Thursday, August 18, 2016

Antibiotic resistance

A few weeks ago I got two books, one on antibiotic resistance and one on antiviral resistance.

When you think of anti-viral and antibiotic resistance, think of a tanning bed. Five minutes on a tanning bed isn't going to do much when you first start, but fifty and you're fried. But use that tanning bed five minutes per day for a year and the fifty won't be such a big deal. You've developed resistance. Now think of our use of antibiotics. I have a good friend who pops antibiotics when she needs to go out in public. Not because she needs them, but because she might contact someone who has something. She uses them for colds as well, although they're completely ineffective against viruses.

We do precisely that with livestock, poultry, and even bees. All are fed small daily doses of antibiotics to protect them against the decidedly unnatural conditions they live in. So those bacteria that do survive are resistant to the antibiotics, resulting in the use of an even stronger antibiotic the next time in order to have the same result. All of those antibiotics are excreted in one way or another--into our water, the air, the products those animals produce. All of those antibiotics encounter other plants and animals, and the diseases native to those naturally become resistant as well, over time.

Meanwhile in hospitals and doctors offices the numbers of resistant bacterial infections are growing exponentially. Diseases that would have been simple to treat a generation ago are now killing. It's a problem which people worldwide are trying to deal with in their own ways. In some areas any use of an antibiotic takes a hospital administrator's permission and the dose has to be administered by medical personnel. In other areas the people have turned to remedies that our ancestors used for thousands of years.

Whatever the solution, antibacterial resistance is a growing and well recognized problem. Anti-viral resistance is trickier.

The only real remedy we have against viruses is to keep the body strong and give it what it needs in order to fight the invader. Viruses are tricky things, with a massive arsenal of weapons. If bacteria are the armed robbers of the micro-biotic world, viruses are the terrorists. Bacteria are relatively straightforward. They get in there, they create a mess, the police stop them and it's over. Viruses turn the body's defenses against itself, and even use those defenses to get what they need. Once they get inside a cell (which they do by tricking the cell into thinking they belong there, "Oh, we're all one big happy family, you can trust me.") they turn the cell's own DNA into a viral replicating factory, creating millions of new viruses. Then when the body gets its act together and attacks the cell, they swarm out looking for new cells to infect. Macrobiological terrorists use the same kind of tactics, but that's not a rant for this blog.

Eventually the body does figure out what's going on and starts to fight the invaders. The trick is to keep it healthy long enough to get to that point. Pharmaceutical anti-viral agents focus on a few main points: Not letting the virus replicate, not letting the virus get into a cell, and triggering the body's defenses sooner. Because the pharmaceuticals are a single active constituent, with a single intended action, the virus finds them easier to counter. Antiviral resistance is also a growing problem as the viruses learn from our clumsy attempts to destroy them.

On the other hand, we have around us plants and fungi that have survived viral and bacterial attack for billions of years. They've developed their defenses against these invaders to a fine edge, and with a little ingenuity we can use those defenses for ourselves. Which leads to the idea of identifying the chemicals that create these reactions, isolating them, and making a profit from their use. The problem we run into is that plant defenses aren't just made up of one chemical--they may have one chemical constituent which solves the main problem but creates massive swelling, one which reduces or eliminates that swelling, one which helps the body recognize the intruders, and so on. It's not one chemical, which can be isolated and sold. It's a chemical symphony, and if you take out the violins or the drums it may not do its job right. So in the pharmaceutical industry we end up with a list of side effects often worse than the original disease because we're removing the axle to fix a flat tire.

The antiviral and antibacterial herbs target the invaders in a very different way than manufactured pharmaceuticals. They take what we might refer to as a holistic approach; building up the body, activating the body's defenses, killing the invader or making it incapable of replicating itself, healing the damage created by the invader and making the body more resistant to the same invader in the future. It's no surprise then that many of the antibacterial herbs are also antiviral on some level, and vice versa.

Herbal Antibiotics (Buhner)
Herbal Antivirals (Buhner)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Re-used canning lids update

Some time ago I started experimenting with re-used lids in canning. You can find the old post here.

I have continued to re-use lids when I can (pressure or water bath) and at this point I can say that the initial seal rate is higher than the new lids (100%) and only one has lost seal to this point, six months after I started. I've lost several of the bottles sealed with new lids during that same time.

I am keeping the bottles with the reused lids in a separate area of the cupboard so I can keep an eye on them. I have not started using the lids a third time yet (that would mean opening a bottle!) so that and using badly damaged lids are for future experiments.

But at this point I feel confident enough to keep the old lids for future use. At the moment I'm using most to fill the bottles with sterile water for storage.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Water conservation

I live in a desert, with the average rainfall being right around 12 inches (about 30 centimeters) per year. That's ALL year, not just during the summer. I have to laugh when people talk about a drought, then say they ONLY get 10 inches of rain per month. The last time we got rain was about the beginning of May.

Under those circumstances, water use is extremely important. I try not to use anything from outside--no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, I harvest my own seeds...and then I have to cancel out all my gains by buying water from the city. During the summer, I use about 60,000 gallons of water per month. A great deal of that is used to water lawns (a long story that I won't go into at the moment--sufficient to say that the lawns will stay for a while longer).

So let's round (just to make the calculations easy) and say I have a quarter of an acre. That's 10,890 square feet, or 1.5 million inches. If each inch receives just 10 inches of rain, that's more than 15 million inches or 68,000 gallons falling on my property. If I were able to use all of that (and assuming that I'm no longer feeding thirsty grass that needs to be watered three times per week) I could last much of the summer without supplemental watering.

Several problems with that scenario. First, water runs off. Second, water runs down (through the soil and into the water table) and third, water runs up (through evaporation).

The first is relatively simple--slope and grade the soil so that the water has to stay. A dip in the soil of an inch will prevent a great deal of water from running downhill. Fill that dip with mulch, you have a handy catchment area that will slowly drain that water into the soil over time.

The second, there's nothing I can do other than strip off the top 30 feet of soil (well honestly it's sand and rock, not soil), put down pond liner, and put the soil back.

The third, again, is relatively simple. Mulch. Lots and lots of mulch. Mulch every year. Seriously, if I wasn't buying 60,000 gallons of water per month how much mulch could I buy? LOTS.

On my property there is one area that is consistently hotter than anywhere else. I have never been able to do anything with it--everything I put there died. Repeatedly. But this year I did something different. I mulched it. As deep as I could, and this summer every bit of extra plant material I could scrape up went up there. Right now it's requiring one deep watering per week, as opposed to last year when I was watering it every single day and STILL everything died.

Now I'm seeing mushrooms in the mulch, and weeds I've never seen before. The plants are thriving--except in the areas where I haven't finished mulching deeply. There, they struggle, but they're still alive and kicking.

So if I could mulch the garden area like that, could I get away with once a week watering? I already water only twice a week in the main garden, and it has much better soil than the hill area. I'm guessing every other week, or even less once the system is established. That right there would cut my water usage a great deal.

This year I tried something new. Well, several somethings, but this year I didn't till the garden. I planted, and waited. And the plants thrived, with no additional water at all. I didn't water the main garden until the end of May, and everything grew just fine. So if I mulched it deeply, would I be able to stretch that to the end of June? The middle of July? The whole summer?

I don't know, but it's worth a try.