Nurdles, Tire Dust, and a Baby Squirrel Visit

Something new I learned this past week: nurdles and tire dust. Nurdles sound like some sort of 1970s sugar-laden gooey candy that sticks in your teeth. But nurdles are a completely unregulated source of plastic pollution. A nurdle is a tiny bead of pure plastic, the building block of most things plastic. It is easy to ship tons of these little beads around the world in cargo containers. Nurdles are produced from “natural” gas or oil, you could even say they are oil, but just in a different form. 

It is estimated that 200,000 metric tons of nurdles are produced every year. They sound innocent, but because they are tiny, and because they are unregulated, nurdle spills aren’t news even though they are deadly. Unlike oil spills, nurdle spills are not often cleaned up. They are eaten by fish, birds, and turtles, and often kill them. But when they don’t kill them, the plastic makes its way up the food chain to us. An estimated 80% of all adult humans have mircoplastics in their bloodstream.

As horrifying as that is, nurdles are only the second-largest source of ocean microplastic pollution. What’s the highest source you ask? Tire dust. Say what?

A long time ago car tires were actually made of rubber, but not anymore. These days they are made from petrochemicals–plastics. Car tire wear and tear means little bits of microplastics shedding off the tires, washing off the roads, into the sewers, and out to the oceans. It’s estimated in San Francisco alone, 7 trillion pieces of microplastics are washed into the ocean every single year. And if you think, well, I don’t live near the ocean, please remember that all water eventually drains into the sea. I live just blocks away from the Mississippi River. You probably live near a lake or a creek or maybe a river that eventually empties into the ocean somewhere. 

cargo bike loaded with groceries
This is what grocery shopping by bike looks like

I haven’t found anything about breathing in tire dust, but I think it’s likely if you live near a road on which cars drive, and who among us doesn’t, we are breathing in plastic to our lungs. One more reason I am happy we are selling our car. The value assessment is taking place this week on Friday. We feel like we can’t get rid of it soon enough. And with the way used car prices have skyrocketed, I feel like we are selling it at peak car bubble and the schmuck who buys it will be very sorry to have it in a few years as gas prices keep going up.

Bicycle tires are also made from plastics, but unlike car tires, bike tires are much smaller and lighter and shed only a tiny bit of microplastic. Yay bikes! 

Today we had our first grocery shopping by bike adventure. It was amazing! I carried home five bags of groceries and it was no effort at all with the electric assist. James didn’t want to be left out so carried two bags on his bike, but I could have handled them, plus more. 

homemade bulk food bags
Homemade bulk food bags

Most of our shopping is in the bulk bins aisle and in car days we would bring a box filled with quart and pint mason jars. But biking with glass jars rattling around in the panniers didn’t seem like a good idea. So I spent last weekend making a bunch of bulk food bags out of an old sheet. They hold about the equivalent of a quart jar and worked out really well. I have more sheet left and will be making more, maybe some different sizes. I am waiting for James, who is the kitchen wizard, to tell me what will work best. I am feeling so accomplished right now!

In the Garden

crabapple blossoms
Crabapple blossoms

The yardfarm is waking up y’all! The peas, mustard, and radishes are all sprouting. I think the lettuce is too but at this point everything looks so much like arugula sprouts, which are coming up EVERYWHERE, that I can’t really tell the difference. 

Walter Crabapple burst into bloom and smells heavenly. And Professor Plum, who we welcomed to the garden as a tiny knee high stick three years ago, is a little taller than I am and has a few blossoms! Will they become plums? I hope so! 

Also blossoming are the bush cherries Fat Rabbit ate down to nubs. This is a delightful surprise. They are quite small after we pruned back all the damaged wood, but clearly still alive and healthy.

And the honeyberries? They are all alive too. Only one has produced a couple flowers, but they are all leafing out. Call me surprised. So, the two honeyberries I ordered two months ago will be arriving on my doorstep in the next week most likely, and I am glad I only ordered two since all five of the existing honeyberries survived Fat Rabbit. It seems I am about to become a honeyberry farmer.

Poor tulips

And because all the honeyberries lived, I need to figure out where to plant the two new ones in addition to the clove currant. And the serviceberry, because it appears that the one Fat Rabbit ate might still be alive too, though just barely as a four-inch tall stick with two leaves on it.  Happy abundance! There is room for all I am sure.

No seeds planted this weekend, but we did build some pole bean teepees to prepare for next week—maybe—depends on whether it stays in the 70s F or cools off a little. Today is our official “average last frost date” but since it was such a long, cold spring, the soil is just now warming up. 

We did some prairie gardening in the front yard yesterday, which basically means we finished cutting back the dead stems from last year and started pulling out all the new tree sprouts that have germinated with all the spring rain. 

