Greywater Precautions

Before we continue our greywater series, we have a few precautions to lay down. The dangers of greywater have been exaggerated in the past and it’s important to remember that nobody in the US has ever gotten sick from exposure to greywater. The plumbing codes in this country are overly cautious in their restrictions on greywater use, as the Man, quite simply, wants you to throw perfectly good water down the sewer. On the other hand, a lot of hippie types have been a little too loose with greywater and nasty bugs like e-coli, pictured on the right, remind us we need to be careful. So here are SurviveLA’s rules to follow when using greywater:

  • Do not apply greywater to crops that you will eat raw, such as strawberries, carrots or lettuce. Using greywater on any vegetables is somewhat dodgy in general for heath reasons, but greywater is fine for edible plants such as fruit trees where the crop is far from the ground and the risk of direct contamination by contact with contaminated water is low.
  • Do not apply greywater to lawns (lawns are evil anyways) or to the foliage of any plant as this can cause a microorganism growth party. Remember that greywater is treated by moving through soil.
  • Greywater tends to be alkaline, so avoid using greywater on acid loving plants such as citrus, ferns and other forest plants (pretty much anything that grows in the shade).
  • Occasionally irrigate your plants with fresh water to prevent the buildup of salts from soaps and detergents.
  • Do not distribute greywater with a sprinkler as you don’t want the potential bad stuff becoming airborne.
  • Do not use the water from your washing machine if you are washing diapers (gross!).
  • Do not allow greywater to stand as it will quickly become the perfect habitat for anaerobic bacteria which will quickly turn it into a stinky, mosquito and fly infested pool of blackwater. Plan a system that will, ideally, use your greywater immediately.
  • Use only detergents and soaps designed for greywater systems such as Oasis Biocompatible Cleaning Products.

Bucket Flushing

SurviveLA is researching greywater systems and today we’ve got our first tip on recycling your water. First a definition. Greywater is the waste water that comes out of your shower, sinks, and washing machine. Blackwater is the icky stuff that comes out of your toilet and because of the risk of contamination it should not be reused. For now we’ll lump the kitchen sink in with the toilet since food scraps, particularly for meat eaters can quickly turn your greywater into rancid blackwater.

Greywater systems range from the simple to the complex and we’ll start with the cheap and easy — bucket flushing. Simply keep a bucket next to the shower and collect the water that you run before the shower gets hot. Since you haven’t even stepped into the shower this water is pure water, and not even technically greywater. You can use this water on plants or to flush the toilet manually by pouring it directly in the bowl.

It’s also possible to disconnect the bathroom sink from the sewer system and send the water into a bucket that you keep under the sink. This water is greywater since it’s contaminated with soap and toothpaste, so don’t let it sit around for long or it will get stinky. If you disconnect your bathroom sink, make sure that you keep water in the trap (that u-shaped pipe), otherwise unpleasant sewer odors will fill your bathroom. Alternately, you can cap the sewer pipe or install a diverter valve.

One last warning. Apparently around twenty-five kids drown in buckets every year in the US, so don’t leave buckets unattended if you have little ones, though the danger is mostly from larger five gallon buckets.

So flush the SurviveLA way — bucket flush!

Be Idle

Homegrown Revolution attended a talk at the Eco-Village by Cecile Andrews, author of Slow is Beautiful: New Visions of Community, Leisure and Joie de Vivre and Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life. Part of the Urban Homesteadin’ thing involves simplifying one’s life, but we just can’t get behind the all the deprivation and mortification that often goes with American’s puritanical approach to the new simplicity. A compelling speaker, Andrews echoed our wariness and used the Slow Food movement as an counter-example to the pitfalls of the simplicity movement.

The Slow Food movement began in Italy as a reaction to the invasion of American style fast food which threatened Italy’s rich culinary traditions. The genius of the Slow Food movement according to Andrews, is that it linked the pleasures of good food with the issues of knowing where our food comes from, supporting local farmers, and caring about the environmental implications of agriculture. In other words, Slow Food is not about deprivation, but instead it’s about pleasure, kicking back with friends, and general celebratory idleness. So with the Slow Food movement, or with a pleasure based simplicity, while we pursue environmental justice we should also be having a damn good time. In so doing, happiness becomes both the pathway and the result of our life journey.

