Rats

SurviveLA just sustained $198 worth of damage to one of our appliances due to an invasion of rats which brings us to the topic of how we deal with pesky rodents. As you can see in the photo to the right, the answer will burn our bridges with the PETA folks.

The classic rat trap is one of those inventions like the bicycle that is elegant, simple, cheap and effective. We recommend placing the business end of the trap (the part with the food) against a wall, as rats and mice tend to travel along walls. Put it in a place that can’t be accessed by nosy dogs, cats or kids. We’ve had the best success with using dried fruit as bait.

But let’s look at the alternatives. Yes there are so-called humane traps that capture the critters alive. We have two problems with these. First they just don’t work all that well. Secondly, what do you do with the critters once you catch them? We can think of some real estate agents we would like to give them to, but the rats would probably just run into some other poor sucker’s house.

Rat poison is a really bad idea. First of all it is deadly to pets and native animals that might find it. Secondly it can kill a predator such as a hawk or owl, that might prey on a poisoned rat. Lastly, poisoned rats have a bad tendency to climb into a wall and die leaving an inaccessible, stinky mess.

SurviveLA would get in big trouble if we failed to send a shout out to our cat friends. Some cats are good at catching mice and rats, but unfortunately those same cats are also good at catching native birds. Now if we weren’t in enough trouble for advocating bad-ass rat traps, we’ll get in even more trouble for suggesting that folks keep their cats indoors. Indoor cats will catch the rodents, they won’t kill the native wildlife and they’ll live longer by not getting hit by cars. We would have a cat ourselves if it weren’t for our doberman who would, unfortunately, prey on the cats, thereby setting up a predatory hierarchy we would rather avoid. Dobermans, incidentally, make lousy mousers though ours will follow rat scent for hours (dobermans are great, however, for deterring Jehovah’s Witnesses, but that’s another post).

As far as rat prevention goes, it’s really important to harvest all fruits from the garden before they drop on the ground. Our rat problem this winter may be due, in part, from our laziness and failure to harvest the fruit of our prodigious fig tree in addition to the foundation work we’re having done (thanks again to those realtors we want to sick the rats on). Other deterrents include not leaving food around and getting rid of wood piles. Rats are also one of the reasons not to put meat in the compost pile, though I’ve found them in our compost pile in spite of the fact that we only put vegetable material in it. It helps to turn the pile frequently and not add too many kitchen scraps at one time.

Of course, being SurviveLA, we need to mention the fact that rats are edible. Now it’s fashionable to make fun of French people for stuff like this but SurviveLA thinks applauds any kind of resourcefulness, particularly if it yields something tasty. From the Larousse Gastronomique:

Rodent, which was elevated to the rank of comestible during the siege of Paris in 1870, and which is eaten in certain regions. The flesh of well-nourished rats can be, it seems, of good quality, but sometimes with a musky taste. Rats nourished in the wine stores of the Gironde were at one time highly esteemed by the coopers, who grilled them, after having cleaned out and skinned them, on a fire of broken barrels, and seasoned them with a little oil and plenty of shallot. This dish, which was then called Cooper’s Entrecôte, would be the origin of the Entrecôte à la bordelaise.

Rapini!


This morning SurviveLA harvested our first crop of the winter, delicious broccoli rabe, from our illegal parkway garden.

Broccoli rabe or rapini, is often described as being bitter, but I think it would be better to describe store bought broccoli as band and rapini as “flavorful”. Actually rapini is not related to the broccoli plant and is instead more closely related to turnips. The variety we planted is called Cima di Rapa Quarantina and is available from growitalian.com.

Thanks Los Angeles for not enforcing your parkway codes! Sometimes LA’s lack of attention to sidewalks (at the current rate, no joke, it would take 200 years to fix LA’s crumbling pedestrian infrastructure) has its advantages.

