A Transportation Cocktail: Bikes, Trains and Buses


It’s the best kept secret in mobility. Bicycles, buses and trains go together like gin, vermouth and olives. Ride to the station, chug along to your destination and then ride off. You’ve got your wheels on both ends of the trip. We’re especially fond of the trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco on Amtrak’s lumbering San Joaquin train. Sure it takes ten hours, but it’s a small price to pay for having a bike in San Francisco. Once in SF, there’s no searching for parking or waiting for those slow-going north-south buses.

Note:

1. Some Amtrak routes let you take a bike on board but on the longer hauls you have to box up your bike, which can be a major inconvenience. The California trains that don’t require boxing are the San Joaquin, Pacific Surfliner and Capital Corridor. On the painfully slow Coast Starlight you’ll have to box the bike. However, a friend found a loophole on the longer haul box policy in the form of a waiver offered by a baggage handler that, once signed, allowed my friend to put his bike in the baggage car without a box (note, the worker at the counter did not mention anything about a waiver and refused to accept an un-boxed bike). Avoid this hassle by taking the above mentioned California trains.

2. Amtrak Thruway buses accept bikes on, as far as I can tell, the San Joaquin, Pacific Surfliner and Capital Corridor routes. You just stash the bike below in an empty cargo hold.

3. I’ve also taken my bike on board Metrolink trains up to Ventura.

4. For you folks pondering a trip to California, the train/bike combo would be a whole lot of fun.

5. Yes, a folding bike would be more convenient, but I like my road bike.

6. Get a copy of the San Francisco bike map to avoid the big hills and find the best routes. I got my copy at the Rainbow Market.

For more info on bikes on California Amtrak routes check here or call Amtrak, but always remember that when you bring up bikes with a customer service person it will be the first time they’ve ever heard the question.

Now back to the slow, but entertaining San Joaquin train. While it takes longer than driving or flying, the views of the Central Valley can’t be beat. You’re well off the highway for most of the trip, and get a god’s eye view from the upper deck. Glimpses of farms, backyards and small towns flash by as if in a series of dream-like snapshots. Some sights from my trip on the train:

Some older Asian men crouching on a backyard patio while chopping up a big side of beef (or game?) with an axe while a teenager looked on in pajamas.

A large, shirtless white man with a Mohawk standing outside a junk strewn and isolated compound somewhere north of Fresno.

A luxurious pool plopped, incongruously, smack in the middle of an empty two acre yard, at an unreasonable distance from the house. Adjacent to the house, the largest outdoor fireplace I’ve ever seen. Can you say second mortgage?

Speaking of mortgages, the territory of sub-primelandia: endless rows of abandoned suburban tracks on former agricultural land sitting empty, tattered real estate flags flapping in an unseasonably warm winter breeze. It brings to mind the boom town expression of mortgage agents, “drive until you qualify.”

A for sale sign hanging in front of a 1920s era dilapidated shack with a equally dilapidated pier jutting out into the northeast corner of the San Francisco Bay near the town of Pittsburgh, CA. Ready to tie up that Zebra boat for a memorable daily commute into San Francisco.

Canada geese kicking back in a Fresno drainage pond.

The world’s most aesthetically challenged hot tub enclosure, also spotted in Fresno.

And along the way, in backyards, the Central Valley has two of my favorite signs of civilization: backyard chickens and nopales. At the dramatic end of the line for the San Joachin train lay the forlorn streets of Bakersfield, immortalized in Buck Owen’s song,

“I came here looking for something
I couldn’t find anywhere else
Hey, I’m not trying to be nobody
Just want a chance to be myself

I’ve done a thousand miles of thumbin’
I’ve worn blisters on my heels
Trying to find me something better
On the streets of Bakersfield”

Video of that song here, but beware of the distracting mullet on the bassist.

Secondary and Edible

Homegrown Evolution is headed to San Francisco for the week on business and will be away from computers (thankfully). Along the way we’ll be enjoying the agricultural vistas of California’s Central Valley via Amtrak’s lumbering San Joaquin train. In the meantime, please take a look at this fascinating link, the secondary edible parts of vegetables. Cucumber stem tips and young leaves for dinner anyone?

The Squirrel Menace

In our garden squirrels are a serious problem. Their worst offense is grabbing avocados off our tree, taking a few small bites and then dropping them on the ground for our Doberman to finish off. This year only five avocados made it into the kitchen. Today’s New York Times has just about the only effective solution. Anyone for squirrel tacos with guacamole?

“With literally millions of squirrels rampaging throughout England, Scotland and Wales at any given time, squirrels need to be controlled by culls. This means that hunters, gamekeepers, trappers and the Forestry Commission (the British equivalent of forest rangers) provide a regular supply of the meat to British butchers, restaurants, pâté and pasty makers and so forth.

