Happy New Year!

Happy New Year and many thanks to all of you for supporting this blog and contributing comments, suggestions and opinions. Thanks to all of you who have bought our book and thanks to our brave and innovative publisher Process Media.

We have one resolution for the new year: to tinker/experiment/garden/problem solve/explore and have fun doing all these things, laughing and learning from our failures as we go.

Compost Outlaws

Yard Trimmings being used as “ADC” at the Bradley Landfill in Sun Valley

Our neighborhood comrade Tara Kolla, who grows sweet peas for farmer’s markets in her urban backyard, has been busted for . . . composting! Specifically for composting fruit and vegetable scraps from a local restaurant. From last Friday’s Los Angeles Times:

Tara Kolla said she was doing a good thing for her Silver Lake Farms business while doing the right thing for the planet by filling a garbage can each week with produce scraps from a nearby restaurant and dumping them into her compost.

A neighbor did not see it that way and complained about the compost, which Kolla has in two wood boxes covered with black plastic.

“I didn’t put it here to offend anyone. I put it here because it’s a work area,” Kolla said one morning as she showed a visitor her half-acre urban farm, where she grows flowers as well as some other crops to sell at farmers markets in Echo Park, Hollywood and Silver Lake.

In August, Kolla received a letter from the Los Angeles Local Enforcement Agency telling her to “cease and desist” composting food waste that was not generated at her home. The letter was signed by David Thompson, the agency’s program supervisor, who declined to talk on the record. But a city spokeswoman said there would be no additional action taken if there are no more complaints.

It turns out it’s against the law to compost material not generated at your own residence. So when you take back that bag of coffee grounds from Starbucks to put in your compost pile you’re an outlaw. It’s a law that benefits the status quo, where the the city and private contractors haul away all that perfectly good organic matter that could be nourishing our neighborhood gardens, parks, and street trees and stuff it in . . . the dump.

There’s a dirty little secret with what happens to the organic matter we all some of us put in the green bin (a trash can provided by the city some municipalities to separate out yard trimmings) in the city of Los Angeles and many other municipalities. According to a friend of mine who works in the recycling business, 80% of the green bin contents in Los Angeles (county?) [Editors note: see neighborhood colleague, and fellow "trash geek" Jeremy Drake's correction in the comments section. Drake says that LA City does not use green bin contents as ADC. My friend may have been refering to LA County waste practices.] are used as “Alternative Daily Cover” or ADC. ADC, which in addition to yard waste can consist of all kinds of things including broken glass and construction materials are used to cover up trash dumped into landfills. So while our friend Tara gets busted for composting, some cities go about taking the same perfectly good organic matter and toss it into the dump along with the rest of our garbage.

The green bin is a sham, but it gets worse. According to Mayor Sam’s Sister City, classifying waste as ADC “allows dump operators to escape paying State per ton fees which in turn are used for State recycling and enforcement programs.”

There’s a opportunity in this composting kerfuffle for an elegant solution. Anyone who gardens in the city knows how important, and sometimes difficult, it is to get enough organic matter. How about regional composting facilities? Instead of trucking organic matter from restaurants and yards to far-off dumps (and generating tons of diesel particulate matter on those long hauls), how about we compost it closer to home? We’ll need skilled workers for this, perfect in a time of rising unemployment. This is precisely what our friend Nance Klehm does in Chicago, taking the waste from 6,000 daily meals at the Pacific Garden Mission and, with a large worm composting operation, turning that waste into prized worm compost which is sold at a farmer’s market. The operation is staffed with homeless clients from the Mission. Waste is reduced, gardeners get compost, homeless people get work and everyone benefits.

Now let’s change these silly composting laws and get to work . . .

[Editors note--Tara had a correction to the LA Times story--she does not "dump" stuff in her compost pile, but skillfully and responsibly layers green and brown materials. You can take a compost class from her at the Norman Harrington / Franklin Hills Community Garden. More information at Silver Lake Farms.]

A Tensegrity Table

Tensegrities are an attractive structure that can be built with rods and string or wire. The term is Buckminster Fuller’s combination of “tension” and “integrity”, though Fuller probably did not invent the concept. Having seen a coffee table that used a tensegrity as a base, I decided to see if I could make a similar table, only out of scavenged materials (scavenging seems appropriate in these crummy economic times!).

