Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My 1st Kitchen Garden

So, I've taken the plunge.  I've started my first kitchen garden!

Sadly, no...it'll not be that pretty


A few quick considerations:
  • I live in a tiny appartment (less than 200 sq. ft.)
  • My landlords allow me to utalize their side yard
  • The side yard recieves little to no shade
  • My current locaiton is by no means pernament
  • Limited funds and time
I've decided upon a mix between raised beds and containers. 

The containers will be mostly to control sturdy and fast growing plants (such as mint and strawberries) as well as beneficial flowers that attract good bugs and birds to help control pests (such as marigolds and wild carrot).  Plus, they'll make it easy to bring in plants that wouldn't like the Maryland winters and would come back in the spring (such as my berry bushes).

The raised beds are to make sure that I have good quality soil with good drainage (they help make sure that my thumb more green than brown).  Maryland tends to have lots of clay which is too heavy and hard for most plants to enjoy.  Plus, it helps me control what goes into my plants (I'm shooting for a 100% organic garden).


Why organic?  Because it tastes better.  Oh, and it's healthier for me, my sugar gliders, and the environment.  Plus, chemical fertilizers and pesticides are pretty pricey in comparison to the natural way:
  • companion planting - mixing the types of plants in the same bed to help balance nutrients and protect from pests
  • worm composting - adding nutrients to the ground and a great way to 'recycle' kitchen scraps
  • attracting birds and beneficial bugs to help control pests (all that's needed are some pretty flowers, a bird feeder, and a bird bath)

And, I'm going to try to take it the next step with biodynamic gardening.  Biodynamic gardening works with nature to increase yields by considering the 'farm' as a single living organism.  Why is this the next step from organic?  Because all that organic really means is the elimination of chemicals.

How did I discover biodynamics?  There is a local farm near here that is 100% biodynamic: White Rose Farm of Taneytown, Maryland.

I visited White Rose Farm last fall when I was researching healthier and inexpensive food sources including CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture).  The owner gave me a tour of their farm and I was intrigued (especially when I tasted the difference). 

Organic foods already taste better to me than the more typical foods.  But the food that I tasted at White Rose Farm blew me away.  Even their celery had a complex flavor!  And talk about delicious radishes!

A biodynamic farming calendar

Plus, working with nature just makes more seance to me.  Why fight a force much greater than I when I can get greater yields and better tasting food by working with her?

Current Status:

I've started all of my root vegetable seeds and they're sitting on my eastern facing window sill.  Less than a week after planted, my beats and radishes have already sprouted along with one of my garlic plants (yay)!  Still waiting on the little green heads of my onions, turnips, carrots, and fennel.  I've also started a few sugar snap pea plants as they take longer to start than others.

I also have bought all of the seeds I should need for this growing season including various leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, kale, etc), herbs, edible flowers, pretty flowers to attract butterflies and birds, summer vegetables (green beans, zucchini, etc), and fruit (watermelon, berries, tomatoes, etc).

My raised beds are about 1/3rd of the way done (need to continue to level, loosen the base dirt, finish the building, put down a layer of pebbles and shredded coconut husk (for drainage), and some good compost dirt).

I have some compost started from kitchen scraps.  I also am going to make a homemade worm compost container where old leaves and kitchen scraps will go.

The Next Steps:

Yes, I will keep you up to date with pictures, how to's, etc. 

For now I'm going to continue to monitor my seedlings and plant them into larger containers before transferring them outdoors (this helps extend the growing season and protect the plants when they're at their weakest).  I will also continue to research gardening best practices, preserving, and so forth.

I'm not sure why this is uploading sideways, it looks fine on my computer. Anyway, these are my first sprouts of the season: beets and radishes.

As soon as I'm able to transfer some of my seedlings to larger pots, I'm going to start other seeds...probably some spinach, kale, tomatoes, and peppers (the last two are considered 'slow' growing plants so I need to get them started earlier in the season before transferring them to the ground in early/mid May (the last frost date for this area is typically the end of April/beginning of May).

Do you have a small kitchen garden?  What are some of your favorite things about it?  Your greatest challenges?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Behind the Diets: the Story behind LGRS Suggie Soup

I was recently lucky enough to interview Ed of Lucky Glider's Rescue about the LGRS Suggie Soup that he and his wife created.  Because all that these sugar glider lovers have done for the good of the glider, they have earned great respect from many in the sugar glider caregiver community.

The original recipe is meant for malnourished and sick 'sugar bears' and can be adjusted for healthy sugar gliders.


