Keep Those Bikes Locked, Even in the Garage!

bikelock It goes without saying that you must lock your bike when out and about. Leave it unlocked for one second in most urban areas and you can bet it will be gone when you return. In San Fransisco, for instance, bike theft outstripped iPhone theft 3:1.

But there’s another kind of bike theft that a lot of folks don’t think about–theft from your home or apartment. Yes, even at home base your bike needs to be locked up. Some thieves drive around in pickup trucks looking for open garages with unlocked bikes. Several friends of mine have lost their bikes this way. Others have had bikes stolen from backyards and balconies. When I get around to remodeling the garage, I’m going to upgrade the crappy lock you see above.

Remember it’s in the Koran sayings of Muhammad, “Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.” Have you had a bike stolen? What happened?

Phytoremediation of Heavy Metals

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Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Us city slickers have fouled the sandboxes we play in. Find an open field in a big city like Los Angeles or New York and the odds are that it’s a former toxic waste dump. Here in our neighborhood we’ve got a lot of lead and zinc–lead from paint and gasoline and zinc from brake linings.

These heavy metals don’t magically go away. They are elements, and short of an alchemical transformation you have to physically remove them, cover them up, or apply phosphate so that plants don’t take them up as readily.

One promising strategy is phytoremediation, the use of plants to uptake heavy metals. City Atlas youarethecity, in New York, is experimenting with Indian mustard, mugwort, basket willow and sunflowers to remediate a contaminated garden. The results are promising with some metals down 50% in a year. Mugwort (Artimesia vulgaris) did an especially good job with a wide range of contaminants.

I should note that Garm Wallace, who runs Wallace Labs, a soil testing service, says that phytoremediation can take many years to get heavy metals down to a safe level. That being said, breeding plants specifically for heavy metal hyperaccumulation is a technology that could make up for our past transgressions.

Thanks to Michael Tortorello for the tip.

How to Search for Science-Based Gardening Advice

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Agricola’s search page.

In the course of writing our books and this blog we’ve had to deal with a lot of thorny gardening questions such as the effectiveness of double digging, the toxicity of persimmons, compost tea, lasagna gardening and how to mulch to name just a few. While the internet is an amazing tool, the number of conflicting commercial interests, biases and crazy talk in the eGardening world can make it difficult to, as Mark Twain put it, “corral the truth.” And I have to confess to promulgating some of the questionable advice that’s out there.

In the interest of not spreading more bad information Linda Chalker-Scott, Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor at Washington State University, did a webinar (archived online here) with a lot of great advice on how you can evaluate gardening advice as well as do your own searches of peer reviewed literature.

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Saturday Linkages: Rammed Earth, Vanilla Ice and Moonshine

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Best idea of the week. Image: Natural Building Blog

Smokeless Rammed Earth Stove http://feedly.com/e/3e4xRBr8 

Ice Goes Amish: http://modernfarmer.com/2014/02/vanilla-ice-amish-farmer/ …

Plastic debris for brains http://www.honeybeesuite.com/plastic-debris-for-brains/ …

RiYL podcast 041: Colin Spoelman, moonshine maker: http://boingboing.net/2014/02/20/riyl-podcast-041-colin-spoelm.html …

Brazil’s new dietary guidelines: food-based! http://feedly.com/e/xL8TJUJf 

Austrian Designer Upcycles Bike Parts into Faux Hunting Trophy Bicycle Mounts http://inhabitat.com/austrian-design-upcycles-bike-parts-into-faux-hunting-trophy-bicycle-mounts/ …

How Would You Drive If Your Child Was Crossing the Street in Front of You? http://feedly.com/e/6MzdiI4- 

Meet the Miller: Nan Kohler http://feedly.com/e/oWHthiZg 

Meet the Baker: Dave Miller http://www.farine-mc.com/2014/02/meet-baker-dave-miller.html?spref=tw …

Flower Mandalas: http://boingboing.net/2014/02/17/flower-mandalas.html …

Fallout shelter originally installed in 1955 for a family of three in Fort Wayne, Indiana. http://feedly.com/e/1vhqFO23 

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

Village Homes: A Model for Sustainable Suburbs

I’ve recently discovered a truly inspiring housing development in Davis, California. This is not new news–it was built in the 1980′s, but it’s new to me and worth sharing.

Village Homes is the brainchild of architect/developer Michael Corbett. It encompasses 70 acres and 200-some homes. It has all the space and privacy that brings people to the suburbs, but it’s designed with considerable intelligence. For instance, the homes are all designed according to passive solar principles, so their heating and cooling bills are considerably reduced. Some have even have green roofs. But more interesting is the landscaping, the massive network of bike/walking paths and the creative use of public space.

