Category Archives: chickens

How Novella Got Her Chickens (Groove) Back

I got my first hens in 1998. I was living in Seattle at the time, Beacon Hill, in a house we called the Hen House. Not because we had chickens. Bill and I found the remnants of an old Chinese restaurant sign, written in that funny chopsticks font, on a street corner. Being hoarders, we took the sign home and hung it on our porch awning. The word in chopstick font, cut off in the “N” area was HEN. Then I got chickens. Maybe it was a sign from the universe.

Anyway, I didn’t know anything. I remember feeding them cornmeal. Only later did I figure out they will lay more eggs if you feed them actual chicken food, specially formulated. I also built a very questionable chicken coop. This type of construction would continue until I finally figured out that carpenters/builders are worth their weight in gold, and make things look beautiful–and can make a fully functional (ie predator proof) coop.

Since that first flock, I’ve had several more, but none feel quite as special as my current flock. When I got pregnant with my daughter, I was so sick and tired, I couldn’t do anything. Including shutting the chicken coop up at night. I lost that flock to predators–raccoons? oppossoms? I don’t know. But there were feathers everywhere, and I had to face the facts: my life as a mom wasn’t going to be as easy as it was when I was single and able to do everything on the farm that needed doing.

Fast forward two years, and I have a new flock of hens. Here they are.
chickens

Some came from a friend who raised them from chicks, some came from Dare 2 Dream Farm, which sells chicks and chickens, coops, and cool t-shirts. The pullets we got from Dare 2 Dream started laying a few weeks ago! Here’s the nest o’eggs.

eggphoto

Note that the dark brown one is a wooden egg, which fools the girls into thinking no one (no one!) is taking their eggs. Sneaky. Post-baby (I have a toddler now, I’m told), the chickens feel so right, so good. They are easy to care for (just some feeding and cleaning). Putting them to bed, shutting their door, is part of our bedtime ritual now. Frannie says, Goodnight chickens, and helps shut the door. I know, it’s sick how sweet that is. And…eggs.

eggeater

We like ours poached. Served on a small rickety table. We eat them in our pajamas. They are the Best Eggs Ever.

If you have any chicken questions, and you live in the Bay Area, I’ll be at the Biofuel Oasis’s Harvest Festival at 3pm on September 21. The BFO is having lots of fun events that day, like a honey tasting and kombucha making class. Here are the details.

New Year Resolutions for the Farm

I love writing to-do lists. Not following them, not x-ing them off, but simply writing a list of goals. The end of the year happens to coincide with my birthday, so it’s a good time to take a look at what I’ve done and what I hope to do the next year. I’m turning 37 this year, and it’s my 7th year of squat farming in Oakland. Here’s to another seven!

GARDEN

Increase productivity. This year, I’m creating French intensive beds. For awhile I was trying to do those hippie permaculture jungles, but I’m starting to see that for me, it isn’t as productive or easy to harvest as it could be. So I’ve made four raised berms and planted row crops. My idea is to harvest everything at once, add compost, and then plant a new crop. I’ll still do interplanting, but it’ll be more organized. I want to start using the fence more as a scaffolding for growing stuff like grapes and cucumbers, too. With more productivity, I’m going to look for a better distribution model, too.

Save more Water. This summer was drier than a pot smoker’s mouth at dawn. Billy and I really curbed our house water use, and we re-used tons of greywater, but I’m realizing that perhaps summer is not the best growing season for California. To that point, I’m going to grow another crop of dry-farmed tomatoes. But i’m also going to plant a dry-land cover crop in May in many of the beds, and let it run its course through June, July, and August. I can use it for animal fodder.

Pull out Ornamentals. I planted an echium and melianthus major about five years ago and they are huge now. Huge and not producing anything very edible or beautiful. So out they go! I’ll replace them with fruit trees, and a lil’ duck pond.

Deal with Bermuda Grass and that F-ing Perennial Buckwheat. Two horrible weeds. The fact that someone actually gave me the buckwheat just pisses me off. It refuses to die. It also refuses to taste good, and even my animals won’t eat it. This spring, I’ll be hosting a big weed pulling party. I might even hire some local workers, but that last stand of weeds has to go!

BARNYARD

Muscovy Ducks. I am in love with duck confit. Ducks are also great because they reproduce on their own, grow quickly, and are downright cute. And so, our plan is to get a breeding pair of Muscovies and let them do their magic in the garden. We hope they don’t destroy the various vegetable beds. They are going to live in this car–our gutted 240D–at night.

Breeding Hens. A dear friend gave me five of her bantam hens. They are raised by their mother and are more feral than tame, but I think they will be good setters. My idea is to bring a rooster in for my big girls, get them knocked up, and then stash their fertilized eggs under the bantams, who will hatch them out. My goal is to avoid ordering day-olds from the hatchery, if possible.

Rabbit Hides. I need to process the many ones in my fridge and actually figure out a way to use the pelts in a way that honors and celebrates the rabbit. We’re planning a big rabbit gala with Meatpaper and OPEN in early February, so stay tuned.

Guinea Hogs. I know, I said I’d never raise a pig again. But now someone told me about the marvelous, diminutive guinea hog. Never getting bigger than 250 pounds, these delicious piggies weigh 100 pounds or less, and would be perfect for my small farmelette. Dumpsters here I come again!

Requeen. It’s been a while, but I think I need to requeen my bee colony. I love the girls, but they are not as productive as they should be! I’m hoping to catch another swarm and get a second hive going.

HOME AND KITCHEN

Cob Oven. This is on my list every year, and every year it goes by without getting done. But really, it would be wonderful to make pizza and pies, breads and cakes, right?

