California’s Drought and What To Do About It

dune-poster

By this summer, due to the worst drought in memory, California will resemble the desert planet Arakis in Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. Not only will we be watering our lawns less, we’ll be drinking our own urine. Knife fights with a bikini clad Sting will break out and we’ll be trading our bikes for rides on the over-sized worms emerging from our compost bins. But I digress. Let’s cover what we’re doing at the Root Simple compound.

  • We’ve expanded our drought tolerant plantings over the past few years. These plants use less water and encourage beneficial wildlife. I consider them part of the vegetable garden, in a way.
  • I just made a major change to our laundry to landscape greywater system–more on this in another post.
  • I’ve consulted historical irrigation data to more intelligently program our drip irrigation system.

Keep in mind that 77% of California’s water use goes to agriculture (the media tends to forget this). Residential water use is a small part of the total. That being said, there’s a lot more we can do–the residents of Sydney Australia use half as much water per person as Californians in a similar climate.

I’m fairly certain we’ll eke our way out of this crisis but I’m not sure about the next one. In the meantime I’ll be walking without rhythm so as not to attract those big worms.

What are you doing to deal with the drought? If you’re outside of California, how are you surviving those arctic vortexes?

Fantastical Garden Images

File:Sudama bows at the glimpse of Krishna's golden palace in Dwarka. ca 1775-1790 painting.jpg

Sudama bows at the glimpse of Krishna’s golden palace in Dwarka,. ca 1775-1790

Not to contribute to the dreaded analysis paralysis, but this Pintrest collection images of fantastical gardens– from medieval sources to contemporary artists–may inspire your own garden, or at least give you a good dose of winter inspiration.  Well worth a peek. Thanks to BoingBoing for the lead.

Analysis Paralysis

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If you’re reading this blog, there’s no doubt that you’ve suffered from analysis paralysis. You’ve got to build that chicken coop, but you’re spending hours pouring over books, Pinterest boards and how-to websites. Add endless debates with your spouse and you’ve got a recipe for inaction. “Sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” is the way Shakespeare describes this condition in Hamlet.

The re-design of our backyard lead to the worst analysis paralysis I’ve ever experienced. Weeks went by with no progress. Ideas came and went. The internet made it worse by providing way too many possibilities.

A quote in a book finally broke my analysis paralysis spell. The gist of that quote was that we are all called by a higher power to build. I realized that I needed to set a deadline, get off my ass and construct the raised beds that I had spend endless hours researching, planning and discussing. I told Mrs. Homegrown that this Saturday I was buying lumber and cutting wood. I quickly drew up plans in SketchUp and started working.

The first hexagonal raised bed attempt came out a bit too small so I went back to SketchUp and re-sized the plans.  My self imposed deadline worked. Within a few hours I had the beds that I wanted and was very pleased with the results. The analysis paralysis spell was broken. What had been a concept on a computer screen become reality in short order. It felt good.

Sometimes life is a struggle, but increasingly I feel the need to build more and struggle less. No more neighborhood council meetings. I’m fatigued reading about the latest political outrage, petitions and pleas in Facebook. At this point in my life I just want to build.

What was your worst case of analysis paralysis? How do you deal with it?

Of Skunks, Sauerkraut and Stoicism

peaches-rootsimple

We were honored when the nice folks behind Stoic Week 2013 asked us to write a blog post. It begins,

Practicality is why stoicism works so well as the philosophical operating system of urban homesteading. While Foucault and Hegel might help me navigate the epistemological frontier, when I’m staring at a carefully tended vegetable bed that just got destroyed by a skunk, you can bet I’ll reach for the Seneca.

Read the rest here.

