Fo-ti vine screen

Passive Cooling

To keep our house cool during the brutal summer months, the guys erected two passive cooling, living-trellises a few years back which runs along the hottest side of the house. A Chinese herbal vine grows on one and a passion fruit on the other. We’ve noticed a considerable difference these living sunscreens do to the temperature of the rooms they shade. Quite nice that something so easy (and inexpensive) can make such a big difference.

Change of seasons

Thankfully, we’ve had a respite from the hot and dry Santa Ana winds that blew in with a vengeance last week.

Walking in the mountains the other day, we noticed acorns scattered all over the trail and wondered if this was an early or normal drop. Last year, the local Native American Indians folklore prediction said there was a heavy acorn drop which meant a wetter than normal winter was coming. That prediction was right because Pasadena broke its precipitation record last year – over 55″, the heaviest rainfall ever recorded.  


While Justin was cleaning up the storage area near the solar shower the other day, he stumbled upon a little surprise — a snake! However, this snake wasn’t an ordinary native snake.  It was “Anderson,” an escapee from the school across the street who disappeared over a month ago. The school was pleased to have him back; but, I have a strong inkling that Anderson wasn’t as thrilled. Anderson certainly looked like he was living the good life here on the urban homestead. His belly was full (of mice from the compost bins). Poor Anderson now goes back to living in a small glass aquarium.

Biodiesel torch

Biodiesel & Cob

We try to limit necessary purchases and one thing we “splurged” on last week was a few glass garden torches which were filled with wvo homebrewed biodiesel.   Biodiesel works great as a lighting fuel, no noxious smell and is non-polluting too.    Using biodiesel as a lighting fuel emits a “cooking” smell and, for more pleasant smell, you can scent the biodiesel with essential oils.

Another necessary expense is paying Ray to build a cover for the cob oven to protect it from rain. After discussing different possibilities and designs, it was decided that the top of the oven should be a metal structure in the shape of 3 leaves that will not only protect the oven but also capture rain.

As for the cob oven, it will be quite an interesting challenge to use the oven to its maximum cooking capacity. We were quite shocked that on Monday morning (after the pizza party the night before) the cob oven was still warm inside!   It would be advantageous when the oven is fired up to have several items that would be consecutively placed in the oven as the temperature decreased over time.   When the oven is at its hottest, we could cook breads, then perhaps pies or casseroles, followed by cookies, and warming up soups.   This will take practice and planning, not used much these days in quick cook, instant food preparations. Truly a slow food adventure.

In the garden

With the change of seasons, we are back to having fresh salad with our meals.   We certainly missed eating these tasty and aromatic greens during the hot summer months when the greens withered. Our goal this fall and winter is to optimize the garden – analyzing what can be done better and easier.

During this season it’s vital that we amend the soil, replacing the tired soil after the big summer harvest.   Production slows down allowing us to concentrate on building the soil up for the next year.   It’s an ideal time to brew compost tea and other herbal teas that are associated with biodynamic principles.

The pineapple guavas are producing for the first time this year.   We really like this fruit with its delicate blend of flavors (strawberry, banana, peppermint and melon). The pineapple guava is a lovely silver-green shrub that blends nicely in with he front yard’s edible landscaping.

We’ll be harvesting Jerusalem artichokes soon, along with another late crop of beans.   The pole limas are still producing like crazy (over 8lbs yesterday), and we are still harvesting a few tomatoes and strawberries.

Car free days

Even though our car runs on biodiesel we brew ourselves from waste vegetable oil, we still limit the car use to a few days a week. An average 3 out of 7 days are “car free.”   We combine produce deliveries with any errands. It’s vital that we try to not over use alternative sources, even though they are less polluting and sustainable.   Less is always better.

Lame duck

Dawn, one of our Khaki Campbell ducks, is finally recovering from a tornligament or muscle in her foot that occurred in August when we were away at Sol Fest.   We found her limping pathetically when we arrived home and were concerned that she might have broken her foot. After a week and still no improvement, we took her to a homeopathic vet who did some x-rays. He told us that it was a seriously torn ligament or muscle and it would take time to heal.  He recommended massaging her legs (which we did three times a day and we also applied Arnica muscle cream )and doing “water therapy” by making her paddle in deep water.    She’s now tentatively putting weight on her leg and is happily on the road to recovery.

Less waste

The pizza party that we hosted was the least wasteful event to date (and we are certainly proud of that!) With over 40 people attending, the waste produce was a small kitchen garbage can and most, if not all, could be either recycled or composted (wine bottles, plastic juice bottles, paper napkins, food scraps).    What caused this dramatic decrease of waste?   Our being lucky enough to stumble on a heavy duty dish, plate, cup set (over 150 pieces) in a salvage/second-hand place for a only $3.00! As for utensils, we were given a box of stainless steel pieces from a friend of ours.    It was a great feeling cleaning up afterwards and having such a small amount of waste, compared to the bags and bags of paper cups, plates that would have been produced using petroleum and other natural resources.

No Comments

  1. Nancy Kelly says:

    Oh dear! You should not have given Anderson back! He must have thought he had found paradise.

    Re: the passionflower vine screen, isn’t it incredible how they attract butterflies? Especiallly now. I have 3 vines in my yard, and butterflies are constantly fluttering about.


  2. JBB says:

    Nice new header!! I love the “swoop.”

  3. gerry medland says:

    Hi Anais,
    thanx so much for your comprehensive post,it warms my heart and inspires me to continue my path be it ever so humble.The wealth of information is a blessing to me.I am ever knocked out by your inventive methods and applications.
    blessings to you all.

  4. dragonfly183 says:

    That living shade screen is a good idea. Thank-you for mentiopning that you can use biodiesel in those glass torches. I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

  5. Anais says:

    Thanks all for the comments.

    Nancy: I know we, felt so bad about giving the snake back, but they looked all over for him.

    As for the passion vine screen, it’s always has butterflies flitting around. Love it!

    Janice: Thanks for the comment about the “swoop” (no, not that Nike swoop) 😉

    Gerry: Thanks, for your wonderful, positive comments. Hope all is well at your homestead?

    DragonFly: The living shade really works – my bedroom is at least 10-15 degrees cooler with the green screen across my windows.