Congrats Denver!

From the Denver Post:  

Denver City Council eases way to own chickens, goats at home

Apparently it was previously legal, but more difficult because you had to pay steep fees and inform all your neighbors. Now, thanks to citizen action by urban homesteaders, the fee has been reduced to 20 bucks and you don’t have to inform your neighbors in order to keep 8 chickens or ducks and up to 2 pygmy goats. No roosters, natch. Congrats Denver! I’m proud to say you’re my home town.

via The Lazy Homesteader’s Facebook

Our favorite way to cook zucchini

It’s that time of year again.

Put aside those zucchini bread recipes and try this instead.

This recipe–or technique, rather– sounds too simple to be good, but it really works. As one friend said of the dish, “It tastes like there’s a lot going on, but there’s not.”

All you’ve got to do is shred your zucchini up on the large holes of your kitchen grater. Saute the shreds in an uncovered skillet with lots of olive oil and some chopped up garlic, until there’s no water in the pan, and the volume of the zucchini is reduced by about half.

This transforms the zukes into a savory, glossy, succulent mush. Maybe that’s not the most elegant way to phrase it, but it’s the best I can do. Yes, it does have a baby food texture, but it’s really, really good, so you don’t care.

I can’t begin to tell you quantities–we’ve never measured. Just guesstimate. It will work. The one rule of thumb I can offer you is that you will lose about half the volume of the zucchini through cooking, so grate up more than you think you can eat.

The central idea here is to cook off all that water. This can’t be emphasized enough. That’s what makes this dish taste good. The zucchini will release a lot of water as it cooks–at least ours does, because it’s very fresh. Older zucchini may be more dry. So keep it simmering at a good clip, stirring occasionally, until the water bubbles off.

Saute until there’s no water pooling at the bottom of the pan. Until you start to run the risk of browning the zucchini. Then take it off the stove. Add salt and pepper to taste.

How long will this take? It varies by how much zucchini you’re cooking, and how wet it is, how deep the pan is, etc., but for a general guideline, when we shred up one big boy, enough to fill a 11″ skillet, it takes 20-30 minutes to cook it down.

Starting out…
Reducing…
Done.

Note: This year we’re growing a type of zucchini called Albarello di Sarzana (Little Tree of Sarzana) from…as usual…Franchi. We’re really liking it. It’s a pretty, light green, spotted squash, and the leaves have silver patterning on them. But more important that looks, it’s tasty, and seems to be resistant to powdery mildew.

ETA: Love all the recipe suggestions we’re getting in the comments! Please do tell us how you like to cook zucchini.

Animal Tracking

A track trap we laid to capture chipmunk tracks. We got some mice, too. No one wanted our peanuts–the chipmunk actually hopped over them. These critters had an advanced palette, preferring locally sourced pine nuts from the pinon pines. Photo courtesy of one of my classmates, Kurt Thompson.

 Mrs. Homegrown here:

I just returned from an amazing five-day sojourn in the mountains, at the Windy Springs Preserve, in which I learned the basics of animal tracking from a pair of wonderful teachers, Jim Lowery and Mary Brooks of Earth Skills.

Tracking is the kind of skill that you can easily spend a lifetime, or two, developing. Yet it is also possible, with good teachers, for even a neophite like me to pick up a working knowledge of the art over a couple of days. By the end of the class, I was able spend an enthralling hour tracking a cottontail through a maze of sagebrush–all by myself.  Over the course of the class, I was fortunate enough to see the tracks of deer, bobcats, bears, coyotes, cottontails, jack rabbits, grey squirrels, chipmunks, kangaroo rats, foxes, mice, snakes, horned toads, lizards and beetles. We also got to practice tracking people, which is a lot of fun.

One thing I particularly appreciated about this class was that Jim and Mary encourage you to use your intuition as well as the “hard skills” of print identification, precise measurement, gait recognition, animal behavior, etc. For me, this was rewarding–and intriguing. It took tracking out of a purely left-brain zone, into a place of deep connection with both the animal and the landscape.

You can down load a free pdf on tracking basics from their website.

