99¢ Store Proofing Basket

For years I’ve used a special wooden basket called a banneton to proof my round loaves of bread in. I’m teaching a bread baking class this weekend and needed a bunch of proofing baskets for the class. Bannetons are nice but expensive so I decided to try using a canvas lined proofing basket as a more economical alternative.

I got some metal bowls from my local 99¢ store. Wicker baskets or a plastic colander would also have worked, but the 8 inch metal bowls were the perfect size for the kind of bread I make. The canvas came from an art supply store, but a fabric store might also work. I’ve tried to use dish towels in the past, but I’ve found that canvas works better. Just make sure to flour the CRAP out of the canvas and never wash it, or your loaf will stick.

I sized the canvas so that I can fold it over the whole bowl to keep the dough from getting oxidized. New kitten “helped” with the fabric cutting.

When you’re ready to bake you just invert the bowl and dump the loaf out of the basket. I like the look of bread proofed in a canvas lined basket.

Stay tuned for my levain-based bread recipe in an upcoming issue of Urban Farm Magazine.

Making It e-Book Corrected

To those of you who purchased an e-version of our book Making It and had trouble reading it, I just received a note from our publisher Rodale:

The “disappearing words” are actually words that appear in a faint gray color that was hard or impossible to see over light background color settings on some devices, especially the Kindle from Amazon.

We have corrected the e-book files and re-released them to all retailers. The corrected versions should be live and for sale within the next two weeks.

In most cases customers will receive automatic notification that a (free) update is available. That notification should come by way of an email from the retailer where the book was purchased. If notification is not received by the end of August, we suggest they contact the retailer directly to request the update.

Sorry about this!

Michael Tortorello on Urban Homesteading

Michael Tortorello, who wrote that nice piece about us a few months ago, “Living Large, Off the Land,” is one of my favorite writers on gardening and “urban homesteady” topics. He’s critical without being curmudgeonly and manages to separate the truth from the hype (and there’s an awful lot of hype in this movement!). Plus he managed to get an entire paragraph about my thyrsus into the New York Times. Thyrsus hype?

Since he’s far too busy writing kick ass columns to have a website, I’ve collected a few of his articles here in one place for your reading pleasure:

Heirloom Seeds or Flinty Hybrids?
Yes, hybrid seeds are o.k. and I agree.

The Permaculture Movement Grows From Underground
The wonders of permaculture plus a jab at aerated compost tea.

Finding the Potential in Vacant Lots
Recent boom and bust cycles have left us with a lot of room to grow stuff.

Food Storage as Grandma Knew It
Tortorello actually tracked down some folks who have functioning root cellars.

The Spotless Garden
On aquaponics. Don’t name those fish!

Making Flowers Into Perfume
 Build that still!

Seeds Straight From Your Fridge
On planting seeds from the pantry.

CooKit Solar Cooker Made Out of Wood

The nice folks at Solar Cookers International gave us permission to reprint plans for their CooKit solar cooker in our book Making It. You can access those plans, as well as many other solar cooker projects, for free, on their website here.

I’ve made CooKits out of cardboard and aluminum foil a couple of times. One problem is that I eventually bang up the cardboard and I’ve got to make a new one. This summer I had a lot of  1/4 inch plywood leftover from fixing up Mrs. Homegrown’s writin’ shed. Rather than send that plywood to the dump I decided to make a more permanent CooKit.

I blew up the CooKit pdf from the SCI website using Adobe Illustrator.  I did a tiled printout and taped the pieces together to create a life sized pattern. I used this pattern to cut out the plywood pieces.

I spray glued the aluminum foil to the plywood. Next, I drilled holes in all the pieces and inserted twist ties to, essentially, create little hinges so that I could fold up the CooKit when not in use.

The plywood CooKit folds much better than my cardboard versions did.

This type of “panel” solar cooker works best for things like polenta and rice. Now I’ve got a convenient folding panel cooker for backyard use and camping trips.

Sunflowers and Squirrels

It’s a losing battle, the one we gardeners face against the squirrel menace. As the mammoth sunflowers we planted this summer approached the harvest stage, I tied some paper bags over the flower heads to prevent squirrels and birds from eating all the seeds. Mostly, it has worked. But, as you can see from the animation above, one pesky squirrel managed to figure out how to open one of the bags. Perhaps he used the adjacent tomato cage for extra leverage.