Country Wisdom

Thanks to a tip from the Soapboxers, SurviveLA augmented our homesteading library with a copy of the extremely useful book, Country Wisdom & Know-How by the editors of Storey Books. Country Wisdom is a compendium of tips culled from the Country Wisdom Bulletin published in the 1970s and oriented to the “back to the land” movement of that time.

While geared to country living there is plenty in here for city dwellers such as ourselves. Divided into sections covering animals, cooking, crafts, gardening, health and wellbeing, and home repair/construction, Country Wisdom has straightforward advice with clear illustrations.

While we don’t anticipate having to skin and eat bear anytime soon, “Bear meat is dark and well flavored. The layer of fat should be trimmed off or it will give the meat a strong gamey taste” we did appreciate things such as the three pages of quick bread recipes (we’ll test some and let you know how they work) and the tips on using herbs. And lots of folks in our neighborhood could benefit from the dog training advice.

Who knows, someday we may find ourselves sitting down to a meal of backyard squirrel and possum . . .

Broadleaf Plantain

Today we introduced some weeds into our garden, planting some broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) seeds that we collected on our bike camping and wild food excursion with Christopher Nyerges. As Nyerges noted, this is one of those plants that Martha Stewart hates, and that makes the purveyors of toxic herbicides and lawn care products rich.

You can’t eat your lawn folks. You can, however, eat broadleaf plantain. The young leaves are edible raw, but the more mature leaves must be cooked. The seeds can also be eaten either raw or roasted, though we should note that they have a laxative effect (nothin’ wrong with that!). The plant can also be used to treat wounds, by soaking the plant and applying it to the injured area. A tea can be made of the leaves that will treat diarrhea.

Broadleaf plantain was apparently one of the first so-called “weeds” introduced to the New World by the Europeans, which is why the plant is also known as “white man’s foot”. The University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program describes its impact thusly:

In turfgrass they form dense clumps that give poor footing for athletic fields and golf courses. The plantains have a texture and color that varies from normal turf cultivars, and their flower stalks extend above the turf, reducing its aesthetic quality.

Frankly, SurviveLA applauds anything that will cause golfers to slip and fall. The world’s 35,000 golf courses use enough water each day to support 4.7 billion people. Power to the broadleaf plantain!

Yucca!

“Now on the western side of the First World, in a place that later was to become the Land of Sunset, there appeared the Blue Cloud, and opposite it there appeared the Yellow Cloud. Where they came together First Woman was formed, and with her the yellow corn. This ear of corn was also perfect. With First Woman there came the white shell and the turquoise and the yucca.”

-The Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians The Creation or Age of Beginning The First World by Aileen O’Bryan

We’re still ridin’ high from this past weekend’s debut of the Bike Scouts of America’s first camping trip. Thanks again to the folks at C.I.C.L.E. for putting it together and this week SurviveLA will review a few of the highlights of the trip starting with the many uses of the wondrous yucca plant.

We were tipped off to the yucca thanks to Christopher Nyerges‘ wild food hike that he led when he met up with the Bike Scouts on Sunday. Nyerges showed us how to weave rope using the fibers of the yucca plant, and showed us the plant’s detergent properties using the dome of the Green Party’s Philip Koebel. In fact, to the Navajo, the yucca plant represets cleanliness and played an important part in many ceremonies.

Yucca is one of those miraculous plants that everyone who has a patch of earth under their control should consider planting, particularly if you live in the Southern California area. SurviveLA likes plants that do not require supplemental irrigation and have multiple uses and the yucca plant, in addition to making rope, can also be used for basket weaving, as a detergent, a white wool dye, a quiver for your arrows, and it also produces edible flowers, seeds, and fruit.

Some important distinctions here. First of all we are not talking about “yuca” which is another name for the cassava plant, a tropical shrub of the spurge family. There are also many species in the yucca family, which even includes the Joshua Tree. Also, don’t confuse yucca plants with agave plants, as the juice of the of the agave leaf is a skin irritant. Agaves tend to have broader leaves in contrast to the spiky leaves of the yucca. Blue agave, incidentally, is the source of tequila.

