SunCalc: A Sun Trajectory Calculator

In attempting to figure out how to align a garden path with the sunrise of the summer soltice (that’s the way we roll at the the Root Simple compound), I came across a neat Google Maps hack: SunCalc, the creation of Vladimir Agafonkin.

According to the description on the site,

SunCalc is a little app that shows sun movement and sunlight phases during the given day at the given location.

You can see sun positions at sunrise (yellow), specified time (orange) and sunset (red). The thin orange curve is the current sun trajectory, and the yellow area around is the variation of sun trajectories during the year. The closer a point is to the center, the higher is the sun above the horizon. The colors on the time slider above show sunlight coverage during the day.

I can see SunCalc being useful for laying out a garden, window and solar panel placement, evaluating potential real estate, or for planning your own personal Stonehenge.

Root Simple and Edendale Farm on ABC-7

A local ABC affiliate did a nice, short piece on growing food in the city featuring us and our friend David Kahn of Edendale Farm. I’ll note that David runs a real city farm (he sells eggs) while I call what we do simply gardening, as we don’t grow/raise enough to sell.

It’s good to see vegetable gardening and keeping chickens going mainstream–it’s the bright side of the “great recession”.

Building With Adobe

Architect and Root Simple friend Ben Loescher, along with Kurt Gardella, is teaching a class on adobe construction. I’m going to attend the second day, November 6th, and hope to see some of you there. Adobe has a storied past and a promising future in the Southwest U.S., in my opinion. Here’s the info on the class:

adobeisnotsoftware is pleased to host Kurt Gardella for the first in a series of classes on adobe construction within California. Kurt developed much of the online curriculum for Northern New Mexico College’s adobe program, and has great expertise in both adobe construction and earthen plasters and finishes. Intended as an introduction to adobe construction for individuals and building professionals, the course will give attendees sufficient knowledge to make adobe bricks, build a garden wall, and understand typical building code and detailing challenges that confront adobe building projects in California.

Topics:
Advantages and Disadvantages of Adobe Construction
Soil Selection and Testing
Making Adobe Bricks
Water Resistance and Stabilization
Adobe Forms
Brick Laying Techniques
Doors, Windows and Other Openings
Detailing
Seismic Design
Permitting
Adobe for the Owner/Builder
Instruction Type:

This is a hands-on class. Attendees will have the opportunity to get dirty and use tools and equipment typical of adobe construction. Due to the course format, enrollment will be limited to 14 individuals. Children under the age of 14 unfortunately cannot be accommodated. In the unlikely event of inclement weather, instruction will occur indoors.

Instructors:

Kurt Gardella teaches adobe construction at Northern New Mexico College, is Director of Education for Adobe in Action, and is certified as an earth-building specialist by the German Dachverband Lehm.

Ben Loescher is a licensed architect, founder of adobeisnotsoftware and principal of golem|la.

Location:

The class will be conducted about 12 miles outside of Joshua Tree National Park in Landers, California, some 40 miles from Palm Springs. Joshua Tree and the surrounding area have a wealth of great hiking, climbing, lodging and food options. Directions to the workshop site will be provided to attendees prior to the class.

Registration:

The cost for the two day workshop is $250/person, a reduced rate of $150/person is offered for full-time students with valid ID. Coffee and nibbles will be provided at the beginning of the day; lunch is included. Register here!

Questions?:

Please do not hesitate to contact Ben at [email protected] or (760) 278-1134 .

End of Summer Photos

I’ve got a backlog of random photos that, somehow, never made it into full blown blog posts. Here’s some of those pics starting with our modest passion fruit harvest. Beautiful flowers and tasty fruit.

Kelly accidentally planted some potatoes amongst her sweet potato patch. We got a few potatoes and some pretty potato flowers.