Two of the tulips in the front garden got to bloom for a few minutes before a squirrel ate them. The rest of the tulip flowers were eaten before they even opened.

Baby squirrel in the front yard apple tree

Speaking of squirrels. While we were in the front garden a baby squirrel came through the neighbor’s fence and was “purring” at James. James kind of freaked out, thinking the squirrel was sick or something. So Baby scampered past James and came up to me on across the yard. I was kneeling under the apple tree pulling up sprouting trees. Baby came right up to my wellie and sat looking at me. I felt like I was in the squirrel version of that kids’ book Are You My Mother?

 Baby kept trying to climb up my boot, but since my boots are really made of rubber, ki had no grip to climb. Still, I held down my pants leg because I had visions of Baby jumping up and climbing up the inside. Eventually Baby decided to climb clumsily into the apple tree. We left ki there and went into the backyard.

I just need a little nap

A few minutes later, Baby Squirrel appeared. Ki had followed us! Baby sat on the deck steps looking sad and scared. I walked carefully by ki and into the house, filled up a little dish of water and also brought out some pepitas. Baby did have a little sip of water but was not interested in the pepitas at all. I sat down on the deck steps with ki, talking softly, and ki made little baby grunts in return.

Baby climbed onto the stair railing and tried to get comfortable and clearly wanted to fall asleep, but couldn’t quite keep balanced. I had a low pot with row cover fabric stuffed in it that I had removed from the peas and mustard earlier. I tried to make it look like an appealing nest while Baby got up and wandered around the deck looking for a place to curl up. I had draped some of the fabric over the edge of the pot and when Baby Squirrel discovered it, ki crawled under, curled up and went to sleep.

We finished our garden work and went in the house careful to not wake up Baby. I did some quick Google searching just in case we ended up having a lost baby on our hands. Baby Squirrel is likely around 8-10 weeks old, probably weened, and can eat solid food. That’s a relief. 

Then I got busy doing other things. I don’t know how long ki slept on the deck, but when I looked out a few hours later ki was gone. A little while after that, I was up in the attic and happened to look out the window at my neighbor’s roof and saw an adult  squirrel there eating something. Squirrel then scampered across the roof and into the tall juniper-like tree shrub that sits right up against the front of the neighbor’s house. It appears there is a nest tucked in there. So I suspect that is where Baby Squirrel came from, and hopefully, after resting, found ki’s way back home and had some stories to tell Mom and the siblings.

Even though it is early in the growing season we are already eating a few things from the garden. Greens: sorrel, curly dock, and nettles. Also, walking onions, chives, and asparagus. Our asparagus patch is not very big, but we might get one more cutting from it. This is only the second year we’ve been able to eat any of it. So delicious! 

Probably next week I will be able to begin cutting rhubarb. And I have been keeping my eye on the progress of the neighborhood dandelions. I suspect by next weekend there will be enough to go on a dandelion foraging expedition to make some dandelion jam.

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8 thoughts on “Nurdles, Tire Dust, and a Baby Squirrel Visit

  1. I iI could send you my dandelions, I have loads! I’m not sure if I fancy dandelion jam though.

  2. Oh my goodness, that baby squirrel! I’m so glad it was old enough to mostly fend for itself. What a sweet tale.

    Nurdles… wow. I had no idea. Why have we humans designed our world to do the most possible destruction? I’m so glad that your bike grocery trip was a success! Before too long we’ll have a grocery store within walking/biking distance of our house and I intend to make use of it so hopefully we can reduce car trips!

    1. Laila, isn’t the baby squirrel the cutest? The little one has not come back for any further visits.

      Crazy about nurdles, right? I had no idea either. That’s great you will soon have a grocery store within walking distance! Love it!

  3. Nurdles terrify me! I am filled with an existential dread every time I think of them!

    Your baby squirrel is so cute, and I’m glad you were able to take good care of it in a moment of crisis. Poor little critter!

  4. I was so horrified about this nurdle thing! Your bike looks grand, here cargo bikes are more of the danish sort with a bucket on the front (for kids and other commodities ;D). I’m glad I’m not the only one transforming old sheets into bags, although here it’s not quite accepted to use it in shops. Perhaps it would be better to have the seams on the outside if you put grains or flours in it?

    1. I know Smithereens, why aren’t nurdles front page news?

      Thanks, the bike is very grand. The front bucket bikes are becoming popular here too. They are a little hard to get I have heard, but people with kids love them and I can see why!

      That’s so great you are making old sheets into bags too! Yes, you are right about the seams. When we put flour or small grains or seeds in them we turn them seam-side out 🙂

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