Homegrown revolution, so easy a baby could do it

You don’t have to retreat to a cabin in the forest to grow your own tomatoes and raise chickens, you can do it anywhere. People are growing cucumbers on windowsills in a Los Angeles and harvesting honey on the rooftops of New York City. A new way of participating in the food/life cycle is blushing on the horizon. We are living in the dawn of the ecotarian. People want to get back (don’t make me say it) to their roots (gotcha!).

A relatively new movement, urban homesteading takes “simple living” to the next level (sorry Martha) through incorporating small-scale agriculture, sustainable and permaculture gardening, and home food production and storage into every day life. By growing their own food and harnessing natural energy, city dwellers are reconnecting with their land while planting seeds for the future for our cities.

Over the past 4 years Michelle has transformed her tiny “cement jungle” of a patio into an urban homestead complete with compost piles, laundry lines, and edible produce. Pretty impressive for a girl who couldn’t keep a spider plant alive a mere four years ago.

“My grandfather lived during the depression, and that was reflected in the way we were brought up,” said Michelle. “He taught me about our relationship with the land. Waste not, want not. You didn’t move until the food was gone.”

Lover of a good challenge, Michelle couldn’t resist the chance to translate her grandfather’s wisdom into a townhouse in the middle of Florida. It all started with a little dollar bamboo plant she bought in college. After a series of botanical tragedies that tiny ikea wonder broke the one-year survival threshold–the not-so-green thumb would hold her back no longer! Michelle and her daughters carefully composed a 22’x16′ ecosystem one (recycled) container at a time.

“In our world, we are so distant from what is around us. Trees and life and love have been replaced with things: Wii and iPhones and name brand products of every sort. Our food comes to us via truck with no farther thought about where it has been and what it has seen prior to our grocery store shelves,” said Michelle. Shifting our lifestyles to reflect the cyclical processes of nature–thereby appreciating the things that sustain us–is just one more step in the right direction.

Izzy and Sol, Michelle’s girls, are not growing up in an off grid house with living walls and raise chickens, bunnies, goats and open a nursery (at least, not yet). They are growing up in a townhouse in the middle of town, within walking distance to the library, across the street from their preschool and with a cement backyard no bigger than your living room.

But, thanks to motherly wisdom (and a healthy dose of imagination), that backyard has taught them lessons that most people will never know in their lives… and it all starts with a seed.

“Seeds bloom, the animals come, caterpillars munch and butterflies emerge from cocoons, we have tea parties made from herbs we pick from pots on the wall and they help me gather things for dinner,” said Michelle. “The relationship they are building, the understanding of their place in this world beyond what is fed to them from the TV and magazines: this is almost as important of a lesson as the ability to be self sufficient, but even that pails in consideration of the over all lesson they learn: treat everything with respect, hurt none, and watch out for the little guy. You are the keepers of the world.”

Ready to get your kids in the garden? Here’s a few ideas to get your imagination juices flowing:

1. Plant edible flowers and herbs for curious mouths. Try mint, sunflowers, or pansies or visit kiddie garden for a more complete list of toddler friendly plants.

2. Encourage birds to come visit your garden and make a bird feeder (or birdie snack shack). You may even want to head to the library to reserach the specific details on your local birds, their favorite foods, and favorite styles of dining table.

3. Gather caterpillars and build a butterfly garden. Check out these twenty butterfly gardening tips to get you started.

4. Reserve rainwater in large containers to demonstrate between rain and plant growth. You may even want to make an extra rain water bucket for playing in.

5. Grow cuttings and seedlings indoors and transplant them into the garden. Watch Michelle’s instructables video for a quick and easy cutting propagator.

For updates from Michelle’s urban homestead visit her blog at we’re all mad here.com.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Michelle’s Instructables
Step-by-step directions for creating an easy to maintain small space garden

Avante Yard
75 tricks to get your kids outdoors

Homegrown Evolution
Kelly and Erik are the authors of The Urban Homestead coming out in June of 2008 from Process Media. They have researched and experimented with small scale urban agriculture since moving to their tiny bungalow in Los Angeles ten years ago.

Pick up some homesteading skills
Like how to make a self watering container

Turning a house into my home

It may have been a creepy old house stuck in a time warp, but Amber and her mom decided that this would be the one for them. Amber and her boyfriend Michael were ready to move in together, but the young couple were entrepreneurs living in L.A., where real estate is hard to come by and expensive to purchase.

So Sandy, Amber’s mom, decided to step in.

“It was a way for me to help Amber get started in her adult life,” she said.

Amber and Sandy were initially very focused on the business aspect of buying the house, but then the nervousness of being a first time home owner set-in, along with the all the responsibilities of buying a fixer-upper.

“It all hit me at once, all the work we had to do, the fact that it was the first house that Amber was ever going to pay a mortgage on and the fact that Michael was moving in with her,” Sandy said. “There were a number of different issues going on all at one time. I was also apprehensive because it was obviously going to take a lot of money and a lot of work. There were times when the project seemed larger than us.”

Amber really appreciated doing this project with her mom because, “I got to see the strong woman I came from.”

They planted trees and dug holes together; it was a great bonding time for them as mother and daughter.

“There were a lot of style details involved, and that was probably the hardest part,” Amber said. “There were the colors, the tiles, the furniture, how we should design the kitchen.”

When it was all over, Amber and Sandy sat down on the new brown and gold shag carpet and had a glass of wine. It was time to celebrate. They were in love with the simple, zen-like feeling that pervaded their new home. The style will certainly evolve over time, but now it’s starting to feel like a home—like Amber’s home.

If you’ve got a do-it-herself mentality, try these handy resources for inspiration and tips:

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Just Do It Yourself
Earth-friendly and wallet-conscious, ReadyMade helps you claim your corner of the world and decorate it just the way you want it.

