The Brooklyn Bee


“if bees were to disappear, man would only have a few years to live”
-Albert Einstein

Homegrown Revolution spoke to urban beekeeper John Howe today who keeps a couple of hives high atop the roof of his home in Brooklyn New York. He got the idea to take up urban beekeeping when one day a bee landed on his plate while he was eating at an outdoor restaurant and now his hives produce around 150 pounds of honey a year which he sells at a couple of locations in Brooklyn. He’s self taught and figured out beekeeping more or less on his own thanks to the internet, books, a little help from a beekeeping club in Long Island, and advice from a beekeeping supplier.

Howe said that the key to urban beekeeping is maintaining good relations with the neighbors since bees have a tendency to swarm on occasion and people are always shocked to see a basketball sized cluster of bees hanging out on a local light post. He deals with these sticky situations through careful neighborhood diplomacy and, of course, free honey.

Howe argues that his honey is more organic than commercial honey since his bees pollinate plants in an urban location that does not have the sort of intense insecticide application seen in agricultural areas. Since he’s the only beekeeper in the neighborhood he knows that when he sees a bee in the two nearby parks they probably belong to him. Howe’s suspects that in addition to pollinating the local plants and trees his bees also collect pollen from cut flowers at outdoor florist stands.

Homegrown Revolution wishes that we could end this story musing about a bright future for urban beekeeping, a future in which each neighborhood has a beekeeper to pollinate the many fruit trees that should grow on our city’s streets, but sadly bee news these days is on the depressing side. If the Albert Einstein quote is correct we’re in trouble since bees have been disappearing in the past year due to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which the hive flies off and simply does not return. The cause of this mysterious problem is not yet known, but many beekeepers including Howe suspect that pesticides may be the culprit. Upwards of 30 to 60% of hives in 24 states have vanished in what could prove to be a huge economic and ecological disaster since many crops including almonds and avocados depend on bees for pollination. Howe himself has lost one hive. Read more about this depressing story on the BBC and it that ain’t enough doom and gloom, there’s the tale of an insecticide called fipronil, sold in the US under the brand names MaxForce and Combat, which is suspected in the deaths of billions of bees in France.

Speaking of the symbolism of the beehive Robert Macoy said, “It [the beehive] teaches us that as we came into the world rational and intelligent beings, so we should ever be industrious ones; never sitting down contented while our fellow-creatures around us are in want, when it is in our power to relieve them without inconvenience to ourselves.” Pesticides are the crutch of the lazy, and it’s time for us all to figure out better, more enlightened forms of agriculture in order to save the industrious and essential bee. And it’s time for more urban beekeepers like John Howe. Pay a visit to his website and blog and buy a jar of his honey if you find yourself in Brooklyn.

Weed Eating Italian Style

Here at Homegrown Revolution we’re big proponents of eatin’ your weeds, which is why we were delighted to stumble upon an article on virtualitalia.com that contains a couple of weed recipes including dandelion egg salad and stinging nettle lasagna. As the article points points out Italians are one of only a few Western cultures that still actively forage.

Spring approaches and with it a free salad bar and produce section just waiting to be picked. Homegrown Revolution declares 2007 the year of the weed!

The Homegrown Revolution Broadleaf Plantain Pizza

For years a trade organization called the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, has been lobbying the Italian government to create a “DOC” or d’origine controllata, to designate the proper form of Neopolitan pizza as a way of countering the indignities perpetrated internationally by the likes of Dominos and Wolfgang Puck. The VPN’s regulations include the following requirements:

1. A wood-burning oven: The pizza must be cooked by wood. Gas, coal or electric ovens, while they may produce delicious pizza, do not conform to the tradition.
2. Proper ingredients: 00 flour, San Marzano (plum) tomatoes, all natural fior-di-latte or bufala mozzarella, fresh basil, salt and yeast. Only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients are acceptable.
3. Proper technique: Hand-worked or low speed mixed dough, proper work surface (usually a marble slab), oven temp (800° F), pizza preparation, etc.

While we haven’t constructed a wood burning oven yet, in the summertime it’s possible to make a authentic Neopolitan pizza at the Homegrown Revolution compound topped with buffalo mozzarella (available at Trader Joes), and Roma tomatoes and chopped basil from the garden. But in the wintertime we eat the Homegrown Revolution pizza, a highly unauthorized combination of mozzarella and chopped broadleaf plantain, a common lawn weed (though any green will do). It’s tasty and what we predict the California Pizza Kitchen will serve when the shit goes down.

