Roundup

SurviveLA is embarrassed to admit that we used to have a bottle of Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller around the compound. Embarrassed because one of Project Censored’s top 25 censored stories of 2006 includes this piece on the evils of this product:

Third World Resurgence, No. 176, April 2005
Title: “New Evidence of Dangers of Roundup Weedkiller”
Author: Chee Yoke Heong

New studies from both sides of the Atlantic reveal that Roundup, the most widely used weedkiller in the world, poses serious human health threats. More than 75 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops are engineered to tolerate the absorption of Roundup—it eliminates all plants that are not GM. Monsanto Inc., the major engineer of GM crops, is also the producer of Roundup. Thus, while Roundup was formulated as a weapon against weeds, it has become a prevalent ingredient in most of our food crops.

Three recent studies show that Roundup, which is used by farmers and home gardeners, is not the safe product we have been led to trust.

A group of scientists led by biochemist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini from the University of Caen in France found that human placental cells are very sensitive to Roundup at concentrations lower than those currently used in agricultural application.

An epidemiological study of Ontario farming populations showed that exposure to glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, nearly doubled the risk of late miscarriages. Seralini and his team decided to research the effects of the herbicide on human placenta cells. Their study confirmed the toxicity of glyphosate, as after eighteen hours of exposure at low concentrations, large proportions of human placenta began to die. Seralini suggests that this may explain the high levels of premature births and miscarriages observed among female farmers using glyphosate.

Seralini’s team further compared the toxic effects of the Roundup formula (the most common commercial formulation of glyphosate and chemical additives) to the isolated active ingredient, glyphosate. They found that the toxic effect increases in the presence of Roundup ‘adjuvants’ or additives. These additives thus have a facilitating role, rendering Roundup twice as toxic as its isolated active ingredient, glyphosate.

Another study, released in April 2005 by the University of Pittsburgh, suggests that Roundup is a danger to other life-forms and non-target organisms. Biologist Rick Relyea found that Roundup is extremely lethal to amphibians. In what is considered one of the most extensive studies on the effects of pesticides on nontarget organisms in a natural setting, Relyea found that Roundup caused a 70 percent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 percent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree frog tadpoles were nearly eliminated.

In 2002, a scientific team led by Robert Belle of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) biological station in Roscoff, France showed that Roundup activates one of the key stages of cellular division that can potentially lead to cancer. Belle and his team have been studying the impact of glyphosate formulations on sea urchin cells for several years. The team has recently demonstrated in Toxicological Science (December 2004) that a “control point” for DNA damage was affected by Roundup, while glyphosate alone had no effect. “We have shown that it’s a definite risk factor, but we have not evaluated the number of cancers potentially induced, nor the time frame within which they would declare themselves,” Belle acknowledges.

There is, indeed, direct evidence that glyphosate inhibits an important process called RNA transcription in animals, at a concentration well below the level that is recommended for commercial spray application.

There is also new research that shows that brief exposure to commercial glyphosate causes liver damage in rats, as indicated by the leakage of intracellular liver enzymes. The research indicates that glyphosate and its surfactant in Roundup were found to act in synergy to increase damage to the liver.

UPDATE BY CHEE YOKE HEONG
Roundup Ready weedkiller is one of the most widely used weedkillers in the world for crops and backyard gardens. Roundup, with its active ingredient glyphosate, has long been promoted as safe for humans and the environment while effective in killing weeds. It is therefore significant when recent studies show that Roundup is not as safe as its promoters claim.

This has major consequences as the bulk of commercially planted genetically modified crops are designed to tolerate glyphosate (and especially Roundup), and independent field data already shows a trend of increasing use of the herbicide. This goes against industry claims that herbicide use will drop and that these plants will thus be more “environment-friendly.” Now it has been found that there are serious health effects, too. My story therefore aimed to highlight these new findings and their implications to health and the environment.

Not surprisingly, Monsanto came out refuting some of the findings of the studies mentioned in the article. What ensued was an open exchange between Dr. Rick Relyea and Monsanto, whereby the former stood his grounds. Otherwise, to my knowledge, no studies have since emerged on Roundup.

For more information look to the following sources:
Professor Gilles-Eric, [email protected]
Biosafety Information Center
Institute of Science in Society

The prevelance of glyphosate in store bought foods is yet another reason to grow your own vegetables and fruit if you can.

As far as weed control goes, there are some weeds such as crabgrass which are very difficult to deal with, and Roundup used to be SurviveLA’s last-resort option. Fortunately there are alternatives.

