Boing Boing 

Colorado passes law to allow rainwater harvesting

In March I pointed to an LA Times story about people in Colorado who were breaking the law by collecting and saving rainwater from their roofs to water their gardens during dry spells.
Holstrom's violation is the fancifully painted 55-gallon buckets underneath the gutters of her farmhouse on a mesa 15 miles from the resort town of Telluride. The barrels catch rain and snowmelt, which Holstrom uses to irrigate the small vegetable garden she and her husband maintain.

But according to the state of Colorado, the rain that falls on Holstrom's property is not hers to keep. It should be allowed to fall to the ground and flow unimpeded into surrounding creeks and streams, the law states, to become the property of farmers, ranchers, developers and water agencies that have bought the rights to those waterways.

But the NY Times reports that Colorado passed a couple of laws to make this practice legal.

A study in 2007 proved crucial to convincing Colorado lawmakers that rain catching would not rob water owners of their rights. It found that in an average year, 97 percent of the precipitation that fell in Douglas County, near Denver, never got anywhere near a stream. The water evaporated or was used by plants.

But the deeper questions about rain are what really gnawed at rain harvesters like Todd S. Anderson, a small-scale farmer just east of Durango. Mr. Anderson said catching rain was not just thrifty – he is so water conscious that he has not washed his truck in five years – but also morally correct because it used water that would otherwise be pumped from the ground.

It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado

Goats enjoy living in their own tower


Jim Leftwich says:

"I'm thinking the next step beyond raising chickens in the backyard is to have your own Goat Tower!

"Currently there are only three Goat Towers in the world (which I think you'll agree is not nearly enough!). The original Goat Tower was built in 1981 by Charles Back at the Fairview Wine and Cheese Estate in Paarl, South Africa. The estate has 750 Saanen goats and some of these are allowed access to the tower.

"The other two Goat Towers are the "Tower of Baaa" in Findlay, Illinois and one built in 2006 in Ekeby, Norway, both of which are modeled on the original.

"Here's an interview with David Johnson, who built one in Illinois, and which is interesting because it contains a lot of great details about the Goat Tower's construction."

"Goats love it and people driving by can't believe it," says David Johnson of Findlay, Ill., about his 31-ft. tall, 7-ft. dia. "goat tower" built with the help of the late Jack Cloe, Herrick, Ill. The tower was constructed with 5,000 hand-made bricks, each one a different size and shape. The tower has 276 concrete steps, arranged to form a spiral staircase, that allows Johnson's goats to climb up and down with ease.

Johnson has 34 Saanen milk goats that use the tower. "Goats are the most curious animals in the world so they use the tower a lot. They come and go, passing each other on the ramp as needed."


The roof is supported by wheels that ride on a circular steel rail along the upper edge of the tower wall. "I cut a door into the roof and plan to use a garage door opener to rotate the roof and use it as an observation tower. I might even bring a telescope up there to look at stars," says Johnson.

Goat Tower

Yellow Oleander - another "Least Favorite Plant"


My friends Kelly and Erik at Homegrown Evolution have an interesting post about another one of their least favorite plants -- the poisonous Yellow Oleander.

Thumbing through a book of toxic and hallucinogenic plants, I finally manged to i.d. the neighbor's shrub that looms over the staircase to our front door. The popular name given for this plant in the book was "suicide tree", so named for its use in Sri Lanka, though I've found other plants with this same moniker. The scientific name is Thevetia peruviana, and it's also known as "lucky nut" (can we change that to unlucky nut please), Be Still Tree (presumably because you'll be still if you eat any of it), and yellow oleander (it's a relative of Southern California's favorite freeway landscaping flower).
Yellow Oleander - another "Least Favorite Plant"

BB on GOOD: "Fast People, Slow Food - Better Living Through Homemade Yogurt"

The Boing Boing editors have been having fun with some guest-writing over at GOOD, and my latest contribution has just been published. It involves NOM. Here's a snip:

When the economy took a nosedive, I did the same thing a lot of other Americans did: I looked at my household expenses and my lifestyle with newly frugal eyes, and began thinking about costs and personal priorities in new ways. That included food.

