A Prickly Harvest

So what’s wrong with this picture? Those who have harvested the delicious fruit of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) will recognize the wisdom of using tongs to avoid the thousands of tiny painful spines (technically called glochids). But truly experienced prickly pear harvesters immediately see the foolishness of not wearing gloves even when wielding those tongs. We know better, yet we’re feeling the the pain of a few dozen almost microscopic barbed glochids sticking out of our palms.

But it’s worth it. Prickly pear fruit, despite those painful glochids, are one of our favorite crops here on our humble urban homestead (though, truth be told, a certain co-homesteader here resents the invisible glochids that inevitably end up on the kitchen countertop, not to mention the hundreds of seeds in the fruit itself). But you must respect a plant that can produce fifty pounds of fruit, not to mention edible leaves on just the three inches of rain we received in this very dry year. In the Mediterranean climate of Los Angeles, prickly pear needs no additional irrigation, needs no pesticides or fertilizers, tolerates terrible soil and produces useful food. It’s the perfect plant for the lives of folks too busy to tend fussy non-native plants.

On the first anniversary of Homegrown Revolution, formerly known as SurviveLA, and a year after our last prickly pear fruit harvest season, we can now announce why, ironically, we’ve been too busy to keep up with our vegetable beds–next spring the good folks at Process Media will be releasing our book The Urban Homesteader. While we’ve been negligent in some of the small scale agricultural duties we profile in the book, at least we have our prickly pear cactus to keep us in fruit this summer.

And due to the unusual quantity of fruit our prickly pear has gifted us with we’re experimenting with making jelly to deal with the abundance. We’ll share the recipe and other prickly stories this coming week . . .

Sandwiched!

Homegrown Revolution began guest blogging this week on the engaging new consciousness shiftin’ nexus known as Reality Sandwich. We’ll be posting there at least once every two weeks. Check out our first post, an urban homesteading manifesto, just above Jamye Waxman’s missive, “Celebrating Sacred Sex Communities” (No doubt Waxman will probably win in the hit count).

As harangues are currently running low in our on-line poll, Homegrown Revolution will also be moving some of our transportation related harangues to the revamped blog illuminateLA, overseen by the fabulous Enci.

Pooh Power!

Unlike the Hollywood fat cats we live amongst here in LaLa land, Homegrown Revolution is more likely to find ourselves in possession of a Wag™ Bag rather than a Swag bag. What’s a Wag™ Bag you ask? Here’s the snappy copy from the Major Surplus & Survival catalog:

The Wag™ (waste alleviation and gelling) Bag Kit is the most complete, efficient and easy to use system we’ve ever offered. Each sealed kit contains: 1 waste bag with Pooh-Powder, 1 zip-close disposal bag, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and instructions. The amazing pooh-powder actually gels liquid in seconds, while it neutralizes the odor (no perfume cover-up) and the catalyst starts the decay process. The Black degradable poly bags are environmentally friendly and can be disposed of in trash containers. Can be used with any portable toilet or even in your standard home toilet when water flushing is unavailable. Can be used under or over (to keep sanitary) any toilet seat. After use, simply fold the Wag™ Bag into the zip-close bag and close. Dispose in trash container. An absolute must for your car, camper, boat, or plane (or those unsavory outhouses). Weighs 3 lbs. per kit.

The Wag™ and Pooh-Powder technology was developed by Phillips Environmental Products, a company that received a federal windfall after the weather and toilet disaster known as hurricane Katrina. FEMA soon became a huge customer as did the Pentagon which bought $1.3 million worth of bags to supply troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Major Surplus & Survival price of $39.95 for a pack of 12 Wag™ Bag kits works out to an expensive $3.32 a crap. So what are some cheaper alternatives when crap happens? Unfortunately, digging a “cat hole” is no longer politically correct. A study at Montana State University proved that human feces “remained alive with various disease-causing bacteria,” even after a year buried in the ground.

Our waste disposal preference is towards the humanure approach–turning your crap into useful compost. For the lowdown on how to humanure see Joseph Jenkin’s compelling and entertaining book which is available free online.

