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!


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!


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.


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…

51 responses to “New Year Resolutions for the Farm

  1. What? Write new novel isn’t on the list? The wife and I have each read Farm City twice now! More, please! 🙂

  2. Hehe, piggies. I knew you’d go back! It’s still not on my plans for this year, but I’m trying to work it in. I’ve done some research on guinea hogs and they sound good as urban foragers. And I *might* be able to convince people that they’re vietnamese p-b pigs, which is the only legal swine in Portland.

  3. For the cheese cave, here’s an idea. Here’s what you might be able to do: Crottin: first attempt.

  4. Reading your blog after finishing your book and loving it (and eyeing a vacant lot down the street with delusions of grandeur dancing in my head). As for hunting, you’re probably hip to this but wild boar abound in California (and just about everywhere else). It seems every environmentalist in Berkeley is armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a boar hunting license. Pretty tasty too, fattened like their Spanish brethern on acorns–the Bluebird Cafe in Hopland serves local boar burgers if you want to give them a try but much better are field roast, sausage and other preparations you know far more about than I do. Wild boar produce two litters of up to 10 babes a year and are unbelievably destructive–go got ’em!

  5. You and your book are inspirational. Have a good new year, and I hope to incorporate some of your resolutions myself.

  6. Cob oven…it’s on my list, too! Santa, oh Santa, when are you gonna come through for me?

    Acorn and manzanita-berry gathering in the fall is a real pleasure, and if you decide that preparing the acorns is too much hassle your piggies (if you get them) should like ’em mucho.

    If you interested in cultivation in addition to collecting, try M. Schmidt’s “Growing California Native Plants,” UCBerkeley Press.

  7. Goals…. move 1/2 my garden to a sunnier spot and try to grow TWO crops in that one (I’m in TX).

    Grow ONLY the stuff I know I CAN grow and quit trying fancy schmancy stuff that even the professionals don’t offer at the local farm stand.

    Grow ENOUGH stuff that I can fire up the canner withOUT having to augment from the local farm stand.

    Spend the year learning about beekeeping and maybe starting bees next year.

  8. Speaking of pigs … I had the best conversation with my father-in-law last night. They have a big piece of property out in the country, and I’m trying to convince them to grow a couple of pigs. I told him I’d raise chickens and bees (for honey) if they’d raise a pig. I’m not sure he’ll do it, but ….

    My goals are very similar to yours with regard to growing what grows well where I live and doing more wild food gathering. There’s just a smorgasbord of lovely food out there for the taking if we just learn where to look. My goal for this year is to see it.

    Here’s to both of us learning to make acorn flour ;).

  9. I miss San Fran! My sister Juliana lives in Oakland, she’s a poet. I feel like your Mom, a bit off the grid to have too many whacky friends ( I do have a few but this IS New England guys, the birthplace of the Scarlet Letter) I’m thinkin’ Amaranth this year, a cool CARB on the new borrowed land on Martha’s Vineyard. My main goal is to provide myself with a “wild garden” of lots of Yarrow/St.Johnswort etc and then let it meld in with the field grasses after I tend it for a year (weeding, watering) My Herbal Heart will soon be appeased I hope, a field of wild flowers. I can’t wildcraft enough for my business and driving around gets old (and gassy). Watch out for wildcrafting nettles, they can pick up lead- a lot have come from Germany with lead in them. I read in “Mycellium Running” by Paul Stamets that mushrooms will pull toxins out of the soil for you, I haven’t tried it though!
    Ilove all your goals and I’m excited about more piggy stories!!! Y’all are some Cool Cats, let me know if you want me to send bare root nettles from MV! Comfrey is a cool fodder crop also.
    Acorn flour!!! Someone tell me how to make it, we have a sandy island full of scrub oak here!!!
    Happy happy, Skye.

  10. Nice set of goals. I posted my own list a few days back:

    Writing lists of goals is indeed pleasurable. Having posted mine publicly last year, I found that over this year it kept me a bit more honest. Which is why I’m expanding the experiment this year. And it’s good to have a mix of once-and-done items as well as daily practice goals too.

  11. Cob is marvelous squichy good fun. Do you have access to some kids to help you mix it?

  12. michaelprocopio

    Hi there, Novella.

    It was wonderful visiting your farm and playing with the goats the other day. And an odd-but-pleasing coincidence running into you on the street Christmas Day.

    Here’s a link to the photos I took.

    I hope you like them.

    Cheers and Happy New Year to you,


  13. Anyone out there interested in honeybees should definitely check out top-bar hives! They are way easy to build, cheap, lightweight, and healthier for the occupants.

    PJ Chandler’s book “The Barefoot Beekeeper” is an excellent resource on top-bar beekeeping.

    Here’s to a sticky sweet 2010!