My friends Gloria and Steve, who own a small herd of goats, did a goat milk tasting at the Institute of Domestic Technology comparing their backyard milk against a couple of store bought goat milks and some cow milk. Guess what? Fresh goat milk from the backyard is delicious and does not taste “goaty”. Store bought goat milk just doesn’t compare, though the Summer Hill brand at Trader Joes is passable.

Lastly, two of my favorite things: cats and corded telephones. 

Best wishes for a happy fall for all Root Simple readers.

Urine as a Fertilizer

How do I spend my Saturday mornings you ask? Answer: scanning the peer reviewed literature for articles about using human urine as a nitrogen source in the garden, i.e. taking a leak in the watering can. As we’re currently hosting some excellent classes at our house taught by Darren Butler, a big proponent of what he calls “pee-pee-ponics,” I thought I’d take a look at the science of urine use.

Urine offers a free and readily available (at least after a night of beer drinking) alternative to organic nitrogen fertilizers such as blood meal. We’ve got a perpetual nitrogen deficiency in our vegetable beds and I hate buying industrial ag sourced items like blood meal. Urine is a great alternative.

To use urine in the garden you’ve got to dilute it with water, at least ten to one. Straight urine will burn your plants. Thankfully we don’t worry about our sauerkraut taking on a urine flavor:

Use of Human Urine Fertilizer in Cultivation of Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)––Impacts on Chemical, Microbial, and Flavor Quality by Surendra K. Pradhan, Anne-Marja Nerg, Annalena Sjöblom, Jarmo K. Holopainen and Helvi Heinonen-Tanski

Human urine was used as a fertilizer in cabbage cultivation and compared with industrial fertilizer and nonfertilizer treatments. Urine achieved equal fertilizer value to industrial fertilizer when both were used at a dose of 180 kg N/ha. Growth, biomass, and levels of chloride were slightly higher in urine-fertilized cabbage than with industrial-fertilized cabbage but clearly differed from nonfertilized. Insect damage was lower in urine-fertilized than in industrial-fertilized plots but more extensive than in nonfertilized plots. Microbiological quality of urine-fertilized cabbage and sauerkraut made from the cabbage was similar to that in the other fertilized cabbages. Furthermore, the level of glucosinolates and the taste of sauerkrauts were similar in cabbages from all three fertilization treatments. Our results show that human urine could be used as a fertilizer for cabbage and does not pose any significant hygienic threats or leave any distinctive flavor in food products.

As the study above noted, too much nitrogen (from any source) can cause pest outbreaks. And we do need to be judicious in our urine application in alkaline soils such as here in Los Angeles as urine has a high pH:

From Human urine – Chemical composition and fertilizer use efficiency by H. Kirchmann and S. Pettersson:

Stored human urine had pH values of 8.9 and was composed of eight main ionic species (> 0.1 meq L–1), the cations Na, K, NH4, Ca and the anions, Cl, SO4, PO4 and HCO3. Nitrogen was mainly (> 90%) present as ammoniacal N, with ammonium bicarbonate being the dominant compound. Urea and urate decomposed during storage. Heavy metal concentrations in urine samples were low compared with other organic fertilizers, but copper, mercury, nickel and zinc were 10–500 times higher in urine than in precipitation and surface waters. In a pot experiment with15N labelled human urine, higher gaseous losses and lower crop uptake (barley) of urine N than of labelled ammonium nitrate were found. Phosphorus present in urine was utilized at a higher rate than soluble phosphate, showing that urine P is at least as available to crops as soluble P fertilizers.

