Breaking News

Today at approximately 11:50 AM, after a morning of god-awful screeching, our Rhode Island Red, Stewpot–who is in the foreground of the picture above–laid her first egg–that is, our very first homestead egg.

Go Stewpot!

Of course this event would happen when Mr. Homestead is out of town & in possession of the camera. The lay site was a difficult to access cranny behind the coop. It may not have been photograph-able anyway, but I will report that the egg was deposited quite attractively in a shallow bowl of yellow and brown leaves. I got it while it was still warm, having come out to see what this most recent and particularly loud round of screeching was all about. Stewpot walked away from her egg with nary a look back. The egg was amazing in the hand–warm and heavy and almost pulsing with life.

To mark this historic day, I did what I could to record the blessed egg: I scanned it alongside a Trader Joe’s grade A brown for comparison, which resulted in the mysterious, murky image you see below.

Stewpot’s egg is smaller than the commerical egg, but it is her first. Her egg looks the same color at first, but close up it is covered with tiny brown speckles, whereas the Joe’s egg is more monotone.

It’s always been fun to stick it to the Man

The folks from Dough on the Go! were over the other night and reached into a box of slides we found years ago at a thrift store and never looked at. That box turned up these images showing a previous generation enjoying the “water of life” coming out of what appears to be two different home built stills. Homegrown Revolution applauds the DIY spirit (so to speak) and these images seem an appropriate way to begin the dreaded holiday season.

For info on how to build your own still read our earlier post, or check out our esoteric notions on distillation at Reality Sandwich.



Our Rocket Stove

 
  • Editor’s note: we have a new design for a portable rocket stove here.

Low-tech is the new high-tech, and the best example of the low-tech revolution is the miraculous rocket stove–a stove that makes it possible to cook with small twigs–no logs needed! Best of all rocket stoves are easy to build. We liked the idea so much that we decided to build a permanent one just off our back deck for entertaining and as a backup to our gas stove should an emergency take out our utilities.

The rocket stove was developed for use in poor nations where wood used for cooking has led to the vast, wholesale, deforestation of large swaths of the earth’s surface. Rocket stoves can be built out of metal or masonry and consist of a L shaped tube, at the bottom of which you place your wood. The chimney effect creates a highly efficient, largely smoke-free burn. There’s no need to cut down a tree to cook your dinner–all you need is a few small branches or twigs.

Before we built the rocket stove we considered making a cob oven, a mud domed wood fired oven in which you can cook bread and pizza. There’s a trend in the eco-world to build cob ovens and we felt a certain pressure to keep up with the eco-Joneses. We started to build the base for one and then began to think about how often we would actually build a fire, especially considering that it has to burn for several hours before a cob oven gets hot enough to cook in. Also, where would we get the logs? And how good is it to burn such a fire and contribute to Los Angeles’ already smog choked air?

Staring at the bricks we had scavenged to build the base of cob oven, we realized that we could re-purpose them for a permanent backyard rocket stove that we would actually use. Furthermore we realized that our rocket stove could burn some of the palm fronds that regularly tumble down from the iconic palm trees that line our old L.A. street.

Here’s the materials we used:

36 bricks
4-inch galvanized steel stove pipe elbow
4-inch stove pipe
ash (scavenged from park BBQs)
1 tin can
50 pound bag of premixed concrete for the base
mortar mix
grill (scavenged)

The first step was to make a small foundation for the rocket stove. We fashioned a 18 by 18-inch by 4-inch slab with 2 x 4 lumber and a bag of premixed cement. Folks in cold places will need to make a deeper foundation to avoid frost heave.

Next we built a brick cube, leaving a small hole for the bottom of the stovepipe. For advice on how to build with brick we recommend taking a look at this. As you can see our masonry could use some more practice, but the results are not too bad–we like to think of our stove as being a bit “rustic”. You can avoid the hassle of brickwork by making a simpler rocket stove–check out these two instructional videos, one for a metal model, and another version using bricks. We chose brick largely for aesthetic reasons and we’re satisfied with the results.

Drawing from Capturing Heat

The next step is to put the pipe together fitting the elbow up into the longer pipe, and sized so that the top of the pipe is just below the bottom of the grill. Check out our earlier post for a video that can help with this part of the assembly. Serendipitously, on a bike ride, we found a grill in the middle of Sunset Boulevard that fit the opening in our brick rocket stove exactly.

You pour the ash into the completed brick cube to fill the space between the pipe and the inside wall. The ash acts as insulation to increase the efficiency of the stove. You could also use vermiculite but note that sand or soil will not work. Insulation works because of small pockets of air between particles, hence the need for ash or vermiculite, which are also non-combustible. We used a piece of scrap sheet metal with a 4-inch circular hole cut in it to keep the ash from spilling out the gap between the pipe and the squarish opening at the bottom.

Lastly you use a tin can sliced down the side and flattened out to form a shelf which you insert into the elbow at the bottom of the stove. Note the drawing above for the shape of the shelf. You put your twigs and kindling on this shelf and start the stove up with newspaper underneath the shelf. As the twigs burn you push them in over the edge to keep the fire going.

