Monthly Archives: November 2014

November Harvest

The November harvest brings us tantalizingly close to 1000 lbs. of produce for the year. Will we make it over the top in December?!

  • Apple ‘Granny Smith’: 2 lbs.
  • Basil ‘Aroma 1’: .063 lbs.
  • Carrot ‘Nantaise’: .38 lbs.
  • Chive: .06 lbs.
  • Eggs (Barred Rock 8; Ameraucana 16; Welsummer 18): 42
  • Honey (harvested in August and September): 113.25 lbs.
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’: .25 lbs.
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: .25
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: .31 lbs.
  • Persimmon ‘Fuyu’: 65.75
  • Persimmon ‘Hachiya’: 52.75 lbs.
  • Mustard ‘Tah Tsoi’: .25 lbs.

Total: 235.31 lbs.

2014 harvest total: 951.21 lbs.

2014 egg count: 427

The bulk of this year's honey harvest bottled up by the quart, pint, and half-pint.

The bulk of this year’s honey harvest bottled up by the quart, pint, and half-pint.

Pudy among the Hachiyas.

Pudy among the Hachiyas.

Up next: Navel oranges, leaf lettuce, cabbage, and peas!

Up next: Navel oranges, leaf lettuce, cabbage, and peas!





Indoor Chickens

Our darling Petunia is ailing. The vet recently suggested that she is ‘fading away’, pointing to her loss of appetite, frequent lethargy, and white blood cells that appear ‘squashed’ and misshapen in every blood test she’s ever had. Yes, our chicken has had multiple blood tests.

She’s certainly never been the healthiest bird in the flock, suffering from recurrent oviduct infections over her almost three-year life. We finally put her on chicken birth control this past spring, which stopped her laying, brought her hormones down to normal levels, and cleared up her chronic infections.

I’m suspicious that her second, rather halfhearted, autumn molt of the year (she lost only her tail feathers) may be to blame for her behavior changes, rather than an awful virus affecting one chicken in the flock, or a progressive congenital disease, as the vet suggested. We’ll wait and see.

For now, Bell, a Welsummer, and the loudest chicken we’ve ever met, is seizing the opportunity to become top chicken. We hope her reign is short-lived. She’s got the bossy piece down, but she’s a poor forager, has terrible anxiety, and is less fair-minded than Petunia.

While she’s under the weather, we’re giving Petunia the royal treatment, attending closely to her excessively finicky dietary whims and general comfort. I’m aware that many (most?) backyard chicken-keepers don’t take their birds to the vet, particularly when the bird is no longer laying. When we started out with our first chicks nearly three years ago, I didn’t anticipate how attached we’d become, or how much these small-brained creatures would worm their way into our hearts. Chickens have big personalities. They’re social and affectionate, and highly expressive.

So here we are, muddling through as usual, using half head and half heart. Petunia is dear to us. It’s cold outside (California, SF Bay Area cold, in the state’s warmest year on record–but still, chilly). Petunia has alway been slight, sleeping in a nest box in winter to keep warm. Chickens are notoriously cold-hardy animals. The vet thinks she’s fading away.

We couldn’t take it anymore a few weeks ago and started bringing her in to sleep in the straw-stuffed cat crate. Every morning at first light she gives an assertive and lengthy cackle from across the bedroom to let us know she’s ready to start her day. At the vet’s suggestion, she gets a capsule of fish oil down the gullet once a day to support her coronary functioning, as well as dandelion root and milk thistle seed extracts to support her liver. Egad.

Her appetite’s been poor, so we offer her favorite treats, like sunflower and hemp seeds. We also scramble her an egg every day–she likes it thoroughly scrambled and dry. If it’s too warm, or too wet, or too oily, she shakes her beak vigorously and repeatedly, wiping it on the floor, and we know she will not be tempted by any more of our tempting treats for a good long while. She stalks off under the kitchen table and stands staring into space, or she preens her beautiful new set of feathers.

Even when she disdains our culinary offerings, she’ll be damned if anyone else eats. Sometimes we bring Luma (aka ‘Baby Tiny’) in to inspire Petunia’s appetite–a kind of competitive, race-to-the-finish mealtime. For a minute, Petunia stands by passively, as Luma guzzles the feast. Then, some primal chicken instinct kicks in and she towers over the much larger Baby Tiny, making a series of intimidating guttural clucks.

