Saturday Linkages: Gourds, Cats and Cider Bread

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The Mukombe. Image: Afrigadget.

The Mukombe–a hand washing station made out of a gourd:  http://www.afrigadget.com/2014/04/06/the-mukombe/ …

Farine: Mike Zakowski making cider bread http://www.farine-mc.com/2014/04/mike-zakowski-making-cider-bread-video.html?spref=tw …

6 Methods for Harvesting Rainwater – Homesteading and Livestock – MOTHER EARTH NEWS http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/6-methods-of-harvesting-rainwater-ze0z1404zjhar.aspx …

Are probiotics helping you? | Food Matters, Scientific American Blog Network http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/food-matters/2014/04/29/are-probiotics-helping-you/?WT.mc_id=SA_sharetool_Twitter …

Photos, Videos: Up Close With The Kitties At NYC’s Cat Cafe http://gothamist.com/2014/04/23/nyc_cat_cafe_photos_video.php …

Corro Kitty DIY Feral Cat Shelters – http://go.shr.lc/1knpbqd 

ScienceShot: ‘Chameleon’ Vine Discovered in Chile | Science/AAAS | News http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/04/scienceshot-chameleon-vine-discovered-chile …

A warning about “bee-friendly” plants http://www.honeybeesuite.com/a-warning-about-bee-friendly-plants/ …

L.A.’s First Public Transit Used Actual Horse Power http://southland.gizmodo.com/l-a-s-first-public-transit-used-actual-horse-power-1566350171/+nathanmasters …

Neuroscience of junk-food cravings, researched in a Chili’s dumpster – Boing Boing http://boingboing.net/2009/04/27/neuroscience-of-junk.html …

What the hell to do with the parkway? http://gardenrant.com/2014/04/hellstrip-gardening-highlights-and-give-away.html …

The Case Against Cars | VICE United States http://www.vice.com/read/cars-should-be-safe-legal-and-rare …

How to scare kids away from riding bicycles: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2014/04/bsnyc-no-quiz-because-in-my-mind-its.html …

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Mulch Volcanoes: Another Bad Gardening Idea

Root Simple reader Donna, in response to my post on decomposed granite as mulch, alerted me to a related phenomenon: the infamous mulch volcano. For whatever reason, I don’t see this viral gardening phenomenon much here in Los Angeles but it’s really common elsewhere in the US.

Mulch volcanoes are generally considered to be a bad idea. It’s thought that the lack of air circulation at the base of the tree can lead to disease problems and you don’t want roots to grow up into the mulch so close to the trunk. When applying mulch you should keep it a few inches away from the base of a tree.

herber bayer grass mound

Artist Herbert Bayer’s EarthMound, 1955. Image: GardenHistoryGirl.

How strange gardening practices, such as mulch volcanoes, get started is really interesting to me. Mulch volcanoes remind me of miniature versions of minimalist art earthworks or Native American mounds. Is the mulch volcano a kind of outsider landscape art? Is the mulch volcano a misguided attempt at putting a human imprint on nature, what landscape architects call “clues to care?”

Decomposed Granite as Mulch: A very bad idea

Decomposed Granite

There’s a well defined architectural vocabulary house flippers use in our neighborhood. Flippers buy a crumbling 1920s bungalow, paint the front door orange, add a horizontal fence, redo the interior in a Home Depot meets Dwell Magazine style and then turn around and sell it for a million bucks.

When house flippers tackle a yard they tend towards the “low-maintenance” landscape (in quotes because there’s no such thing as a low-maintenance garden). One of the favorite tools in the flipper landscaping toolbox is decomposed granite (DG) used as a mulch. Put some plastic landscape fabric down (blocks rainwater in our climate, fyi) and top that plastic with DG. They then punch some holes in the DG/plastic and pop in succulents and maybe a rosemary bush or two. By the time the yard becomes a sad, desertified tangle of unhappy succulents and crabgrass, the flippers are long gone.

I’ve got a big issue with DG as mulch. In order for DG to look good, it’s got to be compacted and soil compaction is really bad for plants, including hardy natives and succulents. It stifles the life of the soil, and does not build new soil. And eventually, the plastic will fail, and the weeds will come through (some come through even when the plastic is new), and whoever is left holding the bag a couple of years down the road will be pulling decaying bits of plastic out of their garden for evermore.

