Meet the Gophinator

The Gophinator

Thankfully, we don’t have gophers, but dealing with them is one of the first questions we get when teaching vegetable gardening classes.  You can use raised beds lined with hardware cloth. But, other than target practice (a no-no in urban areas), most people I know with gopher problems end up using traps or zealous cats.

Several sources have told me about the Cadillac of gopher traps, the aptly named “Gophinator”. Scott Kleinrock of the Huntington Ranch is one of those Gophinator fans, who stressed avoiding the cheap traps available at big box stores. The Gophinator is sturdy, easy to set and made out of stainless steel that lasts much longer than cheaper traps.

To use it you need to dig around and find the main subway line the gophers ride. Scott hooks up a wire and a stake to the traps to remember where they are placed.

The Gophinator is manufactured by Trapline products and you can order one and view some instructional videos here.

How do you deal with gophers? Leave some comments!

Urban Homesteading Thing Catching On

I have a Google alert set up for the phrase “urban homestead”. Lately I’ve noticed more real estate and apartment listings using this phrase. Our neighbors Anne and Bill even used it to rent out their duplex. A rental listing that includes the photos in this post came from a real estate concern renting out an apartment in Edmonton, Canada. For $1,600 Canadian dollars a month you get:

  •  hot water on demand system. 
  • sunroom has a high efficiency wood burning fireplace that helps keep house warm and cozy in the winter.
  • fenced back yard is an urban oasis with three apple trees, three plum trees, eight choke cherry bushes, a grape vine, covered deck, and enclosed fire pit with a private seating area. A perennial flower garden lines the path to the front yard. Three rain barrels provide ample water for large vegetable and flower gardens.
  • get to know your neighbours at the nearby community hall and rink. The hall holds a variety of children, youth, and adult-focussed classes, programs, and events, such as free dog training; playgroups; skating, yoga, and dance classes; children’s Halloween and Christmas parties; community bbqs; collective kitchen; and more! 
  • trained dogs welcome; absolutely no cats.

Other than that last bit (Dogs but not cats? Someone please explain the logic.) I’m happy to see fruit trees, rain barrels and community activities listed as an asset. Maybe that common sense thing is catching on.

The Whip: A Homemade Moisturizer How-To from Making It


This 2011 post has been edited on 7/8/14, also to include new tips and new pictures. Most important of these are directions on keeping the lotion fresh.

Confession: I can’t live without my homemade moisturizer.

This recipe appears in Making It as Olive Oil Whip. It’s my everyday body lotion/face cream and I figured it was about time to share it with you. It only has three ingredients. It’s safe and wholesome and very effective. It’s so basic and natural that you could eat it!

You might find it heavier than what you’re used to, because it doesn’t contain all the chemicals that the store-bought stuff employs to make it absorb fast into your skin (see the Skin Deep database for the scoop on what’s in your favorite moisturizer). But I promise you that if you use it for a couple of days you’ll get used to the difference–and then you’ll get hooked on the results. My skin has never been so happy as it has since I started using this stuff, and I’m saving tons of money. I will never go back. I don’t even like the way commercial moisturizers feel on my skin anymore.

The Whip


1/2 cup (125 ml) olive oil

2 tablespoons (.5 oz / 14 g)  of cosmetic grade beeswax, either in bead form or grated and packed into the spoons. (You can use vegan waxes instead)

1 cup (250 ml) of 90°F (32°C) water, distilled is best.

Essential oil of your choice for scent, about 10-20 drops, optional

(Notes on ingredients at the end)


You need a double boiler. An improvised double boiler would be a heatproof bowl balanced over a saucepan. I settle a Pyrex (i.e. heat proof) measuring cup in a small saucepan, which is more like a pseudo double boiler, but works for this. If you don’t have a Pyrex cup, you could also put a canning jar in the saucepan.

You will also need a stick blender. It is possible to do this with a countertop blender, but the stick blender works better and cleans up faster. And in case you’re wondering, no, you cannot make this recipe by stirring really fast. So when the zombies come and the power goes out, we’ll have to beat back our wrinkles with salves–most likely salves rendered from raccoon fat.

