Daikon Radish!

We’ve had a crappy vegetable harvest around the Homegrown Evolution compound this winter though, as you can see from the picture above, the artichokes and rosemary in the background are thriving as they always do. Here in Los Angeles, winter is usually the best season for growing things, as perverse as that may sound to folks in the rest of the US. But for us, some combination of bad timing (not getting stuff in early enough), depleted soil and cold temperatures have contributed to a less than stellar garden.

But in the midst of this failure we’ve had a few successes. Last year we made daikon radish pickles from radishes we picked up at our local farmer’s market. (see here for our post and a recipe). This year we grew our own daikon radishes. Like all radishes, daikons grow fast and are as hardy as weeds. Radishes are defiantly the “gateway drug” of vegetable gardening. Grow them, and you’ll be on your way to tougher to grow things like broccoli and cauliflower. Like all root vegetables loose soil is a plus, especially for daikons, so it’s best to grow them in a raised bed.

We’ve also discovered that all radish greens are edible, as they are members of the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes broccoli, cabbage, kale and many others. With many of the root vegetables we’ve grown, especially beets, we’re actually more fond of the greens.

Now if we had the money for a contest, we’d offer a free Homegrown Evolution branded thong (we’re working on that so be patient) for the first person to find the grazing chickens in the picture.

Save the World–Poop in a Bucket


Learn about composting your own poo by checking out our new post, How to Save the World by Pooping in a Bucket, at the consciousness shifting blog Reality Sandwich, for which we write a regular column.

And should you want more potty talk you’re in luck due to a minor sewage synchronicity going on in the magazine/internet world. As we wrote our meditation on human waste, a number of other stories on the subject came out at the same time:

  • A Mother Earth News reader submitted a photo and description of a handsome sawdust privy made out of an old garden hose box. Very clever!
  • Science Daily reports on Converting Sewage to Drinking Water.
  • So take that laptop into your “meditation room” and get some reading done!

    Growing Potatoes in Tires


    Chicago homesteader extraordinaire Nance Klehm, temporarily in residence here in Los Angeles, gifted us with some beautiful seed potatoes which we just planted. As we did last year, we’re growing them in used tires filled with compost (see our surprise potato harvest in a post from last September). As the plant grows you add another tire to the stack, causing the growth of more potatoes. An alternate method, suggested by Homegrown Revolution reader Chris, is to dig trenches and mound up earth around the base of the potato plant as it grows.

    We’ve planted earlier this year, to see if our potatoes will do better in Southern California’s mild spring weather. One disadvantage to this earlier planting might be all the rain we get in January and February. Soggy soil can cause the potatoes to rot before they start growing. We’ll keep our fingers crossed–we’ve had a streak of bad luck with our plantings this winter.

    Incidentally, Nance will be delivering a lecture and walk at Machine Project on Sunday February 10th at 1 p.m. See the Machine Project website for more information.

    Turnip Greens via The Silver Spoon

    It took us way to long to discover that turnip greens are edible. They’re better than the turnips themselves, in our opinion. So how did we finally figure this out? The answer is by thumbing through a cookbook everybody interested in growing their own vegetables should own, The Silver Spoon*, which has a section devoted just to turnip green recipes.

    The Silver Spoon is a 1,263 page cookbook recently translated into English. It’s the Joy of Cooking for Italians, except instead of tuna noodle casseroles and other American cooking abominations, the Silver Spoon will tell you what to do with a cardoon, a carp, or the aforementioned turnip greens among many other edibles. While we appreciate the crusty old Joy of Cooking’s advice on cooking raccoon, The Silver Spoon is so good that we feel like throwing out all the other cookbooks we have.

    But back to the greens. Turnip greens have massive quantities of vitamins A, C and K and a pleasant mild taste. The leaves have some barbs on them which disappear during cooking. In past years we have grown an Italian variety called Rapa da Foglia senza Testa or “rabe without a head”. A better name for it would be “turnips without the turnips”, as it’s a kind of turnip green. This year we’re growing turnips for Ms. Homegrown Revolution’s fermentation experiments and the greens have been a side-benefit.

    *Note this link will take you to our new online bookstore. Tacky? Perhaps. But we’re capitalists.

    Borlotto Bean Lingua di Fuoco

    One of our favorite vegetables, Borlotto Bean Lingua di Fuoco, is once again growing in our garden from seeds we saved from last year. We usually eat our Lingua di Fuoco (tongue of fire) beans young in the pod, but they can also be shelled and eaten fresh or dried. The handsome red speckling, which gives the bean its name, disappears when you cook them. The plant comes in both pole and bush versions.

    Borlotto beans are basically the Italian version of kidney beans, hailing originally from the New World. Italian folks traditionally use them in soups. We’re considering growing an edible wall of beans along the south side of our house this spring in order to see if we can grow enough to collect dried beans and make some soup. For cultivation and harvesting details for dry beans click on over to the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute.

    It may seem like we’re pimping for Seeds from Italy, but these beans are yet another success we’ve had with the Franchi’s companies seeds that Seeds from Italy imports. We just discovered the competition, Italian Seed and Tool, which imports the rival Bavicchi company’s seeds. We’d appreciate feedback from anyone who has ordered Bavicchi seeds.

