Whistle Stop Book Tour of the Northwest

              Erik does in fact bear an uncanny resemblance to Pierre Trudeau. Credit: Duncan Cameron/National Archives of Canada, PA-136972

Rodale, the publisher of our new book, is sending us on a speaking tour of the Pacific Northwest to promote Making It. Bringing this sort of groovy, DIY info to all you hardcore locavores, transitioners, freegans, goat herds and urban hillbillies in SF, Seattle and Portland seems a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle. But heck, we’re not complaining– we’re thrilled to be able to head north into your gorgeous lands.

San Francisco Events:

Friday, April 29, 7 PM: Speaking at Book Passage
Corte Madera Book Passage Store–not the one at the end of Market, the one on the other end of the ferry line: 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA 94925

Saturday, April 30, 12 PM: Meet us at 12 noon on the lookout point of Sutro Heights Park.

We’ll take a walk along the cliffs and forage a salad, then hang out and chat while we eat. BYOB and anything else you want to eat or share. Afterward we might retire to the Cliff House for cocktails. If it’s pouring rain that day, you’ll find us at the Cliff House bar instead of in Sutro.

Seattle Area Events

Sunday, May 1st, 2 PM: Speaking at the Elliot Bay Book Company  
1521 10th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122

Sunday, May 1st, 7 PM: Speaking at the Land Trust Building on Vashon Island
This talk is brought to you by a partnership between Books by the Way and the Vashon Island Growers Association (VIGA)

Monday, May 2, 7 PM:  Speaking at  the University Place – Pierce County Library
3609 Market Place W., University Place, WA 98466

Portland Events:

Tuesday, May 3rd: Possibly will do a gathering in some public place this evening, to meet any of you who want to come out and chat. TBA. Suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, May 4, 6-7:30 PM: Lecture at The People’s Food Cooperative
3029 Southeast 21st Avenue, Portland, OR 97202

(And before you all ask why we’re not speaking at Powell’s, the answer is we’d love to, but they’re all booked up. The timing wasn’t right. We hope someday to speak there, and will definitely be visiting anyway just to look around.)

Deep Bedding for Chickens

We’ve got about 5-6″ of loose stuff on the floor of our chicken run. Underneath that, it’s black gold.

Around this time of year, folks are getting chickens. Some for the first time. So I figured it was time to talk about deep bedding again. I know we’ve written about it before, in our book, or on this blog, but this advice bears repeating:

Nature abhors bare ground. 
Line your chicken coop and run with a thick layer of mulch.

Doing this is called “deep bedding.”

Deep bedding solves a whole lot of chicken-related problems in one easy step:

  • It goes a long way toward controlling odor. 
  • It reduces flies (it not only absorbs poop, it actually fosters parasites that kill fly eggs)
  • It makes the coop area much more attractive to look at. 
  • It gives the chickens more to do (ie scratch) which keeps them happy, which keeps them from developing bad behaviors
  • It saves you work, because you don’t have to clean it out very often. Maybe not at all. Depending on your set up.

(This is a little off topic, but in a similar way we also advocate thick mulch over any bare ground in your yard. It will improve the soil, encourage worms, discourage weeds, conserve water, etc. If we had lots of spare time, money and a big truck, we’d drive around LA dumping mulch on the many, many parched landscapes that desperately need it.)

    How deep? What do I use?

    The deeper the better. Say 4 or 5 inches to start, and you will add more to that as it breaks down. As to what to use, you can use any dry organic matter–leaves, husks, straw, dry grass clippings, pine needles. We use straw, and a lot of dead leaves fall into the run, too.

    If you want to use straw, try this: just toss a few flakes* of straw into the center of the coop, and the ladies will do all the work of distributing it for you. Scouts honor. Go away, come back in an hour, and it will be so level and even, it will look like you spread it yourself.

