Monday, June 29, 2009

Urban Beekeeping Workshop

From rain barrel workshops to volunteer clean-ups, Parks & People has got it goin' on! Last Friday 6/26, they hosted an Urban Apiaries workshop in Hamilton.

Although I don't think I quite have the space or commitment right now to pick up bee-keeping as a hobby, it's still wonderful to learn about these amazing creatures. It was fun to see the equipment and the beehive, plus the gentlemen giving the workshop were very friendly and knowledgeable (Sara, please help me out with their names!).

More pictures of the workshop are on my Flickr page here:

Cool bee facts:

1. Drone bees feed a larvae royal jelly to make the larvae a queen bee. Several queens are created at the same time in this method. The first queen to emerge from her cell injects her stinger into the unhatched queen cells, thus killing her competition and becoming the reining queen. Whew! I thought high school was harsh ;p

2. 3/8" is called Bee Space. It is a measurement known by carpenters, and is the ultimate width a bee needs to move in a space. If the passageway is too big, the bee will make honeycomb in the area . If the passageway is too small, the bee will seal it up with propalis. 3/8" and the bee will crawl easily within the space.

3. Propalis is another product that bees create, other than collected pollen and honey. It is created as the bees process tree sap and use it in construction of their hive.

There was also a great community garden in the yard, so I got to check out some broom corn (used for making brooms of course), passionfruit vines (the leaves are edible and have a really wonderful kind of spinach-y taste), plus beets, nasturtiums, carrots, and all that other great stuff.

My friend Adam showed me a passionfruit flower (above), and I still can't believe how unreal and beautiful it is! He told me each flower is identical too, right down to the same number of hairs around the center of the flower. Wow! (I am really wishing I had the vocabulary to describe all of the parts of the flower right now). I had no idea that passionfruit would grow in this area either. Apparently last year the fruit never quite matured, but perhaps it will this year! Mmm, can't wait to try it. Perhaps there will be some jam?

The bee box that was displayed at the workshop is now part of that community garden, so I'm excited to head up to Hamilton in the near future to check it out some more. Plus there is a new Farmer's Market up there on Tuesdays, which is yet another reason to take the short 10 minute drive north! (One day I will bike it...)

I'll leave you with a fun bee-keeping activity for anyone with a coffee can and a few hollow bamboo sticks or dowels: Build a bee-box! This project of course will attract more solitary bees than the honeybee hive type, but they are useful pollinators nonetheless.

The picture below is from this Flickr page and shows a simple coffee-can and bamboo method, but typing "build bee box" in Google will of course turn up a number of different methods.

Start the BUZZ!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sea of Greens

Berry season is winding to a close and the tomatoes and squash haven't appeared quite yet. Which means that beets, kale, and other hardy all-season greens are the order of the day. Last week's pickup from the CSA included:

- THREE kinds of Swiss Chard (rainbow, red, and green)
- cabbage
- spinach
- arugula
- red leaf lettuce
- romaine

The non-greens were:

- beets (of which I also eat the greens)
- garlic skapes (which are green in color & are more of a flavoring than a veggie)

Perhaps I will turn into the Jolly Green *Fairy*? (those of you who know my 3-D self know I could NEVER be considered a giant by any stretch ;p )

Anyway, I've been trying to cram as much of this stuff into jars as I can, to preserve it for a season when I will actually be in lack of local greens (although it's quite hard to imagine right now!)

The photo above is some pesto that I made with the spinach and arugula. It was kind of bitter to the taste, so I added a bit of lemon juice, sea salt, and even a little sugar. Perhaps the raw elephant garlic added to the bitterness? Maybe I should have cooked it first. In any case, I think the sugar helped. The jar is such a beautiful color!

I also made some awesome looking saurkraut with the head of cabbage last night. Interesting tip: an empty beer bottle makes a really fabulous pestle for pounding the cabbage into the Ball jar! All I did was:

1. Slice the cabbage thin, then pound a layer in the jar.

2. Add a sprinkle of sea salt, then another layer of cabbage. Pound again.

3. You want the liquid to come out of the cabbage.

4. When you reach the top, add a bit of water or brine to cover the cabbage.

5. Everything I read said to weight down the cabbage until it is submerged in the brine. Plastic bag filled with water, or a plate covered with rocks was recommended the most. However, renegade that I am, I pounded down the cabbage with the beer bottle pretty good, so it didn't really float above the water, and I didn't use any weights. I'm just going to rubber-band a towel or something around the top of the jar to let it all ferment. (Oops, just realized I have a lid on the jar now- once that thing starts really fermenting it might explode!)

6. Let jar sit on counter for 4-6 weeks. Yum.

Pickled beets are pretty amazing too (and THEY'RE NOT GREEN! DEAR GOD THANK YOU FOR SOMETHING OF ANOTHER COLOR! heehee ). So sweet and pretty little things- can't wait to get more this week! Perhaps I'll have the "recipe" for those soon, although it's about as simple as the sauerkraut recipe.

I recommend a CSA highly! So much more satisfying than going to the farmer's market and feeling like a rube, since some of that food isn't really seasonal, or has to be slightly higher in $. A great way to get in touch with the seasons and your local land!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Solstice! 'Taters & Compost

Summertime is here! My friend Katie Red and I officially celebrated the Solstice this past Sunday night from a rooftop in Baltimore. Candles were lit, three kinds of sage were burned, and we watched the night sky at the peak of the year. It was nice.

I mainly celebrated the beginning of summer by cleaning out a lot of old failed projects. Sadly, I've realized that I never should have started my mushroom kit on April 22. I did get one amazing mushroom but then it quickly got too hot, and the mushrooms failed to grow.

Also, my worm compost wasn't doing that great. Lack of airholes in my bin = very SMELLY compost. Plus there were way too many flies in there. I tried to rescue it all (pic to the right is me trying to air it out) but in the end I just dumped it all in the woods.

You might have noticed the potato stalks on top of the compost above. My beautiful potatoes that I posted about in May got spider mites a few weeks ago. So I started ripping out the plants to get rid of them. But lo and behold, there was a potato growing on one of the stalks! (top photo) So, I found that I had a mix of failure and success. Perfect blend for the turning of the seasons. Saved the last few worms from the compost too and started them in a new bin, so hopefully they will survive too.

The potato stalks I had already ripped out got thrown into the woods with the rest of the stinky compost and the failed mushroom kit. I'm hoping once the weather cools down in the fall, maybe I'll go back to that spot in the woods to find a few volunteer potatos and mushrooms. Maybe for the Fall Equinox...


Monday, June 22, 2009

Update on the Baltimore Free School

Photos and expanded info about the Free School meeting are up:

Can't wait!


Permaculture Workshops on Energy and Green Building - June 27 and 28!

I just received a tip-off from Baltimore's own Red Clover Collective about yet another amazing set of workshops at Heathcote. Solar ovens and cob houses are the projects in store!

Sustainable Energy Strategies

Saturday, June 27

8:30 am - 3:30 pm

Heathcote Community, Freeland, MD

Permaculture offers practical strategies for addressing the problems of peak oil and climate change. Learn about energy conservation, renewable energy systems, and appropriate technology. The workshop includes a hands-on solar siting exercise and a solar cooker demonstration.

Green Building and Community Design

Sunday, June 28

8:30 am - 3:30 pm

Heathcote Community, Freeland, MD

This workshop will cover energy efficient building design, techniques for building with natural materials, and strategies for designing sustainable communities ranging in size from small ecovillages to cities. The workshop includes a tour of Heathcote Community’s new strawbale residence and a cob building demonstration.

