Meet the Gophinator

The Gophinator

Thankfully, we don’t have gophers, but dealing with them is one of the first questions we get when teaching vegetable gardening classes.  You can use raised beds lined with hardware cloth. But, other than target practice (a no-no in urban areas), most people I know with gopher problems end up using traps or zealous cats.

Several sources have told me about the Cadillac of gopher traps, the aptly named “Gophinator”. Scott Kleinrock of the Huntington Ranch is one of those Gophinator fans, who stressed avoiding the cheap traps available at big box stores. The Gophinator is sturdy, easy to set and made out of stainless steel that lasts much longer than cheaper traps.

To use it you need to dig around and find the main subway line the gophers ride. Scott hooks up a wire and a stake to the traps to remember where they are placed.

The Gophinator is manufactured by Trapline products and you can order one and view some instructional videos here.

How do you deal with gophers? Leave some comments!

Urban Homesteading Thing Catching On

I have a Google alert set up for the phrase “urban homestead”. Lately I’ve noticed more real estate and apartment listings using this phrase. Our neighbors Anne and Bill even used it to rent out their duplex. A rental listing that includes the photos in this post came from a real estate concern renting out an apartment in Edmonton, Canada. For $1,600 Canadian dollars a month you get:

  •  hot water on demand system. 
  • sunroom has a high efficiency wood burning fireplace that helps keep house warm and cozy in the winter.
  • fenced back yard is an urban oasis with three apple trees, three plum trees, eight choke cherry bushes, a grape vine, covered deck, and enclosed fire pit with a private seating area. A perennial flower garden lines the path to the front yard. Three rain barrels provide ample water for large vegetable and flower gardens.
  • get to know your neighbours at the nearby community hall and rink. The hall holds a variety of children, youth, and adult-focussed classes, programs, and events, such as free dog training; playgroups; skating, yoga, and dance classes; children’s Halloween and Christmas parties; community bbqs; collective kitchen; and more! 
  • trained dogs welcome; absolutely no cats.

Other than that last bit (Dogs but not cats? Someone please explain the logic.) I’m happy to see fruit trees, rain barrels and community activities listed as an asset. Maybe that common sense thing is catching on.

Grassfed Turkey Cooking Tips from Shannon Hayes

Thinking of cooking a grass-fed turkey for Thanksgiving?

Just in time for the holidays, grassfed cooking expert and farmer Shannon Hayes has a blog post with pastured turkey cooking and purchasing tips that you can read on her blog grassfedcooking.com. We’re honored to have been included in Shannon’s book Radical Homemakers.

One of her most important tips is to know what you are buying,

“If you don’t personally know the farmer who is growing your turkey, take the time to know what you are buying! “Pastured” is not necessarily the same as “free-range.” Some grass-based farmers use the word “free-range” to describe their pasture-raised birds, but any conventional factory farm can also label their birds “free-range” if they are not in individual cages, and if they have “access” to the outdoors – even if the “outdoors” happens to be feces-laden penned-in concrete pads outside the barn door, with no access to grass. “Pastured” implies that the bird was out on grass for most of its life, where it ate grass and foraged for bugs, in addition to receiving some grain”

Wishing all of you a happy, pastured holiday season.

Only at Home: Huntington Ranch Symposium Nov. 18

Not to be missed: the Huntington is putting on an exciting program this Friday November 18. I’m going and hope to see some of you there. If you’re interested in growing edibles in Southern California, this is the place to be!

Only at Home: 2011 Huntington Ranch Symposium
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
San Marino, CA

Marking the second year of Ranch operations, this one-day symposium focuses on aspects of urban agriculture that can’t be duplicated in commercial settings. From the use of gray water irrigation systems to growing offbeat edibles, learn how to harvest the unique potential from your home garden. From 8:30am to 5:00pm.

Featuring: Master gardener Yvonne Savio, native plant specialist Lili Singer, the greywater expertise of Leigh Jerrard, garden designer John Lyons, master preserver Ernest Miller and soil expert Corey Wells. Delicious continental breakfast, lunch and afternoon refreshments provided by Little Flower Candy Company. The daytime event will close with an open tour of the Ranch.

When the symposium draws to a close please decide to stay for more fun with a local beer tasting and farm dinner.  Keynote speaker Dr. Robert Wallace will present on the botany of beer.  Featuring local artisans Craftsman Brewing Company, Eagle Rock Brewery and Little Flower Candy Company.  From 5:30pm to 8:30pm.

All-day event – $40
All-day event plus additional beer tasting, dinner and lecture – $65

Tickets available at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/204977

Erik’s EDC

It’s about time I listed my “everyday carry” or “EDC” for short. For those of you not familiar with the EDC subculture, there are entire websites devoted to posting, critiquing and obsessing over the items you carry every singe day (not, say, just when going on a hike). I went through somewhat of an EDC mid-life crisis last month and emerged on the other side with the following items:

1. A nice Saddleback Leather Wallet that Mrs. Homegrown bought for me after she got sick of my ugly overstuffed old wallet.

2. My old Leatherman that I use every single day.

3. A mini pen–I got a box of 12 from an office supply place. It fits nicely in a pocket and I don’t have to worry about losing it.