A kitchen thermometer. I did not use a thermometer when I started making this lotion, but I’ve been much more successful at it since I started using one regularly.

Very clean, preferably sterilized, jars to store your lotion in. This recipe makes anywhere from 1 to 1 1/2 cups. I recommend storing your lotion in several small jars instead of one big one, and we’ll talk about that later on.


This recipe is verbose, but the actual making of the lotion takes all of 10 minutes. It’s really very simple once you have the details down: melt wax into oil, blend oil with water, pour into jars.


The Procedure

I am going to describe my method for making this. It’s not the only way–you can tinker around to make it work for the equipment you have. I like to do everything in one vessel–in this case, a 2 cup, heat-proof liquid measuring cup.

Melt the wax:

Put all the olive oil into the 2 cup Pyrex (or in the top of your double boiler setup) and add the wax. Place the measuring cup in a small saucepan about half full of water. Heat over gently simmering water, stirring occasionally. until the wax melts and vanishes into the oil. Beeswax melts at about 160°F (71°C).


Pay attention to temperature:

Temperature is very important for the success of this recipe: the temperature of the water, and the temperature of the oil and wax mixture. The wax melts into the oil at about 160°F, as I said. Anywhere between 160°F and 170°F is a good place to be before you go on to the next step.

If you don’t have a thermometer, you know that you’ve hit 160°F when the wax melts, so if you start blending as soon as that happens, you will be at the right temperature. Just don’t super-heat the mix, or let it cool.

Prepare the water:

While the wax is melting, get your water ready to go. I always put my 1 cup of water into a liquid measuring cup, for ease of pouring.

The water needs to be at about 90°F (32°C). I bring the water to this temperature by adding a splash of boiling water to most of a cup of room temperature water, then checking the temp, adding hot or cold water as necessary to get into the 90° range.  90°, 92°, 95° — somewhere in there. It doesn’t have to be exactly 90°

If you don’t have a thermometer, you will have to guess. The water should not feel warm, but it should not feel cold, either. You’re shooting for tepid. This is hard, because how “tepid” feels to you is going to have a lot to do with the temperature of the air, and how cold your hands are… I’ll just say a thermometer is a handy little piece of kitchen equipment.


Get your other stuff together:

If you’re going to use essential oils to add scent to your lotion, make sure you’ve got them on hand in your work area.

Also put your clean jars in the work area.

Prepare the blender:

Get your stick blender ready to go. It helps clean-up if you preheat the head of the stick blender in a cup of hot water before you use it. If you use it cold, the wax in the oil mixture solidifies prematurely when the cold head touches it. It’s not a disaster, just a little harder to clean up.

If you are going to use a countertop blender, put a cup or two of very hot water in the blender as well, to preheat the jar and the blades so similar sticking doesn’t happen. In this case, it’s an essential step, because there’s so much cold surface area to the blender, you can end up with lots of little chunks of wax in your lotion.

The next steps happen quickly:

Add the essential oil to the wax/oil mix

Stir in your essential oil(s), if using, 10-20 drops or to taste.  Be quick about it.


Add the water and whirl!

Still moving briskly, take the oil/wax mixture off the stove and move it to where you’re doing your blending. Don’t burn your hand on the Pyrex handle, if you’re using my method.

Put the head of your stick blender into the hot oil and start it whirrrrrring. Soon as its going, pour in all the water in a fast steady stream, and keep blending until the lotion comes together. If you’re using a counter top blender, pour out the preheating water, pour in the oil, start the motor and pour in the water.

You’ll see that lotion-like substance form almost instantly. It’s very thick and shiny, like marshmallow cream, so you’ll have to bounce the stick blender around a bit to make sure it’s all getting mixed. With a countertop blender you’ll have to start and stop it and poke at it with a rubber spatula.