Tracking and Gardening

Now that I’m home, it strikes me that some of these skills I learned could be useful in the garden. Most anybody with a garden has had a moment when they wonder, “Just what kind of critter is digging holes in my beds?” or “Who is eating my cilantro down to nubs?” With my new knowledge set, I can answer these questions by setting up a track trap.

A track trap is an area of soil smoothed flat to capture animal tracks. In this class we used two methods: one was to drag a big, flat sack full of dirt (for weight) across stretches of open ground to smooth and compress the soil. When made in the evening, these clear spaces catch the prints of any animals that come through overnight or in the early morning. The results the next day were often spectacular–a clean, written record of the night’s activities. You may have seen this type of trap occur naturally on the bank of lake, or on a beach, or on a clean stretch of ground after a rain.

The other type of trap made by dusting a thin layer of dry clay on the rough side of a particleboard sheet, and then arching a piece of something flexible, like thin metal sheeting, over the board to protect the clay bed from wind, birds etc. If positioned correctly, these traps catch the tracks of smaller creatures–rodent types–very neatly.

If your garden topography allows it, you could drag clear the area around your beds in the evening and see what prints might show in the morning. The Internets are full of track pictures that you can use to identify your particular culprit. You probably already have a few guesses about who it is–it would only take a minute of googling to find out the difference between the tracks of, say, an opossum and a skunk. Or a feral cat and a raccoon. Even if the prints are not particularly clear, you can often tell a lot just by their size. Websites with track ID pictures come with notes about standard measurements.

Once you know for sure who is causing the mischief, it might be easier to come up with solutions for how to protect your garden. For instance, you could look up advice from your local Integrated Pest Management program, like the one offered by the University of California.

Note: If you’re in the market for a good tracking book, I can recommend the book we used in class, The Tracker’s Field Guide, written by one of the teachers.

Support Locally Sourced Kittens

Mrs. Homegrown here:
Our friend, Anne–who stuck us gifted us with our own kitten a couple of months ago, now has a pair of rescued kitties looking for a home. They came to her in bad shape, their tiny little bodies crawling with fleas, so much so that the water of their first bath turned blood red. One was very, very sick with some sort of intestinal bug. He didn’t seem likely to make it, but recovered, thanks to Anne’s 24-hour care.
But those dark days are over. These authentic HaFo SaFo street kitties (HaFo SaFo is a neighborhood in LA, and a blog)  are now healthy, happy, darn cute and ready for permanent homes. They are well socialized to humans, as well as other cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits, ducks and turtles.
The kittens are siblings. They have very similar markings, the difference being that one has crisp-edged markings, the other blurry-edged markings. Therefore, the kittens are provisionally known as Sharp and Blurry, or Dodge and Blur. Sharp is a girl, Blurry a boy.  I believe they could be adopted together or separately.
Anne is happy to give them free to a good home. If the adopter wanted to make some contribution toward medical expenses, that would be cool–because Blurry needed about $100 worth of medicine–but it’s not at all required. Most important is that they get a home. 
Remember, kittens are a most excellent source of low-tech entertainment and chemical-free rodent control, an ideal addition to any homestead–guaranteed to be useful throughout the zombie apocalypse!
If you’re interested, send us email at [email protected], and we’ll pass you on to Anne. 
Please be sure to pass this on to any cat-susceptible friends you might have, too. Thanks for your help finding these little guys a home!
Note: Erik is worried this sets a precedent, and that Root Simple will soon become Pet Simple, because we’ll be inundated by requests to advertise pets. So let’s lay this out now–we won’t. That’s not our mission. But Anne is our friend, and she lives just few blocks away from us, and rescued our cat as well as Blurry and Sharp from the immediate neighborhood. Therefore our kitten and these are siblings, of a sort.
Speaking of which…

***

Update on our kitten:

