Homegrown on Homegrown


Visit HOMEGROWN.ORG

The folks behind Farm Aid have launched a new social networking site, HOMEGROWN.org that readers of this blog will definitely enjoy. From their press release:

HOMEGROWN.org is now a place where we can learn from each other, share our questions, and show off how we dig in the dirt, grow our own food, work with our hands, and cook and share our meals – all things that we call HOMEGROWN.
  • Did you cook a kick ass meal with stuff from the farmers market?
  • Is there a mysterious veggie in your CSA box?
  • What is the soundtrack for your potluck dinner?
  • Are you thinking about growing okra?
  • What’s in your fridge right now?
  • Do you have a DIY tip to share?

That’s the spirit of HOMEGROWN.org. A spirit that will mean more visits to the farmers markets, more backyard BBQs, more dirt under nails…more talking, touching, smelling, tasting. It will mean a more fulfilling life that people everywhere will come to call HOMEGROWN.

Things you can now do on HOMEGROWN.org:

  • Post photos
  • Post videos
  • Create groups
  • Join groups
  • Create discussions
  • Join discussions
  • Link to your own blog
  • Create a new blog
  • Make new friends
  • Invite old friends
  • Promote events
  • Learn about events in your area
  • Create playlists
  • Post a member badge on your Facebook or MySpace page
  • and more…”

We’ve joined up (become our HOMEGROWN.org friends here) and we hope all of you readers will join up as well. The important step beyond the DIY activities on this blog and in our book is developing healthy and happy communities and joining together to build a better world. We wish HOMEGROWN.org good luck in networking our urban homesteads.

Garden Swap

Growing your own vegetables is a great way to add flavor, nutrition and, if done carefully, save money in our uncertain economic times. But what if you live in an apartment and don’t have any land to call your own? Homegrown Evolution’s in-box contained an answer to that problem for folks in the Los Angeles area. We love this idea:

Cultivating Sustainable Communities (CSC) is launching its newest project. GardenSwap is an opportunity to pair up urban gardeners with their neighbors who have yard space in order to grow and share in the profits of urban food gardens.

Urban gardens are not only fun; they support low-carbon food production, create economic development, inspire healthful eating, build community, create opporunities for education, address watershed health concerns, create productive green open space, and beautify communities.

CSC is currently taking requests for participation in this program. If you’d like to participate either as a gardener or a land owner who is willing to share yard space (and some garden profits!) with a neighbor (we’ll help you find a neighbor), please contact me at [email protected]

Full contact info:

Gabriela Worrel, Executive Director
Cultivating Sustainable Communities
117 Bimini Pl. #110 Los Angeles, Ca 90004
(310) 452-5356
[email protected]

Homegrown Evolution at Modern Times San Francisco

Mrs. Homegrown Evolution will be delivering a talk and doing a book signing of our book The Urban Homestead at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco this Wednesday October 15th at 7:30 p.m (Mr. Homegrown will be resting his polyester clad derriere back at the urban homestead in Los Angeles). Modern Times is located at 888 Valencia Street in the beating heart of the Mission District. Come on out and support this indepedent, collectively owned bookstore which has been in business since 1971 and hear Mrs Homegrown talk about vegetables, chickens and much more.

Plymouth Rock Monthly

What magazine had 40,000 subscribers in 1920? Answer: the Plymouth Rock Monthly, a periodical devoted to our favorite chicken breed. We have two “production” Barred Plymouth Rocks in our small flock of four hens, and we’ve found them to be productive, friendly and, with their striped plumage, an attractive sight in our garden. While the internet is an amazing resource for the urban homesteader, there are a few holes in this electronic web of knowledge. In short, would someone out there please get around to scanning and putting online the Plymouth Rock Monthly? All I can find are images of two covers lifted off of ebay.

The February 1925 issue, at right, promises articles on, “Selecting and Packing Eggs for Hatching”, a poetically titled essay, “The Things We Leave Undone”, “Theory and Practice in Breeding Barred Color”, “White Plymouth Rocks”, “The Embargo on Poultry”, and “Breeding White Rocks Satisfactorily”. Incidentally, the Embargo article probably refers to a avian influenza outbreak of 1924-1925 that repeated in 1929 and 1983.

By the 1950s interest in backyard and small farm flocks vastly decreased and the Plymouth Rock Club of America, the publisher of the Plymouth Rock Monthly, collapsed down to 200 members from a peak of 2,000. Thankfully, interest in keeping chickens is now on the rise again and an informative magzine, Backyard Poultry has been revived. Plymouth Rock fans can read an artcile about the breed in the latest issue of Backyard Poultry.

Speaking of poultry, the American Poultry Association will be holding their annual meet in nearby Ventura, California on October 25th and 26th. More info here. You can bet that Homegrown Evolution Root Simple will be there, blogging (tweeting?) live and picking up some fine schwag, such as the amazing patch on the left. What a nice symbol–a feather through a wishbone. We hope that the A.P.A never updates that nice logo! Get one for yourself in their “virtual shopping mall“. And take down that faded Nagel print and pick up their handy poultry breed chart for your living room.

Friday Afternoon Linkages–Some Fun, Some Scary

Life is like a seesaw with a rusty bolt–a good kid on one end and a bad kid on the other and no way to tell whose ass is gonna hit the ground hardest. On the fun side of life’s pesky algebra equation this week:

Mark Frauenfelder is experimenting with a unique way of drying persimmons using a traditional Japanese method as pictured on the left.

Meanwhile, in a busy month of blogging, the intrepid urban homesteaders over at Ramshackle Solid show you how to make depression style candles, sweet potato and yam chips, and acorn flour. All great projects for our world’s ongoing “deleveraging”.

And, speaking of deleveraging, on the oooooh, scary we’re all going to die side of the equation:

David Khan of Edendale Farms has a video from peak oil partisan Matthew Simmons on a run on the gas station scenario that we’ll let you all ponder.

And in the really scary department, Dr. Oerjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University, aboard the Russian research ship Jakob Smirnitskyi in the Arctic Ocean, reports:

“We had a hectic finishing of the sampling program yesterday and this past night. An extensive area of intense methane release was found. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane. Yesterday, for the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface.”

No comment other than . . . yow! Full story here.

Fruitacular!

Noel Ramos, writing to correct an inaccuracy in my guava post (“Guayabas” is the word used all over Latin America for guava not “guyabas”) was nice enough to include this amazing photograph of some of the many kinds of fruit that you can grow in Florida: red bananas, sugar-apple, canistel, pink guayaba, dragon fruit and orange-flesh lemon.

Noel is the director of communications for Slow Food Miami, “an eco-gastronomic organization that supports a bio-diverse, sustainable food supply, local producers, heritage foodways and rediscovery of the pleasures of the table.” I hope the photo above will encourage readers in the Florida area to get involved with this organization which is working worldwide to fight the industrialization and fast foodization of what we eat. Not in Miami? Look for a local chapter via Slow Food USA.

Noel also has contributed articles to another remarkable group, the California Rare Fruit Growers which strives to preserve and explore the mind boggling biodiversity of fruit trees. And speaking of biodiversity take a look at Noel holding a Rollinia or Biriba, a fruit tree native to the Amazon region that also grows in Florida.

Some have described the taste of this fruit as like that of a lemon meringue pie.

Make a Rain Barrel

There’s a lot of advice floating around the internets about how to make a rain barrel. Most barrel pundits suggest drilling a hole in the bottom of a barrel and installing a faucet, a kind of connection called a “bulkhead fitting”. Unfortunately such improvised fittings have a tendency to leak. My favorite way to make a rain barrel is to take a 55 gallon drum, use the preexisting fittings on the top and turn it upside down, a process explained nicely here (complete with a list of parts), by B. Chenkin who will also sell you a kit at Aquabarrel.com.

To get started, you get a ubiquitous 55 gallon drum with two threaded “bung” holes that look like this:

A good source for this kind of barrel is your local car wash. Just make sure that the barrel you scavenge didn’t have nasty chemicals in it. You punch out the center of one of the bungs, as shown, and insert a threaded PVC fitting. A few more PVC parts from the sprinkler section of your hardware store, a brass hose fitting with a valve, and you’ll have this:


Glue that up with some PVC cement, wrap the threads with teflon tape, and you’re almost ready to collect rainwater. But first, turn the barrel upside down, drill a hole for the down spout another hole to insert an overflow pipe made out of a threaded 3″ waste pipe fitting:

The last step is to prop the barrel up on some wood or concrete blocks to give some clearance for your hose connection and some extra elevation for a gravity assist to help push the water through a garden hose.

The overflow connection is another reason I like Chenkin’s design. It’s important to keep rainwater away from your foundation especially when, like us, you live on a hill. The picture at top shows our barrel installed with the overflow pipe connected to a pipe that runs down to the street. Los Angeles’ building code required us to run our rainwater out to the street, where it helps wash pollution into the LA River and the ocean (see creekfreak for more on LA’s pesky water issues). At least we’ll be channeling some of that water, via the barrel, to our new fruit trees. Those of you with flat yards could simply connect up an overflow pipe that would take the water at least ten feet from the foundation.

In Southern California, where rain never falls between May and October, a 55 gallon drum won’t meet much of our irrigation needs, though Chenkin’s design does allow you to chain multiple barrels together. What we really need is an enormous cistern, something with a capacity in the neighborhood of around 10,000 gallons. Ideally houses here, as in the ancient Roman world, would have been built with huge underground holding tanks. A small rain barrel like this makes more sense for those of you who live in places with rain throughout the year, where a small amount of collected rainwater could be used to bridge a gap in rainstorms. I put this rain barrel together as a test and because I was tired of looking a blue drum that sat in the backyard for a year giving our patio a methamphetamine lab vibe.

Again, for complete instructions and a list of parts visit Chenkin’s ehow page or, if you’re not adept at perusing the isles of the local hardware store, buy a kit from him through Aquabarrel.

[Editors note: due to spamming (are rain barrel enthusiasts really that excited about internet pharmaceuticals?) we've had to shut down comments for this post.]

Guyaba Guayabas (Psidium guajava)

Just last week I was spotting L.A. river blogger creekfreak while he bench pressed a whole bunch of weights (was it 300 pounds?) at our local YMCA. Between hefting all that poundage (we’re both getting ready for the inaugural L.A. River Adventure Race), the conversation turned to a productive guyaba fruit tree on the grounds of the L.A. Eco-village, where the creekmesiter’s crib is located.

Guyaba (Psidium guajava–”guyaba” is the Spanish Dutch word for “white guava”) is a small tree native to Central America. It’s one of around 60 species of guava and is also known as “apple guava” and “yellow guava”. According to the California Rare Fruit Growers, it can be propagated by seed or by air layering. The apple guava has a delicate tropical flavor, and according to creekfreak, some varieties have edible seeds. The fruit off creekfreak’s tree rots really quickly, so don’t look for him to be opening a booth at your local farmer’s market. The tree seems fairly drought tolerant, but more productive with water. Guava expert Leslie Landrum notes that the guava is a “weedy tree, a tree that likes disturbance. It likes to grow along roads and in pastures. Animals eat the fruit and spread the seeds around.”

It’s also a fruit so tasty that creekfreak occasionally has to chase off guyaba rustlers poaching specimens off his tree.

Build a Solar Dehydrator


Like many of you, I suspect, we’ve got a few too many tomatoes at this time of the year. One of our favorite ways to preserve our modest harvest is with our solar dehydrator. There’s nothing like the taste of sun dried tomatoes, but unless you live in a very dry desert climate like Phoenix, Arizona you can’t just set fruit out in the sun and expect it to do anything but go moldy. In most places in the world, including here in Los Angeles, the relative humidity is too high to dry things out in the sun. Solar dehydrators work by increasing air flow to dry out the food. The one we built uses a clever strategy to get air moving without the use of electric fans such as you’d find in your typical store bought electric dehydrator.

Our solar dehydrator is constructed out of plywood and consists of a heat collector containing a black metal screen housed in a box with a clear plastic top. This screen heats up on a sunny day and feeds hot air into a wooden box above it. Vents at the bottom and the top of the contraption create an upward airflow through natural convection (hot air rises). You put the food on screen covered trays in the upper box. With sliced tomatoes it takes about two full days of drying and you have to take the food indoors at night to prevent mold from growing (a minor inconvenience). We built our dehydrator several years ago and have used it each season for tomatoes, figs and for making dried zucchini chips.