The biggest trick with this stuff is getting the water mixed in. We are not using any chemical emulsifiers, which would bind the water and oil together. We’re sort of uniting them by force of will and our cock-eyed idealism. It doesn’t always go smoothly. Ideally you can get all of that 1 cup of water to incorporate in a few seconds. But sometimes it just doesn’t want to mix in. Don’t overmix the lotion trying to force the issue, or the texture will be off. This is a very fast process.


If after a few seconds you see that you have a lot of stuff which looks like lotion in your jar, but that there’s also pockets of water in there, and the water doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere, just pause and pour the excess water off. Give the lotion another short whirl to bring up any more water that might be lurking at the bottom and pour that off as well, then call it done.

Note: You certainly may make this recipe with 1/2 cup of water instead of 1 cup–intentionally. The result is a thicker, heavier cream which is really good for harsh weather and outdoor sports, or just those times when your skin is extra dry and itchy. It also makes a good make-up remover/cleansing cream. Basically, the more water, the lighter the moisturizer, the less, the heavier. It’s all good. If you use no water at all, you’ve made a salve–and that’s good too!

Scoop the cream into jars:

While the cream is hot, transfer it to your prepared jars.  Let the jars cool a bit, and then cap them.



I have two words for you: baking soda. It’s hard to get this stuff off your tools, and you don’t want wax down your pipes. Rub with lots of baking soda, which will pick up the grease, and dump the baking soda clumps in the trash. Lots of soap and boiling hot water rinses help with the rest of the residue.

I don’t know if this is TMI, but this is the first stage of my clean-up process: I always plan to shower right after I make this, so I can take my lotion-covered cups and spoons into the bathroom and scrape out every last bit of lotion and slather myself from head to toe. Waste not, want not!

A safety note:

This recipe contains no preservatives. Any time you mix oil and water together, you run the risk of bacteria moving in and setting up house. I make this moisturizer because I want a simple product with no fishy ingredients, so I don’t want to add preservatives. I’ve never had any problems at all after years of heavy use of this recipe, nor have my friends or teachers who use it, as well, but technically it’s “unsafe” because it does not have preservatives in it. But you know, driving a car is very unsafe, but I still do it.vWith the lotion, I’ve decided the risk is very low compared to the rewards.

This is my choice–your choice may be different. If you want to use preservatives, Google will lead you to preservatives sold for home crafters. Alternatively, you could look into making skin care products with no water in them, like body butters.

All that said, you can minimize risk through a few simple precautions:

First, prepare the lotion in a clean environment, with clean tools and clean hands. If you have a dishwasher, send all your jars and tools through the sterilize cycle. Wipe down your counter with the strongest disinfectant you are willing to use, be that bleach, alcohol or vinegar, before you start working.

Second, the best way to keep the moisturizer clean is to use it fast, to stay ahead of bacterial growth. I go through a batch a month or less, because I use it all over my body. Think of it as a perishable food product, like a tub of hummus. This might seem strange at first, because we’re used to cosmetics which seem to have an unlimited shelf life. Not so with this cream. Use it up or throw it out within a month.

Third, keep it clean. Each time you reach into your lotion jar, you leave some bacteria behind to breed. If you keep all of your lotion in one jar, all of your lotion is available for contamination. This is why I recommend splitting the batch into a few jars, and only using one a time, leaving the others pristine. And of course, wash your hands before you reach in there-or even use a little spoon if you want to get all Howard Hughes-y.

Fourth, those extra jars should be kept in the fridge until you need them. The cream doesn’t spread well when chilled, but will be fine again as soon as it warms up.

Finally, use common sense. It is not a sterile product. Don’t put it on sores or wounds.

Rosemary essential oil has good antibacterial properties, so if you like you can add some –it can’t hurt, but I wouldn’t rely on it alone, I’d still follow the above advice. Vitamin E oil is often mentioned as a preservative, but it is actually good for keeping oil from going rancid, not for inhibiting bacteria.

Note that changing this recipe so that you replace the water with novel liquids–such as green tea or aloe–will make a product spoil even more quickly. I do not recommend it. If you insist on trying this, use it fast–as in, over a home spa weekend–and keep it in the fridge.