Rethinking what I cook and eat post-econopocalypse meant simpler, slower food; a more local and traditional diet which, in fact, makes good sense in any economic weather. But I live an urban life. I spend a lot of time online or working in short attention bursts. I don’t have a lot of time to cook or prepare food, and my city apartment doesn’t afford room to raise goats or grow tomatoes.

Despite this, I’ve gradually eased into a number of new rituals and good habits that reduced my grocery bill and make me feel happier and healthier. One of them is making yogurt each week. It takes maybe 20 minutes of actual work and attention, zero equipment beyond stuff I already had in my kitchen, and yields a yummier, healthier, and yes, “probiotic” product that costs five to 10 times less than the store-bought stuff.

Here are the basics of rolling your own yogurt the lazy Xeni way...

Read the rest of the essay here, with step-by-step HOWTO. Photo courtesy Flickr user (cc) Biology Big Brother

(Special thanks to my co-editor, BB founder Mark Frauenfelder, for putting the yogurt bug in my head, so to speak.)

Heart shaped watermelons

Heartmelon It took three years for farmer Hiroichi Kimura and his wife to cultivate heart-shaped watermelons. This year, they shipped 20 of the fruits, which "symbolize their passion for farming and their affection for each other." They sell for 15,750 yen apiece.

Heart shaped watermelons (Via Japan Probe)

Kimchi contest, Saturday May 9 in San Francisco


Phil Ross says:

Please come to the first annual CRITTER Kimchi Contest!

All are welcome to submit their favorite version of this spicy pickled delicacy and taste the competition. The people’s choice will win $100, second wins $75, and third will get $50. Bring 1 quart of your best Kimchi to CRITTER on Saturday May 9th at 1 PM. Tasting opens at 2PM.

All varieties accepted! There will be ongoing demonstration of how Kimchi is made, and plenty of palette-cleansing white rice available. So even if you don’t have a favorite recipe for Kim Chee, or you’ve never tried it before—here’s a chance to try the best Kimchi at CRITTER.

4 Things to Consider Before You Try to Join the Amish

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

I know, I know. The recession blows. The job you may soon lose* is stressful and unpleasant. And beards are more popular these days. But before you abandon your fast-paced lifestyle for a quieter, more-cow-filled one, I recommend consulting my book, Be Amazing. There are a few things you need to think about.

1) Can You Tell the Difference Between Amish and Mennonite?
You're never going to endear yourself to your new neighbors if you can't tell 'em apart from their theological cousins down the road. Historically the older of the two sects, Mennonites believed in plain, unadorned living and adult baptism, making them not all that different from the other Christian groups that popped up in Germany and Switzerland in the 17th century. But, around 1693, one of their members, a guy named Jakob Amman, started to get a little rowdy. Amman traveled around the countryside preaching a more hard-line version of Mennonism that called for, among other things, a return to traditional clothing, avoidance of worldly grooming trends like moustaches, mandatory un-cut beards, and the public shunning of excommunicated church members. Taking their name from Amman's, his new followers called themselves "Amish."

Over the next few hundred years, both groups did their fair share of theological off-shooting. Today, there are numerous sub-groups of both Mennonite and Amish, making it difficult to pin them down with generalities. However, in most cases, the easiest way to tell the two apart is to look for a family car--most Mennonites drive them, most Amish don't. But, just because they enjoy a faster mode of travel doesn't mean the Mennonites are ostentatious about their automobiles. In fact, it's common practice to cover any Detroit-installed chrome with black paint, just to let the world know they aren't trying to be flashy.

2) Do You Know the Best Place to Move?
Obviously, your city digs will have to go, but contrary to popular belief, the geographic epicenter of Amish life is not Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Turns out, several counties in east-central Ohio are actually home to the largest Amish community in the world--population 29,000, and growing. Each Amish family has an average of 7 children, so their numbers have seemingly doubled every 20 years since outsiders started keeping records in the 1940s.

3) Can You Find Where the In-Crowd Hangs Out?
Earn your dirt-road cred by taking a shopping trip to Spector's. This department store in Middlefield, Ohio caters to Amish customers. Since 1937, they've dealt in things like quilting supplies, fabric, and the other necessities of Amish life that can't be easily made on the farm. And with several locations around the state, it may well be the world's first Amish-centric chain store.

