A New Reality

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We received an email from a casting agency searching for talent for a reality show where the participants will live on a remote farm, grow their own food and come up with their own method of governance.  The series will make use of the usual reality show plot device of having participants vote each other off the show. The agency wanted us to put out a casting call.

We won’t do that. I’m tired of stories that sow discord and hold up our lifestyle as something impossible to accomplish. The underlying message? Stay on that couch, don’t try to change the world, just buy the crap our advertisers sell. These type of realty shows are also a rigged version of the prisoner’s dilemma in which the cooperative option (what most people tend to choose in stressful situations) is not allowed.

We need to tell a different story. Bloggers in the urban homesteading movement can join together to cross-promote each other’s efforts. We can continue to offer an alternative through our writing, video, live webinars and, of course, face to face meetings.

I need to step up to the plate too. Years ago I worked as a video editor and cameraman at a university television station and at a PBS affiliate. I need to put everything aside and shoot some video! We don’t need the big networks and the “reality” they churn out. We can tell our own stories. Our narrative will be about people cooperating and sharing knowledge in order to make the world a better place.

If you blog and/or make videos about similar topics please leave a link in the comments.

And for some inspiration take a look at the videos in Kirsten Dirksen’s YouTube channel.

Food Preservation Disasters

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It’s ain’t 24/7 kittens and rainbows at the Root Simple compound. We do have our homesteading disasters. I was reminded of this after I emptied a box full of failed home preservation projects and contemplated a stinky trash can filled with a slurry of bad pickles and too-loose jams.

Of course you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet and, in the interest of learning from mistakes, I thought I’d review two lessons learned.

Not Using Tested Recipes
I vow to use tested recipes from trusted sources. Both for food safety reasons and culinary reasons, it’s a good idea to use trusted sources for home preservation projects. Some of the recipes I tried were from unfamiliar books and dubious websites. Some sources I’ve come to trust:

Between those two sources I’ve got just about all the recipes I need.

lidoff

One Ring to rule them all
When you’re done processing jars and they’ve cooled down, remove the screw bands. Why?

  • So you can clean underneath the band to prevent spoilage and bugs.
  • The screw band can create a false seal.
  • Leaving the screw bands on can cause corrosion.

That’s advice from our own blog and yet I failed, for some reason, to remove the bands on many of the jars I emptied. I found all three of the above problems as a result.

Have you had any epic food preservation disasters?

Root Simple’s Killer Colon Hydro-therapy Booth Coming Soon . . .

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Normally I’d have to come up with my own April Fool’s post for you.  Increasingly, however, I can’t do any better than the actual unedited pitches we receive in the Root Simple in-box, such as this “killer opportunity”:

Dear Colon Hydro-therapist Friends :-)

I wanted to share an opportunity! with you.  I’m going on tour and
I will be speaking about Raw Foods, cleansing and Super Foods.  I
always talk about the tremendous benefits of getting professional
colonics.  After every single event, numerous amounts of people are
asking how they can find a colon therapist.

There will be anywhere from 300 – 1200 people at each event.  We
are offering booths to Colon Therapists for $500 for the event.
It’s a killer opportunity to get life-long clients in an instant.

Wow, now that’s targeted marketing. How did they know that Kelly and I are ALL ABOUT colonics.  Not only are we Colon Therapist Friends looking for clients, we also have the cleanest colons in the West, thanks to our homemade colonic machine. It’s essentially a mash up of a five gallon bucket, a bunch of  homebrew tubing, and an old 7-setting garden hose sprayer. Video coming soon!

Maybe we can power our Prius with the waste products . . . 

Is Ham Radio Useful?

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The BaoFeng UV-5RE.

Last year I got my general and technician amateur radio licences thanks to an easy to learn memory trick. But when it comes to actually using a radio I don’t have a clue. To learn more I joined my local club and took part this last Friday in a contest, using the club’s equipment, to talk to Hams worldwide. The contest involved the quick exchange of call signs. One moment I’d be talking to Japan the next Slovenia, the Azores, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, New Zealand–the list of countries went on and on.

I spent three hours in the club’s radio room, located in the emergency communications center at the offices of a local hospital. It was fun, but the utility of the exercise was not immediately apparent. The cell phone system is a lot more robust than it used to be and you don’t need a licence to use a phone in an emergency.

I got home from the contest around 9 pm and as I began to make dinner the windows started rattling and the house began to roll. It was an earthquake. The cats panicked and ran under the couch. Since Ham radio was on my mind I instinctively grabbed my handheld radio and immediately heard the voices of other Hams discussing the earthquake. It was then that I realized how useful amateur radio could be. Not only did I get instant information about the earthquake, but I also had access to a network of people who could help me and my neighbors in a real emergency.

The cats? Not so useful. It took about a half hour for them to emerge from their hiding spaces.