The entire development is essentially a big food forest. All of the rainfall is captured and instead of being directed to the sewer system, it runs to swales between the houses, to nourish fruit trees. The resulting space is a lush park full of edibles, from exotic jujubee trees to grapes to almonds. Residents can stroll around in the abundant shade and pick fruit at will. Only the almond crop is off limits–the almond crop is harvested every year and sold to support the the gardening services for the entire development. There are also community garden space available for those who wish to raise more food crops than their own yard space allows.  The lush growth coupled with the reduced asphalt surfaces makes the whole development 10 degrees Farhenhiet cooler in the summer than the surrounding suburbs.

I could go on and on, but perhaps the best way to get a feel for it is to watch the 10 minute video above. It’s hosted by Permaculture guru Bill Mollison, who’s a big fan of the development.  It’s well worth the time to watch it all the way through.

Also, here’s a short paper on the development, which gives all the pertinent facts, friendly for quick skimming: Village Homes: A model solar community proves its worth.

And finally, here is a video someone took during a site tour given by Michael Corbett, the developer. It doesn’t have as many visuals as Mollison’s video, but has some good insider tidbits in it, as well as discussion of some of the other features of the development, like office rental space and day care.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening

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The new hexagonal raised beds. More on the design in another post.

Due to contaminated Los Angeles soil, we’ve got to grow our veggies in raised beds. There’s just too much lead and zinc in the ground, according to our local soil lab. Putting together three new beds recently got me to thinking about the ups and downs of gardening in raised beds. I thought I’d list off the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Keeps roots away from contaminated soil.
  • Good for disabled or elderly gardeners.
  • Neat.
  • If high enough, can keep out some critters–and keep veggies above the dog pee zone.
  • Plug and play–no need to build or improve soil.
  • Keeps roots from getting waterlogged in a wet climate.

Cons

  • Requires materials to construct.
  • Might need to buy soil–gardening in the ground is free.
  • Roots dry out quicker in a hot climate.
  • Lack of mineral content in bagged soils.
  • Use of peat moss in bagged products.
  • Unable to truly embrace the “no dig” philosophy: despite best efforts to the contrary, it seems the soil needs to be swapped out every few years. It’s container gardening, really.

Going through that list of pros and cons, if it weren’t for our contaminated soil it would be better for us to grow in the ground. From a water use perspective, in Mediterranean climates such as ours, it’s better to garden at ground level. Less evaporation.  In dry desert climates such as New Mexico it’s often better to garden slightly below grade to take advantage of summer rains. Conversely, in soggy climates raised beds have some advantages.

Another factor is cost.  A bulk soil order doesn’t start to make sense until you’ve got a lot of raised beds to fill or neighbors to split the order with. This leaves me stuck with bagged products. I’m testing out a variation on Mel’s mix: one part coconut coir, one part vermiculite, one part compost. It’s still expensive, but at least I’m weaning myself from peat moss, an unsustainable product. Unfortunately, all those bags have to be hauled up thirty steps.

As a whole, what we’ve done with our garden is a compromise. Most of the yard is permaculturish: lots of small fruit trees, some native plants, ornamental flowering plants for the wildlife and a whole lot of mulch. But I like to have a few Italian veggies so we’ve got five small raised beds.

Did I leave anything off this list of raised bed pros and cons? What are you growing your veggies in? Leave a comment!

How To Force Carbonate at Home

force carbonation at home

There are as many ways to force carbonate as there are paths up the holy mountain. I wanted to avoid both the SodaStream’s loss-leader economic model (expensive refills) as well as hacked systems that use non-food grade materials. One trip to my local home brew shop, and I had all the equipment I needed to safely and economically carbonate any liquid. Here’s how I put it all together.

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My Brand New Homebrew Soda Carbonator

a present? 4me?

Erik won the good husband award this Valentine’s Day. He surprised me with my very own soda making machine. This is not a SodaStream–it’s better. It’s an industrial strength CO2 tank topped with sturdy dials and valves and whatnot, all sourced from the local homebrew shop. He’s going to do a how-to post soon (tomorrow maybe?) on how to put together the parts, and how to use it. So hold on for those details! Right now, I’m just going to gush.

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Land Shark!

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This stunning garden sculpture is by an Australian artist, Brett Martin. I love the way it hovers over the grass and, best of all, swivels in the wind. Martin says,

I try to use as much recycled materials as possible. I used salvaged timber from building sites, a swivel chair, old table base, many hundreds of tin cans collected from neighbours and 5000 pot rivets. I live at Congo, the south coast of New South Wales and based this 3.5m beauty on a sighting about 4 months ago. I just had to immortalize it.

You can like the artist in Facebook and see some of his other pieces here.