We use the following recipe, which is adapted for home kitchens from the VPN’s regulations, for the dough:

1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115º)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
Mix water and yeast and proof for 7 minutes. Mix flour and salt in a heavy-duty stand mixer. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and mix on low for 30 minutes. Shape dough into a round and let proof in a covered and oiled bowl for 4 hours in a warm place (we use the top of the stove which has a pilot light). Divide into two pieces and proof for another 4 hours. Preheat your oven to 550º, top your pizza and bake for eight minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

For guidance on how to work the dough see the helpful videos on the VPN website.

A Homegrown Revolution manifesto by way of a short (true) story.

1. Fitness is part of the urban homesteading thing
So on our daily bike ride to the downtown YMCA we spotted four tires laying by the side of the road.

2. Try to grow as much food as you can
Tires are a great way to grow potatoes–we’ll explain this when we try it ourselves. Meanwhile you can read about doing this, as well as many other uses for old tires in the informative archives of Backwoods Home Magazine.

3. Cargo bikes rule
Later on in the day we decided to go pick up the tires using our handy cargo bike, the Xtracycle. We can’t say enough good things about this invention, though we should note that carrying large car tires on a bicycle looks completely insane.

4. The importance of bike safety
At a signal two hipsters on fixed gear bikes pulled up next to us.

One of the hipsters said, “Too bad you can’t use those tires.”

Homegrown Revolution muttered, crazily, “We’re going to grow things with them.”

“Yeah, you’re going to grow some bud.” responded the hipster and peddled off–note, a fixed gear is much faster than a cruddy mountain bike with an Xtracycle carrying two car tires.

5. First aid training and general preparedness
As we rounded a bend, in front of our local medical marijuana dispensary (oh, the irony) we saw one of the hipsters on the ground tangled up in his bike moaning in pain in the middle of the Sunset Blvd. bike lane and surrounded by shimmering fragments of a car tail light. He had run into the back end of a parked car. Homegrown Revolution stopped and prepared to use our inadequate Red Cross first aid training. Just as we finished saying, “Are you o.k.?” the hipster jumped up.

6. The importance of bike safety part 2
He motioned to one of two attractive women on the sidewalk and said, “It’s your fault, it’s because of you, I was staring at you.” Robert Hurst, in his excellent book The Art of Urban Cycling covers this very problem. Fixed gears, high traffic speeds, poorly designed bike lanes, inattentive motorists, and voyeurism make an especially dangerous cocktail. Stay alert out there folks and read Hurst’s book (read an interview with Hurst here).

7. Karma
The hipsters jumped back on their bikes leaving Homegrown Revolution, the two women, and the security guard at the marijuana dispensary staring at the dented and completely trashed back end of someone’s new Kia. There was a pause as we were all relieved that the hipster was able to walk away from what, judging from the huge dent in the Kia’s trunk, looked like a pretty bad impact. There was another pause as we all realized that he had left the scene without making amends for the damage. The two women looked at me as Homegrown Revolution suggested lamely that, “They [cars] hit us all the time.” There was yet another awkward pause, followed by Homegrown Revolution quickly leaving the scene.

In a moment of vertiginous karma, as we made the turn off of Sunset one of the car tires flopped over causing us to wobble ominously in front of an oncoming SUV. Homegrown Revolution quickly recovered, and even returned through nasty rush hour traffic to get the other two tires.

Quick Breads


Here at the Homegrown Revolution compound we used to make our own sourdough bread. In fact we used the exhaustive, fetishistic and ridiculously detailed instructions to be found in Nancy Silverton’s book Breads from the La Brea Bakery. Silverton did for bread what Starbucks did for coffee, before she arrived on the scene America was a Wonder bread wasteland but now, in our coast to coast boho yuppified age, you can even find decent La Brea Bakery bread in the red states. Now we’re a bit contrarian at Homegrown Revolution, so while we’re not quite ready to go back to Folgers (though that day will come), we are ready to try some down home white trash quick breads. OK, so Homegrown Revolution has changed our minds on the previous paragraph, and we’re back to making sourdough. That being said, an occasional quick bread ain’t a bad thing:

Quick breads are easy, involve no yeast or rising times, and are nearly foolproof, which is why the knuckle draggers in flyover country like them so much. Now the problem we had in our boho days with maintaining a sourdough starter is that it required daily feeding–in fact it was a bit like having a pet–a very boring slightly messy pet that leaves moist and moldy flour all over your countertop. Sourdough is best for slacker cooking geeks who plan on baking bread almost every day, a process involving multiple risings and sometimes dicey results if the ambient temperature is either too cool or too warm. By all means give a try sometime, but for the lazy we recommend quick breads, which can be whipped up quicker than riding the Xtracycle to Trader Joes.

