Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fast or Slow Composting? Part 1

Whether you want to compost material quickly with a "Hot" pile (which requires more work on your part) or are content to let nature do most of the work, (slowly, over a longer period of time), determines how to set up your compost pile.

Hot Composting:

Why would you want to go through the extra effort required to establish and maintain a hot compost pile? Well, there are several reasons.

1. You can create a considerable amount of compost in as little as 3-4 weeks.
2. There is less smell from a hot pile.
3. Hot composting will kill most weed seeds and other pathogens.
4. Hot, quick composting preserves more nutrients in the finished compost. It is better for your plants.
5. Hot composting will reduce the size of your pile quicker. This frees up space to make more compost!

Ok, so how do we do this?

First, you need a clear site to establish your composting facility. The size will be dependent on what type of bin or container you use.

There are commercially available "Barrel Composters" that do a good job of hot composting small batches of material. For a small yard and garden owner these might be ideal but they do cost quite a bit of money. If you are handy with tools you can make these yourself and save hundreds of dollars. All you need to do is partially fill the barrel with the ideal mix of brown and green compost material (see previous Blog Composting 101), adequate moisture, and then spin the barrel a couple times each day.

Advantages: Barrel composters are neat, pest free, very quick and hot.
Disadvantages: Limited size and thus quantity of compost, require lifting material up to small door, require daily turning, can be expensive.

Standing bins require more space because you will want at least two and preferably three bins at least 4'x4'x3' in size. This example has 1/4" hardware cloth (wire) on the side and back panels. I used this method once but the wire only lasted four years before it rusted out. It was a quick build though and that is what I needed at the time. Alternately you could use pallets, cement blocks, or used deck boards (5/4"x6" floor boards for outdoor decks). Used deckboards are often available for free on Craigslist.

Advantages: Can create large quantities of compost quickly, provide long-term storage capacity, allow multiple stages of the process.
Disadvantages: Can be expensive depending on materials used, requires a lot of forking or shoveling to mix and move product and materials.

A simple and cheap, but not necessarily long-lasting, enclosure is a column made from wire fencing. These can be set up and taken down in just minutes. The wire has to be close enough together to hold the materials inside but otherwise these can work pretty good. If you use a quick release method to tie the ends together you can unwrap the pile, re-create the wire bin, an fork over the material to mix. This creates a hotter pile.

Advantages: Simple, cheap, easy to set up and take down, very well aerated, can hold as much material as you want based on the size of the bin you create.
Disadvantages: The finished compost will fall through the wire and be outside the bin, short life-span of the fence, piles tend to dry out quickly.

The last choice would be an un-enclosed pile. A loose pile would need to be about five feet across at the bottom to have enough mass to heat up properly. If you have a front end loader you can create and aerate very large piles to make tons of compost in a short time. These piles though, are often neglected and attack mice and other wildlife. They are also a bit unsightly for a yard. These are great though if you have large quantities of Green material such as grass clippings and manure. Turning the pile every day or two prevents odor.

Advantages: Massive quantities of compost can be made, easiest pile to use mechanized help (tractors, loaders, or a Bobcat), well aerated.
Disadvantages: Most susceptible to animal pests, loss of nutrients due to rain leaching, unsightly in a yard.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Meet The New Sports Drink: Pickle Juice

Saw this today on the internet sports page. Could be a cheap sports drink for those of you that do heavy endurance training or are working outside on hot days. My paternal grandfather used to drink vinegar for the same reason.

When it comes to folk remedies, professional athletes are miles ahead of the game. Whether putting butter on a burn or rubbing dirt on a cut, they'll do just about anything if they think it'll help them get through a game.

Including drinking pickle juice. The practice of downing cucumber brine isn't a new one. It's been used for decades and got media attention back in 2000 when Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder credited pickle juice as the secret weapon that helped his team stomp the Cowboys in Texas Stadium. On that day, temperatures on the field soared above 110 degrees -- the perfect conditions for a cramp-fest.

But the Philadelphia players, dosed with the neon elixir, avoided the crippling injury and won running away, 41-14. As it turns out, this is one of those rare occasions where the science caught up to the practice.

