Denver and Los Angeles Experience Crowds Staring at Chicken Coops

Denver Urban Homesteaders looking at a chicken coop

Judging from the phone calls and emails coming into the Homegrown Evolution compound, America has discovered that it just might be a good idea to grow some vegetables and keep some chickens. There’s lots of motivating factors, no doubt. A bad economy and dissatisfaction with factory farming to start. But we also suspect that folks have discovered that it’s just plain fun to do all the old home arts with the handy networking tool known as the internet.

Above, the Denver Urban Homesteading meetup group. If you’re in the Denver area (where Mrs. Homegrown Evolution spent her formative years) get to know these fine folks at: http://www.meetup.com/Greater-Denver-Urban-Homesteaders/

LA Urban Homesteaders looking at a chicken coop. Photo by Elon Schoenholz

In a strikingly similar photo, our urban livestock workshop that we hosted yesterday featuring us talking about chickens, Leonardo Chalupawicz (from the Backwards Beekeepers) on bees and Joan Stevens introducing rabbits. We had to turn away quite a few folks, so watch this blog for news of more workshops soon.

Perennial Vegetables

For lazy gardeners such as ourselves nothing beats perennial vegetables. Plant ‘em once and you’ve got food for years. For novice gardeners, perennials are plants that, unlike say broccoli (an “annual”), don’t need to be replanted every spring. The best known perennial vegetable in the west is probably asparagus which, given the right conditions, will produce fresh stalks for years. But there are many thousands more perennials little known to North American gardeners that are a lot easier to grow than fussy asparagus.

Unfortunately, there used to be a lack of information about edible perennials until the publication of Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book, Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles. We’ve got a few of the species Toensmeier mentions: artichoke, prickly pear cactus, stinging nettles, crosnes (more on those in another post) and goji berries. Edible Perennials contains growing information for each species offering something for every climate in North America.

Up to now many of these plants were hard to find, but growing interest in edible perennials and the power of the internet has brought many of these species into our backyards. See the Mother Earth News Seed Search Engine on the right side of this page to hunt down some of the more rare items.

Now, time to fertilize those goji berries and ponder the controversial air potato.

Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS)

Via Afrigadget, a visual explanation of how to disinfect water with just a PET plastic bottle. The diagram, developed by Unicef, pretty much speaks for itself. Too much gunk in the water? Let it settle and filter through some cloth. At least six hours of sunlight will be enough UV to kill bad buggies. Using solar water disinfection, or “SODIS”, replaces the need to boil water, thus reducing deforestation to supply fire wood.

Obviously, this is not a long term solution. Drinking water out of heated plastic bottles can’t be a good thing. But in a pinch . . .

More info here.

We sometimes make mistakes . . .

Some time ago we printed the wrong email address for Franchi seed distributor Craig Ruggless. His correct email address is: [email protected]. Send him a note and he’ll send you a catalog. Check out Craig’s blog here or drop by his booth at the Sierra Madre farmer’s market on Wednesdays.

We’ve been using Franchi seeds for years and have been consistently impressed with the results.

Sky full of Paw Paws

Mrs. Homegrown Evolution is deeply concerned about Mr. Homegrown Evolution’s midlife obsession with rare fruit trees. The California Rare Fruit Grower’s Fruit Gardner Magazine is the new Hustler around here. And now our fruit tree internet video porn needs have been satisfied. This week, the always superb Sky Full of Bacon video podcast from Chicago’s Michael Gebert serves up a tour of Oriana Kruszewski’s orchard which contains Asian pears, paw paws and black walnuts trees. Kruszewski’s knowledge, enthusiasm and perseverance is inspiring.


Sky Full of Bacon 08: Pear Shaped World from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Urban Livestock and Bikes!

India: chickens and bikes in a photo by Shabbir Siraj

Urban Livestock Workshop
Homegrown Evolution will be hosting an urban livestock workshop at our humble abode in Silver Lake on March 1st from 1-4pm. We’ll be talkin’ chicken, permaculturist Joan Stevens will be rapping about rabbits and Leonardo Chalupowicz will share his recent experience of becoming a “backwards” beekeeper. We’ll discuss how to integrate these animals into your backyard and how they can serve multiple purposes beyond just being pets. Suggested donation: $10 to $20. Space is limited, so please RSVP by sending an email to [email protected].

LA Bike Summit
Ride on down to LA Trade Tech College on Saturday March 7th for the LA Bike Summit. From 9 to 4 p.m. there will be a bunch of panels and lectures including a PowerPoint from Homegrown Evolution entitled, “Complete Streets: Lessons from the Past as a Blueprint for the Future.” It’s free but you should register at LAbikesummit.org. Folks who register by Monday, February 23rd (before noon PST) will get a free lunch catered by the gentleman above (just kidding, but you will get that free lunch).

Seeds are from Mars

You gotta be a modern day Pythagoras to parse out the moral geometry of our complex food system. Our hasty blog post on growing Dragon Carrots from Seeds of Change prompted a few comments and a phone call alerting us to ethical concerns about the seed company. Knowing the diversity of readers of this blog, we’re simply going to toss out the issues and let you all make up your own minds.

Seeds of Change began as a small New Mexico based company back in 1989, launched a series of organic convenience foods in Europe in 1996 and was purchased by Mars Incorporated, a family owned snack food company in 1997. Last year Mars partnered with Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway (check out that retro B-H website!) to buy Wrigley and create a ginormous financial candy bar. Mmmm, cashy nougats!

One of the founders of Seeds of Change, Howard-Yana Shapiro, now serves as director of plant science and external research for Mars Inc. and is vice president of agriculture at Seeds of Change. He’s the well respected author of Gardening for the Future of the Earth, and is currently at work overseeing the sequencing the Cocao genome in a joint project with the US Department of Agriculture, Mars. Inc. and IBM. As for the ultimate outcome of that project, according to the BBC, “Dr Shapiro would not be drawn on whether the research might lead to genetically modified chocolate. “

As for Seeds of Change’s parent company, an article in the Ecologist, criticizes Mars Inc for opposing EU health laws aimed at curing obesity and for failing to offer fair trade chocolate. Others say the company is a model of responsible business practices. Homegrown Evolution reader Jeremy claims that Seeds of Change, “tried to shut down the HDRA’s Heritage Seed Library,” and “registered an ancient Hopi “mandala” as their trade-mark.” I’ve been unable to dig up further information on the internets about either of these issues, so I’m asking Jeremy to leave some links in the comments.

Our friend, author and neighbor Ysanne Spevack has a positive article about her visit to Seeds of Change in New Mexico. The Mars Inc. corporate promotional video, which features Shapiro at the end, can be viewed here. We have to admit that the video gives us the heebie jeebies but, like most readers of this blog, we’re not exactly in the target audience for M&Ms with printed messages.

When a visionary like Shapiro gets involved with a large company you get a bottomless rabbit’s hole discussion about the morality of “change from within” and taking a good concepts, like organics and biodiversity, to the masses. You’re all welcome to debate these issues in the comments, but here at Homegrown Evolution we’re moving on to a soon to be defined new paradigm. All we know is that it will be more local, and the seeds we exchange will be our own.

Of course, if the Skittles folks offer to pay off Homegrown Evolution’s mortgage and dental bills . . .

A Purple Dragon Carrot


It’s purple, it’s fairly tasty and it came from Seeds of Change. [Please note, Homegrown Evolution Reader Jeremy comments: "Seeds of Change, those super-friendly people who are owned by the Mars Corporation, who tried to shut down the HDRA's Heritage Seed Library, and who registered am ancient Hopi "mandala" as their trade-mark? Enjoy." Thanks Jeremy, we'll be doing some research on this one.] According to the seed package it was bred by someone named John Navazio who I can find no information about on the internets. John clearly has more important things to do than updating a Facebook page.

My dragon carrots grew without a hitch in our “guerrilla” parkway garden. As you can see from the photo, the carrot has a deep purple color reminiscent of the domesticated carrot’s wild ancestors, which were probably tamed in what is now Afghanistan. Wikipedia identifies the purple hue of these carrots as anthocyanin a possible source of antioxidants and a common pigment in many red-hued fruits and vegetables.

Also note all that foliage. It’s edible. I tossed the carrot tops in with some couscous, olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a tasty dinner. The carrots themselves were served as a side dish mixed with a dressing made out of olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Tell the Bees

Anderson removing a hive from a fence. Photo from the Backwards Beekeepers.

Urban beekeeper Kirk Anderson has a vision: bees, kept without the use of chemicals, in backyards all over Los Angeles. Homegrown Evolution was lucky to be able to attend a beekeeping class taught by the very knowledgeable and entertaining Anderson, who has a theory:

“There has been a lot of news stories about the bees dying. They became infested with a parasitic mite in the 80′s. Many Bees died. The solution for these mites has been various chemicals and medicines. These chemicals and medicines have produced a resistant mite and a weak bee and also contaminated the bees wax and the hives.

After getting into beekeeping again I read that all the Feral or wild bees were dead or dying off because of the mite. While living in Los Angeles and being a house painter I noticed this was untrue. The wild bees in Los Angeles are flourishing. I have not purchased bees for four years now but catch wild bees here in Los Angeles. This makes a good supply of healthy bees that have not been treated with chemicals. Healthy bees. I realized that the mites are in the environment now they aren’t going away. You need bees that can live with mites — survive with the mites.”

For more information on keeping bees in Los Angeles, see Anderson’s website, kirksurbanbees.com. Anderson will also capture swarms and give them a new home.

To attend a meeting/class see the blog of the Backwards Beekeepers, (backwards in the sense of going back to a chemical free style of beekeeping). Even if you aren’t in Los Angeles, the Backwards Beekeepers site has a lot of nice tips and information. And what an amazing group people! In the midst of our challenging economic times, it’s groups like this, forming around a sense of group cooperation and problems solving that are going to really shift the paradigm in the coming years. Let’s hope that Backwards Beekeeping groups will form all over the world.