Peter Kalmus Talk: Low-Energy Living is Fun!

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On Sunday, March 29 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm climate scientist Peter Kalmus (our guest on episode 39 of the Root Simple Podcast) will share his experiences as he and his family journey toward a lower carbon footprint, focusing on how using less fossil fuels turned out not to be the burden one might expect . . . in fact, he’ll show how it has made life even better.

The second (optional) part of Peter’s presentation will guide the audience to calculate their carbon footprints, and discuss concrete ways to decrease their impact on the planet. Please bring a pencil, calculator, and information about your driving, flying, and consuming habits, including a gas and electric bill, to get the maximum from the workshop. If not available, Peter will show ways to guess-timate your usage. More info can be found at http://becycling.life.

The talk will take place at:
Throop Unitarian Universalist Church
300 S Los Robles Ave, Pasadena
Sponsored by Transition Pasadena

An ancient food forest

An intriguing short video by permaculturist Geoff Lawton about a food forest in Morocco.

It does leave me with questions, though, such as: what sort of labor does it take to keep this system going? And also, what other kinds of inputs does it require? Is it irrigated, and if so, how?

Still, it’s inspiring to see so much abundance in a dry space. Come to think of it, LA has lots of palm trees already. If we’d just give up our cars, we could plant that understory of carob and banana…

040 Natural Beekeeper Kirk Anderson

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Our guest on the podcast is the one and only Kirk Anderson, a natural, no-treatment beekeeper and our mentor. Kirk tells a lot of funny stories and shares his wisdom on how to keep bees in a big city. During the podcast we discuss:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Why We Have No Vegetables: Raccoon Gangs

This week, our Crittercam revealed yet more nocturnal raccoon antics in our vegetable beds. Not only are the raccoons digging for grubs, but they are also using the vegetable beds and bird netting as a sort of trampoline/wrestling ring. Apologies for the haphazardly applied banjo music.

The Crittercam may have revealed an emergent phenomena: raccoons in urban locations discovering the benefits of social behavior.

Ikea Karlstad Couch Hack

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Some years ago we purchased an Ikea Karlstad couch. At a certain point one of the arms started cracking and the couch began a slow collapse, not unlike the long decline of the Roman Empire. Kelly and I were concerned that, at some point, the couch would suffer a sudden breach and crush an unlucky cat in the process. To prevent this we took to putting a stack of our least favorite books underneath one end. While this was going on the cats, like marauding Visigoths, took to using both arms of the couch as a scratching posts.

It was time for an intervention, an “Ikea hack” that would save the couch from the hydraulic jaws of the bulky item pickup truck. I set as my goal to make new arms for the couch that would be sturdy and cat-friendly. The cats are going to want to scratch it anyways, so why not make the ends scratch-able? Permaculture applied to Ikea hacking!

But the path to Ikea hacking is not always kittens and rainbows. The first thing I tried to do was to cut some Ikea shelving in half to approximate the dimensions of the original couch arms. This proved foolish. Some, though not all, Ikea shelves are hollow and lined with flimsy cardboard. As my colleague John Zapf noted, I would have been better off just getting a sheet of plywood and making the arms from scratch, which is what I ended up doing.

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To make the new plywood arms I put the project in Sketchup to figure out the dimensions. I’m a big believer in Sketchup. It has helped plan a lot of projects and prevented waste. It took just a few minutes to figure out the arm dimensions.

I don’t have a table saw, so I used my circular saw and some guides to cut up the plywood sheet. An afternoon of work putting the arms together and another day to coat the wood with polyurethane, the new arms were ready to bolt onto the couch. It worked perfectly and the couch is now much more sturdy.

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The last step was to “catify” the arms. I cut some strips from an Ikea doormat to the exact dimensions of the front of the arms. Using some screws and washers I attached the door mat. One design refinement would be to wrap the doormat material around the corner of the arm. Cats like to have one paw on each side of the couch arm to scratch.

Next I’m considering pimping out the arms with some cup holders and built in speakers.

Saturday Tweets: K-Cups, Kittens and Smartphone Microscopes

My Apologies to the Skunk Community

For years I’ve blamed the nightly vegetable carnage that takes place in our raised beds on skunks. The other night, our CritterCam (a Wingscapes BirdCam Pro), revealed the culprit: raccoons. And they work in pairs trios!

No wonder it’s been so difficult to secure the beds! Given the strength and agility of Racoons, I’m surprised that bird netting has worked at all (though, I’ll note, only when that netting is firmly secured with many staples). Perhaps it’s time to consider escalating to metal wire.

The “citizen science” lesson this week: raccoon and skunk diets overlap considerably. Both are highly adaptable urban foragers. In the case of our raised beds, both the skunks and raccoons are digging for figeater beetle larvae (Cotinis mutabilis). These huge larvae must be a delectable treat, the equivalent of a raccoon and skunk sushi party. Maybe I should overcome my squeamishness and join in the nightly feast. A plate of Cotinis mutabilis larvae ceviche could just be the next hip LA food trend . . .

Leave a Question for the Root Simple Podcast!

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The Root Simple Podcast is on “Spring Break” while we work on some critical infrastructure around the compound. In other words, I failed to book guests and I’ve got a lot of repairs to do on our old house. We’ll return next week with our regularly scheduled program.

I thought I’d use this break as an excuse to remind you that we’d love to get some listener questions via our Google Voice number: (213) 537-2591. Call us and leave a question, comment or conundrum. We’d love to hear from you.

Make Your Own Irrigation Line Hold Downs That Actually Work

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Hold downs are those little U-shaped pieces of metal you use to keep drip irrigation lines in place.  The trouble is that the big box hardware gods have decided that those hold downs should only measure a measly three inches in length. Which means that they don’t work. Good luck trying to get your 1/2 inch drip line to stay in place with short and thin hold downs. The more light and fluffy your soil, the less likely those short hold downs will do their job. Professional irrigation suppliers (a much better source for drip supplies than big box stores, by the way) carry longer hold downs. But they still aren’t long enough for good, loose soil.

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Thankfully, it’s easy to make your own hold downs. First, head over to the chain link fencing department and get yourself a roll of tension wire. It’s a heavy and flexible, galvanized wire that comes in a roll. It’s cheap. Get out your circular saw fitted with a metal blade or your bolt cutters and you’re now equipped to make as many hold downs in whatever custom size you want. I usually make a bunch in varying lengths to accommodate different soil types: everything from our raised beds to the hard packed clay soil we built an adobe oven out of.

Someone should turn this idea into a business. It would be the most boring, but useful, Kickstarter project yet.