Root Simple podcast

Also got the chance to talk with Erik Knutsen, co-author of The Urban Homestead and steward of the dynamic blog site Root Simple, about the work we’re up to with the 13Moon CoLab, Permaculture from the Inside Out. Erik and I have a lot of overlaps in our lives–from our commitment to urban homesteading, to our desire to spread the good word, and our constant inquiry into living the “good life” here at the end of the American empire. He’s funny and feeling-ful. We were joined by his partner Kelly Coyne, his partner in urban homesteading goodness, for a really nice talk about what we’re up to, what the movement’s up to, and how to get involved, wherever you are. Check it out.

Catch the Buzz: Cities Support BioDiversity

Researchers at UCSB’s NCEAS compile the largest global dataset of urban birds and plants, which shows world’s cities retain a unique natural palette The rapid conversion of natural lands to cement-dominated urban centers is causing great losses in biodiversity. Yet, according to a new study involving 147 cities worldwide, surprisingly high numbers of plant and animal species persist and even flourish in urban environments — to the tune of hundreds of bird species and thousands of plant species in a single city.

Contrary to conventional wisdom that cities are a wasteland for biodiversity, the study found that while a few species — such as pigeons and annual meadow grass — are shared across cities, overall the mix of species in cities reflects the unique biotic heritage of their geographic location. The findings of the study conducted by a working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and funded by the National Science Foundation were published today in the Proceedings B, a journal of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences. “While urbanization has caused cities to lose large numbers of plants and animals, the good news is that cities still retain endemic native species, which opens the door for new policies on regional and global biodiversity conservation,” said lead author and NCEAS working group member Myla F. J. Aronson, a research scientist in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

The study highlights the value of green space in cities, which have become important refuges for native species and migrating wildlife. This phenomenon has been named the Central Park Effect because of the surprisingly large number of species found in New York’s Central Park, a relatively small island of green within a metropolis. Unlike previous urban biodiversity research, this study looks beyond the local impacts of urbanization and considers overall impacts on global biodiversity. The research team created the largest global dataset to date of two diverse taxa in cities: birds (54 cities) and plants (110 cities). Findings show that many plant and animal species, including threatened and endangered species, can flourish in cities, even as others decline or disappear entirely.

Cities with more natural habitats support more bird and plant species and experience less loss in species as the city grows. Overall, cities supported far fewer species (about 92 percent less for birds and 75 percent less for native plants) than expected for similar areas of undeveloped land. “We do pay a steep price in biodiversity as urbanization expands,” said coauthor Frank La Sorte, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “But even though areas that have been urbanized have far fewer species, we found that those areas retain a unique regional flavor. That uniqueness is something that people can take pride in retaining and rebuilding.” Conserving green spaces, restoring native plant species and adding biodiversity-friendly habitats within urban landscapes could, in turn, support more bird and plant species. “It is true that cities have already lost a substantial proportion of their region’s biodiversity,” said Madhusudan Katti, a faculty member in the Department of Biology at California State University, Fresno. “This can be a cup half-full or half-empty scenario. If we act now and rethink the design of our urban landscapes, cities can play a major role in conserving the remaining native plant and animal species and help bring back more of them.”

The human experience is increasingly defined within an urban context, the authors noted. They maintain it is still possible for a connection to the natural world to persist in an urban setting, but it will require planning, conservation and education. “Given that the majority of people now live in cities, this group’s synthesis of data on plant and urban plant and animal diversity should be of broad interest to ecologists as well as urban and landscape planners,” said Frank Davis, NCEAS director.

Reprinted from>

Garden Planning and Book Review – Spring Has Sprung

Garden Planning: Crop rotation is the practice of moving crops around yearly or seasonally, rather than planting the same thing in the same place year in and year out. Rotating crops gives the soil a chance to cycle nutrients and minimizes build of of the pathogens to a particular plant in that area. For example, if you always plant tomatoes in the same spot, even with added compost, the tomatoes will tend to tap out the particular nutrients that tomatoes like. At the same time particular tomato pests and diseases will tend to gather in that spot The combination of diminishing nutrient and increasing potential for attack is a recipe for crop failure. Smart crop rotation alternates plants that build soil nutrients with those that are heavy feeders. A typical rotation would be to plant a soil builder every third rotation, with a heavy feeder and a light feeder in between. Soil building plants are all in the legume family, as they “fix nitrogen” from the air with the help of bacteria. Examples are fava beans, soy beans, pole beans and peas. A heavy feeder need extra nitrogen to perform. Examples of heavy feeders are basil, beets, corn, lettuce, squash and tomato. Examples of light feeders are carrots, leeks, onions, peppers and potatoes.

In a small garden it may not be possible to rotate everything in as grand a fashion as on a larger farm with copious sun. Perhaps you have only one sunny bed that tomatoes will work in for example. Still you can rotate your tomato planting with a winter crop of fava beans or other legume. To keep track of your rotations, create a small drawing of your garden each year and notate what went where.

