Paleofuture Farming

From the awesome Paleofuture blog, which chronicles what folks thought the future would look like, a few notions of future farming.

Apparently, this anticipated future (which more or less came to pass) involved “lounge chair gardening.”

And, of course, factory farming:


To the generation that came up with these ideas I’ll just say that I hope the dinosaur juice that keeps those factory farms humming holds out. Personally, I’m not counting on gardening from the comfort of that hovering lounge chair while I oversee my hydroponic skyscraper operation (architects still seem to be in love with vertical farming schemes). My inner crank tells me that we might just might have get our hands dirty again. But, I have to admit, that top photo does approximate what it looks like to create Root Simple blog posts.

Root Simple and LA Bread Bakers at Artisinal LA

This Saturday Kelly and I will be joining a panel discussion on urban homesteading along with our good friends Craig Ruggless of Winnetka Farms and goat keepers and cheese makers Gloria Putnam and Stephen Rucidel. The panel will take place at Artisinal LA on Saturday April 16th at 2 pm in Santa Monica.

I will also be taking part in a bread baking demo along with the LA Bread Bakers the same day at 1 pm.

More information at artisinalla.com.

Lasagna Gardening Simplified

First popularized back in the 1970s, “lasagna gardening” involves piling up thick layers of cardboard and uncomposted kitchen scraps on top of (sometimes) double-dug soil. The practice is touted as a way of removing lawns and improving soil with little work.

Linda Chalker-Scott, Extension Urban Horticulturist at Washington State University, proposes a vastly simpler version of lasagna gardening.  Chalker-Scott suggests skipping the double digging, cardboard and kitchen scraps. The double digging disrupts soil texture, the cardboard interferes with water penetration (I know this from experience) and the kitchen scraps create a plant nutrient overload. Instead Chalker-Scott suggests simply a very thick layer of mulch–12 inches.

Mulch is often free, as many cities give it away, and it does wonders for the soil. Mulch, in fact, breaks down into soil, retains moisture and creates habitat for earthworms.

Read more in Chalker-Scott’s post, “Is lasagna gardening really worth the effort.

Dry Farming

Jethro Tull–the agriculturalist not the rock flutist

According to a 2010 report by Ceres “Water Risk in the Municipal Bond Market,” Los Angeles ranks number one in water supply risk. But we’re not alone. Many other US cities including Atlanta, Phoenix and Dallas also face a future of water insecurity.

Due to these water risks we’d all do well to consider ways to grow edibles without supplemental irrigation. This may sound absurd at first, but I’ll note that in our garden we’ve discovered, quite by accident, that many plants such as prickly pear cactus, cherry tomatoes, cardoon and pomegranates will do just fine in a climate where it doesn’t rain for six months out of the year.  Scott Kleinrock at the Huntington Ranch proved that you can grow chard in Southern California with almost no irrigation through a hot summer (the chard thrived in the Ranch’s food forest under almost complete shade).

As an avid gardener in a dry climate I certainly use a lot of water for my vegetables. Most modern vegetables are adapted to copious watering. But this was not always the case. A classic book Dry Farming by John Andreas Widtsoe, first published in 1911 and available as a free download in Google Books, describes how many farmers got along without the modern conveniences of supplemental irrigation.

A dry farmed wheat and alfalfa field in Wyoming from Dry Farming

Other than the advice to till frequently (tilling, among other things, destroys beneficial fungal networks), Dry Farming has some good tips:

  • Maintain soil fertility 
  • Plant deeply
  • Plant varieties adapted to dry farming
  • Know when to plant
  • Pay attention to soil structure

The main takeaway for us home gardeners will be the development of drought tolerant veggies. Native Seed Search is a good start, but seed saving will be the ultimate solution. We’re simply going to have to breed drought tolerance back into our water hungry vegetables. Combined with passive water collection techniques such as sunken rather than raised beds, those of us in arid climates can grow a surprising amount of food with a lot less water.

Clarification: dry farming is not growing during the rainy season (which is called “rainfed agriculture”). Dry farming uses strategies to store water in the soil during the rainy season and then grow during the dry part of the year. Though controversial, dry farming traditionally involves tilling.  It also requires much greater spacing of plants. For more information see the website of the California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative.

No Need to Knead

The Los Angeles Bread Bakers held their debut demonstration today thanks to the folks at Good. As you can see from the picture above some serious bakers showed up.

Teresa Sitz and Mark Stambler

Teresa Sitz demonstrated her wild yeast no-knead bread. You can read her recipe over on the LABB Facebook page.

Wild yeast breads have a number of advantages over breads made with commercial yeast. Due to higher acidity they keep longer and have a tangy, more complex flavor. Some say they are better for you. I love the magic of creating bread with just flour, water and salt.

Thanks again to Teresa and Mark Stambler for sharing their expertise.

Los Angeles Bread Bakers Demo This Weekend

First off, along with co-founders Mark Stambler and Teresa Sitz I’m proud to announce the Los Angeles Bread Bakers (LABB). Click on the link to join us via Facebook.