Life is too short to be miserable. A kitchen disaster this morning with a terrible granola recipe from Frances Moore Lappé’s book Diet for a Small Planet, reminded us that while the thesis behind that book, that modern agriculture is causing tremendous harm, is more valid than ever, the solution offered by the food activists of the 1970s, namely a bland vegetarian diet is just no fun at all. So in the spirit of the Slow Food movement, SurviveLA would like to share one of our favorite recipes, from Lynne Rosetto Kaspers’ book The Italian Country Table. Kasper discovered this linguine with pistachio-almond pesto on the island of Lipari off the coast of Sicily and SurviveLA suggests that you make up a pot, have some friends over and celebrate idleness by eating, drinking and generally doing nothing. We like to use mint that we grow in the garden — mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow and we recommend that everyone have a patch or pot of it on their homestead (it tolerates shade, but it can be a bit invasive so stay on top of it or make this recipe often!). We’ve also substituted basil when we have that on hand.

1/2 cup unblanched whole almonds, toasted

1/2 cup shelled salted pistachio nuts, toasted

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 large garlic clove

Pinch of hot red pepper flakes

2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste

40 large mint leaves (a blend of spearmint and peppermint if possible)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound linguine, spaghetti, bucatini, or other string pasta

6 quarts boiling salted water

1 1/3 pint baskets (1 pound) flavorful cherry tomatoes, quartered

1. Mix the cooled toasted nuts. Coarsely chop about one quarter of them and set aside.

2. In a mortar (a processor is second choice), pound (or grind) the garlic to a paste with the hot pepper and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Work in the remaining whole nuts and a little more than half the mint leaves until the mixture looks like very course meal, with pieces of nuts at about 1/8 inch. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Tear up the remaining mint leaves.

3. Cook the pasta in fiercely boiling water, stirring often until tender yet firm to the bite. As the pasta cooks, gently blend the pesto, tomatoes, and 1/2 tablespoon of the oil in a deep pasta bowl.

4. Sim off 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the pasta water just before draining, and drain the pasta in a colander. Add the pasta water to the bowl. Add the sauce, pasta, chopped nuts, and salt and pepper to taste and toss. Then toss in the reserved torn mint. Taste for seasoning, adding extra oil, mint, salt, and/or pepper if needed. Serve hot or warm. No cheese is used here.

Free Permaculture Class

Today SurviveLA passes on an announcement for a free permaculture class taking place tomorrow – hope to see some of you there:

The next Free Introduction to Permaculture Class

Place: Audubon Center at Debs Park (http://www.audubon-ca.org/debs_park.htm)
4700 North Griffin Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90031
(323) 221-2255

Date: Sat Dec. 2nd 2006

Time: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

We are living on a planet in crisis; often individuals feel powerless to effect change but Permaculture offers positive solutions to the problems facing the world; using ecology as the basis for designing integrated systems of food production, housing, technology and community development, you can learn to create a self-sustaining environment, on a farm or in your urban backyard or apartment.

The Permaculture Design Course is for anyone interested in gaining skills and perspective for sustainable living and productivity. A Permaculture Design Course is a way to share
accumulated information with others.

This Introduction to Permaculture Class is an outline of the science and art of Permaculture. It will define the term and its history, its founders, the curriculum of the design course certificate, its ethics and foundations. It will describe the benefits and show some of the most
important work undertaken by permaculture designers.

For More Information contact:
David Kahn 323 667 1330 or [email protected]

www.sustainablehabitats.org

Rats

SurviveLA just sustained $198 worth of damage to one of our appliances due to an invasion of rats which brings us to the topic of how we deal with pesky rodents. As you can see in the photo to the right, the answer will burn our bridges with the PETA folks.

