Welcome to the Summer Fruit Season

Homegrown Neighbor here again. I just picked the first peaches of the summer from a tree in my backyard. They are an early variety called Florida Prince. One was so ripe it immediately started oozing fresh peach juice onto my hand which I readily licked off. It was intensely sweet and full of peach flavor. The peaches all have the most wonderful aroma. Grocery store fruit never has a smell that intense and lovely. Yesterday I ate my first plum of the season as well, a variety called Beauty. It was super sweet and delicious. I am very happy to begin the summer fruit season. I will continue to gorge myself on these sweet treats while they are at their peak over the next few months. And now for the shameless plugs- I’ll be at the Old L.A. Farmer’s Market in Highland Park this afternoon selling veggie seedlings and fruit trees. So come and visit and pick up your very own peach tree and some growing tips. And did you know fruit trees are excellent for irrigating with greywater? Learn how you can irrigate your home orchard with your old laundry water at the greywater workshop tomorrow night with my Homegrown neighbors. Soon you will have an abundant and water-wise garden.

Greywater Workshop at Good Magazine

We’ll be doing a greywater workshop at Good Magazine this Wednesday May 27th from 7 to 9 p.m. Directions and RSVP info are here.

We’re going to focus on what I consider to be the easiest way to reuse your greywater: hacking your washing machine. We’ll take a look at a couple of approaches including our surge tank, pictured above, which we just got around to elevating with scrap lumber to get a gravity assist. We’ll also look at Art Ludwig’s direct “laundry to landscape” system.

Topics will also include:

  • Greywater compatible detergents
  • Choosing the best plants for greywater
  • Creating mulch basins
  • Greywater dos and don’ts
  • Plumbing parts
  • Water conservation and efficiency
  • Greywater cocktails (just kidding)

Hope to see you all tomorrow!

Wonderful Worms

 I’ve been composting with worms for many years now and I am continually impressed by how good they are at what they do- eat our garbage. 

For those who want to start a worm bin of their own you can either buy a bin or make your own. I must say the black, stacking bins made from recycled plastic work very well. They are well designed to allow for a lot of waste in a small footprint and provide good drainage, which is absolutely key for worms. I’ve also made my own bin and I’ll write about that in a separate post. Target has also come out with a fancy worm bin they call the MIO(I’m not sure how to make the link work so you’ll just have to look it up) . I’m incredibly jealous because I wanted to be the first to come out with a snazzy, hip worm compost bin. The Target bin is cute but unlike other prefab bins it is not made from recycled plastic. I still kind of want one. 
Mr. Homegrown has encouraged me to share my failures because apparently readers of this blog love to hear about projects gone awry. I’ve only had one problem with worms but it was a doozy. I had been composting with worms for several years without a glitch when I got overly enthusiastic and threw everything off. There is a local juice bar that doesn’t compost. All that lovely, ground up juicing waste just ends up in the trash. So I decided to take home a big bag- maybe twenty pounds of ground up carrots, wheatgrass, apples, kale and whatever for the worms. I spread it out as a layer in one of the bins. Several days later I noticed flies. I opened the bin and there were all of these hideous larvae crawling around. Now I love worms, but larvae are just gross. They were some kind of fly larvae. I screamed and jumped up and down shrieking for about 5 minutes. I closed the bin and decided to wait. Composting is all about balance. I knew I had thrown off the equilibrium of my worm composting system. After about five days of just letting the bin do its thing I started by slowly adding just my morning coffee grounds. I put down a thick layer of shredded newspaper to keep any more flies from getting in. After about two weeks I had restored the balance, the larvae were gone and the worms and I have lived happily ever after.

City Farm Chicago

Chicago’s City Farm is a stunning bit of green smack in the middle of the concrete jungle, sandwiched between the remnants of the controversial Cabrini-Green housing project and the Gold Coast. A program of the non-profit Resource Center, City Farm sells produce to chefs, operates a vegetable stand and provides opportunities for economically under-developed neighborhoods.

City Farm is a mobile endeavor. The basic idea is to take advantage of some vacant land and, when the inevitable development comes, pull up everything and move on. Assuming that urban land is contaminated, the City Farm folks simply piled up about three feet of compost, soil and mulch right on top of the broken concrete and asphalt of its current location. All that soil will move when the yuppie condos replace the salad greens and radishes. City Farm is an idea that makes sense in big U.S. cities which, despite astronomical real estate prices, have large amounts of unused space.

The growing season is just starting up at City Farm and I’ll have more photos when I get back to Los Angeles (forgot a camera cable thingy). Many thanks to Nancy Klehm for hosting me here, filmmaker Deborah Stratman for loaning me a bicycle and to Lora Hall for the fantastic guest blogs.

