Learn How to Compost Via the Humanure Handbook

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third EditionComposting ain’t rocket science but it does require some finesse. Following up on an earlier post which contained a comparison of different composters, I thought I’d mention my favorite written resource on how to compost. In my opinion, the best writing on the subject comes from a surprising source, the Humanure Handbook by Joeseph Jenkins. Best of all, an edition of this book is available online for free. Even if you have no intention of composting human waste, The Humanure Handbook contains excellent directions on how to easily maintain a hot n’ healthy compost pile. You can access the free edition here. Jenkins also has a bunch of great how-to videos here.

On the subject of humanure, news coverage of the terrible cholera outbreak in Haiti only gets half of the story. I keep hearing the press refer to the problem as one of a “lack of access to clean water.” True, but the other half of the problem is what Jenkin’s Humanure book is about, keeping human waste out of waterways in the first place and turning it into a resource rather than a disposal problem.

Playin’ Possum

Since it happened too fast to take a picture I offer, thanks to the interwebs, this image of former Secretary of State of Florida Katherine Harris holding an opossum.

When I stepped out into the backyard early this morning to let the chickens out, I found an opossum just outside the coop eyin’ my ladies. It ran off well before I got anywhere near the coop. Since our dog passed on I’ve noticed an uptick in backyard critters. Still, it was late for a possum to be out–perhaps it had been partying down on nearby Sunset Boulevard and was just getting around to finding some grub. And that grub? Like us, opossums eat both eggs and chickens.

As with all such pest problems I went straight to the University of California integrated pest management website where I found a helpful article on opossums. The advice:

  • Pick up fallen fruit (I’m pretty good about this).
  • Eliminate wood piles (I’ve got one I need to eliminate).
  • Don’t leave pet food outside (I never do this, though I had forgotten about a mostly empty bag of chicken feed that the opossum could have been attracted to).
  • Screen off building entrances (I’ve done this).
  • Sit out on the back porch with a rifle. As UC puts it, “opossum may be spotlighted at night and shot”  where, “it is legal and safe to do so”  (can I employ our local gang?)

Habitat control is a great way to keep the population of critters like opossums at manageable levels. But there’s a problem here for those of us in urban or suburban areas. I could do all of these things (minus the gunplay) but what if several neighbors on my block have fallen fruit, outdoor pet food, and open basements?

What we need is an integrated pest management version of Neighborhood Watch, a group of people, at the block level, who would help folks reduce pests without resorting to pesticides and poisons. Sadly, I have no idea how to organize such a thing without coming off as arrogant and overbearing. But when we, at the neighborhood level, figure out how to make these sorts of arrangements that benefit the common good we’ll be well on our way to a more perfected humanity.

Wait, I got it, a neighborhood possum roast!

An earlier version of this post contained the phrase “paryting with the winos and tranny hookers down on Sunset . . .” A number of readers, quite rightly, took offence at the word “tranny.” My apologies to anyone who may have been offended. 

Volvo Camper by John Ross

Volvo Camper (in front of a vintage Spartan trailer)

Spotted in the Museum of Jurassic Technology’s parking lot–a Volvo-based camper created by über tinkerer/genius John Ross. Ross started with a 1,200 gallon underground water cistern like the ones below:

He insulated the tank with polyisocyanurate foam-board and covered the whole thing with a $70 tent to block out light. You access the tank through a hole in the roof of the Volvo. A vented heater doubles as a stove. Ross told me how easily it went together–just two hours to secure the tank to the car–much faster than building something from scratch.And no mortgage!

You can watch the Volvo camper in action here.

Einkorn Pasta

Jovial Organic Whole Grain Einkorn Penne Rigate, 12-Ounce Packages (Pack of 6)A publicist representing Jovial Foods contacted us about trying out a new product they are marketing, pasta made with einkorn wheat. Einkorn is either the first or one of the first grains to be cultivated. We tried two of Jovial’s einkorn products, a whole grain einkorn spagehtti and a whole grain einkorn fusilli. Both were tasty, well made pastas, superior to a Trader Joes whole wheat pasta we compared them to in a taste test. I think I’ll pick up a box of einkorn pasta occasionally, if just to cast a vote with my dollars for biodiversity.

Einkorn also has some possible health benefits. A 2006 study  in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found that einkorn may present “new dietary opportunities for celiac patients” who normally can’t eat wheat products. Jovial’s website cautions, however, that einkorn has not yet been evaluated by the FDA for consumption by celiac patients. Einkorn does contain gluten but it may be in a “more digestible” form than other wheat varieties according to Jovial.

I’ve found Jovial’s einkorn products at Whole Foods and on Amazon.

See the Jovial Foods website for more information on their einkorn pastas and where you can purchase them..

Read more about einkorn in an article by Jared Diamond, “Location, Location, Location: The First Farmers.”

An editorial note: We get a lot of press releases and ignore most of them or recycle the choice ones into April Fools day fodder. Unlike conscientious bloggers, many newspapers and magazines turn the same press releases into articles. Every once in awhile a press release catches our eye. Our policy is to only review things we like and would buy or use ourselves. We also promise to disclose when a blog post idea originates from a press release.