    Start to think about your chicken coop/run as a compost pile rather than as an animal enclosure. That is what it will become. The chickens break down the bedding material, all the veg scraps you give them, and their own manure, through their constant scratching. Over time, the floor of the coop and/or run becomes a deep soft deposit of compost. Ours is sort of like quicksand. We throw all sorts of stuff in there–kitchen scraps, huge stalks of bolted lettuce, armloads of nasturtium, squash rinds–whatever goes in vanishes within a day or two. The hens peck at it until all the good stuff is gone. Then they trample it. Then they bury it. It all becomes one.

    Wear and weather break down the bedding, so you will need to add fresh material every so often. You may also choose to harvest the compost that accumulates in the run. When you do so is up to you. We don’t harvest more than once a year, but your mileage may vary. When you do clean it out, replace what you took with lots of new bedding.

    You will probably want to transfer what you harvest into a compost pile to finish up before it goes into your garden.

    Note: The hen house is different

    Our hens don’t spend any of their waking hours in the hen house, except to visit in the laying box. This means they never scratch around in there, which means this whole “living compost” system just doesn’t work in the house. The poop remains where it falls beneath the roost, untouched. Because of this, we have to clean the house out regularly. To make clean up faster, we don’t use straw or leaves inside–though we could–instead we use wood shavings, because those scoop out fast and easy, like a cat box. The soiled litter goes into our compost pile.

    Hens so hot, they had to be put behind bars!

    *Flake, a vocab word: Straw bales are compressed in such a way that when they are unbound, they come apart in sections about 4 or 5 inches thick. These are called “flakes.”

    Urban Homestead, Urban Homesteading: These Terms Belong to All of Us


    Our attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the law firm, Winston & Strawn, have filed a petition to cancel the bogus trademark registrations for the terms “Urban Homestead” and “Urban Homesteading.”

    You may read the EFF’s press release here, and the actual petition here. It is a thing of beauty. We are very fortunate to have access to the talents of some of the best people in this business.

    We hope that this petition will prevail for everybody’s sake. It goes without saying that these trademark registrations are ridiculous and hurtful and an insult to the generosity of spirit which is integral to this movement. We help each other–we don’t hold each other back.

    Our lawyers tell us that the petitioning process takes a while, so don’t expect lots of news right off the bat. Just know that the wheels of justice are turning.

    (If this is all news to you, read this previous EFF post on the subject. And here’s our own original post.)

    Meet the drones

    Action shot! Check out those huge, beautiful eyes

    I found this drone scrambling around on the ground in our yard. I don’t know why he was there. Perhaps he was all worn out from nightclubbing. Perhaps the ladies in his hive had booted him out. It’s hard to say. But I enjoyed taking a close at him, to appreciate the difference between him and his sisters, the worker bees, first hand.

    Worker–Queen–Drone

    Drones are longer than the workers, and a lot thicker through the body. Not so large that they’d be mistaken for bumble bees, but they’re definitely big, husky boys. The queen is longer than a drone, but much more slender–and anyway, unless you happen to catch her mating flight, you’ll never see a queen out and about. So if you spot an extra-large honey bee, it’s a drone.

    The other dead giveaway for drones is their huge, shining eyes. Drones have one function only: to mate with a virgin queen. Should one come by. And should they be able to catch her. So they have to be on constant lookout, and moreover, they have to be looking up at all times, because she won’t be stretched out on a lounge chair, waiting for him to bring her a cocktail. She’ll be flying super-high up. He needs those huge eyes to spot her.

    (As an aside, I don’t know why drone has become a synonym for a mindless worker (e.g. office drones). Drone should be a synonym for a highly privileged but ultimately disposable male, a male who lives off the work of others, his sole function to continue his genetic line, i.e, an aristocrat. I read a P.G. Wodehouse novel in which a gentleman’s club–in the historical, English sense of the term, not the euphemistic strip-joint sense–was named the Drone’s Club. And that was the best use of drone I’ve yet encountered.)

    The last thing–and the coolest thing–you should know about drones is that they don’t have stingers. They cannot sting. Or bite. Or even wound you with a sarcastic remark. They’re lovers, not fighters. So if you’ve always wanted to pet a bee, don’t be afraid to pick one up.

