Vote Yes on 37!

I don’t normally discuss politics on this blog. I feel that the topics we discuss under the banner of homesteading–such as gardening, alternative energy, alternative transpiration, home ec, health and fitness–unite people across the political spectrum. Overall, I’d rather focus on what we can do and what we have in common rather than the constant diet of strife and discontent served up by mainstream media.

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Chairs, are they killing us?

Even American cats sit in chairs.

The knee injuries I’ve accumulated running, hiking and fencing have a lot to do with basic flexibility problems. Mrs. Root Simple likens my inflexibility to that of a ginger bread man. So should I plant my stiff derriere on the nearest yoga mat? Or should I throw out all our furniture? I’m thinking the latter. Let me explain.

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Social Media as a Homesteading Tool

One of the things I love most about this blog is that I get instant feedback and advice. Yesterday I asked for a source for olive trees and Ginny (thank you Ginny) left a comment with the address of a nursery I did not know about. An hour after reader her comment, I came home with a small Frantoio olive tree. Exactly what I was looking for.

I would never have found this tree without blogging. Blogging is a great way to keep notes on what you’re doing and connect with other like minded people. Should blogging interest you I recommend going with WordPress over Blogger. We’re going to switch over next month. And set a deadline for yourself–blog at least three times a week.

While there are many things to dislike about Facebook (principally that those of us who use it are doing free market research on ourselves), it has proven useful for me on many occasions. I’ve used it to solicit gardening advice, find a place to celebrate a birthday, borrow a guitar and keep up with friends and family. And I’ve learned a lot from what Facebook friends have posted about their homesteading adventures. Yes, the privacy issues are alarming but, having written two books now, our life is public anyways.

I think that it’s healthy to look at new technology critically and to take a break both daily and monthly from all the screen time we seem to accumulate. And I’m not a fan of cell phones, even though I own one. They seem like tracking devices with phone privileges to me. Perhaps some of you will show me the smart use of a smart phone. But I also believe the Luddite path is a dead end.

If you write a homesteading/gardening/cooking/home ec blog, or know of a good one leave a link to it in the comments. And friend Root Simple in Facebook here.

Genetically Engineered Crops Increase Use of Pesticides

A new study authored by Charles M Benbrook of Washington State University, “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. — the first sixteen years,” found troubling evidence that the use of genetically modified crops leads to greater pesticide use. This peer reviewed paper concludes,

Contrary to often-repeated claims that today’s genetically-engineered crops have, and are reducing pesticide use, the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied. If new genetically engineered forms of corn and soybeans tolerant of 2,4- D are approved, the volume of 2,4-D sprayed could drive herbicide usage upward by another approximate 50%. The magnitude of increases in herbicide use on herbicide-resistant hectares has dwarfed the reduction in insecticide use on Bt crops over the past 16 years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

My two cents about genetically engineered ag:  I’ve always thought the best arguement against GMOs relates to unintended consequences. The novelty of genetic modification, when compared to the slower pace of conventional plant breeding, is a perfect way to generate “black swans“.  This is why I’ll be voting for Proposition 37 which will mandate the labeling of genetically engineered products in California.

Via The Garden Professors.  

Poultry Houses of the Ultra Wealthy: Part 2

Are $100,000 chicken coops a sign of an empire on the verge of a decadent downward spiral? If so it’s time to get that bug-out location ready because Neiman Marcus publicity flacks just announced a $100,000 “Heritage Hen Mini-Farm.” From the description on their website:

Dawn breaks. The hens descend from their bespoke Versailles-inspired Le Petit Trianon house to their playground below for a morning wing stretch. Slipping on your wellies, you start for the coop and are greeted by the pleasant clucking of your specially chosen flock and the site of the poshest hen house ever imagined. Your custom-made multilevel dwelling features a nesting area, a “living room” for nighttime roosting, a broody room, a library filled with chicken and gardening books for visitors of the human kind, and, of course, an elegant chandelier. The environment suits them well as you notice the fresh eggs awaiting morning collection. Nearby, you pick fresh vegetables or herbs from your custom-built raised gardens. You’ve always fancied yourself a farmer—now thanks to Heritage Hen Farm, you’re doing it in the fanciest way possible!

The Neiman Marcus folks apparently didn’t get the memo on what happened to the original owner of Le Petit Trianon. Those angry mobs of real French peasants weren’t all too happy with a royal family of pretend farmers. Will Neiman Marcus offer a diamond encrusted Gucci guillotine when the chicken coop class war breaks out?

And, in my humble opinion, British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey has a better coop.

Thanks to Root Simple reader Birdzilla Studios for the tip! 

