Dome Building

Drop City Chicken Coop

Whenever the entwined notions of sustainability, green building, environmentalism and the lingering remains of the 60s counterculture address architecture and the places we live in, inevitably Buckminster Fuller influenced forms seem to just spring from the landscape like mushrooms after a particularly wet winter. Perhaps the idealism of folks interested in saving the world, especially do-it-yourself types, lends itself to visionary solutions. But these same dome building visionaries are also known for leaky, impractical, expensive and ugly geodesic domes draped in ill-fitting brown asphalt roofing material.

There are some basic problems with domes. The primary one is that, like it or not, building materials tend to come in 4 by 8 foot dimensions or some even numbered and square shaped variation. This makes Buckminster Fuller’s complex geodesic shapes very impractical to build, at least if you care about cost and wasted materials. The other problem is that people, especially Westerners are square. We sit, stand and lay down–for the most part all 90º activities. Our square and vertical beds, chairs and tables reflect this reality. Square people with their square furniture tend not to fit well in the round shape of your typical hippie dome. This is not to mention all those complex angles involved in building the damn things, and the fact that all of these intersecting angles will someday leak. And we can’t also forget the embarrassing possibilities of the whispering dome effect, where the shape of the dome acts as a sound reflector, bouncing intimate sounds from one end of your domed domicile to the other.

The Integratron

But domes have an undeniable beauty, a pureness of form and it’s no coincidence that domes are often used for religions temples and governmental buildings. Homegrown Revolution was lucky to be able to visit one of the more eccentric domes in the world, UFO contactee George Van Tassel’s enigmatic Integratron, located in Landers California. The Integratron, originally built as a sort of cosmic healing device or perhaps as a time machine, is a startling dome build entirely out of wood without a single nail.

So having spent a delightful hour in the Integratron, we thought we’d do a quick roundup of domes for all the DIY visionaries out there.

First off, Homegrown Revolution reader andrewed tipped us off to C.E. Henderson’s Conic Shelter™. Henderson has devised an attractive not-really-a-dome form that works with, rather than against the ubiquitous 4 x 8′ sheet of plywood.

The Zome dome is a geometrical form that also works better with standard building materials. It’s most popular in rural France, but there are numerous examples in North America, as well as a children’s toy that looks like fun. Passive solar guru Steve Baer is responsible both for the Zome as architecture and toy.

For those who want to get busy in the backyard and construct a simple dome out of scavenged materials, here’s a great resource.

And on also on the simpler end of the visionary spectrum we have this humble geodesic chicken coop.

Daikon Radish Pickles

 Don’t cut your radishes like this!
Cut them in coins. See comments.

Even though we know–intellectually–that for centuries people have preserved food via lacto-fermentation, again, as with cultured milk, it is a head trip for grocery store kids like us to soak some veggies in brine for a few weeks, open them up and chow down.

Lacto-Fermentation is a process in which naturally occurring lactic acid producing bacteria are allowed to multiply. The lactic acid that they produce prevents the growth of the kinds of bacteria that cause spoilage. Thus lacto-fermentation is a method of preserving foods as well as a way of creating a distinct flavor. Lacto-fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, Swiss cheese, and sourdough bread among many others.

Lactic acid producing bacterias, and there are many different varieties, tend to have a high tolerance for salt unlike their unwanted bacterial cousins. The process of lacto-fermentation begins with creating a brine, which is the is the way pickles used to be made–most store bought pickles are now made with vinegar due to unwarranted safety concerns over lacto-fermentation.

Today, sauerkraut is the best known lacto-fermented food. Dill pickles are traditionally made this way too. In an old country store pickle barrel, lacto fermented pickles would sit out all winter long. All they’d do is make sure the brine always covered the pickles. They’d get stronger flavored, and softer textured as the year went on, but they lasted.

We look forward to trying this with cucumbers, but for this first experiment we used a big, pretty daikon from the farmers market. The entire process is amazingly simple:

Stir up a brine solution of 2 Tablespoons sea salt (un-iodized salt) to 1 quart water. Note that you must use salt that has no additives-check the ingredients of your salt to make sure that it contains nothing but salt. Additives in salt can prevent the lacto-fermentation process from occurring. Bottled water is best, but we used LA tap with no ill effects. The worry is that the chlorine in tap water will also interfere with the culture.

Peel and slice the daikon, and pack it into a very clean quart sized mason jar. Add a peeled garlic clove if you want. Pour the brine over the slices until the jar is nearly full. Leave just a little room at the top for gas expansion. Put the lid on, and place it your cupboard for as long as you can wait. A week, two weeks, a month–the flavor changes over time. We waited 2 weeks.

When we opened the jar it hissed and fizzed, and let off the powerful aroma of sauerkraut. We fished out the first slice, sniffed it and eyeballed it like curious but frightened monkeys. An uninformed and vague discussion of botulism followed. Finally the gauntlet was thrown down, and the challenge could not be ignored: are we wimps or are we homesteaders? So we ate of the fruit. Or one of us did. The other stood by ready to dial 911.

Yum! Our pickled daikons are salty and garlic-y and firm, and taste a lot like a good garlic dill, only with a different texture. Now that the jar is open, we’re keeping it in the fridge.

