Gingerbread Geodesic Dome


Scout Regalia Reel 02: Gingerbread Geodesic Dome from Scout Regalia on Vimeo.

Now you can bake your own version of Drop City without getting “baked” yourself! Some local designers, Scout Regalia, have cooked up a gingerbread geodesic dome and offer a kit for making one.

Now when it comes to geodesic domes as shelter I’m with former dome builder Lloyd Kahn who concluded that “Domes weren’t practical, economical or aesthetically tolerable.”

But when it comes to gingerbread domes, I’m all for it!

Via the Eastsider.

Three Power Tools Every Urban Homesteader Should Own

On nearly all the work I’ve done on our house, everything from chicken coops to wood floors I’ve used just three power tools:

  • corded drill
  • circular saw
  • sabre sawjig saw

While I also own a router, a miter saw, a sander and a few other miscellaneous power tools, the three tools above I consider essential. Even if you don’t own a house, but would like to build some furniture or help a friend or relative with a repair project, this great triumvirate of tools will get you through 99% of all jobs. For that 1% of problems that require an exotic tool, you can rent one.

I prefer corded tools as I hate it when a battery dies in the middle of a day’s work and corded tools have more power. That being said, there are a few times when I wish I had a battery powered drill. I’d also recommend spending a little extra to get high quality models of these three tools. They’ve all lasted 10+ years of heavy use.

I’ve got a non-powered backup for each of these tools, with the exception of the drill. Sometime before that that zombie Apocalypse/Mayan 2012 meltdown thing happens, I’d love to learn how to use hand tools. But in the meantime, I’ll stick with electricity.

Michael Reynold’s Beer Can Houses

Construction of One of Three Experimental Houses Built from Empty Beer and Soft Drink Cans.

The National Archive just put thousands of 1970s era images from the Environmental Protection Agency online. One of the photographers working for the EPA, David Hiser, captured New Mexico architect Michael Reynolds building houses out of adobe and aluminum cans. See a selection of these photos after the jump . . .

Detail of a Wall in an Experimental Home Built of Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Cans near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Detail of a wall in an experimental home built of aluminum beer and soft drink cans near Taos, New Mexico. for this wall the cans were laid horizontally in two thicknesses which are separated by a vertical sheet of foam insulation. The exterior will be a combination of glass, exposed can ends and unpainted concrete. Unskilled labor and the cheapness of materials will allow the structure to be built as much as 20% less than conventional housing.”

Exterior of an Experimental All Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Can House Under Construction near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Exterior of an experimental all aluminum beer and soft drink can house under construction near Taos, New Mexico. This shot was taken two months after the foundation was laid. the wood forms on the top will be used to pour concrete beams.”

Interior View of the All Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Can Experimental House near Taos, New Mexico.

Interior view of the all aluminum beer and soft drink can experimental house near Taos, New Mexico. the owners report the house seems to work well so far and gives the feeling of being very solid. the south facing windows capture heat from the sun, a good feature because the winters of the southwest are severe.”

Bottle Window in the Entranceway to an Experimental Home Built with Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Cans near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Bottle window in the entranceway to an experimental home
built with empty steel beer and soft drink cans near Taos, New Mexico. the ends
of the cans used in a non-load bearing wall are seen around the window.”

Another Experimental House Made of Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Can Construction near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Another experimental house made of empty steel beer and soft drink can construction near Taos, New Mexico. This house will be plastered with adobe like the other homes in the area, but will have cost up to 20% less, according to architect Michael Reynolds”

A View of the Experimental House Made of Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Cans after Completion with Adobe Exterior.

The same house, above, with an exterior coat of adobe.

Lawyer Steve Natelson, Who Lives near Taos, New Mexico Relaxes on the Bed of His Experimental Home Built of Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Cans.

Caption: “Lawyer Steve Natelson, who lives near Taos, New Mexico, relaxes on the bed of his experimental home built of empty steel beer and soft drink cans. On the wall is a mural of cans left exposed. It was the first such house built by the architect Michael Reynolds who believes this type of housing can be built for as much as 20% less than the conventional method. The Federal Housing Administration has shown interest in issuing loans on this type of housing. The cost is $25,000 to $30,000 for a two-bedroom home.”

See more of David Hiser’s photos of New Mexico here.

For more about this EPA photo collection read an article in the Atlantic, “Documerica Images of America in Crisis in the 1970s“.

Earthquake Proofing the Pantry

So I finally got around to earthquake proofing the pantry. All it took was a bunch of four foot bungee cords which seemed to have just about the right amount of stretch to span our seven foot shelves. You could probably use the same four foot bungee cords to span an even longer shelf. I used eye hooks to anchor the ends of the cords.

