Category Archives: bees

Tapping the Apocalypse

The garden is not going to sleep, though it really should. Like a wily toddler, it’s trying to convince me to just stay up just a little longer. It does that by continuing to produce tomatoes. To ripen a few more figs. The pumpkin plants were even making new flowers. But there is a moment when you have to be mean, and just pull everything up, force the garden to focus on the rooted things like leeks and garlic; and greens planted long ago like kale and broccoli and salad mixes. The bees are even in the game, out in huge numbers during these sunny days. I’m betting December will be the month when the garden quits needling, gets sleepy, and finally falls asleep.

Here’s a photo from the last farmstand–thanks to everyone who came!
honeytasting
My plans this winter include writing a new syllabus for a writing class I’m teaching at University of San Francisco. It’s called Tapping the Apocalypse. Here’s the class description, if you know of someone who’s going to USF:
ENV390
Urban agriculture tends to take hold first in places that can be defined as apocalyptic. These damaged zones, in cities like Oakland or Detroit, have suffered from years of poverty and neglect, and are now hosting some of the most vibrant–and urgent–urban farms. This class will begin with an examination of how agriculture came about in the first place and how industrial agriculture (creating an apocalyptic landscape of its own) came to dominate our food system. The class will then delve into the revival of small scale farms and urban farms, questioning what forces came to pass that allowed this turning point to occur. We will take field trips to urban farms and meet guest speakers who work on the ground. Students will create a food experiment loosely based around an apocalyptic or catastrophic event. We will also write personal essays based around a turning point in our lives where everything changed, when an old self was destroyed, allowing a new self to germinate.

We will probably read Rebecca Solnit’s Paradise Built in Hell; excerpts of Octavia Butler’s The Seed Sower. Not The Road. Let me know if any of you have suggestions for other great apocalyptic literature.

I’ve actually been thinking it might make sense for me to teach this class at my farmlette in the Fall. Let me know if there are any interested students!

Clearing It Out

A few months ago I finally got my permit from the City of Oakland. It came in the form of a letter. And with that, a chapter closed. A messy, annoying chapter.

Today I finally had the time to return the yellow placard that’s been up in front of the gate for the last year. One of the inspectors told me I’d get a $50 deposit back if I brought in the City of Oakland permit application sign. So this morning, I cut it down from the zip-ties that had been holding it, glad to finally be rid of the thing (it confused people–some who thought the lot was owned by the city; others who thought it was ok to call me on the phone number provided just to say “hi.”). I rode my bike to the City Hall’s planning Department with the sign balanced in one hand.

For those of you who don’t know the whole story of the permit, here’s the recap: May 2011 the City of Oakland came to me and said I needed a permit for crop and livestock raising activities on my commercial lot. The permit would cost almost $3000 (one time fee). People who read this blog sent me the money via paypal, the mail, and in the farmstand tip jar–which, BTW, is fucking amazing! thank you all who helped save Ghosttown Farm! If I didn’t send you a postcard thank you, know that I meant to but I got real busy. Upon submitting the fee, I had to jump through a lot of hoops, and figure out how to defend my right to farm. Luckily, I was aided by the genius legal council of Janelle Orsi and Philip Heiselmann. They cut through the legalese for me, and explained, step by step, what I should do. I’m eternally grateful to them. If you need a good lawyer, I’ll give you their contact info.

While waiting for the permit, I got pregnant and all the plants died, and I could barely remember to feed the rabbits (but I did, you nosy NOBS people, I still did). I shifted my priorities–having a child meant having a farmstand that makes $5 profit doesn’t really make sense to me anymore (as fun as it was). I realized I don’t have time for livestock (except for bees), and sold or gave all the critters away. I also discovered that I don’t think it’s cute when I see a man shooting up in the garden (which just happened last week). And so, I’m locking the gates to the farm, which have been open and free since 2003 on October 1, 2012.