With this in mind the Homegrown Revolution test kitchen will be experimenting with quick breads in the next few months and presenting the results. Today’s quick bread experiment, we are happy to report, was very successful–Whole Wheat Walnut Bread from the book Country Wisdom & Know How.

3/4 cup unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed [note: SurviveLA recommends reducing or eliminating the sugar--this recipe is a bit too sweet for our tastes]
1 cup walnuts, coarsely broken
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Combine all the dry ingredients. Mix the buttermilk and the vegetable oil in a separate boil. Mix the liquid and dry ingredients together just enough to make sure they are combined. With all quick breads you should minimize the amount of mixing. Bake at 350º until a knife inserted into the bread comes out dry. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of the pan you use.

We invite Homegrown Revolution readers to submit their own bread recipes.

Purple Sicilian Cauliflower


The Homegrown Revolution compound’s purple Sicilian cauliflower (Cavolfiore di Sicilia Violetto from Seeds from Italy) from our illegal parkway garden is now ready for the table after four months since planting from seed. Cauliflower needs some attention; it needs to be kept moist and it’s prone to aphids, but the little buggers can be blasted off with a hose fairly easily. While the plant takes up a lot of room and doesn’t yield a lot per square foot, what most folks don’t seem to know is that the leaves of cauliflower and broccoli plants are edible as well, although best when small.

Ultimately if you’ve got the space cauliflower is worth the effort, especially this particular variety, since when it gets down to it, the Man’s cauliflower at the supermarket just does not compare to the rich flavor of our home grown version. And if flavor isn’t enough to convince you to grow your own, cauliflower is one of those plants that demonstrates the groovy world of fractal geometry, where the smallest parts of the plants maintain the geometry of the whole. Take a look at the even more fractal broccoli cauliflower mashup, chou Romanesco.

Safety Chic

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, doom and gloom is out and “a new safety-chic is playing out across retail.”

All the Chinese slave-labor employing big boxes have jumped in on the bandwagon including Wal-Mart, Dillards, Costco and Sears. They’re all getting together to save our collective asses from hurricanes and suitcase nukes by getting us to . . . shop. Home Depot is coming out with a line called “HomeHero” which among other things includes the white fire extinguisher illustrated on the left.

“People just haven’t thought about redesigning these categories,” says Peter Arnell, founder of the design and marketing firm Arnell Group, a division of Omnicom Group Inc., which helped craft the Home Depot HomeHero line. “In the old days, you had a chunky old red fire extinguisher and you were going to hide it. That doesn’t work anymore. The world has changed.”

Funny, we thought fire extinguishers were red so that they would stand out in an emergency. But Homegrown Revolution likes the idea of yuppies in their burning kitchens accidentally grabbing the cappuccino frother. The article ends with this zinger:

“They have clearly recognized an absence in the market and that’s the fundamental proposition,” says Dale K. Cohen, founder of DKC Resources, a New York marketing strategy and growth catalyst firm. “Fear is an emotion. And whenever you tap into the emotional component of something in selling, you have a very strong, resonant angle”.

Tour de Crap

Homegrown Revolution apologizes for yet another scatological post, but we’re delighted to report on the success of the Tour de Crap, a Bike Winter event which featured a tour of the Hyperion Treatment Plant. The photo above shows some intrepid cyclists who have traded their bike hats and helmets for hard hats and hair nets in order to enjoy the sight of a pile of poo soaked condoms in Hyperion’s odoriferous headworks building.

Everybody should have to tour their treatment plant and meet the nice folks who deal, literally, with our own crap. Maybe then people would decide not to lift manhole covers and throw couches and motorcycle frames down the sewer system as happens here in our fair city. Perhaps someday we’ll all take a bigger step and assume responsibility for out own waste as the folks in Scandinavia have done with in-house composting toilets like the Clivus Multrum.

