WWOOF - World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

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Boing Boing guestblogger Connie Choe is a health and culture writer by day and a professional kimchimonger by night.

Having lived in suburbia for the past 20 years, I often hear desperation-tinged fantasies (my own, mostly)of wanting to flee this neatly manicured existence to someplace that is rather different and very beautiful, but that's not too expensive and preferably not mucked up by other travelers.

For anyone else who seconds this emotion, I believe the answer to our yearnings is WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Here's how it works: You choose a host organic farm in whichever country you like and arrange a temporary stay (ranging from a few days up to several months) during which you will work without pay in exchange for food and shelter. It's all the fun of being an indentured servant or migrant laborer without all the obligations!

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Ghost Town Tour

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Ransom Riggs, over at the mental_floss blog, has a great pictorial tour of Bodie, California--America's quintessential ghost town. I remember reading about Bodie in my Childcraft Encyclopedias back in the day, and I'm excited to finally see the whole thing up close...

A mining boomtown, it was the third most populous city in the state of California in 1880. By the 1940s sickness, wars, bad weather and exhausted mines had led to the town's desertion, and its isolated, inhospitable location made certain that it stayed that way; no one eyed this high desert waste, 8,000 feet above sea level between Yosemite and the lonely Nevada border, and imagined a shopping mall in its place.

Only five percent of Bodie's structures are still standing, but considering how large Bodie was, that's still a lot for a ghost town -- more than two hundred. And unlike Tombstone, Calico or any number of other "preserved" ghost towns in the West, it's not a tourist trap where you can buy cotton candy from gunfight-staging actors playing oldey-timey cowboys; the town is kept in a state of "arrested decay,"

Gloriously haunting photos (pardon the pun) and some nifty history await. Check it out.

Image courtesy Flickr user mulmatsherm, via CC

Tiny bug could wipe out California's citrus trees

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The tiny Asian citrus psylid is killing citrus trees in California (High res image from UC Davis here).

Homegrown Evolution has an interesting story about Asian citrus psylid, and ant-sized insect that could spell doom for California citrus.

The Asian citrus psylid is not a problem in itself, but carries an incurable bacterial disease called huanglongbing (HLB). HLB, first reported in Asia in 1919, renders citrus fruit inedible and eventually kills the tree. Parts of Africa, Asia and South America are infected with HLB and in some regions of Brazil the disease is so bad that they've given up growing citrus altogether. HLB is in Florida and is adding to a nightmarish collection of other diseases afflicting citrus in the Sunshine State. Now California growers are panicking with the appearance of the psylid.
The State of California is taking all sorts of measures to stop the spread of the pest (including spraying dangerous pesticides), but Erik and Kelly of Homegrown Evolution are taking a Stoic approach to the problem.
Seneca [author of Letters from a Stoic] would say, do what is in your power to do and don't worry about what you can't fix. Taleb [author of The Black Swan] would advise always maximizing upside potential while minimizing exposure to the downside. My unsentimental conclusion: don't try to grow citrus. If I had a mature tree I'd leave it in place and rip it out at the first sign of HLB. Despite the state's offer to replace any HLB infected tree with a free citrus tree I wouldn't take them up on the offer. In our case we have three small, immature citrus trees that are already chewed up by citrus leafminers. I'm pondering pulling them up and replacing them with fruit trees unrelated to citrus. This follows our stoic, get tough policy in the garden. Planting a tree entails a considerable investment in time. It can take years to get fruit. Why not plant pomegranate instead and let other people worry about citrus diseases? If a pomegranate disease shows up, rip it up and plant something else. Following this approach will eliminate habitat for the psylid and negate the need for pesticides.
The end of California citrus?

Gallery of old timey seed catalogs

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The Smithsonian Institution has an online collection of seed catalog art. If King Corn ever runs for president, I'll vote for him, because his crown is cool. (Via City Farmer)

Photos from Kraut Fest 2009

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About 160 heads came to Kraut Fest 2009, held at Machine Project in Los Angeles on Sunday, September 6.

Of those 160 heads, 40 were human and 120 were cabbage. The humans were there to learn how to change the cabbage into sauerkraut (based on my Russian grandmother's recipe), kimchi, and choucroute garni (a "meat fiesta" from the Alsace region in France).

I recognized the nice couple in the photo above from Picklefest 2008, which was held last year at Machine Project. The couple that ferments together stays together!

Many thanks to Machine Project founder Mark Allen for hosting the event, Slow Food LA for sponsoring it, Urban Homestead authors Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen for organizing it, Granny Choe for the kimchi lessons, and Jean-Pail Monsché for the mouth watering choucroute garni!

Photos of Krautfest 2009

I will teach you how to make sauerkraut this Sunday in Los Angeles at Kraut Fest 2009

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If you want to learn how to make sauerkraut, kimchi, and choucroute garni, head over to Machine Project in Los Angeles this Sunday, September 6, for Kraut Fest 2009!

I'm teaching how to make sauerkraut (ridiculously easy) but I really am looking forward to learning how to make kimchi from Granny Choe!

UPDATE: the class is now SOLD OUT. If you signed up, I'll see you there!

Taught by Mark Frauenfelder, Erik Knutzen, Kelly Coyne, Jean-Paul Monsche, and the winner of Critter’s 2009 Kimchi Competition, Oghee “Granny” Choe.

Come learn how to make your own sauerkraut, kimchi, and choucroute garni, the signature dish of Alsace (described to us as a ridiculous meat fiesta).

11am - Making Sauerkraut - click HERE for a list of ingredients to bring!

12pm - Making Kimchi - click HERE for a list of ingredients to bring!

1pm - Choucroute Garni presentation & sampling

You can register to make either kimchi or sauerkraut for $10, or both for $15. Registration gets you a “kraut kit” consisting of a bucket, a plate to fit in the bucket and a limited edition, hand-silkscreened poster (see here).

Participants will need to bring their own ingredients (we’ll provide the shopping list). Funded in part by a grant from Slow Food LA. Thank you Slow Food LA!

Kraut Fest 2009! at Machine Project

Alan Graham's automatic chicken door


Alan Graham's home made automatic chicken door has mine beat by a country mile, because he can run it from his iPhone. His hens sure are cute.

Gallery of chicken coops

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"Beautiful coop built by Jeff Taylor and his granddaughter, Jayda, pictured."

My Pet Chicken (the place I ordered my baby Barred Plymouth Rocks hens from) has a gallery of chicken coops built from scratch.

Also, My Pet Chicken has a great "Cash for Cluckers" sale. They'll send you 25 chicks (all hens) for $41.50 with free shipping. That's a great deal, because the regular price is $100.

Chicken coops

How to harvest honey from a bee hive


Kirk, the leader of our Backwards Beekeepers club here in LA, shows how to harvest honey. Film made by fellow bee club member Russell Bates.

Backwards Beekeepers TV: The Honey Harvest

My favorite nearby waterfall, once the home of rockets (iPhone video snapshot)

Here's a quick video snapshot I took over the weekend from one of my favorite local hikes here in Southern California: the Solstice Canyon trail above Malibu. The video's nothing special, but as I was shooting it (on my iPhone 3GS, with a twig for a tripod) I thought "this might be an inspiring little ambient morsel for BB readers to zone out to during their work day. So here it is. I mention the device used because I was pretty wowed by the video and audio quality. Here's my Flickr set of more video snapshots from the waterfall (others are higher-quality and less compressed than this).

There are some spots on the trail where you can look out over the Pacific, and if the season's right you may view a migrating gray whale or two. According to an LA Times article published in 1988 when this land became a state park,

[The site] was formerly used as a laboratory to test payloads for space shots for TRW Inc. and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. (...) [T]he aerospace firms picked the site because they needed a "non-magnetic setting," or an area far removed from telephone lines and electrical cables. One of the buildings had a removable roof so that heavy equipment could be lifted from the structure.
Near this 30-foot waterfall, there's an old stone cabin from the late 1800s, one of the oldest residences in the area. Also on this trail: the burnt-out remains of an amazing midcentury ranch mansion designed by African-American architect Paul Revere Williams. I love walking through those ruins. More on that after the jump.

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Dude lives in spaceship house

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(Image: Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times)

Happy mutant architect Wilfred J.O. Armster designed this fabulous spaceship/boat/floating orb residence from steel, copper and concrete. One of the factors that influenced the design of this building was the need to fit it within a very narrow site. The home was even featured in a 2002 Zippy the Pinhead strip. Snip from NYT profile of the man and his house, by Penelope Green:

"Monstrous," is how a few described the project in an article in The New Haven Register. In the local public school, an eighth-grade teacher held up the article, which was accompanied by a picture of the building's design, and proclaimed, "This is the kind of building that should not be built here." What the teacher didn't know was the name of the architect -- perhaps she hadn't read the article carefully -- so she was unaware that his daughter, Nicola, was in the classroom. "Nicola stood up and debated her," Mr. Armster said proudly.

The public hearing to approve the project has become a local legend, said Mr. Portly, the engineer, who remembered it vividly.

Guilford residents packed the town hall, and stood up one by one to announce their objections: that the structure wasn't Colonial enough, that it didn't fit into the town's heritage, that building it was a kind of heresy. One woman said it would ruin her view as she sailed on the sound. When the litany of complaints had finished, Mr. Armster began to speak.

"I said something like: 'I know you're all Republicans and businessman and I know you think I'm a communist or a socialist. But it seems to me that you are objecting to this building because you don't like the way it looks.' "

The Spaceship Down the Street (New York Times)

Bees swarm under bike seat: the thrilling conclusion

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Yesterday, Mister Jalopy reported a swarm of bees under the seat of one of his bikes for sale at Coco's Variety in Los Angeles. Upon hearing the news, neighbor Amy Seidenwurm headed over to the store, donned her bee suit, and bravely herded the bees to a cardboard box, transferring them to "greener pastures where the flowers are dripping with nectar and hives are clean and commodious."