First of all we are mulching much more than we used to. Newspaper topped with leaves and twigs seems to work great, and the newspaper takes much longer than one might expect to break down.

While not appropriate for our dry climate and incendiary native plants, it’s possible in wetter climes to burn weeds with a propane tool such as these.

Ultimately, SurviveLA has replaced Roundup with a zen expression, “If you see a weed pull it”.

Zombies!

I don’t know could’ve been a lame jogger maybe
Or someone just about to do the freeway strangler baby
Shopping cart pusher or maybe someone groovie
One thing’s for sure, he isn’t starring in the movies.
‘Cause he’s walkin’ in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A., only a nobody walks in L.A.
-Missing Persons

A number of loyal SurviveLA readers have forwarded us links to a new book, The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. We haven’t read this book but we were, about a month ago, nearly run over by a zombie motorist. So get out the tin foil hats, and we’ll tell you the story.

But first some background. One of the first things we did when we founded our “homestead” a few years ago was to increase the amount of walking that we do in the interest of our environment, to squeeze in a little more exercise, and also to save money on gas. Like most Angelinos we used to drive everywhere, including destinations that were just a few blocks away. We discovered the power of traveling by our own two feet after a friend of ours convinced us to join him on a 42 kilometer walk-a-thon from East LA to the ocean as a benefit for the brave folks at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. On that trip we realized that walking, even up to 24 kilometers is perfectly feasible, though admittedly beyond that distance it starts to get hard. While we don’t walk such long distances in the course of a normal day, it’s still perfectly reasonable to take trips up to 5k.

Incidentally, for you engineering types, there is a handy way of estimating travel distances on foot devised by Scottish mountaineer W.W. Naismith in 1892. Naismith says that it takes an hour for each five kilometers. You must add a half hour for each 300 meters of elevation gain – though there probably won’t be much elevation gain in the course of your urban journeys unless you reside in San Francisco.

So, SurviveLA started walking more, taking trips to the bank, post office and other destinations in our neighborhood. Distances that once seemed too far on foot, now were a matter of routine and the sphere of what we consider walkable has increased dramatically in the past few years, changing our view of the city and acquainting us with many things we overlooked while driving.

Unfortunately it’s no coincidence that the Missing Persons wrote their song about Los Angeles. Walking sucks here — sidewalks are cracked, twisted and broken, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation considers pedestrians to be a nuisance, old people get tickets for taking too long to cross the street, and drivers are either oblivious, chatting on their cell phones, or outright homicidal.

In response to this SurviveLA has adopted an aggressive pedestrian style and we are relieved to hear that amongst our friends we are not the only ones to have yelled and banged on people’s cars. A certain punk rock Canadian type we know of once kicked out the headlights of an aggressive motorist with his steel tipped boots when the idiot almost ran down the guy’s kid who was in a stroller he was pushing. We don’t recommend this militant pedestrianism, but in the heat of the moment we often lose our normal zen like tranquility.

The award this year for the most militant LA pedestrians must go to a duo we found out about when we discovered the poster here at a crosswalk where we frequently have issues with motorists. It reads,

Please help me find this man and his wife (both in their late 50′s) – they were walking & stepped out in front of my car – angered (in a rage), he hit my stopped car w/his hand (denting it) . . . After hitting my car they both fled on foot – splitting up. I followed the man for an hour as he ran through the hills – but he got away.

Aside from their somewhat older age these angry pedestrians could have been us. We’ll note the fact that the motorist left out the part where he, no doubt, almost ran the couple down. SurviveLA congratulates this subversive pedestrian duo and we wish we could take credit for their revolutionary actions!

Which brings us back to the zombie issue. Last month, after returning from our thrice a week run along the western edge of the Silver Lake Reservoir we were walking home and attempting to cross West Silver Lake Drive in a crosswalk at a stop sign at the same spot where the angry pedestrian duo had their showdown, when a brand new sparkling Mini-Cooper came at us at a high speed making use of the rounded corners our city has thoughtfully designed to allow motorists to take turns as fast as they can. We threw our hands up in anger and prepared to smack the car when the driver stopped finally, allowing us to cross. Now here comes the weird part – we made eye contact and we swear that the driver was a genuine zombie! We’re talking literally here not making another one of our gratuitous swipes at the so-called “zombie hordes”. This Mini-Cooper zombie had deep set eyes, slightly tattered clothes and was obviously having one of those fresh out of the grave bad hair days. This was well before Halloween, so we don’t think this was some sort of costume. The brand-new and clean condition of the car suggested that we were dealing with a zombie of means and not some homeless person. She didn’t seem “goth”, and the nearest nightclub is Spaceland, hardly a goth hangout. As we crossed the street she continued to stare at us with a look that suggested the desire to consume the flesh of the living. All joking aside, it was a truly strange interaction, beyond the normal “The Great Architect of the Universe gave me the right to drive however I want” attitude that we expect from the motoring public.