Sometimes we also link to Amazon. Your purchases through those links help defray our costs. And speaking of Amazon, a search for “einkorn” turned up the following oddball item, just in time for Halloween:

Barefoot Running Update

I’ve been running barefoot three times a week for six months with no relapse of the knee or heel pain I used to suffer from when I ran in shoes. I have stubbornly refused to spend any money for minimal footwear (largely because I’m a cheap bastard), but I really don’t feel like I need to. I’ve run all of my barefoot miles on a decomposed granite path and have not had a single injury of any kind, not even a scratch. Danny Dreyer’s book ChiRunning helped correct some form issues. Some things I’ve figured out:

1. Running barefoot gives you instant feedback, but bad form from a lifetime wearing shoes can still pose a problem. I don’t think that feedback would have been as effective had I worn minimal shoes.

2. The guy who runs the anti-barefoot running website that’s the first hit in Google when you search “barefoot running” is a podiatrist who sells . . . shoes.

3. You have to transition slowly. I’ve used the following schedule running three days a week and lifting weights and using my bike for errands on the other days. I think this schedule could be stretched out even further.

Week 1-2: (run 1 minute walk 2 minutes) x 4
Week 3-4: (run 2 minutes walk 2 minutes) x 3
Week 5-6: (run 2 minutes walk 1 minute) x 4
Week 7-8: (run 3 minutes walk 1 minute) x 4
Week 9-10: (run 4 minutes walk 2 minutes) x 4
Week 11-12: (run 4 minutes walk 1 minute) x 6
Week 13-14: (run 5 minutes walk 1 minute) x 6 
Week 15 run 1 mile
. . . etc., adding 10% more distance per week until the goal of 5k three times a week is reached.

4. Running barefoot gives a you a direct contact with Mother Earth (and Mother Concrete) and that’s kinda cool.

Barefoot running is one of those “ah-ha” ideas. It makes you wonder what other sacred cows can be taken “barefoot.” How about that expensive college education, for instance?

See our earlier post on barefoot running, “No Shoes, No problem.”

Another way to deal with prickly pear stickers

One of those “farm uses” could be burning off prickly pear spines . . Image via BoingBoing

I’m drowning in prickly pear fruit which means a lot of nasty thorns in the kitchen and an angry Mrs. Homegrown. Previously I burned them off over our stove, but inevitably a few stickers would find their way to the kitchen sponge. Now I’ve got a new technique for removing stickers thanks to Norman of Silver City New Mexico who writes,

“Just a note to tell you how I harvest the pears.  We live in the arid SW and have a lot of native cacti.  The pears were very good this year because of the extra wet summer.  In dry times we burn the stickers off the prickly pear so the cows will eat the leaves.  It saves the cattle in some years.  I take a propane torch and burn the stickers of the pears before I pick them.  They turn very shinny like you had waxed them.  Then just pick them with your bare hands.  Sure saves a lot of time not having to roll them on a grill.”  

I tried this today with the propane torch I use for sweating pipe. Works great. Norman also suggested making some “Knox Blox” with the juice, something I intend to try. Thanks Norman for saving our marriage.

Summer 2010 Tomato Report

Tomato season began inauspiciously with unseasonably cold weather for Southern California. I simply couldn’t get any seeds to germinate. Thankfully, Craig of gardenedibles.com came to the rescue with a couple of seedlings for us. Here’s a recap of our tomato successes and failures:

Red Pear. I’ve grown this one before. It’s a plump, ribbed, meaty tomato. It’s flavorful and amazing both fresh and made into sauce. Craig concurs that this is a must grow variety.

Napoli. A paste variety with a short bushy growth pattern. Like San Marzanos this vine cranks out a ton of fruit. Did not taste great fresh but made the best canned tomatoes I’ve ever grown–I’m guessing this variety is bred for canning.

St. Pierre: not much to say about it. O.K., but not all that exciting.

Yellow pear. This small cherry tomato sprouted out of the compost. It’s kinda bland, but we got a ton of them. I borrowed some time in neighbors Anne and Bill’s dehydrator and dried them.

Sun Gold. Mrs. Homegrown stuck a Sun Gold tomato in the backyard which I failed to care for properly. Nevertheless, it still produced a decent crop.Very sweet and prolific.

Failures. I had three vines fail on me due to a combination of not transplanting soon enough and not paying attention to them–mainly, I think they got root bound in their pots.

Lessons
This year I took the watering advice of tomato guru Steve Goto of  Gotomato. Goto suggested a thick layer of mulch and a very deep watering when transplanting. The next watering comes when the plant droops in the morning–a whole month for me. Thereafter you water deeply only when the plant droops again in the morning, which worked out to be about once a week. You ignore any droopiness during midday and only water in the morning. I used in-line drip emitter tubing and all seemed to go well. Goto has tomato growing instructions you can download here.

Another big lesson is that even in sunny Southern California you need a cold frame to get good germination in the spring. We’ll blog about the cold frame I just added to our back patio soon.

So how did your tomatoes do this year? Drop us a comment with your geographical location and the tomato varieties you liked the most/least.

Organic Egg Scorecard

Chino Valley hen houses, identified by the Cornucopia Institute as “ethically deficient.”

The Cornucopia Institute has released an “Organic Egg Scorecard” to assist in the ethical minefield that is shopping for a dozen eggs. The scorecard identifies 29 “exemplary” and, not surprisingly given recent news, a whole bunch of “ethically deficient” organic egg producers. The study used a 0 to 2200 point scoring system, rating farmers on hen’s access to outdoor spaces, pasture and the quality of housing among other factors.

And, a memo to Trader Joe’s–take a look at that scorecard–you guys get a big “0.”

Via the Official Poultry Bookstore Blog.