Compost Piles on Fire!

Image: Wikimedia.

Image: Wikimedia.

Call it a weird, unintended consequence of our ongoing drug war, but apparently indoor compost piles are igniting house fires all across the U.S. Pot growers stack up their leftover biomass and, soon after, the whole house goes up in a puff of smoke, so to speak.

It got me wondering about two things. What’s the biology of a compost pile fire? And do non-pot growing folks in cold climates commonly have indoor compost piles?

First the biology. BioCycle has a whole article on fire prevention in municipal composting facilities that covers this common problem.

So what situation(s) can lead to a fire? Here’s what can happen with a low moisture, large pile with little air exchange, combined with water getting into the pile in a place where there is enough air to support biological activity and chemical oxidation, but not enough to cool the pile.

An old, dry compost pile, or a pile of overs screened out of the finished product, is a case in point. Water seeping into the dry compost can restart microbial activity and initiate reheating. A “macropore” or crack from the hot spot to the surface often develops into a vent, or chimney. Air movement up through this vent draws more oxygen into the hot spot where heat is being generated, rapidly escalating the transition from a biological fire to smoke and glowing embers. Appearance of this hot, humid air at the surface can be an important indicator that heating is taking place inside the pile.

Compost pile fires are unlikely for most home scale gardeners. One preventative technique recommended in the Biocycle article is to keep piles smaller than 12 feet high. Not a problem for most backyard gardeners.

Now a question for our readers around the world: who, other than pot growers, have indoor compost piles?

019 Garden Nerd Christy Wilhelmi

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On the podcast this week we review different approaches to backyard vegetable gardening with “Gardenerd” Christy Wilhelmi of Gardenerd.com. Christy is also the author of Gardening for Geeks and has a podcast, The Gardenerds Tip of the Week. During the show we discuss:

  • Biodynamics
  • Biointensive/French Intensive
  • Alan Chadwick’s Garden at UC Santa Cruz
  • John Jeavons
  • Double digging vs. no-till
  • A documentary about Ruth Stout
  • Breaking up soil with permaculture method
  • The power of mulch
  • Square foot gardening
  • Peat moss vs. coir
  • Growing carbon and compost crops
  • Heavy metals
  • Phytoremediation with milk thistle and chicory
  • What to fill a raised bed with
  • How to deal with shade
  • Integrating livestock: chickens and bees
  • What to do with Peruvian pepper trees (Schinus molle)
  • Attracting pollinators

You can also connect with Christy on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Who’s Visiting Your Garden While You’re Not Watching?

My beautiful picture

I did a little experiment earlier this month and left our new CritterCam on for a period of five days, pointed at our backyard shed, to see what animals are visiting. The motion sensitive camera picked up seven visits from a possum, six birds, four skunk visitations, two rats, one raccoon and two house cats. I need to let the camera run for a longer period to get a better sense of what times of the day or night are the most active, but so far the hour of 2 am picked up the most activity (after the bars have closed on Sunset Blvd. perhaps?).

My beautiful picture

The pictures are showing what I think are mini wildlife corridors. Note the similar direction the possum and skunk seem to be heading.

The cat (which belongs to a neighbor):

My beautiful picture

And the raccoon (below) are also headed in the same direction.

My beautiful picture

That raccoon pic is another reminder for me to recheck my chicken coop’s fortifications.

My beautiful picture

And the rat is telling me to lock up the chicken food at night.

Reviewing these images has given me a less adversarial feeling about our mammalian visitors. They are just so damn cute, especially the skunk.

Next up in my CritterCam experiments will be to see who is visiting the bird bath. I’ll need some help from readers for that, since I don’t know my birds.

Stoicism Today

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We’re honored to have an essay in a new book, Stoicism Today: Selected Writings.

From Stoic ethics to emotions, from Stoic mayors and mindfulness to practical philosophy, parenting, psychotherapy and prisons, from Star Trek and Socrates to Stoic lawyers, literature and living in general, this book brings together a wide-ranging collection of reflections on living the Stoic life today. You’ll read advice on coping with adversity, reflections on happiness and the good life and powerful personal testimonies of putting Stoicism into practise. But you’ll also read about the links between Stoicism and psychotherapy, Stoicism and mindfulness meditation and the unexpected places Stoicism can pop up in modern culture. This book will be of interest to both academics and non-academics alike and is about the varied ways in which the 2,300 year old philosophy as a way of life remains relevant to the concerns and needs of the present day.

The book is available as a paperback and Kindle e-book.

The Stoicism Today website also has a free handbook and online course, well worth checking out.

Saturday Linkages: Wind Maps, Wildlife Gardens and Other Obsessions

V0041123 Human proportions established through mythological figures.

The Mysterious Geometry of Swordsmanship, Gorgeously Illustrated:  http://tinyurl.com/lypzaon

Live wind map:

Clam Aspic Salad – A Vintage Recipe Re-Run

When Wildlife Gardens Look Like Gardens | Garden Rant

Middle Eastern Roots of Spice Trade: The Origins of Culinary Imperialism and Globalization

The fear of bees

Is fall fertilization a good idea?

