A House for Native Bees and Insects

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My favorite garden in Los Angeles is the one at the Natural History Museum. It resides in one of the more lifeless parts of the city, surrounded by a sea of concrete and asphalt adjacent to a park that’s just poorly tended grass and roses. The premise of the Natural History Museum garden is, “build it and they (life) will come.” During the four classes we’ve taught in the NHM garden we’ve witnessed that life: insects and birds in abundance.

In addition to lots of life-attracting plants, the NHM folks have created habitats for insects like the one in the pictured above. These cute little native bee habitats sit atop a 8 foot four by four. I’m going to steal the design for our front yard. As soon as I can get Sketchup working again on my computer I’ll draw up some plans and make them available.

In the meantime see the fact sheets on the Xerces Society website for specifics on building and maintaining insect habitats.

060 Eric of Garden Fork Returns

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Kelly has jury duty this week and I had no guest. Coincidentally, Eric Rochow of the Garden Fork Podcast also had no guest or host this week so we both agreed to be guests on each other’s podcasts. This is the second time we’ve had Eric on and in this episode he discusses tapping maple trees and making syrup, grilling steaks on coals, crowd funding, pie crusts and meditation apps. Here’s the rundown:

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. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Stuff You Learn When the Power Goes Out

What our weekend looked like.

What our weekend looked like.

On this past sweltering Saturday, Kelly and I holed up in our bedroom, the only room of the house graced with any kind of air-conditioning. Around 4 pm the power sputtered and went out. Sprawled across the bed with the cats, we opened the window hoping to cool the room down. Instead, the unrelenting bright sunshine, palm trees, the police helicopter hovering over an adjacent street and our lack of electricity lent a Baghdad-like vibe to what remained of the afternoon. But Armageddon is not without its charms. It turns out that when the power goes out you learn a lot about yourself and the things you depend on.

The good things about losing power

  • I felt a sudden feeling of peace. Why? We had no internet. Since we don’t have a smart phone we had no way of checking email, Twitter, Facebook etc. All we had was our always reliable land line. If you wanted to reach us you had to call us. It’s funny how all this connectivity that’s supposed to improve our lives ends up being a burden. I made a mental note to consider pulling the plug on the wi-fi more often.
  • I was also thankful to have friendly neighbors. I walked over and chatted. We joked about pulling out the candles and banjos. They told me what was going on, that the power company would not be able to restore power until 1 a.m. the following day. Our friends on an adjoining street that we don’t see enough, came over with their dogs and we chatted.

The bad things about losing power

  • I discovered that when the power goes out we have a transportation problem. This is due to our quirky garage, a concrete bunker in the side of the hill our house sits on. When the power goes out the only way to open the garage doors is with a key. The problem is that you can’t close and lock them unless there is electricity. So I could access our car and bikes, but I had no way of securing the garage which is right on the street. I didn’t want to leave it open, so if we wanted to go anywhere we’d have to take the bus. Clearly, I need to fix this.
  • While I enjoyed our break from the interwebs, I also realized that a lot of information I depend on is now stored in the cloud. If the power had been out for longer I would have had problems. It was a reminder that I might need to print out and store a few vital documents and phone numbers.
  • I also realized that we should keep a few convenient dry goods in addition to the rice and beans in the pantry. I didn’t want to open the refrigerator and freezer. It would have been nice to have some trashy and easily prepared items such as mac and cheese.
  • One of the first things I did when the power went out was to pull out my 2 meter ham radio to see if I could figure out if something serious was going on. From the lack of chatter I could tell that the power outage was likely small. But I also realized that I need to periodically use the radio if I plan on using it in a real emergency.

I suppose the final lesson is the realization of just how privileged we are in the US. Most of the world’s people have to get by with unreliable power.

What have you learned when the power goes out?

Saturday Tweets: Cutting Through the Kudzu

The Best Way to Bake Pizza in a Home Oven

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This trick works so well I thought I’d repeat/revise an earlier blog post, this time with pictures.

Our cob oven makes great pizzas. Why? High temperatures. You just can’t make good pizza in a home oven. Or so I used to think.

One evening I invited some friends over for an outdoor pizza party but rain put a wrinkle in those plans. I remembered that Josey Baker had some instructions in his book Josey Baker Bread on how to make pizza in a home oven, so I decided to give it a try. Baker credits this home oven technique to a San Francisco street pizza maverick who goes by the name PizzaHacker. I’m happy to report that it works so well that I wonder why I should bother to spend three hours tending a fire to prep the outdoor oven. Is pizza out of a wood fired oven better? Perhaps, but not by much.

