Backwoods Home Magazine

Imagine Martha Stewart as a gun-toting radical libertarian and you’ll have some idea what the always informative and entertaining Backwoods Home Magazine is like. Even though its primary emphasis is rural off-grid living, every issue has something to offer for the urban homesteader. The current January/February issue features a detailed article on how city dwellers can maximize their vegetable production in small spaces. Even the article on running a cattle ranch has the side benefit of letting us all know where our food comes from, and the challenges of running a family farm, “Jessica Troxel has donned a plastic sleeve, greased it with mineral oil, and reaches in through the cow’s anus to see if this one is pregnant.” reads the caption over a photo in that article.

While the mainstream media fawns over the latest gadgets and ignores the nefarious doings of our proto-fascist government, the folks at Backwoods Home are calling hydrogen cars bullshit and informing us of Halliburton’s contract for building domestic detention camps.

If that ain’t enough the magazine features long, rambling reader letters, recipes, fetishistic firearms advice, and endearingly naïve cover art! But what SurviveLA especially appreciates is the magazine’s emphasis on techniques and knowledge over technological gimmickry.

Six issues (one year) is $23.95, but most of the articles are available for free online.

California Buckwheat

Here’s a plant SurviveLA would like to see in more Southern California gardens. California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum) has multiple uses–it provides cover and nectar for animals, grows with almost no water, and best of all it produces edible seeds. We’ve gathered the seeds we’ve found in fields and baked it into bread and added it to cereal to both boost nutritional value and to add a nutty flavor. The local and resourceful Tongva Indians used the roots and leaves for headaches and stomach problems, among many other uses including using the stems to pierce ears.

California buckwheat is available from the Theodore Payne Foundation which runs a native plant nursery in the Sun Valley area. We can easily see California buckwheat fitting into your permacluture strategies, as well as something to look out for when foreging for food–not to mention the DIY piercings . . .

Sweatin’ Pipe

Working with copper pipe is a skill that everyone should know, in fact SurviveLA thinks it should be taught to elementary school children. Home owners, renters and kids all should know how to put pipe together with a blow torch since you never know when a pipe is going to burst, not to mention being able to construct some of the solar water heating projects we touched on last week. The tools needed for this job are cheap, and thanks to youtube, we have this dude to show you how to do it. We don’t know why one of his hands is bandaged, but he does a great job sweatin’ that pipe. Just remember not to catch the house on fire – keep some water handy!

Bubble Wrap Your Windows

Photo by Nick Lowe

From the remarkable folks at Build It Solar comes this heating conservation tip – bubble wrap your windows. Simply cut sheets of bubble wrap to fit your windows, apply some water with a spray bottle and before it dries stick the bubble wrap on the glass. While you can buy special bubble wrap designed for greenhouses, according to Build It Solar, regular bubble wrap will probably work just as well. If you number the pieces you use, you can stick it up again next year.

Bubble wrapping the windows cuts down on visibility, so it’s a strategy best left to back rooms of your house or apartment. Of course, LA’s so ugly it may not matter . . .

DIY Outdoor Shower

Photo by the MacAllen Brothers

Showers are overrated. The first step in considering whether to build an outdoor solar heated shower is to take a step back and consider boring old conservation. Shower less and make sure that your domicile is equipped with a low-flow shower head. Not only will you be saving water and burning less fossil fuels to heat that water, but your body odor will soon separate your real friends from superficial hangers-on.

But we urban homesteaders don’t need to be stinky since it’s possible and easy to build an outdoor solar shower. There are two reasons this makes sense, particularly in a place with as warm a climate as LA. First of all, you can direct the water straight into the garden and in so doing irrigate some plants and keep that water from uselessly running down the sewer line. Secondly, placing the shower outdoors makes rigging up a solar heating system somewhat easier and less expensive. Of course, the solar heating part isn’t completely necessary, and it’s possible to run the hot water line out into the garden, especially since you don’t need to worry about the pipes freezing here in sunny LA. One thing to remember–however you rig the shower, make sure to keep the water directed away from your foundation.

Let’s say you’re ready to build your own solar heated shower and you’ve overcome your fear of being nude under the all seeing eye of LA’s police and media helicopters, what we like to call our “ghetto birds”. We’ll start with the most simple solar shower designs and proceeding to the deluxe models.

First off is the camping shower in a bag concept. The principle is simple–you fill a black bag with water, leave it out in the sun, and hang it somewhere for your very brief shower. We’ve not tried one of these things, but we suspect that the result would be less than luxurious, and after all, part of the reason to bathe is the relaxation it offers. But, for the mortifier of the flesh out there, one of these things might just suffice. They are certainly cheap at around $18. If you are really cheap, you can improvise the solar bag shower by filling a car inner tube with water and leaving it out in the sun.

A variation on the bag shower can be constructed out of inexpensive black ABS pipe. Basically you construct a square out of pipe, put water in it and let the sun heat it up for a few hours. Your shower lasts as long as the amount of water contained in the ABS pipe. Plans can be found here. ABS is easy to work with, and this particular design could be scaled up for longer showers. SurviveLA will run some experiments with this design and let you know about the results.

In terms of other do it yourself options several folks have experimented with simply coiling up a length of black garden hose on the roof. A nice example can be found here, and also at the Path to Freedom. The problem with this approach is that when the water is out of the hose, that’s the end of your hot shower.

A more advanced DIY solar shower that resembles commercially available (and expensive) solar water heaters can be made by constructing a glass covered collector box containing a manifold of copper pipes that feed into a used water heater. Hot water contained in the copper pipes in the collector box rises up into the water heater that is kept above the level of the collector. Hot water rises just like hot air and the cold water from the tank sinks back into the collector thus forming a circulation loop–this phenomenon is known as thermosiphoning. Some plumbing skills, are necessary, but it’s relatively easy to learn how to sweat copper pipe. We’ve used a system like this provided by the National Park Service on SurviveLA’s trip to Santa Rosa Island. The nice thing about storing the water in a tank is that you can take a shower well after the sun goes down. Plans for this project can be found on the Mother Earth News website.

Whatever approach you try, the key thing is to keep the costs down and to use as many found materials as possible. The water and gas savings per year are minimal, so in our opinion it does not make sense to buy expensive commercial outdoor showers (like the one made by Hammacher Schlemmer) when you can make something yourself.

An excellent roundup of DIY solar projects including water heating can be found at Build It Solar.