Monthly Archives: December 2010

Tools of the Trade

I’m frantically cleaning the house and getting the garden in order. Especially after the storm, which knocked down my prized purple Italian fava beans (nooooo…). I actually mopped the floor of the milking room.

Maybe it’s the full moon, maybe it’s the eclipse, but probably it’s genetic. My mom told me she always cleans the house before she goes on vacation. That’s right, I’m going on vacation! Driving to Baja. I want to return to a nice tidy house, so I started cleaning, even though I’m not a tidy person.

It might be vanity, too, as I will have a couple people coming over to milk Bebe and feed the rabbits. How horrified would they be if they had to, as I do everyday, storm through a flurry of flies when they walk through the kitchen. I don’t know why I have so many of them inside my house, but it got so bad they were landing on me and Bill when we ate dinner. That’s just gross. I have fly tape. I started to hunt them with a heavy envelop from Geico. The couple of flies I killed with these methods were a drop in the bucket. They kept coming back!! Desperate, I went to the 24 hour Oakland Longs (AKA CVS). As I perused the aisles, I contemplated poisons and sprays, then I found it, the tool that would change my life! It looks like a tennis racquet, but with metal strings. You just add two batteries and suddenly, you are a fly assassin. I usually would never buy a plastic thing like this–I’m sure it’ll break immediately and probably won’t work. But I was desperate, remember? So I went home, added batteries, and started swing. It helps that I played tennis in high school. Flies started dying by the dozens. All I had to do was get them to touch the tennis racquet strings, and blammo–dead! And they don’t just die, they sizzle and burn. There’s an electric spark. It’s very very satisfying. I have lost the package, so I can’t tell you the name of the product. But if you have flies: get the electric tennis racquet.

My second tool of the trade in the Henry Milker. Henry called me and asked if I’d like to try out his milker. I said I don’t do product endorsements unless I love something, but go ahead and send her over. He did, and I tried it out. It’s basically a Mighty-Vac connected to tubing and some Mason jar lids. It was just okay. It did milk my goat, but it wasn’t any faster than I do it by hand, so I put it away.

Then I tried to go on vacation. Tried because I do have a goat in milk, I’m not very organized, and most people don’t want to deal with my cranky goat. Enter the Henry Milker. Many people don’t have the hand stamina to milk a goat; and with my goat, she’s got pretty small teats so it’s an extra challenge. But almost anyone can hook her up to the Henry Milker and get the milk out within 15 minutes. Thank god for the Henry Milker!!!

Ok, with that, I’m out of here. See you in 2011–may your holidays be bright, your critters content, and your gardens fertile.


End of the Year Look Back: 2010

I just read my goals for 2010 and I’m pretty psyched that I managed to get two things done: the cob oven built and the property purchased. I had actually forgotten about my pledge to buy some property for my high density orchard dream in 2010–who could have guessed it would have been our squat lot?

I noticed, too, that I didn’t do a lot of the things on my list of things to do. Like tan all those rabbit hides in the freezer. Like to not grow vegetables during the hot summer months. I also didn’t go foraging much, even though people were nice and offered to show me their secret spots, etc. And I also didn’t get serious about my finances (again).

That’s life, though, you do what you can. In that spirit, here’s my look back on 2010, and plans for 2011.


I ended up increasing my rabbit flock, what with the San Lorenzo farm and all. Now they’re at my place, in really nice Bass cages, and I’m so happy how they are thriving and reproducing.

The dairy goats were a disappointment on one hand because they kidded all males. On the up side, Ginger has a really nice udder for a first freshener. I’m hoping it’ll get huge after her second kidding. My goal is more milk production, and I’ve realized that I just have to grow my own champs. Bebe is giving up six cups of milk per milking, a new record for her, and a tripling of her intial production when I first bought her almost three years ago. Yay Bebe!! Photo by Morgen Van Vorst.

The bees gave quite a few gallons of honey this year, enough that I could sell some of it at my pop up farmstand. My split didn’t work, I realize now because I didn’t put the new hive far enough away from the old one. Duh. Good to make dumb mistakes, in order to learn.

