The Brooklyn Bee

“if bees were to disappear, man would only have a few years to live”
-Albert Einstein

Homegrown Revolution spoke to urban beekeeper John Howe today who keeps a couple of hives high atop the roof of his home in Brooklyn New York. He got the idea to take up urban beekeeping when one day a bee landed on his plate while he was eating at an outdoor restaurant and now his hives produce around 150 pounds of honey a year which he sells at a couple of locations in Brooklyn. He’s self taught and figured out beekeeping more or less on his own thanks to the internet, books, a little help from a beekeeping club in Long Island, and advice from a beekeeping supplier.

Howe said that the key to urban beekeeping is maintaining good relations with the neighbors since bees have a tendency to swarm on occasion and people are always shocked to see a basketball sized cluster of bees hanging out on a local light post. He deals with these sticky situations through careful neighborhood diplomacy and, of course, free honey.

Howe argues that his honey is more organic than commercial honey since his bees pollinate plants in an urban location that does not have the sort of intense insecticide application seen in agricultural areas. Since he’s the only beekeeper in the neighborhood he knows that when he sees a bee in the two nearby parks they probably belong to him. Howe’s suspects that in addition to pollinating the local plants and trees his bees also collect pollen from cut flowers at outdoor florist stands.

Homegrown Revolution wishes that we could end this story musing about a bright future for urban beekeeping, a future in which each neighborhood has a beekeeper to pollinate the many fruit trees that should grow on our city’s streets, but sadly bee news these days is on the depressing side. If the Albert Einstein quote is correct we’re in trouble since bees have been disappearing in the past year due to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which the hive flies off and simply does not return. The cause of this mysterious problem is not yet known, but many beekeepers including Howe suspect that pesticides may be the culprit. Upwards of 30 to 60% of hives in 24 states have vanished in what could prove to be a huge economic and ecological disaster since many crops including almonds and avocados depend on bees for pollination. Howe himself has lost one hive. Read more about this depressing story on the BBC and it that ain’t enough doom and gloom, there’s the tale of an insecticide called fipronil, sold in the US under the brand names MaxForce and Combat, which is suspected in the deaths of billions of bees in France.

Speaking of the symbolism of the beehive Robert Macoy said, “It [the beehive] teaches us that as we came into the world rational and intelligent beings, so we should ever be industrious ones; never sitting down contented while our fellow-creatures around us are in want, when it is in our power to relieve them without inconvenience to ourselves.” Pesticides are the crutch of the lazy, and it’s time for us all to figure out better, more enlightened forms of agriculture in order to save the industrious and essential bee. And it’s time for more urban beekeepers like John Howe. Pay a visit to his website and blog and buy a jar of his honey if you find yourself in Brooklyn.

Weed Eating Italian Style

Here at Homegrown Revolution we’re big proponents of eatin’ your weeds, which is why we were delighted to stumble upon an article on that contains a couple of weed recipes including dandelion egg salad and stinging nettle lasagna. As the article points points out Italians are one of only a few Western cultures that still actively forage.

Spring approaches and with it a free salad bar and produce section just waiting to be picked. Homegrown Revolution declares 2007 the year of the weed!

The Homegrown Revolution Broadleaf Plantain Pizza

For years a trade organization called the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, has been lobbying the Italian government to create a “DOC” or d’origine controllata, to designate the proper form of Neopolitan pizza as a way of countering the indignities perpetrated internationally by the likes of Dominos and Wolfgang Puck. The VPN’s regulations include the following requirements:

1. A wood-burning oven: The pizza must be cooked by wood. Gas, coal or electric ovens, while they may produce delicious pizza, do not conform to the tradition.
2. Proper ingredients: 00 flour, San Marzano (plum) tomatoes, all natural fior-di-latte or bufala mozzarella, fresh basil, salt and yeast. Only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients are acceptable.
3. Proper technique: Hand-worked or low speed mixed dough, proper work surface (usually a marble slab), oven temp (800° F), pizza preparation, etc.

While we haven’t constructed a wood burning oven yet, in the summertime it’s possible to make a authentic Neopolitan pizza at the Homegrown Revolution compound topped with buffalo mozzarella (available at Trader Joes), and Roma tomatoes and chopped basil from the garden. But in the wintertime we eat the Homegrown Revolution pizza, a highly unauthorized combination of mozzarella and chopped broadleaf plantain, a common lawn weed (though any green will do). It’s tasty and what we predict the California Pizza Kitchen will serve when the shit goes down.

We use the following recipe, which is adapted for home kitchens from the VPN’s regulations, for the dough:

1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115º)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
Mix water and yeast and proof for 7 minutes. Mix flour and salt in a heavy-duty stand mixer. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and mix on low for 30 minutes. Shape dough into a round and let proof in a covered and oiled bowl for 4 hours in a warm place (we use the top of the stove which has a pilot light). Divide into two pieces and proof for another 4 hours. Preheat your oven to 550º, top your pizza and bake for eight minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

For guidance on how to work the dough see the helpful videos on the VPN website.