The classic rat trap is one of those inventions like the bicycle that is elegant, simple, cheap and effective. We recommend placing the business end of the trap (the part with the food) against a wall, as rats and mice tend to travel along walls. Put it in a place that can’t be accessed by nosy dogs, cats or kids. We’ve had the best success with using dried fruit as bait.

But let’s look at the alternatives. Yes there are so-called humane traps that capture the critters alive. We have two problems with these. First they just don’t work all that well. Secondly, what do you do with the critters once you catch them? We can think of some real estate agents we would like to give them to, but the rats would probably just run into some other poor sucker’s house.

Rat poison is a really bad idea. First of all it is deadly to pets and native animals that might find it. Secondly it can kill a predator such as a hawk or owl, that might prey on a poisoned rat. Lastly, poisoned rats have a bad tendency to climb into a wall and die leaving an inaccessible, stinky mess.

SurviveLA would get in big trouble if we failed to send a shout out to our cat friends. Some cats are good at catching mice and rats, but unfortunately those same cats are also good at catching native birds. Now if we weren’t in enough trouble for advocating bad-ass rat traps, we’ll get in even more trouble for suggesting that folks keep their cats indoors. Indoor cats will catch the rodents, they won’t kill the native wildlife and they’ll live longer by not getting hit by cars. We would have a cat ourselves if it weren’t for our doberman who would, unfortunately, prey on the cats, thereby setting up a predatory hierarchy we would rather avoid. Dobermans, incidentally, make lousy mousers though ours will follow rat scent for hours (dobermans are great, however, for deterring Jehovah’s Witnesses, but that’s another post).

As far as rat prevention goes, it’s really important to harvest all fruits from the garden before they drop on the ground. Our rat problem this winter may be due, in part, from our laziness and failure to harvest the fruit of our prodigious fig tree in addition to the foundation work we’re having done (thanks again to those realtors we want to sick the rats on). Other deterrents include not leaving food around and getting rid of wood piles. Rats are also one of the reasons not to put meat in the compost pile, though I’ve found them in our compost pile in spite of the fact that we only put vegetable material in it. It helps to turn the pile frequently and not add too many kitchen scraps at one time.

Of course, being SurviveLA, we need to mention the fact that rats are edible. Now it’s fashionable to make fun of French people for stuff like this but SurviveLA thinks applauds any kind of resourcefulness, particularly if it yields something tasty. From the Larousse Gastronomique:

Rodent, which was elevated to the rank of comestible during the siege of Paris in 1870, and which is eaten in certain regions. The flesh of well-nourished rats can be, it seems, of good quality, but sometimes with a musky taste. Rats nourished in the wine stores of the Gironde were at one time highly esteemed by the coopers, who grilled them, after having cleaned out and skinned them, on a fire of broken barrels, and seasoned them with a little oil and plenty of shallot. This dish, which was then called Cooper’s Entrecôte, would be the origin of the Entrecôte à la bordelaise.

Rapini!


This morning SurviveLA harvested our first crop of the winter, delicious broccoli rabe, from our illegal parkway garden.

Broccoli rabe or rapini, is often described as being bitter, but I think it would be better to describe store bought broccoli as band and rapini as “flavorful”. Actually rapini is not related to the broccoli plant and is instead more closely related to turnips. The variety we planted is called Cima di Rapa Quarantina and is available from growitalian.com.

Thanks Los Angeles for not enforcing your parkway codes! Sometimes LA’s lack of attention to sidewalks (at the current rate, no joke, it would take 200 years to fix LA’s crumbling pedestrian infrastructure) has its advantages.

Country Wisdom

Thanks to a tip from the Soapboxers, SurviveLA augmented our homesteading library with a copy of the extremely useful book, Country Wisdom & Know-How by the editors of Storey Books. Country Wisdom is a compendium of tips culled from the Country Wisdom Bulletin published in the 1970s and oriented to the “back to the land” movement of that time.

While geared to country living there is plenty in here for city dwellers such as ourselves. Divided into sections covering animals, cooking, crafts, gardening, health and wellbeing, and home repair/construction, Country Wisdom has straightforward advice with clear illustrations.

