Self Irrigating Planter Resources

Homegrown Evolution is up in San Francisco this weekend to do a talk about the world of self-irrigating planters (also known as SIPs or self-watering planters or a couple of other variations on that general verbiage). In our opinion SIPs are the food growing tool of the aspiring urban agriculturalist. Make or buy one of these things and vegetable container gardening is a breeze. No need to water your pots three times a day during the summer! For those who can’t make our talk, and as a resource for those who can, we thought we would put all the Internet resources in one place in this here blog post.

SIP hacker and horticultural Internet hero Josh Mandel’s original pdf instructions for how to make your own.

Mandel’s revised instructions with thoughts on how to eliminate the use of PVC plastics when building a SIP.

Where to buy a SIP: earthbox.com. Even if you build your own, you should follow the Earthbox company’s user guide for how to fill the box, what kind of soil to use and how to fertilize.

For a nice example of rooftop and window gardening with SIPs see the Green Roof Growers of Chicago.

How to make a small SIP with soda bottles. Here’s another variation with conventional pots.

Last night we went to a wonderful screening organized by the folks at How to Homestead. They have an interesting SIP variation made with milk crates profiled in a how-to video by Mariana Lopez. She also offers a recipe for a DIY potting mix in that same video.

Ohio State University Extension Service’s list of vegetable varieties for container gardening. These are varieties with smaller root systems that do well in small pots.

Lastly, all of Homegrown Evoution’s self watering container posts.

Visit the Eco-Home

Julia Russell is Los Angeles’ original urban homesteader. If you haven’t visited her beautiful “Eco-Home”, now is the time. She’s a pioneer in edible landscaping, solar power, and many other things we all now take for granted. Best of all, you can take a tour:

“Since the 1970’s, April has been home to Earth Day. The theme for this year’s Earth Day is “the Green Generation,” and what better way to strengthen your role as part of this movement than by learning how to make your own life more earth-friendly and sustainable by joining us for an Eco-Home tour this April.

Visit Eco-Home for one of this April’s Eco-Home Tours on Sunday, April 12 and Sunday, April 26 from 2 P.M. to 4:30 P.M. In addition to learning how to begin or expand your personal urban garden, the tour will also display new technologies that will help turn any house into a green environment.

The Tour is conducted by Eco-Home Network, a non-profit dedicated to educating the public on how to make lifestyle choices that protect the environment and improve quality of life. The Eco-Home is located in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. Call 323-662-5207 for reservation and directions. Requested donation for the tour is $10 per person. Please make your reservations by the Friday before the tour.”

For more information, visit the website at ecohome.org.”

Why Lycra is a Bad Idea

Robert Hurst, author of the how-to book on how to ride a bike in the city, The Art of Cycling: A Guide to Bicycling in 21st-Century America says, “the thought of cyclists pedaling around in their standard everyday garb is heartening. The more riders who do this, the more obvious it will be to the general public that cycling is about straight utility in addition to recreation and exercise, an important point that has yet to penetrate the thick skull of American society.”

We’re all for utility, but how about utility with style? It looks like the Brits are ahead of us in this department with the recent revival of riding tweeds. There’s a Tweed Cycling Club, a funny article in The Chap (pdf), a photogenic London tweed ride, and let’s not forget our stylish American friends Hen Waller (of chicken fame) who operate vélocouture and are also fans of tweed.

As I prepare to step on a train to head to San Francisco with my bike and usual slovenly attire, I only wish the journey could be as stylish and civilized as this old film the folks at the Tweed Cycling Club dug up:

See part II of that film here.

Homegrown San Francisco Events


Homegrown Evolution will be in San Francisco this week to speak at the Studio for Urban Projects. The talk will be on Sunday, April 5 at 2:00 pm. We’ll rap about what we’ve been up to and do a brief demo about self irrigating planters, the ideal way to grow food when you don’t have any dirt to call your own. The Studio for Urban Projects is located at 3579 17th St., San Francisco (between Dolores & Guerrero).

Also, in San Francisco this coming weekend make sure to catch the folks at How To Homestead on Saturday, April 4 at the Other Cinema at 8:30 PM for some brand new homesteading movies, homebrew tastings, and the “butt-shaking musical antics of the Goat Family.” The Other Cinema is located at ATA Gallery, 992 Valencia (@ 21st).

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Borage, just about to bloom.

Borage is an ugly sounding name for a beautiful and useful plant. The moniker is probably a corruption of the Andalusian Arabic abu buraq or “father of sweat”, a reference to it’s diaphoretic qualities1. Both the leaves and the blue flowers (sometimes white flowers) are edible and have a refreshing cucumber like taste. Borage is an annual herb that we plant in the late fall here in Los Angeles for an early spring bloom, but in most other parts of North America you’ll plant it in the spring after the last frost. Ours survived a winter outbreak of aphids, but is now thriving.

We toss the flowers and leaves into salads as a flavoring. In fact we enjoyed a memorable borage spiked salad on a recent Greyhound bus trip to Las Vegas we took for a book appearance. Thankfully for our fellow passengers, we did not break out into a borage induced sweat.

For more on the medicinal qualities of borage, including “dispelling melancholy” (useful for bus layovers in Barstow, incidentally) see the borage entry in the Plants for a Future database.

Veggie Trader

Media theorist Douglass Rushkoff has a great new radio show and podcast on WFMU called Media Squat. On the first episode he speaks eloquently of the power of developing local currencies through concepts such as time banking (see our local Echo Park Time Bank for a great example of that) and how these local efforts could be the way out of our current economic morass. Rushkoff is especially interested in the roll the Internet can play in setting up new local economies.

