A Prickly Situation

Today’s post is for clueless white folks as our hermanos y hermanas already know this shit. As we’ve suggested before the rule with landscaping at the Homegrown Evolution compound is, if you gotta water it you gotta be able to eat it. But there are a few miracle plants, well adapted to Southern California’s climate, that are both edible and don’t need watering. One of the most versatile is the prickly pear cactus, of which there are about a dozen varieties all under the Opuntia genus (Family Cactaceae). In the late spring the plant produces new leaves which can be harvested and eaten. Stores and street vendors sell them as “Nopolito”. Nopolito, tastes a bit like a slightly slimy green pepper and can be used in scrambled eggs and mixed with tomatoes and onions in a salsa. During the summer the very tasty fruit matures and can be eaten raw, although the abundant seeds make it a bit of an acquired taste. The fruit can be made into a jam, a drink, or a salad dressing. If forced by the zombie menace into a survival situation, the plant is a good source of water and can even be used to heal wounds.

For nopolitos use only the young leaves and extreme care must be taken when harvesting both leaves and fruit. Wear gloves when harvesting and preparing both the fruit and the nopolitos, as the plant contains thousands of almost invisible barbed spines. Thankfully these spines are easy to remove by dragging a knife across the skin or by using a vegetable peeler. Sometimes I just eat the fruit by cutting it in half, holding it with thick gloves and scooping out the flesh with a spoon.

This is one of those plants that should be everywhere here in Los Angeles. Propagate the plant by cutting off a leaf and sticking it in the ground – it’s simple – no fuss, no pesticides, no watering once established. And note that not all prickly pear varieties produce edible fruit so when you look for cuttings seek out plants that are productive and tasty. It’s the ideal plant for what we call “pirate” gardening, the act of taking over a vacant lot or otherwise abandoned public or semi-public space. Plant a bunch of prickly pear and come back to harvest the nopalitos and fruit.

More info and recipes can be found here and here.

Thong Theory

As author Daniel Pinchbeck suggests, we’re in a time when technique is more important than technology. Take the Homegrown Revolution Thong for instance. A friend and fellow “thoughtstylist” posed the question last night, what else could the real survivalist do with a thong in an emergency situation? It’s all about the brain my friends, so get out there and innovate – that thong has many uses – tourniquet, bandage, face mask . . .

A Sports Utility Bicycle


We recently did an experiment to see if we could go for a week in Los Angeles traveling only by bicycle. What made this car-free week a success was the ingenious Xtracycle, a cargo bike ideal for the challenges of urban American streets. The Xtracycle extends the back wheel of the bike and is essentially a huge pannier bag with a skateboard-like seat. We’ve managed to haul four bags of groceries, the same amount we used to carry in my car, and we’re talking heavy stuff here including watermelons and glass bottles. The Xtracycle handles well even with heavy loads – the ride is smooth and cornering is just like any ordinary bike. The saddlebags, which the company calls “Freeloaders”, are designed in such a way that they cinch up the cargo and maintain a narrow profile, essential for maneuvering in city traffic. This narrow profile is the great advantage the Xtracycle has over bike cargo trailers and European style cargo bikes such as the Christiania Bike, both of which assume access to dedicated bike lanes. The long wheel base of the Xtracycle combined with a load over the back wheel makes the bike easier to brake and it’s nearly impossible to flip over the front handlebars. The only disadvantage is that you can’t bunny hop.

While you can buy a complete bike from Xtracycle, I put mine together with an Xtracyle FreeRadical Hitchless Trailer Kit that I bought on ebay combined with an old 1980s mountain bike. This is the bike I would recommend – an older mountain bike without front suspension, which adds weight and is not necessary for urban riding. And remember that the kit does not work on bikes with rear suspension. I would, however, recommend buying straight from the company as the kits don’t seem to be selling on ebay at a significant discount.

Putting it together was relatively simple – it took two trips to the Bicycle Kitchen, an extra length of chain, a rear derailleur cable made for tandem bikes, as well as a general tune-up for the old bike we used. If you ride on paved streets remember to use slick tires

The Xtracycle has been a significant step in reducing our dependence on our crappy Nissan Sentra, and has allowed us to divest ourselves of the other crappy car we used to own. In fact, using a bike for transportation has been the single biggest step we have made towards self-sufficiency. Cars simply demand too much: repairs, insurance, gas, licenses, registration, smog checks, not to mention the terrible toll they take on our environment and the need to fight wars to maintain our addiction to oil. When you ride a bike you are profoundly free, liberated from the demand our culture makes on us to own a personal automobile, a machine that may be the downfall of our once independent nation.

Kipchoge Spencer, president of Xtracycle understands what it will take to start the bike revolution. In an interview with Grist magazine he said, “Mission accomplished is when mass pop culture realizes riding your bike to work is the coolest way to get there. The next step in this mission will be me giving Cameron Diaz a ride to the Oscars on the back of my bike and passing Leo in his Prius, stuck in traffic behind a fustercluck of limos.”

I would add that riding a bike is also the coolest way to haul things. If you don’t believe me check this out. Of course, there is also a blender attachment.

Make a Pepsi Can Stove

Preparedness means having a backup system for all of the things we depend on. If the gas goes out in an earthquake how are you going to cook? Thankfully the world of backpacking offers a number of solutions. Our favorite is the Pepsi can stove which you can build using these incredibly detailed instructions. [Editor’s note 7/27/08: looks like the author of that Pepsi can stove site failed to renew the url and, sadly, the link no longer works. We’ll try to find an alternative.] [Editor note 10/5/11: The instructions are back! In PDF form.] The stove uses denatured alcohol solvent, sometimes called shellac thinner which is available at any hardware store. The stove is fabricated with the bottom of a Guinness beer can and the bottom of a Pepsi can and the end result is incredibly light. I cut the top off of a 24 ounce Heineken can to make a pot and I used some chicken wire and aluminum foil for a stand. Basically this setup is good for boiling a cup of water, so don’t plan on making any complex balsamic reduction sauces. You can use the stove for coffee and for simple things that need boiling water, i.e. instant soups. Light and compact, this stove is ready for when the shit hits the fan.

Get Off Your Ass and Plant a Survival Garden!

Tired of going to the market to buy crappy vegetables that taste out of season no matter what time of year it is? Tired of garlic from China and grapes from Chile? Why waste land, if you have it, on things you can’t eat? And why not have some fresh produce on hand in case of the inevitable zombie invasion.

Now, vegetable gardening takes some practice and unfortunately very few books deal with the specifics of Los Angeles’ unique Mediterranean climate. Most gardening books and the information on the back of seed packets are written for schmucks in the northeast who have to deal with things like cold weather. This is why you need a copy of our So-Cal homegirl Pat Welsh’s Southern California Gardening Guide which deals with more than just vegetables. Looking like an extra from the gardening club scene in the Manchurian Candidate, Pat Welsh has written a book with a handy to-do list for each month, useful since maintaining a vegetable garden here over a year-round growing season can get complicated especially if you want to keep a steady stream of produce on the table. In general, remember that winter here is the best time for most crops with the summer reserved for stuff that can take the heat like tomatoes and basil.

So get out there and plant your own food and remember our rule here around the Homegrown Evolution homestead: if you gotta water it you gotta be able to eat it.