4) Will You Be Able to Buy a Farm?
It's harder than it sounds. There are two things working against you. First, that whole population growth issue means that every generation sees even more young men in need of a farm of their own. The other problem, however, comes from the outside. Across the country, the rural areas the Amish inhabit are rapidly becoming exurbs, and what was once farmland is being sold to make way for subdivisions and Wal-Marts--making raw land, even when it is available, prohibitively expensive. In Lancaster County, for instance, 100 acres cost as much as $1 million in 2007. Things may be a bit easier now, though, what with the bursting of the real-estate bubble. So, if you can get your hands on some good farmland, do be ready to build a lot of barns. You probably already know that Amish construct their own, and their neighbors', in massive 24-hour barn raising parties. But, because many Amish groups don't believe in using "worldly" devices like lightning rods, those hand-built barns often end up having to be re-hand-built.

The Electric Amish really are a band, and you should listen to their music.

*ETA: Thanks for the heads-up on my grammar brain-fart. It's Saturday. My brain takes the day off today.

Yoga "Eco Mat" Review: PrAna Revolution (Attention-Conservation Verdict: I Dig.)

I have practiced yoga on and off since I was a teenager, but in recent years, more off than on. Recently, when friends, colleagues, and family all seemed to be pointing out with greater frequency that I seemed particularly stressed (read: a total pain in the ass to be around), I made a commitment to switch that back to "on." It's been pretty great. I'm happier. The more I practice, the more centered I feel, physically, mentally, emotionally. And, the less of a total pain in the ass I am.

Yoga isn't about the accessories, and I loathe the idea that you have to have just the right gear, just the right teacher, just the right whatever to practice. You don't. But a good mat can really help. So when I got back into the groove of regular practice, I checked out a bunch of different mats -- from the ultra-thick black ones, to the "towel" kind folks like to use with "hot yoga," to the thin cheap synthetic ones. I have a stack of 8 of them sitting in the corner in this room, as I type this review.

But I've found my favorite now -- the just-released Revolution "eco" mat by PrAna.

It's sticky enough to help grip your fingers, palms, soles, and toes when you're doing balance poses -- and, truly, every pose involves some element of balance. It's 30" wide, much wider than standard mats and better fit for taller yoga students like myself. It's lightweight enough that I can carry it comfortably on my back in the cool little carrying sack they sell. It's thick enough that I don't feel the need to add extra cushioning during practice on poses that can be hard on the bones. It's made of all-natural materials, so I'm not investing in future landfill cruft. The sticky part took a little getting used to in poses where I tend to drag the tops of my feet accross the mat in transition from one asana to the other, but now that I've been with it for a few weeks -- I don't know, it's like sleeping in a nice new bed, or moving into an awesome new home. It's familiar now, and just feels like an extension of my body.

I recently met PrAna creative David Kennedy, a friendly surfer who pops a mean Adho Mukha Svanasana. We practiced together (it was one of the most enjoyable BB review demos I can recall). I asked him to talk with us about some of the engineering considerations that went into the mat's design.

His reply follows, after the jump.

Read the rest

People who use barrels to catch rain from their roofs breaking law, says State of Colorado

Nicholas Riccardi of the The LA Times has a story about "rainwater harvesters" in Colorado who are not allowed to collect rainwater that falls in their own yard, because the water rights belong to farmers, ranchers, developers and water agencies.
Every time it rains here, Kris Holstrom knowingly breaks the law.

Holstrom's violation is the fancifully painted 55-gallon buckets underneath the gutters of her farmhouse on a mesa 15 miles from the resort town of Telluride. The barrels catch rain and snowmelt, which Holstrom uses to irrigate the small vegetable garden she and her husband maintain.

But according to the state of Colorado, the rain that falls on Holstrom's property is not hers to keep. It should be allowed to fall to the ground and flow unimpeded into surrounding creeks and streams, the law states, to become the property of farmers, ranchers, developers and water agencies that have bought the rights to those waterways.


