Monthly Archives: July 2010

Party on the 28th

Just when things were getting good around here, I “have” to go on vacation. Billy and I are pulling up stakes in early August and taking a crazy cross-country road trip. Of course this causes much consternation on the farm, so I have to find a place to board the goats, set up the ducks, and chickens. The bees, well, they don’t care if I’m around or not.

The garden is another thing to worry about. Last time I left for that long, many plants died. So I’ve decided to just harvest everything, pull up all the rows and beds and plant a cover crop just before I go. So there’s going to be a big mid-summer harvest party at my place July 28, 5-8pm. I figure I should make it a fundraiser for my trip, too. We’ll be going to Detroit to check out the urban farm scene (dream of mine) but as you know, biodiesel is expensive. Accordingly, I’ll be selling some items to pay for “gas” money: t-shirts, preserved lemons, greens, radishes, pickles, and books. My new friend Becky of Local 123 coffee shop will be on hand making salads using produce from the garden, iced tisanes (mint/verbena/elderflower) and we might even serve some hot stuff out of the cob oven. Please feel free to stop by:

July 28, 5pm-8pm

665 28th street, oaklandia (ride bikes or park on MLK, please)

If you can’t wait–I’ll be at Samin’s Pop-up General store this Wednesday, July 21 at 47th and MLK.

And finally, I’ll be at the North Berkeley Library (1170 Alameda at Hopkins)  reading and discussing Farm City on July 22 at 6:30. Come on by!

Cob Oven Story

Update: July 15

So yesterday (Bastille Day!), I fired up the oven again for the pop-up farmstand, but also because I didn’t want to admit defeat. I really stoked up the fire and burned it for four hours before daring to put anything in. When I did (rhubarb tartlettes), they were charred within two minutes. It was really effing hot in there. I tossed some figs and goat cheese, and then squash blossoms stuffed with goat feta, then some gifted plums from the cutest student visitors ever. Perfect. After the farmstand, wrapped up (thanks to everyone who came, sorry it was so disorganized), I made a nest of greens and cracked a duck egg into it (yum!). Then I made pizza and it came out great. Then a mulberry strawberry pie (holy f!), then overnight an olla filed with black beans and dried chilis. This morning the olla was still hotter than hell and the beans were perfectly cooked. What I’m saying is: i love the oven.

Ok, my mom keeps asking to see it. So here we go…

I’m really tired, so I’m just going to show some pictures and tell you how we made this oven.

First, I scrounged a bunch of urbanite (rip-rap, busted pieces of concrete) and piled them into a pile. Then threw some gravel in between the cracks. This was all free and took about a day.

Then Sadie and Emma came over and we made the oven. S and E have made ovens before and are really hilarious and fun people.First we made a cob layer over the urbanite to even it out. Cob is made by digging up some clay soil, adding sand, then water and mixing it with our feet on a tarp. After we slapped the cob on, we poured some beach sand on top of that. Remember that during this entire process we always felt a little insane.

Then the void was built out of sand plus water.We were using that Kiko Cob Oven Book.Sadie also watched some youtube videos.

Oh wait, I forgot, before that, we laid down the firebricks. Kissing the bricks. We did the layout about five times before it worked. And you’re probably wondering: how is it that void is so damn circular….

Sadie’s some kind of math whiz, and she made one of those compass things out of chalk. Note that the fire bricks are nicely laid out and smooth.

Then the void was mounded, wrapped in wet newspaper.

Things got messy and I stopped taking photos, but basically, we mixed mud/cob and formed it around the void. Like three inches think. Then we stopped and were tired. It’s actually a lot of work. A few days later, we met up again and added another furry layer of mud mixed with straw. We punched door out of the now hardened dome and all the sand poured out. We shoveled the rest out with our hands. Who needs some sand? I have three buckets of it. Just let me know.

Then the oven dried for 10 days. The big day was upon us on Monday. S and E came over and we started burning wood in the oven. Scraps from Wooden Window (clean, i swear). We burned for two hours. That’s supposed to be enough. It was really hot in the belly of the beast, and the whole oven got warm. We were so excited for this pizza.

Note that that pizza “peel” was made while we burned shit, out of an old table, cut with a sawzall. Very rustic.

This is when I had to admit that the door was going to be a major stumbling block. That is, there wasn’t a very good one, so the heat escaped too quickly. And I had to perform a pizza partial abortion (squeamish, don’t look).

Of course we were delirious with hunger by this point, soaked in smoke, and so we ate the raw pizza abortion. Not bad.

We learned a couple things;

1. need a door

2. need to burn with the fire for longer before scrapping out the coals

3. need a table and workspace. as usual, it was like a terrible novella camp set-up out there in the garden…

4. pizza is advanced topics, especially when thrown right onto the bricks. emma’s rhubarb crisp turned out great.

Okay, going to sleep. But remember: we will be burning that bitch again and hopefully pulling out some goodness. I have plans to make little rhubarb tartlettes and maybe figs seared with goat feta and gt honey….Come by tomorrow (wednesday) 5pm-7pm for the farmstand and cob oven crisis 2. I’ll be selling t-shirts, honey, preserved lemons, salad mix, and turnip greens.

Next Pop-Up Farmstand: Wednesday 5-7pm

Hey, thanks to everyone who came out to the open farm!

It was lovely having so many people in the garden, asking questions, and feeding the ducks. The crab cakes, ruled, right? Because it was so fun, I’m planning on opening the place up again next week: Wednesday, July 14 from 5-7pm. We’ll have tested the pizza oven by then, so it’s possible (if it works) there might be pizzas being sold, hot from the oven. I also harvested from my beehive this weekend, and got 17 quarts of the most gorgeous golden honey. I’ll be selling a little bit of that, plus preserved lemons, t-shirts, and greens. I could be persuaded to bring the goats out for a pat or two. Stop by after work or whatever and get some veggies. Hope to see you!

Wednesday July 14


665 28th street, oaklandia

Manny Howard Update

Remember awhile back when I was all pissed off about Manny Howard, the urban farmer in Brooklyn? I just reread my post, and man, I was being such a bitch. I think I was scared that his book would come out and Farm City would look derivative, and I worried that he was mocking something–growing food in cities–that I hold near to my heart. My fears retreated once Farm City was published and I started getting letters from readers and fellow urban farmers who were so supportive. It’s great to get email from people who are now raising chickens or keeping bees, or growing some food, partially inspired by Farm City and the urban farming movement. I suppose I was pissed at Manny for telling people “no you can’t,” when I know they can–I’ve even seen some kick-ass farms in New York, where Manny lives!

Now I just watched his appearance on the Colbert Show, and I felt sorry for him–not that he was on Colbert, that is a sure-fire way to sell a lot of books! But that he seemed so beaten down and defeated by the whole experience. When he talks about killing (in self-defense) a rabbit then discovering she was pregnant, it made me feel bad for him and her. I did glance through his book, My Empire of Dirt, and it definitely had some funny moments, and he’s a good writer. Anyway, what I’ve learned, almost three years later, is that a book lives on–it can inspire, it can horrify, and it becomes a reflection of who you were. It’s pretty humbling, and it’s hard because you’re ultimately revealing so much about yourself. Anyway, Manny, if you’re out there, I wanted to let you know that I’m sorry for being such a bitch back in 2007.

And when are we doing that rumble? I’ll be in NYC September 25ish. Get your scythe out.