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City Farmer

Urban Farming since 1998

Updated: 2014-10-04T19:36:01.547-07:00


New blog:


Dear Reader:
My awesome friend Heather made me a new website!
It's on wordpress, which is open source and easy to use.
And since it would be nice to have everything in one place....I'm moving my blog, too.
I know, I know, it isn't a cute blog name!
But, to be honest, I was feeling weird about yourcityfarmer. It made people call me cityfarmer when in fact, there's an old school urban farming group in Canada called City Farmer.
So, relink to
Yours in computing,

Goat cappuccino


Yesterday I had a break-through with Bebe my milk goat. Every morning for the past few weeks, come milking time, I would have to catch Bebe. This involved chasing her through the goat pen, trapping her in the chicken house or under the stairs. Then I'd drag her upstairs and literally pick her up and put her on the milking stand. It made me feel like a real asshole.
My goat advisor had told me that having a milk goat is a delicate relationship. On one hand, you're providing them food and water; on the other, you're nursing from them as if you are a baby goat. The mom has to accept you as a legitimate milk-taker. I think Bebe's been trying to figure out who the hell I am, and finally relented.
Today she came running up the stairs and jumped onto the stanchion, ready to be milked. I nearly wept with relief. Who wants to be the asshole all the time?
Though Bebe has tiny teats, she's pretty easy to milk. Instead of using my whole hand to let down the milk, I use two fingers and my thumb. Sometimes I sit to the side and milk her, but I think she likes it better when I sit behind her. it's easier for me, too, because I can reach both teats. My hands cramp up a little bit, but they're getting stronger. I love milking, Bebe's rumen rumbles, she eats some oats and chews her cud, waits patiently. Her udder is warm, her flank is a soft place to rest my head. She milks out about 2 cups of milk per milking, which is really all I need.
One of my chief reasons for getting goats was to have milk on hand at all times. There's just something about that creamy substance. Harvey Considine, a man who once had 500 milk goats, said, "there are only two substances designed solely to sustain life without having a life of their own: milk and honey." It truly is an elixir. I've been drinking it straight, making yogurt, and enjoying the best coffee drink ever: a goat milk cappuccino. The milk froths up pretty well, which makes me think it's in the range of 8& fat.

Paging Dr. Carpenter


When I was growing up, I wanted to be a veterinarian. A little friend and I would go down to the dog pound and stare at the dogs for hours. We thought about setting them free and having our very own Dog Ranch. I wanted a horse. But in the end, I was a city kid and the 4H children seemed wildly exotic--and kind of boring--to me. Now I wish I had done 4H projects in our backyard. I ended up ditching the vet plan when I saw a dog hit by a car. My friend and I followed the dog to a shady, ferny, moss-covered place. He was a big German Shepherdand he was dying in this little forest near the road. We sat there in the glade and pet him and said nice things, until his eyes dimmed and he died. I guess we were lucky he didn't bite us--he was clearly a good dog. The vet came along (who called him?) and unceremoniously tossed the dead dog into the back of his truck, and took off. This was not what I wanted to do with my life.
So now I find myself, finally, doing my own little 4-H project in the backyard. I've got CDT shots (to prevent blindness) in the fridge for the goats, and wormer mixed with cereal on the shelf. A few days ago I gave the goatlings their shots and felt awful when they yelled about it. The wormer, which is a bloody bitter mix of wormwood and other herbs, goes down better when it's mixed with molasses and honey and puffed oats. The other day I half-entertained a thought about applying for veterianary school. I mean, I have a biology degree, I could do it. But then I'd have to drop this life that I've built, and that would be too bad.