As Nyerges’ points out in his excellent article about yuccas and agaves, “A Piece of Fiber Could Save Your Life“, the flower stalk of the yucca can be eaten and tastes a bit like asparagus. The flowers, fruit and seed pods are also edible and Nyerges’ article provides some cooking tips.

As part of a edible/useful landscaping scheme yucca plants are attractive and with their sharp points can provide a kind of security barrier against marauding hooligans.

Speaking of hooligans (and bad transitions), we forgot to thank the folks at SoapboxLA for cooking up a batch of rusks that kept us all going during our Bike Scout and edible food huntin’ journey.

Roundup

SurviveLA is embarrassed to admit that we used to have a bottle of Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller around the compound. Embarrassed because one of Project Censored’s top 25 censored stories of 2006 includes this piece on the evils of this product:

Third World Resurgence, No. 176, April 2005
Title: “New Evidence of Dangers of Roundup Weedkiller”
Author: Chee Yoke Heong

New studies from both sides of the Atlantic reveal that Roundup, the most widely used weedkiller in the world, poses serious human health threats. More than 75 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops are engineered to tolerate the absorption of Roundup—it eliminates all plants that are not GM. Monsanto Inc., the major engineer of GM crops, is also the producer of Roundup. Thus, while Roundup was formulated as a weapon against weeds, it has become a prevalent ingredient in most of our food crops.

Three recent studies show that Roundup, which is used by farmers and home gardeners, is not the safe product we have been led to trust.

A group of scientists led by biochemist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini from the University of Caen in France found that human placental cells are very sensitive to Roundup at concentrations lower than those currently used in agricultural application.

An epidemiological study of Ontario farming populations showed that exposure to glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, nearly doubled the risk of late miscarriages. Seralini and his team decided to research the effects of the herbicide on human placenta cells. Their study confirmed the toxicity of glyphosate, as after eighteen hours of exposure at low concentrations, large proportions of human placenta began to die. Seralini suggests that this may explain the high levels of premature births and miscarriages observed among female farmers using glyphosate.

Seralini’s team further compared the toxic effects of the Roundup formula (the most common commercial formulation of glyphosate and chemical additives) to the isolated active ingredient, glyphosate. They found that the toxic effect increases in the presence of Roundup ‘adjuvants’ or additives. These additives thus have a facilitating role, rendering Roundup twice as toxic as its isolated active ingredient, glyphosate.

Another study, released in April 2005 by the University of Pittsburgh, suggests that Roundup is a danger to other life-forms and non-target organisms. Biologist Rick Relyea found that Roundup is extremely lethal to amphibians. In what is considered one of the most extensive studies on the effects of pesticides on nontarget organisms in a natural setting, Relyea found that Roundup caused a 70 percent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 percent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree frog tadpoles were nearly eliminated.

In 2002, a scientific team led by Robert Belle of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) biological station in Roscoff, France showed that Roundup activates one of the key stages of cellular division that can potentially lead to cancer. Belle and his team have been studying the impact of glyphosate formulations on sea urchin cells for several years. The team has recently demonstrated in Toxicological Science (December 2004) that a “control point” for DNA damage was affected by Roundup, while glyphosate alone had no effect. “We have shown that it’s a definite risk factor, but we have not evaluated the number of cancers potentially induced, nor the time frame within which they would declare themselves,” Belle acknowledges.

There is, indeed, direct evidence that glyphosate inhibits an important process called RNA transcription in animals, at a concentration well below the level that is recommended for commercial spray application.

There is also new research that shows that brief exposure to commercial glyphosate causes liver damage in rats, as indicated by the leakage of intracellular liver enzymes. The research indicates that glyphosate and its surfactant in Roundup were found to act in synergy to increase damage to the liver.