Our kitten is now confirmed to be female. She’s about 12 weeks old now, still very small, compared to adult cats, but all graceful and cat-proportioned (as the photo above illustrates). The toddling, cuddly kitten stage is far behind. Now she spends 80% of her waking hours practicing killing things in ever more spectacular ways, and the remaining 20% getting into trouble by exploring where she should not (knocking over things, missing jumps, falling off ledges, getting coated with dust bunnies). As I said, kittens are excellent source of low-tech entertainment.
As for a name, we’ve been having trouble naming her. Nothing sticks. As of now, she’s named Phoebe, after the formidable, insect-eating birds that stalk our backyard. She’s as much of a hunter as any phoebe–and black, too. Her surname is WoadNyx, because she really needs a witchy name, since she seems to be born of 100% pure Halloween cat stock: Phoebe WoadNyx.
My allergies were really doing well, but just in the last couple of days I’ve turned into a walking snot factory. However, it may be seasonal allergies. It’s so hard to tell. I have faith that this will pass. It has to, really, because Phoebe and Erik are in the midst of a shameless love affair, and I don’t think I can make him choose between us. When she hears him come in, she runs to greet him, like a dog. She sleeps on top of him, purring like an outboard motor. It’s ridiculous. I--I am nothing but the sniffling human who brings her dinner, a fine enough thing to sit upon when The Great One is not around. 
Cats.

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(the above is a contribution to this post by the demon herself)

Advances in Gardening Series: A Garlic Mystery

One of the new features of the garden this year is a long, trough-shaped bed that Erik installed along the edge of our patio. Its inaugural crop was garlic, which is generally a very easy plant to grow. We’ve done it before, many times, successfully. This year it didn’t work. The stalks failed to thrive. Many plants did not set bulbs at all, looking instead like green onions. The heads that were formed are quite small. 
We’re not sure why this happened. All spring Erik scoured books trying to find an obvious solution, but couldn’t make any clear diagnosis. Our winter/spring weather was strange: torrential rains and cold interspersed with heat waves. Our best guess is that this irregularity created conditions ripe for various sorts of molds and bacteria which garlic does not get along with. Another possibility is that the soil in this bed, which was transferred from another bed, may have pre-existing problems. C’est la vie, as we say around the compost heap. We’ll be buying garlic this year. 
We may send the soil in this bed off for testing, or just plant a legume cover crop in it for the summer, and decide what to do with it in the fall.
The bed newly constructed and planted. Alas, those were hopeful days…
It started off good, but just sort of declined steadily.
The original post about the garlic trough here.

Cat Litter Composting

Pocket Nitrogen Generator

 Mrs. Homegrown here:

Apologies to you googlers looking for solid answers. This is what Erik calls a probe. I’ve decided to compost our kitten’s litter box waste, and this is how I plan to go about it. However, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot as I go, so this post isn’t instructional. I will post a report once the system gets going.

The real reason I’m posting is because I’d love is to hear from any of you who do this already–tips are much appreciated! I’m particularly interested in finding a good brand of litter that composts well.

The basic gist:

Okay, first, anyone who’s gone through Composting 101 knows they say not to put pet waste, especially dog and cat waste, in your regular compost bin. This is because cat and dog poop contains pathogens. We never composted our late dog’s waste, and for 12 years we sent at least two big plastic bags of poop to the landfill every day. Parents who use disposable diapers got nothing on me in terms of environmental guilt.

Now we’ve got this cat, and I’m looking in her litter box and seeing nothing but carbon and nitrogen. I can’t stand it. I’m disregarding Composting 101 rules because I know this can be done, if done carefully. Over the years I’ve learned to be amazed by the Cleansing Power of Compost & Time, especially since we started doing some humanure composting. Check that link for more info on Jenkins’ good work in that area–research, technique, message boards, etc. It’s all there. Human, cat and dog waste are all more tricky to work with than your more benign chicken and bunny waste. This isn’t something one should do in a half-assed way, but it is possible.

The plan I’m going to follow is the basic humanure model, which is classic composting, but with lots of attention and care, followed by a 2 year rest period for the full bin, during which time worms and bacteria do their scrubbing magic to help remove any lingering nasties. When the first batch is done, I’ll have a sample lab tested, just out of curiosity.