Our first test run of the stove was very successful–we boiled a pot of water and cooked some eggs in a a pan. The fire burned cleanly with little smoke except during start up. For more info on rocket stoves check out the Aprovecho Research Center.

And please people don’t burn wood inside and watch out for embers. Make sure you put the fire out completely when you are done cooking!

It Quacks Like a Duck


The Happy Ducks of the Petaluma Urban Homestead

It seems a new lifestyle is taking shape, in part born of the ashes of the World Trade Center, the aftermath of Katrina, and the endless resource wars our country feels the need to fight. There’s a great desire out there to “do something” and a refreshing DIY spirit of self-sufficiency is beginning to emerge. Two of the indicators of this new lifestyle seem to be the mixture of poultry and bicycles, a combo that we seem to share with a surprisingly diverse group of people, including our bike activist friends at C.I.C.L.E. and our bike safety instructor Chris Ziegler.

A surprise phone call we received this week, after some musings of our appeared in Ripples Magazine, added one more bike/poultry fetishist to the list. The voice at the other end of the line was an old comrade of ours, one of the proprietors of Petaluma Urban Homestead, who we know from Mr. Homegrown Revolution’s post grad school sojourn in the dull city of San Diego. In the ten years since we lost contact it turns out that our lives have taken similar paths, including the appreciation of Xtracycles and poultry.

Except that the folks at Petaluma Urban Homestead have had the brilliance of exploring the world of ducks in addition to chickens. The Petalumans correctly describe the garden destroying power of chickens as “like having teenagers around”. As much as we enjoy our chickens we can confirm this. On their blog the Petalumans describe some of the virtues of the less destructive duck:

Bill Mollison once said something like, “You don’t have a snail problem. You have a dearth of ducks”. Well, he’s certainly correct. Our neighbors are now bringing us their snails and asking if they can borrow our ducks for a day. Even the kids at the local elementary school garden collect snails for us. It’s a family event to come through our back gate and feed the ducks what they’ve gathered.

We’ve added the Petalumans to our comrade list to the right so that you can keep up with their activities, which include a recent honey harvest from their backyard beehive. In the meantime we’ll get around to describing our theories of chicken housing and the construction of what we call “Chicken Guantanamo” soon.

Stop Shopping

Photos by Fred Askew

For years now we’ve had a Christmas truce with the family–don’t shop for us and we won’t shop for you. So far the truce has held and we’ve been able to avoid Christmas shopping, as we’d rather be waterboarded than spend a second in a shopping mall.

We had planned to issue an anti-Christmas harangue, but this holiday season we’ll leave it to the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. The Homegrown Revolution mailbox received its first plea for publicity this week with an invite to a preview screening of the Reverend Billy’s new documentary, What Would Jesus Buy. We’ll keep to talk of compost and chickens and leave the film criticism to the folks at Cahiers du Cinema, but we’ll make an exception for What Would Jesus Buy. We enjoyed this movie immensely for its anarchic stick-it-to the-Man attitude, and Reverend Billy’s tireless efforts to exorcise the demons of Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Disney.

What Would Jesus Buy opens on November 21st in Los Angeles at the Sunset 5 theater. Check the What Would Jesus Buy website for listings in other cities and for a preview.

Now part of Reverend Billy’s message is about shopping locally so we’d be remiss by not highlighting our comrade Doug Harvey’s upcoming Christmas themed screening at the Echo Park Film Center on December 15th at 8 p.m. Doug will be showing experts from the suppressed and highly challenging Star Wars Holiday Special that will stop the shopping urges of even the most credit addicted shopaholic.

Doing the doo-doo with you


Tim Dundon, also known as the “King of Compost” and “Guru of Doo-Doo”, dropped off a three cubic yard load of what he calls a “weapon of mass creation”–a fragrant mass of horse dropings and stable bedding. Dundon, who has a tendency to speak in rhymes and spontaneously break out into song, also left us with quite a load of his philosophy, spending an hour on our porch weaving a stream of consciousness revolving around his core belief, that delivering his compost is a way of spreading the life force to counter what he sees as our death obsessed culture.

Dundon’s views his compost, which he alternately calls “Doo-Doo”, “craptonite” and “craptonium”, as a key component in a visionary life-affirming world view which he hopes to spread to schools and prisons. And with the writers strike is on, Dundon hopes that someone will create a reality TV show to help dissemenate his message. At one point, between digressions about the evils of the pharmaceutical industry, Sung Myung Moon, his brother who belongs to the Bohemian Grove, the Illuminati (which he hopes to counter with his own “Illumipotty”), he suggested teaming up with Yoko Ono. If that reality show ever happens with Yoko as the co-star you can bet that Homegrown Revolution will hook up the TV again.

