Category Archives: Chickens

April Harvest 2015

I have to admit, I am having so much fun watching the total harvest pounds and dollars add up for 2015. As always, a disclaimer: we aren’t actually selling this produce–just calculating how much we would have had to spend if we had purchased it.

The raspberries and strawberries have come on earlier and stronger this year, as have the mulberries. The loquats on the other hand are abysmal; the tree appears to be dying. Kelly, being the passionate pruner that she is, is hatching plans to renovate the tree in hopes of bringing it back to some semblance of health (or at least sickly determination).

On the chicken front, Luma, now over 3 years old, is laying better than ever. One of the fun things about keeping good harvest records, is being able to remind oneself of last year’s numbers. Luma laid 17 eggs last April compared to 21 eggs this month.

Maybe it’s the treat mix Kelly lovingly concocts and sprinkles in the run each morning and evening, or maybe it’s genetic luck, but Luma is not abiding by the common wisdom that chickens stop laying after 2-3 years. You go, girl!

We continued harvesting honey in April on a frame-by frame basis. Sadly, due to California’s terrible drought, plants that would normally bloom in summer here, are blooming now. As a result, the bees had some unusual April food sources. Several of the hives were bursting with honey when I went in to inspect, and there will be May honey harvests too.

  • Asparagus ‘Farmer’s Favorite’: 0.59 lbs. (@$7.99/lb.=$4.71)
  • Beet ‘?’: 0.30 lbs. (@$3.98/lb=$1.19)
  • Beet greens: 0.64 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$3.19)
  • Cabbage ‘Parel’: 3.30 lbs. (@$1.49/lb.=$4.92)
  • Chard ‘Fordhook’: 1.50 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$7.47)
  • Cilantro: 0.14 lbs. (@3.58/lb.=$0.50)
  • Dinosaur kale ‘Niro di Toscano’: 0.69 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$3.44)
  • Eggs (Barred Rock 21; Welsummer 26; Ameraucana 20): 67 (@$0.37/egg=$25.07)
  • Fennel ‘Perfection’: 0.08 lbs. (@$2.49/lb.=$0.20)
  • Honey: 4.5 lbs. (@$10.00/lb.=$45.00)
  • Kale ‘Wild Kale Blend’: 0.40 (@$4.98/lb.=$1.99)
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’: 2.72 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$13.55)
  • Lettuce ‘Heirloom Blend’: 0.12 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$0.72)
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: 0.56 lbs. (@$0.60/lb.?=$0.34)
  • Loquat: 0.24 lbs. (@$4.99/lb.?=$1.20)
  • Miner’s Lettuce: 0.29 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.?=$1.74)
  • Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’: 0.04 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$0.24)
  • Onion ‘California Red’: 0.17 lbs. (@$2.98/lb.=$0.51)
  • Onion ‘Red Amposta’: 0.19 lbs. (@$2.98/lb.=$0.57)
  • Mint: 0.002 lbs. (@1.99/bunch=$1.99)
  • Mulberry ‘Pakistan Fruiting’: 1.37 lbs. (@$4.99/lb.?=$6.84)
  • Navel orange: 7.12 lbs. (@$2.49/lb.=$17.73)
  • Oregano: 0.01 lbs. (@$1.99/bunch=$1.99)
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: 0.14 lbs. (@$3.58/lb.=$0.50)
  • Raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’ ‘Autumn Britten’ ‘Tulameen’: 0.36 lbs. (@$10.64/lb.=$3.83)
  • Rosemary: 0.03 lbs. (@$1.99/bunch=$1.99)
  • Snap pea ‘Sugar Snap’: 0.15 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$0.90)
  • Spinach ‘?’: 0.09 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$0.54)
  • Spring onion ‘Purplette’: 0.31 lbs. (@$2.98/lb.=$0.92)
  • Strawberry ‘Seascape’ and ‘Albion’: 3.25 lbs. (@$4.99/lb.=$16.22)
  • Thyme: 0.002 lbs. (@$1.99/bunch=$1.99)

Produce total: 24.8 lbs. ($101.92)

Egg count: 67 ($25.07)

Honey: 4.5 lbs. ($45)

2015 produce total: 394.67 lbs. ($667.78)

2015 egg count: 158 ($55.10)

2015 honey harvest: 135.25 lbs. ($1352.50)

The pomegranate is covered in blossoms. Hope we get more this year!

