Bees: Shown to the Children

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Homegrown Neighbor lent us this beautiful little book. The author is Ellison Hawks (what a name!) and dates to 1912. This book is part of a series of books for kids on various natural history topics, all titled the same way (i.e. X: Shown to the Children). I’d love to see the whole collection.

Every time I read an old children’s book, I’m struck by the sophistication of the language and themes presented, and wonder why this has been lost, and then try not to despair for civilization. Take this passage about intruders to the hive, from the chapter called Workers in the City (in the book, the hive is conceptualized as a bee city). It’s poetic and morbid and violent fascinating–all things I would have loved as a child:

Sometimes a mouse or a snail enters the hive, and then indeed there is great excitement. Imagine a great elephant-like creature, thirty or forty feet high, with a tail thirty feet long, to come walking into one of our cities, and you will have some idea what it seems like to the bees when a mouse is foolish enough to poke its head in the hive! But the bees are not frightened; the guards are promptly called out, and the poor mouse is soon put to death by hundreds of stings. Having made sure that the intruder is quite dead, the bees leave his body to the scavengers, who are confronted with the problem of disposing of it. If it were left it would cause disease and pestilence throughout the city, and it is too big and heavy for them to move. It is true that they might bite it into tiny pieces and thus carry it outside the hive, but this would take too much of the bees’ valuable time. A better plan is thought of, and the body is soon covered over with a thin coating of wax. It is thus embalmed in a beautiful white tomb, which is made perfectly air tight. If the tomb is near to the door, and interferes with the passing in and out of the workers, tunnels are cut through it. Sometimes when we look inside a hive, we may see two or three of these little mounts of was, and we may be sure that each one is the grave of some intruder who had no right to be there.

Granted, I believe foreign bodies in the hive, such as mouse corpses, are actually covered with propolis, not wax, but I’m not going to hold it against the authors. First, I’m not sure if I’m right or not, and at any rate, the idea is the same, and very well described.

There’s so much good to say about this book. It’s illustrated with early photos, line drawings, and pretty full color illustrations. In somewhat more than 100 pages it covers bee anatomy, behavior, the process of collecting nectar, hive society, beekeeping basics and even includes a chapter on “The Ancients” which addresses the apparently long-lasting ancient supposition that bees are born from the rotting bodies of oxen (?!?). I’m wondering if that was more of a symbolic conceit, because surely the ancients were no dummies and could tell the difference between blowflies and bees. But it makes for colorful reading, and again, as a child, I would have been entranced. Even if I couldn’t understand half the words.

Turns out this book is hard to find in the US because it’s an UK title. There’s only one Amazon listing, and it’s $23, and a couple more expensive at Alibris, but lots of UK listings for less. We may have to begin direct negotiations with Homegrown Neighbor for this copy.

UPDATE: A reader wrote in to tell us the whole book is available online, for free, at the Hathi Trust Digital Library. So if you want you can jump over there and page through it. I’d checked Google books, and it’s not there. I’m glad to learn of Hathi. They’ve got three other books in the series, too, btw.

A Taste of Honey – Story from the BBC

Gentle readers,

Mrs. Homegrown here. When we renamed our blog Root Simple we were making a commitment to build a better blog. We don’t have the change all mapped out yet–we’re letting it evolve organically (how else?) but one thing we’ve known for a long time, and that is that we wanted to partner with Eric Thomason and Julia Posey from Ramshackle Solid. We’ve long admired their aesthetics, the grace with which they live simply, and the way they’re raising their boys: free and bold.

Don’t worry, Ramshackle Solid fans: they will continue to document their adventures on that blog, just as always. Here at Root Simple they’re going to liven up our game, dropping by with opinions, ideas and information that you probably wouldn’t get from me and Erik, making Root Simple a more interesting place. At the same time, Erik and I will continue to blog as we always have.

