It’s Elementary

I’m writing another article for Urban Farm Magazine, this time on elementary school gardens. If you have a hand in running or organizing an elementary school garden, outside of California, send me an email at [email protected]. I need another interview or two, though I can’t guarantee I’ll talk to everyone.

I took the picture above at a volunteer work day at the 24th Street Elementary School in the West Adams district of Los Angeles yesterday. It’s run by the Garden School Foundation. I can’t tell you how amazing this garden is, but I think the picture above says it all. It’s about the future, and that future is going to have more mulch and a lot less asphalt! The 24th Street Garden contains vegetables, a mini orchard and two native plant gardens, which are used as part of the school’s California history curriculum. A cooking class happens in the garden once a week, overseen by TV chef Gino Campagna.

Obviously, we need more gardens like this–the Garden School Foundation’s website asks the question, “Why does a school need to look like a prison?” For some school garden resources see the website of the Chez Panisse Edible Schoolyard at http://www.edibleschoolyard.org/. If you’ve got other resource suggestions, please leave some comments.

Garden Edibles

We’ve pretty much just been growing Italian vegetable varieties for almost ten years now and have never looked back. Which is why we were really excited to hear that Homegrown Evolution pal Craig Ruggless has a new website: www.gardenedibles.com that imports seeds from the Larosa Emanuele Sementi company of Italy. Craig reminded us recently about something we remember from our trip to Italy a few years ago that, for Italians, vegetables are like wine. Wine comes in many varieties, so should vegetables. What a shame it is that when you go to a supermarket here in the US there is often only one variety of any given vegetable even at high-end stores.

So you gotta grow your own. Coming soon (again, as soon as book #2 is done), we’ll list what we grew this winter and what we plan on growing this summer. From Garden Edibles, this summer, we’re planting San Marzano 2 tomatoes and Rosso Dolce Da Appendere peppers. We always have some San Marzanos growing because they are so damn reliable. But we’re particularly excited about the peppers. And the tomato at left? It’s been rescued from extinction by a group of farmers in Puglia. It’s that region’s answer to the San Marzano–Pugliese families use to make their winter tomato sauce.

Ciao! Back to the book . . .

Be a question. Be an answer.

Kotex Ad from 1971.
Is that Susan Dey Cybill Shepherd? And what’s that oddly eroticized blur in the foreground?

Okay, time to wrest the blog out of Erik’s hands. He’s gone crazy with the geek-boy subject matter of late. I’m going to bring this baby down to earth with a resounding thud. Let’s talk menstruation.

We’re writing a new book, as we may have mentioned. It’s a project book focused on making some of the basic necessities of life yourself, whether that be a compost pile, a bar of soap, or a breath mint. It’s almost done (thank mercy), but at this late date I’ve realized one subject we haven’t covered is The Ladies Only Subject. Periods do necessitate accouterments, and you can easily make cloth pads. I’ve made them and used them on and off for years. I think I sort of pulled a mental block on the subject for this book because I’ve had a number of “Ewwww, gross! That’s totally medieval!” conversations with other women about reusable pads. But our readers aren’t wusses like that, are you?

So I wanted to ask, do you think a cloth pad project should be in our book? Would it be useful? Or is it sort of done already, making it a ho-hum idea? Eco-minded women probably already know they have the option and are doing it, or not, according to their choice. Is it more obscure than I think? Is this something you’d like to see? Give me some feedback.

For those of you who haven’t thought of them, cloth pads are a great way to minimize your landfill contributions. If you make them yourself, you can save a lot of money, too. They also minimize the exposure of your delicate parts to plastics, bleach and those insidious gel crystals in the high tech pads. Cloth pads are surprisingly comfy and effective–at least I find them so.

Here’s a nice link to Ask Pauline with a pattern and instructions for making your own. As Pauline says, “Sometimes a lady finds herself a little short on cash. Better to spend what you have on good bread and good books.”

By the by, I’ve also discovered two charities which give cloth pads to African schoolgirls. It seems that some girls in Africa miss school for a few days every month because their families can’t afford to buy them disposable pads. Obviously this puts them behind in their studies and leads to high drop out rates, low self-esteem, and even sexual harassment. This a basic example of how simple things pile up into a big case of oppression. The aforementioned charities, Sister Hope and Huru, give girls a kit which includes a set of re-useable pads, panties and hygiene items and brochures on HIV-AIDS and other sex ed stuff. Huru is more slick and corporate sponsored, Sister Hope more home-spun. Huru supports pad manufacturing as a village industry in Africa, while Sister Hope collects donations here, and ships them over. Both will donate a kit to a girl in your name for small fee. I’ve not done lots of diligence on these charities, or given to either, yet, so proceed with all ordinary caution.