UPDATE BY CHEE YOKE HEONG
Roundup Ready weedkiller is one of the most widely used weedkillers in the world for crops and backyard gardens. Roundup, with its active ingredient glyphosate, has long been promoted as safe for humans and the environment while effective in killing weeds. It is therefore significant when recent studies show that Roundup is not as safe as its promoters claim.

This has major consequences as the bulk of commercially planted genetically modified crops are designed to tolerate glyphosate (and especially Roundup), and independent field data already shows a trend of increasing use of the herbicide. This goes against industry claims that herbicide use will drop and that these plants will thus be more “environment-friendly.” Now it has been found that there are serious health effects, too. My story therefore aimed to highlight these new findings and their implications to health and the environment.

Not surprisingly, Monsanto came out refuting some of the findings of the studies mentioned in the article. What ensued was an open exchange between Dr. Rick Relyea and Monsanto, whereby the former stood his grounds. Otherwise, to my knowledge, no studies have since emerged on Roundup.

For more information look to the following sources:
Professor Gilles-Eric, [email protected]
Biosafety Information Center
Institute of Science in Society

The prevelance of glyphosate in store bought foods is yet another reason to grow your own vegetables and fruit if you can.

As far as weed control goes, there are some weeds such as crabgrass which are very difficult to deal with, and Roundup used to be SurviveLA’s last-resort option. Fortunately there are alternatives.

First of all we are mulching much more than we used to. Newspaper topped with leaves and twigs seems to work great, and the newspaper takes much longer than one might expect to break down.

While not appropriate for our dry climate and incendiary native plants, it’s possible in wetter climes to burn weeds with a propane tool such as these.

Ultimately, SurviveLA has replaced Roundup with a zen expression, “If you see a weed pull it”.

Zombies!

I don’t know could’ve been a lame jogger maybe
Or someone just about to do the freeway strangler baby
Shopping cart pusher or maybe someone groovie
One thing’s for sure, he isn’t starring in the movies.
‘Cause he’s walkin’ in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A., only a nobody walks in L.A.
-Missing Persons

A number of loyal SurviveLA readers have forwarded us links to a new book, The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. We haven’t read this book but we were, about a month ago, nearly run over by a zombie motorist. So get out the tin foil hats, and we’ll tell you the story.

But first some background. One of the first things we did when we founded our “homestead” a few years ago was to increase the amount of walking that we do in the interest of our environment, to squeeze in a little more exercise, and also to save money on gas. Like most Angelinos we used to drive everywhere, including destinations that were just a few blocks away. We discovered the power of traveling by our own two feet after a friend of ours convinced us to join him on a 42 kilometer walk-a-thon from East LA to the ocean as a benefit for the brave folks at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. On that trip we realized that walking, even up to 24 kilometers is perfectly feasible, though admittedly beyond that distance it starts to get hard. While we don’t walk such long distances in the course of a normal day, it’s still perfectly reasonable to take trips up to 5k.

Incidentally, for you engineering types, there is a handy way of estimating travel distances on foot devised by Scottish mountaineer W.W. Naismith in 1892. Naismith says that it takes an hour for each five kilometers. You must add a half hour for each 300 meters of elevation gain – though there probably won’t be much elevation gain in the course of your urban journeys unless you reside in San Francisco.

So, SurviveLA started walking more, taking trips to the bank, post office and other destinations in our neighborhood. Distances that once seemed too far on foot, now were a matter of routine and the sphere of what we consider walkable has increased dramatically in the past few years, changing our view of the city and acquainting us with many things we overlooked while driving.

Unfortunately it’s no coincidence that the Missing Persons wrote their song about Los Angeles. Walking sucks here — sidewalks are cracked, twisted and broken, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation considers pedestrians to be a nuisance, old people get tickets for taking too long to cross the street, and drivers are either oblivious, chatting on their cell phones, or outright homicidal.

