Happy Fall Equinox!

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Our Rodger’s Red grapevine tells us when Fall is here.

Here in LA last week we suffered a miserable heatwave: four days of temperatures above 100°F ( 37.7° C) without even the relief of cool nights. In bed, I wept as the fan swept a 95°F breeze over my body, and vowed to my pillow that I would divorce Mr. I Love LA  and move to Seattle.

Then, on Sunday, I woke up feeling in my bones that something had changed. Suddenly, I was happy and energized. The nights turned cool. I heard the crows returning to the palm trees in our neighborhood, and I realized that Fall must have arrived. I checked the calendar, and saw that the equinox would be — today — Tuesday the 23rd. Glory Hallelujah!

Autumn in LA is really just a gentling of the summer–there’s no frost and little color change. No burning leaves or apple harvests. It will most likely be hot and sunny on Halloween day, perhaps even on Christmas day–and it may never, ever rain again. Yet everything has changed. The sun is crossing the celestial equator and will be spending more time in parts South, meaning it will not beat so hard or so long upon the top of my poor head until next summer.

I cannot say how excited I am. Suddenly, I want to cook. I want to work in the garden and wander in the mountains. It’s like being let out of jail.

How about all of you in your respective parts of the globe. Did you feel the shift? Will you be celebrating the coming of autumn — or summer, if you are south of the equator?

A Plea for Plastic Vegetables

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A supplier’s offerings of fake fruits and vegetables in Japan.

We get a lot of good spam emails at Root Simple. This one, which came in last week, is one of my favorites:

Hello,

I work for a TV show in New York and we are in need of several artificial vegetables and vegetable plants.

Please let me know if you carry any of the following:

1.  Purple Bulb Shaped Eggplants and Eggplant plants

2.  Green and yellow squash (zucchini)

3.  Cucumbers

4.  Red Hot chilly Pepper Plants

5.  Red Cherry Bomb Plants

6.  Yellow Banana Pepper Plants

7.  Green bean (string bean and lima bean) plant that is vine-like that I can weave onto a trellis or a vine that looks like the leaves of a string bean plant

8.  Tomatoes and Tomato plants (All Varieties)

9.  Green and Purple Cabbage

10.  Any vegetable plants can be considered

We will need to place an order very quickly and be able to receive an order very quickly.

Please respond by letting me know what you carry and if you can ship samples overnight.

Thanks very much.

Sincerely,
NAME WITHHELD
Greensperson

We did a blog post about fake movie plants last year so maybe that’s why we got this email. Los Angeles is home to two huge companies that provide both real and fake plants to the film industry. I just met someone who worked for one of those companies and he had some funny stories to tell.

Maybe we should jump on the fake vegetable bandwagon if this drought continues . . .

Saturday Linkages: Composting People, Jujubes, Bumpy Eggs and More

A conceptual drawing of the Urban Death Project's human composting operation.

A conceptual drawing of the Urban Death Project’s human composting operation.

Composting human remains, the Urban Death Project (we like the idea but are not sure about their carbon to nitrogen ratios!) 

Holy Scrap: Jujube to Syrup

The Secret to Keeping Rosemary Alive Indoors via

Amazing Catification in Minnesota –

A Bumpy Egg | HenCam

Death Enhances a Garden | Garden Rant

Monsanto Woos Mommy Bloggers – Modern Farmer

Cool How to store vegetables and fruit without plastic:

Hot? Get a fan:

Urban Change in L.A. – Too Little, Too Slow

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

What Vegetables Are You Growing This Winter?

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Showing remarkable restraint, I came home from the Heirloom Expo with only three packages of seeds. I’ve decided to keep it simple this winter (our best growing season for veggies in Los Angeles) and only grow varieties that:

  • Do well with minimal intervention.
  • Can’t be found in the market.
  • Taste better fresh out of the garden (greens and salad mixes).
  • I like to eat (sorry turnips).

And I’m sticking with my favorite seed company: Franchi.

The winners are:

Cavolo Broccolo Spigariello, what I keep predicting will be the new kale, though that trend has yet to happen. It’s a weedy looking primitive broccoli. You eat the leaves and the small flower clusters. I think it’s my favorite green.

Rucola Selvatica a Foglia d’ulivo (“olive leaf” wild arugula). From what little I can gather from English language sources, this arugula has a broader olive shaped leaf and a flavor that is stronger than cultivated arugula, but milder than other wild arugulas. This will be the first time I’ve tried this variety. And this year I plan on sowing successively so that I’ll have a longer harvest period. In my opinion, you can never have enough arugula.

Tuscany salad mix. You can also never have enough lettuces. I’ve always had good luck with Franchi’s salad mixes. They are beautiful and much stronger tasting than the stuff at the supermarket. And store bought lettuce wilts instantly.

