Thursday, August 18, 2016

How I Earned an Income, and Learned to Spend Less

[Nyerges is the author of various books including “Extreme Simplicity” and “How to Survive Anywhere.”  For information about his classes and books, go to www.Schoolof, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock CA 90041]

From 1977 until 1979,  Nyerges was a squatter in an abandoned house in Los Angeles. The following is adapted from a book he wrote about that period called “Squatter in Los Angeles,” available as a Kindle book.

I had no regular job during this period, though I earned $5 each week by writing an outdoor column for a local paper. It wasn’t much money, but it seemed to add up when I got a check at the end of each month. It also got my name out there, and I began to get requests to give talks to local groups and to lead walks for schools.

Even though I paid no rent, I did have a utility and phone bill to pay, so I needed a bit  more than $5 a week.  I sought out part time work here and there which would still allow me to attend the various small classes offered by the non-profit during the week.   I found work doing such tasks as roofing, framing, writing magazine articles.

I landed a part-time job doing typesetting, which also led to my writing for that little newspaper, the Altadena Chronicle, owned by Sue and Rich Redman.  I thought I was on top of the world with that income and my $5 a week income from the local paper. I also ended up doing some framing and painting at the newspaper office when they remodeled. 

In reality, I was on the edge of poverty financially, and yet I felt good, at peace most of the time, and loved to try new things and experiment.  My primary source of mental stimulation was through my classes and involvement with the non-profit next door, and I believed this was the most important work I could do.  In fact, there was no reason why I could not have gotten some full-time job like all my friends, or enrolled back into college full-time and gotten a degree that would enable me to earn a reasonable income. But somehow I convinced myself that  -- for better or worse – my  lifestyle was more important for the solace of my soul, and for the salvation of the planet.  Still, my soul wasn’t always solaced by my “lifestyle” because I always had a nagging fear anytime anyone came up the driveway. Furthermore, I constantly wavered between confidence and doubt that my way of life had any effect whatsoever on the direction the planet was taking.

My time was divided between my work, my studies and research with the non-profit organization that brought me to Highland Park in the first place.  I drove a Honda 90 motorcycle at the time that got 100 miles to the gallon so my transportation costs were very low. 

I derived great pleasure from experimenting and learning all the ways I could provide for my daily needs, and even my wants, using things that I made, grew, found on the property, or obtained from discards.  Had I been married with children, I believe this would have been an impossible pursuit, for obvious reasons. But I was essentially alone.

I read Thoreau’s Walden Pond for the first time during this period, and found  my state of mind frequently resonating with the basic themes in the book.  Remember, Thoreau wasn’t a bum, or a drop-out, or an alcoholic.  Actually, for that matter, he was no squatter either, for the land where he was given permission to do his “experiment” was owned by fellow writer and friend William Emerson. He built for himself a little house (a “shack” by most accounts), and did a lot of his writing there.   It would be accurate to say that Thoreau – like me – was profoundly interested in the very meaning of life and wanted to discover the point of all the rushing about to get somewhere.  Unable to discover these answers in his town, Thoreau built and moved into his little shack in the woods and learned how to grow the food that he ate, and found it nourishing and satisfying.  Indians and trappers would visit and talk, and somehow through this unprejudiced intercourse, he found that all people were more alike then different, and a life lived for purely material reasons is a life wasted.

Now I found myself in a similar setting, though it wasn’t in the woods but a ruralish part of Los Angeles.   I  had no pond nearby, but I did manage to get over the Arroyo Seco which was as close to my personal Walden Pond as I felt I would get.

At night, thinking over the day’s classes and studies, typing up my notes and insights, I often ruminated over how life should be lived, and wondered why we take up so much time and waste so much of life on trivial pursuits. 

I did learn some years later when Thoreau was mentioned by the academics he was regarded as a brilliant intellectual who discovered the simple reality that was right in front of  everyone. Be here now. Imagine. The kingdom is within. Which is why I naturally assumed that his own peers would have regarded him as a saint and savior.  Wrong!  I have actually spoken to descendents of Thoreau’s peers and they said that in the day, Thoreau was by no means universally respected. Rather, many regarded him as a bum, an outsider, someone who had rejected society to hang out with the Indians in the woods.  I was starting to see that there were more parallels with me and Thoreau than were originally apparent.

So I did my best – though usually unsuccessfully – to not be seen as a freeloading bum who chose not to work and who just sat around listening to the birds and who saw secret messages in the clouds.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Free Garden Fertilizers from Items you Normally Throw Away

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” and other books. You can learn about his classes and books at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041].

We always gardened because we can produce better quality food and a low cost, without participating in using any of the destructive chemicals which ruin the fertility of the soil.  And there are at least two very common household discards which are ideal for many of your garden plants.

You’ve heard of liming the garden and lawn, right?  Many gardeners buy a bag of lime (calcium carbonate) every few years and sprinkle it throughout the garden.   Were you aware that eggshells are 93% calcium carbonate?

Calcium is an essential plant nutrient that plays a fundamental part in cell manufacture and growth.  Most roots must have some calcium at the growing tips.  Plant growth removes large quantities of calcium from the soil, and so calcium must be replenished.  In addition to calcium, eggshells contain about 1 percent nitrogen, about 0.5 percent phosphoric acid, and other trace elements that make them a practical fertilizer.

We saved all our eggshells in a pan in our oven, including shells from the eggs from the farmers market, as well as the shells from our own chicken eggs. The pilot light temperature of the oven was sufficient to dry out the shells. Then, when the pan was full, we either crushed them by hand, or reduced them to a fine powder in the blender. Then we placed the crushed eggshells around fruit trees, roses, and potted plants, and also just broadcast them throughout the garden.

We learned that snail problems could be reduced with the helped of recycled eggshells. Using the hand-crushed shells, with plenty of their rough edges, we’d scatter these around those plants that the snails were eating.  Snails did not usually cross the barriers made with these rough eggshells, presumably because they cause discomfort to the snails.

Another common kitchen discard is coffee grounds. Used coffee grounds contain about 2 percent nitrogen, about a third of a percent of phosphoric acid, and varying amounts of potash, generally less than one percent.  Analysis of coffee grounds shows that they contain many minerals, including trace minerals, carbohydrates, sugars, some vitamins, and some caffeine.  They are particularly useful on those plants for which you would apply “acid food,” such as blueberries, avocados, roses, camellias, and certain fruit trees.

Sometimes we use scatter the used coffee grounds in the garden, and sometimes we dry them first. We scatter them as a light mulch around those plants that we feel would benefit the most. We don’t scatter them too thickly, however, especially in wet weather, because the coffee grounds will have a tendency to get moldy.

Because most plants need calcium for root growth, most can be beneficially stimulated by adding both ground up eggshells (lime) and dried coffee grounds.

Smile the next time you drink your morning cup of coffee, and eat those breakfast eggs, because the by-products of that meal are ideal for your urban garden and no longer need to be thought of as “waste.”

I sought to include many of these low-tech, low-cost ideas in my “Extreme Simplicity” book, which recorded all the methods that my wife and I actually practiced.  We always figured that if we could do all that we did with low-income, anyone anywhere could practice these same methods to become self-reliant.  You can get “Extreme Simplicity” from, or from the Store at