Erik’s 2014 New Years Resolutions

zapftrout

I’ve got a short and simple list of New Years resolutions this year:

  • Finish hardscaping the backyard and grow more vegetables. Steps have already been taken. Above is architectural genius John Zapf and our cat Trout helping with the plans. And it’s got to look good. Be prepared for some kind of geodesic raised bed folly.
  • Perfect my 100% whole grain sourdough breads using freshly milled flour. Write up some recipes and share my results.
  • Take a trip that involves a class or workshop. I’ve never regretted money spent on education (at least as an adult!).
  • Good health. I’ve figured out a simple if quirky equation. If I can fence I’m healthy. If I can’t I’ve got work to do. This pretentious niche sport just happens to combine flexibility, endurance, strategy and speed. This past year it forced me to confront and deal with knee problems. I plan on attempting a few tournaments in 2014.

What are your New Years Resolutions?

2013 in Review Part II

squashbaby

July
We got rid of our compact florescents and went back to incandescent bulbs. In most household applications, believe it or not, incandescent bulbs are a better choice. Mrs. Homegrown pondered equine touring by reviewing an obscure book, The Last of the Saddle Tramps. Perhaps she was inspired by our 2012 siting of the 3 mule guy (one of our most Googled posts, by the way).

August
I consider summer to be our winter in Los Angeles. It’s hot and dry and, other than harvesting tomatoes, summer here is not the best time for gardening. Time to contemplate closed vs. open floor plans and catch a crappy Hollywood movie. “Crappy Hollywood” is a redundancy, of course, as all Hollywood movies are crappy.

September
Mrs. Homegrown complained about my flour storage mess. I just bought a Komo mill and so this mess should diminish in the next few months. In the further interest of cleanliness, I blogged about the soap nut tree.

October
We attended Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich’s life changing acorn processing class. Every time I take one of their classes I leave thinking, “that was the best food I’ve ever tasted in my life.” And one sure way to generate controversy is to discuss anything related to bees, especially Africanized bees.

November
I take a baking class with Craig Ponsford who’s a famous advocate of whole grain baking. Ponsford inspires me to orient all cooking/preserving projects on this blog towards good health. Look for more blog posts on healthy food in 2014. We also participated in Stoic Week 2013. Stoicism is a philosophy that helps us deal with the ups and downs of life. And I got my Ham license–KK6HUF.

December
I harvest one big-ass squash out of the straw bale garden we planted in the spring. In the ongoing post-modern funhouse of mirrors that is the interwebs, reader Molly informs me that Home Depot put our straw bale garden on their Pinterest page. Maybe I’ll get a free orange bucket, a unhappy flat of petunias or an ugly set of patio furniture as a kickback.

That big-ass squash is a reminder of how fortunate we are–care for nature and she cares for you. Of all the activities of our past year, the ones that stick out for me relate to simple, healthy food and communion with nature. Best wishes for an abundant and healthy 2014 to all of you.

What were the highlights of your 2013?

2013 in Review Part I

before and after: straw bale garden

Straw bale garden: before and after.

One of the side benefits of blogging is having a record of ideas and projects going back for years. I thought I’d spend the next two days looking at what happened, month by month, in 2013.

January
The main topic was how to deal with patellafemoral syndrome, aka bad knees. In May I did what I should have done 20 years ago: hire a personal trainer to set up a gym program tailored to my needs and weaknesses. After many hours at the YMCA I’ve got PT syndrome under control but I’ve still got a lot of work to do. Thankfully, I’m back to running and fencing.

February
In February in Los Angeles it should rain. It didn’t. The year was the driest on record: 3.6 inches, making it a desert not the Mediterranean climate it should be. It seems to be a dry winter again this year and I’m worried.

March
A texting music video producer totaled our car and thus began a six month experiment in living without a car in Los Angeles. That experiment ended in September when we bought a car. Living in LA without a car was easier than I thought it would be thought thanks to the expansion of the rail network. It was a tough decision, but we decided to burn dino juice again.

April
I began what was to be the most successful experiment of the year, a straw bale garden. It was the perfect solution to our lead soil problem–grow in bales temporarily and generate a lot of compost with which to use in permanent raised beds that I’ll build this winter. I’m still harvesting squash from those bales!

May
We attend the Age of Limits conference along with our friend John Zapf. Kelly and I blogged about our initial reaction to this doomy event but we never told the whole story–deciding instead to move on and focus on positive action.

