Saturday Linkages: Rude and Stinky

The very stinky Dracunculus vulgaris on the Garden Professors’ Blog

Stacking metal lunchbox made from tuna cans: 

Grow Something Rude and Smelly-Dracunculus vulgaris:

Moss Tiles – a rally bad idea:

Life Magazine 1948: Chicago Family’s Mutant Bikes via @bikejuju

Geodesic Hub Connectors –  

Hiplok Wearable Bike Lock Review  via @urbanvelo 

Hot air hand dryers not as good as paper towels:  

Follow the Root Simple twitter feed for more linkages.  

A Mason Jar Camping Lantern

Okay, so this isn’t going to win any awards for ingenuity (or craftsmanship!) but its easy and it works. I use this little jar and ones like it when we car camp. Barring high winds or rain, the tea light never goes out. The handle allows you to carry it around or hang it. Headlamps are all very convenient, but little candles make a campsite feel like home. And yep, it works well in the backyard too.

 There’s nothing to it, but just in case the picture makes it look more complicated than it is, all I do is wrap a piece of scrap wire around the mouth of the jar, twisting it closed. The ridges at the top of the jar hold it in place. Then I make a handle by twisting a second piece of wire around the first.

Composting at the NATO Protests in Chicago

Have you ever gone to a concert or a convention or some other large event and marveled at the staggering amounts of waste generated? I’ve been particularly wishing more of that waste was composted. And what do you know? Just as I was thinking about this, guest Root Simple blogger Nancy Klehm happened to send me a post on this very subject. If only every event had a compost tsar! Here’s Nancy:

I am obsessed with urban soil health, so when I got a phone call in mid May from Steven of the Seeds of Peace Collective, I realized a soil ship had floated in. Seeds of Peace is a collective of accomplished cooks and trained street medics, based in Missoula, who provide delicious home cooked food in support of non-violent social movements. They were in Chicago to set up a free community kitchen to serve thousands of NATO conference protestors. Steven said they needed my assistance with their food waste as they had already overwhelmed a small urban garden’s compost bin.

It was late, so I waited until morning and drove my pickup to their site – a parking lot between a community center and an auto parts store. The scene was impressive: a maroon biodiesel school bus with windows dressed in curtains screen printed with frying pans and butcher knives and the largest wok and cast iron pan I have ever seen. A purple tent stretched from the bus into the lot overhanging a to-code outdoor kitchen with multiple burner stoves, wash sinks, prepping area and boxes of produce, mostly organic. At least 12 people stood prepping food for the day. Gallons and gallons of salad and stir fry ingredients were being tossed and mixed in 30 gallon coolers with small wooden oars.

Every day for a week, I picked up the 100 or so gallons of food waste a day and provided them with extra large garbage cans to pour their waste into. Their kitchen was three miles from the rallying area. Once the food was prepared, they would pack a flat bed with it and a few tables and trundle off to the park to serve their healthy, delicious food free of charge.

One pick up was an entire garbage can of delicious looking chickpea and sweet potato curry that had fermented in the sun due to the police blocking their passage to the Park. It made me cry to compost that delicious looking curry. I had to use a couple of bales of straw and dumpstered cardboard from my carbon stockpile to take care of so much nitrogenous waste. Over the past month, the pile, well integrated and covered with a thick layer of straw reached thermophilic temperatures and now is in its mesophilic stage. Most of the food is just residual moisture now and the pile has dropped in volume by at least 20% due to composting and evaporation. So much future soil!

Thanks Steven, Sarah, Patrick and the rest of you of the Seeds of Peace Collective. May you meet with strong hearts and hands on the road.

The Good Stuff at Dwell on Design

Joey Roth Planter.

Yesterday I ranted about techno-utopianism. Today we’ll get back down to earth and take a look at three elegant and simple design interventions I found at this past weekend’s Dwell on Design convention.

Joey Roth Planter

How Roth’s planter works.