What are you growing this winter? If you’re in a cold climate, do you grow year round?

Note: if you’re in the US, Franchi has several distributors. I got my seeds from the Heirloom Seed Store, run by a very nice family that has a farm in Half Moon Bay in Northern California. The seeds I bought are not listed on their website, so you may need to call them. They can also be found on the website of another Franchi distributor, Seeds From Italy.

Are Bees Mammals?

Log hive.

Log hive.

This was the provocative question radical “apiculturlist” Michael Thiele posed at the beginning of his lecture at this year’s Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa.

Thiele pointed out that bees:

  • Maintain a hive temperature of around 94°F/35°C
  • Have a low number of offspring, if you consider a swarm to be their offspring
  • Are nurtured by mother’s “milk” (technically sister’s milk)

These are all characteristics of mammals. Thiele inspiration is a book The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism, by Jürgen Tautz who calls bees,”the mammal in a thousand bodies.”

Golden Hive.

Golden Hive.

Thiele’s next point was that if we think of them as a mammal than we’re going to have a different relationship with them. Practically, this might mean different housing. If a bee is a mammal what they live in becomes their skin and fur. To keep their hive temperature steady they need insulation, both in warm and cold climates. He suggested that the standard Langstroth box is too thin. Maybe they’d be happier in the two hives Thiele had on display, a hollowed out log or the insulated Golden Hive box (which had movable frames).

Thiele’s talk took a metaphysical turn when he said that we need to “go beyond the left brain” in our relationship with bees. He also, provocatively, suggested that we need to “know ourselves” before approaching bees. I took this to mean understanding our intentions, our goals, and our attitudes.

Back to housing. Langstroth was very much the product of a “left brain” industrial age whose point was the domination of nature. Given the problem bees are having, perhaps it’s time to strike a balance between the intuitive and analytical and, literally and figuratively, think out of the box.

017 Heirloom Expo Recap

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On the seventeenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss Erik’s recent trip to the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, California. Some of the things and people we mention during the podcast:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Kimchi Class this Saturday!

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Chef Hae Jung Cho, our guest on episode 006 of the Root Simple Podcast is holding another Kimchi class on Saturday September 20th from 10 a.m to 1 p.m. in Koreatown:

The 3-hour class is a hands-on experience where you make two kinds of fermented kimchi – napa cabbage (poggi) and radish (kkakdugi) – and one quick pickle. We then share a light meal of rice, kimchi, soup and other side dishes. You leave the class with three containers of kimchi and pickles that you have made, printed recipes and the know-how to replicate the kimchi at home. Cost: $75

To sign up head over to Hae Jung’s Facebook page.

Frida Paints Luther

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Sometimes an artist’s works are reproduced so much that familiarity obscures meaning. Da Vinchi and Andy Warhol have fallen victim to this. I’ve seen Frida Kahlo’s portrait in Mexican restaurants so often I’ve come to associate her work with combo platters and Margueritas.

A slide in John Valenzuela’s Heirloom Expo lecture of Kahlo’s portrait of horticulturalist Luther Burbank reminded me of how great an artist Kahlo was. That Kahlo painted Burbank also says something about people’s priorities in the 1930s.

Kahlo liked to blur the boundaries between human consciousness, the vegetable and the animal. In her portrait of Burbank she touches on themes of life, death and transformation. You could write a book about what’s going on in this painting.

Burbank’s work lives on inour backyards and orchards in the form of the fruit varieties he developed. I’ll view his Santa Rosa plum in our front yard differently after encountering Kahlo’s virtuosic painting.

A Report from the 2014 Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa

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If you like this blog you’d like the annual Heirloom Expo, which takes place in Santa Rosa in Northern California in September. I just got back from attending this year’s event and had a great time, as usual. I’ve attended every year since its inception in 2010.

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The Expo features mind boggling displays of what can only be called vegetable porn. Hint: if you hang around after the conclusion on Thursday evening you can score the display items. For two years in a row we’ve gone home with a rental car stuffed with heirloom watermelon and squash.

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But the real draw for me are the seminars and panel discussions. Above, some of the leading figures in the Northern California permaculture scene: Toby Hemenway, Penny Livingston, Erik Ohlsen, Grover Stock and John Valenzuela.

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There’s also a huge vendor hall. I have to keep a tight grip on my wallet.

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Santa Rosa was the home of horticulturalist Luther Burbank and the local chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers is particularly fervent and knowledgeable. I used the opportunity to chat up a CRFG operative and get all my quince and pineapple guava questions answered.

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You’ll be hearing a number of Expo speakers on our podcast and I’ll do some blog posts inspired by what I learned. If you didn’t make it this year, I hope to meet some of you at next year’s event. I always stay at the nearby Spring Lake campground. Perhaps we can all camp together next year.