Our encounter with the Mini-Cooper zombie proves that there may actually be a zombie menace out there and perhaps Zombie Survival Guide author Brooks should take his subject more seriously. SurviveLA suspects the cause of contemporary zombieism to be the effects of consumer culture and/or television viewing. What’s the cure? In short, we think it’s the exciting new urban homesteading lifestyle. What’s the strategy to overcome zombieism? We are no fan of the Unabomber, but he may be right about this one – just substitute the word “zombie” for “American” – which is perhaps redundant, anyways:

. . . it would be bad strategy for the revolutionaries to condemn Americans for the habits of consumption. Instead, the average American should be portrayed as a victim of the advertising and marketing industry, which has suckered him into buying a lot of junk that he doesn’t need and that is very poor compensation for his lost freedom.

Revolutionary Rusks

Today Root Simple is proud to present a contribution (and amazing photo!) from photographer, velolutionary, and Culver-Town homesteader Elon Schoenholz:

Rusks are sturdy biscuits of Dutch South African origin, slightly sweetened and heartily nonperishable. Like biscotti, they’re double-baked, dry and crunchy; unlike the chocolate-dipped and plastic-wrapped crap on the counter at Starbucks, however, homemade rusks are practical, nourishing and inexpensive. The version we prefer, with chopped almonds, is subtly delicious. Stored in an airtight container, rusks are good to eat for 2-3 weeks. We enjoy dipping them in our coffee. Also, they’re great cycling snacks because you can throw them in a jersey pocket; they’re good all day without refrigeration; and they provide a quick simple-carb fix, as well as protein and complex carbs.

The recipe we use is from the “Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes From the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant

To make the most of your time and maximize energy efficiency, bake two batches and stack them all up together for the 12-hour dry-a-thon following the initial 25-minute bake. You’ll end up with about 20 pieces from a single batch, and they go pretty fast. While rusks historically were created as hot-weather food, baking them during the winter is more pleasant because you end up having the oven on all day or night.

Recipe:
Dry ingredients
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour (the recipe calls for coarsely ground whole wheat flour but we use all-purpose whole wheat flour and then add 2 tablespoons wheat germ and 2 tablespoons ground flax seed)
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup chopped almonds

Wet ingredients
½ cup melted butter
2 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
2 teaspoons pure almond extract

preheat oven to 400º
In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients
In another mixing bowl, mix the wet ingredients
Pour the wet into the dry and stir until you have a soft dough
Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll or pat it to a ½-inch thickness
Cut the dough into 2×4-inch rectangles
Bake about an inch and half to 2 inches apart on buttered (parchment paper will work, too) baking sheets for 25 minutes
After you’re finished baking the rusks, pile them up pyramid-style on a baking sheet, throw them in the oven, turn the dial to 200º and come back in 12 hours

Pointers for first-time bakers:

  • Mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, and then mix them together.
  • Make sure to mix the wet and dry ingredients well, but once you combine wet and dry, don’t overmix or the dough can become tough.
  • Pour the vanilla and almond extracts into the butter first and then add the butter to the rest of the wet ingredients, as the fat will encase and preserve the flavor.
  • When rolling out the dough, use flour on the rolling pin and on the dough to prevent sticking.

Airing Our Dirty Laundry

Let’s face it folks, clothes dryers suck and even Martha Stewart agrees with SurviveLA that the way to go is the old-fashioned clothes line. SurviveLA put a retractable line up in the back yard this week to replace our hated Kenmore dryer. May the bastards at Sears suffer Pharaoh’s plagues sprinkled with Job’s scabies for designing this ugly, awkward and inelegant machine. Besides, with the blazing hot sun of Los Angeles, it makes perfect sense to use our region’s free solar power.

So why air dry? Let’s do the math. Assuming our (gas powered) dryer uses an average of .22 therms of natural gas per load at our gas company Sempra Energy’s August rate of 59 cents per therm, by using our clothes line we achieve the admittedly not too impressive savings of 17 cents per load. If we had an electric dryer we figure that the cost would be about 44 cents per load if the dryer consumed four kilowatts for a 45 minute spin. And remember that when you use electricity in Los Angeles, thanks to the Department of Water and Power, you are burning coal in Utah.