Joey Roth has a very clever take on a very old idea: a pot with a built in olla he calls simply Planter which is avaliable on his website for $45. Ollas are ceramic jars buried in the ground to deliver a slow drip of water to plants. Roth’s design is elegant, simple and effective–take an olla and make it integral with a pot. Particularly on a hot day, conventional ceramic pots dry out quickly and Roth’s planter would be great on a hot balcony or porch. His teapot is also an object of great beauty.

Scout Regalia

SR Raised Garden Kit

Scout Regalia’s design team, architects Benjamin Luddy and Makoto Mizutani, had two nice items at the convention. Their “SR Raised Garden Kit” is a set of metal brackets that turn lumber you provide into an atractive raised bed. At $95 it’s a bit over my price range, but it does look a lot better than Simpson ties.

The Scout Regalia bicycle is smart looking and practical. They describe it as a combo of an “English/Dutch town bike, a cycle truck, and a mountain bike.” Looks like the perfect whip for LA’s potholed streets.


The U-Socket is a standard outlet with usb charging ports. What more is there to say other than they’ll probably become ubiquitous in the next few years. Clever idea.

Design Like You Give a Damn [2]

Unlike the reams of purely theoretical CAD renderings that a lot of architects churn out, some designers are actually getting off their duff and building things. Design Like You Give a Damn [2]: Building Change from the Ground Up catalogs efforts by a non-profit, Architecture for Humanity, to “bring design, construction and development services where they are most critically needed.” There’s some really nice projects documented in this book which also functions as a how-to for anyone interested in humanitarian design.

Mitchell Joachim’s Techno-Utopian Future

Blimp Bus. Mitchell Joachim.

This past Friday I attended the Dwell on Design convention sponsored by Dwell Magazine. Amidst the high end bath fixtures and sleek induction cooktops I found a few simple but wonderful ideas that I’ll blog about tomorrow. But first I’ve got to try to digest the strangeness that was a presentation by architect and futurist Mitchell Joachim.

Fab Tree Hab. Mitchell Joachim.

Joachim is the thoughtstylist in chief of Planetary One and Terreform One, non-profit organizations that, “pioneer visionary socio-ecological and infrastructural strategies for urban environments.” Articulate and entertaining, Joachim delivered a rapid fire PowerPoint lecture showcasing many of his outré notions: floating jellyfish-like mass transit thingies, foam electric cars, strawberry shaped hydrogen peroxide powered jet pack capsules, houses made of in-vitro cultured meat and the favorite of contemporary futurists, high rise hydroponic farms.

Sheep Cars. Mitchell Joachim

I really couldn’t tell if Joachim was simply trying to provoke a discussion, delusional, self-promoting, or engaged in some kind of conceptual art project in which we, the gullible audience, were part of an elaborate ironic or post-ironic house of mirrors. Joachim seems hipper than old school World’s Fair futurist types and yet he’s promoting exactly the same Jetson style future, albeit with an eco tinge, those of us over forty can remember from our childhood.

Green Brain, A Smart Park for a New City. Mitchell Joachim

I completely agree with Joachim that whatever designs we come up with have to make the world a better place, that technology must create what he calls a “positive contribution model.” And I appreciate his clever renderings and sense of humor as a way to provoke a dialog. But Joachim’s vision veers too close to what John Michael Greer calls the “apocalypse meme,” the idea that some sort of cataclysmic event (Joachim suggests an ecological crisis) will usher in a new techno-utopian age. Joachim even suggested that his positive eco-feedback loops could form the basis of a new faith to replace our current consumerist spirituality.

In-Vitro Meat House. Mitchell Joachim

At the risk of being a nattering nabob of negativity, I just have to say that I think it’s time to grow up and stop fantasizing about jet packs, hydroponic farms and electric cars.  We need to get realistic about our future and explore design work that lives within the resource limits of this planet. Like Greer, I believe it’s time to return to what came to be called, in the 1960s and 70s, appropriate technology, things like solar water heaters, rocket stoves and permaculture. Designers have an important role to play in the coming years, but that role may be more about working on the ideal pit toilet rather than foam electric cars or in-vitro meat houses (I will admit the meat house is pretty funny). As a design challenge, that ideal pit toilet, by the way, is just as engaging, perhaps more so than the techno-utopianisms that Joachim peddles. Maybe Joachim can work on an in-vitro meat pit toilet.

Picture Sundays: Hyperbolic Crochet

Spotted at the Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles, a piece from their Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. About the process:

The inspiration for making crochet reef forms begins with the technique of “hyperbolic crochet” discovered in 1997 by Cornell University mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina. The Wertheim sisters adopted Dr Taimina’s techniques and elaborated upon them to develop a whole taxonomy of reef-life forms. Loopy “kelps”, fringed “anemones”, crenelated “sea slugs”, and curlicued “corals” have all been modeled with these methods. The basic process for making these forms is a simple pattern or algorithm, which on its own produces a mathematically pure shape, but by varying or mutating this algorithm, endless variations and permutations of shape and form can be produced.

And, yes, they have a how-to book if you’d like to try this on your own.

Saturday Linkages: Of Sausages, Sandbags and Cell Phones

Sandbag couch via Dornob

How to Turn an Old WWII Field Phone Into a Bluetooth Handset | The Art of Manliness

Man robs man using stolen sausage | barfblog: 

Another reason not to use cardboard as mulch:

50 seconds in Cloudbreak Barrel with Kalani Chapman

Emergency sandbags repurposed as a couch

Vinegar vs. Round-up tested:

How to Use a [BUSTED] Cell Phone to Meet 5 Basic Survival Needs | The Art of Manliness  

Happiness is a glass half empty | Oliver Burkeman

Follow the Root Simple twitter feed for more linkages.

Healing the yard with a huge compost pile

The new compost pile is covered with a tarp to keep moisture in. Eventually it will fill this whole space. In the background you can see our leftover adobe bricks.

So–our regular readers will know that we have high levels of lead in our back yard soil. We’re dealing with this by filling most of our yard with mulch and perennial natives to lock down the soil (lead laden dust is bad) and to diversify the local ecosystem.

Meanwhile, our vegetables must be grown in raised beds from now out. We used to have two main vegetable beds in the center of our back yard–they were our workhorses. Since the lead scare we’ve pulled up those beds. They were semi-sunken beds, the soil in them a mix of native soil, compost and imported soil.

When you have contaminated soil yet want to grow food, the easiest solution is to build extra deep raised beds and fill them with imported soil (soil which has, hopefully, been tested for lead!). Some people put plastic sheeting or rock barriers between the imported soil or native soil, which in effect makes the beds into giant containers.

We did something a little different–and a lot harder. We dug out a huge pit where our beds used to be. When I say “we,” I mean Erik dug a huge pit. (Somehow I weaseled out of this project.) This excavation had two purposes: 1) to remove the topsoil, where most of the lead (lead being an airborne pollutant) is located and 2) to harvest the clay beneath to use in our earth oven. Between the clay harvested for making the adobe bricks and cob, and the supplemental clay that we’ve put aside for future repairs and maintenance on the oven, the pit has grown to be about 12 feet wide and 2 feet deep.

This pit is going to be our new planting area, but obviously it needs to be filled in. Instead of buying imported soil, we’re going to grow soil by composting on a grand scale. We’re going to compost right in the pit and fill it up bit by bit. When it’s done, we’ll have a big round area where it will probably be safe enough to plant food crops. Might the plants suck some lead up from the deep clay layer? Maybe. We could test the deep clay. Might some lead leach in from the sides of the pit? Possibly. But this solution is good enough for us.

What drives us to this decision is our intuitive relationship with our yard. I know that sounds a little woo-woo, but I encourage you all to pay attention to what your gut tells you about your gardens. It won’t steer you wrong.

Our gut instincts told us to dig down rather than build up, and to make good use of excavated dirt in the oven. Now our instincts tell us to fill this giant hole with rich homemade compost rather than imported soil. It just seems more…holistic to grow out own soil. It will rise out of our meals, our labor, our intentions. It will belong to this place.

How long will this take? Probably about a year. Maybe more. We’re willing to wait for those future harvests because this feels right.