The Construction of Secret Hiding Places

I love alternate views of our normal notions of domesticity and home economics. On a recent trip to the book section of a large surplus store I noticed our first book The Urban Homestead right alongside books on burying weapons caches, wiring solar panels, acting as your own dentist and assembling SKS rifles. We certainly have exciting company on this journey.

One book in particular caught my eye, The Construction of Secret Hiding Places by Charles Robinson. You can download a pdf of this book for free here. Of course the fact that this info exists in book and interweb form means that the secrets aren’t, well, secrets anymore. Nevertheless, I’ll never view a stairwell, baseboard or that useless space under the dishwasher in quite the same way again.

Do you have a favorite secret hiding place? Anonymous comments are welcome . . .

Homemade cat scratcher

I feel like I should apologize to non-cat people for all the cat-related content we’ve been generating of late. This should be the last cat post for a while. (At least until the widdle snugum wuggums does something adorable!)

We picked up this cat scratcher idea from Modern Cat. That version is much more polished than ours, in fact, it’s downright cute. Ours is also too small–we need to add to it a bit. But you can see how it’s made: strips of cardboard coiled up like a a cinnamon roll, duct tape at the breaks. If you go to the original, you’ll see how they finish the edges.

Easy. Kitty likes it.

Are Pallets Safe to Reuse?

Now you know. Pallet parts have names.

As a fan and proponent of reusing pallets in building projects, such as chicken coops and compost containers, I’m often asked if I think they are safe to use given that shippers and manufacturers fumigate them with pesticides.

In the United States quarantine regulations require that pallets be treated with methyl bromide, a pesticide being phased out due to its adverse effects on the ozone layer. According to Mary Howland Technical Service Manager at Great Lakes Chemical Corporation, a supplier of methyl bromide,

Methyl bromide products are restricted use pesticides. A certified applicator license is required to purchase and use these products and strict adherence to label directions/requirements is mandatory. Under normal fumigation conditions methyl bromide is a gas and when the pallets are properly aerated according to label instructions, virtually no methyl bromide residue remains on the pallets and wood materials.

Now I’m not a methyl bromide fan and I find it’s use as a soil fumigant in agricultural applications appalling.  But I’m not too worried about reusing pallets. That being said, a Tylenol recall was linked to the use of tribromophenol (TBP) to fumigate pallets. Though, depending on if you believe the trade organizations behind wood pallets or plastic pallets (they hate each other), the Tylenol recall may have had nothing to do with TBP which is not used to fumigate pallets in the US.

So, as with most issues on this blog, no easy answer. But I’m still not concerned about using pallets as a building material.

More Pallet Composters

Thanks readers for sending links to some attractive pallet compost bins. The one above is at http://thriftify.wordpress.com/2009/03/12/easy-to-build-pallet-compost-bin/.

Another nice one at http://www.ecodaddyo.com/node/94, though I like to keep the bottom open and the compost in contact with the ground. Correction: the bottom is open on this composter.

It ain’t made of pallets but it looks like it will work nicely and you sure can’t beat the scenery. From Devon Morgan.

Compost Bin Project From Our New Book

Natural Home and Garden magazine has excerpted a shipping pallet compost bin project from our new book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World.

I’ve been using shipping pallets as a compost bin for a few years now and they work great. A compost pile, in my humble opinion, should be a minimum of a cubic yard in order to jump start the heat and microbial life that makes for good compost. Nail together a couple of pallets and you’ve got a cubic yard sized pile. 

I’ve got two bins, side by side, but wish I had three. Mine also look like hell since I put them together in a hurry. I much prefer the bin the folks at Motuv in Kansas City created:

To answer ahead of time a question that always comes up–am I concerned about contaminated pallets? In short, no. A longer explanation will have to wait for another blog post.

Leave a comment on how you store compost. And if you’ve got an aesthetically pleasing bin I’m especially interested. Leave a link to a photo.

Mosaics

Above is a table the Kelly and I made many years ago with glass mosaic tile. We copied a portion of an ancient Roman mosaic depicting sea life. It took about 40 hours of painstaking work.

We still have a box of glass tile sitting in the garage and I’m thinking about breaking up the ugly concrete patio in the back yard and doing some mosaics. Kelly is less than enthused about this for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it will take me away from more pressing matters such as a back door that doesn’t open and a non-functioning computer network.

Nevertheless I was inspired to return to mosaic work after seeing the stunning garden designs of Portland, Oregon based pebble mosaic master Jeffrey Bale.