To make your own tensegrity table, molecular biomechanics professor Dr. William H. Guilford has some very nice step-by-step instructions here. My version is slightly different, but frankly Guilford’s design is probably more stable. I used some electrical conduit tubing left over from remodeling the house, some rope and a stop sign that I found laying in a driveway (note the “anarchy” graffiti – is that “stop anarchy” or a pro-anarchy statement?). Putting the tensegrity together was a bit more time consuming and frustrating than I expected, but once I got my head around the geometry of the concept and learned how to tug the rope, my slightly wonky scrap tensegrity miraculously seemed to assemble itself.

Tensegrities make a nice project for using up short scrap materials and can be stacked to form a tower. An example of a very tall tensegrity structure is sculptor Kenneth Snelson’s “Needle Tower”, installed at the Hirshhorn in Washington D.C. While more of a traditionalist when it comes to architectural forms, tensegrities make a nice addition to the Hoemgrown Evolution design vocabulary and I’m contemplating a tensegrity bean trellis for the backyard . . .

3D Greetings

Homegrown Evolution’s holiday gift to our readers is a headache. Well, to be precise, we offer you three dimensional images of two of our favorite garden plants. Above, the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) and, below, spearmint (Mentha Spicata). To view these two images in three dimensions follow these instructions, specifically the bit about “parallel viewing”. Be persistent, like all good things it might take some practice.

We taught ourselves how to free view three dimensional images a long time ago and, in additional to it being good for your eye muscles, it opens up a whole world of fun with old stereoscopic images such as these.

To make your own stereographs all you need to do is take two pictures slightly spaced apart. As long as your subject doesn’t move you can do it with just one camera. Full instructions here.

For those of you who, after an hour of reviewing those parallel viewing instructions, now have a headache can’t uncross your eyes, we suggest downing a few cups of eggnog to make things just fine in the new year.

Home Baked Bread in Five Minutes

If you’ve bought our book, followed this blog, or gone to one our workshops you’ll know that we tout a wild yeast bread recipe adapted from Nancy Silverton’s La Brea Bakery method. We contend that our delicious recipe can be worked into all but the most crazed work schedule. But our recipe does rely on equipment and tools, specifically a heavy duty mixer and a wooden bread form. This month’s issue of Mother Earth News has a bread making solution for those of you unwilling to make the investment in the mixer or unable to fit the long rise times of wild yeast bread into your work schedule.

The article, “Five Minutes a Day for Fresh-Baked Bread” by Zöe François and Jeff Hertzberg, explains their simple recipe. Combining just flour, water, salt and yeast, with no kneading, you make up a very wet dough, let it rise for two hours and then either bake it or stick it in the refrigerator. The dough keeps in the fridge for up to two weeks, taking on a sourdough flavor as it ages. When you want a loaf of bread you tear off a softball sized chunk, let it rise for 45 minutes and stick it in the oven. A pan of water in the stove creates steam and gives the bread a nice, hard crust.

We tried the basic white bread recipe in the Mother Earth article and can report that it works quite well. Hertzberg and François have penned a bread cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, that takes this basic recipe and uses it as the base for variations such as pizza dough, sticky rolls, and whole-wheat bread. While not having as rich a flavor as our wild yeast recipe, Hertzberg and François’ method is an excellent solution for busy households. We look forward to seeing the book.

For more on the five minute a day bread method see:

Hertzberg and François’ website, which has additional recipes and variations.

A youtube demonstration by the authors:

A Used Tire Hose Caddy

Here’s a cheap and easy way, using one of our favorite junk building materials–used tires, to keep that hose from trippin’ you up in the back yard.

Cut out the sidewall of one side of a tire using a sabre saw. You could use a sharp knife, but electricity makes this task a lot easier.

You’ll end up with the half cut out tire you see above. But your work is not yet complete.

Drill a bunch of drainage holes in the bottom of the tire, at least one hole every three inches. This is to keep water from pooling when it rains. Incidentally, used tires combined with water make the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes (more on the tragic global consequences caused by mosquitoes incubating in tires here). With a bunch of drainage holes you won’t have a problem.

Got more used tires? See our used tire composter here.