This Saturday April 9th at 2 p.m. LABB will demonstrate how to create a starter (levain) at Good Magazine’s Launch Weekend. The event will take place at:

Atwater Crossing
3229 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Looking forward to meeting new LABBistas. LABB’s goal is to share techniques, put on workshops and build wood fired ovens.  If you’re not in LA we hope you’ll consider forming bread baking groups all over the world!

Geoff Lawton Soils Video

Help, I’m turning into a soil geek. I just spent an evening viewing a video entitled Soils featuring permaculturalist Geoff Lawton.

What I like about this video is that it’s not just about soil, but Lawton actually shows you what you can do to improve your soil. In the DVD he demonstrates how to build a compost pile (lots of carbon material), contoured vegetable beds, a compost pile heated shower and a simple vermiculture system using an old bathtub to name just a few projects. You get practical tips in a professionally produced DVD. Here’s a trailer:

Soils is available for around $40 US on the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia website, which also has an interesting blog. In an email the Institute said that they allow educational screenings of Soils as long as you don’t charge admission. So get some friends together, watch this video and then go shovel some manure! It would also make a nice addition to a school library.

Thanks to Scott Kleinrock of the Huntington Ranch for the tip on this one. Scott said the Geoff Lawton Food Forest DVD is also worth viewing.

Los Angeles Announces Parkway Cemetery Program

Merging interest in “green” burials and urban land remediation, the City of Los Angeles just announced a groundbreaking new program: parkway cemeteries. Like many cities across America, Los Angeles has a huge debt, $350 million to put a number on it. So it comes as no surprise that city officials are seeking innovative ways of enhancing revenue sources. 

Most often a tangle of weeds and compacted earth, parkways have seen attention in recent years as space for community orchards and vegetable plots. With LA’s new program, for just a $375 application fee and approval of the homeowner, you can designate your final resting spot on the street of your choice.

In announcing the plan Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa positioned the parkway cemetery program as a transportation solution, “Why subject your relatives to lengthy commutes to visit your grave when we can have distributed ‘drive-through’ cemeteries?” Adding, “We’ve got all that lawn out there so why not use it?”

A special thanks to Doug Harvey for tipping us off to this story.

Novella Carpenter Update

We posted yesterday about author and urban farmer Novella Carpenter running afoul of the law in Oakland for “agricultural activities”. She has a clarification on her blog and some new, alarming information. She makes clear that she was busted for selling vegetables not growing them. The disturbing news is information she received that the people who reported her may have been animal rights activists upset that she eats her rabbits. Read more on her blog Ghost Town Farm.

Podcasts for the Urban Homesteader

Let’s face it, mainstream radio programming, both talk and music, stinks. Podscasting democratizes the medium. Anyone with a microphone and laptop can make and distribute a podcast and, while quality varies, there’s a huge amount of excellent, highly specialized programming available. So should be on the iPods of urban homesteaders? I’ve got a few suggestions:

Survival Podcast
We just appeared on this podcast, which is hosted by Jack Spirko. Jack is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to gardening, permaculture and a host of other topics. His listeners, many of whom now read this blog, also know a lot about the subjects he covers. And, refreshingly, there’s no conspiracy theories on the Survival Podcast, no need to get out the tin foil hat. I highly recommend this podcast even to those who would not think of themselves as survivalists.

SALT: Seminars About Long Term Thinking
This is a series of seminars put on by the Long Now Foundation, headed by Whole Earth Catalog founder Stuart Brand. As, I believe, urban homesteading is a kind of long term thinking, the topics of these talks should be of interest to readers of this blog. Make sure to listen to the episodes that feature Nassim Taleb, Wade Davis and Philip K. Howard.

KCRW Good Food
Hosted by chef Evan Kleiman, Good Food explores the diverse food cultures of Los Angeles as well as tackling national issues related to the food system. Kleiman explores these topics with a sense of humor.

A Way To Garden with Margaret Roach
I learned about this podcast from the folks at Garden Rant who pointed out that there are very few gardening related podcasts. Perhaps most good gardeners are allergic to spending time in front of a computer? I enjoy this show, though those of you in places that have “winter” will get more out of it.

The C-Realm Podcast
OK, I’m a bit on the woo-woo side of things, to be honest. The C-Realm podcast is a very professional and thought-provoking show hosted by “KMO” that delves into everything from permaculture to zombies. It’s kind of a thinking person’s Coast to Coast AM.

The Kunstlercast
Author James Howard Kunstler’s weekly rant about the mess we’re in. It would be a real drag if Kunstler weren’t so damn funny. While most would call Kunstler a “doomer” I’d point out that he offers plenty of solutions–pedestrian oriented design, rebuilding our rail network, etc.

Boot Liquor
A greater danger to the future of our great nation is, I believe, not fossil fuel depletion, but instead the watered down “country” music coming out of Nashville in the past few decades. We should worry more about Miley Cyrus than turbulence int the Middle-East, in my humble opinion. Boot Liquor is an internet radio station not a podcast, but I thought I’d include it since it’s the musical soundtrack of the Root Simple compound. Boot Liquor plays real country music, songs about boozing, driving big rig trucks and raising hell (sometimes all in one song). If you’ve got iTunes you can find Boot Liquor amongst the country music offerings.

At some point we’ll get around to creating a Root Simple podcast. In the meantime what podcasts do you listen to?