    Erik has been reading up on the amazing, secret life of drones lately, and I hope he’ll post about that soon. It will blow your mind.

    Miner’s lettuce

    Miner’s lettuce reminds me of tiny lily pads

    I was delighted to find a specimen of this delicious little weed growing in our yard among the poppies: miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), but I don’t think it will thrive.

    This plant is native to the West coast of the U.S. (and down into S. America, I believe) but it doesn’t do well in LA.* I never see it on the streets in my neighborhood, it’s too hot and dry. The only place I ever spot it–and rarely at that–is in wet, shady places in a few parks.

    However, it loves the weather up North. In San Francisco, it takes over entire yards. Folks up there seem a little overwhelmed by it–and all I do is marvel that they’re not eating it as fast as it can grow.

    See, miner’s lettuce is one of the best of all edible weeds: tender, mild, succulent. The perfect salad green. Search it out where it is buffeted by sea breezes, and it will also taste of salt.

    You can buy seed for this plant and attempt to establish it as a feral green in your yard, or even grow it in beds. I’ve never tried here–I prefer to hunt my weeds.

    Tell me, where else does it grow? How far East has it spread?  Comment if you know it or grow it.

    If you want to learn more about miner’s lettuce, here’s a nice longer article about it at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

    * ETA: I overgeneralized. I should have said “my side of LA.” A commenter from Westchester points out she grows it just fine, so folks on the west side of LA and the beach communities should try some seeds, or look for it when you’re out.

    You’ve probably never met a soup like this

    Vegetarian Dishes from Across the Middle EastMushroom and Fruit Soup. Yep. I don’t know if you’re going to like this recipe. I did. Erik made it, which shocked me, because he has a general prejudice against savory fruit preparations. In fact, he has a general prejudice against soup, seeing it somehow as being a substandard food form. Nonetheless, he cooked this soup. 

    I smelled it first, as it was cooking, and it smelled really good. Then I saw it in the pot, and said, “What the…?” (Imagine an onion and mushroom broth with wrinkly black things floating around in it.)  Then I tasted it. My first impression was that I’d never tasted anything like it, and I needed to adjust to the newness of the flavor combination. It’s an Armenian recipe, from Vegetarian Dishes from Across the Middle East by Arto der Haroutunian, but it made me think of Russia. Which makes sense, I guess. There’s a lot of cross-pollination between Russia and Armenia. Strangeness aside, the soup was undeniably tasty, and I went back for seconds.

    This soup seemed blog-worthy for a couple reasons. The first is that it is really simple, and I like that. Second, those ingredients almost seem like it could be a pantry soup. It calls for fresh mushrooms, but I’m wondering if it wasn’t made with dried mushrooms back in the day. It also calls for green onions but we used regular onions to good effect. The other primary ingredient is dried fruit. Dried mushrooms, dried fruit, stored onions: I can imagine this soup being conjured out the pantry on a cold night in the dead of winter.

    We used a nice mix of fresh mushrooms. Since there are so few ingredients in this soup, mushrooms are the stars. I’m not sure if it would be as good if it were only made with, say, white salad mushrooms because they aren’t super-flavorful. Maybe it would work, though. Anything is worth a try.

    If you make it, let us know what you think. Recipe after jump:


    The recipe is from a book we’ve mentioned before, Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East.

    Mirkov Soongabour
    Mushroom and Fruit Soup

    4 cups water
    2 oz. mushrooms, washed and sliced
    2 tablespoons of butter
    1 oz. sliced green onions (Erik used 1/2 of a regular onion, sliced)
    1 teaspoon flour
    1 1/2 oz. raisins
    1 1/2 oz. prunes, halved and stoned
    1 teaspoons salt
    1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

    Put water in a large saucepan, bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes.

    While that’s going on, melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the onion and cook until golden brown. Stir in the flour to coat the onions, then add a few spoonfuls of the hot mushroom water to the onion mixture and stir until combined.

    Add the onion mixture to the mushroom pot. Add the raisins and prunes, and simmer it all together for 30 minutes.