A study done last year at BYU proved the efficacy of the folksy curative. Subjects exercised to the point of mild dehydration and had cramps induced. Those who drank pickle juice felt relief within 85 seconds, almost twice as fast as water or other sports drinks.

"Pickle juice is a natural source of sodium as well as other electrolytes," says Buccaneers team nutritionist Kevin Luhrs. "Sodium is a component of sweat. The rationale is that sodium from the pickle juice helps replace sodium losses from sweat and even helps retain water in the body." Although Luhrs said he doesn't use pickle juice with any Buccaneers, he says the practice is common around the league. Dez Bryant reportedly loves it. Jason Witten even endorsed a bottled version called Pickle Juice Sport back in 2006. Packers defensive end Jarius Wynn used to swear by it.

"I used to drink pickle juice in high school to keep the cramps down," Wynn says. "It was good when I was young, especially playing in the South where is gets really hot." Wynn has switched to coconut water or other electrolyte-laden drinks. But Pickle Juice Sport founder Brandon Brooks says he provides his product to nearly two dozen teams and more than 100 professional athletes. His sales are up so much (54 percent from last year alone) that he can't produce enough of the drink to sign on with any more large retail outlets.

Now with the science to back it up, pickle juice appears to be here to stay. It probably won't hit the shelves of 7-Eleven anytime soon, but the curious can simply grab the jar of dills from the refrigerator door next time they wake up with a knot in their calf.

Toxic Levels of Arsenic Found in Popular Juice Brands

    Arsenic has long been recognized as a poison and a contaminant in drinking water, but now concerns are growing about arsenic in foods, especially in fruit juices that are a mainstay for children. Controversy over arsenic in apple juice made headlines as the school year began when Mehmet Oz, M.D., host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” told viewers that tests he’d commissioned found 10 of three dozen apple-juice samples with total arsenic levels exceeding 10 parts per billion (ppb). There’s no federal arsenic threshold for juice or most foods, though the limit for bottled and public water is 10 ppb. The Food and Drug Administration, trying to reassure consumers about the safety of apple juice, claimed that most arsenic in juices and other foods is of the organic type that is “essentially harmless.”
    But an investigation by Consumer Reports shows otherwise. Our study, including tests of apple and grape juice, a scientific analysis of federal health data, a consumer poll, and interviews with doctors and other experts, finds the following:
  • Roughly 10 percent of our juice samples, from five brands, had total arsenic levels that exceeded federal drinking-water standards. Most of that arsenic was inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen.
  • One in four samples had lead levels higher than the FDA’s bottled-water limit of 5 ppb. As with arsenic, no federal limit exists for lead in juice.
  • Apple and grape juice constitute a significant source of dietary exposure to arsenic, according to our analysis of federal health data from 2003 through 2008.
  • Children drink a lot of juice. Thirty-five percent of children 5 and younger drink juice in quantities exceeding pediatricians’ recommendations, our poll of parents shows.
  • Mounting scientific evidence suggests that chronic exposure to arsenic and lead even at levels below water standards can result in serious health problems.
  • Inorganic arsenic has been detected at disturbing levels in other foods, too, which suggests that more must be done to reduce overall dietary exposure.
What the Tests Found
    We tested juice from bottles, cans, and juice boxes that we bought in three states. We went shopping in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York in August and September, buying 28 apple juices and three grape juices. Our samples came from ready-to-drink bottles, juice boxes, and cans of concentrate. For most juices, we bought three different lot numbers to assess variability. (For some juices, we couldn’t find three lots, so we tested one or two.) In all, we tested 88 samples.
    Five samples of apple juice and four of grape juice had total arsenic levels exceeding the 10 ppb federal limit for bottled and drinking water. Levels in the apple juices ranged from 1.1 to 13.9 ppb, and grape-juice levels were even higher, 5.9 to 24.7 ppb. Most of the total arsenic in our samples was inorganic, our tests showed. As for lead, about one fourth of all juice samples had levels at or above the 5-ppb limit for bottled water. The top lead level for apple juice was 13.6 ppb; for grape juice, 15.9 ppb.

