Austin’s Rhizome Collective Evicted

Buy our book The Urban Homestead on Amazon and you’ll get a message that you may also enjoy the Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A do-it-Ourselves Guide by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew. I own a copy of this wonderful book and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topics on this blog or in our book. Kellogg and Pettigrew are co-founders of the Rhizome Collective, an innovative intentional community in Austin, Texas. Sadly, it seems the Rhizome Collective has been evicted from their land due to code enforcement issues.

On Tuesday, March 17, 2009, the Rhizome Collective, including both the individuals and organizations that have called 300 Allen St. home, was barred from the building due to the City of Austin Code Enforcement declaring the building unsafe. This is a tragic loss and has been traumatic for the people who have invested so much in the space, from long nights of hard work repairing bikes and mailing off books to days of tending the garden to evenings of laughter in the kitchen.

The Rhizome collective is asking for donations on their website, www.rhizomecollective.org. I would also suggest buying a copy of their book directly from them. We hope that the Rhizome Collective can find a new home as their work is vital in our uncertain times.

Hummer Driver Runs Down Cyclists LAPD Officer Lets Driver Go

Cellphone Photo by Matt Stilline

In the early morning hours on Friday in downtown Los Angeles a group of around a dozen cyclists were involved in a hit and run incident with a Hummer driver that resulted in minor injuries and three demolished bikes. The driver was pulled over several blocks away by the LAPD only to be let go. Officer Cho came back to speak to the group of cyclists stating, “Get everyone together because I don’t want to say this twice. If anyone says anything I’m gonna walk away and I’m not going to talk to you guys. Based on the evidence right now it looks like the cyclist hit the car, not that the car hit the cyclist.” He added, “if it had been me with my family in that car, I’d have done the same thing, and I carry a gun in my car.”

Read the rest of the ugly details on Westside BikeSIDE! [note: Westside BikeSIDE! seems to be down due to heavy traffic]. Gary Rides Bikes also has the scoop.

Urban Homestead Wins Book Award

Our book, The Urban Homestead just won a gold medal in the Independent Publisher Awards. To celebrate we’ll throw in a back issue of Ripples magazine for the first twenty folks who buy a copy of our book off of this website. Ripples is, “A Revolutionary Journal of Seasonal Delight” published by the nice folks at www.dailyacts.org.

Now that’s enough tooting our own horn. We’ll get back to posting when the dust settles after Earth Day and talk about the hops vines that have just sprouted . . .

Homegrown Evolution on WAMC

Kelly and I will be on WAMC, Northeast Public Radio’s Roundtable show on Earth Day, April 22nd at 9:15 am EST. You can listen in online here.

Earth Day will be a busy one for us as Erik will also be on a panel for the National Conversation on Climate Action at 2 pm PST at MTA headquarters. More info here.

We’ll close the day with a book signing at an innovative new neighborhood market called Locali. We’ll be there at 7 pm PST and hope to see some locals.

Satan’s House Plant: More on Asparagus setaceus/plumosus

Photo by Mr. Subjunctive

It seems like we hit a raw nerve with our mention of one of our least favorite plants, Asparagus setaceus. Just in a case you’d like to know more about this demonic plant, Mr. Subjunctive, a garden center employee with a fantastic blog, Plants are the Strangest People, has a detailed post about Asparagus setaceus (apparently also known as Asparagus plumosus).

Shiitake Happens


Well, actually, shiitake doesn’t happen. It’s back to the drawing board for our first experiment in mushroom growing. We ordered a kit and dutifully followed the directions, but a combination of high temperatures and too much or too little water resulted in the result you see above, what looks like a cake with a skin disease. And even if we got a crop the cost of the kit was too high to make the process economical.

The kit came pre-inoculated with spore that, given the right conditions, should have produced a block full of tasty shiitakes. Instead we got what mushroom folks call “aborts”, mushrooms that grow a bit and then stop. Aborts are potentially edible, but you need to pick them before they rot. Picking off the aborts can also prevent the rest of the growing medium from becoming infected with unwanted molds.

It’s now way too hot in our house to grow mushrooms and we’ll have to wait until next winter for any further experiments. We’re going to try some different methods and will report back on the results. Tips from readers are appreciated.

And speaking of reader tips, an anonymous commenter on our self irrigating planter post noted that indoor marijuana farmers have been experimenting with container gardening for years and that Homegrown Evolution would be wise to take a look at the kind of innovation that comes with higher (so to speak) profit margins. Good point. In trying to find better sources for information on small scale indoor mushroom growing (other than the current go-to expert who will remain nameless and who I think is a bit of a hype-meister) I kept coming across books on growing the sort of mushrooms that cause visions of plant gods and lizard people. It’s proof that good ideas often come from the combination of improvisation and subterfuge. Just take a look at prison improvised weapons and booze to see what resourceful folks with time on their hands can come up with. We certainly don’t grow anything illegal here, but we like to keep an open mind when it comes to our sources.

