Terror of Tiny Town

The Homegrown Evolution in-box overfloweth this week with news of the cute and the tiny. Yesterday’s post about our miniature Red Currant tomatoes prompted Bruce F of Chicago to inform us that he’s working on the world’s smallest kale plant. He’s growing them in self-watering containers made with old pop bottles (more info on how to make a pop bottle self-watering container here and here). These pop bottle containers look like they’d work well for starting seeds, as they provide a constant source of water.

Nance Klehm, another intrepid Chicago resident, informed us that someone just gave her two bantam chickens for her backyard, the perfect compliment to her chihuahuas. Some say that bantams are better for smaller backyards due to their diminutive size. Readers with bantam experience please let us know what you think about keeping bantams vs. normal chickens as we only have experience with SUV sized poultry.

The photo above is, incidentally, a scene from Werner Herzog’s brilliant and inexplicable film “Even Dwarfs Started Small”.

More on that nice rooftop garden . . .

Bruce F. the creator of that nice rooftop garden we featured last week dropped us a note to say that he kept a diary about the process that you can read here, via the Daily Kos. Bruce also mentioned a few other interesting links:

Humanure Composting via Feral Scholar

A fiery essay, The Politics of Food is Politics via Counterpunch

and A 35-Point Practical Guide for Action by Bruce himself

Thanks Bruce F! And we’ll be back soon after we recover from our weekend trip to the emergency room (kidney stones–ouch!).

How to Homestead

Homegrown Evolution’s Self Watering Container video is up on the brand new site How to Homestead, described by its creators as:

“the only site on the web providing you with a collection of how to homestead videos to stream or download. No longer relegated to the rural sphere, homesteading can be done anywhere and we are here to show you how.”

With many homesteading activities, from chicken slaughtering to tortellini making, internet based video is a useful resource when you don’t have a friend or relative to show you a skill first hand. Kudos to the How to Homesteaders and we look forward to future episodes on this nicely designed site.

To celebrate the launch of howtohomestead.org, director Melinda Stone will be presenting an evening of short films and performances about self-sufficiency and sustainable DIY activities at San Francisco’s ATA space, located at 992 Valencia Street on March 29th at 8:30 p.m. For more information on this screening see www.othercinema.com.

A Self-Watering Container in a Pot

The serendipitous discovery of two three-gallon margarine containers behind a dodgy local bakery has led to the yuppification of our self-watering container (SWC) garden. We posted earlier on how to make these handy containers, which have a reservoir of water at the bottom that keeps the soil at a uniform moisture level. We also made a video about them that we’re amused to report has been “favorited” on Youtube by pot growers.

You fill SWCs up via a pipe and they can go at least a week between waterings. It is, in our opinion, the only way to grow water-needy vegetables reliably in a container. We have used them to successfully grow eggplants, tomatoes, collard greens and blueberries (note to the DEA: no cash crops at the Homegrown Revolution compound!). With our backyard looking fairly ugly this summer we’ve backpedaled on our earlier strident post about how we don’t care if our patio looks like a methamphetamine lab, and have dressed up one of our SWCs.

Here’s how we did it:

First we stuck our three gallon self watering container inside of a large pot we had sitting around.

Next we filled the SWC with potting soil (note: you must use potting soil in a SWC). We filled the void between the SWC and the pot with rocks.

We used a plastic garbage bag as a mulch layer to help hold in the water.
A bag full of small river rocks provides an attractive cover to hide the plastic. Slice a hole in the plastic mulch layer and the pot is ready for planting.

Blueberries in a Self Watering Container


It may not be pretty but Homegrown Revolution has blueberries.

To grow blueberries in a warm climate such as Los Angeles you’ll need to choose a heat tolerant southern highbush variety. Southern highbush blueberries are hybrids that don’t require the winter chilling of their northern relatives. Blueberries also need cross pollination so they should be planted in pairs. We mail ordered two different varieties, “Oneal” and “Misty” in bare root form earlier this year from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply.

Blueberries require an acidic soil, of the sort you’d find in a wet forest climate, so we planted them in a self watering container with a home made soil mix made up of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 wood chips and 1/3 azalea mix.

Their special soil requirements and shallow roots make blueberries an ideal plant for self watering containers. And attention apartment homesteaders–blueberries will work nicely on that south facing balcony.

A garden that looks like a meth amphetamine lab

This year around the Homegrown Revolution compound we’ve finally thrown off the tyranny of the beautiful. There’s simply too much of what we call “garden porn” out there. Coffee table garden books, Martha Stewart and 24 hours of bullshit home improvement shows set up expectations that drive us all to useless spending at nurseries and home improvement stores all in pursuit of unattainable ideals, at least unattainable for anyone not employing slave labor. Forget about creating a mini Versailles–it’s time to get down to business and grow stuff you can eat. Our new criteria for success in gardens is this–a garden must simultaneously provide food for our table and habitat for beneficial wildlife, and it must take care of itself with a minimum amount of human intervention.

We also need to start growing food everywhere we can. There’s an ugly concrete patio just off our back door. We could have spent much money and effort to jackhammer it and replace it with a yuppie entertaining deck but instead we’re growing food on it. We built some self-watering containers (for instructions on how to do this see our earlier post) and we’re growing collard greens, tomatoes and southern highbush blueberries, so far with great success. It looks like a meth amphetamine lab. But since it provides tasty fresh food, who give a damn?

Self Watering Containers


Today, something for our apartment homesteaders. If you’ve got a patch of sun and want to grow some food crops container gardening is the way to go.

But container gardening has several drawbacks. Containers dry out quickly and if you forget to water, especially with vegetables, you can easily kill your plants. In fact inconsistent watering is probably the number one cause of container plant failure. Container gardening also uses a lot of water and can be messy, as the excess water flows out of the bottom of your pots leaving muddy stains on decks and balconies.

Thankfully, there is an elegant solution in the form of self watering containers. The principle is simple. Rather than having a hole in the bottom of the pot, there is instead a reservoir of water. Potting soil is suspended above the water reservoir by means of a perforated barrier. Circular “wicking chambers” reach down into the reservoir and draw water up to the plant’s roots. The reservoir is refilled by means of a pipe that comes out of the top of the pot and the soil in the pot is covered with a layer of plastic that acts as mulch. Depending on how deep the water reservoir is, it’s possible to go many days without having to add water. This arrangement, combined with the mulch layer on top prevent wasteful over-watering that can occur with conventional pots.

Best of all, while commercially made self watering containers such as the Earthbox┬« are available, it’s possible to build your own with these detailed instructions (warning–long pdf) by Josh Mandel. Or take a look at our how-to video:

We built our self watering container with an old plastic storage bin. The ubiquitous five gallon bucket also makes an excellent choice. Clever and water-wise folks may want to pimp out their self watering containers with overflow tubes to carry excess water out of the drainage hole and into a plastic milk bottle. Instructions for doing this can be found here (another pdf), and this might be wise for those considering placing these things on a roof.

Speaking of roofs, one drawback to self watering containers is that they are heavy once filled, so make sure that what you put them on can support the weight. Also, fill them with soil and water only after you have placed them where they need to go, since they can be a bitch to move once full.

Now, we don’t have much sympathy for the aesthetically minded, but some might consider a bunch of five gallon buckets or plastic tubs ugly. Personally we like the meth lab/cannabis farm chic this type of gardening suggests, but for the yuppies out there it’s also possible to put your home brew self watering container within a larger and more attractive pot if you’ve got the dough to blow. Fill the extra space between your self watering container and the pot it’s sitting in with gravel. Check out our instructions on how beautify your self watering container.

Now, apartment homesteaders, get out there and grow your own damn food!