Category Archives: rabbits

Happy Summer Solstice

Ahh, it’s officially summer again. Just like a new year, the summer solstice always makes me want to write lists of things and projects to do. For some reason, every summer I forget that it’ll be over soon and that the rains will come and so I should do as much as possible now. Here’s my list o’things to do before the days shorten and I lose my momentum.

1. New t-shirt design. How lucky I am that a woman who buys chicken feed from us at the Biofuel Oasis is also a talented artist! We struck up a conversation and came up with a barter: she makes me a logo for Ghost Town Farm, I give her stuff from the farm. Here’s the new design, which will be on t-shirts and for sale soon. Thank you Miriam Stahl, you rock star.


2. Finally build that cob oven. When I posted about the cob oven in January, lo and behold, a talented potter called me up and offered to help build it. We’ve had a couple of consultations, and I’m just building the urbanite (broken concrete) foundation. The end of next week, we’ll be mixing up the cob and making the oven. Thanks to the fire marshall’s visit, I’ve place the oven Very Far Away From the House. If you’re reading Victor–it’s all good.

3. Build an outdoor rabbit area in the backyard. I’ve realized that I had a lot of unused space in the backyard. Namely, a back fence that could have an elevated rabbit run. That way the chickens could sift through the bunny droppings.

4. Have a big tour on July 5. I’m helping with an Outstanding in the Field dinner on July 5, partnering with my soul sister, Nicole LoBue, to bring some urban ag snacks to the table. The event is happening at a winery in Berkeley, but people will be coming by GhosttownFarm for tours. In the interest of stacking functions, I’m going to open up the farm that day to everyone. I’ll be busy in the next weeks making signage and a donation jar. Open Farm day, July 5, 10-2.

5. Buy a new milk goat. I’m so excited to announce that I’ll be buying a doe from Castle Rock Nigerians. I really want a herd of three goats in my backyard, and it looks like that dream in coming true in the next few weeks. And like I told people who took my goat class this weekend, it is a good idea to buy really good breeding stock–something I didn’t do and am now correcting after two years of sub-par goats (cover your eyes, Bebe, I still love you). Thanks Sarah!

6. Go camping/learning about wild food. I realized this spring at the Buckeye Gathering of Primitive Skills, that I don’t get out into nature as much as I should, and I’ve been craving it. So I’m going to make it a point to find camping spots that I can ride my bike/take BART to this summer. Bill and I have always talked about hiking that green belt that runs along the East Bay, and maybe this July it will happen. I met a new cool herbalist, Tellur Fenner, at Buckeye who leads urban herbal walks, so I’m excited to learn more about that. He lives just around the block, and brings classes to my garden and assures me that wild radish is delicious.

Whew, I’m going to stop there. I’m sure more projects will present themselves as the long hot days of summer continue. Happy solstice, now what are your plans?

Winter Bunnies

Got a lovely gift upon my return from Africa: baby bunnies!

I had forgotten that on New Year’s Eve, I put mama Sasquatch into Mr. Bunny’s cage. He’s my new buck, and I just love him. He’s such an enthusiastic eater–munches down all the grass and vegetable stalks from the garden. Likewise, he was quite an enthusiastic suitor, glad to see Sasquatch and spend some quality time with her.

A month later, out came the little ones.

Only four of them. Last spring, Sasquatch had 8, so I wonder if it’s the new buck, or perhaps that it’s winter and still a little bit cold. As you can see, one of the babies is white! An albino. Which is funny because when I was in Africa, I heard there’s a cult surrounding albinos. That witch doctors believe they will bring money. In fact, it’s become a problem with albino people getting kidnapped. Anyway, I hope my little white one will bring good luck to Ghosttown Farm.

Speaking of rabbits, there’s a bunch of rabbit-related activities going on in the Bay Area.

Meatpaper magazine and OPEN restaurant are hosting a series of rabbit-related celebrations, calling it rabbit week.

East Meats West II
You might have heard about our exciting November events in Brooklyn with our friends at Diner and Diner Journal. We collaborated to produce an amazing rabbit feast, and now, the Diner folks are flying west for a rabbit redux so you, too, can taste the magic!

WHAT
Chefs Chris Kronner of Bar Tartine in San Francisco and Sean Rembold of Diner in Brooklyn team up to create a 4-course dinner featuring Devil’s Gulch rabbits. There will be signature cocktails and wine pairings. A portion of the proceeds will go toward the Pasternak’s fund to help the community in Haiti that they serve.

WHEN
February 22
Two seatings, 6pm and 9pm

WHERE
Bar Tartine
561 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

There are two spots left in the rabbit hide tanning class March 6 and 7 at Ghosttown Farm with Tamara Wilder. Email me: novellacarpenter@gmail.com if you want to register. It is not a class for the faint of heart.

