Friday, January 30, 2009

Bees in Our Future

Feral bees have taken over the dogs' water bowl. Each morning at least 15 are around at any given time. Maybe these busy bees might become the first in our hive.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Creek Exploration

With a pair of new to us boots, my son set out to see what they could take.

They pass the test.

It was interesting the comments we encountered on the trail as we returned. Some people expressed shock verging on horror, others laughed and one mom with a kid about the age of my boot-wearing son smiled and spoke directly to him, "That looks like fun."

I suspect creek exploration is in the future for her kid. I recommend it to all.

Garden Hose, Water, Mud = Bliss

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Backwards Beekeepers Blog Launches

If you are like me and just can't get enough about bees, you are in luck. The Backward Beekeeper blog is live and going strong at You'll find lots of great info about chemical free beekeeping, lots of links and of course a link to our yahoo group.

I have my hat and veil already. I put my hive boxes together but have yet to construct the frames. Hopefully I will find time this weekend.

In case you missed it, here it is again: Link to

Previous bee posts on Ramshackle Solid

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Arugula Ready to Bolt and Nasturtium Volunteers

As a proud arugula growing American, I found many in our garden on the cusp of bolting. I'm hoping to stave off the bolt by pinching off the nascent buds. If the greens have not gone bitter, I hope to make a large batch arugula pesto to freeze.

In another patch of our yard, the nasturtium army continues to gain ground. This hearty patch was here when we moved into our house almost seven years ago. It's like a welcome old friend that rolls into town around this time every year.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gluten-Free Zucchini Blueberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

In my quest to explore gluten-free baking, I made up this Gluten-Free Zucchini Blueberry Chocolate Chip Muffins recipe. Quite tasty.

Gluten-Free Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 cup millet flour
1/2 cup rice flour
2 T potato flour
1/2 cup ground flax seed (I use my coffee grinder)
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t xanthan gum
1/2 t salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 t cardamom
1 t vanilla
2 eggs, separated
1 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1/4 cup oil
1 zucchini shredded
1/2 cup pecans
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Combine flours, ground flax seed, soda, powder, xanthan gum, salt, sugar and cardamom in a medium bowl. In food processor, shred zucchini. Add to dry mixture.
2. Whip egg whites until stiff. Set aside. Combine wet ingredients: milk, oil, egg yolks and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture. Blend with mixer. Fold in pecans, chocolate chips, blueberries and egg whites.
3. Spoon into lined muffin tins. Bake 375° in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into middle of muffin. Let cool on wire rack. Makes about 14 muffins.

Note to the gluten sensitive: Make sure you use gluten-free vanilla. Most vanillas are made with Bourbon which contains gluten. And use only Ghirardelli bittersweet chips as most chocolate chips are dusted with flour. Ghirardelli chips are not.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Machine Project Terrarium Raffle Prize

Last night I attended a Machine Project members event and it was awesome. I can't tell you everything I saw because I was sworn to secrecy, but I won this wonderful Machine Project terrarium which is now prominently featured on the Ramshackle mantle. The terrarium is a self contained system. No need to water it, just keep it out of the sun was what I was told. A lovely example of self containment.

If you are not familiar with Machine Project, it is an artist collective founded by Mark Allen. They teach lots of DIY classes geared at artistic application of technology and technique. I have been an admirer and recently became a member thanks to a gift membership. I have wanted to take a class at Machine Project for some time and was totally blown away with the LACMA takeover they did recently. Now I am a full blown evangelist.

Check out the list of upcoming classes.
Become a Machine Project member.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tidying Up the Pantry

A small step for Camp Ramshackle, but a giant step for the pantry. I've been looking for a better storage system of our dry goods, spending many a moment searching for the perfect solution: containers that fit our shelves, are made of clear glass, have a mouth large enough to fit a measuring cup.