The pomegranate is covered in blossoms. Hope we get more fruit this year!

We're letting this year-old patch of 'Purplette' onions go to seed. They're our favorite, and they're open pollinated, so we can stop buying new seed packets and save our own instead.

We’re letting this year-old patch of ‘Purplette’ onions go to seed. They’re our favorite, and they’re open pollinated, so we can stop buying new seed packets and save our own instead.


I’m hard pressed to think of something more lovely than onion blossoms at close range.


The strawberry plants must be at least 3 years old, but they're beating the odds and have a higher yield this year than in the past.

The strawberry plants must be at least 3 years old, but they’re beating the odds and have a higher yield this year than in the past.

March Harvest 2015

March was a month of oranges and eggs. It also brought with it three swarms from our hives (that we know of!). I made seven walk-away beehive splits, and carted said splits around in the back of my car (nothing quite like driving through the suburbs in a bee suit to the tune of 50,000 buzzing insects in the backseat).

I had every intention of chronicling our various adventures, but March was also a month of schoolwork and work-work. Hopefully, I’ll soon be able to devote more of my time to working outside and to writing about it.

For now, here are the numbers for the March harvest:

  • Asparagus ‘Farmer’s Favorite’: 1.13 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$6.77)
  • Broccoli ‘Fiesta’: 0.52 lbs. (@$2.99/lb.=$1.55)
  • Cabbage ‘Parel’: 3.73 lbs. (@$1.29/lb.=$4.81)
  • Cabbage ‘Ruby Ball’: 1.1 lbs. (@$1.29/lb.=$1.42)
  • Cauliflower ‘Snow Crown’: 1.82 lbs. (@$2.49/lb.=$4.53)
  • Chard ‘Fordhook’: 0.35 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$1.74)
  • Cilantro: 0.83 lbs. (@$3.58/lb.=$2.97)
  • Dinosaur kale ‘Niro di Toscano’: 0.16 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$0.80)
  • Eggs (Barred Rock 25; Welsummer 24; Ameraucana 18): 67 (@$0.33/egg=$22.11)
  • Kale ‘Wild Kale Blend’: 0.45 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$2.24)
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’: 0.75 lbs. (@$4.98/lb=$3.74)
  • Kohlrabi ‘Delicacy White’: 2.25 lbs. (@$2.99/lb.?=$6.73)
  • Lettuce ‘All-Season Romaine’: 4.19 lbs. (@$2.49/lb.=$10.43)
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: 1.7 lbs. (@$0.60/lb.=$1.02)
  • Miner’s Lettuce: 0.01 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.?=$0.06)
  • Mint ‘?’: 0.002 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.?=$0.01)
  • Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’: 0.60 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$3.59)
  • Navel orange: 70.58 lbs. (@$2.49/lb.=$175.74)
  • Onion ‘Red Amposta’: 0.25 lbs. (@$2.99/lb.=$0.74)
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: 0.06 lbs. (@$3.58/lb.=$0.21)
  • Snow Pea ‘?’: 0.1 lbs. (?)
  • Spinach ‘?’: 0.15 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$0.90)
  • Spring onion ‘Purplette’: 0.41 lbs. (@$5.98/lb.=$2.45)

Produce total: 91.14 lbs. ($232.45)

Egg count: 67 ($22.11)

2015 produce total: 369.87 lbs. ($565.86)

2015 egg count: 91 ($30.03)

Swarm catching on a roof!

Swarm catching on a roof!

Four new splits ready to move to mating grounds.

Four new splits ready to move to mating grounds.

Mustard, parsley, cilantro.

Mustard, parsley, cilantro.

February Harvest 2015

Here’s the belated tally for February’s harvest. Keep in mind, we aren’t actually selling all this produce–just calculating how much we would have had to spend if we had purchased it.

Some of it isn’t even available at the store. Kohlrabi, for example, is hard to come by if you don’t grow it yourself. Likewise, I wasn’t sure what price to put for some of the herbs.