"If you try to collect rainwater, well, that water really belongs to someone else," said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress. "We get into a very detailed accounting on every little drop."

People who use barrels to catch rain from their roofs breaking law, says State of Colorado

Wine-cellar encapsulated in a staircase

I don't drink wine, I don't have a cellar -- or even dirt under my flat to install a cellar in -- but man, this is one freakishly desirable batcave/staircase thinggum.

Ever want a wine cellar but don’t have the space or money to build one? The Spiral Cellars design/build firm will dig a hole right in whatever room you want your cellar in and haul the dirt right out the front door. In the remaining void they infill a highly functionally and visually dazzling spiral-staircase wine cellar to fit all your favorite vintages and go with your favorite funky furniture designs.
Wonderful Wine Cellars For Any Room in Your House (Thanks, Steve!)

Paean to iron-on patches from the 1970s


Over at Craft: Online, Cathy Callahan writes about iron-on patches from the 1970s, taking special note of their packaging design.

Pictured above are a few packages of iron-on patches I found at my mom's house. I actually think she might have used the drawing on that Sturdy Brand package as a style guide for the way she dressed me. There are pictures of me dressed in almost that exact same outfit. I absolutely adore the graphic design, color palette, and illustrations. Wouldn't you just love to walk into Jo-Ann's today and see a whole rack of packages that looked like these?

I am actually kind of fascinated by the Plasti-Stitch corduroy patches. Were they meant to blend in seamlessly and look like you never had a hole in your pants? Or could you go wild and do a little mixing and matching? Perhaps you could tone down your plaid pants a bit by adding a little gray corduroy patch. The back of the package lists purple, olive green, maroo,n and gold as other available colors. Wow!

Let's take a closer look at the Touch O' Magic package: "Use on new jeans for longer wear..." I love their approach to "preventative" patching. But why not wait until you actually have a hole? And isn't the very nature of denim its strength? Iron-on patch sales must have been down in 1968, so those folks at Sandrew, Inc. (makers of Touch O' Magic) of Streetsboro, Ohio, had to come up with new ways to sell their product.

Paean to iron-on patches from the 1970s

Video of shell-less egg one of my chickens laid

Wee-EggIn September 2008, I got six baby Plymouth Barred Rock hens in the mail. They began laying eggs on March 6, 2009. The eggs are about 1/2 to 2/3 the size of "large" eggs I buy in the store (see the photo of the little egg on the left; click to make bigger).

The eggs my hens have been laying have nice thick shells because I give my hens plenty of crushed osyter shells. But one egg, which I pulled from the nesting box on Saturday, had no shell. It was like a rubber trick egg. Enjoy this video of me prodding and squeezing it repeatedly.

Cave house for sale in Festus, MO

$300,000 is the starting bid on this eBay listing for a three-bedroom home built in a 15,000 sqft cave in Festus, MO, formerly a roller-rink/concert venue that entertained the MC5, Ike and Tina Turner and Ted Nugent. Sounds like a hell of a place to live (and you gotta feel for the family that's losing their dream). It's got three freshwater springs and there are fourteen waterfalls on the property. Yowza.

On May 19th, 2008, the City of Festus approved our occupancy inspection for the cave. Officially, this completed our project. There are still projects that can be started, completed and developed. Plenty of room in our 17,000 square foot home.

This is now where we live, work, raise our family and celebrate life! Here are a few of the details about the place: Historic, regionally famous cave: 15,000 square feet, divided into three main chambers.

The front chamber houses the main part of the 3-bedroom finished house.

The middle chamber holds the laundry room, storage, and a spare bath. The middle chamber made a great party room. 80 feet by 80 feet.

The back chamber still has the stage where Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Ike and Tina Turner, the MC5 and many other bands performed.

Property: 2.8 scenic, partially wooded acres provide excellent privacy and the feel of the country right in the middle of town, just several blocks from shopping, dining, and other conveniences.

Energy efficiency: Geothermal and passive solar keep the home comfortable year-round without a furnace or air conditioning. In spite of the vast size of the home, our energy costs here run about the same as they did in our 800 square-foot starter home. The home naturally stays a little cooler than the average above-ground home, but we found that we acclimated quickly and easily.

