Archive for the ‘Pest Control’ Category


Fly season has begun. They are always a challenge when you have livestock. Fortunately our animals don’t spend much time in the barn when it’s warm and the chickens do a pretty good job cleaning up the pasture and eliminating the flies. They still make me a bit paranoid. Growing up we were obsessed with eliminating flies because they caused so much disease and distress which resulted in lower productivity. This fear is pretty prevalentin the cattle industry. All sorts of chemical concoctions have been invented with lots of creative ways of applying them. Sprays, powders, rubs, automated misters, fly traps, scratching posts that administer the chemicals while the cow rubs against it, etc. I’ve even seen a pasture vacuum to suck up all the manure and any bugs that it may harbor. For us, beyond the chickens and careful attention to manure management, we don’t do much in the way of fly control. When I tell farmers around here what we do for flies, the first response I get is “that wouldn’t work for us.” The second thing (sometimes the first thing) that is said is “you must have a lot of problems with pinkeye.) For a lot of people that seems to be a real problem. I remember using all kinds of shots, sometimes right into the eye, powders, and glue on patches to try to treat pinkeye and keep it from spreading in a herd. I know natural beef producers who have 10 – 15% of their calves dropped from the program because of pinkeye and the treatment options they use. I’ve seen animals blinded, eyes exploded and then removed, and pinkeye that has turned into an abscess and killed the animal. It can be a huge problem, and flies are a vector for spreading it. A few years ago I managed a herd of dairy goats. We had a good, natural, fly control program similar to the one I currently use. We hadn’t had a case of pinkeye in years. One summer we planted a new field with sorghum/Sudan grass to increase our hot season forage. With in three days of turning the goats into the new pasture we had our first case of pinkeye. Several more showed up the next day. This was a problem. We were milking these goats in a Grade A Organic Raw Milk dairy. Most of the treatment options the vet recommended would make the milk unusable and the goat no longer Organically certified. Not a good option. After some more research into alternatives, we hit on cod liver oil. Two ml squirted into the eye and 10 ml given orally. We treated the goats with pinkeye and then the whole herd with oral cod liver oil. As fast as the problem appeared it disappeared. It turns out that pinkeye is an indicator of vitamin A deficiency. Most of our pastures were minerally well balanced and had a diverse mix of grass, forbs, and legumes. The new pasture hadn’t had enough work done to balance the soil, and was planted in a single crop. (I suspect the sorghum/Sudan grass isn’t as well balanced even in good soil. I’ve seen lots of problems associated with it.) Once we identified the deficiency we were able to meet the need with a suplement. The only other time I had a pinkeye problem was when I was feeding hay purchased from an “organic” farm that was not minerally ballances. Attending to the quality of the soil and the feed produced on that soil will get you much better results than waging war with the flies.


I think there are lessons to be learned here as far as human health is concerned.  Food grown in soil that is properly ballanced promotes health.  Food that is deficient in something, because it was grown in soil that was deficient promotes disease.

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Some time in March, while brainstorming about how I could make a living off my land where there is such a tiny population based (and a fairly economically challenged one at that), a friend of mine suggested that I work towards making the place an education/demonstration farm. While talking about the idea he proffered that the likes of David Suzuki (Vancouver’s most famous environmentalist) might be interested in supporting the farm, and also suggested the Vancouver based universities that have agriculture programs may also be interested in working with me to teach sustainability and self-sufficiency.

About a week and a half ago, with that friend’s idea in mind, I finally decided to take a look at the Suzuki Foundation web page  just to see what he was up to. I didn’t get very far into the site when I happened upon a call for submissions. David Suzuki, is running a contest for pesticide free gardeners this summer. They say you don’t have to be a master gardener to play a starring role in the ‘David Suzuki Digs My Garden’ contest. They want a passionate storyteller who believes pesticide-free growing is the way of the future–which needless to say I do–that they can follow this summer in video, pictures and print, from soil prep and composting, through seeding and weeding, to reaping the harvest. There was  an e-form to fill in so I did, and promptly went to bed. While it is not exactly what I was looking for, it certainly would be a good opportunity to start with if I make the cut!

The next day, I received an email saying I was accepted to the second phase; the video audition. How exciting! There were, of course, many problems with this: I didn’t have a video camera, I didn’t know anyone with a video camera, I hadn’t ever used a video camera, I live 500 kilometers from the nearest store with a video camera, and no, I can’t buy one over the phone from the Vancouver camera stores. Consequently, I spent Saturday hunting down some options  via the internet, and finally a friend in Vancouver came to my rescue: he bought the camera and put it on the plane to Bella Coola last Sunday morning.