    Cichorium intybus a.k.a. Italian Dandelion


    Our illegal parkway garden has got off to a slow start this season due to low seed germination rates. We’ve compensated with a trip to the Hollywood farmer’s market to pick up some six-packs of seedlings. One plant we made sure to get is Cichorium intybus, known in Italian as “cicoria” or chicory, but somehow, in the case of leaf chicory, mistranslated as “Italian dandelion,” probably because the leaves resemble the common dandelion weed, Taraxacum officinale (a relative which is also edible).

    Both Cichorium intybus and its weedy cousin share a powerfully bitter taste that took our supermarket weaned taste buds some time to get used to the first time we tasted this plant. Changing the cooking water a few times if you boil Italian dandelion is one way to deal with the bitterness, but we prefer to just throw it together with some fat in a frying pan, such as olive oil and/or pancetta. We also add some hot pepper flakes for a nice hot counter-punch. Italian dandelion makes a good companion to balsamic vinegar marinated pork or game (squirrels perhaps–they’ve been stealing our lemons!).

    The big taproot this perennial plant has means that it can bust through crappy soil. The bitter root can also be ground up to make a coffee substitute or flavor additive. Never having tried this we’re a bit sceptical, especially since it lacks caffeine, but it’s worth an attempt this coming year.

    Since we purchased seedlings we have no idea what cultivar we’re growing, but seeds are available from Seeds from Italy, which has an astonishing number of varieties.

    And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma

    The ducks of Petaluma Urban Homestead

    A big thanks to Suzanne and Paul of Petaluma Urban Homestead for giving us a tour of their bit of heaven on earth. Root Simple forgot to bring the camera so you’ll have to check out their blog to see what they are up to. They make a damn good hard cider by the way.

    We also had the privilege of meeting the inspiring Trathen Heckman of Daily Acts, publisher of the journal Ripples. If that wasn’t enough, Suzanne took us to an open house at the Center for Regenerative Design to see the wonders of permaculture applied to the breathtaking northern California landscape.

    We’re back and fired up to work on our own humble plot here in Los Angeles which is looking a little neglected after a busy fall. More soon . . .

    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?

    Capparis spinosa – Capers

    Capparis spinosa

    When we changed the name of this occasionally updated string of musings from SurviveLA to Homegrown Revolution to make it more national, as the publisher of our upcoming book the Urban Homestead requested, we had one big challenge. While Mrs. Homegrown Revolution hails from the snowy mountains of Colorado, Mr. Homegrown Revolution has never lived anywhere else other than sunny Southern California. And neither of us have tended plants outside of this Mediterranean climate, one of the rarest types of climatic zones on the planet.

    But if we’ve learned anything universal about growing food it has been to work with nature rather than against her, or as we prefer to say–don’t fuck with nature. For those of you who live where it gets cold, fucking with nature means trying to grow a fig tree. For us it meant trying to grow a lawn, a foolish water-wasting mistake we made in our pre-SurviveLA days. Working with nature means finding plants that belong in a climate similar to your part of the world. We’re not native plant fascists and will gladly source plants from other similar climates, but we don’t believe in nursing sickly plants that can’t take our heat, or need lots of water.

    This season we’ve pledge not to be tempted by the allure of the seed catalogs. We’re going to grow edible and useful plants that thrive in Mediterranean places. Thankfully that includes a lot of interesting options, some of which we already have–figs, artichoke, grapes, prickly pear cactus, rosemary, thyme and lavender.

    One new addition that we’re planting from seed is Capparis spinosa, commonly known as capers. Every year we make faux capers from nasturtium seed pods, but this year we thought we would start the real thing. The caper bush is an attractive plant that tolerates bad soil and dry conditions, in short perfect for the front slope of our little hilltop compound.

    But nature could still screw with us. Capers are notoriously difficult to start from seeds (which we ordered from Trade Winds Fruit). According to Purdue University’s Center for New Crops and Plant Products,

    “Caper seeds are minuscule and are slow to nurture into transplantable seedlings. Fresh caper seeds germinate readily – but only in low percentages. Dried seeds become dormant and are notably difficult to germinate and therefore require extra measures to grow. Dried seeds should be initially immersed in warm water (40°C or 105°F ) and then let soak for 1 day. Seeds should be wrapped in a moist cloth, placed in a sealed glass jar and kept in the refrigerator for 2 – 3 months. After refrigeration, soak the seeds again in warm water overnight.”

    We’ll also need to wait a few years before we have a crop. But if our capers manage to establish we’ll be letting nature work for us.

    UPDATE
    It looks like we may be fucked, so to speak (sorry for the potty talk–too many cocktails tonight perhaps). Homegrown Revolution reader Brian writes:

    “you are brave. but potentially foolish. this thing is one of the toughest plants i’ve ever grown in the south bay. i eventually ordered a tiny little plant, i think from papa geno. anyway, good luck with the seed, i know i wasted 2 years on them before i caved and went for the cutting. even now, this thing is fickle. so far, my little plant is on year 3, ( so, year 5 of my project ), is about a foot in diameter, and i get about 15 flowers a summer. about enough for one dinner of puttanesca. still, i persist! go forth and conquer!”

    UPDATE II

    Brian was right! Many months later I have an inch tall, very weak seedling. Lesson: plant first, blog later!