What’s a better approach? Wood chips. Pile it on thick. Skip the plastic liner. Eventually your new plantings will cover any bare areas if you space them correctly. It looks good,  and the mulch breaks down and turns into soil. You will still need to weed but that’s called gardening. Save the DG for walkways. Or use mulch on your walkways too. Mulch is free or low cost. Just ask your local arborist to drop off a load.

From the Archives: Loquat Leather

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Judging from the reaction to Mrs. Homegrown’s post yesterday it looks like some folks have a loquat obsession. Welcome home brothers and sisters.

At the risk of tooting my own loquat horn and repeating an old blog post, Mrs. H neglected to mention my controversial 2012 loquat leather experiment and recipe. You’ve still got to de-seed the damn things but at least there’s no need to skin them. Plus it makes use of booze.

I’ll admit it’s not a thrilling fruit leather but it’s not too bad.

Mrs. Homegrown chimes in:

My philosophy is simply that if one is going to go through the trouble of making fruit leather, preserves, pies etc., one should use outstanding fruit. The flavor tells in the end. After all, the starving times are not upon us. Even Erik can’t get super excited about this fruit leather–as I recall it tasted mostly of lemon and booze.

Then again, some people may have outstanding loquats–it sounds so from the comments on the last post. The ones we have access to just aren’t fantastic for preserving–too watery, too light. I just learned that there are over 800 cultivars of loquats, so there’s going to be lots of different loquat experiences.

Saturday Linkages: Saris, Punk Rockers, Poppies and Young Agrarians

Sari as Insulation: http://notechmagazine.com/2014/04/clothing-insulation-with-different-drapes-of-typical-sari-ensembles.html …

Humanoid wasps’ nest built over an abandoned sculpture: http://boingboing.net/2014/04/24/humanoid-wasps-nest-built-ov.html …

Punk rock homesteading resources: http://punkrockhomesteading.com/e-books/ 

Two new California poppy species: http://www.pensoft.net/journals/phytokeys/article/6751/two-new-desert-eschscholzia-papaveraceae-from%C2%A0southwestern-north-america …

Contrasting Front Yards: Turf Only v. Wildlife-Filled | Garden Rant http://gardenrant.com/2014/04/contrasting-front-yards-wildlife-v-turf.html …

When Pedestrians Get Mixed Signals http://nyti.ms/1aclEcA 

Underground Ferrocement Homes http://feedly.com/e/GRF29x3h 

Plant Breeders Release First ‘Open Source Seeds’ http://n.pr/1jLfth3 

When Vegetarians Tried To Build A Utopia of Octagonal Houses in Kansas http://gizmodo.com/what-utopias-have-to-do-with-the-19th-century-craze-for-1564535216/+sarahzhang …

Aeroplane Bar Letka Tu-104: Inside grounded passenger plane is a bar once a Communist hang out now a ratty relic http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/aeroplane-bar-letka-tu-104 …

DIY Beer Bottle Windows for your Cabin, Shed, TIny… http://relaxshacks.blogspot.com/2014/04/diy-beer-bottle-windows-for-your-cabin.html?spref=tw …

Repurposed wood log lamps http://www.recyclart.org/2014/04/repurposed-wood-log-lamps/ …

How to build a cheap 3D-scanner mostly out of spare parts http://wp.me/p1SNZL-1 

A Young Agrarian Land Covenant http://garynabhan.com/i/archives/2446 

The Scientific Gardener: Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener by Joseph Tyc… http://scientificgardener.blogspot.com/2014/04/plant-breeding-for-home-gardener-by.html?spref=tw …

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Journal of the New Alchemists

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“Six-Pack” Backyard Solar Greenhouse, 1975. Image: Journal of the New Alchemy.

After reading an article by Paul Ehrlich, “Eco-Catastrophe!,” Nancy Todd turned to her husband John and said, “We must do something.” The year was 1969 and the Todds along with Bill McLarney went on to found the New Alchemy Institute.

History repeats itself. What the New Alchemists did, in response to the 1970s era energy crisis and political instability, sounds a lot like what people have been up to since the 2008 economic bubble: aquaculture, organic gardening, earth building, market gardens, no-till agriculture, old timey music, wind power, four season growing, permaculture, non-hierarchical leadership and goats. Only the 1980s era of appropriate technology amnesia separates current efforts from the work of the New Alchemists.