Book Review The Vegetable Gardeners Guide to Permaculture by Christopher Shein with Julie Thompsen. The much anticipated new book by local permaculture hero Christopher Shein has hit the shelves. This is a gorgeous book filled with large full color pictures, diagrams and maps. The book is comprehensive, yet also spacious and easily digested. After a clear and simple introduction to the ethics and principles of permaculture, the book dives into how to design your garden using design elements from the permaculture vocabulary. Food forests, fruit tree guilds, zones, sectors, inputs and outputs are elegantly described along with easily understood diagrams and sample designs to put them into action–from a balcony garden to a large urban lot. The book goes on to offer techniques for soil building, a plant-by-plant compendium of perennial edibles, annual vegetables, edible flowers, herbs, seed starting and seed saving. The sections on animals for your backyard systems are slim and not well developed. But overall this is a lovely addition to your gardening library.

post by K. Ruby Blume, Institute for Urban Homesteading


Farm Bill

The federal Farm Bill is the single most important piece of legislation affecting the food you eat, the kinds of crops American farmers grow, the degradation of the environment through agricultural practice, and the nation’s food security.

Deutsch: Traktor John Deere 8310 vor HAWE-Über...

As usual, the deck is stacked towards corporate agribusiness at the expense of the small scale farmer. As this piece of legislation is not yet law, there is time for each of us to communicate with our legislators about how we think the Farm Bill could be restructured to support local-scale, organic farming.

This is a good overview of what’s currently wrong with the farm bill and why we need reform. It also highlights the important benefits of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs and food bill that local food policy councils around the country are supporting.

Take some time to agitate your legislators about this important piece of legislation — it makes a difference in what you eat, and how farmers and the land where they grow are treated. Getting active on an issue like this is one of my favorite strands of community-relatedness that is part of the urban homesteading movement. It’s not just about what we grow in our backyards; it’s about what we grow as a culture.

Predator-Proof Your Flock

Little Mayhem on the Prairie OR Don’t Do What I Did

This is a horrible story, the kind of thing you want to never happen.

I read a book once called Urban Homesteading and when I got to the chicken part, the author [that would be me] says, most emphatically, “Don’t get an animal if you can’t provide a safe home for it” and “You must have a predator proof cage.” She says it over and over, actually, and now I know why. Raccoons are smarter than you think.

Here’s how it went: I spent a lot of timing emailing with a woman who lived in a near-by town about getting some chickens. I was looking for chicks that weren’t too little—I didn’t want to raise them from day olds—but young enough that we could watch them grow and come into their laying behaviors this spring.

English: Australorp Chicken. Français : Poule ...

I drove to American Canyon, a small unattractive outpost of Vallejo, to get the chicks. The signs in front of the house said “Fresh Eggs for Sale” and “Proud Military Family.” The woman I’d been emailing, a midwife just home from an all night shift, was a chicken lover extraordinaire. Her set up was beautiful – the hens had their place, and the newer chicks had their place and there was chicken poo and food scraps everywhere.

Empty garden beds. She looked like an urban homesteader to me. I wanted to give her a copy of the book, but I’ve been having some run-ins with the right wing (hate the book – think it’s too liberal, tells them they can’t believe in capitalism or a free market economy, yada yada yada) and I found myself hesitant to offer it to her. I may have been making an assumption, right? Military = right wing? I just held onto the book while we selected the chickens from her fine coop.

$20 later I had my 4 new chicks – 2 Brahmas, 1 Buff Orphington, and 1 black Australorp. They were going to add color and diversity to my flock. I was psyched. Add that to the fact that the American Canyon visit was stacked with a visit somewhere else, which was saving me gas and time, and I felt like a regular Hero of the Sustainability Revolution.

That didn’t last long.

When my daughter got home, we set up a hutch for the little ones so they could have a little separation from the rest of the flock while everyone got used to one another. This is recommended, especially when the birds are small – the pecking order is a real thing, and we wanted to protect the new girls til they were big enough to defend themselves. We put the cage up on bricks, tucked it under the main chicken coop and covered it for the night. All good, right?


In the morning, my daughter joyfully jumped out of bed to check on the chickens. She came back horrified, her voice choking, saying, “They’re dead Mommy, they’re dead! They aren’t even there!” It was so outside my expectation that I thought she was joking, but she insisted, white-faced, that the chickens were dead. I went out to check, and sure enough, three of the birds had been obliterated – there was a little bit of feathers and some blood, but it seemed like they’d literally been evaporated – and the survivor was bleeding from her beak and neck, deep in shock. Chicken Holocaust. Little Mayhem on the Prairie. Omigod.

I felt terrible. I thought I had secured them. In fact, I had – the cage wasn’t open, but the crafty raccoons had obviously found a way to reach in, grab the chickens, and eat them piece by piece. Which is really too gross to even contemplate, but hard not to think about when you see the leavings – a little patch of chicken feathers, some blood and gore.

Later that day, we killed the fourth chicken to put her out of her suffering -– this was no picnic either, but surely the right thing to do. Can you imagine surviving the death of all your sisters, bite by bite, and bleeding all the while afterwards? My partner said a prayer over her and we asked for forgiveness.

Take it seriously – predator proof the cage. Do everything you can to keep raccoons, possums, weasels and fox away from your chickens. They are vulnerable and defenseless, and as we know, tasty.

Don’t Be Like Me. Be Smart with Your Chicks. They need your protection. Don’t bring them home til you know you can keep them safe.