Introducing Lora Hall

Please put your hands together and welcome Homegrown Evolution guest blogger Lora Hall. Lora is a neighbor, owns Los Angeles’ largest hen, Southern California’s largest rhubarb plant and is currently finishing a graduate degree at Cal Poly Pomona. Her master’s work involves the use of vermicomposting to break down a variety of materials (maybe we can get her to explain this!).

You can meet Lora in person and pick up some seedlings and fruit trees at the Highland Park farmer’s market (map) where she runs a booth with Trisha Mazure every Tuesday from 3 to 8 pm. When we visited her at the market last week Lora had a bunch of interesting plants including purslane, tomatoes, tomatillos as well as a selection of fruit trees appropriate for our warm climate.

In the LA area and want some fruit trees for your backyard? Some gardening advice? Contact Lora at [email protected]. Lora will be posting as Homegrown Neighbor.

Bicycles and GPS


So at a time when the whole hipster stripped-down fixed-gear bike phenomenon has just passed its inevitable pop cultural zenith, this post will come across as impossibly nerdy. Yesterday I finally got around to strapping my small handheld GPS unit to the handlebars of my road bike and I can say that this particular combination of 19th century technology and 20th century electronics rocks.

The only sane way to get around Los Angeles and most large American cities on a bike is to find alternate routes: quiet side streets well away from the major arterials. Over the past few years I’ve gotten pretty good at studying a map to find bike friendly streets. I go well out of my way to avoid six lane boulevards, not so much because I think they are more dangerous, but simply because I don’t like getting into altercations with motorists. I’ll zig and zag, hopping from one residential street to another. The problem has been having to print out maps and pull them out of a pocket every few blocks, since I tend to easily forget directions.

My GPS unit (an earlier version of this Garmin handheld with a handlebar mount) and the accompanying software nicely solves this problem. I can use the mapping software to draw a route and load it into the handheld. The GPS unit beeps before I approach a turn and points the way. I generally don’t like anything that distracts from the craziness of our roads, so I’ve never used a cyclometer. I’ve found that the GPS unit actually cuts down on distractions since I don’t have to swivel my head around to figure out where I’m going. I can just pay attention to the road and let those GPS satellites tell me when to make a turn. It’s kinda like the way the military guides in “smart” bombs, except instead of an explosion you get me, a middle-aged eco-blogging dork on a bike.

The next step will be to try the even more incongruous combination of a camel and a GPS, though I’m sure that this high-tech/low-tech combo is being done quite effectively elsewhere in the world. But here in LA, a surly camel might come in handy the next time someone yells, “get off the road!”

Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer

Andy Schneider, a.k.a. the “Chicken Whisperer”, explains that his Internet radio show is “fair and balanced” since, “chickens have both a right and left wing.” The Backyard Poultry show covers everything from bantams to the controversial National Animal Identification System. You can listen live on Sandy Springs Radio or download past shows here.

Thanks to Christine Heinrichs, author of How To Raise Chickens
and the Official Poultry Bookstore blog for tipping us off to the Chicken Whisperer. Heinrichs was a guest on the May 9th show.

Now maybe it’s time for Rush to start talkin’ turkey.

Homegrown Evolution in Chicago

Chicago’s Green Roof Grower Heidi Hough

Homegrown Evolution is heading to Chicago for two events:

MAY 20
How to Make a Sub-Irrigated Planter (SIP) Heidi Hough, Bruce Fields & Erik Knutzen
6-8pm $50
Wicker Park close to Blue Line
Register with: [email protected]

Join Chicago’s Green Roof Growers and LA’s Homegrown Evolution for a fun class on how to make a sub-irrigated planter (SIP) out of two buckets. As a bonus, meet Homegrown Evolution blogger and author Erik Knutzen, who will be co-teaching the class and signing copies of his book The Urban Homestead.

Bring some gloves and learn how to make and plant your own SIP. Leave with everything you need for a summer of fresh heirloom tomatoes–all you add is about 6 hours of good sun per day in your yard, balcony, or roof and enough water to keep the reservoir full. No weeding, no mulching, no worries.

You’ll go home with:
–Plant-ready two-bucket sub-irrigated planter (SIP).
–Enough potting mix, organic fertilizer, and powdered lime to plant your tomato.
–An organic heirloom tomato plant, from the Green Roof Growers seed-starting group
–Comprehensive understanding of how SIPs work and how to plant yours once you get home.

MAY 21
HOMESTEADING 101 with Erik Knutzen
7-9pm $7-10 (sliding scale)
Experimental Station 6100 South Blackstone, Chicago
Register with: [email protected]

Erik will lead an informal presentation on Urban Homesteading in Los Angeles – focusing on his and his wife’s homegrown systems of adventurous experimentation of chickens, growing, greywater, brewing and more – some successful, some not so much!

Copies of The Urban Homestead will be for sale.

Many thanks to Nancy Klehm for arranging these events! See her website Spontaneous Vegetation for more info on other events and workshops.

Stickers for the Organic Gardener


Via BoingBoing a clever re-purposing:

“Evil Mad Scientist Labs wants you to proudly label your organic garden with these handsome “Now Slower and with More Bugs!” stickers, originally produced to adorn software products. The influence of the Slow Food movement is increasing, and gardening is getting ever more popular. Even the tech bloggers are posting about local pollinators and getting beehives. In this environment, it is fitting that a new use has been found for our Now Slower and with More Bugs stickers, which were first seen in the wild back in December 2007. If you find a good use for them, we’d love to see pictures in the flickr auxiliary!”