For hiking or temporary water outages you can simply pack your crap up for later disposal in a toilet. This is how Homegrown Revolution managed during an arduous snow camping experience last year, with one unfortunate member of our party tasked with carrying a five gallon bucket full of crap through the high Sierras. A more egalitarian approach would have been to make everyone carry a “poop tube“. You make a poop tube with 4-inch PVC pipe. Cap one end of the pipe and stick a threaded fitting on the other end. Crap in a paper bag or coffee filter, throw in some kitty litter to absorb the liquids and shove it all into your poop tube. You can then empty the tube when you get to the nearest toilet. You’ll have to size the tube based on how much you think you’ll be needing to use it.

Lastly an admission. Call us juvenile, but as some of you may suspect this missive was written in part with the purpose of exploiting the comedic potential of the expression “Pooh Powder”. Our apologies.

A Self-Watering Container in a Pot

The serendipitous discovery of two three-gallon margarine containers behind a dodgy local bakery has led to the yuppification of our self-watering container (SWC) garden. We posted earlier on how to make these handy containers, which have a reservoir of water at the bottom that keeps the soil at a uniform moisture level. We also made a video about them that we’re amused to report has been “favorited” on Youtube by pot growers.

You fill SWCs up via a pipe and they can go at least a week between waterings. It is, in our opinion, the only way to grow water-needy vegetables reliably in a container. We have used them to successfully grow eggplants, tomatoes, collard greens and blueberries (note to the DEA: no cash crops at the Homegrown Revolution compound!). With our backyard looking fairly ugly this summer we’ve backpedaled on our earlier strident post about how we don’t care if our patio looks like a methamphetamine lab, and have dressed up one of our SWCs.

Here’s how we did it:

First we stuck our three gallon self watering container inside of a large pot we had sitting around.

Next we filled the SWC with potting soil (note: you must use potting soil in a SWC). We filled the void between the SWC and the pot with rocks.

We used a plastic garbage bag as a mulch layer to help hold in the water.
A bag full of small river rocks provides an attractive cover to hide the plastic. Slice a hole in the plastic mulch layer and the pot is ready for planting.

Your Opinions Please

So what does seafood, terrible graphic design and urban homesteading have in common? Absolutely nothing, but we got your attention which we will now direct to the poll we are conducting on the right. Please take a moment to render your opinion, so that we can better serve you with a delicately balanced nori roll of information and helpful tips. Please note that you can vote for more than one topic.

Plum Lemon Tomato Power’s Heirloom Tomato

Congressional hearings today revealed that the FDA inspects fewer than 1% of food imports, yet another reason among many to grow your own food. While we have a less than lush vegetable garden this summer, we do have a decent crop of tomatoes thanks to a trip out to Encino a few months ago for Tomato Mania the Lollapalooza of tomato seedling sales. Unfortunately, to add to the ignominy of our white trash gardening efforts, we somehow mislaid the names of the tomatoes we planted making our reporting efforts incomplete. We do know the name of the wondrous plum lemon tomato pictured above, well worth planting again next year. It’s a meaty, sweet, yellow tomato delicious both fresh and dried. Allegedly the seeds for this tomato originally came from an elderly seed seller in a bird market in eastern Moscow which the Russian police have since shut down due to an outbreak of H5N1 bird flu.

Speaking of disease, while the FDA missed those loads of melamine laced pet food from China, they did somehow manage to track 1,840 confirmed cases of food-borne illnesses in domestic tomatoes.

Again, urban homesteading revolutionaries, GROW YOUR OWN!

We found that label and it’s a tomato called “Power’s Heirloom”. Here’s how the Seed Saver’s exchange catalog copy describes it, “First offered in the 1990 SSE Yearbook by Bruce McAllister from Freedom, Indiana. His seed originated in Scott County in southwest Virginia over 100 years ago. Heavy yields of 3-5 oz. yellow paste tomatoes. Similar to Amish Paste, great flavor. Indeterminate, 85-90 days from transplant.” We hugely recommend this delicious tomato and consider it to be the tastiest tomato we’ve ever grown–meaty and flavorful.