2 Wheels, 2000 Bees

Keeping the Googling Good Life Going in a Post-Box Store era: Doug Fine


We covered Doug Fine's radical off-the-grid lifestyle experiment last year on Boing Boing TV -- embed above. He is the author of Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living, and he's still going strong out there on the Funky Butte Ranch. When he's not out in the fields turning the compost heap or feeding chickens, he's working on his next book, which I'm looking forward to reading. Doug has a thought-provoking piece out in this Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, here's a preview:

I have a fiancee and a son to provide for, so I decided to take a hard look at our prospects for survival if our consumer safety nets went away. For now, my green lifestyle choices at my remote 41-acre outpost in the American Southwest are optional. You know, growing lettuce instead of buying Chilean. Using organic cotton diapers instead of buying Pampers. But what if one morning in, say, 2049, I wake up to milk my goats and find out that supplies are no longer streaming in from China and California? What would I do if both box stores and crunchy food co-ops suddenly were no more? In other words, I'm examining my place in a hypothetical post-oil, post-consumer society 40 years in the future.

Now, I'm not rooting for such a thing. Slave labor, forest depletion, climate change and global resource wars aside, globalization has a lot going for it. I love that I can email a musician in Mauritania and ask to download his latest album. And anyway, lots of people still see globalization as the economic model for the foreseeable future. But when I was covering the former Soviet Union as a journalist in the 1990s, every single person I met told me that they'd thought pigs would fly before the Politburo crumbled.

On My Ranch, Ready for the Great American Meltdown (Washington Post)

Alaska: Geeks dwell here, too, it's not all Palin and mush-dog races.


Pat Race of Alaska Robotics, whose "Buy Back Alaska" video was featured here a couple years ago, has created a new video about crushing absurdity of national economics. It's embedded above, and I think it's sweet and funny in a homey, dorky, "I made this!" way.

From the land of Sarah Palin, meth shacks, and aerial elk-massacres, he emails Boing Boing:

Alaska Robotics is Pat Race, Aaron Suring, Lou Logan, Sarah Asper-Smith, and whoever else falls into our cast of friends and family. We live in Juneau where we make short films, draw comics, and eat halibut. We organize screenings of locally made short films twice a year and also work to bring filmmakers, animators and writers north to teach workshops.

If you're interested, there are a bunch of other films on our site, I like these ones: Socks, The Big Joke, Butterfly Kisses, Town vs. Valley, Nipple Fire, High Five.

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How to make kombucha

I first started making kombucha in 1995, but when we had our first child in 1997, I was knocked out of many patterns, including making this tasty fermented beverage. About a month ago I started making it again. It's really easy.

Before you make your own kombucha, here are a few reasons why you might not want to:

Why do I drink it? Because it's fun to make and the flavor is almost addictive. The benefits outweigh the risks, at least for me. Here's how I make it. (Click on photos for enlargement.):

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1. Get some live kombucha. I foolishly paid $25 to an online store that sells the culture in little vials (as seen above). As I later found out, you can buy a bottle of kombucha for a few dollars at grocery store and use that as your starter. If you have a friend who makes it, ask them for a "mother" (the floppy, blobby, disc that floats on top of a batch of kombucha) and a cup of the kombucha tea.

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2. Collect the ingredients: sugar, vinegar (or a half cup of the kombucha tea from your last batch), tea bags (any kind). I used green tea for my first batch, but I'm now using decaf black tea.

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3. Add 4-8 tea bags into a little less than one gallon of water. I used filtered water and a ceramic crock. I've heard you shouldn't use metal containers to make kombucha. Let it steep for a while. You can use hot water to steep the tea, but let it cool down before you add any culture (to prevent killing it).

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4. Stir in 1 or 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar. The sugar is the fuel for the kombucha microbes. I have been using one cup of sugar, but in the batch I started yesterday I used one and one-half cups because I want it to be stronger and more vinegary. I have heard that the more sour it is, the more resistant it is to bacterial infection. (How do you like my hand carved spoon?)

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5. Stir in 1/2 cup of kombucha from your last batch, or 1/4 cup of vinegar and a vial of expensive kombucha culture you foolishly purchased over the Internet.

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6. Cover crock with cloth for a week. If a "mushroom" (not a real mushroom) has grown on the surface, that means it worked! Save the mushroom and use it to cover your next batch. In a week, the mushroom will have another mushroom attached to it that you can peel off and use, discard, or give away.

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7. Transfer the tangy, fizzy beverage into a bottle and refrigerate. Some websites say not to store kombucha in plastic but I like this one gallon bottle.

If you have any tips to share about kombucha, please put them in the comments.