024 Water, Wilding our Gardens and Sewing

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Kelly and I return this week to discuss a recent talk I gave to a bunch of Master Gardeners about water harvesting and encouraging wildness in our gardens. On the second part of the podcast Kelly discusses the process of learning how to sew. During the first part of the podcast Erik mentions:

In the sewing portion of the podcast, Kelly talks about:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Introducing the People Washer

peoplewasher 1 Another gem from the June 1977 issue of The Futurist, an excerpt from Stephen Rosen’s book Future Facts: The way things are going to work in the future of technology, science, medicine and life (available for a penny on Amazon!).

Egg-shaped “People Washer” is an ultrasonic bath developed by the Sanyo Electric Company of Japan. The machine showers and bathes the body, cleans the skin, massages the muscles, and dries the person off.

To take a bath, the bather selects the water temperature, climbs inside the egg, and starts the machine. The machine first gives the bather a warm shower, then begins ultrasonic washing with bubbly warm water. Then the bath fills with warm water to a set level, at which point the water intake automatically shuts off and the hot water begins to whirl, cleaning the body even more thoroughly. While the water whirls, small rubber balls float around in the water, massage the skin, and relax the muscles. After seven minutes of washing and rubber-ball massage, the bath water drains from the sphere and the body is reshowered for two minutes. The shower and the ultrasonic waves cease and the water is drained out. Finally there is a dry cycle during which low moisture air circulates through the chamber. The entire cycle takes 15 minutes.

As crazy as this sounds, it looks like a version of it actually got made for taking care of elderly folks.

Councilmen Want to Astroturf Los Angeles and Turn it Into a Big Minigolf Course

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Los Angeles’ political leaders have a tendency to say the right things and get all the details wrong. Offering homeowners rebates to replace water hungry lawns is a good idea. Letting them use those rebates to put artificial turf in the parkway (see council motion 14-1197–introduced by councilpersons Blumenfield and O’Farrell) is not ecologically responsible.

I disagree with a recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times, about giving rebates for artificial turf. It’s time for all of us in this dry Mediterranean climate to go beyond the lawn and bad topiary paradigm. Yes, we need to reduce irrigation, but we also need to create landscapes beneficial to all life: to insects, mammals, reptiles and human beings. And we need beauty. Gardens are both ecological and spiritual. If the author of the Times editorial needs a good example of what’s possible, I’d suggest visiting the new garden surrounding the Natural History Museum.

Artificial turf has a place on athletic fields and put-put golf courses. It does not belong in residential landscapes, especially in the parkway.

Thanks to Travis Longcore, science director for the Urban Wildlands Group, for tipping me off to this situation.

017 Heirloom Expo Recap

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On the seventeenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss Erik’s recent trip to the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, California. Some of the things and people we mention during the podcast:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

How to do fewer dishes and save water

telephone and glass of water

Erik’s outdoor office and his special glass.

This is just a little thing which we’ve started doing recently, but I really like it. Erik and I now have assigned water glasses and coffee mugs to use throughout the day. By reusing these glasses and mugs, we’ve really cut down on the amount of washing we do, and also save water, which is becoming increasingly critical in our never-ending drought.

We have very little cabinet space, so over the years I’d honed our glasses and cups to identical sets which stack neatly. This is great in terms of saving space, but the downside was that we never could tell one glass or mug from another, and so tended to just grab a fresh one whenever we needed a drink.  (As if we are going to catch cooties from each other!)

As a result, by the end of the day we’d have a ridiculous number of cups and glasses littering the house, considering there’s only the two of us. To remedy this, recently we each chose a unique glass and mug at the thrift store, and now use only these throughout the day. Basically, we’ve brought classic office practice into our home office.

This is one of those ideas which seems like a no-brainer, but which can easily not happen at all. I’m glad we’re doing it now.

I’m working on the same thing with plates. I have a wooden bowl which I use for most everything, but Erik is distrustful of wooden bowls–apparently he thinks they hold bacteria, since I don’t wash them with soap. I think he also finds them disturbingly hobbit-ish. So, for now, there are still multiple plates to wash. Maybe one day I’ll seduce him into Hobbiton and whittle his cutlery down to a wooden bowl, a big spoon, and a pewter mug. But in the meanwhile, we’re doing less dishes overall, and that is, and the high priestess of domesticity likes to say, A Good Thing.

Adobe in Action Interior and Exterior Plastering Online Course Begins on Monday, Sept. 1st

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Adobe master Kurt Gardella, the man behind our backyard oven, is teaching an online adobe plastering class. Here’s the 411:

Dear adobe friends,

The next online class I am teaching for Adobe in ActionInterior and Exterior Plastering – begins on Monday, September 1, 2014. Earthen plasters are a great way to finish just about any wall substrate in the home. They create a soft, breathable final plaster layer which regulates humidity, odors and sounds like no other wall finish can. Plastering is a great way to get a feeling for building with earthen materials because the thin plaster surfaces give us direct and immediate feedback on how well we’ve selected and mixed our clay and aggregate materials. Also, you can practice your earthen plastering skills over existing conventional walls if you wish. We’ll show you how!