Tuition is a sliding scale, $60-$100. Work exchange and financial aid is available. For more information or to register contact Karen Stupski at or 410-357-9523. For information about Heathcote see

Workshop co-sponsors are School of Living, Heathcote Community, Dancing Green, Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, Herring Run Watershed Association, and Gaia MARC.

Our residential immersive Permaculture Design Course scheduled for July 17-August 2! For a full course description see:

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Revolution Will Be Twitterized

It's been fascinating following minute-by-minute updates about the Iranian election. The reports often come as pure on-the-ground experience.

Iranians are able to use their own voice to describe their experience, rather than relying on foreign journalism. The result has a certain electric quality that can't be denied. These tweets from @persiankiwi are personal favorites:

people pouring into alleyways. running everywhere. can hear people on rooftops. #Iranelection

we are now several people. we have 4 computers running. 2 men out with camcorders. #Iranelection

No press releases, no advertising, no big companies involved, just pure undiluted DIY information. Even the mainstream media is turning to Twitter as an ultimate news source.

All you have to do is click on the #IranElection hashtag for a stream of diverse commentary. I wanted an example of mainstream news referring to the Internet, and found one in about 5 seconds:

@Wince_Meet Keep tweeting IRAN! They are reading them on CNN. BE HEARD across the WORLD! #IranElection Please re re re tweet! #IranElection

It's all about spreading the word. Sometimes I worry about whether or not people without access to the Internet will be closed out of the rapidly connecting modern world. But then I read an article about Indian farmers using cell phones or read the Iranian tweets where they are still managing to get Internet somehow in the middle of all this chaos. As someone tweeted this morning: "Cultural changes are right in front of our eyes."

Above image posted on:

UPDATE: 6/16/09 Report from the Associated Press

I woke up this morning to read more news about the crackdown on the media in Iran. Journalists are being silenced and foreign reporters are leaving the country.

"Authorities restricted journalists, including Iranians working for foreign media from reporting on the streets, and said they could only work from their offices, conducting telephone interviews and monitoring official sources such as state television.

Also Tuesday, foreign reporters in Iran to cover last week's elections began leaving the country. Iranian officials said they will not extend their visas."

Just reinforces my awe of how information is spread today, the viral nature as it spreads from anyone with a cell phone and a satellite. In situations like this, it's so powerful to see the people regain their own voice.

* The Future is Now!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Foraging & Infusing with Herbs

Now that it's June, the plants are bursting out all over. All this fragrant foliage and flowers makes it much easier to notice and identify plants around town.

For example, I always thought that there were just random ornamentals planted at the base of this statue on Mt. Royal. Turns out, someone has planted an entire herb garden there!

It looks very wild and untended, and is just beautiful. It was nice to look around at all the great varieties to get out of my boring basil-sage-mint box.

The plants were already flowering heavily and are really bushy, so I thought it would be fine for me to get some clippings.

Check out the bounty! The oregano and rosemary smell divine, and I think the pale green stuff is some kind of mint, but I'm not positive. There is a little bit of sage, but most of the leaves were gigantic. I'll probably go back to collect a bunch for burning or other shamanic type uses. You'll forgive me, I guess hanging up all sorts of aromatic herbs and mixing them into various brews has got me feeling a little magical!

Tea with the mint was pretty good, and the oregano and rosemary are hanging up in my sunny window to dry.

Can't wait to toss them into a bottle of olive oil and into a bottle of vinegar to infuse. In addition to flavored oils and vinegars, I'm also hoping to make a sugar syrup with some bee balm. And maybe even some rosemary flavored vodka or something!

The herbal infusions will make really great gifts, and are also perfect to trade for other cool items like sourdough starter or canning jars or something.

There were a bunch of other plants that I am relatively unfamiliar with. One of them is yarrow (pictured left). Such an amazing sounding plant! Not that I totally subscribe to herbs as a definite cure-all, but I do believe that they can be used in mild ways as general health aids.

Yarrow has the typical properties of many herbal medicines, and was historically used to help stop bleeding. It also contains salicylic acid, which is a component of aspirin.

