rate of birth anomalies per/1000 live births: 30.0 for private appliers versus 26.9 for the general population of the same region. The lowest rates, 23.7/1000 for private appliers versus 18.3/1000 for the general population, occurred in noncrop regions. The highest frequency of use of chlorophenoxy herbicides and fungicides also occurred in western Minnesota. Births in the general population of western Minnesota showed a significant increase in birth anomalies in the same three birth anomaly categories as appliers and for central nervous system anomalies.                         

Forget rats, we apparently already have been unwitting human test subjects, and it turns out that infants and children bear the brunt of chemical sprays, including in another study linking 2,4-D exposure in children to more birth defects. Another, separate study, again compared 2,4-D exposure to birth defects and found that the more spray applied, the higher the rate of birth defects:

Significant increases in birth malformations were observed for the circulatory/respiratory category for combined sexes [odds ratio (OR) = 1.65; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.07-2.55]. A stronger effect was observed for the subcategory, which excluded heart malformations (OR = 2.03; 95% CI, 1.14-3.59). In addition, infants conceived during April-June–the time of herbicide application–had an increased chance of being diagnosed with circulatory/respiratory (excluding heart) malformations compared with births conceived during other months of the year (OR = 1.75; 95% CI, 1.09-2.80). Musculoskeletal/integumental anomalies increased for combined sexes in the high-wheat counties (OR = 1.50; 95% CI, 1.06-2.12). Infant death from congenital anomalies significantly increased in high-wheat counties for males (OR = 2.66; 95% CI, 1.52-4.65) but not for females (OR = 0.48; 95% CI, 0.20-1.15). These results are especially of concern because of widespread use of chlorophenoxy herbicides.

Our kids can apparently become innocent chemical test subjects, and chemical companies pressured the Obama administration to increase the supposed safe amount of chemical exposure, despite these studies.

Now, however, concentrations of 2,4-D application have increased to combat super weeds, and in response, the EPA says it’s safe to consume more 2,4-D because more of it is being applied. The Chicago Tribune also found that if GMO crops-2,4-D dependent are planted, children in the US will be some of the only children in the world consuming levels of 2,4-D that are internationally found to be unsafe.

If these crops are widely adopted, the government’s maximum-exposure projections show that U.S. children ages 1 to 12 could consume levels of 2,4-D that the World Health Organization, Russia, Australia, South Korea, Canada, Brazil and China consider unsafe.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had considered that exposure dangerous for decades as well. But the Obama administration’s EPA now says it is safe to allow 41 times more 2,4-D into the American diet than before he took office.

To reach that conclusion, the Tribune found, the agency’s scientists changed their analysis of a pivotal rat study by Dow, tossing aside signs of kidney trouble that Dow researchers said were caused by 2,4-D.

Because life is stranger than fiction, and I literally can’t make this shit up, after approving a Hulk-type 2,4-D back in 2015, the EPA filed a stay order in a federal court to overturn its own safety ruling, stating that the EPA believed they hadn’t reviewed all the evidence. In other words, the EPA tried to vacate and undo its earlier approval of the herbicide it had approved.

Now that the EPA is being investigated by Congress for its ruling that we are somehow safely capable of consuming 41 times the herbicide we could before just because Dow released a new product, the EPA is claiming that only one scientist is responsible for misleading the country about herbicide toxicity:

“We were concerned to learn that, during this process, EPA dismissed a key study linking 2,4-D to kidney abnormalities based on one scientist’s analysis, and in doing so, effectively gave the green light for 41 times more of the chemical to enter the America diet than was previously allowed,” the lawmakers wrote.

Seems the Chicago Tribune report triggered some more investigating. The same reporter who broke the story about the EPA rat study from 1995 that I quoted above, wrote the following:

The EPA is reconsidering its approval of Enlist Duo, but agency officials told the Tribune last December that its scientists solely are determining whether bigger no-spray zones are needed to protect endangered plants near the edges of farm fields. The fact that the agency’s review is focusing only on plants and not people was troubling to the lawmakers.