  14. I loved your book; I laughed so hard so many times that I almost cried. I hope to read a sequel that involves your goats. Best of wishes and good luck for 2010, it sounds like your resolutions will keep you busy. 🙂

  15. Love this description!! Good luck with your list.

  16. duck pond, eh?

    I happen to have a bunch of un-used pond liner from a dump run not long ago.

  17. I would recommend Holly Heyser — aka NorCal Cazadora — as your hunting mentor, both literary and actual.

    She is a writer, journalist and college professor at Sacramento State who took up hunting for the first time at about your age and has become one of the most thoughtful and articulate advocates and commenters on the pursuit here in CA.

    I also know she’s a big fan of “Farm City.”

  18. Great idea on the dry land cover crop as fodder! I wouldn’t give up completely on growing something through the summer though- maybe shade cloth would help?

    Ducks will be fine for your garden. From everything I’ve read, they are interested only in the bugs and will leave the veg alone. Chickens will destroy a garden, if given the chance, but I think you know that.

    Re: the permaculture thing- I’m planning permaculture guilds around the fruit and nut trees, but the vegetables are going into beds because I’m not gettin’ any younger and bending over is not gettin’ any easier.

    You might also want to check out How To Grow More Vegetables* by John Jeavons, and Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew for ideas on squeezing more useful production out of less space.

    If you do write another book (and I hope you will) please explain how you did the cheese closet. That sounds pretty cool.

  19. Hiya Novella Muscovies are big fliers_Known to even roost in trees _You might have to clip wing s

  20. Hey Novella,

    Great to meet you here in LA–I loved your book and talk! I’ve gone intensive too this season and am very happy with the results.

    Thought you might also enjoy LA’s Backwards Beekeepers:

    Best wishes for a happy and productive 2010!

  21. Hey, if you do get to building that cob oven, we would happily come help (we live a few blocks away)—an outdoor oven has been on the boy’s list for eons, and I’m especially curious to see how cob does for that! We’re starting bees this spring, too—another project that’s been floating around for a long time.

  22. Hello! I just finished reading your book! I don’t think my husband is going to be to happy with you – now that I’m going to turn my backyard into a small farm. Ha Ha. I had been moving in that direction anyway, but reading your book sealed the deal.

    I wish I had known about your book a couple of months ago, I would definately have attended your readings while you were in Providence.

    Happy New Year!

  23. Thanks for these inspiring resolutions. I would never in a million years think of building a cheese cave, which is why this blog is so fun to read. I agree with “The Adjunct” though – more books please! Finishing Farm City was one of my best experiences in 2009. Happy New Year!

  24. Hi Novella,

    Regarding ducks – we have three ducks and for the first year and a half of my interest in urban farmsteading, they decimated broccoli raab, kale, lettuce greens, and trampled beds and crop mounds rampantly. They even took to eating potato plants!

    I’d take this into consideration before giving them free reign. We now have them quartered off in a pretty large space and our fruit and vegetables are very productive again.

  25. Happy New Year! Happy Birthday, too.

    I’m just finishing your book, (p. 182 today, I should finish before I go to sleep!), and I have enjoyed it very much.

    Martha in OKC

  26. Novella,
    Reading your list made me feel normal. It reads a bit like mine. I too want to learn a bit about wild foods, eradicate some pesky weeds and taking some things to the next level. I look forward to the changes you will be making to your garden. Thank you for your posts. In many ways you help me feel at home.

  27. My resolution for the year is to increase my bee hive holdings. I had four last year, three at my home in Canyon and one I placed in the Moraga community garden. This season I’m planning four for home and two in the community garden — the garden with all it’s fruit trees yeilded almost 13 gallons of sweet golden/orange peach/plum/pear/lavender honey. Nothing like it ‘cept maybe the cherry/wild plum/oak/Eucalyptus/madrone/start thistle /kiwi/apricot I get from my home colonies. Wanna trade some honey jar 4 jar, Oakland flats for Canyon honey?

  28. ghosttownfarm

    hey bill t!
    yes, let’s trade. though yours sounds better. mine’s more like fennel/euk. my supply is gone–i’ll be harvesting again in may…or maybe i can trade milk for honey instead? bebe’s kicking out some mighty creamy milk right now…

  29. ghosttownfarm

    diana: thanks for stopping by! and happy new year.

  30. ghosttownfarm

    ben: thanks for the reminder, they can be totally destructive. my plan is to fence them out and only let them wander when i’m around. happy new year!

  31. ghosttownfarm

    artemis: ok, i’ll let you know about the cob plans. i’ll probably put a call out on the blog to get lots of hands helping, as i hear it is a bit of process. happy new year!

  32. ghosttownfarm

    yay erik! great to hear from you, hope all is well on the l.a. homestead. happy new year!

  33. ghosttownfarm

    lori: thanks! i did not know that. i’ll get out my shears when the duckers arrive.