Three Mules in Los Angeles

UPDATE 01/21/13: We’ve been informed via the comments that a volunteer has set up a Facebook page for the Mule Man–and with his approval. It’s called 3 Mules. So if you Facebook you can go there for more info., or to post pictures or stories. There’s even video interviews.

Of course, you are very welcome to continue post your sightings or thoughts here, too–especially those of you who don’t do Facebook. We’ve been touched by having some small role to play in passing on his story and giving people a place to gather and share their own stories. The truth is, we really like getting Mule Sightings in our inbox every day! So we’ll keep this open. If you have a picture you want to post here, you can send to our email address and we’ll start collecting them at the bottom of the post.

Last weekend, Kelly and I were treated to one of the most surreal scenes I’ve ever witnessed in Los Angeles: three pack mules being lead down busy Sunset Boulevard. On the side of one of the packs was a hand painted sign reading, “3mules.com“. As is fitting for a man leading three mules across the US, 3mules.com is just one page, managed by someone else. On that page is the following poetic statement:

To answer the most asked questions: Who are we? Where are we from? and Where are we going?  We are mules. We are from the outside. We live outside all day, every day. Where are we going? Nowhere, we’re here- the outside, the web of life- a beautiful  place like no other.We have come to this place-a place of golden sparkling light, a place for anybody and everybody. If your faithful of energy to this place at which time you connect to it and you’ll see the magic and endless possibility of infinity. As you walk in this place with these mules you spread the awareness that this beautiful earth like no other can only be protected by the way we live one day at a time.

Amen to that.

California Homemade Food Act Signed Into Law!

Soon to be legal to sell.

A bit late to report this, but AB 1616, the California Homemade Food Act was signed into law by Governor Brown last week. The bill will allow Californians to produce “non-hazardous foods,” such as such as jams, jellies, bread and honey, in a home kitchen and sell them.

The bill takes effect in January. There is still, however, a lot of work to be done to figure out exactly how local health departments will implement the bill. Many municipalities are short of money, so fees for home kitchen inspections will be an issue. There will be a need to balance costs to county health departments while at the same time not making fees so prohibitively high that home based entrepreneurs will be unable to afford them. Home based businesses, in my opinion, have a great deal of potential to provide employment in what seems to be a recession with no end in sight.

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Poultry Houses of the Ultra-Wealthy

Root Simple reader Christopher Calderhead tipped us off to a story in the Guardian on the plans by British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey to build a neo-classical chicken coop. Odey will, apparently, be spending at least £100,000 just for the stone. The Telegraph also covered the story and has more details on the construction,

The temple’s roof – adorned with an Anthemia statuette – will be fashioned in grey zinc; the pediments, cornice, architrave and frieze are in English oak; and the columns, pilasters and rusticated stone plinth are being hewn from finest grey Forest of Dean sandstone.

Sir Peter’s duck house.

This isn’t the first poultry house to cause a scandal in Britain. In 2010 Sir Peter Viggers claimed a £1,645 duck house as part of his expenses as an member of parliament.

Now if your taste runs more towards Dwell Magazine than the neo-classical, a British company sells a £1,950, “Nogg” chicken coop. Modern design, apparently, comes with an even higher price tag than Sir Peter’s duck house!. And, like most modern design, the Nogg is more conceptual than practical. Looks like a tight squeeze for a couple of hens. The Nogg could get Prince Charles started on on one of his anti-modernist architecture rants.

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Revolution: A New TV Series About Extreme Suburban Homesteading

This review is by Erik, but Kelly has a few comments of her own to make, in the form of end notes.

A few weeks ago I spotted an ad on the side of a bus that appeared to show a number of good looking people armed with crossbows and wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape. For you, our readers, I broke my ten-year TV show fast1 to find out what this was about. The show is called Revolution and you can view the pilot episode here.

Plot summary

The first scene begins in a flashback as a man frantically downloads the contents of his computer to a flash drive just before Mahmoud Imadinnerjacket causes a big electro-magnetic pulse.2 Said EMP knocks out all the power, iPhones, cars and jumbo jets in the entire world. Fifteen years pass, civilization reverts to an approximation of our first book The Urban Homestead, and we pick up the story with the now grown-up daughter of the dude with the flash drive.

One groovy HOA

The daughter lives in a suburban development. All the home owner’s association rules have been relaxed allowing for growing front yard corn fields, potatoes in tires, chicken coops and even keeping a couple of horses all in a suburban cul-de-sac.  In reality, HOAs would never cave in so quickly even in the face of starvation. But I digress.3

Did the screenwriters visit Farmlab?

Imadinnerjacket’s EMP killed all the normal-looking people, leaving behind only fashion models (with perhaps the exception of one Falstafian ex-Google employee). They have smashing wardrobes, too.4 And America’s long lost archery skills have apparently been miraculously revived.