“These actions do not address questions about serious potential health risks brought to light by the Chicago Tribune,” the lawmakers wrote.

Aside from the fact that no one seems to worry about chemical companies using American children in unwilling and unethical experiments involving the toxicity of their chemicals, even when chemical exposure increases rates of birth defects, meaning our infants are damaged even in utero, how does it relate to straw bale gardening? Will treated straw bales even work for gardening?

Why not look at plants that are killed by 2,4-D to find out how long enough chemical residue remains in the straw or hay treated with 2,4-D. Let’s just take a look whether or not the chemical is still active by whether or not legumes, which are killed by 2-4,D will grow.

According to the North Caroline Cooperative Extension Service, herbicide residue in straw and hay, often used in gardens and for animal feed, is so pervasive that care should be taken not to introduce it into gardens, with herbicide residue lasting for up to 3 years on hay stored in a barn. The hay and straw I bought were stored in the perfect conditions to keep 2,4-D active for 3 years. No wonder I was so burned.  According to a 2,4-D Chemical Fact sheet, one of the salts of 2,4-D is the most toxic class “by eye exposure.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my father’s eyes were so irritated after handling the treated straw.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension report states that herbicides fed to animals in the form of contaminated hay remain active in the manure even after it is composted:

Depending on the situation, the herbicides can be deactivated in as few as 30 days, but some field reports indicate that complete deactivation and breakdown can take several years. Hay has been reported to have residual herbicide activity after three years’ storage in dry, dark barns. Degradation is particularly slow in piles of manure and compost. When mulches, manures, or composts with residual herbicide activity are applied to fields or gardens to raise certain vegetables, flowers, or other broadleaf crops, potentially devastating damage can occur (Table 2).

I can’t get the table to insert, but tomatoes, peas, grapes, strawberries,eggplants, potatoes, peppers and in a fit of exhaustion “vegetables, in general” are listed as being killed by herbicide residues.  So putting that straw in his garden has the potential to kill my father’s hope of vegetables this year and possibly for years afterward. The report goes on to state that the hay or straw is only safe on grass fields, not for growing crops.

The herbicides of concern can also remain active on the hay itself. Do not sell or give away treated hay (even if it is several years old) for use as mulch or for making compost. The hay can be sold for consumption by livestock and horses, but be sure the purchaser is aware that the herbicide may pass through into the manure. Advise people feeding this hay to their animals to spread the manure on grass pastures or grass hayfields, being sure to follow all safety guidelines and regulations. According to the labels, plant materials treated with these herbicides should not be considered safe for growing sensitive crops until the plant materials are completely decayed. Breakdown of the herbicides is most rapid in sunlight under warm, moist conditions and may be enhanced with irrigation

I didn’t know there were now safety guidelines for spreading manure. Maybe there are safety guidelines for spreading chemically contaminated manure? Note that there is no mention of a source for determining how the herbicide is broken down. The report doesn’t mention how you know if “breakdown” has occurred. Great. We have long rows of straw bales in a garden that have the potential to kill our next-row pole beans, flanked on the other side by tomatoes.

It’s depressing that these issues with herbicide contamination aren’t more broadly discussed. I didn’t even get into the numerous studies that have linked pesticides, and 2,4-D is also considered a pesticide (hell, that stuff kills everything!), with increased childhood cancers and 2,4-D’s specific link to non-Hodgkins lymphomas.

A basic study, though, tells us that the more we are exposed, the more likely we are to have an increase in cancer:

There was a 50% excess of NHL among men who mixed or applied 2,4-D (odds ratio [OR] = 1.5; 95% confidence interval = 0.9, 2.5). The risk of NHL increased with the average frequency of use to over threefold for those exposed 20 or more days per year (p for trend = 0.051). Adjusting for use of organophosphate insecticides lowered the risk estimate for frequent users (OR = 1.8), but adjustment for fungicide use increased the risk estimate (OR = 4.5).