Here is the direct registration link if you are interested in joining us:

http://adobeinaction.bigcartel.com/product/interior-and-exterior-plastering-8-week-online-class-from-september-1-to-october-26-2014

And here is some info about topics covered in the class:

About the Course

This course covers the fundamentals of finishing interior and exterior adobe brick walls with natural plasters and paints. Our hands-on projects for this course focus on the mixing and application of earthen plasters, lime plasters and lime/casein paints.

Topic Overview

  • historical overview of interior and exterior finishes for adobe structures in New Mexico
  • importance of respiratory and eye safety when preparing and mixing plasters
  • overview of mud plaster characteristics and why earthen plasters make sense on adobe walls
  • summary of tools and materials needed for plastering
  • window and door opening reinforcement using reed mat
  • adobe wall preparation for maximum earthen plaster adhesion
  • locating and testing clay for earthen plasters
  • locating and testing aggregates for earthen plasters and lime plasters
  • preparing lime putty 10 importance of work site and material organization for plaster work
  • fiber (straw) preparation and chopping techniques
  • sifting & preparing & mixing soil and aggregates for earthen plasters
  • wheat paste production for strengthening mud plasters
  • casein production for lime paints
  • natural exterior earthen plaster stabilization techniques (lime, cactus juice)
  • hand application techniques of earthen plasters (base coats, patching)
  • hawk & trowel application of earthen and lime plasters (leveling and finish coats)
  • basic earthen plaster ingredients and recipes
  • basic lime plaster ingredients and recipes
  • calculating surface area to be finished and materials needed
  • troubleshooting earthen and lime plasters (cracking, adhesion problems, etc.)

Let me know if you have any questions. It would be great if you joined us for this next class!

Best,
Kurt Gardella
www.kurtgardella.com

P.S. For more information about how Adobe in Action’s online classes work see:
http://www.adobeinaction.org/how-the-online-classes-work/

A More Graceful Dome

Image: Adobe Alliance.

Image: Adobe Alliance.

Kurt Gardella, the gifted adobe builder and instructor who built our backyard earth oven, left a comment on our geodesic dome post pointing out that earth is a better material for dome building.

The problem with wooden domes is that plywood and other sheet-based building materials, in the US, come in 4 by 8 foot sections. You end up wasting a lot of wood to make a dome. Building with earth solves this problem.

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It’s also beautiful. Earth building offers the opportunity to do more graceful forms than can be accomplished with sheets of plywood. The example Kurt linked to is a house built by Simone Swan. You can see more photos of Swan’s house at the Adobe Alliance.

Artificial Turf: Is It Ever a Good Idea?

Monsanto Astroturf ad

Another winning product from the folks at Monsanto.

In the midst of a drought, our local Department of Water and Power is offering a $3 a square foot rebate for residents and businesses who remove their lawn in favor of less water hungry plantings. Those dollars add up if you’ve got even a modest sized backyard.

But the devil is always in the details. While the LADWP has some very good information on lawn alternatives as well as training classes on water wise landscaping, why did they have to include “non-vegetative groundcover” a.k.a. artificial turf in the rebate program? And why did they landscape one of their own facilities with the stuff?

In this interest of keeping an open mind, I tried to think of circumstances in which artificial turf might be a good option. Maybe if it were used ironically? But I don’t really think its use can be justified. Why?

  • It’s a petrochemical product.
  • It will eventually break down and end up in a landfill or the  ocean.
  • There’s no wildlife benefit.

Practically speaking, it also gets really hot on a summer day and you’ve got to hose it down with water just to step on it. And if you have pets, it’s not easy to clean up after them on artificial turf.

And while we don’t have kids, I don’t buy the argument that kids need grass. I think kids would enjoy a garden that’s lush and a bit of a maze with places to play hide and seek. Same goes for dogs, really. They’re hard on grass, and do better with mulch. Kids and dogs and grownups as well enjoy the wildlife and rich scents brought in by diverse plant life.

As far as athletics are concerned, while there’s considerable debate on the subject, some studies have shown that sports injury rates are higher on artificial turf.

In short, I don’t think there’s an application for this stuff. And we certainly don’t need our government to incentivize it.

And just FYI, Monsanto developed AstroTurf.

Can our landscapes model a vibrant future? Not according to the LA DWP.

dwp landscaping

California is suffering from drought. In Los Angeles, we’ve experienced back to back two of the driest winters on record (winter is our rainy season). Last year’s rainfall total was under 6 inches. The governor has asked California residents to cut their water use by 20%.  Apparently, we’ve only managed to cut it by 5%.