Apple Juice
The following brands had at least one sample of apple juice that exceeded 10 ppb:
  • Apple & Eve
  • Great Value (Walmart)
  • Mott’s
And these brands had one or more samples of apple juice that exceeded 5 ppb of lead:
  • America’s Choice (A&P)
  • Gerber
  • Gold Emblem (CVS)
  • Great Value
  • Joe’s Kids (Trader Joe’s)
  • Minute Maid
  • Seneca
  • Walgreens
Grape Juice
For grape juice, at least one sample from Walgreens and Welch’s exceeded 10 ppb. At least one sample of grape juice exceeding 5 ppb of lead came from:
  • Gold Emblem (CVS)
  • Walgreens
  • Welch’s
    Our findings provide a spot check of a number of local juice aisles, but they can’t be used to draw general conclusions about arsenic or lead levels in any particular brand. Even within a single tested brand, levels of arsenic and lead sometimes varied widely.
View the complete test results for all 88 samples.
    Arsenic-tainted soil in U.S. orchards is a likely source of contamination for apples, and finding lead with arsenic in juices that we tested is not surprising. Even with a ban on lead-arsenate insecticides, “we are finding problems with some Washington state apples, not because of irresponsible farming practices now but because lead-arsenate pesticides that were used here decades ago remain in the soil,” says Denise Wilson, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Washington who has tested apple juices and discovered elevated arsenic levels even in brands labeled organic.
    Over the years, a shift has occurred in how juice sold in America is produced. To make apple juice, manufacturers often blend water with apple-juice concentrate from multiple sources. For the past decade, most concentrate has come from China. Concerns have been raised about the possible continuing use of arsenical pesticides there, and several Chinese provinces that are primary apple-growing regions are known to have high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.
    A much bigger test than ours would be needed to establish any correlation between elevated arsenic or lead levels and the juice concentrate’s country of origin. Samples we tested included some made from concentrate from multiple countries including Argentina, China, New Zealand, South Africa, and Turkey; others came from a single country. A few samples solely from the United States had elevated levels of lead or arsenic, and others did not. The same was true for samples containing only Chinese concentrate.
    The FDA has been collecting its own data to see whether it should set guidelines to continue to ensure the safety of apple juice, a spokeswoman told us.
    The Juice Products Association said, “We are committed to providing nutritious and safe fruit juices to consumers and will comply with limits established by the agency.”
A Chronic Problem
    Arsenic has been notoriously used as a poison since ancient times. A fatal poisoning would require a single dose of inorganic arsenic about the weight of a postage stamp. But chronic toxicity can result from long-term exposure to much lower levels in food, and even to water that meets the 10-ppb drinking-water limit.
    A 2004 study of children in Bangladesh suggested diminished intelligence based on test scores in children exposed to arsenic in drinking water at levels above 5 ppb, says study author Joseph Graziano, Ph.D., a professor of environmental health sciences and pharmacology at Columbia University. He’s now conducting similar research with children living in New Hampshire and Maine, where arsenic levels of 10 to 100 ppb are commonly found in well water, to determine whether better nutrition in the United States affects the results.
People with private wells may face greater risks than those on public systems because they’re responsible for testing and treating their own water. In Maine, where almost half the population relies on private wells, the USGS found arsenic levels in well water as high as 3,100 ppb.
    And a study published in 2011 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health examined the long-term effects of low-level exposure on more than 300 rural Texans whose groundwater was estimated to have arsenic at median levels below the federal drinking-water standard. It found that exposure was related to poor scores in language, memory, and other brain functions. “I suspect there is an awful lot of chronic, low-level arsenic poisoning going on that’s never properly diagnosed.”—Michael Harbut, M.D.
Symptoms of Chronic Exposure
    Chronic arsenic exposure can initially cause gastrointestinal problems and skin discoloration or lesions. Exposure over time, which the World Health Organization says could be five to 20 years, could increase the risk of various cancers and high blood pressure, diabetes, and reproductive problems.
    Signs of chronic low-level arsenic exposure can be mistaken for other ailments such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Usually the connection to arsenic exposure is not made immediately, as Sharyn Duffy of Geneseo, N.Y., discovered. She visited a doctor in 2007 about pain and skin changes on the sole of her left foot. She was referred to a podiatrist and eventually received a diagnosis of hyperkeratosis, in which lesions develop or thick skin forms on the palms or soles of the feet. It can be among the earliest symptoms of chronic arsenic poisoning. But she says it was roughly two years before she was finally referred to a neurologist, who suggested testing for arsenic. She had double the typical levels.
    “Testing for arsenic isn’t part of a routine checkup,” says Duffy, a retiree. “When you come in with symptoms like I had, ordering that kind of test probably wouldn’t even occur to most doctors.” Michael Harbut, M.D., chief of the environmental cancer program at Karmanos Institute in Detroit, says, “Given what we know about the wide range of arsenic exposure sources we have in this country, I suspect there is an awful lot of chronic, low-level arsenic poisoning going on that’s never properly diagnosed.”
    Emerging research suggests that when arsenic exposure occurs in the womb or in early childhood, it not only increases cancer risks later in life but also can cause lasting harm to children’s developing brains and endocrine and immune systems, leading to other diseases, too.
    Case in point: From 1958 through 1970, residents of Antofagasta, Chile, were exposed to naturally occurring arsenic in drinking water that peaked at almost 1,000 ppb before an arsenic removal plant was installed. Studies led by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that people born during that period who had probable exposure in the womb and during early childhood had a lung-cancer death rate six times higher than those in their age group elsewhere in Chile. Their rate of death in their 30s and 40s from another form of lung disease was almost 50 times higher than for people without that arsenic exposure.
    “Recent studies have shown that early-childhood exposure to arsenic carries the most serious long-term risk,” says Joshua Hamilton of the Marine Biological Laboratory. “So even though reducing arsenic exposure is important for everyone, we need to pay special attention to protecting pregnant moms, babies, and young kids.”