Gerlach, Nevada


Bill and I just got back from a quick trip to Gerlach, Nevada. I had been invited to speak about my 'career' as a writer for Gerlach High's career day, and we couldn't pass that up. It's a six hour drive to Gerlach from Oakland, and as we drove we contemplated how this kind of spontaneous, semi-unimportant travel just can't last. When fuel reaches $5 a gallon, a trip like ours would cost over one hundred dollars. We did use a combo of veg oil/biodiesel to get there, but with the price of food skyrocketing, even used veg oil has become a precious commodity. While I do look forward to trips, food, and fuel becoming more and more localized, I do feel nostalgic (already!) for the days when we could just jump in the car and go. I'll wager the next generation will think us careless and wasteful.
The next generation in Gerlach was delightful, though. About five teens sat at my table to hear about the writing life. The rest of Gerlach High gathered around the National Guard and Marines tables who brought tons of swag to give away. They had posters and baseballs and camo hats. Really crazy. Anyway, my kids were the goth kids who wrote poetry! They were wicked smart and so sweet. I was excited to share my experiences as a writer, and to urge them to continue working on their craft: it will only get better and better.
Not really urban farm related, but I thought it was fun.

Fly control


When Bill and I took our urban farm roadtrip in October, I met some cool farmers. One was a goat herder in North Carolina (she wasn't technically an urban farmer) who told me about biological fly control. In her barn and milking area she placed these predatory gnats that live by eating fly pupae. Cool! With the goats and all, the flies out back are pretty fierce (here's where you banish your vision of my farm as a utopia, all sweet smells and baby animals). So I figured I'd give it a go.
I sent away to Bugological (there are quite a few companies that sell these gnats, but I'm a sucker for bad word play). A paper bag arrived with a bunch of sawdust and little black pellets inside. The black nugs were parasistized fly pupae. I held up the bag to the light and looked for hatched gnats every day. And every day was a disappointment.
Finally, on a warm Monday a couple weeks later, a few of the gnats (Muscidifurax zaraptor and Nasonia vitripennis) could be seen flying around the bag wondering, where the hell can I feed on some more fly pupae? Per bugological's instrux, I parsed the sawdust and pupae in my "hot" areas. It'll take 21 days before I notice if it worked or not. The cool thing about this strategy (versus fly strips) is the gnats keep reproducing and feeding on the flies! They're tiny and don't bite, so they won't become a pest themselves.

Milk stealer


Who would steal milk from this adorable little goat? This innocent, hungry love muffin who bats her tail around, gets on her knees, and oh so cutely sucks from her mama's breast?
Lately, me.
On Monday I started a weaning program that will go on for almost two months. At night I lock the little ones into a dog crate near where Bebe and Bilbo sleep. In the morning, Bebe's udders are full and the little ones make these heart-breaking bleating noises. Before they get their milk, I put Bebe on this stanchion (jankity construction by moi) and milk her. The first day was a total bust, I felt like such an ass, and I couldn't get any milk to come out. I mean, Bebe is a dwarf goat, she has small little teats!
Tuesday my friend W came over and gave me some moral support. Although she hasn't milked a goat either, she encouraged me to keep trying. What's the worst thing that can happen W asked--Bebe will tell Bilbo I'm a total creep? So I kept on and finally got a few sprays of milk out of one of her teats. Yippee!! Today I got them both to work. Tomorrow I'm going to milk her dry. The idea is that when the babies go in for milk, her udders will refill and supply the demand.
I still feel bad for stealing from the little ones, but as you can see I only took a little bit. Here's the bounty.
After filtering it, I gave it a taste. It's very sweet and mild. Nourishing.

P.S. I wrote a profile in Monday's that earned me a lot of hate mail. If my inbox is any reflection, we hate the rich more than the poor here in America.