Kelly has always been a better, more attentive mother than I. But she’s gone to new extremes for Petunia. Discovering that a crate of extracted honey frames was infested with wax moths, Kelly sensed opportunity. Not only does she pluck out the mature moths for Petunia to snap out of the air (a favorite treat, so long as there’s not too much honey on them), she also cuts wax moth pupae out of their tough, fibrous cocoons and hand-feeds them to our little chicken.

Hard at work, extracting wax moth larvae.

Hard at work, extracting wax moth pupae.

The prize.

The prize.

Our little princess.

The princess.

Last weekend, friends arrived to share a meal and an evening of board games with us, and we had to explain why there were two chickens pecking at a pile of seeds and oats and scrambled egg on the kitchen floor.

I have to say, though, there’s something warm and friendly about having Petunia join our indoor life. She often enters into conversations with her delightfully wide range of vocalizations, or hops up on a lap for some very serious eye contact and ‘lite’ snuggles before bed. And whether it’s caused by the end of her molt, her fabulous diet and supplements, or just the extra TLC, she seems to be regaining at least some of her appetite and energy.

Home-Grown Vinegar

The homemade vinegar experiments have been sitting undisturbed in the darkest room in the house for almost three months. This is partly because it takes a while to make vinegar and partly (mostly) because I am really really busy with less interesting things.

I had an unexpected extra day off this past weekend and finally responded to the nagging voice in the back of my mind that’s been urging me to check up on the vinegar.

There’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that my store-bought white vinegar mother grew a nasty blue-green mold layer, as did three of my smaller jars of fruit scrap vinegar. I poked around briefly online and came to the conclusion that there’s no way to salvage a vinegar mother once she’s gone moldy. Bummer.

Because her gelatinous floating mass still seems perfectly alive, I’m having a hard time doing anything to actively dispose of her. A flush down the toilet seems vaguely cruel, as does tossing her into the compost pile. Instead, I’ve taken the passive route of putting her container in full sun on the back stoop–a move I guiltily suspect will also kill her. I never expected to get so emotionally invested in Acetobacter.

In the meantime, fabulous, magical, scientific things have happened in the other jars. In the largest jar of grape mash, a beautiful thick mat of vinegar mother formed on top of the grape skins and liquid. After I’d finished worshipping her, I tore this mother into multiple pieces and placed her in new jars with various concentrations of white and red wines. The experimentation continues!

A side view of the grape mash with a layer of vinegar mother at the top. You can see fruit flies stuck in the mother. See below for more on the role they play in the vinegar-making process.

A side view of the grape mash with a layer of vinegar mother at the top.

Vinegar mother--the view from above.

Vinegar mother–the view from above. You can see fruit flies stuck in the mother. See below for more on the role they play in the vinegar-making process.

A piece of vinegar mother in a new jar.

A piece of vinegar mother in a new jar.

And up close, in my hand.

…And up close, in my hand.

The vinegar from this largest jar is delicious, very sour, with a complex flavor and a strawberry-lemonade hue.

The other three small jars of fruit scrap vinegar didn’t make mothers, but the liquid has definitely turned to vinegar. Maybe they need more time? Or maybe the liquid was a little too low? I added distilled water and wine to these jars as well and will wait with baited breath for new developments.

Grape mash vinegar mother recipe:

  • 5 cups mashed (juiced) grapes
  • 5 cups distilled water
  • A ‘splash’ of fresh grape juice
  • 2 spoons honey

Combine ingredients in a 1-gallon jar and leave uncovered for 24 hours. Then, use a rubber band to secure cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar and place in a dark warm room (my room honestly isn’t that warm, but I hear warmth is ideal for vinegar production). Leave untouched for about 3 months.

I made this recipe up, and the results were far beyond my expectations. I imagine any number of variations might also yield success.

Grape mash recipes that produced vinegar but no mothers (yet):

  • 1 cup grape mash
  • 1 cup distilled water
  • 1 cup honey

Notes: A pleasantly sweet and tangy vinegar

  • 1 cup grape mash
  • 1 cup distilled water
  • 1 cup white sugar

Notes: This one is a little too sweet for my taste, but definitely still vinegar-y

  • Unmeasured amount of grape mash (1 cup?)
  • Unmeasured grape juice (1 cup?)
  • unmeasured quantity of whole strawberries and raspberries (1/2 half cup?)
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • Distilled water to cover

Notes: Very tasty, with berry flavors coming through

A note on fruit flies

I left my jars of grape mash uncovered for a day to allow fruit flies to get inside and jumpstart the process. From what I’ve read, fruit flies carry Acetobacter–the genus of bacteria that turns ethanol into acetic acid, or vinegar–on their feet and in their bodies, thus inoculating the mixture and increasing the chances that a good mother will form.

