Google Sketchup as an Urban Homesteading Tool

I just completed a new chicken run, greatly assisted by an amazing and free 3d design program: Trimble SketchUp (formerly Google SketchUp). While it takes some time to learn (I’m still learning!), this program helped me visualize the chicken run as well as estimate the amount of materials I’d need to buy. Here’s how I used it to create the run:

Previous runs either did not work (chickens squeezed out and flew over) or were hideously ugly. I resolved to design a run that was both aesthetically pleasing and practical. Inspired by A-Frame cabins of the 60s Kelly and I came up with this idea:

I took my A-Frame plans to a friend, John Zapf, who runs Zapf Architectural Renderings. He took some time out, literally, from rendering multi-million dollar buildings to help with my lowly chicken run project. He could see a few problems with the A-Frame idea immediately–wasted space on the side towards the fence, and a lack of continuity between the shape of the chicken coop’s roof and the new run. Taking out pen and paper (sometimes the quicker option!) he sketched out  a much better design:

I took John’s sketch and entered it into Sketchup:

Being the low-tech bumpkin that I am, once I completed the run I was excited to see how much the real thing looked like the rendering.

SketchUp has some powerful features. There’s a library of objects other people have already drawn for you that you can download for free. For instance, the fence and tree (the exact same species of tree in my backyard, by the way) were both in the SketchUp library. And, amazingly, you can drop your model into Google Maps and even figure out the shadow patterns it will cast in the course of a year.

I’d strongly recommend going through the tutorial videos before trying to use SketchUp (I didn’t do this and wasted a lot of time initially).

And thanks to John Zapf and Anne Hars for your help!

Picture Sundays: Toyon in Bloom

Our young Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) had its first bloom this year. What’s so great about Toyon?

Get one for your food forest! 

Saturday Linkages: Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush

Using a tampon as a “survival straw” water filter.

Outdoor Deck & Inside Room Linked via Climbing Walls & Ladders | Designs & Ideas on Dornob http://dornob.com/outdoor-deck-inside-room-linked-via-climbing-walls-ladders/

Did you know lemons are hybrids? The secret lives of citrus fruit – Boing Boing http://boingboing.net/2012/06/08/the-secret-lives-of-citrus-fru.html

The Archdruid Report: Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/06/collapse-now-and-avoid-rush.html?spref=tw

Our friend Nancy Klehm: Urban Foraging: Looking for Herbs on the Wild Side http://shar.es/qTEsU

Why you should keep a tampon or two in your survival kit: http://artofmanliness.com/2012/06/05/survival-tampon/

A repurposed trampaline becomes teepee bed: http://pinterest.com/pin/285415695105048216/ 

Hot new method of weed control not so hot: http://ow.ly/1NlErv

A Ton of Ideas For Using Old Pallets http://bit.ly/MHXlHf

Sharing Economy vending machine: http://boingboing.net/2012/06/04/sharing-economy-vending-machin.html

Homestead Survival: Healthy Fruit Orange Blossom Water Frozen Popsicle… http://homesteadsurvival.blogspot.com/2012/05/healthy-fruit-summer-frozen-popsicle.html?spref=tw

The errors of “pop and drop” planting of shrubs: http://ow.ly/1NbIB2

Follow the Root Simple twitter feed for more linkages.

Secrets In Your Pantry?

Craig Ruggless of Winnetka Farms asked me a great question this past weekend, “If people could see your kitchen pantry what would you be most embarrassed about?”

The first thing that came to mind is the occasional package of scary, deep fried, orange dusted cornmeal snacks. The truth is that we don’t often have them on hand more than a couple times a year (largely because I would go through them like a crack addict). But we do have plenty of other dodgy convenience foods picked up at Trader Joes and consumed on those evenings we’re too tired to cook.

While the image of the urban homesteader is one who dines on nothing but wholesome veggies, backyard eggs and artisinal canning projects, the truth is that we’re all human and live in a world where Cheez Doodles* practically grow on trees. In fact I’m tempted to back-engineer the Cheez Doodle in the same way as the artist who built a toaster from scratch a few years ago. And I’m sure that a hipster Brooklynite will soon open an artisinal Cheez Doodle shop.

So what are you embarrassed to admit is in the pantry? Or maybe you’ve found a way to banish all the wonders of our industrial food system. Comments!