The situation is more than simply a matter of having too many squirrels. In fact, there is a war raging in Squirreltown: invading interlopers (gray squirrels introduced from North America over the past century or more) are crowding out a British icon, the indigenous red squirrel immortalized by Beatrix Potter and cherished by generations since. The grays take over the reds’ habitat, eat voraciously and harbor a virus named squirrel parapox (harmless to humans) that does not harm grays but can devastate reds. (Reports indicate, though, that the reds are developing resistance.)”

Two tangents here:

1. Please note the dapper gamekeeper photographed for the story. Here at Homegrown Evolution we think it’s about time the work clothes with tie look, such as this gamekeeper’s traditional hunting attire, makes a comeback. No more walking around in pajamas!

2. We’ve got another excuse to replay this old video:

Thanks to neighbor Lora Hall for the link to the New York Times story!

Waking up on New Year’s Day with the world of long crowing roosters

Now I’m not suggesting these guys for urban situations, but New Year’s Day seems an appropriate moment to survey the world of long crowing roosters. According to poultry expert Gail Damerow, writing in the current issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine, long crowers probably have their origins in Japan and have spread throughout the world through deliberate selection. Here’s a play list for your listening pleasure, consisting of a Turkish long crowing breed, the Denizli, followed by a Koeyoshi (good crower in Japanese) and the Tomaru (black crower):

For those of you trying to awaken hungover members of your household, here’s two audio files of: A Totenko (red crower) and a Tomaru.

Somewhat perversely, the long crowing trait makes for lower fertility in eggs and greater susceptibility to disease in chicks. As Humans have bred long crowing roosters for thousands of years, it’s a reminder that people have been placing fun and entertainment before utility for a long time. An anthropology professor I once had speculated that the musical bow came before the hunting bow. Other anthropologists theorize that chickens were domesticated for fighting before people figured out the whole egg and meat thing. Far from a defect in human behavior, for me things like long crowing roosters prove that innovation comes out of play.

Thanks to longcrowers.de for sharing those videos!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year and many thanks to all of you for supporting this blog and contributing comments, suggestions and opinions. Thanks to all of you who have bought our book and thanks to our brave and innovative publisher Process Media.

We have one resolution for the new year: to tinker/experiment/garden/problem solve/explore and have fun doing all these things, laughing and learning from our failures as we go.

Compost Outlaws

Yard Trimmings being used as “ADC” at the Bradley Landfill in Sun Valley

Our neighborhood comrade Tara Kolla, who grows sweet peas for farmer’s markets in her urban backyard, has been busted for . . . composting! Specifically for composting fruit and vegetable scraps from a local restaurant. From last Friday’s Los Angeles Times:

Tara Kolla said she was doing a good thing for her Silver Lake Farms business while doing the right thing for the planet by filling a garbage can each week with produce scraps from a nearby restaurant and dumping them into her compost.

A neighbor did not see it that way and complained about the compost, which Kolla has in two wood boxes covered with black plastic.

“I didn’t put it here to offend anyone. I put it here because it’s a work area,” Kolla said one morning as she showed a visitor her half-acre urban farm, where she grows flowers as well as some other crops to sell at farmers markets in Echo Park, Hollywood and Silver Lake.

In August, Kolla received a letter from the Los Angeles Local Enforcement Agency telling her to “cease and desist” composting food waste that was not generated at her home. The letter was signed by David Thompson, the agency’s program supervisor, who declined to talk on the record. But a city spokeswoman said there would be no additional action taken if there are no more complaints.

It turns out it’s against the law to compost material not generated at your own residence. So when you take back that bag of coffee grounds from Starbucks to put in your compost pile you’re an outlaw. It’s a law that benefits the status quo, where the the city and private contractors haul away all that perfectly good organic matter that could be nourishing our neighborhood gardens, parks, and street trees and stuff it in . . . the dump.

There’s a dirty little secret with what happens to the organic matter we all some of us put in the green bin (a trash can provided by the city some municipalities to separate out yard trimmings) in the city of Los Angeles and many other municipalities. According to a friend of mine who works in the recycling business, 80% of the green bin contents in Los Angeles (county?) [Editors note: see neighborhood colleague, and fellow "trash geek" Jeremy Drake's correction in the comments section. Drake says that LA City does not use green bin contents as ADC. My friend may have been refering to LA County waste practices.] are used as “Alternative Daily Cover” or ADC. ADC, which in addition to yard waste can consist of all kinds of things including broken glass and construction materials are used to cover up trash dumped into landfills. So while our friend Tara gets busted for composting, some cities go about taking the same perfectly good organic matter and toss it into the dump along with the rest of our garbage.

The green bin is a sham, but it gets worse. According to Mayor Sam’s Sister City, classifying waste as ADC “allows dump operators to escape paying State per ton fees which in turn are used for State recycling and enforcement programs.”