Physalis pruinosa a.k.a. “Ground Cherry”

While strolling the nursery seed isle this weekend looking for things to plant for our summer food needs, Homegrown Revolution came across a strange fruit we’ve never heard of, Physalis pruinosa, a.ka. ground cherry, a.k.a. husk tomato. a.k.a. strawberry tomato. Homegrown Revolution hates to throw around scientific names for plants but in this case we have to because the common names get so confusing. The back of the Tompson & Morgan seed package mis-labels this plant as the “Cape Gooseberry” (“Cape Gooseberry” is actually the very similar Physalis peruviana).

Physalis pruinosa is part of a genus Physalis of the nightshade or Solanaceae family, which includes edible plants such as tomatoes and potatoes, and psychotropic plants such as datura and tobacco. Many plants of the nightshade family combine edibility and toxicity–Physalis pruinosa has edible fruit that tastes something like a cross between a pineapple and a tomato, with the rest of the plant being poisonous.

The Physalis genus, which includes Physalis pruinosa, is somewhat of a neglected backwater of the nightshade family with a number of very similar plants that produce sweet berries including the aforementioned Physalis peruviana or Cape Gooseberry, Physalis heterophylla, also known by the unappetizing name “Clammy Ground Cherry”, Physalis philadelphica, the Purple Ground Cherry, Physalis pubescens also known as the Ground Cherry and Husk Tomato, Physalis viscosa, the Sticky Ground Cherry and the much more common (at least in our neighborhood) Physalis ixocarpa or Tomatillo. To add to the confusion several hybrids exist of these plants. Clammy ground cherry pie anyone?

As for the fruit of Physalis pruinosa itself, it does not ship well, hence you’ll never find it in American supermarkets, which only seem to carry things that have been shipped for thousands of miles and are therefore both durable and, inevitably, tasteless. Cultivating strange things like this is one of the best arguments for growing your own food–access to flavorful and exotic fruits and vegetables.

The very similar Cape Gooseberry (Physalis perviana) is commercially cultivated in many places in the world but is not considered an important crop. It is most commonly used in jams and pies. According to the Horticulture department of Purdue University,

In England, the cape gooseberry was first reported in 1774. Since that time, it has been grown there in a small way in home gardens, and after World War II was canned commercially to a limited extent. Despite this background, early in 1952, the Stanford Nursery, of Sussex, announced the “Cape Gooseberry, the wonderful new fruit, especially developed in Britain by Richard I. Cahn.” Concurrently, jars of cape goosebery jam from England appeared in South Florida markets and the product was found to be attractive and delicious. It is surprising that this useful little fruit has received so little attention in the United States in view of its having been reported on with enthusiasm by the late Dr. David Fairchild in his well-loved book, The World Was My Garden. He there tells of its fruiting “enormously” in the garden of his home, “In The Woods”, in Maryland, and of the cook’s putting up over a hundred jars of what he called “Inca Conserve” which “met with universal favor.”

Our package of Physalis pruinosa was priced at a staggering $3.99–a lot considering the package only contained 12 seeds. You can be certain that we’ll be doing some seed saving on this one if we get a successful crop! The googling required to sort out the many common names of Physalis pruinosa revealed an intriguing source of seeds, Trade Winds Fruit, located in Chula Vista. Trade Winds carries a number of nightshade family plants including four from the Physalis genus and even something called Solanum uporo or Cannibal’s Tomato, so called because it’s well suited for making a sauce compatible with human flesh.

We’ll forgo the cannibal recipes, at least for now . . .

Homegrown Revolution at the Silver Lake Film Festival

Thanks to the cinematic revolutionaries at the Echo Park Film Center, Homegrown Revolution’s debut video “How to Build a Self Watering Container” will premiere at the Silver Lake Film Festival, as part of the Sustainable LA program on SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY May 6th at 11:30 a.m. at the LosFeliz 3 (1822 North Vermont Avenue-map).

We’ll be sharing a program with composting Culver City comrade Elon Schoenholz, the Fallen Fruit dudes, and even the illustrious Midnight Ridazz, who have agreed to wake up before noon to attend.

Join us for the after-party, and the after-after-party during which we’ll go find a barricade to storm.

Cooking with Poo

Homegrown Revolution Toronto correspondent Nicholas Sammond wrote us this morning asking if it would be possible to generate enough methane in his new abode via a composting toilet to cook with. It’s a great question since once abundant natural gas is getting scarce and expensive here in North America, and the desperation has gotten to the point that large and dangerous liquefied natural gas terminals are in the proposal stage across the continent.

Unfortunately, as individuals we produce just enough methane gas each day to barely heat a cup of tea. If you own pigs, it’s a different matter. Francisco X. Aguilar of the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester has come up with a simple way for folks with a few pigs to generate methane with little more than a big plastic bag. Each day you add one bucket of excrement and five buckets of water. In return you get “biogas” and usable compost.

Some clever artistes have turned biogas into art. A Danish collective who call themselves Superflex have created a biogas system involving an bright orange ball to collect biogas and claim that just two cows will generate enough gas for 8 to 10 people.

SurviveLA is working acquiring a herd of water buffalo for Silver Lake. Next step will be to tear up the asphalt parking lot of the RiteAid for pasture. A plastic bag, some pvc pipes, and we’re in business.