Meanwhile, chaos takes hold of the pantry. Bags of rice pile precariously on top of each other, beans multiply in bags, who-knows-what-else hides behind all of that, and a sesame seed bag absconded by the youngest is distributed across the floor.

So I decided better was good enough for the time being (or forever...whichever lasts longer). Enter the classic Ball jar, a welcome improvement.

Martha at Uniform Studio wrote about a similar predicament with her studio. She eloquently talks about the space around us, how it affects us, and making the most of what we have. She also makes some beautiful handmade clothing. I recently received my pair of these armwarmers, just in time for cooler weather.

Friday, January 23, 2009

New Bug Mystery

OK, I think this is another case for the bug guy. I found this critter crawling in our finished compost pile when I was stacking it back up (It tends to melt into the dirt over time since we don't use anything to contain it) I assume the bug is larval - maybe a centipede? Millipede? My friend David tells me of a black soldier fly larva. Could this be one of those?

Behaviorally it really hates being out in the light and appears to travel in the open worm holes that exist in the pile. It is almost as mobile backwards as forwards and probes for holes with its back end. I wish I had a video of it because it is quick and efficient in its search for an exit.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Egg Shell Found - Ring Necked Dove?

We find a lot of egg shells on the ground around the yard. We have many trees which are home to many birds especially the ring necked dove (which I always called pigeons until a ramshackle reader set us straight) I think this particular shell belongs to one of those.

It looks like it was a healthy birth judging by the carefully cut line all the way around the egg.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fava Bean Update

That bee I wrote about last week did as I had hoped and brought her sisters to help with our bean crop. When I checked the plants a week and a half ago there were no beans to be found. now this is the most mature bean on 5 or 6 plants and every flower younger than this one still sitting on the end of the bean has at least a half inch broad bean growing beneath it.

Here are some smaller beans that look like they are only a couple of days old.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lemon Blossoms

Our small but prolific lemon tree is back in action.  About two years ago, Camp Ramshackle was hit by an exceptional frost.  After that one night of ice, the shriveled blossoms fell and this tree embarked on a long road to recovery.  I was worried it would never fully recuperate.  

I stepped out to pick some lemons today to find the tree blanketed in fragrant blossoms that made me dizzy with their delicious scent.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Fresh Squeezed Grapefruit Juice

The Reseda grapefruits were starting to turn.  So juicing them became a priority.  Witness the journey from fruit... glass.



Saturday, January 17, 2009

Late Christmas Present of a Knit Scarf

The scarf was intended for a Christmas gift, but time got the best of me. Instead of obsessing about finishing it to wrap under the tree, I let it go. I figured spending time with my kids and Eric was much more important than frantically stitching this scarf.

Last week, I presented the scarf wrapped in red tissue paper to my son. Just a present, no Christmas tree in sight. He proudly showed it to his grandmother, "Look at my Christmas present."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bee Meditation

Fellow Backward Beekeeper members Russell and Amy offer this 2 minute bee meditation ahead of the long weekend. Best viewed at full screen.

Via The Enchanted Porkfist

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Compost Update: Cold Compost

Right after starting our last compost pile the Santa Ana winds hit us and dried it out despite our best efforts to water it daily. Consequently it didn't stay hot and once that happens it can be very difficult to get it cooking again. No matter, the worms are doing a bang up job of dealing with our kitchen waste and turning the whole pile into really great worm castings. You can tell by the clump that I am holding that there is very little recognizable material and that worms are literally woven throughout the pile.

There are a fair number of sprouts growing like this little white one which wouldn't be there if the pile had heated up properly.

There are also all kinds of bugs throughout - like the sow bugs, ants crawly backs tiny millipedes (if you look closely you can see a tiny millipede in the bottom right of the chunk in the top picture)

So far so good. I'll have to sift out some of the bigger sticks that take a really long time in a cold pile but over all we still have really good compost in about the same amount of time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Christmas Tree Reuse

Each day on my way to work I pass evidence of the slow migration of Christmas trees on their way to the dump. Will these even be used as ADC (alternative daily cover) if they aren't in the green bin? I am tempted to pick some of them up myself and run them through our chipper. We can always use more mulch.

