Plastic or Wood?

Some time ago the folks at the FDA and USDA recommended that we replace our wooden cutting boards with plastic ones (such as the fine Elvis model on the right). This injunction rose out of rising fears of salmonella and e-coli poisoning in our food, which are, by the way, the signature bacteria of our deplorable factory farming system. But that’s another rant.

This rant is about the boards. So as we were saying, it was out with the nasty, old-fashioned, disease harboring wood boards, and in with the shiny space age boards. We fell for it. The Homegrown Revolution compound boasts a set of plastic boards (though not Elvis ones). And now what do we find out? Researchers at both UC Davis and the University of Wisconsin, Madison have discovered that plastic is not only quite good at harboring bacteria, so good that the small cuts in a cutting board are uncleanable by any means but also, and this is the kicker, wooden boards actually kill bacteria.

Researchers inoculated plastic and wooden boards with raw chicken juice fortified with bacteria. Within three minutes 99 percent of the bacteria on the wooden boards had vanished, while the bacteria on the plastic boards remained healthy. Puzzled, the researchers left the boards to sit overnight. The next morning the plastic boards boasted a healthy and increased bacterial population, while the wooden boards tested bacteria free.

FDA Bastards! Could they not have run this simple test before scaring us into buying the plastic boards? Did the plastic industry pay them to make that recommendation?

This just drives home what we already knew, and what just proves more true every passing day: plastic sucks. It is a dreadful mistake of the last century which has to meet its end this century–though of course the plastics we’ve already made will haunt us for all eternity. [Editors note: Mr. Homegrown Revolution is not crazy about plastics either but not quite as zealous, noting that Mrs. Homegrown Revolution typed this missive on a device made almost entirely of plastic. Steve Jobs has yet to come out with an iBook made from bamboo and corn husks. That being said, this haunting video about the impact of plastic on the ocean drives home the point that we need to drastically cut back our consumption of plastics and only use them for essentials]

Okay, these are the new rules. We are going to phase as many plastics out of the homestead as we can. We won’t toss what we have in the landfill right now, but when it is time to replace it, this is how it’s going down:

Wood and metal utensils instead of plastic
Glass storage containers instead of Tupperwear
Wool blankets instead of Polarfleece blankets
Down filling instead of polyester filling (even for allergy sufferers)*
Silk and wool fabrics for athletics instead of petroleum based technical fabrics
Sigg bottles instead of plastic water bottles
Sturdy reusable shopping bags instead of disposable shopping bags
Washable dish cloths instead of cellulose sponges
General avoidance of plastic packaging at the supermarket.

*Dust mites breed in much greater profusion in synthetic bedding than in down.

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands


“The bricoleur, says Levi-Strauss, is someone who uses “the means at hand,” that is, the instruments he finds at his disposition around him, those which are already there, which had not been especially conceived with an eye to the operation for which they are to be used and to which one tries by trial and error to adapt them, not hesitating to change them whenever it appears necessary, or to try several of them at once, even if their form and their origin are heterogeneous.”

-Jacques Derrida

Homegrown Revolution loves cheap low-tech solutions (not to mention pretentious quotes), which is why we especially like “bricoleur” and Tucson rainwater harvesting guru Brad Lancaster and his ongoing book series Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands. Volume one is already out and volume two is due out this summer. Landcaster’s ingenious methods involve little more than careful observation and some work with a shovel. He suggests that harvesting rainwater begins with considering the flow of water from the highest point (which for most people will be the roof) to the lowest point in your yard and then simply figuring out simple ways to get that water to percolate into the ground to nourish your plants.

We’re especially fond of his method of hijacking street gutter runoff and directing it with a small improvised check dam into a dug out basin in the parkway. We’ve watched our neighbor’s lawn watering runoff for years and wondered if we could find a way to use that water. You can watch two videos showing Lancaster at work here. And a podcast here.

Growing Chayote

On our morning dog walk Giovanni, one of our neighbors, kindly gave us a pair of fresh chayote off of his backyard vine which covers a trellis over his carport. Giovanni has wisely intertwined the chayote with an equally prodigious passion fruit vine making for a combo that produces many pounds of fruit all summer long.

Chayote (Sechium edule), for those not in the know, is a wonder plant of the gourd family hailing from Mexico and Central America. It has a mild slightly sweet cucumber-like taste. They can be boiled, pan fried, steamed, baked, pickled or chopped up and tossed raw in a salad. Though requiring a fair amount of water, it grows like a weed here and one vine can easily produce eighty pounds of fruit. Another mark in its favor is that Chayote is a perennial and, to top it all off, the young leaves and root are also edible and the tough stalks can be made into rope.

