Category Archives: fruit trees

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…

The Giving Tree

I planted a Bearass, I mean Bearss (he he), lime when I first started squatting on 28th street. The lime went from a little stick to this towering green monster of fruit.

Some of my neighbors pick the branches and leaves to make a cold remedy, some kids like to use them to throw at each other, others like to hide behind the tree and piss. I like to pick the limes–and WASH them very well–and make lime sherbet (recipe at the end). The fruit is big and juicy, and ripe when it turns yellow (but it’s actually fine when green too).

Like everything on my farmlette, the tree is not pristine, it needs to be pruned way back, and a swarm of Argentinian ants have made it their favorite place to farm an insect called scale, so the branches are coated with hard-bodied parasites which suck from the lifeblood of the tree. Somehow, the tree keeps alive, and thriving. I must have harvested 50 pounds of fruit so far and it’s still flush with fruit.

Thanks to the power and stamina of this tree, it’s become a tradition for me to send the fruit to friends and family for the holidaze. This year some of the limes will be more special than others, because I ran across a new magazine called Lucky Peach. It’s a brainy food magazine with hipster appeal. The writing is hilarious and they often have fun things like this quarter’s Fruit Stickers.


The sticker on the lime reads, “The Fruit That Likes the Knife”.

The pomegranate, picked by moi, is headed to my mom. The sticker, if you can’t read it says, “Hand-picked by Poor People.” Other favorites include, “Actually Pretty Tasty” and “This Plum Is Not Gluten Free” (that one’ll have to wait til next summer.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is, thanks Lime Tree! Thanks Lucky Peach. Happy Holidaze to you all.

Lime Sherbet
It’s not sorbet, cuz it has milk. This is good to bring to follow a Hannakah brisket, Xmas Goose, or Solstice Nutria
(obviously, triple this)
1 1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 water
1 cup sugar
Rind finely sawed up from 1 lime
1 cup milk
1 TB vodka
Blend the lime juice, water and sugar together. Throw in the lime rind and vodka. Chill to 38 degrees. Mix chilled lime solution with milk and pour into your ice cream maker. You don’t have an ice cream maker? You’re screwed. No, no, you might be able to put it in the freezer and stir every few minutes and it might be ok. But I’ve never tried that. This is not a food blog.

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?

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…

The scion exchange is coming, the scion exchange…

Bill likes to pronounce it “sky-on”. No, monkey, it is “sigh-on”.

Here’s the deal: every winter trees go dormant, they drop their leaves, their energy recesses into the trees roots and trunk. Because of this, it’s a good time to prune trees, to shape them, keep them short, keep them shapely. The twigs and sticks that you prune off your fruit tree can be called scions. Some genius figured out that you can take scion cuttings and graft them onto other trees. Usually you graft one kind of apple onto another kind of apple. For example, a granny smith scion cutting can be grafted onto an apple tree that usually makes galas. After a year or two, your apple tree makes galas *and* granny smiths! It’s a freaking miracle. You can graft pears, apples, apricots, persimmons, plums, peaches, mulberries, etc.

And this Saturday, Jan 17, will be the Golden Gate Rare Fruit Growers Scion Exchange. Last year was awesome, with lots of crazy rare varieties. I successfully grafted a fancy French pear scion onto my boring bartlett. If you have just one fruit tree, you don’t want to miss this event. Even if you don’t know how to graft, you can learn. Even if you don’t have a fruit tree, there are often vines and plants for sale as well. Remember: figs, kiwis and pomegranates can be simply rooted into the ground!

WHEN: 12 noon to 3:00 PM
Saturday, January 17, 2009

WHERE: UCSF Mission Center
1855 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA

Bring ziplock bags, masking tape, and some pens to label the scions (believe me, you won’t remember what varieties you get, there are that many!). If you see a crazy slobbering lady with orange glasses, do me a favor: give me a slap and say howdy farmer!