Now we would continue with the math, but that would involve amortizing the cost of the dryer and math is a shaky subject for us. Suffice to say, that gas is not the only cost. We think the greatest savings over time may be that air drying is simply better for our clothes. Besides, it’s another excuse to get outside and get in touch with the natural world i.e. the weather.

For those folks pressed for time and unable to enjoy the blessed idleness that pervades the SurviveLA compound, another drying alternative exists — the Spin X dryer. Made by the Krauts, this thing is sort of like those small spinning machines you stick your bathing suit into at the swimming pool. The Spin X spins at 3,300 rpm, and according to the manufacturer will remove 50% of the moisture of a ten pound load in three minutes. You will still need to air dry your clothes after they come out of this thing. The Spin X might be a good option for apartment homesteaders as it just hooks up to a regular 110 outlet and does not need a drain line. Water from the clothes is sent out the front of the unit into a small container that you must empty. A Spin X will set you back $469.

No discussion of dryers would be complete without mentioning the recent scandal in Britain wherein three bored firemen nearly lost their jobs for filming a member of their department taking a ride in a dryer. A hearing ensued and the firemen involved in the incident had to issue an apology, “We recognize that our behaviour was totally irresponsible and we are genuinely ashamed and would stress that no one should try to copy the stupid act.” For the idle out there you can watch the video here. Just don’t try this stunt in the Spin X, as the manufacturer also promises “1,340 G forces”.

Ridin’ On

SurviveLA was stunned into silence late Tuesday night upon hearing about cyclist Jen Diamond’s horrific accident which occurred early Sunday morning. Apparently a driver deliberately ran her down and fled the scene. To add insult to injury, the LAPD dragged its feet on the investigation until calls to Eric Garcetti’s office got the councilman to intervene and get the LAPD to take this crime seriously. Thankfully, Jen is recovering at home and pledging to return to her bike as soon as possible. Read her diary here.

So why do we bring this up on a blog devoted to urban homesteading? SurviveLA believes that the bicycle is the most elegant of all human inventions, and is the single greatest solution to our nation’s transportation mess. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun. Unlike the automobile, it does not alienate us from each other nor from our environment. As J.B. Jackson put it, “The bicycle had, and still has, a humane, almost classical moderation in the kind of pleasure it offers. It is the kind of machine that a Hellenistic Greek might have invented and ridden. It does no violence to our normal reactions: It does not pretend to free us from our normal environment.”

A bicycle is a great way to save money and true self-sufficiency entails being as economically prudent as possible. We can recommend compact fluorescent bulbs, hand washing clothes and a myriad of other energy saving ideas that will lesson our impact on the environment but at most save a typical household maybe a few hundred dollars a year. On the other hand, getting rid of a car and replacing it with a bike, which we were able to do, can save the typical household an average of between $8,000 and $12,000 a year. We realize that not everyone can get by without a car, and between the two of us here at the SurviveLA compound we still have our junky Sentra, but even if you just replace a few trips with a bike ride, at least you’re getting some exercise and connecting with what it feels like to be a kid again.

So why aren’t more people ditching the car keys? What’s the biggest objection to riding a bike in Los Angeles, and for that matter any big city in America? Overwhelmingly, what we hear from people is that they are afraid to ride in traffic. It’s fear, and frankly hearing of Jen’s ordeal made us want to do what most folks in LA do with their bikes — stash them in the back of the garage and let them collect dust. But Jen, in her weblog about the incident, says

As soon as I am physically capable I will be back on my bike. I can’t wait to feel the wind on my skin and through my hair as I descend through gorgeous Griffith Park. Riding isn’t that dangerous. I just happened to have a twist of fate that intersected me & a maniac. Ride as safely as you can, walk as safely as you can, drive as safely as you can. You can’t stay inside hiding. In my home town a woman was actually run over by a truck in her own house. It drove right through and hit her.
Ride safe, ride strong.

Robert Hurst, author of The Art of Urban Cycling, calculates that driving is twice as deadly per hour of exposure as riding a bike. Still, the risk of injury on a bike is higher, though mostly due to simple falls, not car/bike collisions. But it’s still hard for most people to overcome the fear. To banish those fears we need to force our cities and police departments to make cycling safer. It’s an urban homesteader’s duty to be involved with our communities and a big part of that duty is making our cities more bikable. What a tragedy it is to see people who drive to a gym so that they can ride a stationary bicycle!

