Trading our Home for a Dome

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Last week a local blog posted a real estate listing for an unusual dome house not far from where we live. There’s a few of these 70s-80s relics in the LA area. This one is worth about as much as our house. I pondered, for about ten minutes, the thought of trading out our stodgy 1920s bungalow for a geodesic fantasy.

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Getting Started With Succulents Free eBook

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We had a great time at the Museum of Natural History this past Friday along with the 200 people who lined up to plant succulents in thrift store mugs in our booth. Kelly wrote up a nice eBook, Getting Started With Succulents (note that it’s geared towards our climate in Los Angeles but there’s a lot of good general information on propagation). There’s even info on how to drill a hole in a ceramic cup or pot (when you drill 200 of them you get pretty good at it!). You can download the eBook here.

Saturday Linkages: Life on a Boat, Nature and the Bicycle Lobby


Twenty Eight Feet – Life On A Little Wooden Boat: http://youtu.be/syJXrbWU1Aw 

Why Nature Lovers Should Live Apart From Nature http://shar.es/LbYve 

Shinrin-yoku: “Forest Bathing” — I’ve always done it, but only now do I find out that it’s a thing in Japan. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_bathing …

Tracing Sriracha’s Origin to a Seaside Town in Thailand http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/374917/the-origin-of-sriracha/ …

Rio de Janeiro puts QR codes in its mosaic pavements | via @Telegraph http://fw.to/21XRalO

Back pain: Acetaminophen no better than placebos http://boingboing.net/2014/07/24/back-pain-acetaminophen-no-be.html …

Kitchen island turned custom bar – IKEA Hackers http://po.st/ORsHMe 

Satirical “Bicycle Lobby” Twitter Account Fakes Out Media Giants http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/07/22/satirical-bicycle-lobby-twitter-account-fakes-out-media-giants/#.U9KBjysVgyk.twitter …

“To be is to interrogate the labyrinth of a question that contains no answer. ” Edmond Jabès

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

All Natural No-Treatment Beekeeping Class at the Ecology Center

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I’ll be teaching a natural beekeeping class tomorrow at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano at 1pm. Sign up here.

Become a backyard beekeeper and enjoy a healthy garden full of pollinators. Understand the basics of bees, all natural beekeeping methods, tools, materials, and techniques to get you started.

It’s said that beekeeping, or apiculture, began with the Egyptians whom used logs, boxes, and pottery vessels to make their own bee hives. Today, the practice of beekeeping lives on. Help save a dying species, encourage pollination in your garden, and enjoy raw, organic honey!

In this workshop, come together with Erik Knutzen of Root Simple to learn the basics of bees. Explore the all natural, no treatment method of beekeeping, plus, visit a working hive and learn how to assemble a hive box, perform a hive inspection, and address any health issues.

For those who wish to participate in the hands-on component, we recommend the following: If you own a bee suit, please bring it to wear! If you don’t own a bee suit, please wear boots, jeans, and a long sleeve t-shirt. Thanks!

The Miraculous Lavender

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When it first appeared, I almost pulled it as a weed. Then I thought, “Is that a lavender plant? Growing here?”

Curious to see what would happen, I let it go. I assumed it would not live long. It’s growing out of a crack. It may have sprouted on the back of our last pathetic winter rain, but we’ve had no precipitation for months now. I don’t water it. I don’t send water down the stairs. The soil off the stairs is dry, because that slope is planted with natives, which are getting no irrigation. There’s no plumbing beneath the staircase, either. Yet the lavender keeps getting bigger.

I’m going to have to pull it soon, before it ruins our stairs. But I don’t want to, because it’s so determined to live.

And this goes to show that when a plant wants to grow somewhere, when it establishes itself according to its own rules, it is unstoppable. Soil type, recommended water, sun exposure– all these things mean little in comparison wonderful alchemy which allows plants to grow exactly where they want to grow, even if they are breaking all of our rules.

Help! Small birds are eating us out of house and home!

bird feeder with lesser goldfinches

So–we thought it would be a nice idea to get a bird feeder.

We had resisted up ’til now because we figured any bird feeder we got would end up a squirrel feeder. Then we discovered this particular type of feeder, which is enclosed in a fine mesh, and meant to hold tiny seeds, like thistle seeds. This sort of feeder attracts small, seed-eating song birds, like finches, but doesn’t feed the mice and rats and squirrels.*

What could possibly go wrong?

We installed the feeder about a month ago, and were delighted to see house finches and tiny lesser goldfinches come to visit. (So were our indoor kitties, I might add!)

And then more lesser goldfinches came, and more, and more… and still more.

Apparently, lesser goldfinches are “gregarious.”

At this point we are hosting a continuous goldfinch convention from dawn to dusk. They’re cute as the dickens, but they are beginning to cost some serious money, because there’s so many of them as of this week that they are now plowing through a full feeder every day. As I type this, I can hear the squabbling outside the window which starts when the seed levels are low.

Now we have guilt–as well as pocketbook pangs. Have we created a monster? Are the goldfinches now dependent on our feed? Was it wrong to feed them like this in the first place? Are impressionable young goldfinches learning to live on handouts? Are we sparking a goldfinch obesity crisis?

