Seaching for Seeds

Old school seed searching: order assembler standing next to racks containing packages at the W. Atlee Burpee Company, 1943
It’s never too early to start planning that garden. And towards that goal, Mother Earth News has created a nice custom Google search engine that scours over 600 seed suppliers. It’s the perfect way to find those obscure plants and varieties not at the local nursery. The search engine even includes our favorite seed company, Seeds from Italy. You can test out this new tool here on the Mother Earth website, or on the right toolbar of Homegrown Evolution.

Now it’s time to go plant some oca!

Do Something Day

In honor of Buy Nothing Day, we present a memorable Craigslist ad found by our comrade, neighbor and art blogger Doug Harvey while looking for a refrigerator to replace the one that got fried in a freak electric storm the other night,

“Never used, brand new 2008 GE Energystar fridge in original box. Blessed by his Holiness the Dalai Lama upon his last visit to Los Angeles, this fridge is sure to maintain the temperature and spiritual balance of all food. Due to health and dietary restrictions and my strict belief in the tenets of Mahayana Buddhist teachings, I asked his holiness Tenzing Norbu to bless the fridge upon his last visit. He guaranteed blessings and long life would be bestowed upon the fridge and the contents it protects. We have not used the fridge yet and unfortunately we need to move and can not bring the fridge with us. It is sad, but we are happy to give this spiritual appliance to another.”

At $1,500 Harvey passed over the Dalai Lama blessed “spiritual appliance” due to budget constraints and, no doubt, queasiness attributing supernatural qualities to an refrigerator. An ad for BMW takes this animist notion of consumer objects to the next level, simultaneously making fun of our obsession with consumerism and, in a kind of post-modern mental judo, using that perceived obsession to sell cars (a healthy dose of sex doesn’t hurt).

It’s this type of hyper-consumerism that provokes a backlash from organizations such as Adbusters, the folks behind Buy Nothing Day. Yet, I wish that Buy Nothing Day was, instead, Do Something Day or, perhaps, Build Something Day. In our book and presentations we’ve distanced ourselves from the dourness of the environmental movement, preferring ideas to be presented in the positive rather than the negative, in the form of actions rather than protests. So rather than head to the mall today we propose learning an odd and useless task, say the feat of balancing on chairs.

From Practical Projects for the Handy Man published in 1913,

Among the numerous physical exercises is the feat of balancing on the two rear legs of a chair while one foot rests on the front part of the seat and the other on the back of the chair. This may appear to be a hard thing to do, yet with a little practice it may be accomplished. This exercise is one of many practiced by the boys of a boys’ home for an annual display given by them. A dozen of the boys will mount chairs at the same time and keep them in balance at the word of a commanding officer.

So on this first Do Something Day, the crashing sound heard around the Homegrown Evolution compound this weekend will be the sound of a middle-aged eco-blogger falling over backwards . . . Now go out and Do Something!

Busting open a Durian

Via Mark Frauenfelder over on BoingBoing, a trailer for Adam Leith Gollner’s entertaining book, The Fruit Hunters:

Is their something about being an older white man of a certain age and exotic fruit? Mrs. Homegrown has become concerned about Mr. Homegrown dropping talk of durian into conversations at inappropriate moments of late. And look out Mrs. HG, because Mr. HG just heard about the Mimosa Nursery (thanks beer making Scott!), purveyors of exotic fruit trees here in Southern California. From my web research it looks like Mimosa has at least two locations, one in Anaheim and the other at 6270 Allston in Los Angeles. We’re planning an expedition soon . . .

End of Season Tomato Review

Homegrown Evolution had ambitious plans to review each and every tomato variety out of the garden this year, but alas, we fell behind in our bloggulating duties and planted way too many tomatoes. So here, as “winter” appears in Southern California (it’s raining, that’s how you tell), we’ll review what worked and what didn’t work.

The tastiest tomato award goes to the Pineapple variety pictured above. Not only did this heirloom tomato have the best flavor, it was also the prettiest tomato we’ve ever grown, a brilliant yellow with streaks of red in the middle of the fruit when you slice it. And they’re just about as big as a Cadillac Escalade. We saved some seeds and will definitely be growing these again next year.


The most productive, trouble free and productive tomatoes this year were plain old Romas and San Marzanos, both of which provided a summer of tomato sauce and enough extra fruit to do some canning. Two hybrid cherry tomatoes we grew in self watering containers, Sun Gold and Sweet 100 also did well. The Romas have the additional benefit of being fusarium wilt and verticillium resistant. It may be organic gardening heresy to say this, but hybrid tomatoes such as Roma are the best varieties for beginning gardeners to grow due to their trouble free and disease resistant qualities. The down side is that you can’t save the seeds.

We also grew Syrian Giants, but unfortunately our Doberman Pincher ate most of them on late night raids. Perhaps because the Syrians grew in less than ideal partial shade conditions, they weren’t that tasty. See also our earlier reviews of Banana Leg and Red Currant varieties.

Most of the tomatoes were grown in cages made from concrete reinforcing wire (instructions on making tomato cages here) in raised beds with a drip irrigation system as pictured above. As an experiment for folks in apartments or with limited space, we grew a bunch of tomatoes in self watering containers on a strip of concrete next to the back wall of our garage (note crappy picture below). You’ll see that we were too lazy to put the container tomatoes in cages–don’t do this as you’ll have a sprawling ugly mess! Nevertheless, the containers worked.

So readers, leave some comments! Tell us your favorite tomatoes this season. Weigh in on the heirloom vs. hybrid issue. We’re sure that forward thinking folks planning seed purchases for the spring would appreciate the advice.

The New Home Economics

photo above by whiteafrican photo on right by Wayan Vota

So what is this simple, elegantly designed object? It’s a bottle opener from Africa as seen on one of our favorite blogs, AfriGadget. Tough times call for elemental solutions, not to mention popping the cap off a beer.

And speaking of tough times and ingenuity, with our economy continuing to meltdown and unemployment on the rise (check out this youtube interview with author Nasim Nicholas Taleb and mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot for a real scare), we’ve begun to see sudden interest in the long forgotten topic of home economics. A good example of this new home economics is 30 bucks a week, the recipes and strategies of a couple in Brooklyn attempting to limit their grocery bills to, yes, just $30 a week.

But back to that African beer bottle opener pictured above. Yes, it exists in the context of poverty, but it’s also a symbol of hope, of facing adversity with resourcefulness, a sense of style and play.

A Used Tire Compost Bin

There’s so many damn used tires littering the sidewalks of this grungy town, Los Angeles should incorporate them into the city seal. Thankfully tires make a fine raw material for building projects and Homegrown Evolution has been experimenting with their many uses over the past year. This week we built a compost bin.

Step one is to cut out the sidewalls. You might be able to do this with a sharp knife, but it’s much easier with an electric saber saw. We used a knife to cut a slit to get the saber saw started. Once both sidewalls are cut out you just stack your modified tires up, fill it with compost, put a cover on it (we used a piece of scrap aluminum), and fetch a beer.

We’ll post another tire project soon.

Homegrown Evolution at Environmental Change-Makers

We’ll be doing a talk this Thursday in Westchester (Los Angeles) at the monthly meeting of Environmental Change-Makers. But don’t just come to see us! This event is at the Church of the Holy Nativity, which took out a lawn to grow food for the needy, an idea we’d like to see spread around the world.

The Church of the Holy Nativity is located at Dunbarton at 83rd St., (6700 West 83rd Street) Westchester 90045. The meeting and talk begins at 7 p.m.

More on Church of the Holy Nativity’s amazing garden here.

Time Banking

So what is money but an abstract representation of misery, time spent doing things we’d all rather not be doing? How about an alternative? How about taking all of our hard earned capital away from the Wall Street types? Get ready for time banking.

With time banking, you get together with your local community members, friends and family and exchange hours rather than currency. Time Bank USA describes the concept succinctly:

“For every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one Time Dollar. Then you have a Time Dollar to spend on having someone do something for you.”

Time banking isn’t defined as barter, so you don’t have to pay taxes on services or goods exchanged. And time banking is egalitarian–everyone’s hours are valued equally–an hour of digging a ditch is the same as an hour of legal services, or acupunture or whatever.

Homegrown Evolution met our local Echo Park Time Bank organizers Lisa Gerstein and Autumn Rooney last night at a joint appearance we did at Materials & Applications. Gerstein and Rooney, related to the audience a number of success stories from the time bank, such as how one busy woman was able to keep her cat after the time bank found someone to administer daily shots while she is at work.

With our economy in a tailspin, Time Banking has great potential. If there isn’t a time bank in your area Time Bank USA has software and assistance to help you set up one.

Chickens in Chicago

Another gem from City Farmer News. Somehow it’s a lot more fun to listen to someone else talking to city bureaucrats:

“Video by Chad Kimball. Raising Chickens In The City – Chicago Police Say NO. “Is it legal to keep chickens in the city of Chicago? Listen to conflicting information I receive from the police, the city clerk, and the legal department.”

For more info on the law in your area, City Farmer News suggests checking City Chicken’s list of chicken laws.

Kitchen Alchemy

“Those who believe civilization can be run according to different principles – humane, equitable, and collaborative ones – need to step forward now with concrete proposals and put ideals into practice.”

-Daniel Pinchbeck

A Homegrown Evolution reader quite rightly scolded us recently for not writing enough about what people in apartments who can’t keep gardens or chickens can do. It’s our contention that all of the activities profiled on this blog are a kind of alchemy, symbolic gestures that ultimately lead to the kind of societal transformations that Pinchbeck writes about. These symbolic gestures need not be over sized, nor do all of them require land. Cooking homemade meals from scratch, as often as possible, is just the kind of alchemy one can practice anywhere you’ve got food and a source of heat. And what is cooking anyways, but a form of alchemical transformation? As luck would have it, we’ve had a number of visitors to our humble casa in the past week, Pinchbeck included (read his thoughtful Prophet Motive columns here). Two other visitors are cookbook authors. All share a common vision of positive change through personal and household actions.

Ysanne Spevack moved to our neighborhood recently and has a really nice cooking website and blog at www.organicfoodee.com. That pumpkin bread she blogged about recently looks mighty tasty and we can’t wait to try her buckwheat recipes recently featured in the Los Angeles Times. She has written a number of books, specializing in cooking with organic ingredients.

We also got a visit from farmer and agriculturalist Shannon Hayes of New York’s Sap Bush Hollow Farm. She’s the author of two books on how to cook grass fed meat. Hayes is currently working on a book on what she calls “enlightened homemakers”, touching on the kind of societal transformation that can occur when we change the way we run our abodes.

Lastly, there’s a new online cooking school that has some mighty nice how-to videos and a free trial offer for 30 days. At Rouxbe.com we’ve learned a couple of nice tricks, our favorite being how the pros slice an onion. Very handy.

Now I’ve gotta stop blogging and make a pizza . . .

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