There’s no way around it: a jar of fermenting fruit with a captive cloud of fruit flies emitting a tiny buzzing sound beneath the cheesecloth cover is pretty disgusting. Even more gross is taking off the cheesecloth three months later and releasing a crowd of fruit flies—the great- great-grandkids of that first colony. Whatever works, though, you know? The vinegars in all of the non-moldy jars taste great and the mother was something to behold.

I’ll be interested to see the difference between the white and red wine batches I’ve started with pieces of vinegar mother, as well as whether the smaller jars will end up forming mothers of their own. The grape mash I used back in August was from Flame grapes, a table grape that Kelly assures me is neither a red, nor a white ‘wine grape’. Will the mothers have a wine preference? Stay tuned.

September and October Garden Harvests

I present to you the last two month’s harvests–minus several gallons of honey that have yet to be tabulated!

We’re often a bit flummoxed trying to make sense of why certain crops do wonderfully one year and very poorly another year. This summer’s winners included cantaloupes and eggplant. The potatoes did horribly, as did the zucchini.


  • Apple ‘Golden Delicious’: 3.5 lbs.
  • Basil ‘Aroma 1’: 9.38 lbs.
  • Bean ‘Kentucky Blue’: 9.25 lbs.
  • Beet ‘Pacemaker III Hybrid’: 8.13 lbs.
  • Bell pepper ‘Big Red Beauty’: 1 lb.
  • Carrot ‘Nantaise’: 1.75 lbs.
  • Cucumber ‘Bushy Pickling’: 6.25 lbs.
  • Cucumber ‘Fountain’: 2 lbs.
  • Eggplant ‘Rosa Bianca’: 4.75 lbs.
  • Eggs: 71 (Barred Rock 19; Ameraucana 25; Welsummer 27)
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’: .25 lbs.
  • Cantaloupe ‘Minnesota Midget’: 5.38 lbs.
  • Onion ‘Red Amposta’: 2.75 lbs.
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: .38 lbs.
  • Pepper ‘Early Jalapeno’: 1.25 lbs.
  • Potato ‘Red Pontiac’: .25 lbs.
  • Potato ‘Yukon’: .75 lbs.
  • Thai Basil: .06 lbs.
  • Tomatillo ‘Variety?’: 1 lb.
  • Tomato ‘Early Girl’: 7.63 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘Pineapple’: 5.13 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘San Marzano’: 2 lbs.
  • Zucchini ‘Variety?’: 1.25 lbs.

Total: 74.09 lbs.


  • Beeswax: 5 lbs.
  • Cucumber ‘Bushy Pickling’: 1.25 lbs.
  • Eggplant ‘Nadia’: .63 lbs.
  • Eggplant ‘Rosa Bianca’: 3.13 lbs.
  • Eggs: 55 (Barred Rock 13; Ameraucana 19; Welsummer 23)
  • Navel orange: .13 lbs.
  • Onion ‘Red Amposta’: .25 lbs.
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: .125 lbs.
  • Pepper ‘Big Red Beauty’: 4.13 lbs.
  • Pepper ‘Early Jalapeno’: 4.13 lbs.
  • Persimmon ‘Fuyu’: 9.5 lbs.
  • Persimmon ‘Hachiya’: 94.45 lbs.
  • Pomegranate ‘Wonderful’: 1.5 lbs.
  • Tomatillo: 2.75 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘Early Girl’: 6 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘Orange Roma’: .75 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘Pineapple’: 2.5 lbs.
  • Tomato ‘San Marzano’: 1.88 lbs.

Total: 138.12 lbs.

2014 harvest total: 715.9 lbs.

2014 egg count: 385


The first two pomegranates  from our little tree were absolutely delicious!

The first two pomegranates from our little tree were absolutely delicious!

Nightly raccoon family raids led us to harvest the Hachiyas early. They're ripening nicely in the kitchen, and Kelly will soon brew up a batch of persimmon beer.

Nightly raccoon family raids led us to harvest the Hachiyas early. They’re ripening nicely in the kitchen, and Kelly will soon brew up a batch of persimmon beer.

Late-season tomatoes and tomatillos.

Late-season tomatoes and tomatillos.

Pomegranates, 'Rosa Bianca' eggplants, and jalapeño peppers.

Pomegranates, ‘Rosa Bianca’ eggplants, and jalapeño peppers.