Our yard does have more natural food sources, like native sunflowers and white sage gone to seed. Perhaps we should have left it at that? ( I suspect we’re not going to win any permaculture awards for our feeder.)

Bird people, help!

What are your thoughts on feeders?

Is it okay to leave the feeder empty sometimes? Does that encourage foraging, or is it just not very nice to be random about the filling?

Is there a cheaper alternative to Nyjer ™ seed that finches like? Perhaps something that doesn’t come from Africa? (argh!)

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Buck watching finches, thinking unkind thoughts.

*Seed drops, which could feed rats and mice, but sparrows are on clean-up crew

Summer Nights in the Garden at the Natural History Museum

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Join us for an evening of music, art, nature and science at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum’s Summer Nights in the Garden. We’ll be part of the festivities this Friday July 25th where we’ll be:

POTTING SUCCULENTS! They’re one of the most low maintenance plants out there, and one that’s perfect for our dry L.A. climate. Urban homesteading experts Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne are here to help you plant your own succulent and give you tips on keeping them alive.
Supplies are limited. Available to participants on a first-come, first-served basis

PAINTING! Don’t have a green thumb? Stop by the painting booth and that can soon be changed. Artist Peter Tigler brings participatory image making to NHM. Learn the hi-tech method of fingerpaint meets the ancient art of color-by-number!

RSVP HERE for free admission to L.A.’s best garden parties!

Unable to RSVP? We will continue to allow limited entry at the door until we hit capacity.

EACH NIGHT WILL INCLUDE…

MUSIC! Enjoy the ambient music of KCRW DJ, Anthony Valadez

TOURS! Available at 5:30 pm, *6:30 pm, 7:30 pm:  Awaken your senses on a botanical tour led by our NHM Nature Gardens Staff
*Spanish speaking tour at 6:30 pm
Space is available on a first-come, first-served basis

NATURE MAPPING! Help us map L.A.’s nature by using your smartphone. Stop by our Citizen Science table to learn how you can get involved in local projects.

DRINKS! Sip on a botanical inspired cocktail as you wander through the Nature Gardens.

FOOD! Bring a picnic or grab a bite from one of the food trucks in the North Plaza.

PERFORMANCES! Butterfly stilt performers at 7 pm and 8:30 pm and don’t miss the enchanting Toy Theater show at 8 pm!

009 Artificial Turf Wars and Fashion Disasters

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On the ninth episode of the Root Simple podcast Kelly and Erik recap a post on artificial turf as well as our reaction to the frightening landscaping at one of our local utility’s distribution stations.

During the course of our artificial turf discussion we mention the amazing garden at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History which demonstrates how you can create a garden in a dry climate that welcomes wildlife and does not use grass. We also mention an organization in Petaluma, California called Daily Acts that has set a good example by creating turf-free gardens on municipal and private property. As examples of parks that are either turf-free or use turf strategically, we mention the High Line in New York City and Playa Vista Park in West Los Angeles.

Fashion on the Homestead

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In the second part of the podcast we discuss the homesteading fashion conundrum inspired by a quote from dapper film director (and cat lover) Alexandro Jodorowsky.

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Kelly talks about her strange uniform idea and I mention Johannes Itten’s uniform for the Bauhaus (that, during the podcast, I mistakenly attribute to Kazimir Malevich–oops!).

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We also mention Soviet artist Alexander Rodchenko’s attempt at a uniform.

We close with a quote from David Lee Roth, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how good you look.”

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.

Flowers from Vegetables

flower of an Italian dandelion

Whenever possible I let vegetables go to flower, sometimes to save the seed, but more often to share the bounty with insects and birds. The usefulness comes in two waves: the first being the pollinators attracted to the flowers, and once the flowers go to seed the birds will move in. Of course this means that I’m “wasting space” and making my garden “unproductive” but the rewards outweigh any inconvenience.

New gardeners are often surprised to see what amazing flowers different vegetables make. People with no connection to food plants whatsoever may not even know that vegetables make flowers, so it’s fun to show them a carrot flower, a squash blossom, a bean flower.

My new favorite garden flower comes off an old Italian chicory plant left to go riot. I’m not sure which chicory it is, but it’s one of those  long-leaved, bitter greens beloved in Italy and sold by Franchi seeds. It’s easy to grow, pest proof, and we like the strong, bitter flavor. The flowers, though, are amazing. The greens send up narrow stalks 8′ tall or more (approx. 2.5 meters) and the stalks are covered from top to bottom with beautiful periwinkle blue flowers which are about 2″ (5cm) across– classic chicory flowers.

The bees adore these flowers. What’s more, this plant has been blossoming continuously for months now–at least 3 months. Unfortunately I didn’t mark down when it started, but it’s been at least 3 months by now, maybe 4. It’s given me lots of joy.

In our yard the flower stalks have interwoven with grape and bean vines, adding a lot of color to a corner of our patio. The situation is impossible to to photograph, because the flowers are both high and low and tangled up with everything, but trust me, in person it’s charming in its wild way.

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