Urban Homestead Happenings

The latest on the metal roof installation is that it’s not done yet.   Thought we’d had a roof in time for the new year but, mother nature, and a phone call, postponed its completion.

The sand coated metal roof would have been done had it not rain last Tuesday night into Wednesday. Not only that, we received a last minute, unexpected call from a NY production company which is doing a prime time TV show for the Discovery Channel on living green.   They didn’t give us much time and needed to shoot on Friday, the 29th.  

Boy, did that send us into a tizzy, trying to organize all the construction chaos and get this place 1/2 way decent.    They wanted to focus on the garden and have us “walk through the garden and pick tomatoes and squash.” Even though we are in sunny California, the garden is in its winter hibernation mode and the nighttime temperatures of below 30 don’t help much.   I mean, it’s a decent looking winter garden for our needs; but for an eye -appealing camera shot of one of us picking a huge basket of sun ripen tomatoes, it is not going to happen in late December.

Besides the publicity that we’ve received with their coming out, what we like even better about such visits is that there’s a deadline for cleanup and finishing projects. You now how that is. When relatives or friends come into town, all piles of “dirty laundry” somehow magically disappear! For so long, we were putting off cleaning up the mess that was in the garage, driveway and around the house because we’d want to wait till after the construction work was done. However, this deadline forced us to expedite our clean up time table a few weeks ahead of schedule and the place looks so much better for it! Now, we won’t have so much clean up once the roofing guys leave.

Speaking of roofing, a city inspector came on Friday to inspect the battens. We passed.

So now you all know [some] of what we’ve been up to.  

Q & A Continued
Q. Thanks for doing what you do. I’m curious though, what is the zoning for your house? Do you have to have any special permits to do what you do? And the composting toilet…I didn’t think cities let you use them. Did you have to get a permit for it?
A. We live in a low-income (“fixer upper”) neighborhood – which was one of the reasons we could afford such a house in California 20 years ago when we came out here from our 10 acres in Florida so that Jules could attend a theology college.  
Our property is zoned Residential.   As with any city municipality, you need to pull permits for construction, and we did pull one for the roof.   Pasadena allows residents to keep certain farm animals as pets; however, there are a few basic regulations on distance from neighbors and how many animals you can keep.
As with anything that we do here on the urban homestead, we called the City and asked if there was anything against installing a compost toilet. The city employee said that there wasn’t “anything on the books” so couldn’t give us any regulations against installing a compost toilet and said to go ahead.
Q. You also probably stay pretty healthy through your diet and active lifestyle, but do you do anything special to keep fit and energized? What do you do when suffering from a cold, etc?
A. Yes, we are and have been blessed with good health. Such physical work on the urban homestead keeps us all in great shape for the most part. In fact, the head construction operator who is overseeing the roof job and who proudly said that he “spends hours in the gym each day” asked Jules if Justin “lifted weights” or “was a (foot)ball player.”   Of course, the answer was no. Then, he asked,  how does he look so buff?  Jules’s reply: “He [Justin] lifts plywood.”
We like to hike and go for walks, which help keep us energized. As for colds (no sniffles yet!) we don’t do flu shots (never have) so if we do feel a cold coming on, we take Echinacea, gargle with Swedish Bitters, drink lots of water, take colloidal silver or putperoxide in our ears – sounds crazy but it works!     Prevention is the best medicine (washing hands, eating right — fresh fruits and vegetables, avoiding white and sugary starch foods) and if we happen to succumb, which very seldom happens, then we take Mega H and inhale steam with eucalyptus oil or take lots of elderberry syrup.
Q. I’d like to hear more about your water catchment plans. Do you plan to use the water for all your household needs, or just gardening? What’s your catchment square footage? What’s your average annual rainfall? Do you know how much water you use currently?
A. We are still in the beginning stages of this next step in our “water & waste” journey.   First, we plan on taking care of the gardening water needs.
Yes, we do have aWATER CHART (pdf) Unfortunately it hasn’t been updated since 2004, but it certainly gives you an idea. During the 2003-2004 season, there was a flurry of planting activity especially fruit trees and berries. Now that the plants are established they require less water.   Even though we’ve been conscious of water and for decades have been practicing the “mellow yellow” flush rule, installed two low flush toilets, only washing full loads, wearing clothes until they are really dirty, taking weekly baths and reusing laundry water, these past two years we’ve implemented even more water saving practices (toilet lid sink,clay pot irrigation, outdoor shower, simple grey water reuse practices such as bucket water collection from bathroom and garage sinks). With the completion of the grey water system that will take care of our tub water, installation of the compost and dual flush toilets we should save even more on our water use.
We estimate that over 80% of our household water use goes into watering the garden, and that’s where we want to concentrate the reduction measures.
With basic calculations we figured that we could catch over 30,000 gallons of water from our house roof alone (not including garage — an additional 500 sq ft). Here’s how:

