Miner’s lettuce

Miner’s lettuce reminds me of tiny lily pads

I was delighted to find a specimen of this delicious little weed growing in our yard among the poppies: miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), but I don’t think it will thrive.

This plant is native to the West coast of the U.S. (and down into S. America, I believe) but it doesn’t do well in LA.* I never see it on the streets in my neighborhood, it’s too hot and dry. The only place I ever spot it–and rarely at that–is in wet, shady places in a few parks.

However, it loves the weather up North. In San Francisco, it takes over entire yards. Folks up there seem a little overwhelmed by it–and all I do is marvel that they’re not eating it as fast as it can grow.

See, miner’s lettuce is one of the best of all edible weeds: tender, mild, succulent. The perfect salad green. Search it out where it is buffeted by sea breezes, and it will also taste of salt.

You can buy seed for this plant and attempt to establish it as a feral green in your yard, or even grow it in beds. I’ve never tried here–I prefer to hunt my weeds.

Tell me, where else does it grow? How far East has it spread?  Comment if you know it or grow it.

If you want to learn more about miner’s lettuce, here’s a nice longer article about it at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

* ETA: I overgeneralized. I should have said “my side of LA.” A commenter from Westchester points out she grows it just fine, so folks on the west side of LA and the beach communities should try some seeds, or look for it when you’re out.

Los Angeles Announces Parkway Cemetery Program

Merging interest in “green” burials and urban land remediation, the City of Los Angeles just announced a groundbreaking new program: parkway cemeteries. Like many cities across America, Los Angeles has a huge debt, $350 million to put a number on it. So it comes as no surprise that city officials are seeking innovative ways of enhancing revenue sources. 

Most often a tangle of weeds and compacted earth, parkways have seen attention in recent years as space for community orchards and vegetable plots. With LA’s new program, for just a $375 application fee and approval of the homeowner, you can designate your final resting spot on the street of your choice.

In announcing the plan Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa positioned the parkway cemetery program as a transportation solution, “Why subject your relatives to lengthy commutes to visit your grave when we can have distributed ‘drive-through’ cemeteries?” Adding, “We’ve got all that lawn out there so why not use it?”

A special thanks to Doug Harvey for tipping us off to this story.

Novella Carpenter Update

We posted yesterday about author and urban farmer Novella Carpenter running afoul of the law in Oakland for “agricultural activities”. She has a clarification on her blog and some new, alarming information. She makes clear that she was busted for selling vegetables not growing them. The disturbing news is information she received that the people who reported her may have been animal rights activists upset that she eats her rabbits. Read more on her blog Ghost Town Farm.

Podcasts for the Urban Homesteader

Let’s face it, mainstream radio programming, both talk and music, stinks. Podscasting democratizes the medium. Anyone with a microphone and laptop can make and distribute a podcast and, while quality varies, there’s a huge amount of excellent, highly specialized programming available. So should be on the iPods of urban homesteaders? I’ve got a few suggestions:

Survival Podcast
We just appeared on this podcast, which is hosted by Jack Spirko. Jack is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to gardening, permaculture and a host of other topics. His listeners, many of whom now read this blog, also know a lot about the subjects he covers. And, refreshingly, there’s no conspiracy theories on the Survival Podcast, no need to get out the tin foil hat. I highly recommend this podcast even to those who would not think of themselves as survivalists.

SALT: Seminars About Long Term Thinking
This is a series of seminars put on by the Long Now Foundation, headed by Whole Earth Catalog founder Stuart Brand. As, I believe, urban homesteading is a kind of long term thinking, the topics of these talks should be of interest to readers of this blog. Make sure to listen to the episodes that feature Nassim Taleb, Wade Davis and Philip K. Howard.

KCRW Good Food
Hosted by chef Evan Kleiman, Good Food explores the diverse food cultures of Los Angeles as well as tackling national issues related to the food system. Kleiman explores these topics with a sense of humor.

