A Parvati Solar Cooker

...our first pot of rice we used a black enamel pot to better absorb the heat of the sun’s rays, and wrapped it in a roasting bag to increase the efficiency of the cooker. A five gallon bucket made a convenient stand and did not have to be rotated in the two hours it took to cook the rice. Longer cooking times would require re-aiming the cooker as the sun moves across the sky. Temperature in the pot quickly went over 180º F, the point at whic...

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In Praise of Disorder

Loose chickens in Houston A neighborhood whose demographics fall somewhere between the extremes of the crack den and the country club presents just the right level of civic inattention to allow the urban homesteader to get away with many of the illegal projects profiled in this blog: greywater, backyard poultry, and front yard vegetable gardening, to mention just a few. Ideally you have a balance between order and disorder–neither gunfir...

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An open letter to Trader Joes

...t what exactly does “cage free” mean? Unfortunately the USDA does not regulate the term cage free so its definition in terms of the actual living conditions of the hens who laid the eggs is uncertain. Perhaps you could redesign your packaging to give us an actual representation of where these eggs came from to clarify a few issues for us. To save your marketing folks some time we’ve done it for you: First off we removed the chic...

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Mead!

...17;ve tasted the Ethopian honey wine known as Tej, we’ve never had mead, so we decided to cook up a batch. It’s way too early to tell if we have a tasty beverage or a gallon of home brewed Listerine–it will be many months before the stuff is drinkable. But we thought we’d note how we made it, based on a recipe in Ken Schramm’s book The Compleat Meadmaker. We downsized the recipe from five gallons to one gallon, figur...

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Is Kombucha Safe?

...cans. While describing the contamination rate as “low” (nearly 1 out of 10 samples seems high to us) it goes on to recommended that immunosuppresed individuals buy commercial kombucha instead of making it at home. A literature review conducted by the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth in the UK concludes, “the largely undetermined benefits do not outweigh the documented risks of kombucha,” said risks including, “s...

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What We’re Going To Do About That Lead

White sage, yarrow, rosemary and aloe vera–the kind of plants we’ll be planting more of. Let’s assume that we have a lead problem in our backyard. That’s a big assumption at this point because we now have two very conflicting test results. But, for the sake of an argument, let’s say the first alarming test is true, what are we going to do about it? These are the options: Radical remediation: Remove all t...

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Kelly’s “EDC”

...pocketed belt-like-thing that I could wear on my hips (not a fanny pack), to leave my shoulders unburdened, but it would take some fashion adjustment to wear a utility belt every day. For now, though, my bag is my EDC. And while it can devolve into a giant pit of flyers, receipts, misplaced business cards, crushed snacks and sometimes even plant matter, I do carry a few items that would be useful in an emergency. At Erik’s challenge, I unp...

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My mental glitch: hay vs. straw

...l is cast on this shore by Google, this is the difference between hay and straw: Hay refers to grasses or legume plants cut down fresh and baled for animal feed. Hay bales are usually greener than straw bales, the plant material finer. Hay smells really nice, too. You would not want to use this stuff as mulch, or you’d end up sprouting a yard full of alfalfa or whatever. It’s also more expensive than straw, about three times as mu...

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Compost Rebuttal

...this due to my anal retentive approach to composting. So why am I unhappy with this pile? The reason is simple: it’s too small and will never generate enough heat to: Kill weed seeds. Kill human and plant pathogens. Kill root nematodes. Don’t just believe me, listen to soil scientist Dr. Elaine Ingham in this youtube video: Ingham’s work is controversial, but I believe time will prove her ideas correct. To grow fussy plant...

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Vegetable Garden Update: Too Much Salad

...s. She’s also tired of me pointing out, each time I prepare a salad, that it’s made with fancy-pants Italian varieties. But these greens are tasty and eye catching. Not even “Whole Paycheck” carries this stuff–you gotta grow it yourself. I got these seeds from the good folks at Winnetka Farms who run an heirloom seed store. I, pretty much, just call up Craig at Winnetka Farms and ask him what I should plant. I grow...

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