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.

The Kingdom of Bolinas

In Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel Ecotopia, Northern California, Oregon and Washington break away from the union to form their own highly groovy utopia. What Callenbach predicted may never have happened on such a big scale, but the small town of Bolinas, CA sure feels like it broke off from the rest of the country. Callenbach, in fact, featured Bolinas in the prequel to Ecotopia, Ecotopia Emerging.

Bolinas residents, famously, remove the turnoff signs on the highway on a regular basis, giving the town an independent vibe. One of the first things you see on approaching Bolinas is a series of picturesque organic farms, including Gospel Flat Farm which runs an honor stand along the road. When we visited they had some nice looking beets:

And a quirky mobile facility:

Bolinas also has a free store:

With its own unique signage:

And a multi-denominational alter thingy on the main drag:

With yet more creative signage:

The list of former residents reads like a who’s who of American art and poetry. It’s easy to see why. Bolinas has natural beauty, a good set of small businesses and all that fresh produce. It’s also the home of my favorite bloggers, publisher and author Lloyd Kahn

Kind of hard to find myself back in Los Angeles, the most un-Bolinas of cities!

Garden Bench Ideas

I’ve been contemplating building a garden bench for our backyard so whenever I see a nice one I take a picture. The first example (above) resides in a nursery in Bolinas, California. Looks like one end is the ubiquitous cinder block and the other a pre-cast concrete pier. Add some driftwood (there’s a lot of it in Bolinas) and you’ve got a bench.

This arts n’ craftsy bench is in the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. If I want to recreate this I’d have to pull out the router to do the fancy lettering. Would be kind of funny to offer naming rights to objects in our backyard, though.

Also in the Arboretum, this massive stone bench. Kinda hard to get those heavy stones up the steps to our house. It’s beautiful, but if I recreated it poorly I’d have an object that recalls the tiny Stonehenge gag in This is Spinal Tap. The amusing back story to many of the stones in the San Francisco Arboretum is that they came from a Medieval Spanish monastery that William Randolph Hearst bought and had disassembled, crated and shipped to California at great expense. A couple of fires destroyed the crates and markings and years of acrimonious debate on where to put Hearst’s monastery ended with many of the stones getting distributed around the park as benches and walls. Most went to the construction of a new abbey near Sacramento.

Really nice stonework here–a bench midway up a staircase on the Lands End trail overlooking the entrance to the bay. It’s the most beautiful place on the planet with a nice bench to enjoy the view. 

A bench at the Preston Winery, home of that olive oil I blogged about yesterday.

I don’t ‘think a short bench like any of these would work in our backyard. At home I’m either running around or completely horizontal. Perhaps some kind of lounge chair might work better or a really long bench with some cushions.Will have to consult with the boss . . .

DIY Wall Mounted Wine Bottle Vases

These wine bottle wall vases (via Dude Craft) are proof that the interwebs occasionally echo with good ideas. A variation on the wine bottle tiki torches I linked to earlier, you can make the hangers with parts from the plumbing isle. See Design Sponge for instructions on the torch version. Having seen two houses catch on fire in our neighborhood this year, I’d recommend the flower vase.

Volvo Camper by John Ross

Volvo Camper (in front of a vintage Spartan trailer)

Spotted in the Museum of Jurassic Technology’s parking lot–a Volvo-based camper created by über tinkerer/genius John Ross. Ross started with a 1,200 gallon underground water cistern like the ones below:

He insulated the tank with polyisocyanurate foam-board and covered the whole thing with a $70 tent to block out light. You access the tank through a hole in the roof of the Volvo. A vented heater doubles as a stove. Ross told me how easily it went together–just two hours to secure the tank to the car–much faster than building something from scratch.And no mortgage!

You can watch the Volvo camper in action here.

Lloyd Kahn on Shelter


SHELTER from jason sussberg on Vimeo.

Jason Sussberg has made a nice film about author and publisher Lloyd Kahn. In this short film, Kahn sums up exactly what our dwelling places need, “Shelter is more than a roof overhead–it’s a feeling of warmth and security.”

And, incidentally, how many people do you know who can skateboard that gracefully at the age of 75?

For more inspiration head over to Lloyd’s Blog.