Some harvests would have been bigger, were it not for vicious attacks by the local squirrel patrol. We lost three big, beautiful cabbages in one day to them.

On the upside, this is our best spring honey harvest to date. I think we have my early January hive inspections/extra-boxes-adding and unusually diligent follow-up February hive inspections to thank for this bounty. In beekeeping, timeliness can really pay off.

  • Asparagus ’Farmer’s Favorite’: 1.72 lbs. (@$3.99/lb=$6.86)
  • Broccoli ‘Fiesta’: 5.96 lbs. (@$2.49/lb.=$14.84)
  • Broccoli ‘Umpqua’: 1.25 lbs. (@2.49/lb.=$3.11)
  • Butter lettuce: 0.41 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$2.04)
  • Cabbage ‘Parel’: 6.56 lbs. (@$1.49/lb.=$9.77)
  • Carrot ‘Nantaise’: 1.09 lbs. (@$0.99/lb.=$1.08)
  • Cauliflower ‘Snow Crown’: 13.24 lbs. (@$2.49/lb.=$32.98)
  • Chard ‘Fordhook’: 0.28 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$1.39)
  • Cilantro: 0.08 lbs. (@$3.58/lb.=$0.29)
  • Dinosaur kale ‘Niro di Toscano’: 0.06 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$0.30)
  • Eggs (Barred Rock 16; Welsummer 1): 17 (@$0.33/egg=$5.61)
  • Honey: 130.75 lbs. (@$10/lb.=$1307.50)
  • Kale ‘Wild Kale Blend’: 0.09 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$0.45)
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’: 0.13 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$0.65)
  • Kohlrabi ‘Delicacy White’: 1.01 lbs. (@$2.49/lb.?=$2.51)
  • Lettuce ‘All-Season Romaine’: 4.41 lbs. (@$4.98/lb.=$21.96)
  • Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’: 0.55 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$3.29)
  • Mustard ‘Tah Tsoi’: 0.20 lbs. (@$5.99/lb.=$1.20)
  • Navel oranges: 49.62 lbs. (@$1.99/lb.=$98.74)
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: 0.50 lbs. (@$3.58/lb.=$1.79)
  • Snap pea ‘Sugar Snap’: 0.08 lbs.
  • Sage: 0.002 lbs.
  • Spring onion ‘Purplette’: 0.10 lbs. (@$5.98/lb.=$0.60)
  • Thyme: .13 lbs.

Total: 87.47 lbs. ($209.46)

Egg count: 17 ($5.61)

Honey: 130.75 lbs. ($1307.50)

2015 produce total: 137.42 ($333.41)

2015 egg count: 24 ($7.92)


January Harvest

For 2015 I’m adding approximate dollar value calculations to our monthly garden record keeping. I’m also using a new  digital scale to better capture weights of small harvests, like herbs.

The winter veggies have been slower to come on this year, but the oranges started early.

Here’s the list!

  • Basil ‘Aroma 1’: .01 lbs.
  • Broccoli ‘Fiesta’: .4 lbs.    (@$2.99/lb=$1.20)
  • Broccoli ‘Umpqua’: .82 lbs.    (@$2.99/lb=$2.45)
  • Butter lettuce: .34 lbs    ($3.32/lb=$1.13)
  • Cabbage ‘Parel’: 4.9 lbs.    (@$1.49/lb=$7.30)
  • Carrot ‘Nantaise’: 1.43    (@$0.99/lb=$1.42)
  • Chard ‘Fordhook’: .14 lbs.    (@$5/lb=$0.70)
  • Cilantro: .12 lbs.    (@$7.16/lb=$0.86)
  • Eggs (Ameraucana 7): 7    (@$0.33/egg=$2.33)
  • Kale ‘Wild Kale Blend’: .1 lbs.    (@$5/lb=$0.50)
  • Kale ’Winterbor’: .13 lbs.    ($5/lb=$0.65)
  • Kohlrabi ‘Delicacy White’: 1.33 lbs.    (@$2.99/lb?=$3.98)
  • Lettuce ‘All-Season Romaine’: .76 lbs.    ($1.66/lb=$1.26)
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: .14 lbs.    (@$1.99/lb=$0.28)
  • Navel oranges: 38.61 lbs.    ($2.49/lb=$96.13)
  • Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’: .1 lbs.    (@$5/lb=$0.50)
  • Mustard ‘Tah Tsoi’: .06 lbs.    (@$5/lb=$0.30)
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: .31 lbs.    (@$7.16/lb=$2.22)
  • Spring onion ‘Purplette’: .25 lbs.    ($3/lb= $0.74)

