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.

Yet More Tasteless Garden Statuary

 Photo by Anne Magnér

Photos of shocking garden statuary continue to pour into the Homegrown Evolution in-box. Anne Magnér sent these amazing photos all the way from Denmark. The crass garden gnome, apparently, cuts across all European cultures from north to south.

 Photo by Anne Magnér
Photo by Anne Magnér

I wonder what’s up with the confident and smiling Danish woman statues to the right of the kids. Wouldn’t mind one of these for our garden. But I wonder what she would think of the gnomes that follow after the jump. Warning: very NSFW!

Look out!

Photo by Anne Magnér

I’ve noticed regional differences in European garden gnomes, but I’ve never seen the flashing Danish ones. Thanks Anne!

A Caganer in Every Garden

Reader Adrienne has kindly alerted us to some intriguing cultural information on the pooping gnome seen in our post on scary garden sculpture. In Catalan these figures, which date back at least to the 17th century, are known as “Caganer” and there’s a tradition, tolerated by the Catholic church, of placing them in nativity scenes during the holiday season. They’re also a symbol of earth fertility. Wikipedia notes:

“In 2005, the Barcelona city council provoked a public outcry by commissioning a nativity scene which did not include a Caganer. Many saw this as an attack on Catalan traditions. The local government countered these criticisms by claiming that the Caganer was not included because a recent by-law had made public defecation and urination illegal, meaning that the Caganer was now setting a bad example. Following a campaign against this decision called Salvem el caganer (Save the caganer), and widespread media criticism, the 2006 nativity restored the Caganer, who appeared on the northern side of the nativity near a dry riverbed.”

Other European cultures have their own versions. The Dutch have “Kakkers / Schijterkes,” (Pooper”/Little Pooper). The French have “Père la Colique,” (Father Colic). The Germans have “Choleramännchen” or “Hinterlader,” (Little Cholera Man” or “Breech-loader).

The Telegraph has an slide show of Caganers in the form of world leaders. Now that’s what I call garden sculpture!

The Scary World of Garden Sculpture

 “The Present Order Is The Disorder of The Future [Saint Just]” from Finlay’s Little Sparta. Photo by Michael Loudon

I’ve always been a big fan of the late Scottish artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay. He’s probably best known for his enigmatic garden Little Sparta. As Finlay demonstrates, there’s nothing like a carefully placed bit of artwork to tilt one’s perspective on the landscape and make you see it in a different, and perhaps more perceptive way. But good luck finding said piece of garden sculpture unless, like Finlay, you can manufacture it yourself. Just for kicks, I took a look at Amazon’s garden offerings. They are so over the top bad that I think a clever garden artist could actually work with them. .

This one is my favorite Amazon sculpture offering. Looks like something Saddam Hussein would have installed by one of the shark ponds. Suggestive and creepy all at once.

There’s a lot of kids in the garden sculpture world, but this one seems to come with a Jeff Koons kitten. Or is that a Jeff Koons jackalope? A genetically modified puppy/kitten hybrid? I can’t tell.

Perfect for an age of “zombie” banks–a zombie for your garden. Also seen in the Sky Mall catalog, a favorite shopping resource for zombies.

Stick this on one of your trees and you’ll soon find hair sprouting on the tops of your feet.

Depicting smiles is always a tricky one in the world of sculpture. At least you get a stand with this masterpiece.

You could argue that greys are the malevolent elemental spirits of the 20th century. Unfortunately this one will set you back $100 if you’d like it to grace your garden.

 For some reason you can pick up a halfway decent Buddha. Now can we switch out the molds on the other stuff? There’s an opportunity for an entrepreneur here . . .

Update: As reader Paula points out, how could I have forgotten the garden gnome? Must be the terrible head cold I’ve got. Well, here goes:

Plantasia: Music for Plants Part II

Not only did Homegrown Evolution reader Avi, track down a downloadable copy of Dr. George Milstein’s 1970 album Music to Grow Plants, but  he also suggested two more cultural landmarks of the 1970s “chattin’ with plants” period.

Mort Garson’s Moog generated album Plantasia: Warm Earth Music for Plants and the People Who Love Them is pretty much what I would imagine a macramé suspended spider plant wanting to listen to. Its groovin’ Moog bleeps and blats seem more likely to enhance photosynthesis than Dr. Milstein’s orchestral wall of sound. Plantasia is pretty much guaranteed to add a foot of growth to your ficus plants.