Also, I’m teaching a raising rabbits class at the Biofuel Oasis March 21.

Also, I was featured in Good Magazine, talking about rabbits and urban farming.

Yay bunnies!

Animal (hide tanning), Vegetable (fermenting), and (fruit) Miracle

If the New Year is getting you excited to learn some new skills, I have a couple fun classes and things to suggest.

1. Scion Exchange

Berkeley, San Jose, Sebastopol, and many more! 

If you have fruit trees, you can graft different varieties onto your tree! Last year, I went to the scion exchange in San Francisco and got some crazy kinds of fruit trees to graft. Sadly, not one of the grafts took, even though I spent hours going to the scion exchange, whittling scion wood and cleft grafting onto my pear and apple trees. The year before I had four take. Clearly I’m getting all Flowers for Algeron on the grafting tip. I need to brush up!  That’s why I’m so psyched that again the scion exchange is coming! This year, it’ll be in several places, I’m going to the one in San Jose on January 9th, because it’s at an urban farm that sounds mighty wicked.  

For more info about dates and times for the scion exchanges, see the California Rare Fruit website.

2. Rabbit Hide Tanning Class with Tamara Wilder

Ghosttown Farm, Oakland, CA

Feb 6-7, 9am-5pm (Saturday & Sunday)

Braintanning is a natural, beautiful & soft method for tanning furs.

In this two day class, participants will partake in the whole process—from prepping and fleshing the pelt to smoking the softened fur.  Tools and materials will be provided and some softening tools will also be available for sale.

Domestic rabbit furs will be supplied.

$120 per person   

Bio: Tamara Wilder has been demonstrating and practicing ancient living skills for the past 20 years.  She is the coauthor of the book Buckskin: The Ancient Art of Braintanning and regularly teaches seminars on stringmaking, braintanning, firemaking and other ancient technologies across Northern California.  More info at www.paleotechnics.com  

If you’d like to sign up or get more information, email me at novellacarpenter at gmail dot com. 

*Never mind if you don’t keep rabbits, the concepts in this class apply for all kinds of hairy critters, including squirrels and roadkill. Tamara is a total bad-ass. 

3. Sauerkraut Making on Valentine’s Day

Biofuel Oasis, 1441 Ashby Ave, Berkeley

February 14, 11-12:30

$25

Come on down the Biofuel Oasis and learn how to make sauerkraut and ginger beer from my friend Leslie, who is mighty knowledgeable about all things fermented. We’ll supply all the raw materials to make a jar of kraut and a bottle of ginger beer to take home to your loved ones–with tastings in between. 

Register here; and while you’re there, check out all the other cool classes like Keeping Chickens and Ducks, Greywater, Backyard Beekeeping, Mushroom Cultivation, and Rabbits!

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…

Rabbit Class: Brooklyn

I know, I know, first there was the chicken class in Kansas City. And then there is the upcoming turkey workshop in Austin, TX this Saturday. And now, I’d like to announce the Brooklyn rabbit class.

The Complete Rabbit, Brooklyn, NY November 15

Rabbits are the new chicken. More and more urban farmers are discovering the benefits of raising rabbits for meat in the city: bunnies are quiet, prefer to be kept in shady locations, reproduce quickly, and can be fed scraps.

This class will cover rabbit basics: housing, sourcing food for them on a budget, breeding, and harvesting. A quick and humane technique for killing meat rabbits will be demonstrated, as well as dressing and preparing the rabbit for the table.

Following the slaughter portion of the class, there will be a three hour break, and class will resume at Marlow and Daughter for a hands-on butcher and cooking class with Samin Nosrat. She will demonstrate how to extract the most flavor from your rabbit, with recipes for a rich stock, kidney and liver paste, Tuscan rabbit ragu and tips on how to best season, grill and braise the meat.

What: Complete Rabbit
Where: for legal reasons this class is being held at an undisclosed location in Brooklyn; once enrolled, we will give you the name and address
When: Sunday, November 15, 1pm-4pm how-to and slaughter; with butchery part of class starting at 7pm at Marlow and Daughter in Brooklyn.
Cost: $100
Number of students: 16 maximum, students will work in pairs with a shared rabbit and then take home half a rabbit.
If you are interested in the class, please email me: novellacarpenter at gmail dot com and I will tell you how to register.

So some might wonder, why is it that in every city I travel to, something has to die?

As an urban farmer I’ve been doing all these things–planting, breeding, harvesting–in the private world of my little farmlette. After being on book tour for a few months (on and off), I came to know that it was possible to just go from town to town doing a power point presentation and never get my hands dirty. This seemed unbearably isolating. In fact, I started calling my physical body “The Carcass” while I was on tour. As in, The Carcass boards plane at noon, then is on book panel at 3pm. Fed Carcass dinner, early to bed, then meet for coffee with a local newspaper writer where Carcass says tantalizing things about urban farming movement.