We Vote With Our Gas Pedals

Photo by sanbeiji

It’s been my good luck to travel on business to many great cities in Northern Europe. And these cities–Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brugge, Dusseldorf, and Hamburg–have one thing in common: people come first, cars come second. It’s a hassle to drive but a pleasure to walk, bike and take public transit. As a direct result they are desirable places to live and be a tourist. While we could throw many American cities into this list of livable cities–San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Portland, Davis, New York come to mind–I doubt anyone would include my hometown of Los Angeles. LA, while not the worst city in the world, is the poster child for car-centric planning and general ugliness. When I’m away I question the sanity of getting back on the plane to return.

But since I always return I feel compelled to at least try to make the place more livable. Last year I joined with bike activists Stephen Box and Josef Bray-Ali to speak at a Los Angeles City Council transportation subcommittee meeting to oppose a routine bunch of speed limit increases. Here’s how the whole sorry process plays out. First, Detroit sells (or used to sell) insanely over-powered cars that turn soccer moms into NASCAR drivers. To protect the rights of these speed addled motorists, many states, including California, have seen fit to pass “Speed Trap” laws requiring cities to establish a street’s speed limit based on the 85th percentile of average speed in order to use radar or laser enforcement. In other words, as one LA Department of Transportation engineer put it, “we vote with our gas pedals.” So we engineer cars for speed, engineer the streets for speed, and then raise the speed limits to match. If the 85th percentile is 50 mph on a residential street, the city raises the speed limit. If they don’t the cops can’t use radar. Or so they say. One LADOT official said that he’d “raise the limits anyways.”

Thankfully, those of you in California can help change this ridiculous situation.

1. Write a letter to your State representative and urge them to support Assistant Majority Leader Paul Krekorian’s AB766 “Safe Streets” bill which will reform our silly speed trap laws.

2. Box and his wife Enci will be traveling to Sacramento to lobby for this bill. They’d love to have your letters of support to take with them. Email your letter of support to: [email protected]

3. Follow Stephen and Enci’s journey on Twitter, on Facebook, on their blogs at illuminateLA and at SoapBoxLA.

Let’s make our streets safe for our children and senior citizens. Support AB766!

More on Hops in Containers

On the question of growing hops in containers that we posted on earlier this week, Shane in Santa Cruz, CA says:

“I think hops will do great in a container, if they are deep enough. I’ve heard you need something like a 1/2 whiskey, at least. The roots can go as low as 9 feet below ground.

I’m on my 2nd year of hops, cascade in nice soil, and brewers gold in what ever was in the ground. The brewers gold did better last year growing 18 feet and providing summer shade to a south facing window. The cascades only went 8 feet. I followed the same watering and feeding (never) for both.

This year my cascades are doing better, they are about 18 inches high so far. The brewers gold only 2 inches. This is in Santa Cruz, CA.”

Shane also contributed a very useful link to an article on Growing Hops in Containers. One of the suggestions in the article, for those of us in hot climates, is to grow hops on an east facing wall so that the plant is sheltered from the hot late afternoon sun. As Shane points out this can serve a double purpose–providing shade to cool your casa. Sounds kinda permacultural. Thanks Shane!

Hops in Southern California

From hop rhizome to young vine

Several people have asked a question we were curious about: what varieties of hops are best to grow in warm climates such as Southern California? We asked around and the consensus seems to be Cascade and Nugget among others. Greg Beron, one of the co-owners of Culver City Homebrewing Supply Co., has a couple of different hops rhizomes for sale that he says grow well here in Los Angeles. The shop’s parking lot, in fact, has many small plastic barrels planted with hops vines growing up string attached to the east side of the building.

Homegrown Evolution’s own hop farming experiment ended in the spring of last year after we accidentally plopped some home built scaffolding on top of the tiny vine while undertaking the heinous task of scraping and painting the front of the house. Planting it in terrible soil doomed it to failure anyways. We’re experimenting with growing both Cascade and Nugget hops in a big self irrigating planter with the hope that we can transfer them to the ground next year or the year after. In the meantime we’ll improve our soil with another application of “craptonite“.

Some hops growing links:

Hop Gardening

A list of Hop varieties for all climates

How to build a PVC hops trellis

Is Industrial Ag to Blame for the Swine Flu?

Could the swine flu be linked to industrial agriculture practices, say keeping thousands of immunosuppressed pigs in tight quarters and then carelessly discharging their effluent? A private biosurveillance tracking firm, Veretect has a timeline of the epidemic originating in the town of La Gloria in the State of Veracruz.

“Residents believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to “flu.” However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms. It was unclear whether health officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this outbreak.”

More on this story at Grist and Peak Oil Entrepreneur.

At this point we’re in the wild speculation phase of the swine flu narrative and I’ll add that the press does a particularly bad job with anything that has to do with science. However, we’ve been trying to make the point that distributed agriculture, more people tending small numbers of animals, is most likely a safer practice than large factory farms. The exotic strains of E-coli and swine flu that have emerged in recent years could be the unintended consequence of concentrated animal feeding operations. Time to call the homeowners association and ask them if you can keep a few pigs in that suburban backyard.