What’s the dirt on soap nuts?

Sapindus mukorossi fruits, image from Wikimedia Commons

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I’m trying to take a temperature reading on soap nuts. Have you used them? Did you like them? How do you use them–as laundry detergent, shampoo, soap? Do you use whole nuts or make a liquid? How long have you been using them? Do you find a big difference between brands?

If you could shoot me a comment, I’d really appreciate it.

On a more advanced level, I’m curious about their interactions with soil and compost, so if you have any thoughts on that, I’d love to hear them. I’m curious as to how they’re harvested, and if their growing popularity is impacting their local ecosystems.

If you’ve never heard of soap nuts, let me know that, too! I’m wondering where they sit in the general public awareness.

Soap nuts are saponin-rich fruits, usually of a tree called Sapindus mukorossi (though all Sapindus make soaping fruits), which can be used for laundry and other cleaning purposes. They’re usually sold only lightly processed: seeded and dried. A handful of these dried fruits, which look somewhat like small dates, are put into a cloth sack and thrown in with the laundry. The fruits release saponins, natural surfactants, which clean the clothes. Supposedly. I hear mixed things. I’m experimenting with Maggie’s Soap Nuts right now (and Erik is complaining about their…uh…rich organic smell…which doesn’t seem to linger after drying), but I’ve not used them long enough really judge how they work. The truth is, so much soap is embedded in the fibers of our clothing that you can wash the average garment a couple of times in nothing but water and it would still come out pretty clean. And, for better or worse, Erik and I don’t do that much wash. I feel like I need to adopt a Little League team or something to really test drive this stuff! So send your comments, or your ball teams, this way…

Mushrooms and Yard Sharing

Mr. Homegrown contemplates his many writing tasks.

Mr. Homegrown needs your help with two topics. First, for our second book, I’d like to talk to someone who has successfully grown oyster mushrooms from spawn. I’m looking for advice on preparing and inoculating the growing medium. I’m not looking for folks who have grown oyster mushrooms from kits which, in my humble opinion, are not cost effective. If anyone knows of well written step by step directions somewhere on the interwebs, please let me know, or better yet if you’ve done it yourself send me an email. And yes, there is Paul Stamets, but some psilocybin freak stole all his books out of the LA library.

Secondly, I’m writing another article for Urban Farm Magazine and I’d like to speak to anyone who has set up or been a part of a yard sharing program. You get extra points if you are in New Jersey or Philadelphia. I’m not looking for my fellow Californians, as there have been too many Golden State types in my previous articles.

Contact me at homegrownevolution(at)sbcglobal.net or leave a comment. Thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving, Now Go Buy Something

We’re kidding. Well, sort of. Hopefully you’ll negotiate a truce with your family today to forgo expensive and wasteful holiday gift giving. Like us, you probably are also heavy users of the public library. But just in case you need to find the right gift for the fanatical urban homesteader in your life we’ve opened a Homegrown Evolution Amazon Store which contains books and tools that we actually own and use around our humble compound. Purchases made through the store and even other items you click through to will help support this website.

A few items in I’d like to call attention to:

Novella Carpenter’s Farm City
Carpenter is a phenomenal writer and anyone who’s involved in the activities profiled on this blog will love this book. The concluding section, where Carpenter describes raising two enormous pigs in the ghetto is both amusing and profound.

John Jeavons How To Grow More Vegetables
It’s the vegetable gardening bible around here. Since we started using Jeavons’ methods this fall I’ve noticed a significant improvement in the health of our garden. The only book on vegetables you need to own.

Haws Watering Can
Jeavons turned me on to this. The can produces a gentle spray that is perfect for watering flats of seedlings. I can’t believe I lived without this thing. It’s expensive but worth it.

The Urban Homestead
And, of course, there’s our own book. If you order directly from us on the right side of this page, we make a few more pennies then when you buy on Amazon. But either way, pick up a copy for the whole family! Help keep our doberman in kibble!

Apron Contest Winner

Homegrown Neighbor here:


We have a winner for our apron giveaway. I received a lot of great entries. It was fun to hear what each of you would do in an apron. I’m happy to say that we have a lot of interesting, witty and crafty readers. I even received some international entries. I wish we could give you all aprons.

But Katie Presley made me laugh, so I had to choose her as our winner. Lots of people cook and craft, but Katie cooks and crafts with an irreverent and sassy sense of humor. My kind of girl.