But, you see, what the carcass really wants to do is hang out with the chefs at the local restaurant, help organize an event with the local food rabblerousers, and perhaps teach a class that will help other urban farmers. So, that was the motivation.

Now that Samin (the chef) and I have been actually teaching the classes, I realized that there is a huge hunger out there for people to connect to their food. Maybe they are raising chickens themselves and want to learn the best practice for culling a rooster. Maybe they have been thinking about raising turkeys but don’t know how to start. Maybe they are disturbed by factory farming and want to know their meat by raising it themselves. All of the people I’ve encountered so far are fired up after our classes. Something as intimidating as processing your own animal suddenly makes sense, it is doable, and here’s the thing–it is kind of beautiful. I remember the first time I learned how to kill a turkey. It opened my eyes to the entire world. I suddenly saw connections between me and my ancestors. I felt connected and reverential for the animals we eat. I also felt skilled and useful. It makes me proud to pass that feeling on. And so, I do.

If you can’t do the rabbit class, I’ll be at the following places in New York City:

November 10, Presentation. Horticultural Society of New York, 6pm

November 11, Reading. Vox Pop cafe, 1022 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn NY, 7pm

Hope to meet you soon…If I start to look like a carcass, slap me!

Things I Learned in France

frenchbountyI returned to the United States early this week, jet lagged and haggard. Billy picked me up in Miami and we went directly to the Calle Ocho–which is where the best Cuban food in America is made. We then drove back to Orlando where another plane would take us back to San Francisco. Our bellies full of Chicken with Yellow Rice and Cubano sandwiches, we cruised down the highway in a Lincoln Continental (the car of Bill’s mom). As we drove, the band Denegue Fever rocked our world, and a lightening storm started. I’ll admit it: I always feel relieved when I return to the United States. Everything feels so ad hoc and jumbled, for good and bad, I suppose.

But: France. And the untrammeled loveliness that is the Corbieres region where my sister lives. That is something. I could brag about the amazing farmers markets, the bread, and the wine that I had the chance to experience. What really moved me, this trip, was the natural abundance found in the hills around their tiny village.

My sister, of the blog These Days in French Life, documents the bounty of this place very well. To experience it firsthand is another thing entirely. I came during the vendange when all the tractors are rolling through the villages, carts stacked with grapes going to press. The workers (who are paid about 10 euros an hour) become dusty and covered with grape juice. One day, we ventured out to pick grapes in a field long abandoned, so the grapes had gone wild. Oh, their sweet dusky fruit! Along the way, we stopped at almond trees and picked the nuts. Later, we went to the Med and trolled for clams, which Riana then made into an amazing dinner, cooking them with wine and cream. I started to have delusions that I could just move to France and wander, gypsy-like from harvest to harvest, living off the land. Bill and I might just do that next September, on bikes.

Being an ever-alert farmer, I did want to learn a few tricks, that’s one of the greatest things about traveling. I learned the following:

-At the honey shop where they had a bee demonstration and this foxy French beekeeper explained how bees make honey and how they then harvest it,  I finally figured out how a professional cuts the cappings off a frame of honey. Instead of laying it facedown on a flat surface (like I’ve been doing for years), they have an anchored metal tip where they balance the frame while decapping. Genius!

-At the farmer’s market (where I bought some amazing saucissons and some of that pink rose garlic (Rose du Tarn)–do they sell that in the States?), there were vendors selling vegetable starts. No big deal, but it was how they sold them that I liked. Instead of using 6 packs like here, they simply had an entire tray of seedlings, and you would buy how many you wanted. Like 20 lettuce plants. They would then cut them out of the soil, count them and put them in a bag. Or, there was a lady selling leeks–50 for 3 euros. She would pluck them directly out of the plug trays, then bundle them for you to take home. So elegant and efficient!

-Riana and I went to visit a rabbit farmer, and I was really psyched about her rabbit feeding procedure and fattening runs. Since this farmer lady and her husband grow all their own food, including the animal feed, they didn’t ever buy pellets for the bunnies (which has been bothering me lately about my operation). Instead, they fed them on dried alfalfa (lovely green, leafy stuff), wild fennel, and a grain ration which was barley and oats. That’s it! The rabbits were healthy and large. The baby rabbits were left with their mothers until two months, when they were moved to giant runs–12 feet by 4 feet–a litter in each run where they fattened and got some exercise.

We took a rabbit home from the farmer lady, and that next morning I showed Riana and her neighbor my fail-proof method for killing, skinning, and cleaning a rabbit. It was very cyclical, because I first was inspired to keep rabbits because my sister lives in France, and now I was passing on what I had learned a few years later.

Now that I’m back in the States, although the general vibe is so different from France, the principles are the same: find the bounty, savor it, learn from it, and share it.

rabbitsisters