Total: 49.95 lbs. ($123.95)

2015 egg count: 7


The Trouble with ‘Civilized’ Living

City living irritates me. There are so many rules, regulations, and restrictions in the name of ‘safety’ and ‘health’. I tend to think a lot of the limitations have much more to do with preserving some notion of civility and with a cultural effort to keep our lives distanced from what nourishes and sustains us.

Prickly pear cactus and corn fill a local city front yard on the 'poor' side of town.

Prickly pear cactus and corn fill a local city front yard on the ‘poor’ side of town.

Why can’t we have a rooster, for instance? Or goats? Why can’t we sell the food we grow at a little stand out by the road, or walk the ten minutes to the local farmers market (where you can buy produce grown several hundred miles away) and sell it there?

Sure, roosters are noisy—as we discovered when we accidentally raised two of them—but so is the neighbor’s incessantly barking dog, and so are the numerous celebrations at the rental party hall down the block (yes, really).

Maybe I should stop complaining and just be grateful there’s no HOA to report to in our neighborhood, no law against front yard food, and that we can indeed keep a few chickens legally. We can keep bees legally here too, in theory, and in practice no one has complained.

The reality is that city rules around food production and animal husbandry vary radically between communities. Several of the larger cities around us (San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley) do allow goats, as do multiple other cities around the US. San Francisco allows roosters, too, but they’re in the minority on that one. Seattle, WA allows urban farmers to sell their produce.

Other towns around us categorically prohibit bees or chickens, or create restrictions that make it logistically impossible for most residents. For example, in our town of mostly small suburban lots, one can keep two goats for every one-acre parcel of land. In other local towns, beehives must be kept a minimum of 200 yards from any dwelling, including that of the beekeeper.

Aside from serving a party-pooper capacity—Really? I can’t pursue every theoretically possible edible adventure in my backyard?!!!—limitations on urban gardeners and farmers restrict the degree to which we can create self-sufficient food systems in cities. If there’s no rooster, there aren’t going to be any chicks, and every new round of birds will require a trip to the feed store or an arrangement with more rural chicken-breeding friends. Likewise, I haven’t heard of any US cities that allow the keeping of unneutered male goats.

In cities where beekeeping is allowed, restricting apiaries to just one or two hives makes bee breeding and selection efforts more challenging. High rates of winter die-offs often result in small-scale backyard beekeepers losing all of their hives in a given season. When these beekeepers resort to purchasing spring bee packages from non-locally adapted and genetically homogenous sources, costs rise, sustainability plummets, and the quality of local bee stock is compromised for everyone—there’s no controlling which drones my queens mate with.

City swarming. Honey bee swarms make a dramatic sight, but the bees are actually quite docile while swarming. With bellies full of food, a queen to keep warm, and a new home to find and democratically agree upon, their focus is far from attacking humans. Urban beekeepers can also take steps to limit colony swarming.

City swarming. Honey bee swarms make a dramatic sight, but the bees are actually quite docile at this time. With bellies full of food, a queen to keep warm, and a new home to find and democratically agree upon, their focus is far from attacking humans. Urban beekeepers can also take steps to limit colony swarming.

Prohibitions on selling food produced in areas zoned residential (this is true almost across the board) restrict a community’s capacity to access truly locally grown food and put the kibosh on urban farmers’ entrepreneurial aspirations.

While many of us resentfully play by the rules, others go underground—keeping bees or poultry on the sly. Members of our beekeepers guild have had lengthy discussions about how best to camouflage beehives, and these same beekeepers fret every spring about the possibility that their colonies will swarm into neighbors’ yards.

If playing by the rules or breaking them doesn’t appeal, there is always the (at least theoretical) option of moving to a more rural clime. But that, too, has its barriers and its insult. First there is the financial cost of relocating, and then the reality that work is often harder to come by and pays less the further one goes from metropolitan areas. And, finally, there’s the fact that we shouldn’t have to give up the place we call home just to be able to grow food and raise animals.