A pebble mosaic from Jeffrey Bale’s blog

You can view Bale’s work on his blog and read a great how-to article Bale wrote for Fine Gardening Magazine.

Our squid table was made by gluing the tiles directly to the wood and grouting once all the tiles were in place. This would not work for exterior mosaics. Instead, for my patio I would glue the tiles to a piece of paper and then set them into a mortar mix in place (the indirect method).

Using pebbles as opposed to glass mosaic tile, by the way, cuts costs way down. Should I get permission to do the back patio I’m thinking of combining pebbles with small areas of glass tile. In fact, I may just stop answering emails so that I’ll have the time to do this!

Photo Tour of the Root Simple Compound

New, as yet unnamed, kitten enjoying homebrew. Photo by Emily Ho for re-nest.

In case you’ve tired of the continuous coverage of Osama Bin Laden’s compound, how about a look at ours? Writer and photographer Emily Ho sure did a nice job putting together a photo tour of our crib over at re-nest in a post entitled “Kelly and Erik’s Urban Farm.”

Funny, when I look at our house I see all the work I have left to do, the chipped paint and broken concrete. Emily managed to capture the pretty stuff. Thanks should also go to Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms who helped us redesign the garden last fall.

Germinator Update

Last year my tomato seeds failed to germinate. Why? It was just too cold.

I vowed to build a cold frame and this winter I made good on that promise. I’ve upgraded the plastic sheeting on the “germinator” to rigid plastic awning material (plastic sheeting over a flat surface doesn’t do well in rain . . . duh). If I were to build this thing again I’d construct a sloping top, especially if I lived somewhere with actual weather.

Before–plastic sheeting on a flat surface–a bad idea! What was I thinking?

The automatic vent lifter (available from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply) works great, popping open the germinator to keep the seedlings from frying during the day (remember this is Southern California).

The sight of my tomato seedlings was a highlight of the week:

If I lived in a colder climate I might consider incorporating a compost bin inside my cold frame to keep seedlings warm, a heat mat, or growing indoors under lights.

Ikea Hack: Ancient Greek Couch

Call me pretentious and crazy. When it came time to replace our dog-damaged living room couch I decided to recreate an ancient Greek/Roman couch using scavenged and inexpensive materials. A broken child’s bed, some cheap table legs from Home Depot and an Ikea cushion make for a quick and easy project.

If I were to make two more of these couches and a low table I’d have the complete ancient dining room or “triclinion.” What could I do with a triclinion? Glad you asked. At the triclinion, guests reclined on  couches in a specific seating order. Woman and men ate separately. You brought your own humanure potty with you which also served as a projectile when philosophical arguments got out of hand. And the ancient Greeks even had professional party crashers with colorful nicknames such as, “the lobster.”

   

Reviews on my couch are mixed. Mrs. Homegrown deems it uncomfortable unless laying horizontal. And the historical recreation on the cheap aesthetic runs the risk of devolving into the horrors of the modern day toga party such as the one below:

Photo by Keithusc

Nevertheless, it’s a great couch from which to make pronouncements, blog posts and “thoughtstylings” from. And it’s well past time to host that homesteading symposium!

Pimp My Cold Frame

While the climate here in Los Angeles is exceedingly mild–it rarely gets much below freezing–springtime can, some years, be too cold to get good germination of summer vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers. This was the case in 2010 when I was not able to get a single tomato seed to germinate until late May. To head off another seedling crisis I built a simple cold frame.

In order to prevent the cold frame from becoming a solar cooker (it can get over 80°F during the day this time of year) I pimped it out with an Univent Automatic Greenhouse Vent Opener. The Univent uses no electricity. As the temperature gets hotter a small piston thingy forces open the window you attach the Univent too. As the temperature cools in the evening, the Univent closes the window. It was easy to install, though the directions it came with seem to have been translated back and forth between several European languages before materializing into English.

The price on Amazon seems a bit steep at $50. I got mine on sale from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply, but they no longer seem to carry it back in stock here.

I’m fully aware that my cold frame, with it’s plastic cover, would be way too flimsy for places with real weather. Nevertheless, I can imagine the automatic vent opener being useful in many climates.

ETA: Mrs. Homegrown here: I just wanted to add a clarifying note. This cold frame is The Germinator ™, one of our recent garden improvements. Ordinarily it is covered with wire screen, which lets sun in but keeps critters out. Erik’s plan is to swap out the plastic sheeting with the wire screen as needed.