Her entry was rather long, so I’ll just give you the highlights. She said she would first roll around on the floor and wrap herself up in the apron like a “sexy burrito.”

She cooks, of course. She even makes her own recipe books of tasty treats. In addition to cooking she notes, I am also in printmaking, so this apron can come with me to my art classes to make the bindings for the recipe book for the recipes that Apron and I were JUST working on! It is an artistic, apron-centric circle of life.”

Congrats, Katie.

I’ve got a batch on jam on the stove, so I’d better finish this post and get to canning. I’m putting on my apron now….the jam is peaches with ginger, zero white sugar, a little maple syrup and unripe apples pieces for pectin. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Handmade, Homegrown Apron Contest

Homegrown Evolution reader Pam Neuendorf has offered fellow readers a chance to win one of her handmade aprons. She sells her wares through Etsy, a website where crafters and artisans can sell their goods. You can see more of her aprons here. She has an ordinary day job but is a maven of craft by night. Pam says, “I love making aprons. They make me happy.” I am a big fan of aprons. They are useful for cooking, gardening or just looking darn cute. I am also a big supporter of all things handmade. So I love this handcrafted apron.

I also hope our readers will appreciate this reminiscence of mine. -When I was in college I lived in a house with a lot of people. There were about 50 of us and we took turns cooking and cleaning. Every Friday we celebrated ‘Naked Pizza Fridays.’ Only the men would cook on Fridays. They would wear aprons and nothing else. Just the apron. Oh, the good old college days. Perhaps this is why I see aprons as slightly subversive and rather sexy.

Dear readers, if you would like to have this apron, send me an email and tell me what activity you would use your apron for. I want to hear about your hobbies and how this apron would help your creative energies. I will pick a winner by Sunday night. Send your entries to [email protected].

Keeping it Local

A depression ear local currency

The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating article, Cash-Strapped California’s IOUs: Just the Latest Sub for Dollars on the history of IOUs and local currencies. It seems that Depression 1.0 spurred quite a few improvised currencies, including the “Minneapolis Sauerkraut Note”, for a good reason. Just as today, a lot of people want the rewards for our labor tied to tangibles rather than monetizing it and sending it off to Wall Street’s abstract financial casino. Mutual fund or sauerkraut? I’ll take the kraut, please.



Several years ago I attempted to float the “Edendale Dinar” in our annual Christmas mailing. The front depicted a common scene here in Los Angeles, an abandoned mattress (could old mattresses be the new gold standard?). The back showed where you could spend one of your Dinars: at your local taco wagon. The Edendale Dinar failed to catch on, spoiling my fantasy of becoming a ghetto Ben Bernanke with the power to manipulate the carne asada rate.

Writer Douglas Rushkoff has been talking a lot about local economies in his new book, Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back and on his radio show The Media Squat. One of the topics Rushkoff mentions often is time banking, an alternative to currency and bartering where hours are exchanged instead of money or goods. I’ve joined up with our local Echo Park Time Bank and in the past month have moved a heavy tree sculpture, had my portrait taken and unsuccessfully attempted to unclog a tub. Not only did I participate in useful activities (except for the botched tub snaking), but I got to connect with some great folks. If you don’t have a time bank near you you can start one via timebanks.org.

Now that I’ve switched to time banking, Goldman Sachs has kindly agreed to take all my extra Edendale Dinars.

July Linkages

Mrs. Homegrown seen creating a “hyperlink” in between gardening and food preservation duties.

Over at Small Measure, author Ashley English is hosting a contest and giving away a jar of “lip-smacking Peach & Lavender Butter” to promote her upcoming series of homesteading books. Look for a new contest each month. English’s “Canning & Preserving”, published by Lark Books, will be available April 2010. The third and fourth books in the series, “Home Dairy” and “Beekeeping”, will be available in April 2011. Hopefully we’ll be having English on our new Homegrown Evolution Podcast that will debut when we can get our computer, seen above, to record audio.

A few blog posts ago we answered a question about soil testing. Visiting journalist Michael Tortorello tipped us off to the University of Minnesota’s Soil Testing Laboratory that will test out of state samples for their regular (low) fee. Their submission forms are located here. Also, readers of this blog will enjoy Tortorello’s articles, especially “The Return of the Root Cellar”.

Community building is something we consider essential for this, as of now, no-named movement. And yet, it seems we are better at meeting online than in person. Danah Boyd has an interesting article, “Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.” (26 page pdf) about why kids flock to social networking sites. Hint: they don’t have anywhere else to meet.

Lastly, nothing says DIY like prison improvised escape tools.