Whenever you use a homemade product, use your nose and your other senses. If the cream goes off you might notice a change in odor, texture or color.


As I’ve already mentioned, the water doesn’t always incorporate well. The very best batches absorb the full cup of water and come together nicely and stay together. What makes them work seems to be a magical combination of temperature, timing and the blessings of the lotion fairies.

You may find a little water sitting in the jar now and then. This is not unusual, certainly not a sign of failure. Just pour it off.

In the not so good batches the amount of water that appears is epic as it comes unbound from the oil day by day. Just pour it off. The texture will be off, but the stuff still works, and is fine to use. It’s just not as nice. Try again. You’ll get the hang of it.

Notes on ingredients:

Olive oil:  There’s a lot of debate about what kind of olive oil to use. Some people wouldn’t hear of using anything but the best organic extra virgin olive oil in any body product. I don’t think it’s all that bad to use a lesser olive oil. More processed olive oil doesn’t smell as much like olive oil, which has its advantages. It’s up to you, really.

What I do like to do is use olive oil which I’ve infused with herbs, especially Calendula, which helps heal the skin

Beeswax: I use the beeswax pastilles sold by Mountain Rose Herbs. Yes, it’s a pain to have to mail order them, but it’s so worth it.  A 1 lb bag will make 30 batches of lotion. I use it to make salves and lip balm, too. It’s very handy.


Today is American Censorship Day

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

This sort of advocacy is unusual for this blog, but we believe a free Internet is essential for both cultural innovation and democracy. Sure, the Internet is mostly made of porn and kittens, but we like it as it is. What we don’t want to see is it being unduly controlled by either the government or corporate interests, so we’re participating in American Censorship Day by offering up this information to our readers.

Today, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is headed to the House Judiciary Committee. The purported purpose of this bill, and its counterpart in the Senate, is to stop infringement on copyrighted material, but the scope of the proposed law is way too broad and vague, and if you spin out the implications, downright scary. It has has the power to censor the Internet. It can blacklist or bankrupt sites on whisper-thin grounds, it will impede small businesses and new start-ups, and even punish individuals with jail time for infringing copyright in smalls ways, like, for instance, posting a family video in which copyrighted music is playing in the background.

This bill is likely to pass, and it will happen soon.

It’s hard to summarize all the nasty pointy prongs of this legislation in a few words. The video above does an brief overview–be sure to watch to the end for last second updates. Our smart friends at the EFF, who are helping us with the whole Urban Homestead trademark thing, have written several cogent, lawyerly pieces about this legislation:

Disastrous IP Legislation Back and It’s Worse than Ever 

SOPA: Hollywood Finally Gets a Chance to Break the Internet

American Censorship Wednesday

Today there is a call for mass action. You may have noticed some of your favorite sites have blacked themselves out in protest.

If you’d like to take action, the EFF has provided a page that helps you shoot a pithy email to your own congresspeople. It only takes a couple of seconds and feels really good:

Grassfed Turkey Cooking Tips from Shannon Hayes

Thinking of cooking a grass-fed turkey for Thanksgiving?

Just in time for the holidays, grassfed cooking expert and farmer Shannon Hayes has a blog post with pastured turkey cooking and purchasing tips that you can read on her blog We’re honored to have been included in Shannon’s book Radical Homemakers.

One of her most important tips is to know what you are buying,

“If you don’t personally know the farmer who is growing your turkey, take the time to know what you are buying! “Pastured” is not necessarily the same as “free-range.” Some grass-based farmers use the word “free-range” to describe their pasture-raised birds, but any conventional factory farm can also label their birds “free-range” if they are not in individual cages, and if they have “access” to the outdoors – even if the “outdoors” happens to be feces-laden penned-in concrete pads outside the barn door, with no access to grass. “Pastured” implies that the bird was out on grass for most of its life, where it ate grass and foraged for bugs, in addition to receiving some grain”

Wishing all of you a happy, pastured holiday season.