With some common sense urine application (i.e. not too much), it clearly makes a good fertilizer:

Stored Human Urine Supplemented with Wood Ash as Fertilizer in Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) Cultivation and Its Impacts on Fruit Yield and Quality by Surendra K. Pradhan, Jarmo K. Holopainen and Helvi Heinonen-Tanski:

This study evaluates the use of human urine and wood ash as fertilizers for tomato cultivation in a greenhouse. Tomatoes were cultivated in pots and treated with 135 kg of N/ha applied as mineral fertilizer, urine + ash, urine only, and control (no fertilization). The urine fertilized plants produced equal amounts of tomato fruits as mineral fertilized plants and 4.2 times more fruits than nonfertilized plants. The levels of lycopene were similar in tomato fruits from all fertilization treatments, but the amount of soluble sugars was lower and Cl− was higher in urine + ash fertilized tomato fruits. The β-carotene content was greater and the NO3− content was lower in urine fertilized tomato fruits. No enteric indicator microorganisms were detected in any tomato fruits. The results suggest that urine with/without wood ash can be used as a substitute for mineral fertilizer to increase the yields of tomato without posing any microbial or chemical risks.

So go forth and pee (and dilute!). You can also, of course, just pee on the compost pile.

Many thanks to the always useful Google Scholar, one of my favorite gardening resources.

Derek Jarman’s Garden

Photo by angusf

Avant-garde filmmaker Derek Jarman spent the last years of his life, after an HIV diagnosis, tending a bleak, wind-swept patch of land opposite a nuclear power plant on the southern coast of England. With just a few hardy plants and some scavenged pieces of wood he put together a stunning garden. He wrote a book about it called, simply, Derek Jarman’s Garden. You can also view a flikr photo set here.

Photo by angusf

Jarman’s friend Howard Sooley, writing in the Guardian, described the garden and cottage:

Prospect Cottage sits more or less in the middle, parched by baking sun and drying winds in summer, with no shade to be had for miles in any direction. In winter, sea storms rage, while biting Siberian winds push through the shingle and up through the floorboards of the fisherman’s cottages strung out along the road to the lighthouse.

You can’t take life for granted in Dungeness: every bloom that flowers through the shingle is a miracle, a triumph of nature. Derek knew this more than anyone.

Gardens give us food, medicine, solace, and the best of them, like Jarman’s, remind us of the impermanence of our lives and the inevitability of change.

Scott’s Pepsi-G Stove

If you’ve ever backpacked any distance you’ll appreciate the need to reduce weight, taken to its logical extreme by the sort of folks who cut their toothbrushes in half. This ultra-light subculture, to our benefit, seems to be populated by engineering types who like to create useful lists and detailed instructions. And, even if you don’t backpack, these innovative ideas can be used in your emergency preparedness plans.

One of my favorite ultra-light backpacking gadgets is the Pepsi can stove, which has reappeared on the interwebs, after a prolonged absence, here.

To make a Pepsi stove you take the bottom of a 12 oz Pepsi can and the bottom of a Guinness Draught can and, after a series of precise cuts and pin pricks you end up with a nifty cooking stove that uses denatured alcohol or methanol (both easily obtained at any hardware store) as fuel.

Efficiency-wise, if you consider the ratio of weight to heat output, you’re better off with a commercial backpacking stove and fuel canisters. But such stoves are expensive and the fuel canisters are only available at camping and sporting goods stores. The nice thing about the Pepsi can stove is that it’s almost free to make and you can find the fuel at any hardware store. I keep both a Pepsi can stove and a MSR backpacking stove in my backpack. That way I’ve got a backup in case one fails to work.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I thought I’d toss in a little more detail for those of you unfamiliar with the concept. A Pepsi can stove is tiny and very light weight, good for two things–ultralight backpacking and as a simple cooking device for what some people call a bug out bag–emergency gear that is ready to grab and go.

I’ve taken one with me backpacking, as my only stove. It works fine, but it is limited in its capabilities. It can boil a cup or so of water at a time, enough to make one person a hot drink, or enough water to rehydrate a pouch of something. You certainly can’t make pancakes over one, and if you have a family to serve, you might want to consider carrying more than one of these stoves.

My camping set up included the stove, a sawed off Foster’s can (you know, those extra large beer cans) as a cooking pot, a circle of chicken wire to balance the Foster’s can upon over the stove, and a bit of foil to block wind. It all tucked inside the Foster’s can for transport and weighted hardly anything. Oh, and I kept the fuel in one of those plastic collapsible water bottles.

