Mistakes we have made . . .

There’s a kind of boastful blogging style that, I’m afraid, we here at Homegrown Evolution have been guilty of. Simply put, we’ve failed to detail all our blunders. These mistakes and accidents, some funny, others painfully disappointing, have more instructional value than our successes. And oh, how many blunders there have been in the past ten years. It’s about time to round up the top 6. I’m sure there are many more that I’ve forgotten, but here’s a start.

1. Installing a water garden.

That water garden looks great in the picture above. That was before the neighborhood raccoons spent several nights a week treating it like rock stars used to treat hotel rooms, and before scum and slime clogged up the pump. While the pump was solar powered, the profligate use of water was not the best example to set here in draught prone Los Angeles. After a few months we gave up, filled it in with soil and now strawberries grow there happily. We hear that Materials and Applications, a neighborhood landscape architecture firm that runs an amazing outdoor gallery, has stopped designing water features unless they are supplied by rainwater. Sounds like a good idea to us! And with the chickens we did not want to provide habitat for raccoons.

2. Mixing Chicken Breeds

Speaking of chickens, a friend of ours who grew up on a farm confirmed that “chickens are racists”. Like talk radio hosts, hens will pick on anyone who is different. In our case, our green egg laying and weird looking Araucana gets the crap beaten out of her by the Rhode Island Red and one of the Barred Rocks. If I had it do do all over again, I’d get four Barred Rocks. They’re dependable layers and don’t make much of a fuss.

3. Planting stuff that doesn’t grow in our Mediterranean climate

As our permaculture friend David Khan likes to say, “work makes work.” Plants that need lots of tending and attention, nine times out of ten, end up unhappy. When they croak it leads to a downward spiral of disappointment and frustration. Just recently a hops plant I tried to grow up and died on me. I stormed around the kitchen cursing for a few minutes before I realized that, once again, I had failed to follow my own advice–plant in season and in respect of place. Hops belong in the Pacific Northwest. In contrast, the heat loving prickly pear cactus in our front yard provides both tasty nopales and fruit reliably every year while growing in terrible alkaline soil with no added water or fertilizer. The problem with the prickly pear is that it is too prodigious, and that’s the kind of problem you can hope for as an urban homesteader.

3. Newspaper seed pots

Those newspaper seed starting pots we linked to earlier this year . . . well, there seems to be a problem with them. I think the newspaper is wicking the water away from the soil. While in Houston recently, I took a class from a master gardener in plant propagation and we used regular plastic pots, a thin layer of vermiculite over the potting soil and a plastic bag over the pot. It seems to work better. The other blunder here is posting about something before testing it.

4. Pantry Moths!

A few years ago, using our solar dehydrator (we’ll post about that soon), we dried a summer’s worth of tomatoes to use during the fall and winter. We put the entire harvest in one large jar. Several months later we had a jar full of pantry moth larvae. This is the entomological version of “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, a mistake we won’t soon repeat. Now we split dried goods into multiple jars so that in case some critters get it to one we’ll still have others.

5. Buying a wonky house with poor professional guidance

Be careful choosing a Realtor–pick one who has been recommended to you by someone you trust. Be especially careful picking a home inspector–pick an independent one–not one recommended by the seller or buyer’s agent. Our inspector spent a very short time in our house and ignored large problems, in my opinion, because it was in his favor for the house to sell so that he could continue his relationship with our agent. It’s an inherent conflict of interest for the inspector to have a connection to either real estate agent.

6. Planting a lawn

We weren’t always the Molotov cocktail tossing vegetable growing radicals that we are now. Just after we bought this place ten years ago we planted a lawn in the backyard. With some temporary fencing, we roped it off from the Doberman to allow it to grow. After a month the lawn matured into a lush green carpet . . . but it only lasted five minutes. That was the time it took for the Doberman to gracefully leap over the barrier and run in circles, causing chunks of turf and newly amended soil to fly all over the yard.

Let’s do the math–in a dry place like Los Angeles–lawn=crime. On top of the waste of water they simply don’t look good here without massive inputs of fertilizer, herbicides and gas powered lawn mowers. Sorry, but I hate lawns and will not ever be convinced otherwise. Got kids? That’s what mulch is for. Fuck the lawn. Fuck all it stands for.

