Guerrilla Gardening: Over and Out

Seed Bombs at Whole Foods! Photo by Jimmy Chertkow

Proof that all counter-cultural movements eventually get subsumed into the mainstream: a Whole Foods seed bomb display sent to me by Root Simple tipster James Chertkow, who pointed out the anthropomorphized orange with a Mohawk. Maybe it’s time to retire the whole guerrilla gardening/punk rock thing and just, well, plant some flowers and not make a big deal out of it.

Bolloso Napoletano Basil

Another winner from Franchi, Italy’s oldest seed company: Bolloso Napoletano basil. It has been slow to go to flower, pest resistant, prodigious and flavorful. The huge leaves are the size of iPhones but make much better pesto (iPesto?).

As usual, I can’t find much information on this variety in English. Someone correct me if I’m wrong but I believe the name translates roughly as “blistered Neapolitan” a reference, most likely, to the wrinkled leaves. Bolloso Napoletano will be the official Root Simple compound basil from now on out.

Roundin’ up the Summer Urban Homesteading Disasters

Everyday loaf on the left, “charity” loaf on the right.

As we’ve noted in our books, part of the deal with this lifestyle is persevering through the inevitable disasters. Which means it’s time for a regular blog feature, the disaster roundup.  

Loafing Around
I agreed to bake a few baguettes for a charity function this evening. Problem #1 is that I can’t do baguettes in my small oven so I decided to do a shorter batard. Problem #2: for some reason, despite the fact that I measure my ingredients carefully with a digital scale, my dough turned out extra moist. Anticipating that the batards would stick to the peel as I put them in the oven, I decided to make round loaves in proofing baskets instead. Problem #3: the dough stuck to the proofing baskets and I ended up with edible, but aesthetically unappealing, loaves.

Moral: the more important the event the more likely disaster will strike.

I’ve blogged about it before, but my attempt to grow winter squash (Marina di Chioggia) ended in disaster. The squash vines took up the majority of one of my few vegetable beds. I got only two squash, one that was consumed by racoons and the other that never fully matured before the vine crapped out. The immature squash was still edible, but bland.

Moral: winter squash just ain’t space efficient. Next year I’ll tuck it around other plants and trees rather than have it hog up space in my intensively planted veggie beds.

Luscious compost tomatoes.

Unintentional Gardening
I built a cold frame this spring so that I could get a head start on propagating my tomato seedlings. So guess which tomatoes did better: the ones I carefully propagated from seed and transplanted to richly amended vegetable beds, or the ones that sprouted randomly in compacted soil? You guessed it, the ones that grew on their own.

Moral: nature knows best when to start seeds and where to plant them than us homo sapiens. Maybe there is something to that permaculture thing . . . 

Our Hameau de la Reine
This summer the garden generally looked like hell. It thrives during our mild winter and spring then gets baked by the merciless Southern California sun at just about the time I start slacking off on my planting duties. Then the New York Times shows up and wants to do a photo spread about a month after stuff has quit blooming. This is when I usually come running in the house to complain to Mrs. Homegrown that the garden, “does not look like Versailles.”

Moral: take a class from someone who knows what they are doing, which is exactly what I’m up to starting next month. I vow that the garden will look like Marie Antoinette’s fake peasant village (the Hameau de la Reine) by next year. Then again, I say that every summer.

Garden Follies
Thinking the garden needed some ornamentation and not wanting to go the garden gnome route, I thought it would be a good idea to cast some Platonic solids in concrete–don’t ask me why–these things, “just come to me.” Mrs. Homegrown (using her Master of Fine Art superpowers) viewed this project with considerable skepticism. I successfully cast a tetrahedron and dodecahedron and stained them with iron sulfate and proudly placed them in the garden. They kinda worked but I have to agree with Mrs. Homegrown’s assessment that the scale is off–they look like the miniature Stonehenge in Spinal Tap.

Moral: trust the MFA in your household even if that MFA was in conceptual art. 

I could go on, but I’ve failed to document all of the disasters. Next, we’ll review what worked.

A Raw Deal

Photo from Aajonus Vonderplanitz’s website of eggs at Healthy Family Farms in Hohberg Poultry Ranch boxes.