In response to this SurviveLA has adopted an aggressive pedestrian style and we are relieved to hear that amongst our friends we are not the only ones to have yelled and banged on people’s cars. A certain punk rock Canadian type we know of once kicked out the headlights of an aggressive motorist with his steel tipped boots when the idiot almost ran down the guy’s kid who was in a stroller he was pushing. We don’t recommend this militant pedestrianism, but in the heat of the moment we often lose our normal zen like tranquility.

The award this year for the most militant LA pedestrians must go to a duo we found out about when we discovered the poster here at a crosswalk where we frequently have issues with motorists. It reads,

Please help me find this man and his wife (both in their late 50′s) – they were walking & stepped out in front of my car – angered (in a rage), he hit my stopped car w/his hand (denting it) . . . After hitting my car they both fled on foot – splitting up. I followed the man for an hour as he ran through the hills – but he got away.

Aside from their somewhat older age these angry pedestrians could have been us. We’ll note the fact that the motorist left out the part where he, no doubt, almost ran the couple down. SurviveLA congratulates this subversive pedestrian duo and we wish we could take credit for their revolutionary actions!

Which brings us back to the zombie issue. Last month, after returning from our thrice a week run along the western edge of the Silver Lake Reservoir we were walking home and attempting to cross West Silver Lake Drive in a crosswalk at a stop sign at the same spot where the angry pedestrian duo had their showdown, when a brand new sparkling Mini-Cooper came at us at a high speed making use of the rounded corners our city has thoughtfully designed to allow motorists to take turns as fast as they can. We threw our hands up in anger and prepared to smack the car when the driver stopped finally, allowing us to cross. Now here comes the weird part – we made eye contact and we swear that the driver was a genuine zombie! We’re talking literally here not making another one of our gratuitous swipes at the so-called “zombie hordes”. This Mini-Cooper zombie had deep set eyes, slightly tattered clothes and was obviously having one of those fresh out of the grave bad hair days. This was well before Halloween, so we don’t think this was some sort of costume. The brand-new and clean condition of the car suggested that we were dealing with a zombie of means and not some homeless person. She didn’t seem “goth”, and the nearest nightclub is Spaceland, hardly a goth hangout. As we crossed the street she continued to stare at us with a look that suggested the desire to consume the flesh of the living. All joking aside, it was a truly strange interaction, beyond the normal “The Great Architect of the Universe gave me the right to drive however I want” attitude that we expect from the motoring public.

Our encounter with the Mini-Cooper zombie proves that there may actually be a zombie menace out there and perhaps Zombie Survival Guide author Brooks should take his subject more seriously. SurviveLA suspects the cause of contemporary zombieism to be the effects of consumer culture and/or television viewing. What’s the cure? In short, we think it’s the exciting new urban homesteading lifestyle. What’s the strategy to overcome zombieism? We are no fan of the Unabomber, but he may be right about this one – just substitute the word “zombie” for “American” – which is perhaps redundant, anyways:

. . . it would be bad strategy for the revolutionaries to condemn Americans for the habits of consumption. Instead, the average American should be portrayed as a victim of the advertising and marketing industry, which has suckered him into buying a lot of junk that he doesn’t need and that is very poor compensation for his lost freedom.

Revolutionary Rusks

Today Root Simple is proud to present a contribution (and amazing photo!) from photographer, velolutionary, and Culver-Town homesteader Elon Schoenholz:

Rusks are sturdy biscuits of Dutch South African origin, slightly sweetened and heartily nonperishable. Like biscotti, they’re double-baked, dry and crunchy; unlike the chocolate-dipped and plastic-wrapped crap on the counter at Starbucks, however, homemade rusks are practical, nourishing and inexpensive. The version we prefer, with chopped almonds, is subtly delicious. Stored in an airtight container, rusks are good to eat for 2-3 weeks. We enjoy dipping them in our coffee. Also, they’re great cycling snacks because you can throw them in a jersey pocket; they’re good all day without refrigeration; and they provide a quick simple-carb fix, as well as protein and complex carbs.