  • 1 cup of canned Mango juice or liquefied fresh Mango
  • 1 cup of canned Papaya juice or liquefied fresh Papaya
  • 2 cups of Calcium and Vitamin D fortified Orange Juice
  • 2 cups of Filtered Honey
  • 1/4 cup of Plain, Low-Fat Yogurt (kind with 12g protein per half pint)
  • 1 small scrambled egg
  • 1 Tablespoon of Trader Darwin's Vanilla Flavored Soy
  • 1 Tablespoon of powdered, dehydrated Fly Pupae 
  • 2 Tablespoons of powdered Bee Pollen

1. Cook and scramble egg, set aside to cool

2. With a blender, powder the bee pollen and dehydrated fly pupae together so it is one fine powder and set aside

3. Warm honey using a hot water bath method or microwave.

4. Mix warmed honey and juices in blender

5. Add protein powder and yogurt to the juice and honey mixture. Blend till smooth (depending on the size of your blender. You may need to blend the rest in stages)

6. Add egg and pollen/pupae mix into the liquid ingredients. Blend until smooth.

7. Pour into small freezer-safe containers for freezing use containers that you can put in the fridge with enough to last two or three days. If you have two gliders who will only eat two tablespoons per serving, those containers can be pretty small. You can freeze the soup in ice cube trays and pop the frozen cubes into freezer bags.

Here are a few links where you can learn more about Ed, the Lucky Glider Rescue, and LGRS Suggie Soup:

Here is the interview itself; the questions and answers are verbatim.

1) how long have you been working with sugar gliders?  what got you into them?

Our introduction to sugar gliders was at the Cashman Center in Las Vegas where Steve Larkin, of Custom Cages Works (also Perfect Pocket Pets of Dallas, and Tropical Attitude Pets - depending on time frame) was selling gliders out of a booth at a home show.

We lived in Vegas since the turn of the century and met Mr. Larkin I think in 2006. We were instantly smitten with the little critters, like most people are - but had not done much research on them. At that point we where not aware of their origin state-side - that is from glider mills in FLA and TX.

After two weeks, we noticed both gliders were skinny and slow and we were terrified they would die. We contacted our vet and consulted with glider experts and found out they were malnourished from a diet of pellets and apples - what we would later dub "the apples and pellets death diet." We did a crash course on gliders, interviewed with vets, and bought numerous field studies, nutrition books and articles on glider nutrition. We began to conduct detailed nutritional analysis on foods and popular glider diets, because strangely none of them had published nutritional analysis data on them.

So what got us into gliders was initially having bought a pair (Buddy and Barbie) at the trade show. We brought home a few others and let three of the females (Barbie, Belle, and Darla) have two joeys each and then neutered the males. By early 2007, we had two colonies - the "B" colony with seven members and the "D" colony with six.

2) can you tell me what inspired the Lucky Glider Rescue?

We began to meet other people through glidercentral.net and sugarglider.com who had gliders. We swapped stories and learned a lot about their behavior. We worked very closely with local exotic vets to learn more about them.

Over the next year or so, one individual who was nursing a lone, 3-year old female glider (Critter) and asked if we could take care of her and eventually introduce her to other gliders. Critter's mate had been killed and eaten by a dog. She too had come from the trade show. She was malnourished, never played with and a very scared and bitey little girl.

We said "yes" and I guess Critter became our first rescue-turned pet. We put her on a special diet based on veterinarian's instructions and we attempted to introduce her to the B and then D colony. We learned that introductions are dicey - especially introducing lone gliders to an established colony.

Both colonies rejected Critter. We then culled one sub-adult from each colony (Butch and Dottie) and joined them together. After quarantine, we joined them with Critter. There was some fussing at first but after a few days they were all sleeping together and they've been together ever since.

So Critter was the inspiration for the rescue. After a few months, we were contacted by other people who wanted to surrender their gliders. The story was the same for most of them: "We just got in over our heads." Most of the surrendered pets came from individuals who bought them in impulse-buy venues who had not been coached on how to take care of them. As their numbers grew over time, we decided it would be a good idea to become licensed and to change the status of the operation to a public charity.

We also got a lot of great, free advice from Jamie and SuggieSavers and from Angie and Debbie at Hope For Gliders. In fact we took separate trips to do some light volunteer work at Hope For Gliders before opening our own local rescue. We wanted to see what we were getting into and learn more about the best practices associated with rescue operations.

3) what other experience have you had relating to sugar gliders?

We have gained a lot of experience in rescue and rehabilitation.