For every inch of rain that falls on a catchment area of 1,000 square feet, you can expect to collect approximately 600 gallons of rainwater. To calculate the square feet of our house’s catchment area, we measured the area of the outside walls and then include the overhang of any eaves.. (L) x (W) = 3,000 sq ft Since one inch of rainfall provides approximately 600 gallons of water for a 1,000 square foot catchment area, and our house has a 3,000 square foot catchment area, multiply 600 gallons by 3. 600 gal x 3 = 1,800 gallons With an average rainfall of 20 inches per year (checkaverage rainfall totals in your area), we have the potential to collect 36,000 gallons of water in one year.
1,800 gal x 20 inches of rain = 36,000 gal

That’s the easy part.   But what about cost and storage space?  With cisterns priced at about 75 cents to $1.00 per gallon, we are trying to figure out how many gallons (without breaking the bank) would suffice to reduce significantly our dependence on the municipal water source.
More about harvesting the rain
Round tanks are fine if you have the space. I wish someone in the U.S. would come up with more efficiently use of space square tank system. Some Aussie had the brains anddid just that – perfect for tight urban areas! America is so far behind in such useful eco-inventions.
Q. We follow the mellow yellow method too and I try to remember to flush all toilets before bedtime but sometimes I forget and the toilet stains like crazy, especially in the summer (we are a household of 7). I use only natural cleaners and nothing seems to remove the stain from the very bottom of the toilet. what do you use to clean your toilets? I’ve tried the borax/vinegar bombs, baking soda/vinegar combo and oxyclean. nothing seems to work.
A. You are right, stains can certainly be a problem especially when there’s a lot of use and for those of use who live without AC – warm weather. So far, we haven’t really had a problem, and I use the same natural ingredients to freshen and clean the bowl. As a last resort have you tried non chlorinated bleach. Also, it may sound weird (but it works — I’ve seen it with my own eyes) a pumice stone. Works like magic.
I would suggest a preventive measure–perhaps have a little jar of white vinegar on hand to pour into the bowl after every use.

That’s All Folks

And that concludes all the questions that were poised to us in the comment box. Hope the answers have given a bit more insight into our project.  
Anymore questions?


Scientists get OK for engineered peanuts {Yahoo! News}

A leading industry group has given scientists the go-ahead to build genetically engineered peanuts that could be safer, more nutritious and easier to grow than their conventional version.
read more

After tampering with corn and soybeans they are at it again.
Easy Ways to Go Green {MSN}

You can be good to the earth–without giving up things you love. Plus, what those “eco” labels really mean.
read more

A New Year’s Prediction – Irradiated Leafy Green Vegetables Are Coming {TreeHugger}

As sure as the spring of 2007 will be green, politicians and Think Tank “experts” in the US will increasingly suggest that food irradiation is the best way to prevent foodborn illness. If recent history is any guide, opponents of food irradiation will be accused of threatening the health of children
read more

Yet another reason why to “GROW YOUR OWN!”
Rooftop oases find growing enthusiasm {LA Times}

Plants take root on a college building in Pasadena and elsewhere as cities see economic and environmental benefits of going ‘green.’
read more

Wasting Away {Times Online}

Allow me to introduce you to the greenest people I have ever known. They are paragons. If the world had only followed their example we might not now be facing the threat of either drowning in the floodwaters created by global warming or watching fertile land turn into desert. To what extent we’d be enjoying our lives is for you to judge. They do not own a car and never have. They have never been on an aeroplane. To get where they need to go they use either bus or train. Very occasionally — if they have a particularly heavy suitcase — they might use a taxi, but no more than once or twice a year. They do not shop in out-of-town supermarkets or buy fancy fruit out of season. They have never tasted a strawberry in January or a kiwi fruit or mange tout at any time of the year. Most of their vegetables are grown in the back garden or their allotment and the food they have to buy comes from local shops.They have no need for recycling bins because there is virtually nothing to put in them. Indeed, the very notion of recycling is alien to them. The woman uses a shopping bag, so there are no plastic bags to get rid of and she buys her milk in bottles that are washed and returned. Every scrap of potato peeling or old cabbage leaf ends up in the compost heap and there is no kitchen waste because, quite simply, there is no waste. Stale bread is turned into delicious bread pudding and leftover vegetables into a fry-up.They buy only what they need because they have no fridge. The larder stays cool enough year round and nothing goes rotten. Ever.They turn off the light if they are not in the room and if they had central heating they would turn that down too. But they don’t. They have a fire in one room and the rest of the house is as cold as charity.
read more