Unique Cave Home over 15,000 sf. Beautiful setting

Caveland US (Thanks Fipi Lele!)

Embroidered MRI slice


Becky Stern says: I'm using the image data from my knee MRI to embroider pictures. I've just finished the first of many.

Rice-filled felt creatures


I recently decided that I'm going to give things I made as gifts to family and friends, instead of giving them store-bought stuff. There are three types of gifts I'm planning to make: food (honey from my bees, dried figs, and pickles), whittled wood items (spoons and other utensils), and felt creatures.

The green 3-eyed monster on the left is from a class I took a couple of years ago with my daughter. I really enjoyed making it, and it only took about 40 minutes to complete. I made the blue squid on Saturday, using felt purchased from Michaels (29 cents a sheet) and embroidery floss pilfered from one of Jenny Hart's Sublime Stitching kits. Again, I spent about 40 minutes making it. I chatted with my family as I cut and stitched it together, filling it with uncooked (duh) rice. My daughters joined in on the fun, making their own creations. It was a pleasant way to spend time together.

Boing Boing on GOOD: "My Ecologically Correct Move."


Here's my latest contribution to a series of essays by Boing Boing editors at GOOD -- a review of a "green move" service called, which I tried when I relocated not long ago. It priced out cheaper than cardboard boxes. The basic idea is to use materials made from 100% post-consumer waste. It was super convenient, they drop it all off, and pick it all up when you're done. Snip from my review:

rentagreenbox They send a truck to your home with whatever number of boxes you need (they’ll help you estimate). The boxes are made from recycled plastic containers, and come in various sizes–smaller ones for heavy objects like books, larger ones for more lightweight things like clothes or bedding. The service comes with recycled packing materials, too, so you don’t have to use über-wasteful, petroleum-based stuff like bubble wrap or Styrofoam packing peanuts.

Spencer drove the (100% veggie biodiesel) truck to my home himself, and showed me around the truck and demonstrated the process in person. My dog liked him, and she liked rolling around in the “expandos” and “recocubes.”

Apart from being (surprise!) made from recycled materials, these packing materials also look attractive. The expandos are cute papercraft-oid thingies (like something Buckminster Fuller might fiddle with while bored at his desk), and we found the recocubes serve a second, sinister purpose: they’re great for tossing at whoever’s helping you move, when you’re all sore and tired and frustrated and want to blow off steam.

Read "My Ecologically Correct Move" at GOOD, and here's the comment thread, and GOOD published a bunch more iphone snapshots I took of the supplies, the process, and our cute golden retriever who thoroughly approved. Here's the website for RentAGreenBox.

* Boing Boing posts on GOOD!
* Boing Boing on GOOD: "All the Web's A Stage"
* Good: The return of amateur science
* Boing Boing on GOOD: A Mayan Village Reacts to Obama

Making sauerkraut is easy

It's so easy and fun to make sauerkraut that there's really no good excuse to buy it from a store. Plus, home made sauerkraut is full of living microbes that might be good for you. (Read news reports that kimchi -- spicy korean sauerkraut -- could be a bird flu remedy.)

Store bought sauerkraut is often not even real sauerkraut -- it's just cabbage soaked in salty vinegar. Even store bought brands of sauerkraut made from lacto-fermentation have usually been cooked to the point that they're no longer alive.

I've been making my own sauerkraut for years, based on my grandmother's "recipe" (it's hard to call it a real recipe, when the only ingredients are cabbage and salt), which is pretty much the same recipe found in the wonderful book, Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz. This book shows you how to make a wide variety of fermented foods: beer, wine, mead, miso, tempeh, sourdough bread, yogurt, cheese, and other more exotic foods. Katz, a long term HIV/AIDS survivor who lives on a queer intentional community in Tennessee, is a "fermentation fetishist." In the introduction to his book, he writes:

Wild fermentation is a way of incorporating the wild into your body, becoming one with the natural world. Wild foods, microbial cultures included, possess a great, unmediated life force, which can help us adapt to shifting conditions and lower our susceptibility to disease. These microorganisms are everywhere, and the techniques for fermenting with them are simple and flexible.

