A viewing suggestion from the media arm of Root Simple

I really enjoy learning about technologies that are basic enough that I feel like I can understand them–and maybe even replicate them. The technology of Tudor-era in England is by no means primitive, but it also is not as complex and machine-based as the tech which takes off in the 19th century and accelerates so quickly into the present era. I would be hard pressed to explain how anything around me works–from this machine I’m typing on to communicate with the outside world, to the electric light burning beside me.

Bless the BBC for making Tudor Monastery Farm (a title which I believe would not fly on American television). This is a quiet series showing three historians/archeologists at play in the Weald & Downland Open Air History Museum, trying out some of the skills they’d need to be tenant farmers to the local monastery. It has some of the structure of a reality show, but it seems that no one really wants to go that direction much, so with the exception of a bit of camera confession about the urgency of getting the peas planted before Easter, there is none of that annoying reality show faux drama. Instead, it’s just full of juicy nuggets for the appropriate tech geek.

The series is on YouTube. I pray the BBC doesn’t take it down before I get to finish it.

In the first episode alone, they cover goodies like:

  • Coppicing
  • How to make two type of fences: a hazel wattle fence and a dead hedge fence, both of which can be made with a machete and a club
  • Treadwheels: Giant human powered hamster wheels which, along with water wheels, were the engines of their time.
  • How to make rush lights out of sheep fat and rushes.
  • An almost forgotten food plant called Alexanders, which is a Mediterranean plant related to parsley, which I’ve never heard of but now want to plant in my garden.
  • Tips on calligraphy done with quills. Did you know the quill has to be almost horizontal in the hand?
  • And how to make a paintbrush out of a feather and a stick. Marvelously clever, and the secret to the fine lines in illuminated manuscripts.
  • How to make a magnifying glass out for working the detail in said illuminated manuscripts.
  • How a Tudor gentleman literally sewed himself into his clothes each day, & the mysteries and marvels of the codpiece. (I suppose that if I were transported to that era I’d eventually stop staring at the distracting cords dangling from gentlemen’s crotches. You’ll see what I mean.)
  • You get to meet one of the last working teams of oxen in England (sad!), and see what it takes to plow a field.
  • How to build and wattle and daub pig house
  • And finally, very exciting, there’s a cameo by Robin Wood, the last professional wooden dish carver in England. I’ve seen his videos (where he looks much less dorky than he does in Tudor gear) and actually have one of his bowls. He carves beautiful bowls and spoons, his only tools his hatchet, his carving knives, and a foot operated pole lathe. The foot operated lathe was in use for nearly 1000 years, but now is almost extinct. It’s a wonderful piece of technology. Robin makes it look simple, but I’m sure it takes mad skills to use.

And that’s just the first episode. Ale and cheese, blast furnaces and sheep shearing to follow!

One last take away: Because my undergraduate degree is in art history, one thing that really struck me was how much everyone in this show looked like characters out of a Bruegel painting. If you know Pieter Bruegel’s work, you might remember how all his people have this particular stocky, stuffed, oddly jointed, funny-footed sort of look. I thought this was an artistic affectation.  Turns out it’s just the way the clothes fit. Pieter, I did you wrong. You were just painting what you saw.

pieter bruegel's painting, The Peasant Wedding

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.