Licensed to Rant


As someone who uses a bike to get around it scares us to think about how easy it is to renew a driver’s license, as one of the Homegrown Revolution compound members did this week. Can you breathe? Great! Here’s your license. Are you homicidal, schizophrenic, elderly, partially blind, or all of the above? No problem! Just step up, have your picture taken, take a vision test that could easily be cheated on, pay $27 and you can legally get behind the wheel of a 4,000 pound exhaust-spewing death machine.

While our country does everything it can to facilitate everyone getting behind the wheel of a car, there’s one big thing you have to give up, in addition to lots of cash–your privacy. It’s been many years since we renewed our license in person and this time around there was one big change–a sign taped to the wall just below the grinning portrait of the actor who played Conan the Barbarian saying in effect that if you don’t want to be electronically fingerprinted you won’t get a license. Which brings to mind an article by Claire Wolfe in the most recent issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, the Martha Stewart Living of the off-grid set, in praise of walking and biking (triking to be precise) from a radical libertarian perspective.

One of my aims in choosing this life has been, as Thoreau said, to “simplify, simplify, simplify.” In the case of transportation, my notion of simplicity involves a few special requirements.

First requirement: No permits, licenses, government registrations, or bureaucratic involvement at all. I know it’s naive in this super-governed age, but I’m foolish enough to hold fast to the belief that in a truly free country people travel peaceably on the roads without being stopped and hassled by “the authorities” and without asking the permission from the king (or the president, or the governor, or the Bureau of Lawn Mowers, Motorbikes, and Small Radio-Controlled Widgets). Motor vehicles are not only expensive and prone to breakdowns (anything but simple), but with driver’s licenses becoming national ID cards, unconstitutional highway “checkpoints” everywhere, and our every move being tracked through our licenses, registrations, and purchases, those vehicles we rely on are being deliberately used by government as the vehicles of our unfreedom.

The Real ID Act of 2005, which Bush signed into law on May 11, 2005 sets up federal standards for state drivers licenses. Two of the requirements of the law “physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting or duplication for fraudulent purposes” and “a common machine-readable technology with defined data elements” sound a lot like incentives for fingerprinting and RFID, a kind of computer chip which stores information that can be read from a distance by a radio frequency device.

Currently all motor vehicle records in California, including the fingerprint and photo databases are open to district attorneys, city attorneys and law enforcement agencies as put forth in section 1810.5 of the California vehicle code. In addition banks, insurers, attorneys and auto dealers can access certain parts of license records. The Real ID Act will set up a massive nationwide database open to any law enforcement agency, “A state shall provide electronic access to all other states to information contained in the motor vehicle database of the state”.

We can take some comfort in the incompetence of the California DMV. A December 2000 article in the Orange County Register shows that DMV clerks had so many problems using the electronic fingerprinting machines that over half of the fingerprints were deemed unreadable and useless.

Fingerprinting and RFID are presented as ways to deter counterfeiting and identity theft, but aside from the obvious privacy concerns and the government handouts to dubious tech companies marketing these gadgets, our drivers licenses becoming national identification cards raises bigger philosophical questions. What further steps will be taken to monitor our mobility? How will governments and corporations use RFID chips, not to mention the global positioning capabilities of cell phones? And why is automobile travel so entwined with our very identity? Are we free-thinking citizens, participants in a democracy or are we merely motorists?

It’s time to opt out of the system. It’s time to walk and it’s time to ride a bike . . .

SurviveLA becomes Homegrown Revolution!

For the kids out there, the woman in the picture above is operating a ditto machine, what we children of the 60s and 70s used before the internets came out. Perhaps we’ll revert back to it when the shit goes down. In the meantime, SurviveLA is in the process of going international and to facilitate this we’re changing our name to Homegrown Revolution (www.homegrownrevolution.org). Stay calm, our content will stay the same. All the old links and posts will stay where they are and our old url (survivela.blogspot.com) will still work, but please updatilate your servilators.

Please bear with us while we make the switchover as it’s hectic in the new Homegrown Revolution computer lab: