Geoff Lawton Soils Video

Help, I’m turning into a soil geek. I just spent an evening viewing a video entitled Soils featuring permaculturalist Geoff Lawton.

What I like about this video is that it’s not just about soil, but Lawton actually shows you what you can do to improve your soil. In the DVD he demonstrates how to build a compost pile (lots of carbon material), contoured vegetable beds, a compost pile heated shower and a simple vermiculture system using an old bathtub to name just a few projects. You get practical tips in a professionally produced DVD. Here’s a trailer:

Soils is available for around $40 US on the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia website, which also has an interesting blog. In an email the Institute said that they allow educational screenings of Soils as long as you don’t charge admission. So get some friends together, watch this video and then go shovel some manure! It would also make a nice addition to a school library.

Thanks to Scott Kleinrock of the Huntington Ranch for the tip on this one. Scott said the Geoff Lawton Food Forest DVD is also worth viewing.

Meet the drones

Action shot! Check out those huge, beautiful eyes

I found this drone scrambling around on the ground in our yard. I don’t know why he was there. Perhaps he was all worn out from nightclubbing. Perhaps the ladies in his hive had booted him out. It’s hard to say. But I enjoyed taking a close at him, to appreciate the difference between him and his sisters, the worker bees, first hand.


Drones are longer than the workers, and a lot thicker through the body. Not so large that they’d be mistaken for bumble bees, but they’re definitely big, husky boys. The queen is longer than a drone, but much more slender–and anyway, unless you happen to catch her mating flight, you’ll never see a queen out and about. So if you spot an extra-large honey bee, it’s a drone.

The other dead giveaway for drones is their huge, shining eyes. Drones have one function only: to mate with a virgin queen. Should one come by. And should they be able to catch her. So they have to be on constant lookout, and moreover, they have to be looking up at all times, because she won’t be stretched out on a lounge chair, waiting for him to bring her a cocktail. She’ll be flying super-high up. He needs those huge eyes to spot her.

(As an aside, I don’t know why drone has become a synonym for a mindless worker (e.g. office drones). Drone should be a synonym for a highly privileged but ultimately disposable male, a male who lives off the work of others, his sole function to continue his genetic line, i.e, an aristocrat. I read a P.G. Wodehouse novel in which a gentleman’s club–in the historical, English sense of the term, not the euphemistic strip-joint sense–was named the Drone’s Club. And that was the best use of drone I’ve yet encountered.)

The last thing–and the coolest thing–you should know about drones is that they don’t have stingers. They cannot sting. Or bite. Or even wound you with a sarcastic remark. They’re lovers, not fighters. So if you’ve always wanted to pet a bee, don’t be afraid to pick one up.

Erik has been reading up on the amazing, secret life of drones lately, and I hope he’ll post about that soon. It will blow your mind.

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.