Wild fermentation involves creating conditions in which naturally occurring organisms thrive and proliferate. Fermentation can be low-tech. These are ancient rituals that humans have been performing for many generations. They are a powerful connection to the magic of the natural world, and to our ancestors, whose clever observations enable us to enjoy the benefits of these transformations.

Recently, I made a 3-quart batch of sauerkraut from two heads of purple cabbage, weighing about 2.5 lbs per head. Here's how I did it:

Tools and ingredients: Sharp knife, 1-gallon stoneware fermenting crock (I bought one online from Simply Natural Foods for $30.50), wooden lid for 1-gallon crock, scrubbed and boiled rock to weigh down wooden lid, large plastic bowl, cutting board, something to mash the cabbage down into the crock (I used a 1-quart mason jar, you can use your fist if you want), 2 heads of cabbage (5 lbs), 3 tablespoons of non-iodized salt (sea or kosher).

You don't need to buy a starter culture -- there are lactic acid bacteria floating around in the air ready to go to work on the cabbage. I find that amazing.

For the rest of the instructions and lots of pretty (and one gruesome) photos, click the link below.

Read the rest

Short documentary about urban foragers in Chicago

Interesting documentary about a couple of Chicagoans who find and eat edible weeds, wild berries, nettles, purslane, apples, and other goodies free for the taking in the urban landscape.

Urban foragers are people who eat what grows naturally from a very unnatural place— a city. In this all-vegetarian Sky Full of Bacon podcast, urban foragers show us how they find food all around them. Chef-blogger Art Jackson shows us what's growing around his home in Pilsen, and then foraging expert Nance Klehm, Art and I nibble our way through a remarkable wilderness literally in the shadow of Chicago's skyscrapers.
(Via Homegrown Evolution)

CCTV decals for your toilet

These Etsy-sold CCTV decals make a handsome addition to your white goods, porcelain fittings, and other smooth surfaces.

SECURITY CAMERAS vinyl toilet fridge wall or window decal (Thanks, Iain!)

Long crowing roosters

Hate your neighbor? Buy a long-crowing rooster.

According to poultry expert Gail Damerow, writing in the current issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine, long crowers probably have their origins in Japan and have spread throughout the world through deliberate selection. Here's a play list for your listening pleasure, consisting of a Turkish long crowing breed, the Denizli, followed by a Koeyoshi (good crower in Japanese) and the Tomaru (black crower).
Homegrown Evolution: 2009 Waking up on New Year's Day with the world of long crowing roosters

Feijoas cost $1.79 each at the supermarket

Img 0603

I didn't know Feijoas were sold in supermarkets. From my experience, they have a one-day window of peak ripeness, so they don't seem to be good candidates for supermarkets. These puny, shriveled feijoas cost $1.79 each at a supermarket here in Los Angeles. That means I've been eating at least $17.90 worth of feijoas every day. Luckily for me, they're free because I have a tree full of them.

Setting free the chickens

 Img 7307

On Sunday, I let our chickens out of their coop to run around freely for the first time. I was surprised by how quickly they took to it. They started scratching around in the grass and dirt, grazing on different tree and bush leaves, weeds, blossoms, and blades of grass. They stretched out in the sun, and gave themselves dust baths. How amazing that this behavior was encoded in them from the time they were single-celled eggs a couple of months ago. How do they know which things are good to eat? Jane and I set up a couple of chairs on the lawn and watched them for two hours in the afternoon sun. When the sky turned to dusk, the chickens lined up and walked back into the coop and up the inclined ramp into the cozy closed off section. Videos: Chickens experiencing their first taste of life outside the coop | Jane bugging our chickens

Uke, washboard, and kazoo music from 1928

Amy Crehore found this video of Eddie Thomas and Carl Scott playing "My Ohio Home." Hokum Music on YouTube