What’s the plan? The farm is turning into an orchard. With the help of Molly Bolt, we will be planting all the trees that have been in containers, so that the land will have over 25 fruit trees growing there, adding oxygen and sweet smells to the air. Eventually, once Francis is older, the trees will start producing fruit–maybe enough to sell, maybe not. I’ve learned so much from that little parcel of land, and it’s not over yet. Though the gate will be locked, I’ll still be posting about various happenings…stay tuned for a post about making cheese with cardoon flowers…

At the permit office, I handed the lady at the desk the big yellow placard. A spider crawled out of the middle of the sign, wondering where the hell it was. She whisked it away and sent me to the cashiers desk. The woman there told me–oh, you don’t get a refund because you never paid it. I just shrugged and laughed to myself: it’s the perfect way to end that process.

If you’d like to take a class with Molly that is in conjunction with the orchard plant at GT Farm, please email me–my name at the big G–and I’ll give you details.

And!
Willow and I will be at the Dublin and Fremont Public Libraries Sept 22. Fremont 12-1:30; Dublin 3:30-5pm–come on by if you live round there…

How Novella Got Her Bees Back

Thanks to my new friend Maurice, I got my bees back.

Amidst the tribulations I’ve been having this year–the city crack down on me being the most obvious–I lost my bee hive. I noticed fewer and fewer bees going in and out, and then I had to admit it: they were gone. I did a CSI-type investigation, and it looked like the queen was laying too many drones, or had died. Almost formed queen cells were all over the hive. Trouble was, it probably got too cold for them to hatch out a new queen and have her fly out for her nuptials. There was honey in the hive, but not much. There was also mold–such a wet year!

Sad, it had been a great hive for three solid years, providing better pollination and tons of delish honey, but the least of my worries.

Still, when Maurice called and said he had a huge swarm from one of his beehives, I was psyched to come over and collect it. What was funny was, I could barely remember how to catch a swarm. It had been too many years. How did I hold the bottom box together with the bottom board? Luckily, M is a pro, and we extracted the swarm out of the chain link fence/branch combo. A big, basketball size swarm. M wrapped the box up with his surfboard strap for easy carrying. I got to put them in a better place–further to the south, so I can have more space for my urban farmer’s market (when will that happen again? next year?).

They seem to be adjusting nicely to the new surroundings. As soon as the rains stop, I’ll go in and add another super. I pulled out all my old dead hive’s frames to air them out on a table. I noticed the new bees buzzed over to the frames and started collecting all the old honey and wax to build the new hive. It’s nature’s way of recycling. I’m just glad to help.

Sort of related, I’ll be reading in Seattle, where I first started beekeeping! April 28! It’s a fundraiser for AlleyCat Acres, a Seattle-based urban farming organization. Here are the details…
.
Where: Washington Hall, 153 – 14th Avenue (at Fir), Seattle, WA

When: April 28, 7pm-10pm

TICKETS AVAILABLE NOW AT BROWN PAPER TICKETS:

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/165834

Also, I’ll be at the following places next week doing my dog and pony show:

April 26: UC Berkeley, 12:30, 390 Hearst Mining

April 27: Laney Community College, Noon, 4th floor, T-450.

See ya around….

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.

Animals

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.

Garden

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?

Writing

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.

Teaching

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 http://www.biofueloasis.com 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?

The Haps and Remember…

Sorry, no time for a proper blog post. Ginger’s about to kid!! Her udder is all swollen and she’s starting to get that look in her eyes…Should be in the next few days, I’ll keep you posted. Here’s what’s up on the farmlette:

-Ducks are laying eggs and thinking about sitting on them. Making a mess of the place.

-Have too many tomatoes

-Bill’s corn on the side deck was a failure might make a few ears of corn. It really didn’t get enough sun. I think that means we could grow lettuce up there.

-I’m done with LaBrie Farm. Long story, but it ain’t happening. I’ll be moving some of the rabbits to my house and selling the rest in the next few weeks. Let me know if you’d like to buy some gorgeous purebred Californians.

-Going to harvest honey again soon. Like on Halloween! Sweetness.

-Pissed off Moses by not going to a cool Yemeni party (I’m a loser, was confused about the time).

-Doing the PopUp General Store on October 20. Be there! It’s at 47th and MLK, 5-7pm. I’ll have preserved lemons and figs and greens.

-I think Food and Wine is running the story I wrote about going to Kenya. Check out the November issue.

More later.

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

5pm-7pm

665 28th street, oaklandia