Cheese Cave. So far, I have a cheese closet. But I’m confident it can be turned into a functional cheese cave. I just have to get some fans, themometers, and various coolers. I want to experiment with making some rind-y cheese, and one day will figure out how the hell Cypress Grove makes Humbolt Fog. This may involve some kind of apprenticeship. These are, from left to right, bandaged goat cheddar (larded with duck fat), fresh chevre, and the 95% humidity requiring Blue Goat.

Wild Food. Sometimes I feel like a dumb-ass farmer trying to grow stuff when nature provides, if you know where and when to look. I want to try to do more harvesting in the wild–acrons, bay nuts, ‘shrooms, nettles, and berries. Maybe some hunting.

Happy New Year to you all; thanks for reading! And please feel free to share your goals on your farm/garden/patio…

Inland Empire Report (and calling Kansas City!)

Oh lordy, things are really hopping here. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but there’s a really neat video that Chow.com did about me and my goats, it’s called Novella Carpenter’s backyard is a pigsty. Which is true in many ways. check it out here.

I just flew in from a few days in the Inland Empire, aka, Eastern Washington and Idaho, where I was doing a series of public talks and supporting a great new coop grocery store in Spokane. Moscow was very special because so many of my mom’s homesteading friends from back in the day came to listen to my stories about their stories. Fun. Someone at the pre-reading dinner said, “this is like meeting characters from a novel!” There they were–Barb, Phil, Lowell, Mary, and Fran–all so excited and supportive of my writing. I can’t express how great this made me feel.

After the reading I got the chance to talk to Lowell, the beekeeping “character” in Farm City. He doesn’t keep them anymore–foulbrood and equipment failure–but he still farms out on his land, growing corn and keeping chickens, has a few horses. I have fantasies of a “family” reunion in Orofino come August. Lowell said he’d make the chicken, which, if I remember correctly, involves vinegar, poultry seasoning, and a slow roast.

Barb drove me to Spokane. She’s the coolest mother of 20 year olds I’ve ever met, wearing this outrageous raven necklace and pirate stockings. She gave me a bracelet that I’ll treasure forever, which says: Redefine the Impossible. That is pure Barb. I can only dream of being as funny and plain old fun as she is.

Spokane was such a lovely surprise. The downtown is sweet, filled with gorgeous old brick buildings, pastry shops, yummy restaurants, and old classy bars. And did I mention a Dick’s Drive-in? Amazing fries. I did a rabbit demo class at a nice resto called Sante. The chefs prepared rabbit in various ways, and about 40 people were served a rabbit tasting menu–terrine, stew, confit, and an incredible cassoulet with green garbanzo beans. After eating, there was a rabbit butchery demo. Everyone gathered around a whole rabbit and a wise old rabbit farmer took it apart and made suggestions for cooking. I talked about my adventures in raising rabbits, and made people look at photos of rabbits having sex. What was especially cool about the dinner was the diners were all quite seriously considering raising rabbits, or wanting to get in touch with their food in a meaningful way. And they wanted to support local farmers and the broader community. It was like a little town, but with good coffee.

And a great bookstore. With total rabbit breath, I snuck up to Aunties, an impressive indie bookstore in the heart of Spokane and did a reading, with one of the sweetest, warmest audiences I’ve ever run across. Still, I needed a drink by then, so we headed to a bar/resto called Hill’s that features some tasty food, including locally grown favorites like Rocky Mt. oysters, and camelina seed hummus.

In the morning, I found myself in front of a big audience of community college students, talking about pig heads. They did not seem to mind. On the plane by high noon, wisps of Santa bresola in my carry-on. I had no idea touring would be so f-ing fun…

Which brings me to my next point: imagine this: me and Samin (!), in Kansas City, MO, in only a few days! We’re jumping on a plane to do a reading on Saturday October 24 at the Bad Seed Kitchen. Then Sunday there will be a chicken raising class and culling demo. Which will be hands-on, btw, everyone will have a chicken of their own. Samin will then do a breakdown and a demo on how to cook a home-raised hen (read: older, tough) so that it tastes delicious. Samin and I are going to be like your yoga coach, who will put you in the correct posture while you pluck a chicken, just as an example. If you live in the area, you better get your butt over to the reading and/or the class. More info is available at Bad Seed. Please help us spread the word, I’m not sure how many students have signed up!

Talking chicken, bees, and biod

As some of you know, I’m lucky to be involved with the most bad-ass group of women, the biodevas of the Biofuel Oasis. We’ve been slinging biod in Berkeley, CA since 2003, and now our dreams of becoming an urban farming headquarters is coming true.

Many years ago, we all talked about how we really wanted to diversify and sell something in addition to biodiesel. Healthy versions of gas station snacks didn’t seem radical enough. But urban farming supplies did. It fits into the whole model of DIY empowerment, of questioning where everything comes from, and learning new things. We’re now selling rabbit feed, chick starter, beekeeping supplies, and straw bales. And although we were a bit timid at first, it’s becoming clear that people really do want these things in an urban setting. We sold out of our beekeeping supplies within a month! We have new customers every day who want to buy high-quality, local, organic animal feeds and grains. It’s so fun.

And now we’re taking it to the next level: classes.  The first one, Backyard Chickens 101, will be held July 26, 10-1 and will be taught by yours truly. I’m going to cover coop building, nutrition, city ordinances, chick care, health, and troubleshooting. We’re also bringing egg-y snacks! The class costs $25, but if that’s too expensive, we were blessed with a Rainbow Grocery Coop grant to offer scholarships–just call the Oasis (510.665.5509) and ask about signing up for the scholarship. Otherwise, you can sign up herechickensinthehouse.

The following month Jennifer Radtke is teaching a beekeeping class, and then a biodiesel home-brew class. Check it out, and take food production into your own hands.