Many of you by now may have heard about a raid conducted by federal, state and local law enforcement on a raw milk buying club called Rawsome, and a simultaneous raid on Healthy Family Farms, which was one of Rawsome’s suppliers. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has filed a 13 count complaint against Rawsome with nine of those counts against Healthy Family Farms. The D.A.’s office alleges that Healthy Family Farms has operated “without any type of license or permit for milk production since 2007″ and that Rawsome “has never had any type of business permit or license.”

While I support the right of everyone to be able to buy raw milk and dairy products, the people behind Rawsome and Healthy Valley Farms may not be the folks to rally around. I’ve heard now from two sources about some serious allegations involving both Rawsome and Healthy Family Farms. Paleo diet activist Aajonus Vonderplanitz paid a private investigator to look into Healthy Family Farms proprietor Sharon Palmer. You can read that report here. The report alleges that Palmer has a long rap sheet, including a felony conviction for elder fraud, grand theft and loan fraud. The website maintained by Vonderplanitz also includes photographs taken at Palmer’s farm showing what seems to be meat and eggs purchased from non-organic wholesale sources in the process of being repackaged as Healthy Valley Farms products. There are also photos of non-organic poultry feed and antibiotics.

This type of fraud, repackaging cheap wholesale food products and passing them off as organic/raw etc. is, I believe, widespread.

That list of reasons to grow your own food, if you can, keeps getting longer . . .

Legalize Baking!

Did you know that in California and many other states it’s illegal to hold a bake sale? That a synagogue in Los Angeles got busted by the Health Department for hosting a bake sale? That you can’t bake bread in a home kitchen and resell it?

Obviously, we need to change this. In what looks like an economic climate that won’t change for the better anytime soon, we need to encourage micro-business enterprises, foster a entrepreneurial spirit and make it easy for non-profits to raise money. We may not be able to fix the federal deficit but we can certainly take on this this easy to mend legislative issue. To that end, I encourage all of you to take a moment to sign a petition in support of a California cottage good law put together by the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Please spread the word about this petition!

From the text of the petition:

As part of a growing movement to localize food systems and stimulate small-scale food production, we are proposing that the California State Legislature allow for the sale of certain home-made food products, namely: baked goods (but with no cream or meat fillings), jams and jellies, candy, granola and other dry cereal, popcorn, waffle cones and pizzelles, nut mixes, chocolate covered non-perishables (such as nuts and dried fruit), roasted coffee, dry baking mixes, herb blends, and dried tea.

Many states already have cottage food laws making it possible for folks to start small businesses out of their homes and to allow religions organizations, charities and schools to put on bake sales. You can see what states have cottage food laws here.

My interest in politics extends only to issues that can be influenced at the grass roots level. This is a great example of a problem that we all be a part of fixing.

The Construction of Secret Hiding Places

I love alternate views of our normal notions of domesticity and home economics. On a recent trip to the book section of a large surplus store I noticed our first book The Urban Homestead right alongside books on burying weapons caches, wiring solar panels, acting as your own dentist and assembling SKS rifles. We certainly have exciting company on this journey.

One book in particular caught my eye, The Construction of Secret Hiding Places by Charles Robinson. You can download a pdf of this book for free here. Of course the fact that this info exists in book and interweb form means that the secrets aren’t, well, secrets anymore. Nevertheless, I’ll never view a stairwell, baseboard or that useless space under the dishwasher in quite the same way again.

Do you have a favorite secret hiding place? Anonymous comments are welcome . . .

Eat Your Pests

Grubs anyone?

Responding to our anti-squirrel post a few days ago Root Simple reader Chile pointed to a post on the her blog “Pests . . . and how to eat them“. She makes the excellent point that most of our dreaded garden pests, including insects are edible.

Now if I could only overcome my squeamishness about eating insects. I had to deal with lots of wax moth larvae this week and remembered that in parts of Asia they are stir fried. Here in L.A., you can get deep fried grasshoppers at a few Mexican restaurants (San Francisco’s Health Department just banned this practice, for some reason). Perhaps you have to grow up eating insects to be fully comfortable with the bug eatin’.

If you look at the entry on rabbits in the original edition of Rodale’s Organic Gardening Encyclopedia, J.I. Rodale suggests eating them. This advice has been, unfortunately, edited out of the revised version. The way the economy is going this summer we may have to revise that encyclopedia again . . .