A Homegrown Revolution manifesto by way of a short (true) story.

1. Fitness is part of the urban homesteading thing
So on our daily bike ride to the downtown YMCA we spotted four tires laying by the side of the road.

2. Try to grow as much food as you can
Tires are a great way to grow potatoes–we’ll explain this when we try it ourselves. Meanwhile you can read about doing this, as well as many other uses for old tires in the informative archives of Backwoods Home Magazine.

3. Cargo bikes rule
Later on in the day we decided to go pick up the tires using our handy cargo bike, the Xtracycle. We can’t say enough good things about this invention, though we should note that carrying large car tires on a bicycle looks completely insane.

4. The importance of bike safety
At a signal two hipsters on fixed gear bikes pulled up next to us.

One of the hipsters said, “Too bad you can’t use those tires.”

Homegrown Revolution muttered, crazily, “We’re going to grow things with them.”

“Yeah, you’re going to grow some bud.” responded the hipster and peddled off–note, a fixed gear is much faster than a cruddy mountain bike with an Xtracycle carrying two car tires.

5. First aid training and general preparedness
As we rounded a bend, in front of our local medical marijuana dispensary (oh, the irony) we saw one of the hipsters on the ground tangled up in his bike moaning in pain in the middle of the Sunset Blvd. bike lane and surrounded by shimmering fragments of a car tail light. He had run into the back end of a parked car. Homegrown Revolution stopped and prepared to use our inadequate Red Cross first aid training. Just as we finished saying, “Are you o.k.?” the hipster jumped up.

6. The importance of bike safety part 2
He motioned to one of two attractive women on the sidewalk and said, “It’s your fault, it’s because of you, I was staring at you.” Robert Hurst, in his excellent book The Art of Urban Cycling covers this very problem. Fixed gears, high traffic speeds, poorly designed bike lanes, inattentive motorists, and voyeurism make an especially dangerous cocktail. Stay alert out there folks and read Hurst’s book (read an interview with Hurst here).

7. Karma
The hipsters jumped back on their bikes leaving Homegrown Revolution, the two women, and the security guard at the marijuana dispensary staring at the dented and completely trashed back end of someone’s new Kia. There was a pause as we were all relieved that the hipster was able to walk away from what, judging from the huge dent in the Kia’s trunk, looked like a pretty bad impact. There was another pause as we all realized that he had left the scene without making amends for the damage. The two women looked at me as Homegrown Revolution suggested lamely that, “They [cars] hit us all the time.” There was yet another awkward pause, followed by Homegrown Revolution quickly leaving the scene.

In a moment of vertiginous karma, as we made the turn off of Sunset one of the car tires flopped over causing us to wobble ominously in front of an oncoming SUV. Homegrown Revolution quickly recovered, and even returned through nasty rush hour traffic to get the other two tires.

Quick Breads

Here at the Homegrown Revolution compound we used to make our own sourdough bread. In fact we used the exhaustive, fetishistic and ridiculously detailed instructions to be found in Nancy Silverton’s book Breads from the La Brea Bakery. Silverton did for bread what Starbucks did for coffee, before she arrived on the scene America was a Wonder bread wasteland but now, in our coast to coast boho yuppified age, you can even find decent La Brea Bakery bread in the red states. Now we’re a bit contrarian at Homegrown Revolution, so while we’re not quite ready to go back to Folgers (though that day will come), we are ready to try some down home white trash quick breads. OK, so Homegrown Revolution has changed our minds on the previous paragraph, and we’re back to making sourdough. That being said, an occasional quick bread ain’t a bad thing:

Quick breads are easy, involve no yeast or rising times, and are nearly foolproof, which is why the knuckle draggers in flyover country like them so much. Now the problem we had in our boho days with maintaining a sourdough starter is that it required daily feeding–in fact it was a bit like having a pet–a very boring slightly messy pet that leaves moist and moldy flour all over your countertop. Sourdough is best for slacker cooking geeks who plan on baking bread almost every day, a process involving multiple risings and sometimes dicey results if the ambient temperature is either too cool or too warm. By all means give a try sometime, but for the lazy we recommend quick breads, which can be whipped up quicker than riding the Xtracycle to Trader Joes.

With this in mind the Homegrown Revolution test kitchen will be experimenting with quick breads in the next few months and presenting the results. Today’s quick bread experiment, we are happy to report, was very successful–Whole Wheat Walnut Bread from the book Country Wisdom & Know How.

3/4 cup unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed [note: SurviveLA recommends reducing or eliminating the sugar–this recipe is a bit too sweet for our tastes]
1 cup walnuts, coarsely broken
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Combine all the dry ingredients. Mix the buttermilk and the vegetable oil in a separate boil. Mix the liquid and dry ingredients together just enough to make sure they are combined. With all quick breads you should minimize the amount of mixing. Bake at 350º until a knife inserted into the bread comes out dry. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of the pan you use.

We invite Homegrown Revolution readers to submit their own bread recipes.