We have traveled as far as six hours away in California and Arizona for example to pick up unwanted gliders. We developed an animal husbandry course and a dietary workshop that we have used to orient animal care workers and vets at local animal shelters. We have had our fair share of gliders coming in with metabolic bone disease, self-mutilation, colony rejections, eye problems (including enucleation), mating wounds, inbreeding, ear cropping, tail cropping, blindness - you name it.

Unfortunately, we have had to syringe feed very sick gliders but have been fortunate in being able to nurse most of them back to health. We also have experience in community outreach and education and have been involved with the Best Friends Animal Society "read to the animals" program.

Our experience as pet owners only partially prepared us for running a rescue.

4) what first inspired you to create the LGRS diet?

We were inspired out of necessity to create a high-protein diet that was affordable. So many gliders come in with hind leg paralysis and other maladies associated with malnourishment. That's probably the biggest problem in the husbandry of these animals that we run across. We had dabbled with a few diets including BML and HPW.

After doing a nutritional analysis of BML, we found it was too high in iron - about 55 ppm per serving owing to the lizard vitamins and wheat germ.

We turned to the HPW blend, and while it is a pretty good diet, we found it to be too low in Calcium after a similar analysis. You can bump up the calcium in that diet by simply using Calcium-fortified orange juice instead of water.

We began to make adjustments to our own high-protein blend and also were inspired by the Healesville Sanctuary Diet along the lines of the bee pollen and fly pupae. The result is the LGRS suggie soup recipe which is part of a balanced diet.

We use calcium-fortified orange juice in it along with papaya and mango juice and dehydrated fly pupae. The dehydrated fly pupae is a good source of protein that is lower in fat than other feeder insects. We also cut way back on the eggs other recipes use because it is best to derive protein from various sources.

The soup does have a lot of honey in it, but you can cut back on that if the suggies get too fat. We err a little on the side of fattening them up because so many animals come in malnourished.

That's the one variable we advise people on when they use our diet - that is to adjusts the honey downward over time if suggies get too fat. The average weight of a "normal" male adult is 150 grams and a female 135 - 140. If they start getting up in the 200 gram range, you should consult with your vet and consider cutting back on complex polysaccharides and carbs in general until they lose some weight.

Honey is rich in natural sugars, so that's an easy thing to cut back on incrementally while leaving everything else alone.

5) what went into creating the LGRS diet?

Three big factors went into creating it:

First, we read a lot of field studies and took advice from our vet and (expensive) marsupial nutrition texts where we learned what gliders eat in the wild year-round. It was interesting to see how their diet changes with the seasons and how they derive protein from various sources.

Second, we contacted the manufacturers and suppliers of popular glider feeds and with the data supplied and third party information, began to categorize and note the nutritional value of each item. We used the USDA nutrition database and nutritiondata.com to  tally the results. We did a lot of research also on Oxalate and its effect on metabolizing calcium and made adjustments to our recipe based on that.

Third, we compared the nutritional make-up of high protein womberoo with various other milk replacers and other protein formulas. We were concerned about the cost of the imported stuff and were seeking a way to have that ingredient be lest costly. We were happy to find a few suitable replacements for HPW including Trader Darwin's Vanilla Flavored Soy and also Suncoast's Arnolds Choice Possum Milk Replacer.

The soy is a little controversial actually because a lot of people feel the acid wash process that is used to extract the protein from the soy is "dangerous." But by volume, that is not a big part of the recipe so we are not too concerned about that and we have not been told by our vet it was a problem. Regardless, the Arnold's choice is an alternative because it is whey-based protein without soy isolate.

Over the years there have been three major changes to the recipe - all based on reducing the cost and reducing unnecessary fat,  cholesterol, and iron.  The cost of the recipe is very important because for people to use it, it must be economical.

One batch yielding between 7 - 8 cups is approx. $7.90.  That batch can be frozen in ice cube trays and will last two gliders two or three months depending on what else is fed with it.

The approximate cost breakdown per item is as follows:
  • Mango = $0.45
  • Papaya = $0.50
  • Caclium-fortified Orange juice = $0.25
  • Honey = $2.00
  • Yogurt = $0.50
  • Egg = $0.25
  • Protein powder = $0.20
  • Dehydrated Fly Pupae = $2.75
  • Bee Pollen = $1.00
The most expensive item is the fly pupae, but one pound of that (@ $80 per pound) lasts us about six months and that's with close to 100 gliders to feed

Click on this pic to see the difference in gliders that Ed rescued and fed them LGRS Suggie Soup

Do you have sugar gliders?  What diet do you feed them and why? 

Are you looking to get sugar gliders?  If so, what kinds of questions do you have?