Bee check


I've a beekeeper for many years and yet I've always been a hands-off beekeeper. I guess you could say I've been a bee-haver. But lately I've taking a more active role: taking classes, learning from old-timers, going to beekeeping meetings. The other day I realized that I could spend my whole life studying this insect and would still never know everything about them. Somehow, I find that comforting. I still want to learn as much as I can.
With that in mind, my friend John came over and we opened up the hive. We took some honey supers off, and really got into the brood chamber area, a place that makes me sweat. The bees were not disturbed at all, these girls are the most gentle bees I've ever worked with. We didn't see the queen, but evidence of her was everywhere: that brown capped stuff is brood comb. In the hollow spaces are little white larvae that the workers feed for 6 days. They then cap the larvae which transforms into a bee in 8-10 days. We saw a few young, soft looking bees--the young ones who remain in the hive all day long cleaning and feeding everyone. After a few weeks, they become field bees, out collecting nectar and pollen. We didn't see any swarm cells--peanut-shaped protrusions that indicate the colony is planning on splitting into two. It was a successful spring inspection.
Lately many hives have been hit by varroa mites. I was curious about my mite counts, so I did the powder sugar test (sorry there are no photos, Bill wandered off). After our inspection, we closed up the hive and dumped two cups of powdered sugar over the top. The idea is the mites can't hold onto the bees when they're covered in powdered sugar. After waiting for the sugar to disperse through the hive for a few minutes, I pulled out a hastily devised "board" (aka a cookie sheet). In a class a beekeeper showed slides of the squirmy red mites floating around in the powdered sugar. I pawed through the sugar and couldn't even find one from my colony. Hooray!!
Then we harvested honey. Yum.

Horn searing


My friend A emailed me regarding my goats the other day:
"How do you deal with the fact of their unbelievable cuteness? I can barely stand to look at the photos. So soft! So sweet! AAARRGHH!
It's tough, but somehow I've been coping.
Yesterday was a horrible, sad day. But it was a necessary thing. I put a cage in the backseat of our truck, lined it with straw, then stole Bebe's babies away for a few hours. I drove to Cotati--about an hour north of Oakland--while the babies slept in back. At the animal hospital, Dr. Dotti, a large animal vet was scrubbing up after delivering a calf. It was all very James Herriott. The calf lived, there was blood everywhere and a happy mama cow chewed her cud as if this was all just another day. A woman chatted with me about her horse's dental work, and when I told her why I was there--to get the goats horns disbudded--she said, oh that's no big deal! Then why was I sweating, and feeling awful?
I tucked a goat under each arm and Dr. Dotti's assistant showed me where to take them and shaved their heads. The horn buds were very small, just starting to mound up. He said two weeks is the perfect timing for disbudding. Dr. Dotti warmed up the disbudding iron (looked like an evil curling iron), and we chatted about how amazing it is that the Nigerian Dwarf goats are considered a dairy breed now, about Bebe, the birth, and the necessity of disbudding. It's really best for the goats--and my neighbors--because the horns will get caught up in fences, gouge my other animals, and worst of all--might gouge out the eye of one of the many neighborhood kids who come by to play with the goats. So, it was with grim determination that I took Orla and Georgina in.
Poor little boobers, they screamed like kittens when he touched their little horn buds with the iron. Dr. Dotti did a great job, moving back and forth, letting them get a break. In all it took about 5 minutes for each of them. My heart was beating as fast as theirs once it was all over. When he was done he sprayed the seared part with antibacterial ointment. Within minutes, they were frisking around in the back of the truck like nothing happened. Luckily, they don't have mirrors. And when I returned them to a grateful Bebe, she acted like she didn't notice. Typical mom.

Bounty of bees


This Sunday I took a class with the Alameda Beekeeping Society featuring Randy Oliver. Randy is this amazing beekeeper and breeder who lives in Grass Valley and reads tons of scientific studies about bees, digests it, and then feeds it back to the general beekeeping public. He is thoughtful and funny and his presentations are wonderful. I didn't want him to stop talking. It was fun too, because I got to see my friends Alan and Mary and meet new beekeepers. Here's just a sample of some things I learned:
-Bees have a little appendage on their front legs which snaps open and allows them to groom their antennae
-Beekeepers were paid over $150 per colony to pollinate the almond crop this year
-When you see a bee sitting still somewhere on a cold day, it is probably shivering invisibly until its body temp goes up enough to fly again
-Bees generate 400 watts of electromagnetic energy by flying, so when they land on a flower, the pollen zaps onto their bodies
-In a German experiment, two queens each had one of their mandibles removed, and they lived together in peace in a colony together (this is good because you'll have more workers laid and thus more honey).
As the day ended, Alan got a phone call from a guy with a swarm in his yard. Alan said, "wanna go get a swarm?" Oh yeah. The house was just down the street, in an oak tree. Sorry I didn't have my camera. But basically it was a small swarm of about 2 pounds of bees. We chopped off the limb, stuck it in the box, and relocated the beauties to my lot in Oakland.
My equipment is pretty weather-beaten, but I found a few frames that weren't totally f-ed, and viola, a new home for the bees. They seem to be adjusting well, I gave them some sugar water because a cold front has moved in. I'll probably give these ladies to my friend Marg who doesn't have bees yet but wants them.