For those who would like to read more about growing mushrooms at home here’s one way to do it.

Least Favorite Plant: Asparagus Fern (Asparagus setaceus)


Today, a new feature on the blog: least favorite plants. I’ve always thought that it’s more fun to read a bad review than a glowing one, so why not extend the concept to the plant world? But we’re not going to rant about “weeds”, which Ralph Waldo Emerson defined as, “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” As active foragers we’ve found virtues in what most people think of as weeds, plants like broadleaf plantain and stinging nettles. Instead we’ll focus our horticultural wrath elsewhere.

Asparagus Fern (Asparagus setaceus) is the scourge of my backyard gardening existence and a plant many will recognize from floral arrangements. The bozos who owned our house before us planted one of these nasty things underneath the avocado tree. It entangles itself through the branches of the tree, winding it’s way upwards as much as ten feet in a season. It’s impossible to pull out of the ground and its sharp thorns make thick gloves essential when attempting to beat it back. When I saw a vendor at a farmer’s market selling potted Asparagus setaceus, I felt like I was witnessing a crack dealer in an elementary school lunchroom. As a houseplant it’s probably fine, but in our climate where it can grow outside you should keep this out of the hands of neophyte gardeners.

Asparagus Fern ain’t a fern but it is a relative of asparagus. The shoots may or may not be edible depending on who you talk to. Even if you could eat the shoots, you would have the world’s smallest side dish. Breed a one inch tall pig and you could make tiny pork chops to go along with your buttered Asparagus setaceus.

Thankfully for most of the readers of this blog, Asparagus setaceus is not cold hardy. It’s originally from South Africa which has an identical climate to LA, meaning this house plant can easily escape here and wreak havoc amongst the palm trees and smog.

Now, what rogue state can I get to carpet bomb my Asparagus Fern patch?

Cargo Bikes Rule the World


It’s hard to improve on a design as simple and elegant as the bicycle. It’s a bit like trying to redesign the fork or chopstick. But every once in a while a new idea comes along. We could debate the merits of the spork, but I’d rather focus on the current cargo bike revolution taking place in the workshops of bike builders around the world. One such innovator is Lane Kagay who operates a one man cargo bike/rack operation out of Eugene Oregon called CETMA Cargo. Check out his designs at cetmacargo.com.

Los Angeles Chicken Produces World’s Largest Egg


Well, I exaggerate a bit. Neighbor Lora Hall rushed over this afternoon to show us an egg as big as the Dodger Stadium parking lot produced by her hefty Cornish Cross hen who goes by the name “Chickenzilla”. It was the same day that we found a tiny shell-less egg in our chicken coop. For your amusement we’ve lined up a set of freakish and normal eggs above. From left to right, a banty egg, one of our Plymouth Rock’s eggs, Chickenzilla’s big-ass egg and, on the ruler, the shell free egg.

Chickens have been bred to be egg laying machines. Occasionally an egg will emerge before it’s time and you get an egg without a shell. Conversely some eggs will stay in longer and get big. You also get oddly shaped eggs on occasion. It’s perfectly normal if these freak eggs happen once in a while. If you get a lot of strange eggs it may be a sign of disease or nutritional deficiencies.

Hall’s Cornish Cross chicken, incidentally, is a meat chicken that is not meant to live beyond a few weeks. Chickenzilla is remarkably healthy for a year old Cornish. They are bred to put on weight quickly and often can’t support their own weight should they somehow skip the butcher’s block. Permaculturist Harvey Ussery has a nice article in Backyard Poultry magazine on alternatives to the Cornish Cross if you’re interested in keeping meat chickens (or interested in knowing where your meat comes from as Cornish Cross chickens are what you get at the supermarket). Meanwhile Chickenzilla is happily living out her years and producing eggs the size of the national debt. Stimulus omelet anyone?

Fava Fava Fava

Fava bean mania has descended upon the Homegrown Evolution compound this spring. I can’t say enough good things about fava beans (Vicia fava): they taste good, the plant fixes nitrogen into the soil, making it an ideal cover crop, and it’s attractive.

If harvested small you can eat fava raw but I prefer to remove the skins and briefly boil the seeds (around five minutes). Once boiled, fava can be used in a variety of dishes from soups to salads. We just toss them with olive oil, white wine vinegar, mint, garlic and feta cheese.

Curiously, some folks (mostly male and of Mediterranean or black African ancestry) are allergic to fava. In fact, babies in Italy are tested at birth for this condition. “Favism” is extremely rare, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

Here in Los Angeles we plant fava in the late fall/early winter for a spring harvest. In most of North American you’ll plant it after the last frost.