Growing Your Own Food is Like Printing Your Own Money: Ron Finley’s TED Talk

Please take a moment and watch gangster/guerrilla gardener Ron Finley’s inspiring Ted talk. I first heard about Ron after he got busted for planting a vegetable garden in what used to be a weed strewn parkway. He’s gone on to plant many more gardens around Los Angeles.

The end of this talk really hit home for me, “Don’t call me if you want to sit around and have meetings. If you want to meet with me come to the garden with your shovel so we can plant some s**t.”


Arduino Homesteading Projects

Arduino Chicken Coop Controller

An Arduino-based chicken coop controller on Instructables.

At the risk of putting high tech in our low tech, I just took an introductory Arduino class at Crash Space along with the folks at Zapf Architectural Renderings.

An Arduino is a simple, low cost microcontroller thingy. It’s got a bunch of digital outputs, analog and digital inputs and a programmable microchip. You download a program onto the chip (either one you’ve written yourself or one of thousands of programs others have written) and then hook up electronics to the inputs and/or outputs. The Arduino can then be disconnected from your computer to run autonomously.

Aruduino Leonardo

You can get a nearly infinite number of devices, called “shields”, that plug into the Arduino–to give the device, for example, GPS or wireless capabilities. And there are vast libraries of programs for Arduinos–useful for non-programmers such as myself.

In the class we used the $24 Leonardo model of the Arduino, which is commonly used for prototyping. Once you figure out what inputs and outputs you need for your project you can get a cheaper Arduino with fewer features for use in, let’s say, your automatic chicken coop door opener.

I thought I’d compile a list of Arduino based project related to the “low-tech, home-tech” subjects covered on this blog. I’ll keep updating this list as I hear of more projects.

Chicken coop controller

Garden Bot (information about “an open source garden monitoring system). Includes links to other Arduino based gardening projects.
Gardening moisture sensor/watering controllers
An Arduino waterer that tweets!
DIY Hydroponics
Weather station

Homebrewing Automation With Arduinos ( article)
Arduino Controlled Homebrew Stir Plate
DIY UberFridge Controls Homebrewing Temperatures

Sous-vide cooking
Kitchen Timer

Garage door monitor
Arduino Security Hacks

Fun with a rotary phone!

Led candle (would look great in my hacked solar light)

And a shout out to the amazing bloggers at Holy Scrap, masters of using microcontrollers in clever low-tech ways. Follow their blog!

Please leave a comment with a link if you know of other projects that should be on this list.

Joshua Tree Earthen Oven Class With Kurt Gardella

Kurt Gardella measures the radius of the horno dome.

Kurt Gardella measures the radius of the horno dome.

Joshua Tree Earthen Oven Class
March 8-10, 2013

Earthen ovens are inexpensive to build, fun to use, and provide baking environment impossible to recreate in the kitchen. This Spring, Kurt Gardella returns to California for three days to teach you how to make your own earthen oven. Kurt has built dozens of these ovens in New Mexico, and has great expertise in both adobe construction and earthen plasters and finishes. Attendees will leave the class with the knowledge necessary to built an oven of their own, with materials that you may already have in your yard.

The class is suitable for bakers, building professionals and do-it-your-selfers, and is a great introduction to adobe construction and earthen plasters covered in more depth in adobeisnotsoftware’s other classes.

Topics Include:

  • Local considerations and the siting your earthen oven
  • Soil and material selection, sourcing and testing
  • Foundations and oven base design and materials
  • Sizing
  • Sand Form and Oven Domes
  • Natural oven plasters and finishes
  • Firing and baking in your oven.

Instruction Type:
This is a hands-on class. Attendees will have the opportunity to get dirty and use tools and equipment typical of adobe construction and earthen finishing. Due to the course format, enrollment will be limited to 10 individuals. In the unlikely event of inclement weather, instruction will occur indoors.

Instructors: Kurt Gardella teaches adobe construction at Northern New Mexico College, is Director of Education for Adobe in Action, and is certified as an earth-building specialist by the German Dachverband Lehm.

Ben Loescher is a licensed architect, founder of adobeisnotsoftware and principal of golem|la, an architecture firm specializing in adobe construction.

The class will be conducted just outside Joshua Tree, California.  Coffee and nibbles will be provided at the beginning of the day; lunch is included.

Registration: Three day and Saturday/Sunday registrations completed before February 8th will be discounted. Groups of three or more are eligible for a 25% discount – please contact us for group registrations. Registration ends March 1st.

Click here to register

Please do not hesitate to contact Ben by email at mud[at] or by phone at (760) 278-1134. Joshua Tree Earthen Oven Class
March 8-10, 2013

Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomato

Matt's Wild Cherry

Matt’s Wild Cherry image from Johnny’s Select Seeds.

Permaculturalist Paul Wheaton was in our neck of the woods this weekend to give a couple of lectures. In his talk on “Irrigation Free Foodscapes” he mentioned a variety of tomato called “Matt’s Wild Cherry” that, as the name implies, is a wild-type tomato that grows without supplemental irrigation.

Many avid vegetable gardeners have probably had the experience of tomatoes that reseed and grow without care. In my experience these hardy rogue tomatoes are invariably on the cherry side of the tomato size spectrum. This makes sense as the tomato’s wild ancestor is much smaller than modern beefsteak varieties.

Matt’s Wild Cherry was obtained in Hidalgo, Mexico by Teresa Arellanos de Mena, a friend of  agronomy professors, Dr. Laura Merrick and Dr. Matt Liebman. Johnny’s and other sources describe it as a small current sized tomato that readily reseeds.

Johnny’s Select Seeds carries it, and I’m considering giving it a try to supplement the tomatoes that reseed themselves in our garden. Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried Matt’s Wild Cherry or have tried any other wild-type tomatoes.

How To Capture a Bee Swarm With Kirk Anderson

Swarm season is here in Southern California and will arrive elsewhere in North America with the coming of spring. In this video, beekeeper Kirk Anderson shows you how to catch a swarm. It’s the best way, in my opinion, to get bees to start your own hive.

Why? Swarms, unlike packaged bees, are free. They are also local, meaning the bees know how to deal with your micro-climate. To capture a swarm you:

  • Spray the swarm with a mixture of white sugar and water–this keeps them busy cleaning themselves while you . . .
  • Knock them in a nuc box (a cardboard box that holds five frames–get one at your local beekeeping supply shop).
  • Take the nuc box home and let them settle in for a few weeks. Then you can transfer the frames to a permanent hive box.

That’s just about it. Bees tend not to be aggressive when they swarm (they have no honey to protect).

To see more how-to videos featuring Kirk visit the video page of the Backwards Beekeepers.