The Strange World of Artificial Plants

Ikea’s Fejka.

On a recent pilgrimage to Ikea, I ended up staring at a large display of fake plants while Mrs. Root Simple found a replacement for our kitten-shredded drapes. Viewed from a distance Ikea’s plastic plants were realistic, though seemingly outside of any known plant genus. I found myself pondering the question of what permacultural context in which these plastic plants would be an appropriate design solution. I couldn’t answer my own question. More plastic and less living things in our lives is probably not a good idea. But I am willing to consider a very limited use of artificial turf–neighbor Anne Hars once showed me Home Depot’s astonishing selection of fake grass–some that even has fake dead grass mixed in for realism. Perhaps in some ironic post-modern house this artificial turf could fit in.

It did remind me of the time a neighbor, who is a Hollywood art director, grabbed me late one evening to help her fake a vegetable garden for a movie. From her I that learned that their are businesses in Hollywood that do nothing other than provide fake plants. Not just flowers, but everything from corn to . . . hemp.

Having a bad year with your tomatoes? Green Set Inc. will set you up with some fake ones:

They even have a very large (and suspiciously shiny) fake zucchini:

But I think my favorite fake plants come from a company called New Image Plants, providers of  “The World’s Best Artificial Marijuana.” Customers? Marijuana dispensaries, the set decorator for Weeds and law enforcement! From their website:

Across the world law enforcement finds itself with the continuous dilemma of having to train new recruits to identify and find illegal marijuana plants . . . Our plants are used by many police departments across the world, the US Military and the Royal Mountain Police in Canada to name just a few.

Be forewarned that the bush above, complete with realistic buds, is a $325 gag gift for the gardener in your life. For some reason I would love to sneak one of these into my dentist’s waiting room.

How Will You Celebrate the National Day of Unplugging and . . . the Day After?

Image from Reboot’s Unplugging campaign.

I was pleasantly surprised to see an article on “unplugging” in the last issue of Sunset Magazine, “The Unplugged Home.” That the article features a family in the San Francisco Bay area (the capital of plugging in) isn’t surprising. When I was a video editor many years ago the last thing I wanted to do was sit in front of another TV when I got home. I suspect many tech workers feel the same about computers.

We got rid of our TV a long time ago and have never missed it. But the interwebs are a different matter. I think we humans are hardwired to be attracted to novelty and the interwebs are a crack cocaine pipe full of informational novelty. Sometimes I’m using the internet wisely to, say, find the optimal planting times for rhubarb. But other times I’m reading nonsense about the Bavarian Illuminati hand signals Beyonce allegedly deployed during her Superbowl appearance.

Reboot, a Jewish arts organization is sponsoring a National Day of Unplugging from sundown to sundown March 1st to 2nd. I think this is a great idea and I plan on participating–I especially like their Sabbath Manifesto.

But the problem for me is not disconnecting from the internet–that’s easy–since I don’t have a smart phone I do that every time I leave the house. No, the problem is reconnecting responsibly, i.e. using the internet productively. The internet is, after all, a fantastic research and connectivity tool.

Ahead of the National Day of Unplugging I’d like to hear from readers about how you manage technology in your household–your strategies for disconnecting and connecting responsibly. If I get enough responses I’ll feature them in a follow up post on March 4th.

More on our gardening disasters

We need to put the heart back into our garden. (Our Heart of Flax from way back in 2011)

I thought I’d chime in on the subject of this year’s garden failures. Before I do, I’d like to thank you all for your kind advice and commiseration that you left on Erik’s post.

First, I will agree that it really, truly has been a terrible year in the garden. Sometimes Erik gets a little melodramatic when it comes to the crop failure (e.g. the Squash Baby adventure) but the truth is we’ve never, ever had such a sorry string off disasters and non-starters since we began gardening.

And I think that’s something to keep in mind. This is unusual. When things are going wrong, it’s easy to forget how often they go right. That’s why it’s good to keep a garden journal, or a blog, or even just a photo collection to look back on, so you can track your progress more objectively.

So when I look back on this blog, and through our old photos, I can see the successes far outweigh the failures. Disasters are inevitable when gardening–that’s part of the game– but they are usually balanced by good times. This year, though, it seemed nothing went right.

What went wrong?

Continue reading…

My 2013 New Year’s Resolution

A day after writing about all the things I didn’t do in 2012 I understood the main problem with my New Year’s resolution list. And it’s not that the list was too long.

The problem was that I was treating my life as a collection of merit badges. I think it’s an obvious trap for a how-to book author and homesteading blogger to fall into. My merit badge accumulation better served my ego than those around me.