Part of Dundon’s justified paranoia stems from his multiple run-ins with the “Man” over the past few years. Dundon ran afoul of the law and neighboring yuppies for tending what he called Zeke’s Heap, a 40-foot-high mountain of compost in west Altadena. An article in the LAWeekly covers the whole colorful saga including a trial in which Dundon in the guise of one of his alter-egos, “Zeke the Sheik”, fought marijuana charges,

“In a floor-length caftan and a blue headdress, Zeke spoke only in rhymes — including a 20-minute statement that kept the room in stitches. One prosecutor claimed it was “the funniest, most hilarious” trial he had ever experienced. Dundon was facing up to six years in prison, but was sentenced to 18 days in jail. Since then, he says, he’s heard that a law professor at UCLA uses State of California v. Dundon as a case study to suggest that “the right rhyme for the right crime will get you less time.”

For us we’re hoping that Dundon’s compost will give life to the dead soil excavated and spilled out on the front slope of our house during extensive foundation work that we had to complete earlier this year to keep our 87 year old house from sliding down the hill. Dundon says that his “Doo Doo” becomes a sort of life-giving satellite of the Garden of Eden he has created around his own house. We were able to share some of this compost with the CEC (Chief Executive Composter) of Elon Schoenholz Photography who dropped by and ended up literally shoveling shit and helping us carry some of it up the front slope. Thanks Elon! And thanks Tim for spreading life and love.

Make sure to visit Tim’s website – www.2doo.com.

Here’s a video from the 2Doo website:

Mahonia gracilis – Mexican Barberry

One of the biggest challenges at the Homegrown Revolution compound has been finding useful plants that will grow in our shady backyard. Not having to provide supplemental irrigation would be another definite plus. Unfortunately very few plants fit those stringent requirements.

We came across some seeds recently for a plant called Mahonia gracilis or Mexican Barberry, but there’s very little information about this medium sized shrub, native to Mexico (or China depending on which source you believe). The Plants for a Future database report states that the plant grows in dry ravines of pine forests and produces an edible berry. But as usual most other sources don’t comment on the edibility of the fruit.

To add to the paucity of information and general confusion, some botanists argue that the family name is incorrect and that it should be called Berberis gracilis. Some sources place it on a deep shade list, while others say it needs dappled sun.

We’ll throw it open to all the Homegrown Revolutionaries out there. Do any of you have experience with this plant?

Out of Water!

There’s nothing like a utility outage to make one ponder the various Mad Max type scenarios that might play out when the power goes out for good and legions of zombified TiVo addicts stumble out onto the streets in search of the last remaining supplies of Doritos. Of all the utility outages we’ve experienced in our shabby 1920s bungalow, this weekend’s water outage was the most annoying. Other than the intenets, a couple of lights and our kitchen mixer, electricity is not something we’re big users of and, thanks to the many camping stoves we have, we’re prepared to go without natural gas for a while. But water is a different matter.

Late last Thursday night our water pressure began to drop. By Sunday night nothing more than a trickle of water would come out of any of our faucets. We checked the little spinning red triangle indicator on the water meter to see if water was flowing (and perhaps leaking somewhere) but the triangle was motionless. We checked the shutoff valve at the street, turning it off and on, also to no avail. One of the few sensible things the previous owners did was replace the galvanized pipe with copper so we knew that corrosion was not the problem. We asked our neighbors if they had a problem and they said no. Finally, we called the Department of Water and Power on Friday and it was Monday morning before anyone showed up. By that time, mysteriously, the water began flowing again. The DWP worker checked the pressure, said it was fine, and shrugged when we asked what the problem might have been. We welcome comments from readers who want to speculate on the cause of this outage as we like to know how things work or fail around here.

While we have a few gallons of water around in case of an earthquake this episode was a wake up call that we may need to keep more water than the couple of plastic tubs we have in the garage. We also don’t want to count on the water in the water heater and the back of the toilet. And when it takes three days to get service we can only imagine how long it would take in a large-scale disaster.

The whole notion of depending on our dysfunctional local government for anything in an emergency is foolish. Our friends at IlluminateLA helped run the emergency shelter at a local high school after the Griffith Park fire earlier this year. While it turned out that the emergency shelter was not needed, the Illuminaters discovered that the food supplies have to be trucked in from the San Fernando Valley, a not too promising scenario when you consider how bad the roads are here on an ordinary day not to mention when a couple of bridges come down in an earthquake.

This leaves us pondering keeping water in steel drums, which we first learned about in Aton Edward’s book Preparedness Now!, the first book in Process Media’s Self-Reliance series (our book the Urban Homesteader, due out in May, is the third in this series). It’s one of the more expensive options in water storage, with new drums costing several hundred dollars, but avoids the problem of an off taste that plastic can impart. But while there’s something to be said for avoiding all sources of potential crankiness when the shit cometh down, stainless steel drums are above our meager budget at this point. For now we’ll probably have to go with a new 55 gallon plastic drum, though if enough of you buy our book we’ll spring for the steel. Homegrown Revolution readers can hole up in the garage with us and share our water when those snack-crazed zombie hoards come stumbling down the street. Consider it a promise.