It arrived at 1:30 pm that Sunday afternoon. I spent the afternoon reading the instruction booklet whilst charging its batteries, then wrote my script and practiced it twice on an old tape-style video camera (that won’t let me translate it to an AVI file so I can upload it to You-tube as the Suzuki Foundation requests) and honed it down to about 90 seconds. There were, of course, several technical glitches along the way, or example I got half way through what was going to be my final take–on the newly charged, fancy, digital, jet-lagged camera–and then hit something that made the whole thing mute and couldn’t figure out how to undo it!!!

It is amazing that in this tiny valley there are still plenty of people I have not met. I am continually surprised by the number of talented, creative, and technically savvy people who come out of the woodwork. Lucky for me, Buddy Thatcher materialized just in time–we stood in front of each other for the first time the previous day when he came to the farm to pick up eggs for some community event! Buddy, who owns ‘Box o’ Bones Productions’ agreed to come to my aid. He edited out some of the wind in the outside shots along and added a few other technical details–all for the price of a basket full of my produce.

Thanks to my friend encouraging me to think about my farm differently, the technical savvy of Buddy, and my other friend in Vancouver who did the running around town shopping spree and courier service, I managed to find this opportunity and get the video complete–and with a day to spare!

Here is the final product:

Although this was my first ‘feature film’, I found the whole experience so creatively stimulating, that I’m thinking of expanding into more short films to document my life and work here. I have spent this past year writing words and am now intrigued to write scripts and story-boards for this visual medium. I am now continually thinking about the video camera and what would make nice clips and/or shots. Of course, I have yet to actually get to the stage of bringing it with me so I can actually catch those moments!

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan

On the last episode of the Survivalist series, I was asked to talk a little bit more about the throwing knife. I picked up my first throwing knife when I was 15 years old.
When I was a young Goth girl, I was fascinated with knives, swords, long bows and the like. My Masquerade character was dressed to the hilt with all odds of weaponry. Yes, I was an RPG geek in the day. I showed up at a Flea Market, dress in combat boots, bright green corduroys, and Cure shirt and purple hair, wondering around looking at the sad state the the majority of booths were in. One vendor had this strange collection of dragon statues, old records and steel weapons. I always thought that he too was a RPG geek like myself, just older. I was fingering one of his expensive knives when he approached me. No doubt thought I was going to pocket it. But I digress, the man approached me and asked if I had knew how to throw. I told him no, and then asked him in my teen angst disgust, does he? He chuckled and held a finger up for me to wait a moment. Then walked away to talk to someone else. He than came back, picked up, not the expensive ones and beckoned me to follow. Ok, we you are surviving on your own, I really don’t suggest following a strange man into an alley that is carrying knives, but, it was a good thing that I did. For this was my first encounter with the art of knife throwing. As soon as we stepped out the back, he threw the knife before my eyes could grasp what was happening and stuck the knife beautifully into a box. He turned and smiled down at me. He walked over, pulled the knife, and handed it to me. Without any instructions, but to throw, the knife slipped sweetly out of my fingertips, and bounced off the box, landing on the concrete.

Of course this was embarrassing, but it was a start, and when you are first learning, knives bouncing off your target will be common place. This man in the Flea Market spent a good hour with me. Showing me and lecturing me in the art of knife throwing. It’s concept is simple, stick the knife into the heart of your target, quickly, smoothly and efficiently.

First we need to talk about weight. I would never buy a knife online, simply because you need to feel the weight. Even machine made knives will have a slight difference in balance. You want to feel that difference. In the beginning you want a knife that weighs about 200g, anything lighter will be hard to control, anything heavier will strain your fingers. Take your knife by the handle, between your thumb and index finger, point the blade toward the ground. Now jerk your arm down in the direction your knife is pointing in, if the handle wobbles or the knife comes out of your fingers, it is too heavy for you. You also need to check the balance of the knife. It should be in its center, or a hair off in either direction. Balance your knife on your index finger, until you find that balance. If the handle is too heavy, you will not get predictable throws. If one side is heavier than the other and you love the knife anyways, always grasp and throw the lightest end. Don’t worry about getting cut. Throwing knives have no sharp sides, only the point. And if you tend to obsess over things, do not buy a knife that allows you to balance it with weights.

As for how to throw, I read a great step by step article this morning. It sums it up and doesn’t take all the space here. How to Throw Knives on Knifethrowinginfo.com

As for my story, I didn’t end up with the, too pricey for a 15 year old, but I did pick up a cheaper set, one that I still have and use today.

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

How do you know when peak canning season has commenced at my house? No, it’s not the 8-quart pressure canner parked permanently on the stove. It’s not the navy blue enamelware water bath canner constantly steaming up the already hot kitchen. Look beyond the stacks of quart, pint and jelly jars; the lids and rings. I don’t mark the time by the pantry shelves’ increasing rows of colorful, filled jars. It’s not even the piles of ripened vegetables and fruits all over the darn place…


However, the growing piles of produce are definitely a clue.


Look close! The biggest sign is the smallest of items. Want a hint?    




Drosophila melanogastor


In previous years I have struggled with herds of these annoying little guys. They seem to swell in numbers as summer ends and fall begins. When you are committed to keeping your life as chemical-free as possible (as we try to be), pest management seems like just a joke to the notorious fruit fly. Of course a randy, active sex life doesn’t hurt population growth either.


Ok, Gina, did you have to illustrate that point???

We got it already!!


Drosophila and I go way back to our college days where I spent many eye-strained days in lab trying to determine whether the batch of newly metamorphized flies I raised were made up of the ultra-cool wildtypes with their sinister red eyes or the more demure mutants with the quiet dark stare. If you were really lucky, you might find the queen of kings, the white-eyed fly! After days and days of counting thousands of fly eyes, at night, you could still see them staring at you when you closed your own eyes. Fancy a bit of biology-nerd trivia? Drosophila happens to be the most studied organism in the life sciences. Or, how about this, 75% of Homo sapiens’ disease genes have a almost exact match found within the genetic code of the ubiquitous fruit fly.


This year I have been determined not to let them get the best of me. I don’t care if we share disease similarity or not. First, I have been canning the vegetables gleaned from garden and market as quickly as I bring them into the house. The canners have been going since about mid-July. Every night, rain or shine, I ready the produce for preservation, determined to keep D. melanogastor from taking up residence here at the new house. It’s also been good for that disease I sometimes suffer from called Laziness. I wonder if that is one of the 25% of disease genes we don’t share with Drosophila


Of course, this has been impossible. The fruit flies are still quietly taking over my life.


A week ago, I placed six nearly ripened tomatoes on the window sill. Yesterday, as I prepared to can my first batch of tomatoes I grabbed one of the Romas off the sill. It disintegrated into mush in my grasp and exploded into hundreds of flies. All around me, this swarm of Drosophila mocked my every move. I checked, but couldn’t see, whether these guys were mutants or the wildtypes. Either way, I realized the 2008 battle with the fruit flies was officially on.


So, how do you combat them if you don’t want to use chemicals (a much worse problem than the basically harmless fruit fly, in my opinion)? Well, you first must realize that these flies will be attracted to almost any type of food they can dance their thorax on. I blamed the tomatoes in the window, but they could have just as easily been attracted to my bucket of food scraps I give the pigs and chickens at the end of the day or even the wet dish towel I leave lying around. Knowing that, by keeping food processed, covered, stored or disposed, I can help eliminate larval breeding grounds. The flies generally do not pose a health issue to humans, other than stress. Around August and on through October, the flies are at peak population. Once colder weather hits, I let our house get cold and this does seem to help decrease the amount of flies about the house.


As a canner, a gardener or just the simple fact I like fresh fruit & veggies in the house, I will never be completely free of this pesky organism, but if I have to I will resort to my Plan B to keep from feeling overran by Drosophila during the canning season. I will not, however, resort to poisons. Here is a simple fruit fly trap I build using one of my extra quart Mason jars (extra? What extra?!) I will share with you my secret fruit fly defense mechanism.

Find a Mason jar and paint the top third black (or cover it with paper). Coat the inside of the jar with honey, syrup or vegetable oil. Invert the jar over bait such as crushed tomatoes on a used canning lid or some other repurposed object. Rest the jar upside down on two blocks of wood to allow flies space enough to feed on the bait. After leaving the bait, they will fly upwards to the lighter portion of the jar. The sticky substance traps and kills them! The trap will lose its stickiness or fill up with flies and must have the honey or oil reapplied every 30 days or so. Also, you’ll want to replace the rotting vegetable or fruit (bait) as needed.

 Illustration from Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet HYG-2109-97

If you really want to get sassy with science thing, you can count how many wildtypes (red-eyed) vs. mutants (any other color eyes) you have in the jar and figure out what alleles are dominant in your fruit fly population. However, be forewarned, not only is this tedious chore, but it may also get you labeled as a freaky biology-loving geek! 

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