Maybe this bag worked because the Whole Foods logo scared the squirrels away with the thought of high prices and angry Pruis drivers.

I thought I had solved the problem by putting one of those ubiquitous and annoying cloth eco bags over the sunflower. Not even the City of LA logo on that eco bag scared them off.

So what to do about the squirrels? Tight bird netting on fruit trees works but is a pain in the ass to attach and remove. Commercial orchardists trap and kill. Hmmm. Along those lines it looks like we have yet another excuse to link to that squirrel melt video . . .

Homemade cat scratcher

I feel like I should apologize to non-cat people for all the cat-related content we’ve been generating of late. This should be the last cat post for a while. (At least until the widdle snugum wuggums does something adorable!)

We picked up this cat scratcher idea from Modern Cat. That version is much more polished than ours, in fact, it’s downright cute. Ours is also too small–we need to add to it a bit. But you can see how it’s made: strips of cardboard coiled up like a a cinnamon roll, duct tape at the breaks. If you go to the original, you’ll see how they finish the edges.

Easy. Kitty likes it.

Emergency water storage

We’re finally ready for The Big One. In terms of emergency preparedness, we were pretty well set in terms of food, light, fuel, etc., but we didn’t have much water. Just some jugs, a rain barrel that’s empty most of the year, and the water in our hot water tank. This lack made me nervous, so we finally did took the bull by the horns–or the bung hole…

 How much water should you store? 

1 gallon of water per person per day. This is the minimal amount necessary for drinking, cooking and very basic hygiene. If you live somewhere it can get beastly hot, factor in extra water for drinking. In scorching temps you’ll need a gallon per person a day just for hydration.

Expect you’ll need at least a two week supply. That’s a minimum 14 gallons per household member. Then be sure to add extra water for pets and livestock. When we considered all of that, it seemed like a 55 gallon drum was not too much for the two of us and our pets. Ideally, we’d store more. It doesn’t rain here 3/4 of the year, and there isn’t any natural water source nearby. A second drum might be in our future.

What we’re using:

We shelled out the money for a brand new, food grade 55 gallon drum. The reason we didn’t go with a much cheaper used food grade drum is because some food stuffs leave behind residues which is impossible to clean from the drum. These might just manifest as off odors that make the water smell and taste bad, or they might even contain tiny traces of food will lead to bacterial growth during long term storage. For example, it is impossible to clean away traces of dairy, no matter how hard you scrub. It seemed better to just pay the extra money than to worry about it.

I don’t like plastic much, but short of buidling a concrete cistern or something like that, the only other similar option would be to buy a stainless steel drum. I’d much prefer to do so, but new ones priced out in the $800 to $1000 range. 

Accessories for the barrel:

There are two vital accessories that go with any 55 gallon drum: a bung wrench (see pic above) to open and close the drum’s bung holes easily (it apparently can also be used as a gas shut-off wrench) and a siphon pump to get the water out of the drum. There are nice, solid pumps sold for frequent use, but we got a cheap one ($20) and hope it will hold up in our hour of need.  All our equipment came from a surplus store, but many retailers can be found with a little simple googling.

Alternatives:

You might find sturdy 5 gallon water containers more versatile, both for handling and storage. And choosing them instead of a drum will preserve you from ever having to say “bung hole” out loud. Just make sure they are strong, BPA free, and suited both for stacking and long term storage. The less expensive ones may leak, and can’t be stacked. Find them at outdoor and surplus stores, and online.

If you want to recycle, you can store water in plastic 2 liter soda bottles. Don’t use the white milk jug-type containers (whether they held milk or juice) because they don’t age well and don’t seal well. Glass jars are nice because they’re not plastic, but they are heavy and must be carefully stored.

You can just store commercially bottled water. If you do this, change it out according to the expiry date.

Cleaning the container:

Whatever container you use, clean it first by washing with soap and water if necessary, then rinsing it out with a mild bleach solution (1 tsp in a quart of water). Bleach is what The Authorities always recommend. I’m no fan of bleach, but in this case have decided to toe the line instead of trying vinegar instead, because I just don’t want to take any risks in this case.