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Aquaponic system. Image: Journal of the New Alchemy.

By accident I discovered the Journal of the New Alchemists deep in the closed stacks of the Los Angeles Central Library. As revealed by their journal, what distinguishes the New Alchemists from other efforts of the time is the Todd’s science background. The Journal has a refreshing research-based approach to its subject matter. The period I reviewed (their last decade of publication) covers mostly their agricultural experiments, but occasionally dips into urban planning and other subjects.

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Biodome. Image: Journal of the New Alchemy.

It’s interesting to look back at their work to see what ideas went mainstream and what faded away. What didn’t stick is what Nassim Taleb would call “top-down” approaches to design epitomized by the 70s fixation on geodesic domes and self contained ecosystems (though we’re starting to see a resurgence of the latter via a renewed interest in aquaponics). The more bottom-up work of refining conventional organic agriculture through no-till farming and integrated pest management had more long lasting influence. One could make a good argument that you need the domes and aquaculture schemes to inspire people to work on the more prosaic stuff. But another criticism of the appropriate technology movement of the 70s is that it focused on technology rather than social and political problems (see economist Richard S. Eckaus article “Appropriate Technology: The Movement Has Only A Few Clothes On“). We may be in the midst of repeating that mistake.

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Aquaponic system. Image: Journal of the New Alchemy.

One does not need to wander the closed stacks of the library to find the amazing Journal of the New Alchemy. Thanks to the internet you can download the New Alchemist’s publications as pdfs. Aquaponic enthusiasts will find much information. The Journals are a fascinating read and gave me a great deal of respect for the founders of the New Alchemy and their many contributors (one issue features a young Gary Paul Nabhan). They went far beyond talking the talk and walked the walk. They did something.

Cactus Thief Strikes Again

cactus2 copy

I knew this was going to happen. After the theft of the first of three barrel cacti in our front yard, I knew the perp would be back. Sure enough the second cacti disappeared the other night. Now I’m left with the smallest, and most pathetic of the three cacti.

In response I considered rigging up some kind of Arduino based cacti security system that would set off an alarm and flashing strobe in the house. Attach a trip wire to the root system and we’re in business. I also pondered another extreme strategy: shower the cactus thief with free flats of baby cacti. The latter strategy could even lead to the first ever Root Simple Upworthy style clickbait headline, “Thief Steals Cactus and the Thorny Response Will Have You in Tears.”

Stoic philosopher Epictetus set me straight on what I should really do. He says, “Stop admiring your clothes and you are not angry at the man who steals them . . . our losses and our pains have to do only with the things we posses.” (Discourses Book 1.18) And wanting to posses a Home Depot cactus is quite pathetic.

It reminds me of something a friend told me, “Never drive by and look at a garden in a house you once owned.” Our gardens are impermanent. That impermanence is actually something that makes gardening interesting. My wandering cacti might even have a more sunny location in which to thrive.

The Elf and Ethics

The Elf is a kind of aerodynamic, electric assist tricycle with solar panels to charge the batteries. It’s a type of vehicle, somewhere between a bike and a car, that a number of inventors have tinkered with over the years.

Good arguments exist for and against this type of transportation. On the one hand it uses far fewer resources than an automobile. But one could also argue, as does the owner of a bike shop in this video, that we’d all be better off with a far simpler and less expensive bicycle. I can see both sides of the argument. Perhaps younger folks should take to bicycles and older people or those with disabilities or heavy cargo could use something like an Elf. Plus the Elf would be better in bad weather.

One issue not brought up in this video are safety concerns during a theoretical transition period from hulking Hummers to lightweight human and battery powered vehicles. Is the greater risk I’m taking (by choosing a lightweight vehicle over an SUV) worth the ethical/ecological benefit? If everyone else is driving a big heavy vehicle don’t I need one too?

Separating bikes and cars partially solves this conundrum to some extent, but not for transitional vehicles like the Elf. I would not want to see an Elf on a bike path and I’d not also not want to be in an Elf vs. auto collision.

I think there’s a future for vehicles like the Elf. But we’ll have some ethical, as well as technological issues, to sort out.