A Way To Garden with Margaret Roach
I learned about this podcast from the folks at Garden Rant who pointed out that there are very few gardening related podcasts. Perhaps most good gardeners are allergic to spending time in front of a computer? I enjoy this show, though those of you in places that have “winter” will get more out of it.

The C-Realm Podcast
OK, I’m a bit on the woo-woo side of things, to be honest. The C-Realm podcast is a very professional and thought-provoking show hosted by “KMO” that delves into everything from permaculture to zombies. It’s kind of a thinking person’s Coast to Coast AM.

The Kunstlercast
Author James Howard Kunstler’s weekly rant about the mess we’re in. It would be a real drag if Kunstler weren’t so damn funny. While most would call Kunstler a “doomer” I’d point out that he offers plenty of solutions–pedestrian oriented design, rebuilding our rail network, etc.

Boot Liquor
A greater danger to the future of our great nation is, I believe, not fossil fuel depletion, but instead the watered down “country” music coming out of Nashville in the past few decades. We should worry more about Miley Cyrus than turbulence int the Middle-East, in my humble opinion. Boot Liquor is an internet radio station not a podcast, but I thought I’d include it since it’s the musical soundtrack of the Root Simple compound. Boot Liquor plays real country music, songs about boozing, driving big rig trucks and raising hell (sometimes all in one song). If you’ve got iTunes you can find Boot Liquor amongst the country music offerings.

At some point we’ll get around to creating a Root Simple podcast. In the meantime what podcasts do you listen to?

Novella Carpenter Harassed by City of Oakland

Urban farmer and author Novella Carpenter is getting harassed by city of Oakland employees. From her blog Ghost Town Farm:

Here’s the deal: After getting off the plane from Salt Lake City and making my way home to a cup of tea, I sit down at my kitchen table and I see this guy in a City of Oakland car taking photos of my garden. I go down and he said I’m out of compliance for “agricultural activities”. I’m supposed to get a Conditional Use Permit for growing chard. The annual fee: $2500.

My two cents. Get involved in local politics to change outdated planning codes. We did it in LA with the Food and Flowers Freedom Act. In the meantime let’s lend Novella our support and best wishes.

Organic Gardening Magazine Tests Seven Different Potato Growing Methods

Doug Hall, writing for Organic Gardening magazine, did a test of seven different potato growing methods: hilled rows, straw mulch, raised beds, grow bags, garbage bags, wood boxes and wire cylinders. His conclusion? Raised beds worked the best giving the highest yield. Some of the other methods worked well too, though I wonder about black materials, such as grow bags, in our hot climate.

The last time we grew potatoes we used a stack of tires. Results were mixed. I think painting the tires white to reflect heat might have worked better. For most of you reading this, the opposite would probably be true. Black materials such as tires or grow bags would help keep your ‘taters warm in cool climates.

Read Hall’s article here: “7 Ways to Plant Potatoes

And let us know how you grow your potatoes . . .

You’ve probably never met a soup like this

Vegetarian Dishes from Across the Middle EastMushroom and Fruit Soup. Yep. I don’t know if you’re going to like this recipe. I did. Erik made it, which shocked me, because he has a general prejudice against savory fruit preparations. In fact, he has a general prejudice against soup, seeing it somehow as being a substandard food form. Nonetheless, he cooked this soup. 

I smelled it first, as it was cooking, and it smelled really good. Then I saw it in the pot, and said, “What the…?” (Imagine an onion and mushroom broth with wrinkly black things floating around in it.)  Then I tasted it. My first impression was that I’d never tasted anything like it, and I needed to adjust to the newness of the flavor combination. It’s an Armenian recipe, from Vegetarian Dishes from Across the Middle East by Arto der Haroutunian, but it made me think of Russia. Which makes sense, I guess. There’s a lot of cross-pollination between Russia and Armenia. Strangeness aside, the soup was undeniably tasty, and I went back for seconds.