You can find plans for this “Appalachian Dehydrator”, designed by Appalachian State University’s Appropriate Technology Program, in the February/March 1997 issue of Home Power Magazine. The February/March 1999 issue of Home Power features a refinement of this plan, but we just built the original design and it works fine. The original plans and improvements to those plans are split between two articles: Issue #57 and Issue #69. You need to download and read through both before building this dehydrator. . Alternatively, the always excellent Build it Solar website has a whole bunch of solar dehydrator designs, including a nice cardboard version. And while you’re in the library there’s also a book by Eben Fodor, The Solar Food Dryer.

As an added bonus to the tinkerers out there, take almost any of these designs, remove the top box, stick it in a window and you’ve got a passive solar room heater.

Homegrown Evolution Visits the Los Angeles County Fair

There’s a guy I sometimes see on my morning jogs commuting to work on what looks like a kid’s scooter outfitted with an electric motor. The high price of gas has, in fact, driven folks here in L.A. to increasingly bizarre forms of transportation: barely functional 1980s Mercedes Benzes running on deep fryer fat, scooters, golf cart like electric cars etc. I’m waiting for folks to adopt the glorious, 19th century bicycle, and while many have, I’m not holding my breath until gas prices get much higher. One thing’s for sure, we’ll know the “pain at the pump” has gotten really bad when we start to see the return of draft horses to Los Angeles. To preview that possibility and experience the fading agricultural glory of Los Angeles County we headed to the Los Angeles County Fair this past week. Here’s a pictorial tour:

It was a real pleasure to view the elegant moves of the draft horses and their handlers. The competition we watched involved maneuvering a carriage around obstacles, backing up into a tight space, stopping at a mail box and weaving around some cones. Good training for pulling that carriage into L.A.’s many mini-malls. All that was missing from the competition was text messaging while driving.

The big highlight of the fair for us was visiting the beekeeping booth, viewing a display hive and talking with a knowledgeable beekeeper (didn’t get a decent picture). Best of all we made contact with our local beekeeping club, and we’ll have information next month for those of you in the L.A. area who are interested in keeping bees.

From beekeeping we jumped on over to the home economics competitions and marveled at the preserved foods display. With the recent success of Pickle Fest 2008, we predict a new batch of competitors in next year’s competition.


Mrs. Homegrown Evolution got obsessed with determining the judging criteria of the bizarre “tablescaping” competition. Mr. Homegrown Evolution marveled at a tablescaping entry that managed to incorporate LA subway maps.

Sadly, there was a lot of lame stuff at the fair as well. Los Angeles was once the wealthiest agricultural county in the United States. Now, as one local agricultural official put it to me, “we grow houses” and our county fair that reflects that fact. Out went the 4-H clubs and in comes the corporate sponsors.

Taking the place of what used to be livestock competitions was a farm animal exhibition called “Fair View Farms” sponsored by McDonald’s. Do I need to comment on the irony of that bit of branding? Fair View Farms featured bleak panoramas, such as this large pen of pigs with, oddly, a bunch of ordinary roosters pecking around.

What happened to all the different animal breeds I remember from the San Diego Fair?

McDonald’s also sponsored a revisionist nutrition re-education compound, the educational content of which would make papa Stalin proud. When I dropped by, a bunch of bored school kids, sitting amongst straw bales, were being taught how to make a fruit smoothie by Monica Montes, R.D., who was sporting one of those wearable microphones just like the drive-through cashiers at McDonald’s use. I fled, fearing that I might ask something snarky during the question and answer session. I guess every R.D. has their price. Who knows, with the high cost of Mr. Homegrown Evolution’s recent root canal, you may soon see our backyard chicken flock hit the road sponsored by, say, Carls Jr.

And speaking of Stalinist re-education, the dairy council entertained us with a heavily pixelated web video transferred to DVD all about the wonders of industrial milk production. They carefully glossed over the way cows are kept in massive pens with no access to pasture and, instead, wisely decided to focus, in great detail, on how they manufacture plastic milk bottles. They even showed us how the bottles are shrink wrapped and placed on pallets. And what says “fun day at the fair” more than watching “palletizing” on a TV placed in a vintage 1980s entertainment cabinet while sitting in 100º heat?

To end on a less cranky note, we’ll leave you with these lovely vintage diagrams done in a classic early 20th century sign making style, one below and one at the top of this post. It’s really hard to say when they were made.