NHL does not euphemistically relate to the National Hockey League but to Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. There is a 300% increase in developing non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in men who mix or apply 2,4-D.

In the 2,4-D Chemical Watch Fact sheet, there is a listing stating that 2,4-D “breaks down” in soil, an article published in 1992 that cautions that the data found regarding soil breakdown in 2,4-D is site-dependent and cautioned that this information would be lost and the chemical could be misused:

For each parameter we suggest a “Selected Value” which we believe to be the best available, recognizing, however, that persistence and soil sorption are sensitive to specific site conditions. These Selected Values are being incorporated into pesticide environmental-impact risk assessment procedures by state and federal agencies, and are considered to be consensus values. However, there is a serious potential for misuse of these data, particularly the error of using small differences between active ingredients to make regulatory distinctions between them. The ability to relate these data to environmental impact is an essential need and is improving, but is currently at a primitive level.

Look, the study says that the little “6” we mentioned in 2,4-D being “safe” was already forecast back in 1992. Evaluating chemical impact in 1992 was considered “primitive,” and yet this study was used as the basis for studies claiming that 2,4-D breaks down.

I didn’t know my father and I could have disagreements with straw, because, quite honestly, I didn’t realize the depth of the politics involved in big farming that impacted me to such an extent. It’s not that I believe these things won’t affect me, but how could I know that straw was sprayed with 2,4-D? I was trying to give my birds fresh bedding. I have since moved to wood mulch that is chopped right on our property, and I have found an organic straw supplier. It only costs $4/bale for organic straw, and no burns!

I wish there was a way to communicate to those others who grow their own food that the food industry is far from transparent, and the chemical farming isn’t always forthright in representations of its own impact on others. It takes other farmers who have lost millions of dollars in lost crops to start some of the discussions on the ways in which large agriculture is infringing on the rights of all of our families to grow our own food. There are right to farm laws that protect our rights to grow our own foods, but what happens when big agriculture takes away those rights?

Meyers, founder of Vinetenders, LLC., is one of the region’s most experienced vineyard managers, with 35 years in what has become an internationally-acclaimed facet of Oregon agriculture. He says herbicide drift damages grapes, blueberries, nursery stock and organic crops — all valuable and expanding sectors of farming.

Meyers and other grape growers believe 2,4-D use should be banned from April through October, the growing season. Washington has taken that step and California has strict limitations as well. Vineyard operators are disappointed the Oregon Department of Agriculture hasn’t followed suit.

“We feel like we’ve now got a significant wine growing industry and we’re asking for similar protection,” said Doug Tunnell, owner of Brick House Vineyards. “People are losing revenue, losing grapes, every year; 2,4-D is so dangerous around grape vines.”

Guess in our little town I don’t know where to start. Straw bale gardening sure isn’t the panacea for poor soil if you happen to get a hold of straw sprayed with herbicides.

Now, it’s 11:45 at night. My daughter whispered that she was going up to bed without me over an hour ago as if she were kindly breaking some bad news to me. She kind of was–we love to read in bed at night, just for fun. And how to tell the family that my father’s garden may be no more?

Chickens like the Spring as well

One wouldn’t know it, but Spring has actually sprung, even with the snow flurries in the air.  With the ground thawing, we have actually been able to till the garden.

A bit about our garden.  We do things on a scale…one which is a rather large scale.  We share the garden with my father-in-law, whose idea of a small garden is one that is about an acre.  So, when we till, it is an all-day event.

The girls in warmer times.

The girls in warmer times.

We were able to till this last weekend, and with that came moving the coops around, stringing a row (approximately 150 feet long) and putting some pea seeds in.  As the dirt was being foot-shoveled over the pea seeds, I noticed that the hens were watching.  I didn’t know that hens would pay attention, but there they were…looking at our rows.