Starlings use it to help line their nests; it's supposed to prevent parasites, and can be chopped up and infused into 100 proof alcohol to make a mosquito repellant. It's even an ingredient in many European beers (according to ).

There were three plants that I wasn't sure about, and I'm excited to find out more. Any identification help would be much appreciated! Here's the link:

Can't wait to start drying and making infusions with these herbs. Please let me know if you are interested in trading for them! Can't believe that it's all totally free & foraged. Oh, the bounty of the city...

UPDATE: Around 3:30, I took a quick break from hours of making photocopies at the office. It's nice to take a little walk in the late afternoon for a pick-me-up. On my way, I snapped off a little piece of the yarrow flowers with a bit of stem mixed in, and chewed it as I walked. Had a very plant-y, flower-y taste, as opposed to the strong aromatics of a mint, oregano, or basil.

Am definitely noticing some slight effects, but they are kind of hard to describe. (As always, I am afraid I am creating some kind of 'placebo effect' in my mind.) However, I do notice that I feel that general "heightened sensation" sense that comes with any drink of alcohol, caffeine, or other intoxicating drug. I got that same feeling of increased blood flow to my cheeks and arms. Perhaps the effect is similar to taking an aspirin? Coffee has been making me feel vaguely out of sorts by the end of the day, but I do notice that I feel much less of an edge right now. There was also some definite movement in my sinuses; I've had a dry cough and some stuffiness, and I actually felt some clearing happening, and no coughing at all. Just thought you all would be interested in a little observational research. I'm curious to hear about your own experiences.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Purple Cowl

Posting galore today. Took a great photo of the cowl I was knitting in this video. Must remember to take more backlit pics! I like the way my cactus looks in the background. And you can just barely see my Obama Fist Bump magnet in the upper right hand corner. Sweet.

Loved the way the bobbles turned out!

Basically this was just a 3x1 ribbed knit in the round. Meaning: knit, knit, knit, purl. and repeat. I like making these cowls with a rib because it gives the piece some flexibility and stretch. If it was knit with just knit or just purl stitches, it would lose it's shape very quickly.

Knit in the round (using the needles attached with a cord) so that you don't have to sew anything up at the end.

To make a bobble: knit about 5 times into the same stitch. Then bind off 4 of those stitches so that you only have one stitch again. There should be a little knot there, which is your bobble. Once you know how to make one, you can add a little bobble at any point in your pattern that you feel like!


Permaculture Factsheet

Have questions about exactly what permaculture is?

It can be confusing sometimes, especially since it's extremely similar to any general sustainability. A lot of the theory mainly gives a name to a natural practice that we already do. The "Principle of Energy Cycling" for example, is a good way to describe how we use our garden waste for compost, then use the compost to grow the garden.

As @permiedotnet says, permaculture is the cutting edge of a 10,000 year old practice.

Even if you already engage in sustainable practices, there is still always something new to be learned from permaculture. For example, I never knew that edges are naturally more diverse areas, or how important it is to pay attention to where water collects on your land.

If you'd like to know more about what Permaculture means, or maybe even have a brief workshop or something like that, this factsheet posted by @sandrastorr is a good one. It's simple, well organized, and illustrated:


Jam Making!

I'm eating some rye bread with melted white cheddar and homemade strawberry jam for breakfast... mmmm!

Yesterday was my first time jam making and canning. It was even easier than I had anticipated. Without any canning equipment wresting the hot jars out of the boiling water at the end was kind of a pain in the ass, but otherwise this project required mostly stirring and some straining. It took some time and was a little messy, but it was definitely worth it. So much tastier and simpler than anything you could get from the store!

These photos are mostly in order and basically describe the process. More details about the process are in the text below.

