Sunday, February 27, 2011

My trip to Ghost Town Farm in Oakland

I started reading Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.  One of Taylor's co-workers had suggested the book to him, so I bounded down to the public library and checked it out.  The author's name is Novella Carpender, a woman who moved with her boyfriend from Seattle to Oakland.  And I'm not talking about the Oakland hills or Lake Merrit, no no, I'm talking the ghetto.  Novella writes about keeping chickens, receiving a box full of baby ducks and turkeys, raising bees and then mourning their mysterious death, growing a huge "squat" garden on the vacant lot next to her apartment, and raising rabbits for meat.  It's a hilarious and poignant story, full of humor and moments of clarity that had me personally thinking about my experiences here on our own little homestead. 

After getting half way through her book, I decided to see if Novella had a blog, and indeed she does.  Her blog,, is all about her life, her tours, and even better, her pop-up farm stand and fundraisers she puts on.  I was checking out this blog last Wednesday, and it just so happened that she was hosting a fundraiser/pop up farm stand/party in the garden soiree on that following Sunday, 2/27.  Taylor had to work, but I decided to make the short trek across the bay and check out her garden and hopefully get to meet her.  It was a really interesting event and I'm so glad I went.  I heard Novella speaking to a group of about twenty people, talking about gardening, testing the soil, keeping rabbits and bees.  She was fielding everybody's questions and taking the time to sign copies of her book and talk individually to people.  I bought a Ghost Town Farm tee shirt, a book about the roots (no pun intended) urban farming, and a bunch of chard.  I then got in line and waited my turn to meet Novella and ask her about keeping bees and rabbits, which are our next ventures.  She was very charming and kind and full of information.  I kind of felt a little like a sycophant, but eventually got over it and just basked in the sunshine in her corner-lot garden on a street corner on MLK in Oakland.  Life can be so wonderfully random at time.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

We've got another layer!

I went down to the chickens this afternoon to do a quick poop duty, lay down some fresh straw in their coop for some extra insulation against the impending frost, and collect the egg for the day.  To my delight, I found a second little brown egg along with the regular large cream-colored egg.  Soupy, our large black Austrolorp has finally started laying.  I felt so excited and proud. 


Ever since we got the chickens, my life has revolved around them.......and their poop.  Chickens do three things, they eat, poop and sleep, and then poop again, and poop some more.  Luckily, our composting bins have been in great need of a nitrogen boost, so there you have it.  We have been placing the chicken poop directly into our composters and watching the temperatures soar.  I watched the internal temperature of one pile of compost rise 40 degrees in one day, topping off at 145 degrees.  It's definitely helping the microbial action do it's microbial thing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dang Deer!

You would have thought I learned my lesson after the deer destroyed my Anna apple tree, but, I apparently didn't and sacrificed my avocado tree to the roving deer.  I don't know why I didn't cage it after the apple tree was eaten away;  I was just hoping that the deer wouldn't find it appetizing........uh, yeah, deer eat almost anything green you plant, except rosemary, they won't touch it.  Taylor put up a cage around it yesterday and the top of the tree is still there, but none of the lower limbs are.  Hoping it can recover.  The apple tree has grown new blooms after it got taken out, so there is hope for the avocado.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The New Girls

We bought three young pullets from Wooly Egg Ranch on Valentine's Day.  We bought two Barred Plymouth Rock sisters, named Alice and Sweet Pea, and one Tiger-striped Ameraucana, named Isabeau.  We named Isabeau after Ladyhawke because she looks so much like a bird of prey.


Sweet Pea


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Woolly Egg Ranch

Woolly Egg Ranch

Woolly Egg Ranch
See that sheep?  I think I ate that lamb's shank last night. Delicious, local, clean, and a great price.  Check them out and support a local farmer!  By appointment only.