Other Dietary Exposures

    In addition to juice, foods including chicken, rice, and even baby food have been found to contain arsenic—sometimes at higher levels than the amounts found in juice. Brian Jackson, Ph.D., an analytical chemist and research associate professor at Dartmouth College, presented his findings at a June 2011 scientific conference in Aberdeen, Scotland. He reported finding up to 23 ppb of arsenic in lab tests of name-brand jars of baby food, with inorganic arsenic representing 70 to 90 percent of those total amounts.
    Similar results turned up in a 2004 study conducted by FDA scientists in Cincinnati, who found arsenic levels of up to 24 ppb in baby food, with sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, and peaches containing only the inorganic form. A United Kingdom study published in 2008 found that the levels of inorganic arsenic in 20-ounce packets of dried infant rice cereals ranged from 60 to 160 ppb. Rice-based infant cereals are often the first solid food that babies eat.
    Rice frequently contains high levels of inorganic arsenic because it is among plants that are unusually efficient at taking up arsenic from the soil and incorporating it in the grains people eat. Moreover, much of the rice produced in the U.S. is grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas, on land formerly used to grow cotton, where arsenical pesticides were used for decades.
    “Initially, in some regions rice planted there produced little grain due to these arsenical pesticides, but farmers then bred a type of rice specifically designed to produce high yields on the contaminated soil,” says Andrew Meharg, professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland. Meharg studies human exposures to arsenic in the environment. His research over the past six years has shown that U.S. rice has among the highest average inorganic arsenic levels in the world—almost three times higher than levels in Basmati rice imported from low-arsenic areas of Nepal, India, and Pakistan. Rice from Egypt has the lowest levels of all.
    Infant rice cereal for the U.S. market is generally made from U.S. rice, Meharg says, but labeling usually doesn’t specify country of origin. He says exposure to arsenic through infant rice cereals could be reduced greatly if cereal makers used techniques that don’t require growing rice in water-flooded paddies or if they obtained rice from low-arsenic areas. His 2007 study found that median arsenic levels in California rice were 41 percent lower than levels in rice from the south-central U.S.
Read the full article from Consumer Reports