Flickr slideshow:


This blog post from Cincinnati Locavore was extremely useful. Using the unripe strawberries for their pectin was a really interesting tip, and saved me the hassle of going to the store, deciding what kind of pectin I wanted to use, etc. Her description of the process is way more specific than what I wrote below, so I recommend checking it out.

I decided not to add pectin mainly because it was an extra step I didn't feel like doing, but also because I really like the idea of keeping the jam simple: just berries, sugar, and lemon. The texture is much more like preserves, less like a hard jelly, which I personally enjoy, although I do know some people prefer a more traditional jelly. In any case, here's the recipe:

1. Picking your own fruit is the best way to get the ripest, cheapest fruit. Plus you're supporting small farmers. What's not to love? I got my berries from Larriland Farms. I got about 10 lbs. for $1.99 a lb. I got enough berries to eat them fresh, give several half-pints to friends, make 4 12 oz jars of jam, and freeze a few. For $20 total, it was definitely worth it!

People were literally gasping after taking a bite of these berries, they were so fresh & ripe compared to the giant underripe things in plastic cartons. I kept the flat of berries wrapped in a towel on my counter, and the cloth became perfumed with a rich floral scent. I put a few berries in the fridge but noticed a definite lack of flavor in the cold berries as compared to the sun-warm ripe ones.

Of course, the berries started to get soft in just 24 hours, which is why stores can't sell them that way. It's also why making jam is a perfect way to keep the yummy flavor.

2. Wash and hull the berries. Put them in the food processor with about equal parts berries to sugar and give them a rough chop. I added a little less sugar since I like things more sour than sweet, but I'm not sure if the sugar helps the jam to set?

This is also where the pectin-free part comes in. Thanks to the tips mentioned above from the Cincinnati Locavore site, I found a few things on hand to help the jam set, rather than running out to the store to find pectin. I added a few little green strawberries and about two tablespoons of lemon rind that I made previously from home-grown lemons that my friends brought back from California.

3. Cook the sugar-berry-lemon rind mix at a rolling boil for 5 minutes. Stir continuously to prevent the sugar from burning.

4. This is the fancy part: Strain the cooked berries to separate out the liquid. Return the liquid to the pan. Add about a tablespoon of lemon juice. Boil the liquid until your thermometer says 220 F. Add the berry mash back in to the liquid.

This part was messy and the biggest pain of the whole operation, but it's supposed to prevent the preserves from being too liquid. Since I wasn't using pectin, I figured it was worth the time.

5. Heat the jam back up to a rolling boil.

6. Spoon into your sterilized jars. Add heated lids to jars and loosely screw on the rims to hold the lids in place. Run a knife around the edges of the jar to remove air pockets. Boil jars for 10-15 minutes. Remove to cool. Let jars sit for 24 hours before testing the seals. (There are plenty more detailed canning tips online, but this is a quick and dirty description.)

Check your lids the next day to make sure they are sealed tight. The part of the lid that pops up in the middle should NOT flex at all if you press on it. Now you're free to store your jam right in the cupboard instead of the fridge! Once the jar is opened, then store in the fridge.

Mmm, ruby-licious!


Friday, June 5, 2009

Baltimore Free School

Around 75 people turned out last night at 2640 for the first public discussion about the new Baltimore Free School. Energy was high, and by the end of the night a wall was covered with brightly colored paper listing ideas for classes on topics ranging from Semiotics to Solar Cell Building to Arabic to Apartment Gardening (Guess who volunteered to teach that last one~)

Wikipedia (the ultimate free school!) has a pretty great description of the history and socio-political structure of this idea: Of course, we did talk about how great it will be to be in a classroom with other fun folks instead of learning alone from screens or books, which many of us are already doing.

There was a strong mix of participants at the meeting, from old skool adults to us younger peeps. There was of course a strong Red Emma's contingent, as they were the seed for this idea and are always totally on it as far as logistical planning like getting building space and figuring out how to pay the rent.