While we don’t anticipate having to skin and eat bear anytime soon, “Bear meat is dark and well flavored. The layer of fat should be trimmed off or it will give the meat a strong gamey taste” we did appreciate things such as the three pages of quick bread recipes (we’ll test some and let you know how they work) and the tips on using herbs. And lots of folks in our neighborhood could benefit from the dog training advice.

Who knows, someday we may find ourselves sitting down to a meal of backyard squirrel and possum . . .

Broadleaf Plantain

Today we introduced some weeds into our garden, planting some broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) seeds that we collected on our bike camping and wild food excursion with Christopher Nyerges. As Nyerges noted, this is one of those plants that Martha Stewart hates, and that makes the purveyors of toxic herbicides and lawn care products rich.

You can’t eat your lawn folks. You can, however, eat broadleaf plantain. The young leaves are edible raw, but the more mature leaves must be cooked. The seeds can also be eaten either raw or roasted, though we should note that they have a laxative effect (nothin’ wrong with that!). The plant can also be used to treat wounds, by soaking the plant and applying it to the injured area. A tea can be made of the leaves that will treat diarrhea.

Broadleaf plantain was apparently one of the first so-called “weeds” introduced to the New World by the Europeans, which is why the plant is also known as “white man’s foot”. The University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program describes its impact thusly:

In turfgrass they form dense clumps that give poor footing for athletic fields and golf courses. The plantains have a texture and color that varies from normal turf cultivars, and their flower stalks extend above the turf, reducing its aesthetic quality.

Frankly, SurviveLA applauds anything that will cause golfers to slip and fall. The world’s 35,000 golf courses use enough water each day to support 4.7 billion people. Power to the broadleaf plantain!

Yucca!

“Now on the western side of the First World, in a place that later was to become the Land of Sunset, there appeared the Blue Cloud, and opposite it there appeared the Yellow Cloud. Where they came together First Woman was formed, and with her the yellow corn. This ear of corn was also perfect. With First Woman there came the white shell and the turquoise and the yucca.”

-The Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians The Creation or Age of Beginning The First World by Aileen O’Bryan

We’re still ridin’ high from this past weekend’s debut of the Bike Scouts of America’s first camping trip. Thanks again to the folks at C.I.C.L.E. for putting it together and this week SurviveLA will review a few of the highlights of the trip starting with the many uses of the wondrous yucca plant.

We were tipped off to the yucca thanks to Christopher Nyerges‘ wild food hike that he led when he met up with the Bike Scouts on Sunday. Nyerges showed us how to weave rope using the fibers of the yucca plant, and showed us the plant’s detergent properties using the dome of the Green Party’s Philip Koebel. In fact, to the Navajo, the yucca plant represets cleanliness and played an important part in many ceremonies.

Yucca is one of those miraculous plants that everyone who has a patch of earth under their control should consider planting, particularly if you live in the Southern California area. SurviveLA likes plants that do not require supplemental irrigation and have multiple uses and the yucca plant, in addition to making rope, can also be used for basket weaving, as a detergent, a white wool dye, a quiver for your arrows, and it also produces edible flowers, seeds, and fruit.

Some important distinctions here. First of all we are not talking about “yuca” which is another name for the cassava plant, a tropical shrub of the spurge family. There are also many species in the yucca family, which even includes the Joshua Tree. Also, don’t confuse yucca plants with agave plants, as the juice of the of the agave leaf is a skin irritant. Agaves tend to have broader leaves in contrast to the spiky leaves of the yucca. Blue agave, incidentally, is the source of tequila.

As Nyerges’ points out in his excellent article about yuccas and agaves, “A Piece of Fiber Could Save Your Life“, the flower stalk of the yucca can be eaten and tastes a bit like asparagus. The flowers, fruit and seed pods are also edible and Nyerges’ article provides some cooking tips.

As part of a edible/useful landscaping scheme yucca plants are attractive and with their sharp points can provide a kind of security barrier against marauding hooligans.

Speaking of hooligans (and bad transitions), we forgot to thank the folks at SoapboxLA for cooking up a batch of rusks that kept us all going during our Bike Scout and edible food huntin’ journey.