Bikin’ in LA

LA Bike path with billboard courtesy of SoapBoxLA

When riding a bike in a city like Los Angeles I’ve come to the realization that it’s best to cultivate a stoic, ninjaesque calm while squeezing betwixt the masses of cell phone wielding Neanderthals piloting their four ton land yachts. Unfortunately, I sometimes lose my temper. But over the past few years since I climbed back on a bike, I’ve discovered that it’s best to brush off the inevitable indignities and pretend all those Neanderthals are rushing off somewhere important like, say, to save a drowning puppy or sing Christmas Carols at a nursing home.

The ethos I try to live by is: on the bike stay calm and enjoy the craziness of it all (it’s like skiing with SUVs, after all), off the bike raise hell. And, as the bike path photo above from über bike activist Stephen Box’s SoapBoxLA blog demonstrates, there’s plenty to raise hell about with Los Angeles’ terminal car-centric design. For me the issue ain’t about bikes–I actually enjoy hauling ass through congested rush hour traffic on two wheels. Instead my off bike ire is more about two questions that, I hope, everyone will care about whether you ride a bike or not:

1. Can children safely walk or ride their bikes to school and thus avoiding becoming fat, Xbox addicted idiots. Or, do they have to go everywhere tethered to mommy and daddy in steel and glass bubbles never learning anything about independence.

2. Can elderly folks safely walk to a market, church, bingo hall without having to get behind the wheel of a car.

In Los Angeles and most of the rest of the country the answer to both of these questions is a big fat, obese NO! However, we’re at a turning point here in L.A. The testifying and lobbying that we in the bike community have been working on has begun to pay off and, I hope, make life for everyone here better.

When folks talk to me about national politics I say, sure you should vote but it’s the local that really matters. It’s by speaking at city council meetings or just writing letters to local officials that we can make the changes to our world that need to be made. In the case of transportation, it doesn’t matter whether you are right, left, libertarian or whatever. We all have the right to safe, inexpensive mobility no matter our age, race or income level. Tell your local officials!

To find out more about what’s been going on in Los Angeles read:

Los Angeles Magazine’s account of the local bike community
The recently revived SoapBoxLA
StreetsblogLA

Making Beer in Plain Language

“The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.”
-Guggenheim Fellowship-winning professor of rhetoric and comparative literature Judith Butler via the Bad Writing Contest

Huh? At least the terminology surrounding beer making ain’t that obtuse, but it certainly could use some simplification. For novice home brewers, such as us here at Homegrown Evolution, the terminology creates an unnecessary barrier as impenetrable as a graduate school seminar in the humanities. Let’s see, there’s a mash, a mash tun, a wort, some sparging, malting, all the while specific gravities are measured and hopsing schedules followed. We’ve made beer using kits from a home brew shop and found the process relatively simple, but the thought of making an all grain batch (extracting our own fermentable sugars from the grain rather than using the extracted syrup in a kit) seemed intimidating. Thankfully comrades Ben, Scott and Eddie showed us how to do an all grain batch a few weeks ago. Here, in plain language and crappy pictures is how it works. To the possible horror of beer aficionados, we’ll substitute plain English in the interest of encouraging more folks to try this:

1. Slightly sprouted and roasted grains from a home brew shop (they’ve been sprouted and roasted for you) are soaked in hot water.

2. Music, courtesy of Triple Chicken Foot, kills some time while the grain steeps.

3. After soaking, the liquid is drained off and more hot water is added. The liquid pouring into the pot on the ground contains sugar from the grains.

4. The extracted sugars are boiled with some hops for an hour.

5. After boiling for an hour you cool down the liquid as rapidly as possible. Here comrade Ben uses ice and a coil of copper tubing with water from a garden hose flowing through it, to bring that temperature down.

6. The cooled liquid is poured into a glass carboy and yeast is added. After a week or so this will be transferred with a tube into a second carboy. After about two to three weeks of fermentation some additional sugar is added (for carbonation) and the beer is bottled. After bottling I’ve discovered that it’s best to wait for at least three weeks, to let the carbonation happen and the flavors mellow, before sitting down with a post-structuralist theory tome and popping open a cool one.

From the pictures you can see that brewing from scratch like this takes some special equipment. You can build these items yourself, or you can skip the equipment and brew with an extract kit from your local home brew shop with little more than a large pot and a carboy. Remember that if prisoners can make wine behind bars (recipe for prison “Pruno” here), we all can certainly make an acceptable beer in our kitchens.

For detailed info on how to brew beer and make your own brewing equipment see John Palmer’s free ebook How to Brew.

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.