Only at Home: Huntington Ranch Symposium Nov. 18

Not to be missed: the Huntington is putting on an exciting program this Friday November 18. I’m going and hope to see some of you there. If you’re interested in growing edibles in Southern California, this is the place to be!

Only at Home: 2011 Huntington Ranch Symposium
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
San Marino, CA

Marking the second year of Ranch operations, this one-day symposium focuses on aspects of urban agriculture that can’t be duplicated in commercial settings. From the use of gray water irrigation systems to growing offbeat edibles, learn how to harvest the unique potential from your home garden. From 8:30am to 5:00pm.

Featuring: Master gardener Yvonne Savio, native plant specialist Lili Singer, the greywater expertise of Leigh Jerrard, garden designer John Lyons, master preserver Ernest Miller and soil expert Corey Wells. Delicious continental breakfast, lunch and afternoon refreshments provided by Little Flower Candy Company. The daytime event will close with an open tour of the Ranch.

When the symposium draws to a close please decide to stay for more fun with a local beer tasting and farm dinner.  Keynote speaker Dr. Robert Wallace will present on the botany of beer.  Featuring local artisans Craftsman Brewing Company, Eagle Rock Brewery and Little Flower Candy Company.  From 5:30pm to 8:30pm.

All-day event – $40
All-day event plus additional beer tasting, dinner and lecture – $65

Tickets available at:

Erik’s EDC

It’s about time I listed my “everyday carry” or “EDC” for short. For those of you not familiar with the EDC subculture, there are entire websites devoted to posting, critiquing and obsessing over the items you carry every singe day (not, say, just when going on a hike). I went through somewhat of an EDC mid-life crisis last month and emerged on the other side with the following items:

1. A nice Saddleback Leather Wallet that Mrs. Homegrown bought for me after she got sick of my ugly overstuffed old wallet.

2. My old Leatherman that I use every single day.

3. A mini pen–I got a box of 12 from an office supply place. It fits nicely in a pocket and I don’t have to worry about losing it.

4. Ferrocerium Fire Starter “nanoSTRIKER” –this neat little tool has a blade and a ferrocerium rod. You strike the blade against the rod and you get a shower of sparks.

5. Small keychain pill holders–the red one contains a cotton ball soaked in Vaseline to use as kindling with the fire starter. The blue one contains ibuprofen (I’m a runner) and Benadryl (for insect stings).

6. MAGLITE K3A016 AAA Solitaire Flashlight. I had tried a smaller flashlight that used watch batteries, but it had a tendency to open up in my pocket and those watch batteries are expensive. This one has not turned on accidentally or opened up.

You’ll notice that I don’t have a cellphone–Mrs. Homegrown and I share an old one with next to no battery life and I don’t have it with me everyday. That may change soon when we switch plans. And I’ll admit I have yet to use the fero rod for anything other than a bizarre time killer when I deliver lectures to college students.

What’s your EDC? Comments . . . 

Many thanks to Jack Spirko of the Survival Podcast for the handy EDC list he put together that turned me on to those pill holders and fero rods. And read an interesting interview with Bernard Capulong, founder of, here.

The Pressure is On

My pressure cooker is my new best friend. Especially when I’m not in the mood for cooking, I can toss a few ingredients in, lock the lid down and come back to a healthy, nutritious supper in just a few minutes.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a pressure cooker cookbook up to my standards. All of the ones I checked out from the library, even those newly published, seemed stuck in the 1950s tuna noodle casserole era, when pressure cooking was last popular. Thankfully, a friend sent us a copy of Pressure Cooking for Everyone by Rick Rogers and Arlene Ward. The recipes are simple and I’m especially fond of the squash risotto and vegetarian chili.

Speaking of vegetarian, the recipes in this book are on the meaty side (Kelly is a “fishatarian” and I simply don’t buy supermarket meat). Someone does need to do a good vegetarian pressure cooker cookbook as the only one I could find was stuck in a kind of brown rice and bean sprouts 1970s style vegetarian groove.

Pressure cooking saves energy, a real plus during tough economic times. And with this cookbook our great recession era meals need not be bland.