So give them a big welcome! And now, on with Eric’s first post, about one of my favorite subjects, the healing power of honey:

photo credit: edibleoffice via creative commons lisc.
The other night, Wednesday Feb 9th to be exact, while suffering a bout of sleeplessness, I had the great good fortune to hear this very interesting 27 min. audio story: A Taste of Honey (BBC)
It’s a very informative news piece starting with the history of mankind’s honey consumption and cultivation, discussing small scale vs. large commercial apiaries, colony collapse and ending with new breakthrough medicinal application of honey for aliments ranging from types of cancer to drug resistant staff infections.
One type of honey in particular, manuka honey, has very effective antimicrobial properties due to an additional compound found only in some wild manuka (leptospermum scoparium) in New Zealand.
Here’s a statement from the Summer Glow Apiaries website:

In laboratory studies honey with high UMF activity (over UMF10) has been found to be effective against a wide range of bacteria including the very resistant helicobacter pylori (this bacteria causes most stomach ulcers), the wound-infecting bacteria staphylococcus aureus and escherichia coli, streptococcus pyogenes (causes sore throats).

If you don’t have the time to listen or prefer to read, much of the health benefits being explored are discussed here in this BBC print piece from 2004: Harnessing Honey’s Healing Power

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s a week for formulating New Years resolutions and I have two that stem from reading Ferran Adrià’s A Day at elBulli. Adrià is one of the main proponents of “molecular gastronomy” (though he rejects the term) a style of cooking that involves not just unusual ingredients, but the creation of entirely new forms of cooking. Think dry ice, freeze drying and culinary thoughtstylings such as “Spherification.” But back to my two resolutions which are:

1. Read, listen to and experience more divergent opinions. I checked out A Day at El Bulli from the library expecting to hate it. I’m all about quality ingredients (preferably homegrown) prepared in simple, traditional ways and will never attempt any of the ridiculous recipes included in this big picture book. That being said, I came away from thumbing through the book with an admiration for Adrià’s creativity even if I agree with Mrs. Homegrown description of the entrees looking like “dog vomit.”* It’s all too easy in the age of Google to succumb to “confirmation bias,” the errors that come with finding only what you’re looking for. While I wouldn’t buy a copy of A day at El Bulli, I’m glad a librarian chose it for the library and I’m happy I took the time to consider Adrià’s point of view even if I disagree.

2. Speaking of Adrià’s creativity–he spends half the year developing new methods in Barcelona and the other half the year working at the remote El Bulli. Making the time for creative thinking is essential, I believe. Even after co-writing two how-to books I find myself spending too much time answering emails and not enough time growing, tinkering and building things. Adrià has it right: if you don’t make that time for creativity it will fill up with unproductive duties. Of course Adrià has someone else to sort through the 2 million (no exaggeration) annual reservation requests.

* A clarifying note frome Mrs. Homegrown: I used the term dog vomit specifically in relation to their signature dishes based on flavor-infused foam. Many of their dishes are strikingly beautiful, art without doubt. But speaking as a dog owner, if you present me with a plate of chunks of food swimming in yellow foam, my mind is going one place and one place only. And when the foam is white instead of yellow, I’m thinking about spittle bugs, or pond life, or stinky beach foam. But you know…whatever turns your crank.

And speaking of those 2 million reservations, Mrs. Homegrown and I are taking a few days off to catch up with things–we’ll be back soon.

Seaweed, Salmon and Manzanita Cider

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I fell into temptation and bought Seaweed, Salmon and Manzanita Cider: A California Indian Feast at the Theodore Payne Foundation this week. I should know by now not to look around that book store. Like Ulysses, I should tie myself to the mast–pay for my native plants and get out. Somehow it never works.

Seaweed, Salmon is a pretty little book. Paperback, thin, but coffee table worthy, because it’s so interesting and at the same time, skimmable. A good gift book. It’s a loose collection of folklore, personal narrative, recipes and preparation tips for wild foods, well-illustrated with color photos. (It is not, however, a plant identification book.)

Yes, I’m on the California Indian/native plant train again (see my recent recommendations) but the wild foods discussed in this book are not exclusively Californian. It covers all sorts of common wild foods, like acorns, elderberries, and rosehips, as well as wild game. They discuss coastal foods like oysters and seaweed, as well as Southwest-specific foods, like yucca, agave, and our ever-prolific friend, the prickly pear.