In an emergency it’s a good idea to have a radio and know how to use it. And you don’t have to be a Ham to listen to Ham frequencies. Thanks to cheap imported electronics you can now get a radio that receives and transmits on Ham bands, works as a scanner and even transmits on FRS (family radio service) frequencies–all for $40–the BaoFeng UV-5RE. The Survival Podcast did a whole episode on radios you should have in an emergency and the BaoFeng features prominently in the pantheon of zombie apocalypse communications equipment discussed on that show. I can’t speak from experience about the BaoFeng as I have a Yaesu FT-60. But, combined with a battery operated AM/FM radio, the BaoFeng would make a nice addition to your emergency supplies.

Now if only I could teach the cats to tap out Morse code.

Saturday Linkages: Grains, Collapse and Mangoes

A Silver Lake street library. Image: The Eastsider.

A Silver Lake street library. Image: The Eastsider.

A really well done free street library: New Little Free Library in Silver Lake seeks book donations http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2014/03/bulletin-board-new-little-free-library-in-silver-lake-seeks-book-donations/ …

What if Everything You Knew About Grains Was Wrong? http://shar.es/B37xj 

Pot grow light interferes with HAM radio bands: http://www.arrl.org/news/view/arrl-to-fcc-grow-light-ballast-causes-hf-interference-violates-rules …

Granjas urbanas ganan terreno en Los Ángeles http://tinyurl.com/ozxeley

How sustainable is digital fabrication? http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2014/03/how-sustainable-is-digital-fabrication.html …

Winners and losers at the garden show | Garden Rant http://gardenrant.com/2014/03/seen-at-the-garden-show.html …

How to Grow Sweet Potatoes and Mangoes in an Urban Jungle http://tinyurl.com/kltlghw

Vietnamese swimmers ferry passengers across flooded rivers in plastic bags: http://boingboing.net/2014/03/26/vietnamese-swimmers-ferry-pass.html …

Murder Machines: Why Cars Will Kill 30,000 Americans This Year http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/murder-machines/ …

Progress on My Figueroa: Institutions Drop Opposition to Protected Bikeways on Figueroa http://wp.me/pbjlx-1vO 

Using earthworms to process hazardous materials containing heavy metals http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101206101241.htm … via @TLAJoanne

Interactive: Snake Oil Supplements? The scientific evidence for health supplements | Information Is Beautiful http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/play/snake-oil-supplements/ …

File under “Duh”:Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner Is Real Food – James Hamblin – The Atlantic http://bit.ly/1ivLOri via@michaelpollan

Growing Nyjer Thistle In North America: http://www.birdchick.com/wp/2009/12/growing-nyjer-thistle-in-north-america/ …

Interview with Joseph Tainter on Collapse http://varnelis.net/node/1106

Judging the Merits of a Media-Hyped ‘Collapse’ Study – Collide-a-Scape | http://DiscoverMagazine.com  http://bit.ly/1lh0v5f 

“The chief source of problems is solutions.” – Eric Sevareid

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

Why Your Garden Should Be Dark at Night

A confession: I was a teenage astronomy geek. This hobby that gave me an awareness of how depressing it is to live in a city so brightly lit that you can count the number of stars in the night sky.

A documentary, currently streaming on Netflix, called The City Dark details just how many other problems lights cause that you might not have thought of:

  • Lighting confuses migratory birds. Millions crash into buildings every year.
  • Sea turtle hatchlings walk towards city lights rather than the ocean.
  • For us humans? An increased likelihood of breast cancer among women who work at night.
  • Depression and sleep problems.

Worst may be the lack of perspective we humans get when we can’t contemplate the vastness of space. One of the astronomers in the documentary noted that when we lose touch with the scale of the universe we don’t appreciate the fact that we will never leave this earth. The distances are just too great. His point is that if we understood the impossibility of space travel, and gave up fantasizing about space colonies, we’d take better care of our home.

Photo: highline.org.

Highline Park at night. Photo: highline.org.

Keeping Gardens Dark
Thankfully light pollution is an easy fix and saves money and energy too. We can keep our outdoor spaces dark at night to benefit our well being and as well as the survival of nocturnal creatures. Night Sky concluded with a brief interview with Hervé Descottes, one of the lighting designers of the Highline Park in New York City. Descottes’s lighting design shows how you can balance the need for security with respect of the night sky by simply directing lighting downwards.

The International Dark-Sky Association has a guide to residential lighting that will help you keep our skies dark and nocturnal creatures safe. Some recommendations:

  • Choose dark sky friendly lighting fixtures that direct light down, not up.
  • Light only what needs to be lit, i.e. create a lighting plan rather than putting up a huge floodlight.
  • Switch lights off when not in use.
  • Reduce wattage–you don’t need as much as you think.