Yesterday, Rebecca said that as soon as the purple coop was released to roam for a bit, they went right to the pea row.

So, beware.  Sneak your planting in unless you have enough to share.  🙂

Avoiding “Killer Compost”

Real Compost

Real Compost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As previously noted, we go to significant lengths to obtain organic straw and haw.  There are three very good reasons (two of which are ultimately part of the same reason):

  1. Non-organic straw and hay have been directly linked to allergic burns and rashes on our skin
  2. Our chickens and ducks eat the straw and hay, and we eat their eggs
  3. The straw and hay become compostable matter which goes directly into our garden–and we eat the garden products

So, whether the straw and hay intersects with our skin or other organs, what we introduce to the garden becomes a part of us.

So, we hook up the trailer and drive the 25 minutes to into the hinterland to a farm committed to organic growing.  His straw and hay is a bit more expensive, but thus far we have had no allergic burns, and we are optimistic that our compost will be “clean” as well.

MotherEarthNews.com has an update to an earlier story about “killer compost”–compost that once put in the garden or around plants, proves toxic to those plants.  The story, “Killer Compost Update: Herbicide Damage Still a Major Problem,” details how “persistent herbicides” refuse to break down, traveling from ground, through animal, through compost to the end-user, killing the very plants that the compost was supposed to nourish.  Persistent indeed.

The article outlines some very specific persistent herbicides found in toxic compost in Vermont last year (2012): picloram, clopyralid.  Since these are regulated and controlled, the researchers asked the Vermont Agency of Agriculture who was using these chemicals.  No one, legally, was using them for the prior two years.

Digging deeper, the researchers isolated the source not to the compost, but to the feed given to the horses from which the compost was made.  The herbicide had made it through the cutting of the field (which was the initial source of the spray), through the industrial feed/food manufacturing process, through the horses’ digestive system and through the composting process.  That includes cutting, processing, digesting and composting (which involves heat), and the persistent virulence of the product remained intact to the point of killing (it is a herbicide after all) the plants on the receiving end of the compost.

We will continue to make our own compost, with our own birds (they are fed organic feed) and unsprayed straw and hay.  We may not be completely clean (overspray from neighboring farmers may result in incidental cross-contamination–but hopefully in minute parts/(m)(b)illion), but I trust our birds to peck, scratch and lay cleanly.  And, as spring nears, their bedding will become a positive addition to our tomatoes, squash and sunflowers.

If, after reading the article linked above, you wish to act, I encourage you to follow the articles prompt and write to the following:

This has to stop. Clearly, EPA labeling requirements and state regulations aren’t working. Recycling organic wastes to maintain soil fertility is essential if we want a sustainable food-production system. Picloram, clopyralid, aminocyclopyrachlor and all similar chemicals should be banned, period.

To express your view on the use of these persistent pesticides, we suggest you send your comments to Richard Keigwin, director of the EPA’s Special Review and Reregistration Division, at keigwin.richard@epa.gov.

Burger King Is Selling Horse Meat Instead of Pure Beef

People have often asked me why I am so diligent with my chickens, why I care so much about what I eat or my family eats, why I even worry about things like our food supply.  In our very uncertain world, there is much to be uneasy about, but I feel that when possible, our food should not be listed in that anxiety quadrant.  Enter the new flap about Burger King in the UK, the fact that Burger King is selling horse meat as part of its hamburger patty:

Burger King has faced allegations of orchestrating a cover-up of its links to the horsemeat scandal in order to give it time to find an alternative supplier.

It is currently shipping in tens of thousands of burgers from suppliers in Germany and Italy in order to meet demand at its UK outlets.

It is known that the management at Silvercrest has been using a series of non-approved ingredients in their burgers for a range of household name brands.

These included meat off-cuts, including horse, that were imported in large frozen blocks from Poland.

The contamination has been going on since at least last May and potentially for up to one year, according to evidence presented to MPs earlier this week.