This year, rather than collect merit badges, I’m going to focus on skills and goals that will serve friends, family and community (which includes the audience of this blog). And I’m not going to make a new list–I’ve got plenty to work with from last year’s. In 2013 I’ll act on the goals that will help me help others.

I wish you all good health and a Happy New Year!

Erik’s 2012 New Year’s Resolutions in Review

Thank you Kurt and Ben and all who helped build our adobe oven.

I never used to make New Year’s resolutions until I decided to flaunt them on our blog last year. And, of course, I made way too many. So how did I do?

Completed:

  • Build adobe oven in the backyard: check! Thanks to Kurt Gardella and Ben Loescher who led a class in our backyard.
  • Plan out garden ahead of time instead of playing catch-up at the last minute: I did indeed plan out the garden but nature had her own plans including a destructive series of skunk attacks. I’ve switched to a hands-off approach to veggie gardening inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka.
  • Start a podcast (decided to make it a video podcast). You can subscribe in the iTunes store here (it’s freeeeee!).
  • Clean up the graphic design on the blog and organize information better: Thank you to our book designer Roman Jaster for doing this for us!
  • Return to the fencing strip (I’ll admit it’s a pretentious activity–sort of the artisinal mayonnaise of sports–but I’m addicted to it.). See the first topic on the incomplete list.

Fencing jacket is still hanging in my office as a reminder to get those knees working again!

Working on, i.e. incomplete:

  • Fix bad knees–retuning to the fencing strip gave me the worst case of runner’s knee I’ve ever had. This is a good thing because it forced me to get into physical therapy and fix the problem.
  • Improve writin’ skills.
  • Celebrate the wonderful awesomeness that is Mrs. Homegrown each and every day.

I’ve got the book but not the license.

Fail:

  • Get HAM technician’s license.
  • Learn Morse code
  • Attend CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) classes.
  • Organize messy office so it doesn’t look like an episode of Hoarders.
  • Organize supplies in garage into labeled boxes: still messy.
  • Turn the garage into the ultimate man cave.
  • Increase running distance.
  • Organize bug-out box.
  • Backpack more often.
  • Camp on Santa Rosa island again.
  • Return to biodynamic practices in the garden.
  • Learn how to sharpen knives and tools.
  • Create an iPhone or iPad app.
  • Check email only twice a day.
  • Take more time to cook.
  • Keep the kitchen spotless.
  • Ferment vegetables more often.

My New Year’s resolution this year is to have a much shorter New Year’s resolution list. I’ll post that list tomorrow.

So how did your 2012 go? What did you accomplish on your homestead? Please share in the comments . . .

Happy Mayan Apocalypse!

OK, so why are the folks in front having a good time?

If you’re reading this post the Mayan apocalypse did not happen. Either that or I’m blogging via a HAM link from the Root Simple bug out location. So what is the official party line here at Root Simple on the whole 2012 deal?

I’m hoping the uneventful passing of this day will mark a peak in interest in apocalyptic scenarios. While I could opinionate about the Apocalypse meme, as John Michael Greer calls doomsday thinking, I think it would be best just to quote Greer from his book Apocalypse Not:

there’s at least a chance that the upcoming failure of the 2012 prophecy might encourage people to take a hard and skeptical look at the apocalypse meme itself, to recognize that longing for the annihilation of most of humanity has no place in an authentic spirituality, and accept that our happiness as human beings depends on how we choose to live our lives here and now, in this beautiful world on which we each dance for so brief and precious a time.

Garden Amendments as Placebos

I just finished writing an article for Urban Farm Magazine on the subject of aerated compost tea (ACT for short). It proved to be one of the most contentious subjects on which I’ve ever tried to, as Mark Twain liked to say, “corral the truth.”

It got me thinking about other controversial soil additives popular in organic gardening and farming circles right now such as rock dust, mycorrhizae additives, and biochar.

Now I prefer not to touch these topics with a hundred foot pole. But let me go out on a limb with a thoughtstyling outside of the usual debate about the benefits or worthlessness of these soil potions. I’ve started wondering if the strong anecdotal evidence supporting things like ACT, biochar etc., might indicate a kind of ecological placebo effect at work.

Note: I’m not saying that placebos have no value or that, “It’s all in your head.” Quite to the contrary: the placebo effect is powerful and causes real changes in the physical world. Even hardcore skeptics agree with me on this (note also the downside to placebos in that article). As the fifteenth century alchemist Paracelsus said, “You must know that the will is a powerful adjuvant of medicine.”