Filling the container:

City water is already treated with chlorine or chlorine variants, so if your house water comes from a municipal supply line you don’t have to treat it by adding extra chlorine or iodine prior to storage. You can store untreated city water for 6 months.

If your water comes from a well or other untreated source, then you should treat it prior to storage by adding 1/8 teaspoon of regular, unscented chlorine bleach to each gallon of water.  

Treating dodgy water:

If you suspect that your water is contaminated–for instance, if after an emergency you doubt the cleanliness of the water from the tap, you should take steps to purify it before drinking. These are things to commit to memory, or maybe pin on the fridge, because in an emergency, you probably will not be able to check the internet.

Boil it:  If you have the fuel, you can purify water by bringing it to a rolling boil for 1 to 3 minutes. 

Bleach it: Even if you’re a bleach hater, like me, you should keep a small bottle of unscented, regular (not color safe, thickened, etc.) chlorine bleach on hand for emergencies.

Add 16 drops (1/4 teaspoon) of bleach to each gallon of water. Shake, and let sit for 30 minutes before drinking.

Iodine: If you have liquid 2% tincture of iodine, add 5 drops per quart. If you have tablets, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Apparently adding a pinch of powdered vitamin C or orange drink hides the iodine flavor. And prevents scurvy!

The preceding directions are for clean-looking water. If your water is cloudy, you will want to try to filter it as best you can to remove sediment (filter it though a coffee filter or t-shirt or somesuch), and then be extra rigorous in the purification. Boil longer. If you’re using bleach, you should be able (unfortunately) to detect a faint odor of bleach in your water after treatment. If you don’t, it’s not clean. Repeat the process. If you’re using iodine, use 10 drops per quart instead of 5.

ETA: Forgot! Another way to disinfect water in an emergency situation is through solar water disinfection, or SODIS. Basically you fill up a clear plastic (PET) liter bottle–it has to be clear, and it can’t be bigger than a liter–and put it in intense sun for 6 hours. Filter the water first if it’s dirty. See AfriGadget for details.

Storage length:

Stored water should be swapped out for fresh every six months (except for commercially bottled water–again, check the expiry date on that). Use the old water for your garden, sanitize the containers and refill. We’ve got the swap date marked on our calendar so we don’t forget.

Where to store the water:

Somewhere dark and relatively temperature stable. Also, no matter how sturdy the container, there is always a chance for water leaks, so you should keep that in mind, too. We live in a very mild climate, so we’re keeping our barrel in constantly shady, protected corner of our back yard.

Some resources:

How to Store Water for Drinking and Cooking (PDF from Penn State)

Backpackers Guide to Water Purification

FEMA Preparedness PDF

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Computer modeling of complex systems has gotten us in a whole world of trouble in recent years. Filmmaker Adam Curtis has directed a superb series, about this issue, for the BBC called “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”. The second episode “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts” will be of particular interest to readers of this blog. It details the errors that occur when we try to model natural systems. I can’t reccomend this program highy enough. Set aside an hour today to watch this program before the BBC copyright police take it down.

Episode 2  “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts”:

Here’s the first episode “Love and Power” about what happens when computer algorithms and, shall we say, overly confident philosophers gain control over our economic life.

Episode 1: “Love and Power”:

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace from science2art on Vimeo.

Erik Thoughtstylin’ in Urban Farm Magazine

Photo by Graham Keegan. Yes, those are medlars in the background.

On the back page of Urban Farm magazine’s most recent issue–Sept./Oct 2011–Erik is asked to answer the question, “If you can only do one thing to boost your sustainability…”

His answer follows. He was in high guru form that day. I hope Urban Farm will forgive me for lifting the whole quote:

The action at the top of the to-do list on the path to true sustainability is not a tangible thing. It’s a change in perspective, a breaking down of the barrier between what is “within” and what is “without.” It is a recognition that our internal intentions and actions expand ever outward, transforming our households, communities and, ultimately, the world. We are alchemists. Our compost piles, beehives and chicken coops are merely the outward signs of the transformation going on within our souls. A new era beckons.