The recipe we use is from the “Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes From the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant

To make the most of your time and maximize energy efficiency, bake two batches and stack them all up together for the 12-hour dry-a-thon following the initial 25-minute bake. You’ll end up with about 20 pieces from a single batch, and they go pretty fast. While rusks historically were created as hot-weather food, baking them during the winter is more pleasant because you end up having the oven on all day or night.

Recipe:
Dry ingredients
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour (the recipe calls for coarsely ground whole wheat flour but we use all-purpose whole wheat flour and then add 2 tablespoons wheat germ and 2 tablespoons ground flax seed)
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup chopped almonds

Wet ingredients
½ cup melted butter
2 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
2 teaspoons pure almond extract

preheat oven to 400º
In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients
In another mixing bowl, mix the wet ingredients
Pour the wet into the dry and stir until you have a soft dough
Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll or pat it to a ½-inch thickness
Cut the dough into 2×4-inch rectangles
Bake about an inch and half to 2 inches apart on buttered (parchment paper will work, too) baking sheets for 25 minutes
After you’re finished baking the rusks, pile them up pyramid-style on a baking sheet, throw them in the oven, turn the dial to 200º and come back in 12 hours

Pointers for first-time bakers:

  • Mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, and then mix them together.
  • Make sure to mix the wet and dry ingredients well, but once you combine wet and dry, don’t overmix or the dough can become tough.
  • Pour the vanilla and almond extracts into the butter first and then add the butter to the rest of the wet ingredients, as the fat will encase and preserve the flavor.
  • When rolling out the dough, use flour on the rolling pin and on the dough to prevent sticking.

Airing Our Dirty Laundry

Let’s face it folks, clothes dryers suck and even Martha Stewart agrees with SurviveLA that the way to go is the old-fashioned clothes line. SurviveLA put a retractable line up in the back yard this week to replace our hated Kenmore dryer. May the bastards at Sears suffer Pharaoh’s plagues sprinkled with Job’s scabies for designing this ugly, awkward and inelegant machine. Besides, with the blazing hot sun of Los Angeles, it makes perfect sense to use our region’s free solar power.

So why air dry? Let’s do the math. Assuming our (gas powered) dryer uses an average of .22 therms of natural gas per load at our gas company Sempra Energy’s August rate of 59 cents per therm, by using our clothes line we achieve the admittedly not too impressive savings of 17 cents per load. If we had an electric dryer we figure that the cost would be about 44 cents per load if the dryer consumed four kilowatts for a 45 minute spin. And remember that when you use electricity in Los Angeles, thanks to the Department of Water and Power, you are burning coal in Utah.

Now we would continue with the math, but that would involve amortizing the cost of the dryer and math is a shaky subject for us. Suffice to say, that gas is not the only cost. We think the greatest savings over time may be that air drying is simply better for our clothes. Besides, it’s another excuse to get outside and get in touch with the natural world i.e. the weather.

For those folks pressed for time and unable to enjoy the blessed idleness that pervades the SurviveLA compound, another drying alternative exists — the Spin X dryer. Made by the Krauts, this thing is sort of like those small spinning machines you stick your bathing suit into at the swimming pool. The Spin X spins at 3,300 rpm, and according to the manufacturer will remove 50% of the moisture of a ten pound load in three minutes. You will still need to air dry your clothes after they come out of this thing. The Spin X might be a good option for apartment homesteaders as it just hooks up to a regular 110 outlet and does not need a drain line. Water from the clothes is sent out the front of the unit into a small container that you must empty. A Spin X will set you back $469.

No discussion of dryers would be complete without mentioning the recent scandal in Britain wherein three bored firemen nearly lost their jobs for filming a member of their department taking a ride in a dryer. A hearing ensued and the firemen involved in the incident had to issue an apology, “We recognize that our behaviour was totally irresponsible and we are genuinely ashamed and would stress that no one should try to copy the stupid act.” For the idle out there you can watch the video here. Just don’t try this stunt in the Spin X, as the manufacturer also promises “1,340 G forces”.