Lord of the Flies Inspired Bike Rack

Homegrown Neighbor here. When I saw this unique piece of public art/functional bike rack I just had to stop and take a picture to share.  I was on my way home from the Central Library, where I had checked out some books on Belgian beer for a project I’m working on. I walked up Broadway to catch the bus home, stopping at Grand Central Market on the way. But outside the market I saw this truly strange sculpture with many bikes locked to it. Obviously it was designed to celebrate the market, where meat, produce, spices, nuts and almost any imaginable type of ethnic food can be found. The top is adorned with two pigs’ heads. The corners have fruits and vegetables in them. I think it is kind of grotesque but very eye-catching. I also like that it has  four posts, allowing a lot of well spaced area to lock your bike to.

Meet My Chickens: the continuing story of Chickenzilla



Homegrown Neighbor here. My chicken Whitey, a.k.a. Chickenzilla, has been laying some wonderful eggs lately. Of course, she is a meat chicken, not a layer. I think of her as a “rescue” chicken. Most meat chickens are harvested between just 7 and 10 weeks of age. At over a year old now, Chickenzilla is likely one of the oldest broiler hens alive.  But she is a surprisingly good layer, with a big, bad-ass personality to match her immense body. When I first got her she only wanted to eat chicken kibble, which is mostly corn. When I let her out in the run she would just sit down and do nothing. She was a perfectly lazy broiler hen– a corporate agribusiness chicken. Eventually the other chickens showed her how good bugs and greens are and she started scratching around in the dirt and eating worms. Now she eats all her greens like a good girl. She has more kale and less corn in her diet these days. And she is very active. Despite her heft she can outrun all the other chickens when I throw a choice grub or beetle into their enclosure. She can even jump/fly the three feet into the compost bin to hunt for good eats. If Chickenzilla can leave her corn-fed agribusiness breeding behind and transform into a homegrown, vegetable loving, free range, compost enthusiast chicken then maybe there is hope for the American food system.

On the Southwest Chief to Chicago


I’m heading to Chicago aboard Amtrak’s Southwest Chief this evening for a series of workshops. Hope to see some of you in Chicago.

When I get back to Los Angeles, Mrs. Homegrown and I will be leading a greywater workshop at Good Magazine on the 27th of May. Details to follow.

In Altadena on May 30th I’ll be doing a talk, “Living Simply, Living Abundantly” at the Altadena Community Center 730 East Altadena Drive from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

And, god help us, we’re twittering (so much for living simply). Follow our twitter feed along the right side of the blog–just above the ad for our favorite greywater detergent. And folks, please buy some detergent so that we can get a sleeper car next time!

Introducing Lora Hall

Please put your hands together and welcome Homegrown Evolution guest blogger Lora Hall. Lora is a neighbor, owns Los Angeles’ largest hen, Southern California’s largest rhubarb plant and is currently finishing a graduate degree at Cal Poly Pomona. Her master’s work involves the use of vermicomposting to break down a variety of materials (maybe we can get her to explain this!).

You can meet Lora in person and pick up some seedlings and fruit trees at the Highland Park farmer’s market (map) where she runs a booth with Trisha Mazure every Tuesday from 3 to 8 pm. When we visited her at the market last week Lora had a bunch of interesting plants including purslane, tomatoes, tomatillos as well as a selection of fruit trees appropriate for our warm climate.

In the LA area and want some fruit trees for your backyard? Some gardening advice? Contact Lora at [email protected]. Lora will be posting as Homegrown Neighbor.

Bicycles and GPS


So at a time when the whole hipster stripped-down fixed-gear bike phenomenon has just passed its inevitable pop cultural zenith, this post will come across as impossibly nerdy. Yesterday I finally got around to strapping my small handheld GPS unit to the handlebars of my road bike and I can say that this particular combination of 19th century technology and 20th century electronics rocks.

The only sane way to get around Los Angeles and most large American cities on a bike is to find alternate routes: quiet side streets well away from the major arterials. Over the past few years I’ve gotten pretty good at studying a map to find bike friendly streets. I go well out of my way to avoid six lane boulevards, not so much because I think they are more dangerous, but simply because I don’t like getting into altercations with motorists. I’ll zig and zag, hopping from one residential street to another. The problem has been having to print out maps and pull them out of a pocket every few blocks, since I tend to easily forget directions.

My GPS unit (an earlier version of this Garmin handheld with a handlebar mount) and the accompanying software nicely solves this problem. I can use the mapping software to draw a route and load it into the handheld. The GPS unit beeps before I approach a turn and points the way. I generally don’t like anything that distracts from the craziness of our roads, so I’ve never used a cyclometer. I’ve found that the GPS unit actually cuts down on distractions since I don’t have to swivel my head around to figure out where I’m going. I can just pay attention to the road and let those GPS satellites tell me when to make a turn. It’s kinda like the way the military guides in “smart” bombs, except instead of an explosion you get me, a middle-aged eco-blogging dork on a bike.

The next step will be to try the even more incongruous combination of a camel and a GPS, though I’m sure that this high-tech/low-tech combo is being done quite effectively elsewhere in the world. But here in LA, a surly camel might come in handy the next time someone yells, “get off the road!”