Plastic or Wood?

Some time ago the folks at the FDA and USDA recommended that we replace our wooden cutting boards with plastic ones (such as the fine Elvis model on the right). This injunction rose out of rising fears of salmonella and e-coli poisoning in our food, which are, by the way, the signature bacteria of our deplorable factory farming system. But that’s another rant.

This rant is about the boards. So as we were saying, it was out with the nasty, old-fashioned, disease harboring wood boards, and in with the shiny space age boards. We fell for it. The Homegrown Revolution compound boasts a set of plastic boards (though not Elvis ones). And now what do we find out? Researchers at both UC Davis and the University of Wisconsin, Madison have discovered that plastic is not only quite good at harboring bacteria, so good that the small cuts in a cutting board are uncleanable by any means but also, and this is the kicker, wooden boards actually kill bacteria.

Researchers inoculated plastic and wooden boards with raw chicken juice fortified with bacteria. Within three minutes 99 percent of the bacteria on the wooden boards had vanished, while the bacteria on the plastic boards remained healthy. Puzzled, the researchers left the boards to sit overnight. The next morning the plastic boards boasted a healthy and increased bacterial population, while the wooden boards tested bacteria free.

FDA Bastards! Could they not have run this simple test before scaring us into buying the plastic boards? Did the plastic industry pay them to make that recommendation?

This just drives home what we already knew, and what just proves more true every passing day: plastic sucks. It is a dreadful mistake of the last century which has to meet its end this century–though of course the plastics we’ve already made will haunt us for all eternity. [Editors note: Mr. Homegrown Revolution is not crazy about plastics either but not quite as zealous, noting that Mrs. Homegrown Revolution typed this missive on a device made almost entirely of plastic. Steve Jobs has yet to come out with an iBook made from bamboo and corn husks. That being said, this haunting video about the impact of plastic on the ocean drives home the point that we need to drastically cut back our consumption of plastics and only use them for essentials]

Okay, these are the new rules. We are going to phase as many plastics out of the homestead as we can. We won’t toss what we have in the landfill right now, but when it is time to replace it, this is how it’s going down:

Wood and metal utensils instead of plastic
Glass storage containers instead of Tupperwear
Wool blankets instead of Polarfleece blankets
Down filling instead of polyester filling (even for allergy sufferers)*
Silk and wool fabrics for athletics instead of petroleum based technical fabrics
Sigg bottles instead of plastic water bottles
Sturdy reusable shopping bags instead of disposable shopping bags
Washable dish cloths instead of cellulose sponges
General avoidance of plastic packaging at the supermarket.

*Dust mites breed in much greater profusion in synthetic bedding than in down.

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands


“The bricoleur, says Levi-Strauss, is someone who uses “the means at hand,” that is, the instruments he finds at his disposition around him, those which are already there, which had not been especially conceived with an eye to the operation for which they are to be used and to which one tries by trial and error to adapt them, not hesitating to change them whenever it appears necessary, or to try several of them at once, even if their form and their origin are heterogeneous.”

-Jacques Derrida

Homegrown Revolution loves cheap low-tech solutions (not to mention pretentious quotes), which is why we especially like “bricoleur” and Tucson rainwater harvesting guru Brad Lancaster and his ongoing book series Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands. Volume one is already out and volume two is due out this summer. Landcaster’s ingenious methods involve little more than careful observation and some work with a shovel. He suggests that harvesting rainwater begins with considering the flow of water from the highest point (which for most people will be the roof) to the lowest point in your yard and then simply figuring out simple ways to get that water to percolate into the ground to nourish your plants.

We’re especially fond of his method of hijacking street gutter runoff and directing it with a small improvised check dam into a dug out basin in the parkway. We’ve watched our neighbor’s lawn watering runoff for years and wondered if we could find a way to use that water. You can watch two videos showing Lancaster at work here. And a podcast here.

Growing Chayote

On our morning dog walk Giovanni, one of our neighbors, kindly gave us a pair of fresh chayote off of his backyard vine which covers a trellis over his carport. Giovanni has wisely intertwined the chayote with an equally prodigious passion fruit vine making for a combo that produces many pounds of fruit all summer long.

Chayote (Sechium edule), for those not in the know, is a wonder plant of the gourd family hailing from Mexico and Central America. It has a mild slightly sweet cucumber-like taste. They can be boiled, pan fried, steamed, baked, pickled or chopped up and tossed raw in a salad. Though requiring a fair amount of water, it grows like a weed here and one vine can easily produce eighty pounds of fruit. Another mark in its favor is that Chayote is a perennial and, to top it all off, the young leaves and root are also edible and the tough stalks can be made into rope.

We started a chayote plant a few months ago by simply buying a few at our local market, letting it sprout on our counter top and then planting it in the ground. Since the fruit contains only one seed you don’t need to extract it–you plant the whole thing. They are very susceptible to rotting when first planted so that may explain why we got only one out of three to grow.

Chayote is traditionally grown up over a trellis or roof and we’re growing ours on a bare trellis that covers a deck in the back yard. We’re hoping the chayote will give us a summer of both fruit and shade!

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