December Homegrown Evolution Events

Bread Making

If you’re in the Southern California area, come on down to Good Magazine’s splashy digs for a bread making demo we’ll be doing on Monday December 15th at 12:30 p.m. We’ll be showing how to bake our favorite wild yeast bread (in our book and on our website here). Come at 11:30 a.m. and catch our organic gardening pals at Silver Lake Farms do a talk on winter vegetable crops. Stick around for puppets! Good Magazine is located at:

6824 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, 90038

More info on Good Magazine’s December events page.

General Partying

On Thursday December 11th at 7 p.m. our publishers Process Media and Feral House are putting on a Winter Solstice Celebration at La Luz de Jesus Gallery, 4633 Hollywood Blvd in Los Angeles. We hear rumours of bonfires (not our book we hope!), Druids, “mystics and madmen, mulberry and mead.” We’ll just be hanging out, enjoying the festivities. Come on down and see us and get discounts on Process and Feral House books. Details here.

Talkin’ Chicken

One of the Homegrown Evolution Hens taking care of our termite problem last week

We’re in the Los Angeles Times today “clucking” about chickens. We share mention with fellow Los Angeles urban homesteading bloggists Dakota Witzenburg and Audrey Diehl, who write Green Frieda. Witzenburg designed an amazing coop, complete with a green roof planted with succulents that you can see on Green Frieda here.

In other chicken related news, the December/January issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine is hot off the presses with a provocative article by permaculturist Harvey Ussery, “The Homestead Flock: Pets or Partners?” The article is not online yet, but you can read Ussery’s excellent guide to keeping poultry here.

Lastly, poultry expert and author Christine Heinrichs, who we met at a recent poultry show, has an interesting post on her blog about the lack of genetic diversity in chickens.

FEMA Plans for a Bar That Folds Into a Fallout Shelter

Sometime back in the early 1990s I signed up for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s free home study course in radiological emergency management. Along with the text book and quizzes came a couple of plans for home built fallout shelters. Most of these shelters were what you would expect, underground cinder block cubes accessed through a trap door on your back patio. But one plan really stood out for its cocktail era inventiveness, a basement “snack bar” that converts into the perfect place to ride out Armageddon.

“The principal feature of this shelter is a sturdy wood overhead canopy which serves as a part of a pre-built snack bar in a basement recreation room. Consisting of three units hinged to the back wall, the canopy can be lowered to rest on the snack bar in an emergency.

In basements where the level of the outside ground is above the top of the canopy, adequate shelter from fallout radiation is provided for 6 people when the canopy is filled with 8″ solid concrete block or brick.

The snack bar should not take more than 5 man-days to construct.”

Incoming missles? Just fold down the snack bar’s false roof, toss in those cinder blocks and hunker down for a few weeks of endless martinis and canned cocktail wieners with five of your best friends. To help you prepare for the possibility of Kim Jong Il interrupting your holiday party (assuming you’ve got “5 man-days”), I’ve posted a pdf of the plans for this bit of FEMA genius here.

Incidentally, despite the 1960s vibe of this publication, it’s dated 1980 and some of the other designs were kept up to date until at least 1990, proving that cold warriors kept up the fight late in the game. I wonder if FEMA had any nifty hurricane plans . . .

Seaching for Seeds

Old school seed searching: order assembler standing next to racks containing packages at the W. Atlee Burpee Company, 1943
It’s never too early to start planning that garden. And towards that goal, Mother Earth News has created a nice custom Google search engine that scours over 600 seed suppliers. It’s the perfect way to find those obscure plants and varieties not at the local nursery. The search engine even includes our favorite seed company, Seeds from Italy. You can test out this new tool here on the Mother Earth website, or on the right toolbar of Homegrown Evolution.

Now it’s time to go plant some oca!

Do Something Day

In honor of Buy Nothing Day, we present a memorable Craigslist ad found by our comrade, neighbor and art blogger Doug Harvey while looking for a refrigerator to replace the one that got fried in a freak electric storm the other night,

“Never used, brand new 2008 GE Energystar fridge in original box. Blessed by his Holiness the Dalai Lama upon his last visit to Los Angeles, this fridge is sure to maintain the temperature and spiritual balance of all food. Due to health and dietary restrictions and my strict belief in the tenets of Mahayana Buddhist teachings, I asked his holiness Tenzing Norbu to bless the fridge upon his last visit. He guaranteed blessings and long life would be bestowed upon the fridge and the contents it protects. We have not used the fridge yet and unfortunately we need to move and can not bring the fridge with us. It is sad, but we are happy to give this spiritual appliance to another.”

At $1,500 Harvey passed over the Dalai Lama blessed “spiritual appliance” due to budget constraints and, no doubt, queasiness attributing supernatural qualities to an refrigerator. An ad for BMW takes this animist notion of consumer objects to the next level, simultaneously making fun of our obsession with consumerism and, in a kind of post-modern mental judo, using that perceived obsession to sell cars (a healthy dose of sex doesn’t hurt).

It’s this type of hyper-consumerism that provokes a backlash from organizations such as Adbusters, the folks behind Buy Nothing Day. Yet, I wish that Buy Nothing Day was, instead, Do Something Day or, perhaps, Build Something Day. In our book and presentations we’ve distanced ourselves from the dourness of the environmental movement, preferring ideas to be presented in the positive rather than the negative, in the form of actions rather than protests. So rather than head to the mall today we propose learning an odd and useless task, say the feat of balancing on chairs.