At our house I use most of the dried branches from our tree as kindling for fires, and mulch the rest. Pine needles are good for mulch because they break down slowly. They take longer than most material to compost but if you are not in a rush composting will work too.

We don't have very many fires through the winter but I do enjoy the smell of pine when we do. I prefer to stack our split wood with kindling interspersed through the pile. This way, when I go to make a fire I have the right ingredients for a one match fire at hand in the same place ranging from small to medium to large. The dried needles practically ignite like gunpowder. They catch the small sticks which light the larger sticks, then branches then split wood and - voila! the fire is burning.

This year due to a lack of time/planning we got our tree from a local lot. That probably means that it came from Oregon nearly 1,000 miles away by truck. When I was a kid we used to get our tree from a cut your own lot. Locally grown trees are definitely the way to go - I don't know why I didn't make that observation earlier. Next year for sure.

BTW - I love what the folks at Our Yellow House did.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fava Bean Pollination - Hurray!

Our Fava beans have been producing flowers for over a month without a single pod generated out of the group. We intentionally planted them earlier than is recommended because we wanted to see what would happen. Will we get an early crop of beans? Well, so far no but while I was down in the garden this weekend I saw a lone bee collecting nectar or pollen from our fava flowers. Hurray! The optimist in me hopes that this is a scout who will report back to the hive and really generate some excitement.

So far this is all we are seeing - wilted flowers and no pods. Go bees, go!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Backwards Beekeepers Meeting Jan. 2009

I attended the first Backward Beekeepers meeting of 2009 yesterday and am really excited about it. I am in total agreement with the no chemical, all natural approach to beekeeping taught by the resident expert Kirk Anderson. Kirk's straight forward approach and infectious enthusiasm leaves you thinking that it would be impossible not to keep bees and likewise impossible to do it any other way than "backwards" I can't wait to get our first hive of feral bees going as soon as possible.

The events of the day included watching a movie of the removal of 2 feral bee hives from BB member Steve's fence. The bees still reside with Steve and his family only now they are contained in hive boxes so that the excess honey can be harvested.

Our host Leonardo had a similar story. He originally contacted Kirk for the chemical free bee removal service but ended up keeping the bees and joining the club. (BTW - check out the flickr pictures to see Leonardo's square foot garden and his awesome view.)

I will be off to the Los Angeles Honey Company for our bee smoker and other supplies as soon as I have a spare moment.

The Swarm
Retrieving the Honeycomb
Bee Saviour

Saturday, January 10, 2009


We've been sharing some of our gardening riches. This is the time of the year when California native plants start to take off. For those deep in snow, the green may look enviable. The downside of the growth is all the unwanted weeds that also thrive at this time of the year. Just a few blades of grass to pull before they go to seed.

Well, maybe more than a few. This is the time I start thinking about adding a goat to the Camp Ramshackle posse.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Razor Blade Sharpener

Traditional shaving just got even better. I have already reduced the amount of disposable material and daily cost in my shaving routine by going with a tradition safety razor with a single double edge blade. Now, thanks to this little device, I can sharpen my blades and reuse them. It is a pull cord double edge blade sharpener.

You just clip your used blade onto the pegs, close the lid and pull the cord a few times. The cord spins the pegs in little orbits which passes both sides of the blade over the interlocking sharpening element which has the right angle to sharpen the blade back to good as new condition.

I used it for the first time this morning and the blade felt brand new. It is simple and effective. I also love that the sharpener itself has access screws so you can get inside and clean or replace the parts.

Thanks for the gift Phoenix!