We started a chayote plant a few months ago by simply buying a few at our local market, letting it sprout on our counter top and then planting it in the ground. Since the fruit contains only one seed you don’t need to extract it–you plant the whole thing. They are very susceptible to rotting when first planted so that may explain why we got only one out of three to grow.

Chayote is traditionally grown up over a trellis or roof and we’re growing ours on a bare trellis that covers a deck in the back yard. We’re hoping the chayote will give us a summer of both fruit and shade!

Build a Rocket Stove

Rocket stoves are a highly efficient way to cook using just small branches rather than large pieces of wood and are twice as efficient as conventional open wood burning methods. They usually consist of a heavily insulated L shaped metal pipe, at the bottom of which you put small pieces of wood. You size the pipe to fit a pot, which fits down into the pipe. Efficiency is gained by the fact that the pot is heated on the sides as well as the bottom.

Homegrown Evolution was delighted to find a how to build a rocket stove video (with a Euro disco soundtrack!) hosted by a goth dude named “vavrek”:


Other Rocket Stove Designs

The Aprovecho Research Center, a non-profit organization devoted to improving conditions in third world countries through the development of low cost, simple cooking and heating technologies have developed a number of rocket stoves that you can build for your urban homestead. They have a simple model called the VITA Stove made with sheet metal (note the better soundtrack music on the video) and an institutional model made with a 50 gallon drum.

We think we’ve found a use for all those fallen palm fronds . . . rocket stove cooking!

Blueberries in a Self Watering Container


It may not be pretty but Homegrown Revolution has blueberries.

To grow blueberries in a warm climate such as Los Angeles you’ll need to choose a heat tolerant southern highbush variety. Southern highbush blueberries are hybrids that don’t require the winter chilling of their northern relatives. Blueberries also need cross pollination so they should be planted in pairs. We mail ordered two different varieties, “Oneal” and “Misty” in bare root form earlier this year from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply.

Blueberries require an acidic soil, of the sort you’d find in a wet forest climate, so we planted them in a self watering container with a home made soil mix made up of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 wood chips and 1/3 azalea mix.

Their special soil requirements and shallow roots make blueberries an ideal plant for self watering containers. And attention apartment homesteaders–blueberries will work nicely on that south facing balcony.

It’s Official: The End is Near

Cheese doodles sandwiched by two images from a Qatar Airlines ad

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that the price of corn has got so high due to its use for ethanol, that farmers are resorting to feeding livestock, “cookies, licorice, cheese curls, candy bars, french fries, frosted wheat cereal and peanut-butter cups.”

GARLAND, N.C.–When Alfred Smith’s hogs eat trail mix, they usually shun the Brazil nuts.

“Pigs can be picky eaters,” Mr. Smith says, scooping a handful of banana chips, yogurt-covered raisins, dried papaya and cashews from one of the 12 one-ton boxes in his shed. Generally, he says, “they like the sweet stuff.”

Mr. Smith is just happy his pigs aren’t eating him out of house and home. Growing demand for corn based ethanol, a biofuel that has surged in popularity over the past year, has pushed up the price of corn, Mr. Smith’s main feed, to near-record levels. Because feed represents farms’ biggest single cost in raising animals, farmers are serving them a lot of people food, since it can be cheaper.

Connecting the stories and ads in the WSJ is our favorite game to play in the morning over our coffee. We’re not alone in playing this game. Richard Jackson, Director of the CDC National Center for Environmental Health connected the dots with stories in the WSJ during a brilliant lecture we heard earlier this month at a public health conference (read one of Dr. Jackson’s papers on our screwed up built environment here). Jackson held up the morning’s paper and pointed out that separate stories on childhood obesity, air pollution and suburbanization are all related.

Today’s WSJ is a reminder of how this associational game increasingly paints a picture of a mad and dystopic science fiction reality. Along with the story on feeding livestock junk food, we have a story on Fermat Capital Management L.L.C., a money management firm led by a biophysicist that sells bonds, “linked to natural catastrophes, such as hurricanes”. So called “catastrophe bonds” are a method for insurance companies to ease the danger of losses on an uncertain future of global warming related natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina. On another page we find an ad for “America’s newest stars” Qatar Airway’s direct service between Washington D.C., New York and Doha. Together these stories and ads indicate a country so hooked on driving that our business and government power elites jet off to Qatar to cut deals with corrupt and homicidal oil interests while simultaneously sacrificing our agriculture to our gas tanks, all the while covering the environmental consequences with increasingly exotic financial instruments.

Madness! We fear comrades, that it’s time to prepare,.

Our Favorite Searches


Homegrown Revolution occasionally gets a laugh reviewing the search phrases that land people on this blog. At times the phrases resemble a kind of random internet haiku. We thought we’d review a few of them and respond.