Fast Facts about Cutting Boards and Food Safety in Your Kitchen (from The Abstract)

Beautiful Cat Shelter Designs from Architects for Animals LA Event –

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

An Ancient Quince Recipe

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The Karp’s Sweet quince in our front yard, despite struggling in terrible soil, has finally started producing. This year we got about three pounds. Some of the fruit gets sunburned (note to self–put up some shade cloth next year!). But I’ve been able to cut out the browned part.

Each year the question comes up as to what to do with the fruit. You can eat Karp’s Sweet quince raw, but the texture is still quince-like, which is to say somewhat gritty and course. And each year I promise I’ll pick up a copy of Barbara Ghazarian’s comprehensive book Simply Quince, but somehow I never get around to it.

Last year I tried to make quince jelly, but overshot the jell point and ended up with jars of delicious tasting, but disagreeably hard quince gum. And Kelly just threw out my burned membrillo from last year.

This year Kevin West, author of Saving the Season came to the rescue with an ancient (the first known reference to a sweet preserve) and simple recipe by Pliny. The full recipe is on West’s website,  but to summarize you simply cook quince in equal parts honey and water until it turns red. The addition of a small amount of cracked pepper cuts the sweetness ever so slightly. You can then process the jars in a hot water bath. The end result is quince slices preserved in honey. It turned out great and, without having to worry about the jell point, reduced the anxiety level associated with preserving my entire harvest at once.

Do you have a quince tree? What do you do with the fruit?

Hollywood always gets gardens wrong (I’m talking to you, Maze Runner)

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See, after they covered the maze walls they had all this leftover ivy… (Maze Runner movie poster)

If you know a lot about one subject, maybe gardening, or law, or the history of Roman armaments, or police procedure, or whatever, you will probably have noticed that the film and television industry gets a lot of the details wrong. I understand. They’ve got a lot to do to get a story on the screen, and most people don’t care about the details, but sometimes, it gets to be too much.

One of the worst areas of screen offense is in the depiction of vegetable gardens. I would love to gather a bunch of stills from all the ridiculous vegetable gardens I’ve seen on screen, maybe make a Tumblr of them.  (Let me know if any come to mind!)

[Erik here: see the Meryl Streep vehicle It's Complicated for a vegetable garden that combines cool and warm season veggies all at once.]

I’m on this rant because Erik and I saw the worst garden last night in the film Maze Runner. Now, I’m embarrassed to even admit we went to see Maze Runner–but–well, there’s no excuse. Let’s just leave it at that. Yet I’m going to ‘fess up to doing so because I have to talk about this garden

[Erik here: the plot is, basically, a Gnostic Crossfit Gym overseen by evil archons and patrolled by the same biomechanical spider thingies seen in Starship Troopers.]

A part of the plot involves a pack of feral teenage boys tending a survival garden. The garden seems to consist mostly of an extensive trellis system made out of twigs. Vertical gardening! OK!  The set designers had probably picked up on some of the recent vertical gardening hoopla and were using that to make for interesting use of visual space. But what was growing on the trellis?  Cloth ivy fronds, my friends. Cloth ivy. The sort used to festoon wedding tables, or is sometimes found creeping dustily along the molding in B&Bs.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to offer a pack of hungry teenage boys a bowl of cooked ivy, much less fake ivy.

Now, of course, the intended audience, teenage girls, are NOT looking at the ivy as the hot boy leads discuss their survival problems in the garden. They are, in fact, at this moment, laughing riotously at my boring middle aged concerns. (“Plants? You were looking at the plants?”)  Yes, I was analyzing  the background foliage while yummylicious Dylan O’Brian and Thomas “Elf Boy” Sangster were talking about…something. But yeah, I was looking at them, too.

But seriously, ivy??? This may be an all time low.

And to add insult to injury, they also have an upside down tomato planter strung between two of the trellises. It’s like those plastic ones the big box stores sell, but it is instead constructed of suspicious vine material, a la Gilligans Island. To its credit, though, it did seem to be a real tomato plant, a yellowish, straggly one (and that, at least, is a realistic detail) and it has a couple of tomatoes hanging off it–though those tomatoes may well be clipped on. These were the only edibles in the scene. Seems the boys can have a tomato garnish on their ivy bowls.

I wish I had a still for you, but for some reason the garden is not featured in the publicity stills.

Since I’m rolling on this rant, after the jump here’s a few of other things that perpetually peeve me in film. Please do contribute your own!

Continue reading…

018 Wendy and Mikey of Holy Scrap Hot Springs

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On the 18th episode of the Root Simple Podcast I talk to Wendy Tremayne and Mikey Sklar of the blog Holy Scrap Hot Springs. Wendy is the author of the book The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living. Wendy and Mikey are the ultimate “makers” and it was great to finally get a chance to talk to them and talk about their experiences in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. During the podcast we discuss:

  • Mikey’s Battery Charger Kit
  • Wendy’s wildcrafting
  • Their adventures in biodiesel production
  • 6x6x10 Remesh as a framework for shade cloth over vegetables
  • What failure teaches
  • Wild desert foods
  • How they juice prickly pear fruit
  • “Mad skills”
  • Mikey’s temperature controller for fermentation and sous-vide

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You can find their store at: store.holyscraphotsprings.com.

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.

Happy Fall Equinox!

autumn leaf

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?