Whatever I do, I won’t spread my finished compost on food crops, but instead under our trees and around our perennials. 

I have considered doing this via a worm bin, but as I understand it, the worms don’t like the fresh pet waste–and understandably, too! They like to come in when it’s broken down a bit. I’ll definitely add worms to the bin when the rest period begins. But if anyone has a pet-waste worm bin, let me know how that’s going!

Now I have to find a spot for (yet another) bin of poo in our yard.

(Do I hear the soundtrack to Deliverance playing, or is that just my imagination?)

Update: Read what I decided to do in The Cat Poop Portal

What you control

Erik cited a Terence McKenna quote deep in his last post on bacon. It’s a good one, and deserves more attention so I’m giving it this space.

If Erik and I have a single message to offer, it is that you can’t control the world, but you can control your life. There’s plenty in this world to be outraged over, or worried about, but those feelings don’t get you anywhere. What you have to do is tend your own garden: Your body, mind and soul. Your family. Your kitchen. Your yard. Your neighborhood. See to those things. In making those things better, you do make the world better. At the very least you’ve improved your own life. Or, perhaps, you might be one of the many pebbles that makes an avalanche.

And here is McKenna saying something similiar in his inimitable style:

“We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.” –Terence McKenna

(I’m sorry I don’t know where this quote comes from–but I snatched it from Goodreads.)

Well howdy! We’re in the New York Times

We’re pleased and flattered to be in the Times today, spouting off at the mouth and waving our freak flag (or freak thrysus) high. Michael Tortarello interviewed us, and he’s a helluva a writer. You could spend your time in worse ways seeking out his other articles, like this one on hybrid seeds, which is one of Erik’s favorites. And kudos to Laure Joliet for taking such beautiful pictures.

Advances in Gardening Series: Thoughts on The Fan, and the problems of overabudance

The Fan late in the season, about to be pulled out. See earlier photos of The Fan here.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Last fall we dug up a sort of feral herb bed and replaced it with a more formal, three-part bed that I call The Fan. The idea is to use this bed to plant annual herbs and flowers. While some of these plants are medicinal, it is also a bed dedicated more to aesthetics than the rest of our garden, so it’s also a place where I particularly want to plant flowers and plants of strong visual interest.

The first crop, planted in November, consisted of Calendula, chamomile and poppies. All three grew wonderfully well and provided a nice focal point for the garden. The Fan is right outside our back door, so is what most people see first. It looked professional–like we actually know what we were doing.

The downside of this season’s fan was in fact its abundance. It looked nice, but it provided too much plant material. In the case of both the chamomile and Calendula, I could have done with half the plants for my teas and salves. The poppies looked gorgeous and fed the bees, which is all I care about. I’m not complaining about those. Oh no. Wait. I will. Early in the season, thinning on a big bed of poppies was a real pain. I had to do it over and over again. It was worth it in the end, but next time I’ll not sow seed so thickly.

All in all, the result of this overplanting is that it became a make-work scenario. When I wasn’t thinning poppies, I had to be out there constantly, deadheading the chamomile and Calendula just to keep up with it all. Deadheading (chopping off the spent flowers) encourages more flower production, which is important if you want a continual harvest. It also collects seed, to keep it from spreading everywhere. Despite my efforts, I know a ton of seed fell, and when the rains come next year, I’ll be pulling Calendula and chamomile volunteers.

Moral is, know what you need, and plant no more than that. Unless you’ve got the time and energy to maintain larger, more flashy beds. I’m all about making it easy on myself, so next year I’ll plant less. Of course, it takes experiences like this to learn exactly what our needs are. This is just how it goes.

 What’s next:

The next round of plants in the fan have to be able to stand our hot, dry summer. This is a bit of headscratcher for me. Most of the plants I’m interested in grow best during our cool season. So what’s going in there next is sort of eccentric. One section will be an Echinacea patch. Another will be black cumin, which has historical medical uses, and the other is broom sorghum, because it looks to be gorgeous, and I want to make a broom. You’ll hear more about all these in future posts.