Come to think of it, Hollywood seems to be having a love affair with archery of late. Is the javelin next? Put down those Xboxes kids and start practicing! In Revolution it’s also revealed that people suddenly know the names of plants and what to do with them even without access to Google.

But the tranquil suburban homesteading is not to last forever. An insurance adjuster turned warlord’s assistant comes to town to kidnap the heroine’s dad and get his hands on all the cool mp3s on that flash drive. A shootout ensues. Dad is killed and heroine’s brother is kidnapped by the militia. 

Our heroine must then make a pilgrimage to Chicago to find her uncle and rescue her brother. Her uncle turns out to be running an artisanal cocktail operation in a derelict hotel that has, as most post-apocalyptic films have, an endless supply of either beeswax or tallow with which to keep hundreds of torches lit 24 hours a day. 5 We find out that the uncle possesses secret ninja skills–having, apparently, spent the past fifteen years working on both artisanal cocktail recipes and kendo.

Meanwhile the brother is temporarily rescued by a lone woman living in a tidy plantation house who is able to calm the kid’s asthma attack with a 15 year old, fully functioning asthma inhaler. But then the evil insurance guy comes a knocking and hauls off the kid. The lone woman then heads up into her heavily locked attic, logs into a Unix terminal, and taps out a message warning about the militia’s visit. So now we know that some people still have access to power–and to the Internets!

The pilot ends with a visit to the handsomely appointed campaign tent of Madison, the head cheese warlord who, at the beginning of the show, it is revealed has something to do with the flash drive with all those cool mp3s on it.

What does it all mean? 

The “ring”, the talismanic object in this Lord of the Rings cycle is a flash drive, the contents of which, presumably, we’ll find out about in a later episode. I certainly hope it contains 100 of the funniest viral cat videos. Curiously, it’s also a flash drive that seems to generate its own power.

That the redemptive object in Revolution is a technological one is not surprising giving our culture’s biases. John Michael Greer. in what I think is the most important book on our current crisis, The Blood of the Earth, writes about how our culture is blind to the fact that our problems are political, social and spiritual and not solvable by technological/scientific means. No amount of corn ethanol or switchgrass will stave off the fact that the earth has a limited amount of resources. But, in the stories we tell ourselves, magical flash drives can still save the day and maybe even power the whole world.

It’s also telling that the voice over in the opening credits of Revolution reflects a fundamental confusion between an energy source and the means by which it’s delivered, “We used electricity for everything–even to grow food,” says the narrator. “Electricity” is not how we grow our food. Electricity is generated from finite sources, primarily coal and natural gas. And we use a lot of oil, of course, to grow our food.

Our technology, especially the internet and smart phones has radically externalized what used to be  collective and individual cultural memory. It’s notable that this story places so much value on a flash drive as a repository of knowledge that used to be inside our own skulls.

The delusional aspects of the pilot episode gives me great pause for the future of this country. But without seeing the rest of the series it’s too early to deliver a final judgement. It will be interesting to see if the flash drive has the same corrupting influence as the ring in both Tolkien and Wagner’s stories.

_________

Kelly’s interjections on the show’s summary. She’s not touching Erik’s editorializing:

1Lest you think Erik is some virtuous, Thoreau-type character, I’ll just say that he may not watch series TV, he does watch movies and documentaries and youtube cat videos in plenty.

2They did not actually say why the power went out, or who was responsible.

3The opening scenes showing the subdivision “village” was the best thing about the whole pilot. There were lots of nice details, like stacks of rain barrels and tire planting and a hose running through a window into a sink.  I found myself wondering what sources of information the writers were using (other than our book, of course.). Certainly Kunstler, both his rants and his fiction (which is a form of rant, imho) but also it reminds me very much of a book called Dies the Fire by SM Stirling, where all the tech goes out in one day and the world is remade by SCA and pagan types.  I don’t think the SCA and pagans will get any play in this show, but the overnight tech-loss is completely Dies the Fire.

4These people look really good. The girl’s leathers are artfully patched and oh-so-Katniss. Others have unpatched, fresh looking clothes. I can almost buy this because if there was a fast, massive die-off, maybe there were lots of clothes left in the stores. Maybe even 15 years worth. (Maybe? I’m suspending my disbelief.) What I have a harder time believing is the hair. Both the men and women look like they’re all getting daily blowouts. No one is scarred or pocked or beset by unsightly skin growths. And I’ll say in his defense that the Google guy may not be fashion-model thin, but he’s not bad looking. 

5The overuse of candles by lighting designers in any post-apocalyptic setting is a major pet peeve of mine.  Erik is mentioning this here because he had to listen to me go on and on about it while we were watching the show. Those torches! What in the heck are they burning?