Keep it Thrifty
A journalist/suburban mom dishes on cheap and easy ways to brighten up that place you call home.

Listen to the Tube
Visit HGTV’s remodeling hub for information and advice on how to do almost anything yourself.

Neat or Not?
HGTV organizing guide will help you control your clutter, once and for all.

So Cute-able!
An eclectic collection of modern daily finds for your home or office, including kitchenware, home accents and the most interesting stationary around.

Conquering my D.I.Y. fears

Heidi was scared to death when she bought her first drill.

“I thought I was going to lose a hand,” she said.

A lot of women feel the same way about tools, probably because of that little voice in the back of our heads telling us that we can’t do it. That little voice that then becomes big and booming when the guys at the home improvement stores say, “Maybe you should hire someone. Let me show you to our contracting department.”

Having just bought her first home, Heidi was too financially strapped to hire the recommended contractors. She decided to take on the projects on her own and pushed out of her comfort zone a little more each time.

By thinking of D.I.Y. as a learning process, Heidi took a stab at bigger and more involved projects over time. She remembers the first time she hung crown molding in her home, and how the threat of death that comes with a nail gun had her on a ladder pounding in each little nail for days on end. The second time she hung crown molding, she rented a nail gun and was done in a day.

“Tools are scary, but they can also be your best friend,” she said. “Power tools let you do anything the biggest, burliest contractor can do.”

Here are some of Heidi’s favorites:

1. The Power Drill

“My introduction to the drill came when I worked on my kitchen cabinets,” she said. “After sanding, repainting and adding molding to the cabinets, I made holes with my drill and used it to attach new knobs. It was a little intimidating – it is shaped like a gun, you know – but after one hole, I was using it like an old pro.”

2. The Power Sander

“A lot of women are really into refinishing furniture, but you can’t get started without a sander,” said Heidi. “You do not want to sand by hand if you don’t have to. It’s just not worth it.”

3. The Reciprocating Saw

“This tool still scares me because you can cut through some pretty major stuff with it, like studs, wallboard and paneling,” she said. “But if you really think about it, it’s just like a carving knife. If you’ve carved a turkey, you can use a reciprocating saw. The saw shakes a little more than the turkey carver, but it’s just about the same thing.”

4. The Power Stapler

“I’m meeting more and more women who are interested in upholstering—myself included,” Heidi said. “What’s great about a power stapler is that it sinks the staples deeper than you’re going to be able to do it by hand, and it will enable you to have more cushion on whatever you’re upholstering. When you use a manual stapler or even a staple gun, your hand starts hurting pretty quickly and the staples never go in the right way.”

5. The Power Nailer

“The first time I put up crown molding, I used a regular hammer and nails. The second time, I used one of these puppies,” she said. “I did it in a third of the time, and it came out gorgeous. Also, because it sinks the nails in deeper, they are easier to hide.”

6. The Compound Miter Saw

“A compound miter saw is really the thing that helps you finish off a room,” said Heidi. “With it, you can create all the extra added touches like crown molding, baseboard molding and chair rail molding.”

For home improvement help that speaks your language, check out BeJane, a community where eager do-it-herselfers connect, share advice and empower one another to tackle home improvement projects—no husbands necessary.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Tough—And Girlie
Power tools for ladies? It’s true! At Tomboy Tools, you can find a full array of power tools and home remodeling tips designed with women in mind.

A Few Simple Steps
The world’s biggest DIY guidebook, Instructables has digestible directions on everything from hanging curtains to building a pizza oven.

Just Do It Yourself
Earth-friendly and wallet-conscious, ReadyMade helps you claim your corner of the world and decorate it just the way you want it.

Easy ideas for adding value to your home

When she was seven years old, Eden decided she wanted to have a four-poster bed. She went into the ravine behind her parents’ house, dragged some huge branches home, and duct-taped them to her bed.

Over the years she’s tackled many more complex projects, but she credits that one experience with showing her that she could do things for herself.

“It’s always worth a try,” she said. “You never know what you’ll end up with, and it means a lot more than just buying it.”

Eden’s foray into home improvement started with painting. Surprised at how much easier it was than she expected, she went on to installing new door handles in her home. Next she dabbled in electricity by adding dimmer switches.

“With every project, I grew more and more confident,” she said. “Sure, there were some scary moments, but the more I learned, the easier things got.”

One of Eden’s biggest motivations for DIY home improvement is the financial savings that come with some sweat equity. She appreciates the finer things, but she also knows the value of a dollar. By doing things from scratch or reinventing things on her own, she’s able to get what she wants and save some money.

Eden said and Craigslist are two of her favorite online spots for scouting good deals.

“I found a great old lamp on eBay for $20, but it didn’t have a lampshade,” she said. “I bought a new, modern-style lampshade and the final product was a great mix of antique and modern.”

In addition to saving money, Eden also uses DIY home improvement to add value to her home. Her advice: concentrate your efforts on projects that stay with the place even after you leave.

“Look at the bathroom, the kitchen and the closets, because what you do in there is going to stay and it’s going to get you some extra money when you go,” said Eden.

For more DIY instruction that’ll help you afford the luxury you long for, take a look at BeJane, a community where eager do-it-herselfers connect, share advice and empower one another to tackle home improvement projects—no husbands necessary.

Tough–and Girlie
Power tools for ladies? It’s true! At Tomboy Tools, you can find a full array of power tools and home remodeling tips designed with women in mind.

A Few Simple Steps
The world’s biggest DIY guidebook, Instructables has digestible directions on everything from hanging curtains to building a pizza oven.

Just Do It Yourself
Earth-friendly and wallet-conscious, ReadyMade helps you claim your corner of the world and decorate it just the way you want it.