So could working with these soil additives be a way of focusing human will, of changing human consciousness towards the goal of healing the damage to nature that we’ve caused? And what about biodynamics? I suspect a consciousnesses shift within human hearts and minds is what Rudolf Steiner was really trying to do with his, admittedly bizarre, preparations.

On the opposite, non-interventionist side of the gardening spectrum, I’ve been re-reading Masanobu Fukuoka’s books. Fukuoka advocates a radical, almost (but not entirely) hands-off approach to natural systems. Paradoxically, Fukuoka was striving for the very same shift in consciousnesses, though by entirely different (Eastern) means. As he put it, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”

I think we would do well to spend more time investigating the intersection of human consciousness and ecology in the years ahead. Our survival may depend on it.

Now, as Marshall McLuhan was fond of saying, “If you don’t like that idea, I’ve got others.” So let me know what you think in the comments . . .

Is Cycling Too Dangerous?

Photo by Dru Marland.

I’ve been hit by cars twice cycling around Los Angeles. In the first accident a medical delivery driver made a left turn in front of me and I collided with the rear panel of his car. It was his fault but, initially, the driver’s employer tried to come after me for $900 worth of damage. Fortunately, their insurance company took my side in the matter and even replaced my bent fork. In the second accident, a motorist bumped me from the right. I’m not sure what happened, but I think he was merging out of a parking space and didn’t see me. Thankfully, they were minor collisions and I walked away from both without a scratch. But the cycling death of an acquaintance and the serious accidents of several friends has caused me to consider the risks of cycling, particularly in this less than bike friendly city.

An excellent blog post on the Guardian takes up the question of the costs and benefits of cycling. Author Peter Walker does the right thing, in my opinion, by seeking the opinion of public health experts. One, Dr. Harry Rutter, has this to say:

All activities carry a risk. For some reason there seems to be strong focus on the risk of injury associated with cycling. Clearly, when deaths do takes place that’s tragic, and we need to do all we can to avoid them. But I think there is a perception that cycling is much more dangerous than it really is.

This focus on the dangers of cycling is something to do with the visibility of them, and the attention it’s given. What we don’t notice is that if you were to spend an hour a day riding a bike rather than being sedentary and driving a car there’s a cost to that sedentary time. It’s silent, it doesn’t get noticed. What we’re talking about here is shifting the balance from that invisible danger of sitting still towards the positive health benefits of cycling.

Having volunteered on the board the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition for a few years, I’m well aware of how hard it is to make our cities more bike and pedestrian friendly. Another expert Walker talks to compared the struggle for safer cycling and walking infrastructure to efforts to curb smoking, noting that the anti-tobacco struggle took 60 years to get going.

The article concludes with a provocative conclusion, “There are two interventions that we know increase walking and cycling: living in the Netherlands and living in Denmark.”

So what do you readers think? Is cycling worth the risk?

Ladies of Manure 2013 Calendar

Just when our Kickstarter fatigue has reached terminal limits, this crazy pitch shows up in our mailbox to make our day. Two words: Humanure Cheesecake.

(Err…two words you really don’t want to see together, ever,  now that I think about it. Sorry.)

As teachers, we spend a lot of our time trying to convince people to mulch and compost. Return it all to the earth, people!

We’re particularly fond of throwing down the humanure* gauntlet, partially because it really is a very important subject,  and partially for the shock factor and the giggles. Some audiences are primed for this challenge. For others, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard of the concept, and by the look on some faces, I imagine them thinking:

  • “Nope. Not even if civilization is burning down around my ears.”
  • “Note to self: Never visit these people at home.”
  • “They want me to keep poop around the house. Poop. Around my house.”
  • “Hmm, I’m sensing some sort of potty-training trauma here. Definitely an unhealthy anal obsession.”
  • “Funny, they don’t look like hippies.”

It’s an hard nut to crack, the poop nut. This environmental non-profit called The Fertile Earth Foundation is going about in a bold way, by trying to make manure sexy and fun. To be fair, the calendar isn’t all about humanure. (Then it would have to be called Jenkins Girls Gone Wild or something.) It’s about composting of all sorts, but humanure certainly gets much more play in it than it does in your average cheesecake calendar.

Take a look. They’re doing a Kickstarter to raise printing funds. What do you think? Think it will turn people on to the wonders of decomposition? What do you think it will take to make even basic composting a more commonplace activity? Do you humanure? If not, what keeps you from doing so?

*If humanure is new to you, check out the Humanure Headquarters for everything you could possibly want to know.