As Erik says, a lightweight camping stove and proper fuel canister is a much more flexible and powerful option, but little Pepsi can stoves can’t be beat for price or weight.

Here’s our 2006 post on the same subject–along with a nice photo of ours burning.

High Speed Garlic Peeling


How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less Than 10 Seconds from SAVEUR.com on Vimeo.

Via BoingBoing.

ETA: We finally tried this, using a sealed Tupperware container instead of the two bowls. It actually works!!! But these are the catches: 1) It doesn’t work as fast on the skinny, inner cloves as it does on the fat ones. You can get those peeled too, but you have to keep shaking. 2) You have to rinse the cloves after shaking because they end up with little bits of skin all over them. Even so, it is still a remarkably easy way to peel a whole head of garlic.

Greywater Workshops in Los Angeles

The folks at the Greywater Action Team asked me to spread the word on a few workshops they are doing in the LA area in October:

Going Green with Greywater

When: Friday October 14, 2011 – 9:00am – 12:00pm
Where: LA Eco Village 117 Bimini Pl Los Angeles CA 90004
Cost: Sliding scale $25-50 limited work trade positions available
Register here
Reusing greywater, water from sinks, showers, and washing machines, is a great way to save water! In this workshop you will learn safe and simple ways to reuse greywater, common types of systems, what products to use, and take a tour of several existing systems. We will also be creating a mock-up of a laundry-to-landscape greywater system with all the parts and tools needed to install it.

Greywater System Maintenance: Advanced Workshop

When: Friday October 14, 2011 – 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Where: LA Eco Village 117 Bimini Pl Los Angeles CA 90004
Cost: Sliding scale $25-50
Register here
Simple greywater systems require very little maintenance, but a small amount is needed! An hour or two a year can keep greywater systems well functioning and improve their effectiveness.  In the workshop we’ll review best practices for creating long lasting systems. We’ll observe existing greywater systems that are between two and three years old, from washing machine, shower, and kitchen sink. Participants will practice balancing greywater flows, checking mulch basins, and doing any repairs needed on the system.We will also review greywater system design, calculating greywater flows, plant water requirements, and new greywater technologies.This is a hands-on workshop, please wear clothes and shoes for working. Please bring a notebook for taking notes.

Hands-on greywater installation workshop

When: Saturday October 15th, 11am-4pm
Where:Los Angeles (exact location will be emailed after registration is complete)
Cost: Sliding scale $30-$100, limited worktrade positions available
Register here
Learn how to divert greywater from a washing machine to irrigate the landscape with a laundry to landscape greywater system. This type of greywater system is low cost, does not require a permit, and is easy to install in most home applications. This is a hands-on class, participants will be learning about and participating in the construction of a real greywater system. The class will cover: Greywater principles, the best plants to water with greywater, common pitfalls and how to avoid them, and how to install a system that is legal under the new California code.

(for Santa Monica residents only) Design and install your own laundry to landscape greywater system
October 8th and 9th, 8am- 5pm Day 1: Santa Monica library. Day 2: Your house! (You’ll be installing your own system)
Free workshop sponsored by the City of Santa Monica!
Contact [email protected] for questions.
Register here http://www.smgov.net/Departments/OSE/Categories/Water/Greywater.aspx

The low down on pee and poo-a composting toilet workshop.

When:Friday October 14th- 7:00 pm
Where: LA Eco Village 117 Bimini Pl Los Angeles CA 90004
Cost: Sliding scale $15-$5
Reservations required: [email protected] or 213/738-1254
This workshop will cover: Ecological Sanitation – waterless toilets and urine harvesting – can save water, protect the environment, and create free fertilizer around the world. Learn the “how and why” of composting toilets and urine reuse, see projects from Mexico, China, Sweden, Zimbabwe, and the United States. Learn about options for homescale composting toilets from urban to rural applications, operation and maintenance needs, and common problems and solutions.