In the meantime people, remember that somebody has got to deal with what you all flush and pour down the drain so please don’t put cooking oil and grease down the sink. Not only is this bad for your own plumbing, but it causes clogs in the city’s lines as well. Also keep your pharmaceuticals out of the toilet–no joke here–we have ocean fish swimming around hopped up on Prozac.

Lastly, should zombies or Al Queda take out Hyperion, learn how to shit in a bucket.

Got Real Milk?


Join Permaculture expert David Khan for a special two part lecture including a presentation by Mark McAfee the president of Organic Pastures (our source for Homegrown Revolution‘s cheese making experiments):

Where:
Audubon Center at Deb’s Park
4700 North Griffin Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90031
(323) 221-2255

www.sustainablehabitats.org

When:
March 3rd 2007 @ 10:00 AM for Introduction to Pemaculture Class and at 2:00 PM for “Got Real Milk?” Presentation.
************************************************************************
-Sustainable Los Angeles lecture series:

* Part1: Free Urban Permaculture Design Course Introduction by David Kahn
* Part2: Talk and Slide Show Presentation:

“Got Real Milk?” by Mark McAfee President, Organic Pastures,LLC.

“Today’s milk is accused of causing everything from allergies to heart disease to cancer, but when Americans could buy Real Milk, these diseases were rare. In fact, a supply of high quality dairy products was considered vital to American security and the economic well being of the nation”. -The Weston A. Price Foundation

“What’s needed today is a return to humane, non-toxic, pasture-based dairying and small-scale traditional processing, in short
A Campaign for Real Milk”.

Learn the truth from one of America’s leading experts on raw milk.
Mark McAfee, is regarded by many in the industry as a foremost expert in raw milk safety and raw dairy product markets and technology.

Please RSVP:
www.sustainablehabitats.org

Make Your Own Damn Cheese

We live in a country where buckets have warnings on them, but the greatest indignity of our present nanny state is that the Man does not want us to eat raw cheese. As Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin put it, “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman who lacks an eye” and if that cheese was made with crappy pasteurized, homogenized and sterilized milk it ain’t worth eating.

That’s why you’ve got to make your own cheese. We forget, in our age of individually plastic wrapped crap-ass single-sliced cheese, that the act of cheese making is a way to preserve dairy products and that it’s well within the capabilities of the do it yourself kitchen revolutionary.

Here’s the catch. You’ve got to use raw, un-pasteurized, and un-homogenized milk. It’s possible to make cheese with the pasteurized shit, but it won’t taste as good and you’ll have to add calcium chloride to make it work. We’ve tried using regular milk and it’s a crap shoot–sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t even with the calcium chloride. Milk labeled “ultra-pasteurized” will definitely not work.

Now pasteurization is for wimps and worry warts. All of the tainted milk scares in the past few years have been with pasteurized milk. Those factory farm dairy cow concentration camps out there that produce most of the milk in this country figure that they don’t have to be clean since they are pasteurizing everything. Fortunately raw milk is available at health food stores–we used a brand called Organic Pastures.

Making cheese is actually fairly simple and can be done with just milk and rennet, also available in the baking section of health food stores such as Whole Foods. One other nice thing for the vegetarians out there is that you can use vegetable rennet rather than the animal based rennet that is used in most cheese.

Homegrown Revolution recommends that you start your cheese experiments with soft cheeses which are easier to produce. The Neufchâtel recipe that we used to produce the cheese pictured above can be found on the nicely illustrated cheese making website of biology and chemistry professor David B. Frankhauser. Frankhauser’s website is an excellent introduction to cheesemaking.

To make Neufchâtel you add rennet and let the milk sit out in a stainless steel pot overnight. If all goes well, the next day the milk solids called curds, should have separated from the liquid which is called whey. You place the curds in a piece of cloth, and suspend it over a bowl in the refrigerator. The next day the cheese is ready to form in a mold and serve.

The verdict on Homegrown Revolution‘s cheesemaking experiments–though urban cheesemaking is somewhat costly due to the high price of raw milk, it’s very satisfying to know that we can make our own cheese and patronize dairies that have more ethical standards. Or maybe it’s time to get our own dairy herd.