Tonight Burger King abandoned its earlier denials, saying: ‘Four samples recently taken from the Silvercrest plant have shown the presence of very small trace levels of equine DNA.

 One might wonder whether it really matters what type of ruminant we are consuming when eating hamburgers, because hamburgers aren’t really made with pork after all, but usually beef.  I think the crux of the issue is that people don’t know what they are eating, and that bothers them.  I like to know what I am eating. I like to know what my family is eating and where it has come from. I want to know that my food doesn’t have extra chemicals, or maybe pink slime, that McDonald’s used to use.
CafeMom spoke with a McDonald’s representative about pink slime:

For starters, that pink slime photo we’ve all seen online is a fake. “It is actually a meat production plant in China that we don’t even use,” Jan said. She also said that ‘pink slime’ has never been used in McDonalds’ chicken nuggets.

“Our chicken nugget is a piece of chicken,” she told me. “It’s a whole muscle chicken. I’ve been to the plant. I’ve gone all the way from ‘the chicken’ to ‘eating the nugget’ process and there’s nothing added to it. There’s the breading, of course. The chicken is formed, cut, and then it goes through the breading process and then a freezing process. There is nothing ever added.

Pink slime (which is technically called ‘boneless lean beef trimmings’) has been used in burgers by fast food restaurants and in hot dogs, but early this year, many major chains including McDonalds, Taco Bell, Kroger, and Burger King, announced they would no longer carry products that use BLBTYou can read more about the facts vs. fiction regarding pink slime on Snopes.com.

Aside from kind of gagging to myself at “whole muscle chicken” pieces deep fried or breaded, which I wouldn’t eat regardless of whether or not we kept chickens, there is an huge uncertainty about what is in our nation’s food supply.  Keeping chickens, for us, is a way to reclaim that certainty about what we eat, what we feed our families, and being able to be sure our bit of consumption avoids factory farms, or unintentionally eating horses, or unintentionally consuming ammonia, which is part of the pink slime derivative.

Are there others out there like us, who really have taken up chickens so that they know what they eat, what they feed their family?  If so, we would love to hear from you. What else do you do to find out about where your food comes from?

Composting with Chickens – BackYard Chickens Community

I just read a wonderful article about using chickens to “turn” a compost pile until it is mulch.  This aligns with our goal of having working chickens that add and benefit the garden.

Chickens begin to root and scratch around a pile of fresh compostable materials.

The same compost pile, now after 4 months of chicken work,resulting in actual compost.

I am linking a few of the photos (particularly the before and after shots), so to get the full article and more pictures, follow here: Composting with Chickens – BackYard Chickens Community.

Composting also allows us to cycle through the Franken-hay that we inadvertently bought.  In a pinch, we purchased some hay from the local co-op.  After working with the hay, Rebecca broke out in a pretty severe rash on any skin that was exposed to the hay particles floating in the air.  When asked at the co-op, they indicated that it was “normal” hay, probably just treated with a little  2,4-D.  

We are now buying straw and hay from a local farmer committed to organic practices.  The hay is not as green, but we are finding that the greener the hay, the more toxic the hay.

A final note, Penelope the duck has started laying again.  She has been fallow for about a month, with an occasional “rubber” egg–an egg whose shell isn’t completely firm.  We tried providing oyster shells to help, but it (coincidentally?) seems to correlate with removing all of the co-op hay and introducing the organically-grown hay.  After two days with the better hay, the shell has firmed up.

The franken-hay is being moved well away.

The Dangers of Treated Seed

Who would have thought mice would be a vector for seed with a poisoned seed coat, a.k.a., treated seed?  When my father first ordered his garden seed for last year, he swore he got untreated seed, had checked the box on the order form for untreated seed, and so he had.  Unfortunately, the seed that arrived was treated.

Treated seed…treat with caution.

