Cat Scratching Post Update

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One of the more successful feline interventions around the Root Simple compound was my idea of turning a corner of our couch into a cat scratching post. Since cats love scratching furniture, why not make the corners out of sisal rope and solve two problems at once?

As you can see from the before and after shots, the cats love their scratching post. With two cats in residence, I’ve found that I have to renew the sisal every four to six months.

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In my original blog post on how-to make a cat scratcher I suggested using heavy duty staples. I’ve since switched to #17 x 1 inch wire nails which are easier to use and do a better job of securing the sisal. I still recommend using 3/8 inch sisal rope. And I also added a few dabs of hot glue to keep the sisal on the post a little longer.

Yesterday I renewed the sisal on the post and, within minutes, it was already in use:

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In that first post on cat scratchers, I proposed building an “integrated cat scratcher/USB charging station/cat perch using a twisty tree branch.” The cats have voted with their claws and love the scratcher so much that I need to get started on that perch notion and other scratcher projects. The cats need to charge their devices too! The whole interior of the house could just get covered in sisal and USB ports.

Saturday Tweets: Starlings, Chipmunks and Maple Syrup Season Lessons

What Equipment do I Need to Keep Bees?

Of all the activities around our household, I consider beekeeping the most rewarding. The encounter with this otherworldly species, the pollination services, the honey and wax are worth the occasional sting. But what do you need to get started? I’ve seen some outrageously priced starter kits, not to mention the Juicero of beekeeping, the Flow Hive. By putting together your own set of equipment you can save a lot of money. Here’s my basic starter kit:

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Bee suit
There’s no reason you need to get stung! Dadant has an inexpensive integrated hat/veil jumpsuit that I’ve used for years. This suit is one piece, meaning that there’s no gap between your veil and suit for bees to climb up in and I like that it covers your whole body. Tuck the pant legs into boots and you’re good to go. Bees can still do a kind of half sting through the material, so I wear long sleeve shirts and long pants if I’m doing something where the bees could get angry, such as a removal job. Dadant sells more substantial and durable suits that which might be a good investment if you’re thinking of running a lot of hives or opening your own removal business. There are also more expensive ventilated suits for hot climates. But for hobbyists such as myself, the inexpensive Dadant suit is good enough. Get a size larger than your normal size. Too big is better than too small.

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Gloves
I’ve gone through a lot of gloves over time. I’ve used both rubber gloves and goat skin gloves. The rubber gloves come in handy where there’s the possibility of dripping honey such as when cutting bees out of a wall or doing a honey harvest. The goat skin gloves make for less finger fumbling. I suggest owning both.

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Smoker
Dadant’s basic smoker has not changed design in a hundred years. It’s one of those objects, like the safety bicycle or the fork, that reached its design apotheosis a long time ago and doesn’t need to be subject to the whims of fashion. I own the cheapest model and have found it perfectly adequate. The more expensive models have a kind of cage around them to prevent you from burning yourself but I’ve never found this feature necessary.

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Hive tool
This is a small and deliberately dull crowbar. Bees stick everything together with propolis, so you need the little crow bar to pry stuff apart. I own the economy model. The end of the tool is dull so you don’t damage your equipment.

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Bee brush
You use a bee brush for flicking the bees away so they don’t get crushed when you put the boxes back together. In addition to being polite, this prevents the bees from setting off their alarm pheromone and causing a stinging frenzy.

Bee housing
Like meany topics in beekeeping this is one that divides families and friends. I’m not going to wade into the controversy here but I’ll just say that you should go with whatever interests you: top bar, Langstroth, Warre etc. I buy medium, unassembled Langstroth boxes and frames (without foundation) from LA Honey. The unassembled boxes are much cheaper than getting a kit. I use only medium boxes so that all my equipment is interchangeable and to reduce the weight you have to heft (a full box of bees is surprisingly heavy). Since I live in a place that never freezes I don’t have to use inner covers or worry about insulating hives in the winter. I’m in the no-treatment, natural beekeeping camp so there’s a bunch of other things that I don’t use such as queen excluders, foundation and mite-related gadgets. For more details on this natural approach I’d suggest taking a look at Michael Bush’s extensive website (he also has tips for beekeeping in cold climates). Without wading into the natural beekeeping fight, let me just say going au natural (so to speak) keeps costs way down. You could get even cheaper by making your own top bar hives but I was taught on Langstroth equipment and I’ve just decided to stick with them out of habit.

Stand for the hives
After a bad experience with the wooden stands that I made myself, I bought some metal stands. But you could save a lot of money by just using cinder blocks. The important thing to note is that bee boxes should be off the ground to prevent flooding and to make it easier to lift the boxes. Your stand must be substantial enough to support several hundred pounds as a hive gets really heavy and you really don’t want it to fall over!