  34. ghosttownfarm

    thanks for the book suggestions. i do have both of them, they are classics. i’ll be posting soon about my cheese closet experiences and how i made the cheeses–what worked, what didn’t. happy new year!

  35. ghosttownfarm

    sporting days: thanks for the hook-up. i’ll check holly out. i’m leaning away from guns, maybe she does bow hunting, too? anyway, happy new year and thanks for reading.

  36. ghosttownfarm

    hi bakari! happy new year. i think i’m going to pass on the pond liner, i’m just going to sink a washtub into the ground. still, pond liner is a hot commodity…

  37. ghosttownfarm

    happy new year nat! do it!!!

  38. Sure I’ll swap some honey for milk or eggs. I’ve still got a bunch left from last summer. I have the light orange/gold fruit super sweet almost buttery with a slick tang from the Euk honey from spring and some dark, nearly black richly flavored honey from the mid/late summer Madrone/star thistle/Oak and willow trees. Which would you like? The spring is heaven on a slice of warm bread, but the dark honey is my pref for cooking, especially slathered on a barbecue salmon or some ribs.

  39. Started your book on Dec. 30 and finished this AM as the pale dawn of new work decade lit the morning sky. Great stuff, hope to take my kids on your next farm tour. We have a petite farm up in the Oakland Hills. Goals for 2009: Add bee hive, year round food and 2 more layers.

  40. How inspiring! Please keep us posted on the French intensive gardens. The permaculture model is great around my fruit trees, but I’m having to continue to build raised beds for growing veggies for my family.

    I also want to hone some type of aquaculture set up, if I can make it energy efficient.

  41. ghosttownfarm

    bill t: sweet! i have a surplus of milk, so i can trade you two quarts for one quart of honey. i’d love madrone honey, so i’ll take that one. when can you meet?

  42. Some time on the weekend would work — I’m always out and about in town running around on Saturdays and Sundays and would be happy to drop by Ghost Town to bring you some honey.

    Being middle of winter I’m getting low, too, but I still have fair amount of the Madrone honey. Slathered some on a hunk of thick wheat bread this morning.

  43. You’re amazing, Novella! I can’t wait to hear about your farm in the coming year–this is all fantastic stuff, and inspires me to do more with my teeny tiny garden plot. My resolution is to NOT plant tomatoes, which take up a lot of space, attracted rodents (not my happiest moment), and weren’t very productive at all in 2009. But I am definitely planting triamble squash again (thank you!)

  44. ghosttownfarm

    hey bill t;
    okay, i’ll be around sunday morning, from 9-12. come on by and meet the goat girls.

  45. Boy howdy inspired by seeing your bee colony that needs reducing, I set out this afternoon to do the same to one of mine that has been calling out to me for attention.

    pain. The grrls didn’t take well to my plans of reducing their hives in the midst of winter (a low 50’s-ish hazy day). The hive I keep in the Moraga farm garden is twice as large as a normal wintering hive and man they let me have it when I opened it up and started taking supers apart to remove and rearrange. I was stung on the chin through my veil, on the back of my neck, my back, both arms and legs and stomach.

    Maybe 10-15 stings altogether. In the end I just put the hives back together and said ok, you win. Your house stays put.

    They make pretty amazing honey from all the fruit trees around the garden but from time to time there are costs that must be paid.

    PS: thanks for the cheese and milk.

  46. Before you rip out the buckwheat, remember that it’s an important bee and butterfly foodsource.

    Maybe not everything in the garden should be for humans?

  47. Hunting’s a good idea.

    You know, used to be Inuit hunters would give the dead animal one last drink of water to say thank you….scratch that, i think some still do. Something you might be able to get into.

    Incidentally, after following your blog for a while, I picked up the book. It rocks. I couldn’t put it down.

  48. ghosttownfarm

    hi lisa;
    i haven’t seen it flower so i’m not sure what it does for bees or butterflies. it’s just green and invasive. there are plenty of herbs and flowers in the garden for the bees/butterflies. you will not convince me to not hate that damn weed.

  49. Re: acorn wildcrafting – on Mandana Blvd, past Lakeshore towards Montclair, there are tons of oak trees. I always see older Asian women in the knee-deep leaves with baskets, collecting acorns. Thought you might like to try that area.

    Am wondering what one does with them?

    I just finished your book. (Read it in four days!) But I am not a natural at urban farming at all. Am lucky the fruit trees in our yard produce despite me. Would like to learn/do more. Thank you for the inspiration.

  50. Hi Novella, I live in and have a sort-of garden in Western Maine. I call it gardening in rubble! (Those stone walls are not all romance and country roads!) Thank you for your inspiring book. It may help me….I long for bees, but will do more bee friendly plantings this year instead.

  51. Well you got two of them done, that’s better than I did! Congradulations!

    I also find it sadly hilarious that the ad google left at the end of this blog posting was for the corn refiners league…what a strange juxtaposition life is.

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