If anyone wants to come to the farm tour here, I'm having one tomorrow, Wednesday, at 10am. Just stop by and meet the baby goats!

Bill and Novella's Farm


Even though Billy sometimes doesn't know what's growing in our vegetable beds at all times, he's very likely to correct you if you call this place Novella's Farm or Novella's Garden. "That's *Bill* and Novella's Farm," he'll say. And he's right. I couldn't do half the things I do without him.
It was with a big heart and much joy that we celebrated our 11th anniversary by riding our bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge. Yup, two Oakland hicks tackling the Big City. Of course, like everything we do, there were some disasters. Like when we tried to ride our bikes on the highway. Enough cars honked and yelled that we figured out we were total dumb-asses. Bicyclists should really ride through the Presidio, or snake along Chrissy Field and get to the entrance of the bridge that way.
The bridge is a dream of red and blue. How can it be so perfect?
We took a ferry back to SF from Sausalito then another ferry to Oakland. It was nice to get a break from the farm, my farm hand partner at my side.

Goat update


For those of you who can't snuggle up to the little goaty ones, here's a photo that attempts to get close enough that you can. almost smell their heads (grassy with a touch of milk).

The whole family loves our back stairs. I realized we have a pretty good set-up because the goats get their exercise running up and down the stairs all day. And lately the little ones set up camp in a secret spot between the roof and the back porch. It's the perfect nook that probably appeals to their cave-dwelling instincts.

(image) A goatlings day involves drinking from Bebe, playing, eating a little bit of grass, taking a nap, peeing, eating, then making tiny yellowish orange turds, then more napping. At night they sleep in a straw-lined caged run with Bebe and Bilbo.

This chicken wants to know why she isn't getting as much attention. So many reasons.

Turkey pot pie


Let's get this out of the way first:

The cutest goats ever. I started milking Bebe, too, just to get her used to my human hands. Those babies are getting some yummy, creamy, sweet-tasting milk! Lucky little devils.

Now then, onto pot pies. Bill has a joke from some dumb movie where he says, "woman, make me a pot pie." For Easter, instead of clobbering him like I usually do, I actually made one. First I followed the dough recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall's opus: Meat. His was for a kidney pie, but the crust--made with my piggies' lard and a touch of butter--was thick enough to pour in liquid without fear.
Then I chopped onions, picked celery (!) and herbs from the garden, and threw them together with the turkey stock and meaty bits. Hugh told me to add a decoration on the crust, so I crafted a very jankity nest with two eggs--see them in the corner there? Then I sealed her up, baked for an hour, and there you have it: turkey pot pie.

Farm slideshow


Hi, just a quick note that I'm giving a talk at the Ecology Center in Berkeley tomorrow (Saturday) at 7pm. It's a fundraiser for City Slicker Farms. Despite fear of vegetarian backlash, I'm bringing slides of my meat projects at the farm. Any locals out there, I'd love to meet you in person!! Here's the blurb (I'm not mentioned, but I'll be speaking after Nathan):

Ferment Change! A Benefit for West Oakland's City Slicker Farms
Come join us for a fermented food feast and celebration of Urban Agriculture to Benefit West Oakland's City Slicker Farms "growing fresh and affordable produce for West Oakland". There will be a presentation on the work of City Slicker Farms by founder Willow Roesenthal, a slide show of international urban agricultural by UCB lecturer Nathan McClintock, live music by Zoyres Eastern European Wild Ferment, and a live ferment workshop. Bring a fermented food and get entered in a drawing to win Homebrew, Sauerkraut, Plant Starts, and Gift Certificates to the Berkeley Farmer's Market.
Time: 7pm - 10pm.
Location: Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Ave, near Dwight Way, Berkeley.
Cost: A donation of $10-30 sliding scale is requested, no one turned away due to lack of funds..
Info: 510-548-2220 x233,

