A Redneck Rocket Stove

From Wes Duncan, the “High Tech Redneck,” a rocket stove made out of cinder blocks. I’ve built one of these too and can confirm that they work great. And you can’t beat the price. Time for some redneck cookin’!

Update: As several readers have pointed out, this design ain’t safe. Cinder blocks can explode and were not meant to be placed next to a heat source–that’s what fire bricks are for. See our post about our backyard rocket stove for a safe design that uses metal pipe.

Garden Edibles

We’ve pretty much just been growing Italian vegetable varieties for almost ten years now and have never looked back. Which is why we were really excited to hear that Homegrown Evolution pal Craig Ruggless has a new website: www.gardenedibles.com that imports seeds from the Larosa Emanuele Sementi company of Italy. Craig reminded us recently about something we remember from our trip to Italy a few years ago that, for Italians, vegetables are like wine. Wine comes in many varieties, so should vegetables. What a shame it is that when you go to a supermarket here in the US there is often only one variety of any given vegetable even at high-end stores.

So you gotta grow your own. Coming soon (again, as soon as book #2 is done), we’ll list what we grew this winter and what we plan on growing this summer. From Garden Edibles, this summer, we’re planting San Marzano 2 tomatoes and Rosso Dolce Da Appendere peppers. We always have some San Marzanos growing because they are so damn reliable. But we’re particularly excited about the peppers. And the tomato at left? It’s been rescued from extinction by a group of farmers in Puglia. It’s that region’s answer to the San Marzano–Pugliese families use to make their winter tomato sauce.

Ciao! Back to the book . . .

A Humanure Powered Prius!

 Photo by Thom Watson

Our days as struggling bloggers are over! This morning Toyoto Motors announced an exciting new partnership between their Prius division and Root Simple. Toyota is forming a task force, that includes Root Simple, to explore the most abundant fuel source on the planet: gassified humanure. Toyota anticipates a hybrid methane/electric Prius vehicle in showrooms as early as 2012. “We’re accelerating the research and design process and we predict that methane/electric hybrids will be a major movement in the automobile industry,” said Toyota president and CEO Akio Toyoda.

As part of the pilot program Root Simple will be saving human waste in five gallon buckets–an ordinary dry toilet! The waste will be added to proprietary inflatable bladders located in the basement.

 Photo by Nic Pepsi

Waste will ferment in the bladders for a three week period. Pressure caused by the expansion of the bladder automatically forces the methane into a storage tank located in the garage. Methane is then pumped into a specially modified Prius during the evening hours using a pump powered by rooftop solar collectors.  “Ed Begley’s people are jealous” said Root Simple blogger Erik Knutzen, adding, “I can finally ditch the bike–it’s dangerous anyways with all that slippery paint the city uses to stripe bike lanes with.”

Jenny Craig has signed on as a project partner to develop microwavable entrees that maximize enzymatic methane production, increase fiber and help us all lose those extra pounds. “We’re looking at integrating our brand into the transportation sector,” said Jenny Craig spokesperson, Leonora Bertwhistle. Jenny Craig is particularly excited about the use of agave syrup to replace sugar in the meals. “Agave syrup has been shown to break down into more highly fermentable compounds that will increase the efficiency of the fuel production process,” adds Bertwhistle.

“If this proves economical we’ll be looking at other human fuel sources,” says Knutzen. “If we can harness one end of the human waste output stream, think about the other. What if we could tap into the energy used for speech, typing, press releases and blogging? We could literally power our transportation sector on hot air.”

I drank a bottle of MiricleGro and then got on my riding lawn mower

We’re deep in the middle of the deadline for our next book, coming out in November–more on that soon! Today some links:

Solar hot air collector made out of soda cans. Built-It-Solar Blog.

From the two steps forward and three steps back department. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attends a groundbreaking ceremony for a school garden. So far, so good. But it’s sponsored by Scott’s MiracleGro who chipped in some dough in return for having their name and products liberally applied to the garden. A good science lesson for the kids? LAist.

Memo to Scotts MiracleGro: Unprecedented Pesticide Contamination Found in Beehives. Beyond Pesticides Daily Blog.

And speaking of bees: sign a petition to legalize bees in Santa Monica here.

Crop Mob! Volunteers help small farmers. Cricket Bread. Via Joe Linton (thanks Joe!).

Green Roof Growers announce new sub-irrigating pot experiments. Green Roof Growers.

Last but not least: Man arrested driving riding lawn mower down the street while drunk. The Buffalo News Via Garden Rant.

UMass Soil Testing

I finally got around to trying out the University of Massachusetts’ soil testing service and can report that it’s fast and cheap. I tested two areas of my yard for both nutrients and heavy metals and found out, more or less, what I expected, that I need to add a small amount of nitrogen. Surprisingly, for having such an old house, I don’t have a lead problem. It costs just $9 for the basic test and $13 for the basic test + heavy metals. The order form and instructions can be found at http://www.umass.edu/plsoils/soiltest/. Why test? UMass sums it up nicely:

  • to optimize crop production.
  • to protect the environment from contamination by runoff and leaching of excess fertilizers.
  • to aid in the diagnosis of plant culture problems.
  • to improve the soil’s nutritional balance.
  • to save money and conserve energy by applying only the amount of fertilizer needed.
  • to identify soils contaminated with lead or other heavy metals.