From Practical Projects for the Handy Man published in 1913,

Among the numerous physical exercises is the feat of balancing on the two rear legs of a chair while one foot rests on the front part of the seat and the other on the back of the chair. This may appear to be a hard thing to do, yet with a little practice it may be accomplished. This exercise is one of many practiced by the boys of a boys’ home for an annual display given by them. A dozen of the boys will mount chairs at the same time and keep them in balance at the word of a commanding officer.

So on this first Do Something Day, the crashing sound heard around the Homegrown Evolution compound this weekend will be the sound of a middle-aged eco-blogger falling over backwards . . . Now go out and Do Something!

Busting open a Durian

Via Mark Frauenfelder over on BoingBoing, a trailer for Adam Leith Gollner’s entertaining book, The Fruit Hunters:

Is their something about being an older white man of a certain age and exotic fruit? Mrs. Homegrown has become concerned about Mr. Homegrown dropping talk of durian into conversations at inappropriate moments of late. And look out Mrs. HG, because Mr. HG just heard about the Mimosa Nursery (thanks beer making Scott!), purveyors of exotic fruit trees here in Southern California. From my web research it looks like Mimosa has at least two locations, one in Anaheim and the other at 6270 Allston in Los Angeles. We’re planning an expedition soon . . .

End of Season Tomato Review

Homegrown Evolution had ambitious plans to review each and every tomato variety out of the garden this year, but alas, we fell behind in our bloggulating duties and planted way too many tomatoes. So here, as “winter” appears in Southern California (it’s raining, that’s how you tell), we’ll review what worked and what didn’t work.

The tastiest tomato award goes to the Pineapple variety pictured above. Not only did this heirloom tomato have the best flavor, it was also the prettiest tomato we’ve ever grown, a brilliant yellow with streaks of red in the middle of the fruit when you slice it. And they’re just about as big as a Cadillac Escalade. We saved some seeds and will definitely be growing these again next year.


The most productive, trouble free and productive tomatoes this year were plain old Romas and San Marzanos, both of which provided a summer of tomato sauce and enough extra fruit to do some canning. Two hybrid cherry tomatoes we grew in self watering containers, Sun Gold and Sweet 100 also did well. The Romas have the additional benefit of being fusarium wilt and verticillium resistant. It may be organic gardening heresy to say this, but hybrid tomatoes such as Roma are the best varieties for beginning gardeners to grow due to their trouble free and disease resistant qualities. The down side is that you can’t save the seeds.

We also grew Syrian Giants, but unfortunately our Doberman Pincher ate most of them on late night raids. Perhaps because the Syrians grew in less than ideal partial shade conditions, they weren’t that tasty. See also our earlier reviews of Banana Leg and Red Currant varieties.

Most of the tomatoes were grown in cages made from concrete reinforcing wire (instructions on making tomato cages here) in raised beds with a drip irrigation system as pictured above. As an experiment for folks in apartments or with limited space, we grew a bunch of tomatoes in self watering containers on a strip of concrete next to the back wall of our garage (note crappy picture below). You’ll see that we were too lazy to put the container tomatoes in cages–don’t do this as you’ll have a sprawling ugly mess! Nevertheless, the containers worked.

So readers, leave some comments! Tell us your favorite tomatoes this season. Weigh in on the heirloom vs. hybrid issue. We’re sure that forward thinking folks planning seed purchases for the spring would appreciate the advice.

The New Home Economics

photo above by whiteafrican photo on right by Wayan Vota

So what is this simple, elegantly designed object? It’s a bottle opener from Africa as seen on one of our favorite blogs, AfriGadget. Tough times call for elemental solutions, not to mention popping the cap off a beer.

And speaking of tough times and ingenuity, with our economy continuing to meltdown and unemployment on the rise (check out this youtube interview with author Nasim Nicholas Taleb and mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot for a real scare), we’ve begun to see sudden interest in the long forgotten topic of home economics. A good example of this new home economics is 30 bucks a week, the recipes and strategies of a couple in Brooklyn attempting to limit their grocery bills to, yes, just $30 a week.

But back to that African beer bottle opener pictured above. Yes, it exists in the context of poverty, but it’s also a symbol of hope, of facing adversity with resourcefulness, a sense of style and play.

A Used Tire Compost Bin

There’s so many damn used tires littering the sidewalks of this grungy town, Los Angeles should incorporate them into the city seal. Thankfully tires make a fine raw material for building projects and Homegrown Evolution has been experimenting with their many uses over the past year. This week we built a compost bin.

Step one is to cut out the sidewalls. You might be able to do this with a sharp knife, but it’s much easier with an electric saber saw. We used a knife to cut a slit to get the saber saw started. Once both sidewalls are cut out you just stack your modified tires up, fill it with compost, put a cover on it (we used a piece of scrap aluminum), and fetch a beer.

We’ll post another tire project soon.

Homegrown Evolution at Environmental Change-Makers

We’ll be doing a talk this Thursday in Westchester (Los Angeles) at the monthly meeting of Environmental Change-Makers. But don’t just come to see us! This event is at the Church of the Holy Nativity, which took out a lawn to grow food for the needy, an idea we’d like to see spread around the world.

The Church of the Holy Nativity is located at Dunbarton at 83rd St., (6700 West 83rd Street) Westchester 90045. The meeting and talk begins at 7 p.m.

More on Church of the Holy Nativity’s amazing garden here.