War Vegetable Gardening book from WWI

Daniel Bowman Simon of The Who Farm sent me a link to this scanned book: War Vegetable Gardening and the Home Storage of Vegetables by The National War Garden Commission from 1918. I skimmed it and it looks like it has a lot of useful information for today's frontyard gardener.
Picture 1-4Compost is also used as a top dressing during the growing season for hastening growth. In the cities and towns tons of leaves are burned every fall. This is a loss which ought to be prevented. These leaves properly composted with other vegetable waste and earth would be worth hundreds of dollars to the gardens next spring. In planning a permanent garden, a space should be reserved near the hot bed or seed bed, and in this space should be piled, as soon as pulled, all plants which are free from diseases and insects. This applies to all vegetables and especially to peas and beans, as these belong to a group of plants which take nitrogen from the air, during growth, and store it in their roots. When these plants are decayed they will return to to the soil not only much of the plant food taken from it during their growth but additional nitrogen as well. Nitrogen in the soil is necessary for satisfactory leaf growth. The material so composted should be allowed to decay throughout the winter, and when needed should be used according to. the instructions given for using compost. The sweepings of pigeon lofts or chicken coops make valuable fertilizer. Prepared sheep manure, where procurable at a reasonable price, is possibly the safest concentrated fertilizer. It should be used in small quantities rather than spread broadcast. Scatter it along the row before seed is sown or apply by mixing it with water in a pail, stirring the mixture to the consistency of thin mush, and pouring it around the roots of the plants.
War Vegetable Gardening and the Home Storage of Vegetables

Plant an organic garden on the White House Lawn

I met a couple of young guys who are traveling the country in the Topsy Turvy bus to promote the idea of an organic garden on the White House Lawn.

This video chronicles a day-in-the-life of The White House Organic Farm Project's (aka TheWhoFarm) cross-country tour with Daniel Bowman Simon and Casey Gustowarow, two guys who met in The Philippines as Peace Corps Volunteers.

Their tour promotes a petition to our next president, respectfully requesting that an organic farm be planted on The White House grounds. While Obama is busy with plans to fix everything else in the world, TheWhoFarmers are spending this transition period working to build a coalition of the willing in Washington, DC. This coalition includes local farmers who can help the green-thumbed White House grounds crew get up to speed on organic farming, and a hunger relief organization that will offer to pick up the excess bounty from The White House once the first family is fed.

TheWhoFarm bus was previously known as the Topsy Turvy bus, built by Burning Man art car legend Tom Kennedy. TheWhoFarm purchased the bus second-hand, and converted the roof into a mobile organic vegetable garden, believed to be the first ever garden on top of a school bus.

The bus might be up for sale soon, so if you're in the market for a one-of-a-kind, attention grabbing, food producing vehicle, give the boys a shout. And by all means, sign their petition!

The White House Organic Farm Project

Previously on Boing Boing:
Campaign to grow vegetable garden on White House lawn
Redesign the U.S. White House

Article about backyard chicken owners

 I-Love-My-Chicks has an article about the pleasure of keeping chickens in your back yard. I agree with the people interviewed in the piece -- I bought my chickens (above, click for big) for eggs and fertilizer, but it turns out their primary benefit is amusing me and my family. I love spending time with them.
Chicken owners liken it to having their very own widescreen TV in the backyard, with an always-looping Chicken Channel. Chickens are curious and very involved in their surroundings, following humans and dogs and cats around the yard and seeking attention, even a backrub.

Fiona Mitchell says the four hens she got in July for her Bedford Hills yard fit right in with her two dogs and two cats. "Everybody seems to find their own space," she says. "We're one big happy family now."

Demetra and Sal Restuccia couldn't be happier with the five Rhode Island Reds they got last year. "Oh, I love my chickens," Demetra says. "They have such personalities. They're funny - they talk all the time. They'll tell you everything that's been going on for the day. They're hysterical."

Backyard chickens find new popularity in suburbia

Feijoa fruits are ripe


We live in a farm house built in 1930. Even though we're in Los Angeles, our neighborhood is zoned for farm animals and agriculture. Whoever lived in the house before us loved fruit trees. We've got grapefruit, oranges, clementines, olives, figs, persimmons, plums, and feijoas.