There’s a opportunity in this composting kerfuffle for an elegant solution. Anyone who gardens in the city knows how important, and sometimes difficult, it is to get enough organic matter. How about regional composting facilities? Instead of trucking organic matter from restaurants and yards to far-off dumps (and generating tons of diesel particulate matter on those long hauls), how about we compost it closer to home? We’ll need skilled workers for this, perfect in a time of rising unemployment. This is precisely what our friend Nance Klehm does in Chicago, taking the waste from 6,000 daily meals at the Pacific Garden Mission and, with a large worm composting operation, turning that waste into prized worm compost which is sold at a farmer’s market. The operation is staffed with homeless clients from the Mission. Waste is reduced, gardeners get compost, homeless people get work and everyone benefits.

Now let’s change these silly composting laws and get to work . . .

[Editors note--Tara had a correction to the LA Times story--she does not "dump" stuff in her compost pile, but skillfully and responsibly layers green and brown materials. You can take a compost class from her at the Norman Harrington / Franklin Hills Community Garden. More information at Silver Lake Farms.]

A Tensegrity Table

Tensegrities are an attractive structure that can be built with rods and string or wire. The term is Buckminster Fuller’s combination of “tension” and “integrity”, though Fuller probably did not invent the concept. Having seen a coffee table that used a tensegrity as a base, I decided to see if I could make a similar table, only out of scavenged materials (scavenging seems appropriate in these crummy economic times!).

To make your own tensegrity table, molecular biomechanics professor Dr. William H. Guilford has some very nice step-by-step instructions here. My version is slightly different, but frankly Guilford’s design is probably more stable. I used some electrical conduit tubing left over from remodeling the house, some rope and a stop sign that I found laying in a driveway (note the “anarchy” graffiti – is that “stop anarchy” or a pro-anarchy statement?). Putting the tensegrity together was a bit more time consuming and frustrating than I expected, but once I got my head around the geometry of the concept and learned how to tug the rope, my slightly wonky scrap tensegrity miraculously seemed to assemble itself.

Tensegrities make a nice project for using up short scrap materials and can be stacked to form a tower. An example of a very tall tensegrity structure is sculptor Kenneth Snelson’s “Needle Tower”, installed at the Hirshhorn in Washington D.C. While more of a traditionalist when it comes to architectural forms, tensegrities make a nice addition to the Hoemgrown Evolution design vocabulary and I’m contemplating a tensegrity bean trellis for the backyard . . .

3D Greetings

Homegrown Evolution’s holiday gift to our readers is a headache. Well, to be precise, we offer you three dimensional images of two of our favorite garden plants. Above, the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) and, below, spearmint (Mentha Spicata). To view these two images in three dimensions follow these instructions, specifically the bit about “parallel viewing”. Be persistent, like all good things it might take some practice.

We taught ourselves how to free view three dimensional images a long time ago and, in additional to it being good for your eye muscles, it opens up a whole world of fun with old stereoscopic images such as these.

To make your own stereographs all you need to do is take two pictures slightly spaced apart. As long as your subject doesn’t move you can do it with just one camera. Full instructions here.

For those of you who, after an hour of reviewing those parallel viewing instructions, now have a headache can’t uncross your eyes, we suggest downing a few cups of eggnog to make things just fine in the new year.

Home Baked Bread in Five Minutes

If you’ve bought our book, followed this blog, or gone to one our workshops you’ll know that we tout a wild yeast bread recipe adapted from Nancy Silverton’s La Brea Bakery method. We contend that our delicious recipe can be worked into all but the most crazed work schedule. But our recipe does rely on equipment and tools, specifically a heavy duty mixer and a wooden bread form. This month’s issue of Mother Earth News has a bread making solution for those of you unwilling to make the investment in the mixer or unable to fit the long rise times of wild yeast bread into your work schedule.

The article, “Five Minutes a Day for Fresh-Baked Bread” by Zöe François and Jeff Hertzberg, explains their simple recipe. Combining just flour, water, salt and yeast, with no kneading, you make up a very wet dough, let it rise for two hours and then either bake it or stick it in the refrigerator. The dough keeps in the fridge for up to two weeks, taking on a sourdough flavor as it ages. When you want a loaf of bread you tear off a softball sized chunk, let it rise for 45 minutes and stick it in the oven. A pan of water in the stove creates steam and gives the bread a nice, hard crust.

We tried the basic white bread recipe in the Mother Earth article and can report that it works quite well. Hertzberg and François have penned a bread cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, that takes this basic recipe and uses it as the base for variations such as pizza dough, sticky rolls, and whole-wheat bread. While not having as rich a flavor as our wild yeast recipe, Hertzberg and François’ method is an excellent solution for busy households. We look forward to seeing the book.

For more on the five minute a day bread method see:

Hertzberg and François’ website, which has additional recipes and variations.

A youtube demonstration by the authors: