Gardening in an Apartment Windowsill

Photo courtesy of Helen Kim

Without exaggeration, this is the most amazing garden I have ever seen. It’s easy if you’re the king of France to create the gardens of Versailles, but a much greater achievement to bring nature’s abundance to an apartment windowsill in Los Angeles. It’s the handiwork of a talented photographer named Helen Kim who, in this tiny space, grows cucumber, basil, lemon verbena, alfalfa sprouts, leeks, tarragon, beans, endive, dill, arugula, oregano, parsley, stevia, green onions, thyme, strawberries, mustard greens, lemon grass, and what Helen describes as “a curryish plant that is awfully nice for smelling but underwhelming for cooking.” Read an interview with Helen about this garden here.

Gardening is not about the quantity of space one controls or the weight of the food harvested. It’s about a love for beauty, an attention to detail and an appreciation of good food. Imagine if all our unused or neglected urban spaces were as beautiful and useful as Helen’s garden. We’d live in a world transformed, one windowsill at a time.

Boulder man faces $2000 fine/day for guerilla garden fencing

Via BoingBoing (complete with video):

“[L]ast month, an enforcement officer from Boulder’s Environmental and Zoning Enforcement office showed up and said a neighbor had complained about the garden.

“She said to take it all down — the tomato cages, the trellises, the posts, the basketball hoop, everything,” Hoffenberg said.

Hoffenberg has until July 14 to take down the trellises and fencing. At that point, Arthur said, he could be cited, and a judge could impose a fine. Or the city could remove the impediments, since they’re on public property, Arthur said, if they’re not able to reach a compromise.”

Myself and three other neighbors here in my Los Angeles neighborhood are doing exactly the same parkway vegetable planting Hoffenberg is doing. All it takes is one disgruntled and unhappy neighbor. We gotta change the paradigm folks–food not lawns!

Terror of Tiny Town

The Homegrown Evolution in-box overfloweth this week with news of the cute and the tiny. Yesterday’s post about our miniature Red Currant tomatoes prompted Bruce F of Chicago to inform us that he’s working on the world’s smallest kale plant. He’s growing them in self-watering containers made with old pop bottles (more info on how to make a pop bottle self-watering container here and here). These pop bottle containers look like they’d work well for starting seeds, as they provide a constant source of water.

Nance Klehm, another intrepid Chicago resident, informed us that someone just gave her two bantam chickens for her backyard, the perfect compliment to her chihuahuas. Some say that bantams are better for smaller backyards due to their diminutive size. Readers with bantam experience please let us know what you think about keeping bantams vs. normal chickens as we only have experience with SUV sized poultry.

The photo above is, incidentally, a scene from Werner Herzog’s brilliant and inexplicable film “Even Dwarfs Started Small”.

Tomato Review #1 Red Currant–The World’s Smallest Tomato

Due to poor planning in our garden this year we’ve had a bit of a “need to get produce at the supermarket” gap. Ironically, the first bit of homegrown produce to appear this summer came in the form of what we’re calling the world’s smallest tomato: an heirloom variety Mrs. Homegrown Evolution picked up at this year’s Tomato Mania sale called Red Currant (Solanum pimpinellifolium). This is a domesticated version of wild tomato plants originating in Mexico, and produces fruit measuring about one centimeter across. Red Currant is an indeterminate tomato, with a delicious, sweet taste. A malfunctioning drip line has has meant that our specimen probably did not get enough water, but nevertheless it has managed to produce fruit despite looking unhappy. If we had more than the paltry number we’ve produced, they’d make for a tasty addition to a salad. That malfunctioning drip line means that all we have is enough for the world’s smallest BLT. If only we could find a pig the size of a cellphone.

Bugs Ate My Garden

A letter from one of our readers:

“I just read the article on growing your own food. I have tried this but have had great difficulty with insect damage. I have tried some of the “natural” insecticides but they don’t seem to work very well. Two of the major problems I have are cutworms that snip off seedlings before they can get started, and a plague of small white snails which invade later in summer and devastate everything. I cannot use chemical pesticides due to my wife’s chemical sensitivities (nor would I want to pollute my garden with them). Any suggestions?”

Read the rest of the article at Reality Sandwich

Yet Another Lawn Rant

As if there weren’t enough reasons not to have a lawn, especially in the dry parts of the world where we live, let’s add another: gruesome accidents. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that over 117,000 folks in the United States made trips to the emergency room in 2007 because of lawn mowers.

We’ve witnessed first hand the power of lawn mowers. A neighbor of ours had his windshield shattered by a rock propelled by a mower blade. As the Orthopedic Surgeons note, “The energy transferred by a typical lawn mower blade is equivalent to being shot in the hand with a .357 Magnum pistol. A lawn mower can eject a piece of metal or wood up to 100 miles per hour.”

And manual push mowers? Surprisingly they resulted in 7,159 emergency room visits.

So remove the lawn. How? Two words for ya: sheet mulch.