Looking at the picture, the height of the cords on some of the shelves might not be optimal (looks like some of the jars could slip under in a good shaking). But, all in all, I’m pleased with the results.

Testing the Lead Testers

Varian ICP-MS from Wikipedia

Dear readers,

Excuses for a technical post here, but we need your scientific expertise. If you have experience in soil laboratory testing techniques, or know someone who does, please send us an email at [email protected] or leave a comment. We’re attempting to reconcile slightly different lead results from three different labs and I’d like to be able to write about soil testing methods. Two of the labs we sent samples off to (UMass and Timberleaf Soil Testing) use inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP) to test for lead. Wallace labs uses an extractant, AB-DTPA (ammonium bicarbonate Diethylene Triamine Pentaacetic acid).

Here’s how Wallace described their lead testing techinique,

We use AB-DTPA (ammonium bicarbonate Diethylene Triamine Pentaacetic acid).

It is a gentle extractant and it mimics roots in extracting minerals from the soil. Most often environmental tests are made with boiling acids which are more aggressive than roots. The AB-DTPA method is a standard testing method of the Soil Science Society of America. It is called the universal extractant. It measures the bioavailable or plant available minerals which is expected to be adsorbed by plants. Most of the background heavy metals are occluded and are unavailable to plants. Our testing does not see the occluded metals.

Total lead is approximately 10 times higher than our AB-DTPA measured lead. We recommend that AB-DTPA lead be less than 30 parts per million for home production of edible produce.

UMass says,

We use a modified Morgan solution (dilute glacial acetic acid and ammonium hydroxide) to measure extractable lead (using ICP).  Total Estimated Lead is calculated using a correlation established during a study performed here at UMass that compared total digestion levels to extractable levels using 300-400 soils.

I divided one soil sample into three parts and sent a portion to three labs. While all three labs indicated the presence of above natural levels of lead, there were enough differences between the tests to warrant a closer look at the techniques. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated and we’ll share what we find out.

Food Preservation Resources

Due to a popular post on making prickly pear jelly, we get a lot of emails asking for advice on canning. So I thought I’d list three favorite food preservation resources.

I like to go to respected sources when canning for reasons of both safety and reliability. While botulism is fairly rare, it’s a highly unpleasant way to pass this vale of tears. But beyond the safety issue, if I’m going to go through the work of canning, I want to know that the recipe is going to work. There are few things more frustrating than a big batch of jam or jelly that doesn’t set. Yes, you can call it “syrup” but it’s still a big blow to the ego. 

My three favorite resources are the National Center for Home Food Preservation which has recipes for all kinds of food from fruit to meat, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and Ball’s website. All of the recipes in these two websites and book follow USDA guidelines.

The reason I came up with a prickly pear recipe is that I couldn’t find any other ones that worked. But if I were canning something like, say, peaches I’d go with one of the above authorities. If you have a favorite food preservation resource leave a comment.

Cat allergies, cat hearts, cat cuteness: an update on all things cats.

Many apologies to people who don’t come here to hear about the cats.
This won’t take long.

I just wanted to give two quick updates. The first is to let you all know that Phoebe is doing amazingly well despite having an insanely malformed heart. The meds have perked her up, so she and Trout are playing all the time. To look at her you’d never think anything was wrong. So thank you so much for all  your supportive thoughts and let’s hope she stays with us a good while.

The second update is on allergies. I’ve posted about this before. When we got Phoebe I was technically allergic to cats, but I decided to push on through that little impediment, powered by the twin engines of Denial and Will, just as I’d done when we got our dog. It worked.

Then Trout came into our lives. I hoped that I’d get a pass on the allergies, as I’d already adjusted to Phoebe. But instead I had to start all over fresh with him. And it was worse this time around. Not least because Trout is super affectionate and is always, quite literally, in my face. (He kisses!)

I worried that I might have overloaded my system beyond all tolerance, but guess what? The symptoms have been gone for almost a month now, long enough for me to declare victory over pet allergies–my third victory so far.

The secret? Pig-headedness. Willingness to be constantly snotty. Absolute faith in mind over matter. I took nothing for relief, nothing at all. Not even nettle tea this time, because I was out of nettles. I think it’s important not to have a crutch, to force your body to work through it. The whole process took about three months.

I realize that there are people with worse allergies than mine, and I don’t mean to underplay anybody else’s experiences. I’m sure some allergies are so severe that they can’t be ignored. But I’m intrigued that this works, for me as well as for others I’ve heard from, and just wanted to say that it is possible to break free.