According to the FDA‘s website, these are some of the labeling requirements for treated seed:

Section 201.31a (d) of the FSA regulations requires seed treated with a chemical not assigned to Toxicity Category I by EPA to be labeled with, “Do not use for food,” “Do not use for feed,” “Do not use for oil purposes,” or “Do not use for food, feed, or oil purposes,” if the amount remaining with the seed is harmful to humans or other vertebrate animals. The most commonly used labeling for seed with these types of seed treatments is “Treated with (name of substance)” and “Do not use for food, feed, or oil purposes.”

The type of seed treatment we have is dangerous to birds, and therefore would be dangerous to our chickens. I looked online for other views on treated seed and birds, and I found this from Michigan, as well:

The neighbor next to me planted 40 acres 12 days ago, and filled in some wet spots a few days ago. I walked down my lane two days ago and found two crows 30 yards apart in the fencerow. They are both dangling from limbs several feet off the ground. Wings wide open, drool hanging out of their beaks. Very close to death. I am sure they ate too much treated corn seed. Not a pretty site. They are a few feet from my neighbors newly planted corn field. (Michigan Sportsman Forums)

The forum also included a section about how this man’s field was sprayed with Round-up, obviously not healthy to birds, but the treated seed caused death of crows. The treated seed at our garden was stored in a shed that was infiltrated by mice, who infiltrated treated packets, and we began to find dead mice on the floor, in boxes, and in corners.  Unfortunately, we also found mice droppings and the remnants of coated, treated, seed shells under our packages of oyster shells in our shed.  We tried to put out oyster shells, but we found blue flecks in them, and upon closer inspection, we found that the treated seed had been spread by the mice to our mineral salts for the birds, as well. Even stored treated seeds have the potential to adversely affect your birds if mice carry them around.

Here is the warning for Syngenta, a treatment to prevent fungal infections in plants:

DO NOT use treated seed for animal or human consumption. DO NOT allow treated seed to contaminate grain or other seed intended for animal or human consumption.
DO NOT feed treated seed, or otherwise expose, to wild or domestic birds.

When treated seed is stored it should be kept apart from other grain and the bags or other containers should be clearly marked to indicate the contents have been treated. Bags which have held treated seed should not be used for any other purpose.


DO NOT feed treated seeds to animals, including poultry.

This product is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. DO NOT contaminate streams, rivers or waterways with the product or used containers.

This segment was taken from the Syngenta website. Apparently we are not the only people noticing the toxicity of these seeds. We ended up dumping all of our products that the mice had gotten into anyway–who would want to feed mouse poop to their chickens–but we never expected the treated seed to be spread by the mice to multiple locations.  We thought we had the seed stored safely away from our garden.

I, personally, never handle treated seed, nor do I allow my daughter to handle it. I get too nervous about the toxicity of these chemicals on treated seed.  If the seed is so toxic, then why use it or touch it, but I just wanted to offer a cautionary tale that even storage of these seeds can result in spread by vectors we might not foresee.

2013–New Year, 1st Post

Nothing like starting off the new year with a new blog.  This is our first post for our chicken-themed blog, even though the whole family has been talking about what posts we would write as we go about our daily chicken tasks. Who knew chickens could be so absorbing?  Who knew there was so much to learn about chickens?

I had been told: “Chickens are easy.  They are so easy. All you do is put down scratch and water.”  For the uninitiated, scratch is a form of feed made up of large seeds (corn, etc.), but not the only one, and our life was not confined to scratch and water.  We have bought mash feed (more finely milled grain for daily feeding), built coops, built nesting boxes, raised chicks and lost chickens to predators.

Winter scene of the chicken garden

Winter in the chicken garden

The chickens are, in large part, an extension of our garden, an almost-organic garden, designed to supply the family with fresh produce. We have come to rely on the eggs and the chicken antics to keep us entertained.  Stick with us – we’ll try to pass it along to the family and friends interested in our latest chicken endeavors.

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