Many teachers from both the university and public school level were there, as well as college students of various levels, excited about the alternative structure of the school. Many of us working-type folks were also excited about the prospect of breaking free of the rat race to explore and experiment.

We are all looking forward to spreading the love of learning for the sake of learning rather than receiving a number on a piece of paper. Not having to pay tuition is a plus too! Rather than complain about what other people need to fix, let's just form our own systems and fix society from the inside out.

The teacher-student relationship will be horizontal, rather than the typical top down structure where a teacher stands in front of the room and dispenses information to the silent people in desks. This of course is based on our belief that open collaboration leads to better ideas and a more positive, collective, stronger environment. Just as forests are strong because of their biological diversity, so is the classroom & the mind!

The financial arrangement will be horizontal as well. This of course is crucial to the DIY ethic. Rather than rely on grants or other large organizations, this project will be funded by many small donations from a wide range of people. This prevents us from having to worry when our one source of funding from a grant or similar source dries up.

I've already signed up to donate $25 per month to the space- that works out to less than a dollar a day. It's totally worth it. If you're interested, check out the Free School website (a more developed version will be coming soon.)

To top it all off, this whole idea came together in the space of a few months. Just like the insane City from Below conference, which went down in late March. Folks from all over the country and even Canada came to Baltimore to workshop & talk about restructuring society in a more positive way. Plus with Baltimore Foodmakers and the @nodespring hackerspace blossoming, it seems like great collectives have been sprouting up all over in the past year or so. I couldn't be happier to be in such an organized, motivated city!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Baltimore Sun Video Interview

I posted it on my Twitter feed, but the video interview from @lfkay at the Baltimore Sun definitely merits a posting here! Thanks so much, especially for the blog and Baltimore Foodmaker's shoutout. Definitely check out the Consuming Interests posts for great tips on saving money by making things. DIY power, woot!

Also thanks to Anica for a great editing job. There are a lot of great clips mixed in of strange robot balls, cupcake cars, bike carnival rides, the steam engine, our worm composting bin, and the like. So many different kinds of projects!

(By the way, I finished knitting that purple neck cowl on the plane home ;p )

Anyway, here's the clip:

Wow, I'm really getting media-friendly these days with all this video!


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Maker's Faire on YouTube!

My first video posted on YouTube!

Apologies for terrible rapid panning at the end... there wasn't a lot to see in that part of the building towards the end so I just scanned quickly past it. Now I wish I had more of that sound. I could have listened to this for a long time! Any tips on who these guys were?

I love the sweet Maker happenings in the background: the guy furiously working a pump, the lady cutting plastic, electric flashing lights, a spinning flag demonstrating how waves work, and a dude in a utili-kilt!


A Snippet of Maker's Faire

So, I have this really cool video of a home-made music machine at Maker's Faire. But it's just won't load, even to my thumbdrive. Argh!

So in lieu of the video & connected post, I present to you this:

It's one of my favorite photos I took this weekend. This guy is playing chess with a robot. I love both of their postures!

Rather than deluge you with a huge Maker's Faire post, I'll be posting snippets of my recollections and favorite tips for a little while. Of course, you can always check out for total coverage (or @makerfaire).

For now though, I'll just say that my fondest memories of the Faire was standing at our permaculture table in the Homegrown Village, watching mini rockets blast off to our right, flames shooting into the air and a GIANT robot hand in front of us, the steam engine whistle going off to the left.

All while being surrounded by strange mushroom kits, a case full of honey bees, and a model of a greywater recycling system. The worm bin and aerated compost tea was percolating at our feet, the fog was hovering over the mountains in the distance, and I was at Maker's Faire! Thanks again!

Also, @lfkay from the Baltimore Sun found me at the Faire (apparently I was the only other person repping Charm City there, and was writing with my Big Boyz Bail Bonds pen when she found me, just to prove it ;) There may be some video footage of an *exclusive interview with baltimorediy* on the Sun website soon. I'll be sure to post when I find out any updates!

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