Shaving in Style with the Merkur Safety Razor
Father's Day Gift Idea: Traditional Double Edge Razor

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Strawberries in January

Much to my surprise, Camp Ramshackle has another batch of strawberries growing. The shape is strange and who knows how they will taste. I saw a few flowers awhile back but didn't expect fruit, especially since my oldest son has an affinity for the small white flowers with the bright yellow centers. He likes to pick them and make bouquets.

Previously on Ramshackle Solid:
The Great Strawberry Experiment

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Time to Make Candles Again

Actually the candle making is over due as you can see by the picture. This isn't a big thing that we do but it cuts down our trash, saves a little money, delays a trip to the store for more candles and is kind of fun and satisfying. We might save ourselves the cost of one box of candles ($14 at Surfas) every year or so. One of the nice things for me about this blog is that I can tell exactly when the last time I made candles was. They are much less pink this time.

The wax is cooling in this picture. The only thing left is to do is to trim the wicks.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gifted Grapefruits from Reseda

Good friends of ours brought over some grapefruit as a diner gift the other night. They were purchased from a man for a dollar who reported that they came from Reseda the neighborhood where my grandmother lived.

My grandmother, Nana, had an enormous grapefruit tree in her back yard. My father used to bring my brother and I over there to harvest dozens of grocery bags of fruit - sometimes 60 or more. We would keeps several bags for my Nana, take some for ourselves, give some to the neighbors and always deliver some to the nuns who taught at the school associated with my grandmothers church.

I used to like bringing them when I was a teenager. The nuns were usually grumpy when we'd knock on the door but then as they approached and saw that we were loaded grapefruit from Lillian they would always cheer right up and give us a big smile.

I can't wait to juice a couple and eat a couple.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fall Planting Update

This the latest progress of our fall planting in our large raised bed. In the front row are lettuces which we have been eating almost every day. Behind the lettuce are various kinds of kale (syberian kale across most of the bed and being harvested by our son, and black kale on the far right). Hard to see, but next are some parsley, arugula and we think we planted some cabbage too. In the back are fava beans which are not yet producing beans I think due to a lack of bees to pollinate the flowers. We are still seeing bees here and there but no beans.

We just planted a single two foot row of spinach behind the black kale today where the radishes we harvested were. We also planted carrots in the three remaining wine barrels we hadn't replanted yet. We need to plant more lettuce, many more beans, some broccoli, etc. but need more space first.

We plan to add another planter box within a week or two. I have been moving dirt down to this part of the yard from above to fill the bottom half of the next box. I'd like to build it next weekend and get some more seeds in the ground. I think we have enough compost to cover the top six inches but our most recent pile never really heated up. The Santa Ana winds really dried it out (even with daily watering) right when it was started and I was never able to get it back into gear.

The worms have been doing a great job on the food scraps but they don't break down the sticks the way the hot composting does. I'll have to filter out sticks when we start the new bed. Weeds are coming up all over the yard now so we'll be back to hot composting in a week or two if I can pull some before they start to create seeds.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Amaryllis Rings in the New Year

As the flower decorated floats paraded down Colorado Boulevard, we had our own Rose Parade of sorts. On new year's day, we welcomed this visitor, this amaryllis planted in honor of Eric's late grandmother.

Previously on Ramshackle Solid:
Bulb Planting

Friday, January 2, 2009

Rose Parade Preparation

Happy new year. The Rose Parade always marks the beginning of the new year for me. Although we did not camp out on the street to watch the parade march down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, the boys, my parents and I checked out some float decorating on the 30th.

The hustle and bustle of the professional float decoraters.

Flowers ready to go on a float, resting on a dormant float frame.

Some girls and women carefully preparing flowers for the float.

The floats delighted all, especially my youngest son. He kept sliding past the barricades to get a closer look. His curiosity was so earnest, even security was tickled by his enthusiasm and let his multiple breeches slide.

The Goodyear blimp passing over our house new year's day on its way to the Rose Bowl to watch hometown USC beat Penn State.