The New Flock

We went to Wooly Egg Ranch in Mill Valley, out in Tennessee Valley, and saw the most beautiful chickens, and a few soggy sheep.  We showed up, prepared to buy a couple of Barred Plymouth Rock pullets (young laying hens), and ended up getting an hour tour of the farm.  The Wooly Egg Ranch sells chickens, chicken coops, lamb meat and the wool, and they make bio diesel.  There are about 300 chickens that we watched cruising around the joint and 8 sheep walking around as well.  We bought the last two Barred Rocks, beautiful little black and white chickens who are around 15 weeks old.  They are as big as our Red Sex-link sisters were when we brought them home a month ago.  We named the smaller one Sweet-Pea and her bigger sister Alice.  We then fell in love with the most amazing Ameraucana;  she is Tiger-striped and looks like a hawk.  She looks so much like a bird of prey, that we named her after LadyHawke, the movie, Isabeau.  All three girls have super sweet dispositions and are not scared of Taylor and I.  The other chickens are not too happy about the new additions and they spend much of the time chasing the little ones around.  I am worried the most about Isabeau, who is not only getting picked on and pecked upon by the four older ladies, but the two new little Barred Rocks are also showing her who is boss.  They are hen pecking her pope's nose area and the feathers are pecked off.  We are watching carefully, but we understand that this is a natural process in the chicken world and they will sort it out.  Pictures to come.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Chickens

We are going to be adding two beautiful little Barred Plymouth Rock hens to our family.  We'll be getting them on Tuesday after Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Learned a big lesson today:  always cage your new trees, even if you don't see the deer, they are there.  Poor little Anna apple tree, I hope it will recover from it's violating encounter with what I wish was a serving of venison on my plate.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Clipping the Wings

When we first brought our chickens home, we watched anxiously as they acclimated to their new surroundings.  When the sun started to set and it started to get dark, the chickens started to put themselves in the coop to roost for the night.  All of the chickens did this, except Soupy, our black Australorp.  She kept looking up at the garden gate, then back at the coop door and then back at the gate.  Before we knew it, with one big flap of her wings, she flew up and on the garden gate.  We watched in horror, as she flew across the garden, approximately fifteen feet, and roosted on the garden wall.  This was not exactly how I had envisioned our first night, climbing up a ladder to retrieve a frightened chicken.  Luckily, all I had to do was give her a little push with a hoe on the backside, and she flew back down into her yard and walked into the coop.  The next morning, first thing, Taylor and I watched a video on YouTube on how to clip the wings properly, walked down to the chickens, and grounded them.  Clipping the wings doesn't hurt them, it just keeps them off balance, as you just cut one side.  Luckily, the wings that had to be cut are a second layer that hide underneath the top layer, so we didn't have to stare at our butchery once we did it.  The chickens were not happy, to say the least, and they spent the rest of the day inside of their coop, wondering what had just happened.  Needless to say, I felt a little bad for traumatizing them, but relieved that I wouldn't have to watch my chickens fly into one of the many oak trees on our or our neighbors property.  Jasper watched the whole time, engrossed and fascinated.  Luckily, he does not see them as food, just interesting creatures to watch.

Yep, chickens can fly alright.

Notice Jasper's eyes, glowing as the flash reflected off of his eyes, which couldn't believe what they were seeing.

Dirt Baths

I had no idea that chickens did this, but they do, and it is hilarious to watch.  They give themselves dust/dirt bathes as a way to rid themselves of parasites that would fester inside of their layers of feathers.  I watched Big Spoon do it the other day for twenty minutes; twenty minutes of nestling herself in a hole in the dirt that she dug out for herself and flinging all of the loose dirt onto her body.  The other three chickens walked around her, watching intently, wondering what their fearless leader was doing.  Twenty minutes, she nestled and flung and massaged her body against the dirt.  When she was done, she stood up, fluffed out all of her, and shook off, like a dog after getting a bath.  Within five minutes, all three of the ladies were digging themselves down into the dirt in the exact same place and flinging dirt around like it was their job.  The cutest thing was to watch the two red sisters, Stella and Juniper, lay back to back and fling dirt onto each other.  They were pushing against each other and rubbing the dirt in, eyes closed, enjoying their new dirty ritual.  It was a fascinating half an hour, I have to tell you.
The ladies love getting dirty!

Planting Fruit Trees

We live on such an amazing piece of property and we wanted to utilize the hillside that enjoys eastern and southern sun exposure.  We already have a 25 year old Gravenstein apple tree, but we wanted to add a few more fruit trees to our repertoire.  I planted a Meyer lemon tree, a Cado avocado tree, and an Anna apple tree.    The Meyer lemons will be good anytime for a bump of fresh vitamin C or when we need a lemon for cooking.  We all love avocados here, so I know they won't go to waste.  And apples are my favorite fruit and I enjoy using them in baking, chutneys, and in my lunches.