Next year with the animals, I’m looking forward to my Muscovy ducks successfully hatching out babies (they sat on a clutch of eggs for two months, nothing hatched though there were embryos in there). I’d like to add one more milker to the farm, most likely by birth. And one more beehive at the farm.


My triamble squash were small this year. The clear winner in terms of production was the trombocino/rampicante zucchini. Not only did I get million little zukes, I also let a few of them go and they made gorgeous, sort of phallic winter squash. Great color, and delicious eating. I’ll def grow this squash again (but only one).

I learned to love rapini, which is a great weed, and turned others onto it at my farmstand. I also learned how to cook borage leaves. The garden definitely thrived with the new French Intensive Bed layout. I also learned how to use floating row cover and shade cloth–two essential tools for the new stupid weather conditions caused by global climate change. I got a little better about starting enough seedlings on prop tables so I can do on-going plantings throughout the year.

Next year’s garden goals are to do more continuous production, higher sales, better staking and garden infrastructure, espaliered fruit tree fence, build a greenhouse, get the compost under control, and wack back all that ugly stuff that I don’t like.  Oh–and slowly pick axe the concrete, one bed at a time. I guess I can use the urbanite to build the walls for the outdoor kitchen?


Really happy to finish, with Willow Rosenthal, the Essential Urban Farmer. It’s due out in 2012. Also glad to be working on my next book, Gone Feral, for the next year.


My mom’s a teacher, I never thought I would be. But there I was, teaching animal husbandry classes at the BFO. I’ll be teaching more in 2011, including cheesemaking, goat, rabbit, and chicken raising. See for a list. As I get the outdoor kitchen built, I’m looking forward to teaching hands-on classes at my place. I’m also hoping to have more kids come to the farm to learn about urban farming.

Those are my highlights. What are your plans for the upcoming year? What was a success/lesson that you learned at your place?

Miracle on 28th Street

Sorry I’ve been so out of touch. I’m sick with a head cold (snot, anyone?) and something so big has happened, I’ve been sitting with it and trying to figure out if it really happened or if I just imagined it.

I’ll just come out with it: Billy and I bought the lot. We’ve been squatting on the 4500 square feet parcel next to our apartment for the past 8 years, growing vegetables and fruit trees. I’ve imagined the bulldozers coming multiple times as various owners of the lot have threatened us with development. First they would uproot all the trees, then they’d drive over all the carefully tended beds, then they would build shoddy condos. I would watch, horrified, and make plans to move to East Oakland.

Instead, the latest owner of the property, S, came by a few weeks ago. She told me she needed to sell the lot. When she said that, I imagined the bulldozers. Then she said that she wanted to sell it to me. For cheap. I felt like I was in a Disney movie. All the birds in the fig trees came down and landed on our shoulders, and started singing a song; and then the lot rats scurried out to do little jazzy dance moves, and a big sunny rainbow appeared. “No way!” I said to S and laughed and punched her arm. She looked at me like I was a true nutball that she had expected (last time I saw her, I picked her a bouquet of orange tiger lilies as a bribe).

I’ve never owned property before, so I didn’t know how to proceed. Luckily, I had heard about this nice realtor lady, Bobbi Vogel, so I called her. She was at the lot within 15 minutes of my call. I told her the price and she couldn’t believe it. Within a week, I owned the lot. I just got the Grant Deed in the mail, which says S “hereby grants to Novella Carpenter, a single woman the following described property in the City of Oakland: Lots 29 and 30 in block 2024”. This seems so olde English.

Holy Shittt!!

So now, the question is: what to do? Build a greenhouse? An outdoor kitchen for classes? A tree house for the goats? I want to finally crack through the concrete and plant espaliered fruit trees along the property line. Luckily we have 100 fruit tree rootstock from an overambitious Rain Tree order last year. I can finally start hosting field trips from the local schools without worry! Those are the fun ideas. In reality I need to:  hook up the water meter, get insurance, and have the property surveyed. I might even go legit and register Ghosttown Farm as a real farm business as soon as the City Council makes urban ag legal (supposedly happening next spring).

I’d love to hear what ideas you all have!

In case you were wondering, of course we’re not going to start locking the fricking gate, even though someone keeps harvesting my cabbages.