Goodbye to an old friend


To Archie we had to bid a farewell. Last night I ate his organs, today I'll probably make turkey pot pies, and Friday I'm bringing marinated turkey breasts to my friend's house for dinner. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
As you may recall, Archie the male turkey, a beautiful Royal Palm, gobbled enthusiastically. Maybe too enthusiastically. In the past week he made some kind of noise every five minutes. He would stand on our back porch and gobble at the top of his throat to the entire neighborhood. He would preen next to the fence and yell at every passer-by on our street. On Sundays this was very loud, as there's usually a soccer match down the street. And the mornings, he would gobble in the morning until I came out to feed him. Finally, two days ago, as I was in goaty bliss, our next door neighbors told me the turkey was driving them crazy. On an urban farm, neighbor relations are critical. If they complain, I could be cited, and who knows, they might take my animals away.
So I boiled a big pot of water. Then I got out the tobacco, burned a chunk of it, and grabbed Archie for a death hug. Novella in the garden with a pair of pruners. He made a hissing noise, pecked me, and then his head was off. I dipped him in the hot water, and pulled off his gorgeously and soft feathers. Underneath he had softer white feathers. Then alabaster skin, puffy with fat. In his crop were chunks of corn and greens. He was the most healthy turkey I've ever plucked. Underneath his skin, I could see the promise of his dark meat--the color of chocolate.
This British chef I love Hugh Fearnley Whitingstall calls these delicacies plucker's prizes--the organ meat, not enough to serve, but enough for a special meal for one. I fried the kidneys in butter with thyme and a squeeze of lemon. The liver and the heart I cooked with onions and thyme and pepper. Served on a bed of wild argula and lettuces, and some radish.
Edith is still on the nest, and we hope for baby turkeys in a few more weeks. It's much quieter now. Goodbye Archie--and thanks.

Birth story


I woke up at dawn to the turkey gobbling. This is fairly normal. He gobbles like a rooster crows—in the morning and throughout the day. It’s driving us crazy. But he was gobbling over and over again, a danger gobble! So I ran downstairs and Bebe came running up to me, bleating and looking at me with distress. Tail up. That’s always a sign of pending birth. But I thought it wouldn’t be for another two weeks! Luckily, I’m obsessive, so I had all the supplies—the iodine, the petroleum jelly, gloves, towels, bottles, colostrum, beet pulp and oats—ready to go.
I gave Bebe her favorite snacks of jade plant, Heart to Heart flakes, and apple, then went back to bed. I had a dream that she had four tiny babies and one of them was a cow.
A few hours later not much had happened—I went to a meeting--but Bebe was still bleating every five minutes or so. I didn’t see her dialated or anything. So I went out to do some errands. Got a new tire for the truck, bought some plants and seeds. When I arrived home I went directly to the backyard, and saw a streak of gold and white.
Two adorable babies! Still wet, and covered with goo. Bebe had the afterbirth hanging out her backside. She was patiently licking her kids clean, and making wonderful deep bleating noises, which they would answer with high-pitched calls.
After a bit of staring and feeling tremendously good, I crawled into the pen and helped Bebe out a bit—washing off their faces, and dipped their umbilical cords with 7% iodine solution (to prevent infection). When I picked them up, they cried like babies!
Bebe gave me some licks, then she ate the placentas. How funny it is to observe an herbivore eating something so bloody. It seemed like a chore. I gave her some beet pulp and oats warmed up with water, and she drank a ton of water. She’s had several other kids, so this just seemed like another day in Bebe’s life.
The goatlings are adorable, playing with each other, sleeping, and when you lie on the ground near them they come running toward you. So cute!
For those of you wondering, Bilbo seems bored by it, and a little left out, like Eoyore.



The birth of two beautiful baby girl (pretty sure) goats, today around 4pm. They don't have names yet, but since they were born on St. Patty's day, I think they need Irish names. Please send suggestions. More info about the birth--and photos--to come.