Homegrown Evolution just got an email about a nice example of the potential for using the Internet for localizing. Veggie Trader is a new web based service for distributing and trading excess produce.

“Using Veggie Trader is free and easy. It works like classified advertising. You post a listing describing the excess produce you have and what you’d like in return, and then you wait for a response…

Or, if you’re looking for local produce, you simply enter your zip code and see what your neighbors have available. You can also post specific produce you’re looking for in our Wanted section and see which of your neighbors answers your request.”

We plan on speaking to the folks behind it to get more details and hope to post the first Homegrown Evolution podcast about it soon. It will be interesting to see if the Veggie Trader takes off.

Is Our Furniture Killing Us?


Architects Arakawa and Madeline Gins have the radical idea that our addiction to comfort and safety is killing us. Their solution: designing houses and apartments where no surface is even, with awkward and even dangerous passages between rooms, where buying your own furniture is impossible. Living in their buildings forces the occupant to think about each and every step.They promise eternal life (an exaggeration for the sake of making a point) and a return to youthfulness.

“At least one tenant says he feels a little younger already. Nobutaka Yamaoka, who moved in with his wife and two children about two years ago, says he has lost more than 20 pounds and no longer suffers from hay fever, though he isn’t sure whether it was cured by the loft.” [wsj.com]

Having encountered Arakawa and Madeline Gins work several years ago, I’ve been haunted by the crazy idea that we should immediately get rid of all of our normal furniture for the sake of our future heath. Having done a lot of running and far too little stretching, Mr. Homegrown Evolution’s middle-aged body has gotten increasingly stiff. Mrs. Homegrown describes me as having the flexibility of a “ginger bread man.” And yet I see our 70+ year-old Chinese neighbors doing all their garden work while nimbly crouched low to the ground, in a posture I doubt most native born Westerners half their age could mimic. Their health and flexibility is, no doubt, due in part to cultural and architectural differences. Switching out our Western furniture for a down-on-the-floor type arrangement would force me to incorporate stretching as a part of my daily routine rather than separating it out as an activity (like yoga) that I never seem to get around to doing.

Arakawa and Madeline Gins heretical ideas are all about the unseen and unintended consequences of convenience. It reminds me of using a bicycle for transportation–it may be more dangerous and often takes more time than driving–but think about the benefits to both body and mental sharpness (dodging all those SUVs). How about running without shoes? I’m convinced that the arch support in the shoes I’ve worn all my life has weakened the muscles in my feet and led directly to a painful case of plantar fasciitis that took a year and a half to heal. How about running barefoot as an alternative? How about keeping bees as nature intended as the Backwards Beekeepers do while we’re at it? In fact all of these heretical notions, counter to conventional wisdom, could be grouped under the “backwards” banner.

I could go on, but don’t worry. We still like clothes . . .

See more pictures of Arakawa and Madeline Gins innovative work here.

And a video:

Sadly, according to a poorly written article in the Wall Street Journal, the couple seems to have been caught up in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme forcing them to close their Manhattan office.

Swedish Shack Attack

Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, the Unabomber, the bloggers over at Ramshackle Solid and Homegrown Evolution all have one thing in common. We’re all proud owners of shacks. We’ve posted before about the wonderful Tiny House Company and the virtues of actually living in your shack. Today we share a photo of a lovely Swedish shack we spotted in the arctic town of Kiruna. A family of five used to live in it in the early 20th century and it can’t be much more than a hundred square feet. No doubt, “shacking up” meant fewer trips to the woodpile during those cold winters (“winter” being nine months out of the year in this place). Its current location is in the parking lot of an old folks home. Looks like it’s now used for storage.

A special thanks to the folks at Dinosaurs and Robots for the term “shackitecture” and their many shacktacular posts.

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)


The tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), one of the most adaptable and notoriously “invasive” species in the world, earned its nickname “ghetto palm” for its propensity to grow in disturbed and neglected areas. Ailanthus altissima doesn’t seem to care much about climate and grows just about everywhere–hot, cold, humid, dry–with the exception of Homegrown Evolution’s temporary residence in the Swedish Arctic. Odds are you’ve got one of these supertrees busting up through some nearby broken asphalt.

One of my hosts, Swedish artist Ingo Vetter, is a member of a unique artists collective, the Detroit Tree of Heaven Woodshop, that has experimented with using the wood of this abundant tree. While not easy to work with (it tends to warp quickly), they’ve managed to produce some remarkable objects:

The Sami Way

What’s more impressive? That humans figured out how to live in the arctic or that we figured out how to collateralize debt obligations? As we deal with the consequences of the latter it’s nice to reflect on those thousands of years spent herding reindeer. It’s also comforting to know that there’s still some folks left who know how to take care of reindeer even if they now use snowmobiles.

Homegrown Evolution had the privilege of meeting Nils Anders Kuhmunen today, along with a bunch of art students, in an arctic village in northern Sweden. Kuhmunen is a Sami, an indigenous people populating the northernmost parts of Scandinavia and part of Russia. The Sami tended reindeer for thousands of years. The pictures of our visit speak for themselves (though you won’t be able to taste the delicious reindeer meat Kuhmunen served).


A wooden form of the traditional circular Sami hut.


Kuhmunen speaking eloquently about what can only be called arctic permaculture, life in touch with the cycles of life and the importance of context specific design.


And speaking of context, the smoke of the fire rising up through a hole in the roof. The dirt floor is insulated with a layer of burnt twigs, followed by moose skins and a top layer of reindeer fur. It works. It was bitter cold outside and toasty in the hut.

Kuhmunen and grandchild feeding the reindeer some lichen.

Not only does Nils Anders Kuhmunen herd reindeer, he also has a website.