The PizzaHacker’s method is simple. Here’s what you do:

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1. Preheat an oven oven safe skillet (I like cast iron) over high heat on a burner. Put a little oil in the pan.

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IMG_00982. Plop your shaped dough into the skillet. Top your pizza while it cooks in the skillet for three minutes.

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3. After three minutes stick it under the broiler for another three more minutes or until done. That’s it. This method works much better than trying to bake pizza on a pizza stone.

4. Take the pizza out and let it cool down for a minute. Then slice and enjoy.

I wish I had known about this technique before I bought an expensive pizza stone as this method works much, much better.

059 The Dew Abides

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This week Kelly and I interview Brad Barnes and Jenn Collins of the blog The Dew Abides-their mantra is: simple living doesn’t have to be boring. Jenn and Brad live in Columbus, Georgia. During our conversation we talk about decluttering, taking care of elderly parents, living on a food stamp budget and much more. Jenn and Brad reference:

Website: TheDewAbides.com,
Social media: Dew Abides in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

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. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

How to Water Trees During a Drought

This is a practical follow-up to my scree last week on trees dying because no one is watering them. Thing is, we should be watering them, even if we’re really worried about the drought, even if we’re doing everything we can to save water. We need to invest in trees because they save more water than they use. They are our allies in this drought, and they are dying.

Now, I thought I was going to have to write up all this tree-watering stuff from scratch, but our friend Richard Hayden, the head gardener of the amazing Nature Gardens at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, sent me a note with links to these videos produced by the Forest Service. I like these videos because they’re concise, and the info is solid.

Thank you, Richard!
Thank you, Forest Service!

The video at the top of the post is on watering mature trees, the one at the bottom about watering young trees–the two techniques are a bit different.

Also, you can find more learning resources at Tree People.

Our Amazon Problem

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For years now this blog has earned a small income from Amazon sales–not much, just enough to cover our hosting fees and pay our webmaster.

Meanwhile, Amazon has grown to proportions that would make a 19th century robber baron blush. The New York Times reported this month on Amazon’s poor treatment of white collar employees while BBC’s Panorama showed the hellish conditions at the bottom of the Amazon pyramid. For years Amazon avoided paying local sales taxes, gaining a discounting advantage that put small local bookstores, unable to compete, out of business. I could go on. If you’d like to know more read this roundup of Amazon’s sins in Salon.

And yet, I suspect, few of us (including myself) have had the moral courage to delete our Amazon accounts like Rob Hoskins, founder of the Transition movement, did and blogged about it recently (Thanks FR for tipping me off to Hoskins’ post). Those Amazon discounts are just too tempting and their comprehensive selection of goods too convenient to bypass. And for bloggers, such as ourselves, those associate referral fees provide one of the few viable sources of funding for our efforts. Even less appealing than loss of income is clean-up work: our site is now riddled with links to Amazon which, if we want to divest from Amazon, we will have to remove one by one, by combing through more than 2000 posts.

We’ve considered using other advertising models, but found those to be even more potentially offensive. Face it, most of consumer culture is offensive.  Should we push factory-made clothing? Toxic electronics? Cars? Credit? Click bait? We’d like to have small businesses as sponsors, but finding them, negotiating with them and wrangling their ads is a part-time job that neither of us wanted to take on.

Regarding alternatives to the Amazon model, there was a period when Amazon dumped all associates in California after the state went after them for not paying sales taxes. During this time, I tried using Portland-based bookstore Powell’s associate program, but it proved unpopular with our readers. There were maybe one or two orders total in the six months I went with Powell’s.

I believe it to be unethical to write for free. It’s not fair to our fellow authors and I don’t want to be part of the race to the bottom that’s destroyed the music business and is currently destroying publishing and journalism. That’s why I feel morally compelled to find a funding model that keeps Root Simple free while providing us with a modest income.

I’ve long been an admirer of the folks at the Idler in the UK. Like us, they teach classes. But they also self-publish beautiful books. What if we were to do the same and sell them through our website rather than through Amazon? Marshall McCluhan noted that when a new technology takes over, what it replaces becomes an art form. I have a sense that, with so much time devoted to staring at screens, people will increasingly want the peace and focus that comes with holding a beautiful book in one’s hands.

This is where you can help by answering, in the comments, a few questions I have:

If we were to start self-publishing short how-to books would you want them in an inexpensive ebook format or would you be willing to pay more for a physical book?

Do you think we should cut all ties with Amazon?

How many of you have gone as far as Hopkins and have deleted your personal Amazon account?

Would you be willing to support us through donations?

How about online classes? What subjects would you want us to tackle?