*Interesting fact: I don’t think you can even buy the Cheese Doodle brand here in CA (we’ve never seen a real Doodle!) but we use the name.

Our New Chickens

When I put out the call to you, our readers, to name the ideal urban chicken I got a call from my friend Craig Ruggless of Winnetka Farms. He said something like, “Duh, the Barnevelder, of course!” Craig and his partner Gary Jackemuk have an ambitions breeding program to take the Barnevelder from show chicken back to farm chicken. So far the results are impressive.

I took this as a message that I should fix my run and get ready for some new chickens. This weekend, I picked up four new pullets from Winnetka Farms, all crosses between a Barnevelder and an Americauna. I call them “Winnetkavelders.”

The Barnevelder, according to Craig and Gary, are a great dual purpose breed that is both heat and cold tolerant. They also take well to confinement.

The “Winnetkavelders” that now live at the root simple compound have an unusual characteristic. At least one of the pullets is laying an olive green egg:

Hmm. This color may not display correctly. Basically, the green-ish egg they lay is exactly the color of a cocktail olive. Not one of those fancy (and suspiciously) bright green olives, but the true drab olive you’ll find in your typical dive bar martini olive. (No offense to the hens! We’re just talking color here.) Yesterday we were joking with a friend that we should paint red pimento spots on the end.

This is the result of crossing the blue/green egg color of the Americauna with the dark brown of the Barnevelder. Another of the Winnetkavelders is laying an amazing dark brown egg like a purebred Barnevelder and a third is laying a green/olive egg with brown spots. They’ve been very productive and are taking well to their new surroundings.

A big thanks to Craig and Gary!

Book Review: 1491

I’m way late to this party, because 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbuscame out in 2006 and was a best seller, so it’s probably not news to many of you that this is a fantastic book.

For those of you who haven’t read it, though, this is the type of book that you look up from every few minutes and say, “Listen to this!” or “Did you know…?” 

1491 is a depiction of the Americas just before and just after contact with the Europeans. The gist of it is that the peoples of the Americas were much more populous and their civilizations more advanced than we are taught in our school books.

The first part of the book deals with horrific impact of imported European diseases on the native populations. I always knew it was very bad–but I never understood the extent of the devastation. In part this is because I never understood extent of the civilizations destroyed. This section is depressing, but it’s well worth understanding.

The rest of the book covers so much ground that I don’t even know what to focus on. Warring archeologists struggling to define the past. The complex and fascinating debate over when and how the first people came to the Americas. (Nope, the old land-bridge theory doesn’t hold water anymore.) Grisly tales of the Conquistadors coupled with intriguing records made by Spanish scribes that offer us precious insights into the strange and magnificent technologies and theologies of the Inka, Maya and Aztecs. The mystery of the development of corn and it’s impact on the world. The true history of the buffalo and the passenger pigeon–it’s not what you were taught. The wonders just pile up. 

What I think back on most, though, is what is revealed through these stories about the relationship between nature and culture in pre-contact Americas. As with Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources, which we’ve reviewed here before, a picture rises of very active human management of natural resources. All across the Americas there is compelling evidence of intense landscape management practices which in most cases (but not all) managed to provide for the needs of burgeoning human population without destroying the land. This is permaculture. The real deal.

There are so many lessons to be learned from these ignored histories. And what’s most interesting is that it seems we are only able to understand the skill and knowledge these lost people now, because we are only just becoming able to conceptualize more subtle relationships to nature. For instance, until we began to understand food forestry as a legitimate agricultural practice, we had no hope of recognizing an ancient Amazonian food forest when we saw one.

Lots to think about.


You can hear 1491 author Charles Mann deliver an interesting lecture, “Living in the Homogenocene: The First 500 Years” on the Long Now Foundation’s podcast.

Homemade Cat Toys

Top to bottom: Trout, palm frond, twine, acorn, plastic strip

This is advice for new cat owners coming from relatively new cat owners: don’t waste your money on cat toys. Cats are fickle, ungrateful little creatures. Novelty is more important to them than just about anything else. And I don’t mean genuine novelty–they don’t need newer and stranger toys all the time. Rather, individual toys seem to get stale for them. A fresh paper bag is thrilling, but by the end of the day it’s old news. However, if you put another paper bag down, even the exact same kind of bag, the thrills will start all over again. If you try to fulfill their whims by buying them new toys all the time, soon your pockets will be empty and you’ll be up to your neck in ignored cat toys.