June
Good news and bad news. The amazing folks at Honey Love continued their efforts to legalize beekeeping in Los Angeles. Those efforts are beginning to pay off–the legalization efforts moved forwards this month and I predict we’ll see success in the coming year. In other political news the LA city council caved in to movie industry pressure and made LA the first city to remove green bike lanes. I was at the City Council meeting and got to see film industry and union lobbyists work the room. Those of who came to speak on behalf of the lanes were not allowed to speak. You win some, you lose some.

Santa Gets a License

34635r From the library of congress:

Santa Claus receives aeroplane pilot’s license from Assistant Secretary of Commerce. Although there may not be sufficient snow for his reindeer sleigh, Santa Claus will still be able to deliver his load of presents on time this Christmas by using the air route. The old saint called at the Commerce Department in Washington today where he is shown receiving an aeroplane pilot’s license from Assistant Secretary of Commerce. for Aeronautics William P. MacCracken, while Clarence M. Young (right) Director of Aeronautics, Department of Commerce, looks on. Airway maps and the assurance that the lights would be burning on the airways Christmas Eve were also given to Santa.

Did they have more spare time in the 1920s for these high jinks? Merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy new year to all of you.

Reforming City Codes

napoleon

On my high horse pointing a finger.

In response to my intemperate use of the word “bureaucrat” in yesterday’s post on the city of Miami Shores’ crackdown on a front yard vegetable garden, a Root Simple reader DRBREW responded:

I hate to do this, but in defense of City bureaucrats (of which, I am one) and code enforcement people (of which I am not)…… Most of those citations are complaint driven, it is the code enforcement person’s job to uphold the City Code (they don’t have to be such a jerk about it though), if they don’t do their job, the person that complained will just go higher in the government structure until they get satisfaction (these people that file complaints are usually victims of someone else that complained and now they want everyone to suffer, it’s a vicious cycle). Most code enforcement people are not actively seeking out violations to write citations on, that’s why she was able to grow her veggies for 17 years without a problem, once the complaint is filed it must be addressed (even as a City bureaucrat, I have been a victim of anonymous complaints on my own property about trees, shrubs, you name it…….). I say this: Change the outdated codes that were enacted as a response to someone’s suburban utopian nightmare of manicured lawns and gumdrop shrubs! This is probably what will come of the Florida case. My City recently tried to legalize backyard chickens, someone started an anti-chicken campaign and the City Council lost it’s nerve and voted the amendment down………….Sometimes you just can’t win……..

DRBREW makes a good point. The City of Los Angeles just started a comprehensive review of the city municipal codes to deal with years of contradictory and outdated rules. It’s a process that will take years. Both Napoleon and the Roman emperor Justinian inherited law books so bloated that they used their dictatorial powers to sweep them away and start fresh. We can’t do that in a democracy.

I owe and apology to the many civil servants who, DRBREW points out, have to enforce contradictory and nonsensical codes. A few years ago I was part of a group that helped change the code in LA that made it illegal to grow and resell fruit, flowers or nuts in a residential zone. It was legal, for some reason, to grow and sell vegetables. City staff were very helpful in changing the code. They knew it didn’t make sense and were just as eager to change it as we were.

As DRBREW points out, these ridiculous laws tend not to be enforced at all until a feud begins between neighbors. To prevent these situation we can all help create more cohesive communities. It can be as simple as throwing a party. Our neighbors used a new social networking website called Nextdoor to organize a neighborhood party. I realized at that party just how important it is to get neighbors to chat over food and beer. If we’re all friends, we’re less likely to start calling city inspectors on each other and more likely to resolve disputes face to face.

Another step would be to create city codes that work as guidelines, something like Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language, rather than proscriptions. Take parkway planting regulations, for instance. Put together a group of landscape architects, gardening enthusiasts, native plant experts and come up with a guidebook rather than a list of rules. Ultimately, a human being is going to have to make a judgement call on whether something is a nuisance.

My error with yesterday’s blog post was pointing a finger, rather than seeing our communities as as system. That, and blogging while quaffing a beer–how ironic that “DRBREW” would point out my error.