Pressure's on



Dudes. I bought a used pressure canner!

In case you don't know, a pressure canner is different from a pressure cooker, which is a smaller pot used to quickly cook beans and stews. Pressure canners are usually much larger--my behemoth comfortably holds eight quart jars.

Betty MacDonald, author of the sometimes funny homesteading opus, The Egg and I, famously hated them. In one of the chapters from Egg, she writes: "Canning is a mental quirk just like any form of hoarding. First you plant too much of everything in the garden; then you waste hours and hours in the boiling sun cultivating then you buy a pressure cooker and can too much of everything so that it won't be wasted. Frankly I don't like home-canned anything, and I spent all of my spare time reading up on botulism..."To her I say, girl, you've never tried my dry-farmed canned tomatoes. But like Betty, I do worry about botulism, and that's where the pressure canner comes into play.


The beauty of a pressure canner lies within this formula: PV=nRT where R is a constant and n has something to do with quantities, pressure (P) is conversely related to temperature (T). When pressure goes up, temperature goes up too. Canning jars in a pressure canner increases the pressure and thus increases the boiling temperature. Harold McGee in his bible, On Food and Cooking, says it can reach 250 degrees F in a pressure canner. This higher temperature effectively kills all the spores which cause botulism in the jar.

It also means canning my tomatoes this summer will use much less energy, the water bath method that I've used in the past required one hour to process, using the pressure canner will cut that time in half. Wahoo!


By the way, I bought this gem from a gem of a guy named Dan at the Old Oakland farmer's market. He's usually there with a table of awesome cast iron cookware. Check him out. The Old Oakland Farmer's market is held on Friday mornings.

Backyard orchards



Lovely article in the NYTimes today about people growing fruit trees in their backyards. The only thing they forgot to mention is how, in addition to being edible and local, the blooms and fruit of backyard trees are terribly beautiful, too. Here's my apple tree in all her glory. See also a graft (King David apple) that may have taken!!


Flu frustrations


I got it. The dreaded flu: fever, cough, muscle aches. Here it is spring and I have hay to move, mulch to spread, crops to plant, hooves to trim, stalls to muck out, a milking stanchion to build (goat kids are due March 30!) and all I can manage is to watch my farm from out my window. So frustrating.
I also missed the bee symposium and the California rare fruit growers meeting this past weekend. Lucky for me, my rare fruit growing angel sent me a link to a video of the meeting!! Thank you Spidra!

The other thing I’ve been able to do is order goat supplies. I found a great website, Hoegger's, where I ordered, from the comfort of my sickbed, all manner of goat-related items. Goats are prone to various kinds of worms, so I bought a natural de-wormer, made with Worm Wood, Gentian, Fennel, Psyllium, & Quassia. They also had buckets of goat minerals—calcium, phosphorus, salt and magnesium, selenium, and vitamin E. I picked up a kid bottle and some colostrum in case Bebe has a million babies. Finally, I got a bag of kelp in bulk—I’ve noticed the goats love wakame, but at $5 a bag, it was breaking me, so this should do the trick. In other goat care madness, I made them their first batch of sauerkraut. My goater friend Jim tells me goats love the stuff—it’s full of B vitamins—we’ll see how Bilbo and Bebe feel about it, they don’t seem like terribly adventurous eaters.

P.S. Here’s an article I wrote for SFGate about a foodie who doesn’t have much money, yet manages to eat well by growing her own, dumpster diving, and buying wisely.

Bees or Fruit?


This upcoming Saturday has me tortured. There's the Rare Fruit Growers event about all the weird-ass fruit you can grow around here AND a Bee Symposium in Santa Rosa with the creme de la creme of the sustainable bee-keeping world: Randy Oliver, Eric Mussen, Serge Labesque, bee movies, "bee art", and more.
Here's their blurb: "In this time of global ecological challenges, the honeybee is an indicator species reflecting the enormous changes taking place in our world. Bee populations are dying and pollination ecology is deeply effected. As beekeepers, we must become stewards of the earth and change paradigms. This one-day symposium offers information and speakers with new perspectives on honeybees and native pollinators, beekeeping practices, innovative approches and ecological strategies for beekeepers."
The fruiters are meeting at 1-4; but the bee symposium goes from 9-6! Like a smart couple, Bill said he would go to the fruit, and I'll go to the bee thing. Divide and conquer, baby.
I'll let you know everything I learn at both events, assuming Bill takes good notes and my car makes in to Santa Rosa.
If anyone wants to go to either, here's the info:
Bee Symposium 2008
Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm
655 Willowside Road, Santa Rosa, CA
March 8; 9-6
$30 at door
by phone 707/824-2905
lunch for purchase on-site


CRFG: Unusual Edibles in the Bay Area
El Sobrante Branch Library, 4191 Appian Way, El Sobrante, CA
March 8; 1-4pm
"Not only is the climate different in different Bay Area counties, but even within a given town there are microclimates. Our members will talk about what's growing for them and what's not. What usually works but hasn't in this wacky climate change year..."

**photo of my beehive courtesy Julie Johnson and the JSchool**



I have these genius friends who can sew and knit. They get together every Monday to craft. One lady, D, makes all her own clothes! And they look really great, not all falling apart like a certain pair of paisley shorts I made in HomeEc 28 years ago. I work Mondays, so I miss craft night, but recently there was so much craft in the air, they held a special night on Friday. I accepted the invite to join them with a little trepidation. W said if I wasn't crafty, I could just bring my taxes, or balance my checkbook. Little does she know I do that less often than knit a scarf. But I knew exactly what I would do.
There have been these hanging bags of olives in our mud room for months now. They were starting to get oppressive, these salty bags of procrastination. My head would crash into them on occasion, and then I'd have salt hair for the rest of the day. I had potted some up in olive oil--but honestly, how many olives can one couple eat? Also, I noticed that some of the olives tended to be a little too soft so I didn't want to give them to people as gifts.
But then I remembered: olive tapenade. It doesn't matter if the olives are soft if you just blend them up into a paste! So an hour before craft night, I untied the olive bags, washed them of their salt, and set off to be, for just one night, an olive pitter from heaven.
While M and D worked a sewing stations, I sat at the kitchen table and peeled off the fleshy of about one thousand olives. My fingernails turned black, salt stung my hangnails (no i didn't wear gloves), and we talked about such high-minded topics as Thai rap pants and their cultural ramifications. What a lovely evening. Once home, I whirled the pitless olives with some olive oil, then placed the olive spread in jars. True tapenade would include capers and anchovies, but I don't have bags of those just hanging around...The olive tapendade is tasty with crackers, on bread, with deviled eggs, and probably, shoe leather.

Turkey love


As promised, here's a blow-by-blow of Archie and Edith's adventures in procreation.
First off, Archie is constantly preening and puffed up. He seems to be in a permanent state of arousal. When he sees Edith, when a chicken walks by, when I go outside to feed them, when the goats pass by him, and yes, even when he sees the rabbit. Hell, a sparrow could fly by and he'd puff up.
It's really Edith who decides when to do the nasty. She will squat down, sort of like a chicken, but laying with her breast on the ground. Then Archie does some puffing and huffing (literally, he makes this airy gulping noise) and circles around her. Then he stands on her wings.
(image) It looks kind of painful, this big puffed up bird trying to balance on her delicate wings. You know how they say factory farmed turkeys can't 'do it'? It totally makes sense to me now. Because it's a balancing act really. And it requires space and time.

Ok, then Archie pecks Edith's head for awhile. Love pecks, I guess. Then he manuevers around and gets her tail up. He looks pretty funny doing this part. Like a nasty humper. He drapes his wings along her side, and Edith makes some cute chirping noises. Interesting fact that turkeys and chickens don't have proper penii, they just rub their duct onto the female's oviduct.

Edith's eggs look similar to a chicken egg, but larger and with a more rounded bottom--can you tell which one is hers?

(image) While I was in New York Bill reported that she had started to set on a clutch of eggs. But then she got bored and hopped off. I'm hoping spring will make her broody and soon we'll have little poults marching around. I think Edith is going to be a good mama.

