Category Archives: random thoughts

Poo Wrangler

Howdy there, sorry about the lag. I’ve been, er, chasing poo. Animal turds, just to clarify. I feel like a spend half my morning scooping manure. Then I work in the garden–trying to get it in shape for the Feb 27 gala (u r invited: 11am-2pm at the farm: snacks and ribbon cutting)! The sunny, climate change weather keeps prodding me to get all my beds laid out and seeded even though really it’s too early for that.

But back to the poo. I had the pleasure of going to the ranch where they make Pt. Reyes Blue, and, to make the cheese, they have 350 milk cows. The location is  stunning out there in West Marin. Of course I was there to cover the shit story–which is a compost company that is recycling the cow poo into black gold for your garden. Watch for it in the Chronicle, in the garden section.

Back to my animals’ turds, though. I don’t have a tool called a Separator like they have at the Giacomini’s ranch. Instead, I just lay down some wood shavings (scrounged from Wooden Window off of San Pablo–love them!) let the animals void, then scoop it up. But then what to do? At first, this winter (that’s when the shit really hit the fan because I built up my rabbit operation) I would lay the turds and bedding into berms and let it rest. Now these berms are mostly broken down and ready to be planted into. But the poo keeps flying. And I can’t make more piles of bedding and poo (no more room, rodent problems if the pile gets too big). What to do? I went to Dublin, Ca.

Because Dublin is where my tumbler compost hook up (thanks craigslist) lives. In the garage of their home, an adorable family builds these here contraptions:

This is where the angels and rays of sunlight  come in.

Note that it’s made of plastic–recycled from sturdy olive containers. Note that a rat might have a hard time chewing on it, or getting into that screw on lid. Note that it tumbles around, so I don’t have to pitchfork it around all day long. The family is building them to make college money for their son. It’s really sweet. (We might start selling them at the Oasis–stay tuned if you want to buy one in the East Bay. If you want my tumbler guy’s email, just post a comment with your email and I’ll forward it to him.)

So far I’ve bought two, and all the farm turds from one week fit in one of these babies. It takes a month for them to break down, so I need to buy two more and then I can start the rotation. I can even–gasp–start food scrap recycling again.

Ok, gotta go to Arkansas now….I’ll be speaking at the University of the Ozarks. Can’t wait!

Me and Joan Gussow

I planted asparagus yesterday. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for years at Ghosttown, but as a squat farmer, I hesitated, and hesitated, and hesitated. It takes three years before you get a sizeable harvest, and so I figured it would be folly to plant any asparagus. Looking back on it, if I had planted crowns when I started, we’d have had five harvests under our belts. Oh well.

In the perfect timing department, the crowns came in the mail the same day I got the property tax bill (shit!) as a sweet reminder of the pleasures and pain of land ownership. I bought green California Davis asparagus crowns from Peaceful Valley; and then a lovely fan (Stan!) sent me some gorgeous, huge, crowns for the purple asparagus that he grows up in Arbuckle.

Coincidently, I’m reading Joan Gussow’s book Growing, Older and just got to the part where she talks about planting asparagus, and what a pain in the butt it is, having to dig a two foot deep trench in the garden, soak the crowns in water, then shore them up with good compost. Joan’s 80 years old and has been growing a huge garden and writing about nutrition for over 20 years. She wrote This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader over ten years ago, and has been called the matriarch of the organic movement. In fact, if you read some of her essays, you’ll see that she coined some phrases that other people have coopted for themselves, like “our national eating disorder.”

About asparagus Gussow talks about losing her beds from chronic flooding of her river-front property. Instead of giving up, she decided, in her eighties, that she would start again by planting some asparagus from seed–now that will take a long time to produce! She writes, “…if Nature is willing, I might have, one day, short of my nineties, an actual bed of asparagus.” If an eighty-year old is planting asparagus, you should too. Don’t delay, plant some asparagus today.

The exciting thing is: Joan’s coming to San Francisco! I’m the lucky little devil who gets to interview her on-stage at the Commonwealth Club. Yay! Here are the details:

Commonwealth Club
95 Market St # 2, San Francisco CA 94105-2885
January 25, 2011, 5:30 pm


Another thing not to hesitate about? The scion exchange! My plan is to bench graft a bunch of apple rootstock so I can make a Belgium fence with heirloom varieties! Should take about ten years…The scion exchange is in El Sobrante this year, Saturday January 22, 12-3 at 4555 Hilltop Drive. See ya there!