The feijoas, also called pineapple guavas, are my second favorite fruit from our yard (the figs are my favorite). They have a perfumey scent, a tart, firm, gritty flesh, and a sweet custardy center. (I'm not sure what kind of cultivar it is.)

This year's harvest came later than usual, and it looks like it's not as bountiful as previous years', but I'm grateful to have any amount. I wait for fruit to drop off the tree, then remove the rind with a vegetable peeler and eat the rest like a pear or apple. I eat up to seven or eight a day. Wikipedia article about feijoa

Previously on Boing Boing:
It's guava time at my house

Chicken tractor design


(click images for full size)

My six Plymouth Barred Rock chickens are about 8 weeks old. They seem happy in their coop, but I feel sorry for them when I see them futilely scratching around in the wood shavings that are bereft of tasty grubs, beetles, worms, weeds, and seeds. I want to let them roam around freely in my yard, where they can aerate the soil, gobble the weeds and vermin, and fertilize the grass. But I think they’re still too young and small to let loose in the yard. For one thing, a couple of semi-wild, semi-friendly cats like to visit our cats and kids regularly, and I don’t think my young hens would stand a chance against them. Also, even though our property is completely fenced in, the chickens are still small enough to squeeze through openings.

After a little research, I came across two solutions that would allow the chickens to safely spend their days in the yard. One is electric net fencing -- a kind of mesh that has fine exposed wires woven into it. You can move it around anywhere in the yard, and the shock it delivers will keep the chickens in and the predators out. According to Harvey Ussery, the “21st Century Homesteading” columnist for Mother Earth News, electric net fencing “carries an unpleasant (but not harmful) surprise for unwelcome curiosity seekers.” I don’t like this idea, partly because I don’t want to be the cause of animals receiving shocks, but mainly because I’m certain I’d be the frequent recipient of “unpleasant surprises” from coming into contact with the fence while it was activated.

The second solution, a chicken tractor, was much more appealing. These are basically portable pens without a bottom that you can move around to different spots in your yard so your chickens can eat all the scary bugs crawling in the grass and dirt. This seems like a good solution. The top hit on Google is a gallery of 140 chicken tractor photographs, compiled by Katy of The City Chicken. It’s neat to see all of these hand-made tractors. No two are identical. Many are made from salvaged materials.


(The tractors remind me of the coconut scrapers I came across in Rarotonga. Everybody made them from scratch and so they were all different, reflecting the skills, patience, and temperament of the maker.)

After perusing the photos in the gallery and using Amazon’s Look Inside! feature to read a portion of Andy Lee and Pat Foreman’s book, Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil, I went to work designing my own. I liked the A-frame style the best, because it seems easier to make and more stable than a box-shaped tractor.

This was a good excuse to get acquainted with Google SketchUp, a free application that lets you create 3D models. I downloaded it and watched a few of the training videos, which were enough to get me to the point where I could design a humble tractor. My goal in designing the tractor was to come up with something that was very basic, used as few components as possible, used as few different dimensional-sizes of lumber as possible, and provided a comfortable and shady shelter for my hens. Here’s what I have so far.



(It will be made from lumber and plywood. The open areas will be covered with 1/2-inch wire screen.) You can download the Sketchup file here.

If you have any suggestions of how I can simplify or improve my design before I start building it, I would be grateful to hear them.

Phone call: Can I keep chickens in Chicago

Fellow named Chad Kimball calls the Chicago police, the city clerk, and the legal department to find out if he can raise chickens in the city. No one really seems to know.

Does My City Allow Me to Raise Chickens? (Via Homegrown Evolution)

Plymouth Barred Rock chicks


After I posted that cover of a 1925 issue of The Plymouth Rock Monthly, a few people asked for a photo of my chicks.

I bought six chicks from, which ships them by mail. They cost $2 each, plus an extra .50 each to ensure they are hens, plus a big shipping fee.

The post office called me on my cell phone when they arrived. I was in Illinois at the time, so I called my wife and she went down to pick them up. They were in a little straw nest packed in a small cardboard box.

The chicks are now over two weeks old, and much bigger than the one shown in this photo. They're a little skittish when someone reaches in and grabs at them, but they calm down quickly and are very sweet. Once they get big enough, they'll go here.