What I like best about it are the personal stories, and after our turkey business last week, I’m drawn to the stories about hunting. There’s one arresting reminicence of how this man’s mother went into the woods alone with a gun, took down a big buck, dressed it and hauled half of it up a tree, carried the other half back to her camp, and treed that, too…and woke the next morning to find a mountain lion stalking the campsite. And I complain about picking pinfeathers out of turkey carcasses!

It’s worth a look. I just checked and found that it’s in the LA library system (doh!), so if you’re not in a spending mood, maybe you’ll find it at your library, too.

Gift Suggestions, from the Other Half

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Of course Mr. Homegrown didn’t ask me for input on “our” holiday gift guide. Not that I dispute his choices…but I do have some of my own.

These are the 4 most thought provoking books (in this topic area) I’ve read this year:

The first two are closely related, as they are about the horticultural practices of Native Americans in California. You might remember me writing about them earlier.  Apologies for the California bias:

Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West, by Celia Garcia and James D. Adams, Jr., Abedus Press, 2009

Co-authored by a Chumash healer and a USC pharmacology prof., both of whom write for Wilderness Way magazine. A fascinating resource documenting both historical uses and current scientific opinion on our native plants.

My post on it is here.

Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural ResourcesTending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources by M. Kat Anderson, University of California Press, 2006

I’m still fascinated with this book’s thesis: that California Indians actively managed the California landscape, shaping it into the verdant paradise that awed the first European settlers to arrive here. They were practicing food forestry in it’s most advanced form, as well as wild life management.

This book also introduced me to a concept I’m also still trying to wrap my head around: the idea that plants need us as much as we need them. Our relationship is symbiotic.  Paradise isn’t wild. Plants want to be tended, and they miss our hand. Seems these days we’re either entirely ignoring them or micromanaging them–mandating monocultures and whatnot.  My original review here.

***

The second two suggestions are also related to one another, being about people who are passionate about DIY living. We’ve also talked about these on this blog. And yes, in the spirit of full disclosure, we know both authors and we’re mentioned in both books. It doesn’t make them any less inspirational for me.

Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway WorldMade by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World, by BoingBoing co-founder and Make Magazine editor in chief Mark Frauenfelder

A quote from Erik’s reviewMade by Hand is not a how-to book it is, paradoxically, the most practical DIY book I’ve read in a long time. Why? Because it’s all about facing that fear of failure, the single greatest obstacle to actually getting out there and doing things.

Despite some internet flapage, the movement she describes is not about putting women back into a state of servitude, or about forcing everybody to wear hair shirts for the sake of abstract, green ideals. I think she does a fine job of showing that homemakers encompass both genders, and that these ideals are neither abstract nor trendy. Radical homemakers work from a place of deep passion and resolve. It’s not for everybody, but it’s probably for more people than we think. If that makes any sense at all. A good discussion-starting sort of book.

Our Holiday Gift Suggestions

That dreaded holiday seasons is just around the corner. With unemployment still high we hope that many of you have negotiated a family gift truce to limit tedious shopping. Or perhaps you’re making things to give away.

But if you still need to get a little something for that special homesteader on your shopping list, we’ve got a few suggestions from our Homegrown Evolution Amazon Store. Even if you just click through the store and buy something else, your purchases will help support this website with no additional cost to you. Here’s a few suggestions from out list:

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy

Edible Landscaping


Rosalind Creasy just came out with a completely rewritten version of her classic book Edible Landscaping. The book is full of dazzling photos, helpful design suggestions and a long plant list with detailed growing and harvesting directions. I’ve been carefully reviewing this book as we redesign our yard. Especially helpful has been Creasy’s suggestion to draw a plan, to scale, and create lists of design ideas and problem areas. Going through this process helped me spot a few issues that I otherwise would have missed.

Haws Watering Can

Haws Practican Plastic Watering Can – 6 Liters 

The Haws Practican Plastic Watering Can – 6 Liters is the Cadillac of watering cans. I don’t know how I survived without this thing. For starting seedlings, nothing compares to the gentle rain this sturdy, well made can produces. Yes, it costs a lot more that most watering cans, but it will last a lifetime and pay for itself in healthy seedlings.