Wednesday Pop-Up

Hey there, this Wednesday is the last GT Farm Urban Farmer’s Market of 2010. There will be a handful of vendors selling goodies like honey, eggs, jams and produce. I’ll have bunchs of the famous black curly mustard, rapini, chard; jars of fig jam, and guava goo; and t-shirts for sale. We’re starting early–3pm and only going until 6pm because of the horrid darkness. Hope to see you there.

When: Wednesday, Nov 17. Starts at 3pm-goes to 6pm. I’m going to close the gate at 6 o’clock exactly (it’s pitch black by then) so plan to arrive before 6pm.

Where: Lot next to 665 28th street, at MLK

What: Urban Farmers Market/holiday gift buying/food hoarding for T-day

If you’re an urban farmer and you want to bring stuff to sell, please email me first! novellacarpenter at gmail


Poster Give Away

When I was a wee girl, I had two posters on my bedroom wall: Michael Jackson in the Billy Jean video, and Rob Lowe in linen pants and a wife-beater tank top, oh so subtly showing off his 6-pack. These days I still find myself drawn to posters of rock shows and swine auctions and old victory garden propaganda. Imagine my joy when I went to the Urban Farm Store in Portland, Oregon and saw these new posters put out by Victory Garden of Tomorrow!

Because some friends and I run an urban feed store in Berkeley at the Biofuel Oasis, we ordered a bunch to sell along with the Nikki McClure and Miriam Stahl posters we currently sell.

So, this is a poster give away, you’re thinking: what do I have to do to “win” the above poster? Simply come up with the best name for our urban feed store at the Biofuel Oasis. We sell chicken, rabbit, and goat feed in a vintage gas station in South Berkeley. In addition to feed, we sell chicken feeders, founts, canning supplies, cheesemaking kits, supplements like kelp meal, oyster shells, grit, and Diatamaceous Earth.

We have a couple ideas for a feed store name, but nothing that we love:

City Farm Supplies at the Biofuel Oasis

The Farm Garage

Urban Feed and Supply

What are your ideas? Best one wins the poster, sent to your house.

Coming to…New York City

This weekend, I’ll be in New York for a conference called Farm City (sounds familiar, right?).

This is from the organizers of the conference: “With rising costs of energy and environmental and health dangers inherent in current industrial food production methods, metropoles need to band together to forge new small-scale, sustainable methods to grow and source food.”

That’s something I can agree with, so I signed up to help.

And so, on Friday, Sept 24, there will be a fun fundraiser, featuring a reading by me and:

  • FOOD by Communal Table presenting “Turnip Fest,” a variety of tasty preparations of the toothsome root veggie sourced from Brooklyn farms. 
  • MUSIC by JD Duarte of who plays into the nite with alt-country band, The Newton Gang, providing free CDs to the first 20 ticket buyers.
  • DRINK by Brooklyn Brewery pouring forth libations of its Belgian-style craft ales: Schneider-Weiss, Brooklyn Local 1 and Brooklyn Local 2.

September 24, 2010 at 7:00 p.m.

The Commons

388 Atlantic Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11217 (b/w Hoyt & Bond Sts).

Buy Tickets:

Then, the next day, Saturday, will be an unconference called Crossing the Line. I’ll be presenting at 1pm about how I descended into urban farming madness, then there will be an amazing gathering of nyc and brooklyn’s finest farmers, who will join together to chat about the history of urban ag, the reality, and the future. It’s going to be really exciting!

September 25, 1-6:30

French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF)

22 East 60th Street

New York, NY

Luckily, the goats haven’t kidded so the milk isn’t flowing, it’s started raining so the garden doesn’t need me, and we have a new wonderful downstairs neighbor who enjoys feeding the chickens and rabbits. And so I can dip in and out for a few days at a time for amazing events like this. I hope some of you New Yorkers can make it!

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.


hello, it’s your techno-phobe farmer here. i let my domain name, expire. I arranged to have it transfered, so that’ll happen eventually but in the meantime, set your links and browser here:


and thanks to everyone who came out to the farm for the tour and pop-up farm stand, it was an amazing day….