This soup seemed blog-worthy for a couple reasons. The first is that it is really simple, and I like that. Second, those ingredients almost seem like it could be a pantry soup. It calls for fresh mushrooms, but I’m wondering if it wasn’t made with dried mushrooms back in the day. It also calls for green onions but we used regular onions to good effect. The other primary ingredient is dried fruit. Dried mushrooms, dried fruit, stored onions: I can imagine this soup being conjured out the pantry on a cold night in the dead of winter.

We used a nice mix of fresh mushrooms. Since there are so few ingredients in this soup, mushrooms are the stars. I’m not sure if it would be as good if it were only made with, say, white salad mushrooms because they aren’t super-flavorful. Maybe it would work, though. Anything is worth a try.

If you make it, let us know what you think. Recipe after jump:


The recipe is from a book we’ve mentioned before, Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East.

Mirkov Soongabour
Mushroom and Fruit Soup

4 cups water
2 oz. mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 tablespoons of butter
1 oz. sliced green onions (Erik used 1/2 of a regular onion, sliced)
1 teaspoon flour
1 1/2 oz. raisins
1 1/2 oz. prunes, halved and stoned
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

Put water in a large saucepan, bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes.

While that’s going on, melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the onion and cook until golden brown. Stir in the flour to coat the onions, then add a few spoonfuls of the hot mushroom water to the onion mixture and stir until combined.

Add the onion mixture to the mushroom pot. Add the raisins and prunes, and simmer it all together for 30 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper at the end.

Note: This isn’t a hearty soup, so it’s best for  a light lunch or as a starter to a big meal.

Why I Grow Vegetables From Seed

Chard destined for failure

On the last day of a vegetable gardening class that Kelly and I just finished teaching at the Huntington, we needed to demonstrate how to transplant seedlings. The problem was that we didn’t have any seedlings at home ready to transplant, so I had to make a trip to a garden center.

That sorry errand reminded me why I grow from seed.

All of the seedlings at the nursery were uninteresting varieties and root-bound–way too big for their pots. And someone tell me what’s up with the trend I’ve noticed recently of selling mature tomato plants in small pots? I suppose novice gardeners probably think they’re getting a better value with a large plant, so the nursery has an incentive to sell root-bound stock.

In fact, every last vegetable seedling at the nursery had root systems as congested as the 405 freeway on a Friday afternoon. When roots hit the bottom of a pot you get what John Jeavons calls “premature senility,” resulting in stunted growth and plants that go rapidly to seed.

On occasion I’ll buy seedlings, as when I failed to get my tomato seeds to germinate last year. In that case, Craig from Winnetka Farms had some on hand. And there’s a guy at one of the local farmers’ markets that has decent seedlings.

But nothing matches the variety, cost savings and quality of DIY seed propagation.

Newsflash: Thift shop where rich people live

Some newsflash, huh? Los Angeles has plenty of rich people, but many more poor people, and legions of dedicated thrifters. I’ve pretty much given up hope of finding bargains here. Your chances of happening on a really good find in this city is equivalent to being struck by lightning. But I’m learning that it pays to take little jaunts out of town now and then, to find better hunting grounds.

Case in point, I visited the idyllic town of Ojai with a friend recently. While we admired their copious public parks, clean public bathrooms, and shops filled with a vast selection of sensible shoes and flowing linen outfits for well-heeled ladies of a certain age, we also checked out their thrift stores. In one, I found a baking dish. I needed a new baking dish because I destroyed our Pyrex dish doing experiments for Making It. Yep, I warped a Pyrex. Didn’t think it was possible, did you?

This dish I spotted was oval–not ideal, but workable. It also turned out to be a Le Cruset pan. “Le Cruset?” I said to myself. “That there’s one of them classy brands I done seen down at the Sur le Table.” So I bought it for a few bucks and brought it home. Once home, I looked it up online. It’s actually an enameled cast iron “au gratin” dish. Who knew you needed a dedicated pan for cheesy potatoes? Market value? $150. 

Sure, I’d never pay so much for such a pan, and that’s a crazy price for a baking pan under any circumstances, so it’s sort of a hollow triumph–but still. I got me one helluva fancy pants pan.

Still need something to bake brownies in, though.