REOTEMP Compost Thermometer

At a raffle we recently attended at the Huntington Gardens a gasp actually went up from the crowd when this item, the REOTEMP Backyard Compost Thermometer, came up. It’s a handy tool to assess the health of your compost and judge when its time to turn. I use it all the time. 
The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

Then there’s our book, The Urban Homestead Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, now in a revised edition.  Enough said.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping


If you’d like to get started in beekeeping there’s only one book out there that I can recommend. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping by Dean Stiglitz and Laurie Herboldsheimer. It’s the only beekeeping book that advocates a completely natural, no-treatment method of beekeeping.

Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier

Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles  by Eric Toensmeier is the perfect gift for the permaculturalist on your list. With it you can design a food forest of hardy, easy to care for perennials that provide food, medicine and habitat for beneficial creatures.
Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis
Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition 
When it comes to gardening, it’s all about the soil. Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis summarizes the pioneering work of Elaine Ingham who views soil not as an inert list of chemicals, but rather as a living “soil food web.” You don’t feed the soil, you feed the organisms that inhabit the soil that, in turn, form beneficial symbiotic relationships with plants.
The Modern Utopian
The Modern Utopian: Alternative Communities Then and Now 
Our publisher, Process Media, has come out with a collection of writings from the 60s and 70s back to the land era, The Modern Utopian: Alternative Communities Then and Now. The book is a collection of first person accounts and underground journalism from the period. Some communities are still around, but most failed. This book takes you inside this turbulent era to show what worked and what didn’t.
These books and garden items and many more are available in the Homegrown Evolution Amazon Store. Thanks for your support!

Return of Bean Friday: Bean Broth or “Tuscan Crazy Water”

Yep, Bean Friday rears its head again–or is it Frugal Friday?

Whatever it is, I’ve got this thrifty idea for you. I read about in The Italian Country Table, by Lynn Rossetto Casper. We’ve had this book for years and years, and it has some really good recipes in it that have become standards in our house, along just with a couple of duds. I’d not paid attention to her entry on “Crazy Water” before, but by her introduction, I realized it was just the sort of thrifty cooking we’ve been focusing on here during Bean Fest. The only question for me was whether this recipe was a keeper or a dud, because it sounded pretty strange. The truth is it’s sort of in between.

According to Caspar, Tuscans like to cook beans with plenty of aromatics in lots of water, and then reserve that water as a broth. The bean broth is called Acqua Pazza, crazy water.

“This soup is a revelation” is how she opens the recipe. And later she claims it could be mistaken for chicken broth. That might be the problem–I was expecting twinkling lights and perhaps a chorus from a boys’ choir when I tasted it. What I got was a swallow of thin broth which tastes mostly like warm water when it first hits the tongue, but really does have a very nice, savory aftertaste. It’s delicate.

Caspar suggests serving it in bowls with croutons. I don’t have that much faith in it. But it is a decent vegetarian stock. It goes very well over rice, and I suspect it would be an excellent broth for cooking rice and other grains. I am fond of the waste-not, want-not philosophy behind it, and also the time saving angle. You can make a pot of beans for dinner, and end up with a supply of broth as a side benefit.

So now that all of those qualifications are done, this is how you make the broth:

First, you can’t use just any dried bean. Use light beans, like cannellini, pinto or borlotti. She particularly recommends chickpeas. I used pintos. Don’t use any dark or earthy bean, like black beans or black eyed peas. For fresh beans, she recommends cranberry beans or scarlet runners.

Basically you’re making a pot of beans with extra water. Simple stuff. I doubled her recipe, which only called for 1 cup of dried beans. I soaked 2 cups of dried pintos overnight. The next day I drained them and put them in a heavy pot and poured 2 inches of fresh water over them. To that water I added:

  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 6 good sized cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1 medium onion sliced in half and studded with 4 whole cloves

(Just fyi, her recipe calls for 8 sage leaves per 1 cup of dried beans. I chose not to double the sage.)

Throw these seasonings in with the beans. Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Don’t stir. This is supposed to make the broth clear. (It didn’t really help in my case). Foam might appear on top of the water–it did for me, but it vanished by the end of the cooking time.

Simmer the beans on low, covered, until tender but not falling apart. My pintos cooked in only 30 minutes. A speed record! The plenitude of water means you don’t have to worry about sticking or burning.