Avi also provided a link to the entire 1979 documentary version of The Secret Life of Plants. It took me two evenings to make it through the endless time lapse and interpretive dance sequences. But there’s plenty of wackiness to enjoy, including a soundtrack by Stevie Wonder who appears at the end singing to, well, a bunch of plants. The highlight for me was seeing the laboratory equipment of Indian scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, inventor of the cresnograph a device for measuring plant growth.

Seriously, though, the best thing I’ve heard on the relationship between humans and plants recently is a lecture by anthropologist Wade Davis, “The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World” that you can listen to via the always excellent Long Now Foundation’s lecture series and available as a free podcast in the Itunes store. Davis eloquently describes the Anaconda people’s intricate botanical knowledge and how they came to concoct ayahuasca.The plants, it turned out, talked to them.

Though, after listening to Plantasia, I’m hoping the ficus plants don’t start talking to me.

Ordo Ab Chao

There’s a lot of conflicting advice in the vegetable gardening world. You’ve got your square footers, biointensivists, permaculturalists and survival gardeners, just to name a few. The truth is these often conflicting techniques probably all work for someone. I’ve been thinking lately that the next book we write should be a version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders turned into gardening advice.Got attention deficit disorder? Well, here’s how ya mix up your own potting mix.

Face it, we’re all in the diagnostic manual somewhere. I suffer from a chronic lack of organizational ability. Square foot gardening has never worked for me–I just can’t keep up with the schedule. For some folks, I’m sure it works great. John Jeavons’ biointensive methods, however, have worked well for me. That is, when I actually follow his advice. I offer as evidence two beds from our winter garden. The one above, containing chard, carrots and beets turned out really well. It has produced an abundant and attractive harvest. The one below, on the other hand, is a mess.

The difference: planning. Whereas some people can probably improvise a vegetable garden, my unique place in the diagnostic manual means that I benefit from some degree of organization. With Jeavons, you project how much of a particular vegetable you’d like and plant with tight hexagonal spacing. Plan ahead and you get an abundant and attractive garden assuming you’ve taken care of your soil. At least it works for me.

My new commitment for our summer garden is to carefully choose what I’m going to grow, how much of it to plant, and stick with the program. No last minute improvising. And better note taking! I attempted to weigh vegetables this winter, earning the scorn of Mrs. Homegrown who deemed it too male an approach, too much about bragging rights. All that weighing took away note taking time from what would have been more useful information: when things were planted, transplanted and harvested.  That data could help prevent gaps in the garden in the future and clarify the best times to plant, information that’s hard to come by in our unique Mediterranean climate. Not to say that weighing is without merit–it would be a good way to compare  methods–but I’m going to leave that to academic researchers and Mr. Jeavons. I’m also trying to figure out a way to share my gardening diary with other people in the L.A., area via Google docs so that we can all compare notes. More on that once we get our next book done!

As for keeping track of planting times, simply hanging the Stella Natura calendar by the stove has done wonders. I now keep better records of planting and transplanting dates. Cooking while looking at the calendar prompts me to plan ahead and think about the things I actually like to eat. Less turnips next year and more arugula!

Leave a comment about your vegetable gardening methods and, if you’re so inclined, your place in the diagnostic manual!

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…

Music to Grow Plants

From the The Secret Life of Plants era, New York dentist and horticulturalist Dr. George Milstein’s 1970 album Music to Grow Plants. Apparently it came with seeds. From the back cover,

“As a result of present study, we were able to produce a sound which acts upon plant growth patterns. These sounds have been electronically embedded in this record. Every effort has been made to camouflage them, however, you may at times hear certain high frequency tones that could not be hidden completely. For best results this record should be played daily. The music which has been systematically selected and prepared is also most enjoyable for listening. Your plants and hopefully you will be brightened by the sounds of this album. (PATENT PENDING)”

I searched the interwebs for some mp3s for all of you but came up empty handed. Somehow I imagine the music isn’t that interesting, but I’m not a plant so how would I know?

Update. Thanks to reader Amy Morie, here’s a groovin’ mp3 from Music to Grow Plants:

http://www.robertkelleyphd.com/MusicToGrowPlants.mp3

Yet another update. Reader Avi just found a link to the whole thing via a file share service here:

http://basementcurios.blogspot.com/2008/08/corelli-jacobs-music-to-grow-plants.html

Read the rest of the back cover here.