There’s a strange sense of unreality about the drought. I think that’s because we’re just not feeling it in the cities. Our water is cheap, the taps are running, food prices aren’t terribly affected– yet.  So we keep washing our cars and hosing off the sidewalks and topping off our swimming pools and, of course, we water our lawns.

Lawns are a big liability in this region. I think they may not be such a crime in milder, wetter places where they grow happily (though there’s no getting around the fact that they are a sterile monoculture, not helpful to wildlife). But turf has no business whatsoever in the American southwest. It just doesn’t want to grow in this climate–which is why it’s always doing its level best to die. Here, our lawns live on life support.

There has been some movement toward lawn-free yards in the past several years, but the movement seems stalled. I’d expect to see more lawns being ripped out recently due to the drought, but I haven’t seen much activity in that direction, despite the fact the Department of Water and Power will actually pay Angelinos to remove their turf.

We hold onto our lawns, I think, because it is so hard to think beyond the lawn.

The average property owner is not a landscaper, nor a plant expert, and they have lots of other things to think about. The default setting of a lawn plus a few shrubs up around the house foundation takes no thought, causes no problems with the neighbors and is easily maintained by inexpensive gardening services. What’s not to love, really? And why not hold on to our lawns, because the drought will pass and we’ll be back to normal.

Asking people to re-imagine their yards is asking a lot. Yet it may be vital.

This drought may not end. Los Angeles and all of the southwest are looking at a hotter, drier present and future due to climate change. And regardless of water availability it would be a great service to nature, to our embattled birds and bees and small critters, to make our yards beautiful, changeable, welcoming sanctuaries. It would also be a gift to our own souls. Yards can be healing spaces.

To re-imagine our yards, we need to see examples of yards which work on a different paradigm, and we need to see so many of them that they become part of our shared visual vocabulary.

dwp landscaping

Sorry about the dim photo–the sun was setting–but I think it gives the general idea.

This brings me to the new landscaping at our local Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LA DWP) distributing station. I believe it used to have a typical sickly lawn in front of it, but last time I was in the neighborhood I saw it had been rejiggered to be a low water use landscape. And that’s good…really…a great idea, guys.  But…

The new landscape is mostly artificial turf, with a few swathes of D.G. and a strip of purple gravel mulch running along the foundation, and that gravel is studded with strangely trampled looking agave-ish plants, and a couple of random bougainvillea.

What goes on here? What is in your head, DWP? And how much did you pay for this redesign?

The artificial turf is particularly insidious because it seems to be a placeholder for better days when we can all go back to watering our lawns into emerald brilliance. We need to say goodbye to the lawn for good, write it off like a bad boyfriend.

And the purple gravel… I just don’t know what to say.

Note that the design consists of a lawn and foundation plantings. It’s the same old uninspired model, repeated on the institutional scale.

I suspect this landscaping will have some fans because it is “tidy” and “low maintenance.” True. It is also devoid of life and actively hostile to nature. Landscapes speak. This one denies our relationship with the natural world and declares any actual engagement with nature to be too much trouble. No doubt they’d replace those sickly plants with synthetics if they didn’t suspect they’d all get stolen in the night.

This is not the kind of model we need, DWP.

Next time you change up your landscaping, consider consulting one or more of the many brilliant plant people and designers in this city. Call us if you need numbers.

Consider using permeable surfaces and contoured landscaping to capture every drop of our rare rainfall and send it down to the thirsty soil. Show us how to use native and Mediterranean plants to make lush landscapes that call in the pollinators. Help us create landscapes we want to walk through and live in. Model this kind of smart landscaping for us, please.

Water-wise and ugly do not have to be synonymous.

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Some of the views remind me of something that might appear in an LA art installation. Which, all in all, is not praise.

Induced Demand

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Image: Wikipedia.

I was on the phone the other day having a conversation about greywater with a person enrolled in an entrepreneurial program. She asked me an excellent question: did having a greywater system cause me to use more water?

She was alluding to a concept known as induced demand. In other words, when you have more of something you use more. Buy a hybrid car and you end up driving more miles since you don’t pay as much for gas. Build a four lane highway instead of a two lane one and so many more people end up driving that you end up with worse gridlock.

I’d never thought of induced demand when it comes to greywater, but it’s a good point. Did I plant more fruit trees because I had a greywater system? Has this caused more water consumption in our current drought? Honestly, I think the answer is yes.

You could probably find induced demand between the lines of David Homgren’s permaculture principles. But perhaps we should insert a thirteenth principle: acknowledge induced demand and work to prevent it. Simply being aware of the phenomenon is a good first step in avoiding its pitfalls.

My original greywater system consisted of a tank and a hose to drag around to a bunch of trees. I’ve since simplified the system. It’s now just a pipe leading from the laundry machine to one tree that needs just about as much water as we do in laundry each week. My second system is more of a 1:1 match between the waste water and the demands of the landscape.

Have you encountered induced demand on your homesteading path? If so where and how?