Appropriate Technology

Our rocket stove, pictured above, was mentioned on BoingBoing last week and we thought we’d use the occasion for a brief roundup of similar “appropriate” technology concepts. The term appropriate technology evolved out of political economist E. F. Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful and is easier to show rather than describe. While not always low-tech, appropriate tech concepts feature elegantly simple (but not simplistic) design, efficient use of energy and are usually aimed at poor countries. What Homegrown Evolution would like to prove is that these technologies have a place in developed western countries as well. Here’s three of our favorite appropriate tech ideas and websites:

1. Rocket Stoves: our brick rocket stove and a link to a video on how to make a simple metal version.

2. The glorious Solar Cooking Archive which has links to dozens of simple solar cooker plans that you can build yourself. We built our cardboard and aluminum foil Pavarti cooker with plans from the solar cooking archive.

3. AfriGadget. The subtitle of this blog says it all, “solving everyday problems with African ingenuity.”

Car Free in the City of Cars

Here’s an event that I wish I could make tonight, Friday, June 27, 2008 at 7:30 pm at L.A. Eco-Village (Directions) :

Pascal van den Noort — fresh from the Car Free Cities Conference in Portland gives a slide show and talk on Mobility & The City, where most people live. Pascal is the Amsterdam-based global bicycling advocate and Executive Director of Velo Mondial who does the stunning bike blog at http://velomondial.blogspot.com/ You will hear and see how other challenged cities have moved forward with bicycling infrastructure and the culture to match it. Bring your hardest questions on what is holding LA back from becoming one of the “best cycling cities in the world.” Other websites that Pascal is associated with include: www.velo.info and http://spicycles.velo.info

Fee: $5. No reservations required. More info: Joe Linton 213/220-1608

This talk is sponsored by L.A. Eco-Village in association with: CICLE, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and CRSP in support of the Los Angeles Bike Summit planned for the fall
by the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College.

And a special thanks to Joe Linton and everyone at the L.A. Eco-Village for inviting us to speak last night!

June: National Bathroom Reading Month

By bikin’ friend Colin informed me last week that he had heard a report on National Public Radio about June being, “National Bathroom Reading Month”. Doing a little digging revealed that, sadly, it was just a publicity stunt for a series of un-funny bathroom humor books and did not have the backing of our congress, senate or president. Nevertheless we thought we’d celebrate bathroom reading month anyways with a look at what journals, catalogs and books grace the Homegrown Evolution throne room reading stack.

Water Quality Report ’07 from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Every year we get this and pledge we’ll study up on the science behind water quality. Another year has passed and all we can critique about this report is the fact that LA DWP doesn’t seem to know that Silver Lake is two words not one. We could also point out the odd choice of Echo Park Lake for the cover. It’s both heavily polluted and, thankfully, not a source of drinking water. While we proudly drink our L.A. tap water, we use bottled water for our home brewing projects due to the chlorine. Here’s a link to how you can compare a water quality report like this one to what kind of water is good for making beer.

Performance Bicycle Catalog. We get a lot of these catalogs since every few months we break a bike tail light and have to order a new one. They just don’t build bicycle accessories to last! These bike catalogs, aimed at recreational cyclists who drive somewhere to ride their bikes (note the cover) feature lots of god-awful candy-colored spandex outfits, $5,000 mountain bikes and nutritional supplements. Precisely the items you don’t want for getting around urban Los Angeles. This particular catalog featured something new, however, his and hers matching bikes from Schwinn called, we kid you not, “Sid and Nancy“. Sid and Nancy feature automatic shifting since either bike gears are too complicated for Americans to figure out, or folks want to do what they do while driving: talk on cell phones. But why do Sid and Nancy have gears at all? Wouldn’t brake-less fixed gear bikes be more appropriate given the punk rock (not to mention murder/suicide) reference?

Arthur Magazine. Homegrown Evolution, being cheap, can never pass up a free publication when we see one though we usually skip stooping to pick up the senior citizen rag Not Born Yesterday. Arthur is always worth picking up. Lot’s of great articles here from The Center for Tactical Magic, Erik Davis and our favorite media theorist Douglas Rushkoff. The May issue has a column by Chicago’s master forager and occasional resident in our humble casa, Nancy Klehm. Nancy explains how to make dandelion wine and extols the virtues of urine in your compost pile.

Real Goods Catalog. This is sort of a Sky Mall for environmentalists. Produced by the same folks who put out the worthwhile Solar Living Source Book, most of the items in this catalog are beyond our modest writing-derived income level. Some things look useful, but there’s a lot of dubious stuff such as solar hat fans and electric scooters. And we suspect you can get many of the items in the catalog cheaper elsewhere, though we’re intrigued with the solar attic fans.

Backwoods Home Magazine. We love Backwoods Home for its informative articles, unedited and rambling letters to the editor and for the outsider artist who does all the illustrations. Imagine Martha Stewart Living with columns on both vegetable gardening and tips on disassembling your AR15. We’re not libertarians ourselves but with both mainstream presidential candidates supporting warrantless wiretapping we’re beginning to see their points. Best of all, most of Backwoods Home is available free online.

Backyard Poultry Magazine. Poultry porn for small scale chicken, duck, guinea and quail enthusiasts. As most books about poultry are for big poultry farms, this magazine is a very useful resource for those of us with small backyard flocks. Backyard Poultry has everything from showing birds to eating them. This is where we learned how to build the portable run that is in our back yard that we’ll blog about soon. Plans for that run can be seen here.

Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply Catalog. A great source for seeds, bare root trees and many other items. We ordered our fig and pomegranate trees, our grape vines and our cover crop seeds from Peaceful Valley and have been happy with all of these items.

Of course, here’s a book that should be in every bathroom, the Humanure Handbook.