The only exception to the above is a laser pointer. If you’re going to buy one toy, let it be that, though be warned that the laser is addictive for cats. Small cloth mice, especially those stuffed with catnip, have some staying power as well. Or at least they are occassionally resurrected, as nothing else is. In our experience, everything else gets totally and utterly abandoned after about 15 minutes.

These are our cats’ favorite toys. Several of which are in the photo above.

  • Cardboard boxes and paper bags. This seems hardly worth mentioning because it is universal.
  • Ditto goes for unfortunate insects.
  • Sticks or branches of (nonpoisonous) foliage I bring in from outside, e.g. palm fronds. This is very exciting for indoor cats.
  • Trout’s favorite playthings, by far, are the plastic strips that you tear off when you open zip-lock packaging. He demands they be replaced regularly, and will greet a new one with an hour or two of ecstatic solo play. When he gets tired of that, he insists that we play fetch with him by tossing these strips around. Most mornings we wake up with strips dropped upon us.
  • Meanwhile, Phoebe is quite fond of bottle caps. But one cap is good for about a half hour, then it is ignored. However, a new cap is always a thrill.
  • Acorns on hardwood floors also make for enthusiastic but loud play. But of course “fresh” acorns must be substituted for “stale” acorns on a regular basis.
  • Unauthorized objects are always their favorites. One favorite unauthorized toy for our cats is our big ball of gardening twine. Yes, yes, string is bad, they’ll choke & etc. We don’t let them play with it unsupervised, but if they get a chance, they love to tackle this ball. My yoga mat, unfortunately, is another big favorite in the unauthorized category. It looks like it’s gone through a cheese grater. Trout will also gleefully shred anything wrapped in plastic. He’s destroyed packs of toilet paper, opened bags of people food and most recently shredded a mailer holding a book.
  • Sweaty bacbpacks and messenger bags, especially those of visitors, provide hours of fascination and somewhat creepy sensual rubbing. Encourage your friends to wear their bags over in the summer. Consider opening a hostel for through-hikers.

What do your cats play with?

Barfing and Bikes: Why You Might Want Fenders

Barf Blog reports on an unusual study that took a look at why a an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness occured at the world’s largest bike race in Norway. In short, mud from cattle grazing areas splashed up onto the faces of participants.

Now I wouldn’t see the need to repeat this if I hadn’t met a cyclist here in Los Angeles that something similar happened to. In his case it was a case of giardia–his doctor theorized that the little buggers came up from the gutter via the wheel and landed on the top of his water bottle. He was very sick for months and lost a lot of weight.

Portlandians will laugh at our lack of fenders down in sunny Los Angeles. Perhaps this study might be enough to convince even roadies to get some. Well, only if there are $2,000 titanium fenders.

Saturday Linkages: The Archdruid, Cat Climbing Shelves, Rewilding, Tempeh Food Safety and More!

John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report: The Rumbling of Distant Thunder http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/05/rumbling-of-distant-thunder.html?spref=tw

Simple and Elegant DIY Cat Climbing Shelves – http://www.moderncat.net/2012/05/31/simple-and-elegant-diy-cat-climbing-shelves/

Build-It-Solar Blog: How Large a Solar Collector Do You Need to Heat Your Hot Tub http://www.builditsolarblog.com/2012/05/how-large-solar-collector-do-you-need.html?spref=tw

CDC – Advice to Consumers – Salmonella Infections Linked to Live Poultry – Salmonella -  http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/live-poultry-05-12/advice-consumers.html

How to safely prepare tempeh: barfblog: http://bit.ly/KrN4wg

The Facebook Fallacy http://techre.vu/KqI6A2 (via @TechReview)

Turnstyle » Rewilding: Primitivists Take it Back to Basics http://turnstylenews.com/2012/05/24/firefly-primitivists-photo-gallery/

Tiny Home in Oakland of Recycled Materials- $5K http://bit.ly/Kmyfew

Why There’s No War Between Drivers and Cyclists in the Netherlands – Commute – The Atlantic Cities http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/05/why-theres-no-war-between-drivers-and-cyclists-netherlands/1955/

Follow the Root Simple twitter feed for more linkages.