Swarm kit
I also keep a swarm kit containing some of the stuff above and a few other items in a tool box that is in the garage and ready to go at all times. You never know when someone is going to call with a bee situation and you don’t want to run about gathering tools at the last moment. My swarm kit contains:

  • smoker
  • burlap to burn in smoker
  • matches
  • spray bottle with syrup made with a 50/50 combo of water and white sugar
  • pruning sheers for cutting tree branches
  • a roll of caution tape
  • bee suit/gloves/boots (most, but not all swarms are docile)
  • nuc box
  • mesh bag to put the nuc box in (especially important if you don’t own a truck!)
  • knife (for cut-outs)
  • Benadryl for when you get stung!

I strongly suggest having all of the things in this post on hand before you think of getting bees.

So beekeepers, what did I forget to include? Leave a comment!

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What’s Your Everyday Carry?

edc2017 copyOne of the more fetishistic subcultures in the urban homesteading activity playpen is an obsession with “everyday carry,” abbreviated by hip insiders as “EDC.” EDCers peacock their carefully curated sets of survival tools in photos called “pocket dumps.” The internet’s Mecca of pocket dumps is everydaycarry.com. On that site you’ll see color and texture coordinated EDCs reminiscent of the leather and wood appointments of the luxury yachts of Russian oligarchs. I wouldn’t dare post my dingy EDC for fear of ridicule in the comments. That fear is why I’ll share my personal EDC on the much more friendly Root Simple website. Consider this blog post as an update of the pocket dump I posted in 2011. Since that time my EDC has changed, mostly via subtractions. Here’s my current EDC:

1. Leatherman Rebar
This is the central and, unquestionably, most useful cornerstone of my EDC. Not a day goes by when I don’t pull out the Rebar to fix something or slice off a piece of cheese with the dull (my fault) pocket knife. The Leatherman folks have tried to anticipate every possible lifestyle with a confusing array of Leatherman models. The model I own, the Rebar, was made for aging 90s hipsters who own 100 year old crumbling Los Angeles bungalows. It’s got wire cutters for questionable electrical repairs, a screwdriver, and a thin metal shaft that doubles as a tool for ejecting stuck Pearl Jam CDs and for drawing floral patterns in cappuccino foam. OK, I made that last bit up–it has a beer bottle opener–not, I’ll note, a corkscrew as does the Eurotrashy Swiss Army Knife. I like that the Rebar comes with a belt holster which allows me to carry the Rebar at all times, even on occasions when I’m in a suit and tie.

Women, who lack pockets and, often, belts might not be able to accommodate the bulky Rebar into their EDC. Leatherman sells a smaller multi-tool called the “Juice” (inadvertent OJ reference?) that Kelly used to carry. Kelly lost her Juice which confirms the advantage of the belt holster (and her rant about women’s pockets).

2. Keychain pill holder
In my pill holder I keep two Aleves for life’s aches and pains and a dose of Benadryl for bee stings (an inevitable hazard of the beekeeping hobbyist). Unfortunately, I’ve had trouble with the keychain pill holders coming unscrewed over time and spilling the contents. Somewhere in our great consumer horn of plenty there’s an ideal keychain pill holder that doesn’t come unscrewed. If you know of one please leave a comment.

3. iPhone
It’s hard to say if this thing helps or hinders. Its navigation and communication capabilities are miraculous, like something out of the fevered imagination Giordano Bruno. I expect a teleportation app soon. But the damn thing is as addictive as crack and it allows the NSA, TSA and FBI to tell when I’m eating too many tortilla chips. Note that really important Silicon Valley tech bros carry phones that only make and receive calls:

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Stuff I stopped carrying
In the nearly seven years since I last documented my EDC, I’ve eliminated a few items:

Fire starting tools
I used to carry a second pill container with a small match and a ball of wax soaked cotton as well as a magnesium fire starting tool. Unfortunately, part of the magnesium tool came unscrewed in my pocket and got lost (perhaps the fluid dynamicists in our audience can explain this common pocket phenomenon). But also, how often do I need to start a fire in Los Angeles? While arson is the only honest form of architectural criticism in a city full of Geoff Palmer atrocities, it’s not like I need to start a fire to stave off the cold. Maybe I’ll live to regret this decision, but there’s only so much I can carry on my keychain without ruining the tailoring of my Prada.

Mini flashlight
Thanks to the perpetual glow of LA’s streetlights I found the mini-flashlight I used to carry an unnecessary pocket lump. It also came unscrewed multiple times and the batteries kept spilling out. Plus the iPhone comes with a light to enable post-50 year olds, such as myself, to read the tiny prices on small plates menus.

Stuff I’m not sure I should carry
Then there’s one new item that I’m ambivalent about carrying:

lockpicksetLock pick set disguised as a suspicious credit card
Due to a few recent bad experiences locking myself out, I’ve been teaching myself the art of lock picking (I’ll need to do a more detailed post on this hobby at a later date). But I’m worried the Chinese credit card will get me in trouble with the NSA, TSA and FBI folks who are monitoring my snacking habits. So, for the time being, I not sure if I should include the lock pick set in my EDC.

But enough self indulgence, what’s in your EDC?

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