The Conclusion

I guess the lesson here, with all of these missteps, is persistence. Push through the blunders and the light will shine. And a promise–we here at Homegrown Evolution we will do a better job detailing our mistakes.

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13 Comments

  1. Thanks for the honesty. I’ve had a pond sitting in the garage for months now just waiting for the right time, the right space. I wasn’t sure why I hesitated putting it in… tonight I realized how wasteful and selfish it would be. the electricity, the water, the chemicals. the pond is now available on my local Freecycle board.

  2. More failures, pleeeze!

    Found you through the links page of “This Garden is Illegal”. Glad I clicked in here- good stuff!

  3. you are joking, all I write about is failure – that’s the most juicy part of life isn’t it? lol

    p.s. love the estate agent photo – cool

  4. Thanks for sharing. Love to hear about lessons! I wish the other urban homestead blogs did the same more often.

    Re: newspaper pots – these can totally work, you just have to put them all in a plastic tray and check the water daily. Water from the top and the bottom and make sure the tray always has a little water so the newspaper pots are wicking moisture from the tray bottom, instead of from the dirt in them. And best not to let seedlings wait too long before transplanting (though that’s a general rule of thumb no matter what your container). And definitely take the plants out of the newspaper before putting in the ground or the paper will continue to steal water from them. I learned all this the hard way – but it definitely can work.

    Cheers!
    Kaitlin
    Eureka, CA

  5. 1. I don’t understand why you bothered with the pump and other “home pond” paraphernalia, when mud puddles seem to do fine without all of that. However I understand that you’d rather have strawberries than have raccoons visiting after dark (dusk).

    3. I have no opine re: paper seedpots, as they just look too fragile to try… Re: bottom-watering (not that kind of bottom watering!), mix, etc: best hort conditions during all phases of life depend on the species.

    4. You can feed most insect larvae to some desirable critters, as i assume you did when you likely fed the tomatoes to your chickens…
    Somewhere on the net, you may find (time)period@temperature methods to pre-clean larva eggs (after jarring)

    5. Re:R.E. culture and the boolshiite commerce “monopoly”. Yep. Ol’ 666 reagan was said to be charming.

    6. “Vë dön’t nëëd nö schtïnkïn läwn”. There are grass covers much easier to grow in socal.

  6. Speaking as an ex-LAlien, I’d like to hear about what I consider to be your biggest mistake: LIVING IN HELL-A! heh heh. But seriously, why are you there, what are your long term plans / dreams regarding all this “green” stuff? Do you only think about your little corner of the huge mess, or do you have any dreams that involve greater LA changing for the better? Do you want to combine your efforts with all the other oppressed greenies living under that nauseating brown sky? To what end? These are questions I struggled with while living there.

  7. NPR did a story awhile back on folks in the LA area who traded in their lawns for sustainable native gardens and using rocks for paths instead of bare dirt or grass. My favorite part of the whole story? One woman built her garden in the middle of suburbia and a neighborhood full of lawns. Neighbors kept losing their grandchildren because they would slip away from the beautifully manicured lawns they were supposed to be playing on for the chance to play with the neighbor’s rocks. Moral of the story? Kids love rocks more than grass.

  8. I am glad you talk about the errors you made- it helps Us Readers to learn. Plus, perfection is boring.

    If you ever do another batch of sun-dried tomatoes, why not package them up in vacuum sealed bags for storage? That might keep those horrid pantry moths out. Plus, you can seal them in with some basil-spiced olive oil.

  9. I also had to separate dueling chickens of different ethnic backgrounds and bought an very old home with many many problems that everyone involved did a wonderful job of downplaying. Well whatever, its done. Keep up the good (and nots so good) work, its an inspiration and keeps me going!

    http://www.myspace.com/guerrillagrrl

  10. The lawn problems don’t apply to all locations. They certainly shouldn’t be in the southwest but here in the north east all you have to do is mow it with a reel mower each week. You don’t even have to plant seeds, just sit back and let plants natural arrive. However this doesn’t stop people from doing it the hard way, many of my naighbors use all sorts of chemicals like herbicides, pesticides and fertalizers to get the steriotypical only grass lawn but our easy natuarla lawn ends up looking much better.

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