“is Roundup bad for cats”

YES! Roundup, Monsanto’s ubiquitous herbicide, is bad for all living things.

“how to survive living out of your car”

We’d suggest a subscription to Dwelling Portably for answers to that.

“how to make methamphetamine using a 5 gallon bucket”

Can’t help you there, but we can suggest a healthier use for a 5 gallon bucket.

“pizza dough peak oil flour”

It may be shameless promotion, but we think we’re the only source for a pizza recipe for peak oil fans. Of course, sticklers for detail will point out that we did not grow and grind our own flour. We’ll get to how to do that soon.

injera get bad without refrigeration”

We made a very successful batch of the Ethiopian bread injera back in March without any refrigeration involved. In fact refrigeration would probably prevent it from fermenting as it’s supposed to. Comrades, it’s time to overcome your food safety paranoias!

“Accidentally flushed tampon applicator”

Our favorite search phrase, and in fact something we’ve witnessed first hand when we paid a visit to a sewage treatment plant back in February.

Flexible PVC Pipe for Greywater

Following up on an earlier post about using your washing machine’s greywater in your garden we thought we would revisit the sexy and exciting world of flexible 1″ pvc pipe and other exotic plumbing materials to be found in the isles of your local pool and spa supply shop–the unlikely go-to source for greywater revolutionaries. Flexible pvc pipe is probably the easiest way to run washing machine waste water out to your plants, just like you would with a garden hose. But garden hose could burn out your washing machine’s motor because it’s too small and has a tendency to kink up, hence the need for flexible 1″ pvc.

Another handy item from the bourgeois land of pools and spas is the swing check valve which will keep waste water from flowing back into the machine and gunking up your clean clothes. We hope graphic designers will appreciate (or perhaps not) those glowing blue drop shadows, but we digress. Apparently, this back-flow problem is not an issue with all washing machines so we’d hold off on getting one of these slightly expensive things until you know it’s an issue.

We’ve already discussed the not-safe-for work-sounding “three way diverter valve” which seems like something this business located in our neighborhood might carry (NSFW!). The tree way diverter valve, you may recall, is a way to send that greywater temporarily back to the sewer should the need arise. Another, much cheaper way to divert grewater is with a duo of two way valves. The radical Greywater Guerrillas of Oak-town show you how to do this on their fantastic website (which seems temporarily to be under construction–check back later).

So when the inevitable zombie hordes cause chaos across the land, just remember that you can scavenge hot tub parts in their wake to run your greywater system.

Bike to Work Week

It’s bike to work week and time to RIDE! That being said, we’re a little disappointed by the iconography our Metropolitan Transit Authority is using to advertise what we otherwise think is a worthwhile cause. It reminds us of an essay by Michael Smith about a poster designed for the equally clueless New York City Department of Transportation.

Our MTA seems to feel that only children should ride bikes–at least that’s the unconscious subtext of the image on the left. The hand-less and foot-less cartoon figures they use, with their small doll-like bodies look like kids. Even though they don’t have faces, they also don’t look particularly happy. Is that because they are going to work (who wants to do that!) or because they are riding a bike in the notoriously bike-unfriendly Los Angeles? The hidden, and I’m sure unintentional message from MTA seems to be, “we’re advertising biking in LA because it makes us look good, but if you actually do it you are a childish dork.”
And speaking of dorks, check out the pained and terrified dude on the cover of the outdated and useless Los Angeles Department of Transportation bikeway guide (click to biggify). Flip to the backside of the map and there’s another copy of this same image, this time occupying fully a third of what could be useful space for tips on how to bike in LA. Like the MTA, the LADOT seems more interested in spending lavishly on curious promotional efforts that simultaneously make it seem like they are doing something while subconsciously discouraging anyone from actually riding a bike. After all, if the kind of middle class folks this map and the bike to work propaganda is aimed at took to the streets in great numbers LADOT would have a problem on their hands given their fondness for building pedestrian and cycling unfriendly high-speed blighted freeways through our neighborhoods.

A tip to the powers that be–first spend your money on making LA more walkable/bikeable and if there are any dead presidents left over for advertising at least try for some sexier imagery. Start with a look at Urban Cyclist–even the old codgers at SurviveLA know these hip kids at are on to something with their free issue #1.

And while we’re not thrilled with the MTA ad campaign, we like some of the festivities planned for this week:

Monday– a free concert by the Ditty Bops and a guest appearance by the ubiquitous greenmeister Ed Begley Jr from 11:30 am to 1pm on the south lawn of city hall.

Tuesday–Blessing of the Bicycles at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Thursday–The Hollywood and Western Pit Stop hosted by illuminateLA who promises voluminous swag and refreshments from 7 am to 10 am followed by barricade storming.