The brochure they send with the results is geared towards New England soils, but beggars can’t be choosers. This test is a bargain, but I’d check first with your local extension office to see if they offer free or low cost soil testing first. Should you want the Cadillac of soil tests, vegetable gardening expert John Jeavons recommends Timberleaf Soil Testing. I’ve seen some Timberleaf reports and they are quite detailed and informative.

The cutting edge of soil testing is about the living inhabitants of the soil, all those microorganisms, fungi and other critters rather than just old “NPK.” Dr. Elaine Ingham is a pioneer in this field. She offers “Soil Foodweb” testing via her website. I’ve read some grumbling from academics about some of her ideas and her commercial endeavors, particularly related to aerated compost tea. However, soil foodweb testing makes intuitive sense to me, though I have not tried it. You can read her interesting Soil Biology Primer here, and make up your own mind. There’s also an excellent book based partially on her research, Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web.

Thanks to Cool Tools for the tip on UMass.

A Fishy Mountaintop

We considered putting an aquaculture project in our next book but ultimately decided a against it, because we felt it’s too complicated a subject for most people.Aquaculture/aquaponics also seems to require just the right context. Even here in sunny Los Angeles we’d have to figure out a way to keep the fish warm during the winter, not to mention the use of lots of  water in a very dry place.

Austrian permaculturalist Sepp Holzer has developed an innovated aquaculture system.While, obviously, Holzer’s mountaintop setup is very unique, his problem solving through sophisticated but low tech means is universal. There’s something to learn from his methodology, even though few of us will be able to recreate his specific innovations..

I haven’t read it, but Holzer has a book: Sepp Holzer: The Rebel Farmer.

Via BoingBoing.

A silly note, but I had to point it out. Judging from the video, kudos to Holzer for being a proponent of traditional Austrian alpine clothing. Can we make that a trend? Nice to see.

Update on the Food and Flowers Freedom Act

Some thirty people showed up today for a Planning Commission meeting in support of the Food and Flowers Freedom Act. The commissioners loved us and approved the Planning Departments suggestions that the code be amended to allow “truck gardening” and off-site resale of produce and flowers grown in residential zones in the City of Los Angeles.

The tide is turning. Once the poster child for urban blight and bad planning, Los Angeles may just take the lead the in access to local, healthy food. I almost cried when I heard a Planning Commissioner lovingly describe the taste of a homegrown tomato.

There’s still two more steps, however, before these changes become official policy. The clarification to the code must still pass through another committee and be approved by the city council. Your continued support at these next two meetings, which have not yet been scheduled, will be appreciated.

Legalize Flowers and Fruit!

Believe it or not, under current zoning laws, it’s illegal in Los Angeles to grow flowers or fruit in a residential neighborhood and sell them. Tomorrow the Los Angeles Planning Commission will review this outdated rule at a meeting in Van Nuys. If you’re in Los Angeles you can help by attending this meeting. For some talking points see the website of the Urban Farming Advocates.

Positive change is coming to Los Angeles. The smog chocked wasteland of my youth is suddenly seeing a lot of talk of bicycles and local food. But we’ve got some work ahead of us–please come to the meeting tomorrow! From the UFA website:

SUPPORT LOCAL FOOD & FLOWERS! SUPPORT THE FOOD & FLOWERS FREEDOM ACT!

The urban farming movement needs your support at the public hearing tomorrow in Van Nuys.
Your voice and support for the MOVEMENT is critical.
The hearing will take place tomorrow: Thursday March 25. Come at 8:30am. Expect to be there a few hours. When you arrive, please fill out a speaker’s card.
Address:
Van Nuys City Hall
Council Chamber, 2nd Floor
14410 Sylvan Street, Van Nuys, 91401

The Food & Flowers Freedom Act is about allowing Angelenos to sell homegrown fruit, flowers and seedlings offsite, at local farmers’ markets for example.

See more coverage of this issue at the LAist and the Huffington Post.

Vegetable Gardening Series Starts This Weekend!

We’re teaching a three part series on vegetable gardening at the Hutington Library and Gardens starting this Saturday and there’s still some room in the class. In the course of this hands-on series we’ll reveal the secret to vegetable gardening: it’s all about the soil! To that end we’ll show you how to build a compost pile, how to interpret a soil report, how to amend the soil, how to set up a drip irrigation system, what to plant and when to plant it.

Here’s the 411:

March 27, Apr. 3 & Apr. 10

(Saturdays) 9 a.m.–noon

Learn everything you need to know about creating an organic, edible garden in this three-part series led by Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne, authors of The Urban Homestead. The class will cover planning, planting, maintaining, and harvesting. Members: $130. Non-Members: $145. Registration: 626-405-2128.

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.