Unfortunately, the City of Los Angeles does not take cycling seriously. Senator Barbara Boxer speaking at the Mobility 21 summit in Los Angeles last month said,

. . . we should do far more to get people out of their cars.

Complete streets are one example. This means including bike paths, sidewalks, and ramps for the disabled at the beginning of the planning process not treating them as an afterthought.

Let’s face it: This is not just about the future of our roads, but also about the future of our children, who are suffering most from the obesity epidemic in America.

Not so long ago, more than two thirds of children traveled to school by foot or on bicycle. Now it’s less than 10 percent.If we make walking and biking a more practical choice for all ages, we can combat congestion, improve air quality, and promote better health all at the same time.

For too long the LA Department of Transportation has treated cycling and walking as an afterthought, if they thought about them at all. We urge everyone to call, write, fax, or email LA DOT bicycle program coordinator Michelle Mowery to tell her that the deaths and accidents cyclists have suffered in the past few months are unacceptable and that we want complete streets and respect for cyclists and pedestrians. Tell her that we want bike lanes that don’t put us in the door zone and that don’t end before reaching useful destinations. Tell her that we want bicycle boulevards and traffic calming measures to make our trips safer. Tell her that we want bike routes free of dangerous potholes and debris. Tell her that we want the transportation engineers responsible for the bicycle infrastructure to actually ride the things they design not drive them. In short, tell her that we want the things that other more enlightened cities around the country and the world already have. Let’s make LA a great city to live in. Let’s ride.

Michelle Mowery
Bicycle Program Coordinator
City of Los Angeles
Department of Transportation
100 S. Main St., 9th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Telephone: 213-972-4962
Fax: 213-972-4919
[email protected]

Hexayurt

SurviveLA reader jbjhill, responding to our rant about designing for a world dominated by 4 x 8 building materials, sent a link to this unique yurt-shaped emergency shelter which can be built out of 4 x 8 sheets of nearly anything (the globe shaped thing on the right is an inflatable satellite dish). Designed by software engineer Vinay Gupta, who is working on this project full time, the “Hexayurt” costs somewhere between $200 and $500 to build, and requires only six cuts for each unit. The Hexayurt stacks flat for easy deployment in emergencies.

Gupta has a suggested “Infrastructure Package” which includes heat, lights, water purification, and a composting toilet bringing the cost up somewhat, but still much less than FEMA’s $30,000 trailers.

While not the most thrilling video (at least as compared to this), thanks to the wonders of youtube you can watch Gupta assemble an 8 foot Hexayurt:

Street Signs and Solar Ovens

If SurviveLA put together a museum show it would, pretty much, look like an exhibit currently at the Craft and Folk Art Museum entitled “Street Signs and Solar Ovens: Socialcraft in Los Angeles” which is on view until December 31st. Curated by the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, this timely show focuses on objects that demonstrate creative, low-tech solutions to the environmental and political mess we find ourselves in.

We were particularly struck by the display case full of soda cans transformed by LA survivalist Christopher Nyerges into a variety of uses including lamps and stoves (see SurviveLA’s earlier post on creating a Pepsi can stove). Nyerges also contributed two improvised solar ovens, one made out of a discarded pizza box.

Other highlights include a functioning still by Alison Wiese, the stunning knitted clothing of Lisa Auerbach, items from the Path to Freedom urban homestead and contributions from the fine folks at C.I.C.L.E.

So, get on your bike, head down to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and see this provocative show!

Craft and Folk Art Museum Hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 11am – 5pm
Thursday 11am – 7pm
Saturday-Sunday 12pm – 6pm

Museum Admissions:
$5.00 adults
$3.00 students/seniors
Free for children 12 and under
Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month.

Location:
5814 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Kent’s Composting Tips and Secret Weapon

Today in our continuing dialog on composting, a guest post from Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition board member, Kent Strumpell who we met up with at this week’s inspiring LACBC awards gala:

I’m sure there are more correct procedures, but this is what I’ve found works.

I use a compost bin that has direct soil contact. I think this allows the introduction of soil organisms and serves to drain the pile if it gets too wet. I’ve done this same process with free standing piles as well.

I start with a small pile of dry leaves and add a load of kitchen scraps. I also add a couple shovels-full of rich soil to get things started, particularly with some worms and bugs to propagate the new pile. I’m not fastidious about what goes in, so the occasional fish and chicken scraps and leftover cat food gets into the mix, even oily stuff, but mostly it’s the usual veggies, fruits, paper napkins, etc. Though experts say no fats should go in, I’ve yet to see (or smell) a problem.

Each time I add new kitchen scraps, I add 1-2 shovels-full of dry leaves and some water if needed, turning and mixing the old and new stuff with a cultivator or shovel to aerate the pile. The proportion of dry to wet material is important. There should be enough dry leaves so the compost is kinda’ fluffy and moist, not soggy, but the dry material shouldn’t overwhelm the wet either.

Now the secret. I cut a piece of black 6 mil vinyl to approximately cover the pile and lay this directly on top of the compost (anything similar will work). I’ve found this helps keep the pile moist when I’m not able to check on it (sometimes for a week or two) and the bugs and worms seem to thrive underneath this membrane. I got the idea after noticing that I’d find rich bug habitat under boards, etc. laying around my yard. My compost piles teem with worms, sow bugs and other critters, all working hard for me. If you do a free standing compost pile, cut the plastic big enough to cover to the ground and hold it in place with rocks or bricks.

I add my scraps about once or twice a week. I don’t use the pile to consume large quantities of leaves, I just add enough of them to keep things in balance. It easily keeps up with my kitchen scrap production and gives me a rich, dark compost about like coffee grounds when it is done. I draw finished stuff off at the bottom occasionally. Or, if I want to use the whole batch, I stop adding to it for a few weeks so it can digest everything.

Build Your Own Furniture

We live in a 4 by 8 world. This is why we can’t get all that excited about things like geodesic domes, straw bale and rammed earth houses. All of these innovative architectural ideas may have great potential, but when it comes time to buy supplies at the lumber yard, the overly creative builder will soon realize the difficulty of utopian designs in a world of 4 by 8 sheets of plywood and drywall. That geodesic shape is hip, but what do you do with the rest of the plywood sheet once you cut it out?

The same limitation applies to making furniture. Thankfully a generation of designers back in the 60s and 70s left a few highly useful and groovy how-to books on making your own suburban-workshop-modernist furniture with a humble 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. The amazing art/architecture collective Simparch tipped us off to the world of plywood modernism how-to books and we at Homegrown Evolution recommend the stunning Sunset Magazine produced Furniture You Can Build, which is sadly way out of print and very expensive on Amazon, but available at the L.A. Public Library. Most of the designs in this book would work well with found materials and scraps. What we appreciate most about this book and others like it, that we will discuss in future posts, is the economical use of common materials.

A good example of this efficiency are these handsome stools — one sheet of plywood will make eight stools. Here are the instructions from the Sunset book:

Simple, versatile, and inexpensive — that’s the quickest way to summarize the virtues of these handy plywood stools, They could hardly be easier to build and are surprisingly inexpensive. Except for the nails and glue, every part of the eight stools shown in the picture at the top left came from one standard 4 by 8-foot panel of 1/2-inch plywood, the same as the panel shown behind them. As the cutting pattern shows, a 2-foot square of plywood yields one stool, and only the shaded areas are wasted.

Each stool is 17 inches square and stands approximately 10 1/2 inches high. If you wish to use a cushion, you can glue and nail a 1/2 by 1-inch hardwood frame around the top’s edges, which will give a 1/2-inch high rim to keep the cushion in place.

To start, draw the cutting pattern carefully on heavy paper and transfer it to each 2-foot plywood square with carbon paper or pin pricks. If making several stools, you can have the lumber yard cut your plywood to uniform 2-foot squares. Cut the legs and top from each square with a saw.

As the underside view shows, each leg abuts on and is nailed to the inner end of the next leg. Assemble with glue and just two 4-penny nails in each leg. Before the glue dries, turn the assembled legs right side up on a smooth surface and attach the top, As you glue and nail on the top (use 6-penny finishing nails), the legs will level themselves evenly. Finish the stools as you prefer: with paint, varnish, or stain wax.

Bitter Greens

Today we continued our winter planting in our illegal parkway garden adding arugula, a green that America has suddenly discovered after last month’s factory farming spinach nightmare. We also added a tough and bitter leaf chicory from our friends at Grow Italian. Hopefully, by succession planting we should have a winter and spring full of green, if somewhat bitter vegetables.

How do we prepare these bitter greens around the compound? Very simply — in a pan with garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Sometimes we add some Parmigiano Reggiano. Fresh, strong tasting vegetables don’t need much else.