    Season to taste with salt and pepper at the end.

    Note: This isn’t a hearty soup, so it’s best for  a light lunch or as a starter to a big meal.

    Newsflash: Thift shop where rich people live

    Some newsflash, huh? Los Angeles has plenty of rich people, but many more poor people, and legions of dedicated thrifters. I’ve pretty much given up hope of finding bargains here. Your chances of happening on a really good find in this city is equivalent to being struck by lightning. But I’m learning that it pays to take little jaunts out of town now and then, to find better hunting grounds.

    Case in point, I visited the idyllic town of Ojai with a friend recently. While we admired their copious public parks, clean public bathrooms, and shops filled with a vast selection of sensible shoes and flowing linen outfits for well-heeled ladies of a certain age, we also checked out their thrift stores. In one, I found a baking dish. I needed a new baking dish because I destroyed our Pyrex dish doing experiments for Making It. Yep, I warped a Pyrex. Didn’t think it was possible, did you?

    This dish I spotted was oval–not ideal, but workable. It also turned out to be a Le Cruset pan. “Le Cruset?” I said to myself. “That there’s one of them classy brands I done seen down at the Sur le Table.” So I bought it for a few bucks and brought it home. Once home, I looked it up online. It’s actually an enameled cast iron “au gratin” dish. Who knew you needed a dedicated pan for cheesy potatoes? Market value? $150. 

    Sure, I’d never pay so much for such a pan, and that’s a crazy price for a baking pan under any circumstances, so it’s sort of a hollow triumph–but still. I got me one helluva fancy pants pan.

    Still need something to bake brownies in, though.

    Spigarello: Nature’s way of saying that broccoli is so over

    Spiga-what-the-who-now? The wavy leaved stuff is the spigarello. The flowers are arugula.

    Mrs. Homegrown here:

    Spigarello, more properly called Cavolo Broccolo a Getti di Napoli, is a leafy green that tastes a lot like broccoli. But unlike broccoli, you eat the leaves instead of the flowers.

    Unlike many of the “exotic” Italian greens we grow, this one is not bitter, and probably will pass muster with those who are fussy about vegetables. To me, it tastes like broccoli, but better. A little like broccoli sprouts. Or a cross between broccoli and kale. Let’s just put it this way–I fell in love with it the first time I took a bite of it a Winnetka Farms. The texture of the leaves is sturdy but tender.

    It’s very easy to grow. If you don’t give in to temptation and eat it prematurely, each seedling will grow into a big, sturdy plant. I think of them as broccoli trees. You harvest the leaves as you need them, leaving the plant intact to generate more leaves. Eventually it produces tiny white flowers the bees love.

    We’ve never had any luck growing regular broccoli–I really resent fighting off aphids and cabbage worms for months, all for the privilege of harvesting one lousy head somewhere down the line. For that reason, we’ve always grown broccoli rabe instead, and I like that too, but rabe has a more aggressive flavor than either broccoli or spigarello, while spigarello has that true broccoli mildness.

    We’ve been growing this as a winter crop in our southern California climate (I believe we planted the seeds back in November, and it’s still going strong).  Fundamentally, Spigarello is a cool season vegetable that can take some frost. That means it’s suited to be a spring or fall crop in 4-season climates. All in, in deciding how and when and where to plant it, I’d just pretend it was kale.

    Our source for seeds was our friends at Winnetka Farms who sell heirloom Italian vegetable seeds at gardenedibles.com. They are out of stock right now, but will have more in the fall.

    Update 4/2/13: Our friends no longer sell this, but you can get Cavolo Broccolo Spigariello Foglio Liscia at Seeds from Italy (growitalian.com).

    _________________________________________

    • Interesting side note from Mr. Homegrown:  Sources I’ve come across cite spigarello as a kind of primitive ancestor vegetable of either broccoli or broccoli rabe.
    • Translation request: Do any Italian-speaking readers want to help us with the translation of the full Italian name? We’re thinking it might be something like “Jetting Cabbage Broccoli from Naples”–but we could be very wrong about the getti.