Here’s another idea: garden with moonlight. Rather than light up your garden with artificial light, include plants with silvery-grey leaves or white flowers. Our white sage glows spectacularly during a full moon. I’m also happy we put in a climbing white rose over our entrance arbor.

By embracing the darkness we can open our eyes to the stars above.

Bees will love your Coyote Brush Hedge

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Image: Wikipedia (our picture of the NHM’s coyote brush hedge came out blurry–which really is a shame because they were good looking hedges. You wouldn’t guess it from this pic).

One of a series of posts inspired by our recent tour of the new gardens at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

Baccharis pilularis, called coyote brush, or chaparral bloom, is an unassuming Western native plant with a secret super-power: native and non-native pollinators love, love, love! its tiny little flowers. If you want to lavish affection and care on the pollinators in your garden, plant one of these babies, if you can. It really is one of the best plants for the purpose. (For more info on coyote brush, here’s a nice post at the Curbstone Valley Farm blog with lots of pictures. And here’s its page at Theodore Payne Foundation.)

What I didn’t realize until our recent garden tour at the Natural History Museum, though, is that coyote brush makes a perfectly lovely hedge if it’s pruned up right. I’d never even thought about it. Most of the talk one hears about coyote brush is that it is sort of ho-hum in appearance but can be used to provide a background to the more showy native plants. I never even thought about how its small, sturdy, bright green, evergreen leaves make it a perfect hedge plant.

So, the lesson here is that you can have a more formal/tidy/traditional garden, and still serve the pollinators– as long as you lay off the clippers for a couple of months in the summer and let the hedge bloom. No excuses now!

For those of you in other parts of the country, can you name a good hedge bush that pollinators like for your area? And be sure to name your area, so folks around you can use the information.

On that theme, here’s a link to beneficial plant lists, organized by region, created by the Xerces Society.

Non-GMO Versions of Grape Nuts and Cheerios Less Nutritious Than GMO Versions

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Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health professor Marion Nestle noted on her blog this week that the non-GMO versions of Cheerios and Grape Nuts are less nutritious than the GMO versions. Why? Nestle says,

It’s hard to find non-GMO vitamins (who knew?).  Vitamins, it seems are often produced from genetically engineered microorganisms, or from microbes growing in fermentation tanks that are fed a nutrient mix that contains ingredients from GM sugar beets or corn.

Not that the presence or absence of GMOs matters all that much from a nutritional perspective. Nestle noted, “Cheerios are essentially a vitamin pill wrapped in rapidly absorbable starch.”

At the massive natural food expo, I attended earlier this month, I saw a lot of unhealthy foods with a “non-GMO” label. In the case of Cheerios and Grape Nuts, the “non-GMO” label is either a marketing gimmick or an attempt to start a voluntary labeling program to head off voter mandated efforts.

Here’s where you can help. I need to kick my Grape Nuts crack habit and find a healthier breakfast alternative. Any suggestions?

Note from Mrs. Homegrown:  This post took me by surprise. Erik has eaten Gravel Nuts–I mean, Grape Nuts–for breakfast since I’ve know him (and for who knows how long before that) and that, my friends, is a long, long time.  If we are what we eat, Erik must be half composed of Grape Nuts. I can hardly imagine this new era of breakfasts which lays before us! We are up to our elbows in eggs this time of year, so I’m going to back those of you who suggested egg breakfasts.

Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder

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Bird feeder in the LA Natural History Museum garden.

One of a series of posts inspired by our recent tour of the new gardens at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

The Nature Gardens at the NHM are not large by the usual standards of botanical gardens, and they are only about a year old, but they are already rich with bird and insect life. (A poorwill even visited, which apparently caused quite a bit of excitement in the birding community.) This is because the designers chose plants to serve wildlife, and the wildlife responded. Build it and they will come.

Off in one shady corner of the garden, I watched two bird feeders being merrily ransacked by more types of birds than I’ve ever seen in one place. It reminded me that I had once wanted a bird feeder–partly for the birds, and partly to provide “TV” for our indoor cats, or Kitty Convicts, as I like to call them. They really love watching the birdbath out the window. I imagined a bird feeder would be doubly exciting. After doing some window shopping and reading, though, I convinced myself that any bird feeder I bought would just end up feeding our pernicious tribe of squirrels, so I gave up the idea, figuring that in our climate, the bird bath was more critical to the birds.

So, with this in the back of my mind, I asked head gardener, Richard Hayden, how the staff kept squirrels away from the bird feeders.  He said simply, “Thistle seed. There’s just thistle seed in there and squirrels don’t eat thistle seed.”

Ohhhhhhh.

Some things become so easy once you get the right information. We just have to buy a feeder built to hold thistle seed. Which we’re doing.

Kitty TV just got a new channel.