At the very end, add salt and pepper.

Strain the broth from the beans. She notes that the Tuscans dress these beans at the table using salt, pepper, olive oil and maybe vinegar.  I tried it, and it’s fine. Solid. Not super exciting, but healthy and hearty. I served the beans over rice with some of the broth. Another possibility, maybe a better possibility, would be to reserve the beans for a higher purpose, like frijoles refritos, or hummus-like applications.

The broth doesn’t keep. You know how stinky beans can get when forgotten in the fridge. I don’t even want to know what might happen to this broth. So use it the next day, or freeze it for the next time you need stock.

I got about 6 cups of bean broth from this recipe.

Anyone done anything similar? Any advice?

Learn How to Compost Via the Humanure Handbook

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third EditionComposting ain’t rocket science but it does require some finesse. Following up on an earlier post which contained a comparison of different composters, I thought I’d mention my favorite written resource on how to compost. In my opinion, the best writing on the subject comes from a surprising source, the Humanure Handbook by Joeseph Jenkins. Best of all, an edition of this book is available online for free. Even if you have no intention of composting human waste, The Humanure Handbook contains excellent directions on how to easily maintain a hot n’ healthy compost pile. You can access the free edition here. Jenkins also has a bunch of great how-to videos here.

On the subject of humanure, news coverage of the terrible cholera outbreak in Haiti only gets half of the story. I keep hearing the press refer to the problem as one of a “lack of access to clean water.” True, but the other half of the problem is what Jenkin’s Humanure book is about, keeping human waste out of waterways in the first place and turning it into a resource rather than a disposal problem.

Einkorn Pasta

Jovial Organic Whole Grain Einkorn Penne Rigate, 12-Ounce Packages (Pack of 6)A publicist representing Jovial Foods contacted us about trying out a new product they are marketing, pasta made with einkorn wheat. Einkorn is either the first or one of the first grains to be cultivated. We tried two of Jovial’s einkorn products, a whole grain einkorn spagehtti and a whole grain einkorn fusilli. Both were tasty, well made pastas, superior to a Trader Joes whole wheat pasta we compared them to in a taste test. I think I’ll pick up a box of einkorn pasta occasionally, if just to cast a vote with my dollars for biodiversity.

Einkorn also has some possible health benefits. A 2006 study  in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found that einkorn may present “new dietary opportunities for celiac patients” who normally can’t eat wheat products. Jovial’s website cautions, however, that einkorn has not yet been evaluated by the FDA for consumption by celiac patients. Einkorn does contain gluten but it may be in a “more digestible” form than other wheat varieties according to Jovial.

I’ve found Jovial’s einkorn products at Whole Foods and on Amazon.

See the Jovial Foods website for more information on their einkorn pastas and where you can purchase them..

Read more about einkorn in an article by Jared Diamond, “Location, Location, Location: The First Farmers.”

An editorial note: We get a lot of press releases and ignore most of them or recycle the choice ones into April Fools day fodder. Unlike conscientious bloggers, many newspapers and magazines turn the same press releases into articles. Every once in awhile a press release catches our eye. Our policy is to only review things we like and would buy or use ourselves. We also promise to disclose when a blog post idea originates from a press release.

Sometimes we also link to Amazon. Your purchases through those links help defray our costs. And speaking of Amazon, a search for “einkorn” turned up the following oddball item, just in time for Halloween:

Keeping Chickens by Ashley English

Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock It’s about time someone got around to writing this book. The people have been demanding a concise, clearly illustrated guide to raising chickens for eggs in urban and suburban situations and Ashley English has delivered the goods with Keeping Chickens All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock. You may remember Ashley from our first, and so far only, Homegrown Evolution podcast. Keeping Chickens covers breeds, how to get chickens, how to build a coop, hatching eggs, feeding and more. There’s also a few really nice recipes for what to do with all those eggs including an omelet recipe I’ve been using since I got the review copy. You can see that recipe and a few sample pages on Ashley’s website Small Measure. Good straightforward advice here, all delivered with really nice photos. If you’re thinking of starting a backyard flock I’d pick up this handy book. Now go out and build that coop!