4. Ferrocerium Fire Starter “nanoSTRIKER” –this neat little tool has a blade and a ferrocerium rod. You strike the blade against the rod and you get a shower of sparks.

5. Small keychain pill holders–the red one contains a cotton ball soaked in Vaseline to use as kindling with the fire starter. The blue one contains ibuprofen (I’m a runner) and Benadryl (for insect stings).

6. MAGLITE K3A016 AAA Solitaire Flashlight. I had tried a smaller flashlight that used watch batteries, but it had a tendency to open up in my pocket and those watch batteries are expensive. This one has not turned on accidentally or opened up.

You’ll notice that I don’t have a cellphone–Mrs. Homegrown and I share an old one with next to no battery life and I don’t have it with me everyday. That may change soon when we switch plans. And I’ll admit I have yet to use the fero rod for anything other than a bizarre time killer when I deliver lectures to college students.

What’s your EDC? Comments . . . 

Many thanks to Jack Spirko of the Survival Podcast for the handy EDC list he put together that turned me on to those pill holders and fero rods. And read an interesting interview with Bernard Capulong, founder of EDC.com, here.

The Pressure is On

My pressure cooker is my new best friend. Especially when I’m not in the mood for cooking, I can toss a few ingredients in, lock the lid down and come back to a healthy, nutritious supper in just a few minutes.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a pressure cooker cookbook up to my standards. All of the ones I checked out from the library, even those newly published, seemed stuck in the 1950s tuna noodle casserole era, when pressure cooking was last popular. Thankfully, a friend sent us a copy of Pressure Cooking for Everyone by Rick Rogers and Arlene Ward. The recipes are simple and I’m especially fond of the squash risotto and vegetarian chili.

Speaking of vegetarian, the recipes in this book are on the meaty side (Kelly is a “fishatarian” and I simply don’t buy supermarket meat). Someone does need to do a good vegetarian pressure cooker cookbook as the only one I could find was stuck in a kind of brown rice and bean sprouts 1970s style vegetarian groove.

Pressure cooking saves energy, a real plus during tough economic times. And with this cookbook our great recession era meals need not be bland.

Cargo Bike Roundup

First, thanks all, for your help with my cargo bike review that I’m writing for Urban Farm Magazine. For those of you not familiar with the new crop of cargo bikes here’s what I’m writing about:

Longtail Bikes

Xtracycle FreeRadical

The “longtail” revolution began with the invention of the Xtracycle “FreeRadical” back in 1998. The FreeRadical extends the back wheel and allows for the installation of two huge pannier bags and a seat. You provide the bike–I used a cheap 1980s era hardtail mountain bike. I’ve had my FreeRadical since 2006 and can’t say enough good things about it. I can easily pack four bags of groceriesin the generously sized bags and still easily glide through traffic in Los Angeles. And I’ve used it to go bike camping.

A few years ago Xtracycle teamed with Surley to make the “Big Dummy” a bike frame with a FreeRadical welded in. This reduces the shimmy under load that happens sometimes with a DIY FreeRadical/bike combo. Xtracycle also started producing their own bike/Free Radical combo called the Radish.

Yuba Mundo 21 Speed

Some other companies have since introduced products very similar to the Big Dummy and Radish. One that I really like is the Yuba Mundo. It’a a very sturdy bike with fenders and a two-legged kickstand.

Kona Ute

There’s also the Kona Ute.

Trek Transport

And, in this now crowded longtail market, the Trek Transport.


Bike Trucks

Cetma Cargo

If you can afford one, these are probably the best option for hauling kids. Your cargo or passengers have a lower center of gravity (important especially as those kids grow). Plus, with the passenger seat up front, you can keep an eye on them!

Other Options I’m not Reviewing

When I visited Copenhagen a few years ago I saw a lot of big cargo trikes like the Christiania Trike above. I’m not looking at these because I have my doubts about how practical they are in most US cities. We just don’t have the kind of bike infrastructure they have in Northern Europe. Plus, a lot of Root Simple readers wrote to tell me they don’t handle well on turns. Please correct me if you think I’m wrong. I’m also not considering trailers, because that would be another article.

While not cheap, all of these bikes are less spendy than a fancy carbon fiber racing bike and a lot more useful. My Xtracycle has allowed us to get by with just one car between me and Kelly. While I realize that cargo bikes aren’t practical for everyone, I suspect we’ll be seeing more of these beasts on the road soon.

And, a bit of a tangent here, but if you don’t know the story of Freetown Christiania, where the Christiania bike is made, it’s entertaining.

Lead Update

Our post about a high soil lead level needs an update. I asked my doctor do a blood test to check for lead levels since we’ve eaten plants grown in the backyard and done a whole lot of digging over the past 13 years. The good news is that no lead showed up in my blood.

In the interest of “testing the testers,” I took one soil sample and split it in three, sending one sample to Wallace Labs, one to the University of Massachusetts and the other to Timberleaf Soil Testing. I’ll report back on what those tests come up with.

Hopefully that first test with the high lead level was a mistake. I’ve realized that one small lead paint chip in a soil sample could easily throw off the test since we’re checking for something that is measured in parts per million. I’ll admit that this lead issue is definitely a complicated problem that is at the limits of my grasp of scientific methods. I appreciate all of you who have chimed in with advice, prayers and good wishes.