Steaming pile of...


I returned home from a quick trip to New York to a boggy soggy Oakland garden. So when the Ponderosa Tree Company called last night and asked if I wanted a free 5 cubic yard load of mulch, I agreed, though I have a million other things to do. This morning the truck showed up, backed in between the gates, and dropped the load.
Mulch is defined as any organic substance that keeps weeds down and eventually breaks down into soil. It can be straw, wood chips, nut shells, coffee grounds. This stuff is California bay laurel and pine. It smells amazing, kind of what I hope a native American sweat lodge smells like. Note that the pile is steaming because it's decomposing!
The only hitch is, the guy couldn't back the truck all the way into the lot so about half of the load is um, on the sidewalk and the street. Sorry neighbors!! So really what you are looking at is my personal mulch trainer--I'm going to get buff moving this wonderous substance. Why I am telling you about this? I really needed a break. Ok, ok, back to the mulch pile....

Last minute items


My trees look like trauma victims. They’re hacked up, taped together. They’re part of my dastardly grafting scheme. A few weeks—maybe even a month ago—I went to the scion exchange held by the California Rare Fruit Growers Association . Fruit geeks. My people! I knew I was in heaven when I overheard two fruit lovers comparing sapote tasting notes. I know a little about fruit, but nothing what these people know. Which kind of pear tastes the best (Buerre Blanc), which mulberry scions--pieces of branch that can be grafted onto a tree--to get (“Alba”), how to cleft graft a Green Gage plum.

I took about 25 scions home, stuck them in the fridge and promptly forgot about them. But now I’m going on a quick trip to the East Coast, I have a million things to do and so I spent today grafting. Onto the Persian Mulberry, onto the persimmon, onto the plum, onto the Granny Smith apple tree which hasn’t burst yet.

(image) The idea is to match up the cambium layers of the little twiggies with some judicious cuts. Then you wrap them tightly together with parafin. The idea is the tree, in a burst of springtime good will, will think the little scion is an injured part of itself. It’ll send forth energy and heal the wound, thus bringing the two branches together. The graft looks like a pucker on the branch once it has healed. I’ve successfully grafted an Orange Pippin onto my apple tree before, but no word on the fruit yet, it can take up to three years before you get fruit. Still, there’s something satisfying about fooling the tree.

Here’s what I did:
Moro persimmon onto a rootstock
Alba or white mulberry onto a Persian
Black Arkansas onto a Granny Smith
King David onto a Granny Smith
Buerre Blanc onto a Comice pear
Johanna onto a Comice pear
Green gage onto a Santa Rosa (probably won’t work)

I’m just hoping ONE of these takes.

P.S. View from my desk.

What do ducks dream of?


Yesterday I looked out on the deck and saw the duck having a dream. His bill was tucked into his wing, his eyes were closed, he was fast asleep but he was shaking his tail, his wing tips quivered. I watched him for a few minutes, trying to figure out if it was a good dream. Or was it a re-enactment of the dog attack that left him the sole survivor of his flock? It was hard to tell. I went into the duck's mind, and figured he might be dreaming of swimming, something he only got to do for a few months before the dog attack. His orange foot kicked a little. (image)
Later I saw that Bill took a bath and left the water in the tub, which we do so we can use the water to flush the toilet. So I got ducky and stuck him in the water, then sat down to watch him. At first he quacked and quacked, and I thought I should get him out, but then he bobbed his head under, tasted some water, and paddled around. I've never seen him so happy. He took a long bath, flapped his wings, got his feathers clean. Then I carried him back out to the deck, where he lives with the rabbits and an occasional baby chicken.
I thought one day he would recover and perhaps I'd sneak him down to Lake Merritt to live out the rest of his days in a bird wildlife refuge. Thing is, he never really got better. Now when I look at Sir Duckerton I just feel sorry for him. His gimpy leg, his dreams. I mean, is this the proper life for a duck? Or is this a metaphor for life on this earth--a few joys, sadness, and dreams that seem so real.