Kelly and I go back and forth about our ideal location. Even as we dream of greener and more wide-open pastures elsewhere, we continue to invest time and heart in this rented city lot. There is something to be said for the diversity of urban communities, as well as for conspicuously growing food in places where lawns and tidy flowerbeds are the standard.

There’s also something to be said for taking an active role in changing city ordinances that impinge on food production and agroecosystem sustainability. A group of our beekeeping friends are working with local city governments to create more informed and bee-friendly ordinances. Maybe one of these days we’ll find the time and internal reserves to go lobby for goats and roosters.

Who’s On Top: The Perplexing Social Dynamics of Chickens

Chickens are charming. They’re also opinionated, tend toward melodrama, and are famous for not getting along. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of one bird in a flock being literally pecked to death by the other hens.

Fortunately, we haven’t experienced anything near that extreme. In fact, our first two hens got along perfectly well before the introduction of a new Ameraucana and Welsummer last summer.

Luma, in molt, and Petunia are best friends these days, but Petunia maintains her dominance.

Luma, in molt, and Petunia are best friends these days, but Petunia maintains her dominance.

Petunia and Luma had been making do on their own for over two years, and though they didn’t seem particularly emotionally bonded, scuffles were rare. Petunia, a slight, intelligent Barred Leghorn with a penchant for human piggyback rides, was decidedly in charge of the larger, food-obsessed Luma—a Barred Rock.

Needless to say, introducing new birds sent all social dynamics to hell. Immediately. (And this was with a cautious, well-planned get-to-know-you period and introduction). Petunia and Luma suddenly had something to bond over and became best friends. Petunia put the young birds in their place and then treated them well enough, though she remained extra vigilant for any sign of revolt.

Luma got ferociously mean, especially toward Fifi, the nervous Ameraucana. While Fifi ran for cover as soon as anyone noticed her, the Welsummer, Bell, was more persistent in humbly asserting herself and running into the fray for as many gulps of food as she could get away with.

But now, six months in, the pecking order is more convoluted.

Sometime in early fall when the older girls were preparing to molt, Bell made her move and came out on top. Petunia and Luma run away when she approaches and defer to her in matters of food. Petunia, especially, is afraid of Bell.

Bell, flaming and regal.

Bell, flaming and regal.

With the shift in dynamics, Bell continued being nice to Fifi, as she always has been. By mid-fall, Fifi must have realized that Bell was the safest bird to challenge. She remains terrified of Petunia and Luma (who continue to chase her away from treats), but she is downright brutal to Bell. For instance, Fifi will now bite down hard on Bell’s wattles, hanging on until Bell gives a shrill, desperate scream.

So who’s on top?

Petunia gets to boss around Luma and Fifi, Bell scares Petunia and Luma, Luma terrifies Fifi, and Fifi tortures Bell.

The infinite wheel of chicken hierarchy.

The infinite wheel of chicken hierarchy.

You’d think they would realize how ridiculous it all is. But they’re chickens.

This convoluted hierarchy leads to some humorous scenes. The other day I watched as Luma chased Fifi away from a pile of greens she was eating. Moments later, Bell moved in to claim the pile, and Luma ran off to avoid being pecked. No sooner was Luma gone, then Fifi returned and chomped down on Bell’s wattle.


Petunia in the foreground, with Luma, Bell, and Fifi from left.

Petunia in the foreground, with Luma, Bell, and Fifi from left.


It’s tempting to assume all this confusion is due to molting, and that’s certainly possible. But it’s been like this now for months. Petunia began an energy sapping, appetite suppressing mini-molt in October, Luma molted in December, and Bell in January. Fifi’s the only bird laying and the only one yet to molt, but she’s certainly not on top of the flock.

While it may be a confusing social situation for the birds (and it certainly is for us on the outside!), fortunately no one is getting seriously hurt.

But I have to wonder: is this type of pecking order mayhem common?

December Harvest and 2014 Farm Stats

Happy New Year to you and your garden/farm/homestead/piece of earth!

It was a wonderful year for us in many ways, and we continue to believe that growing food really matters. We are grateful and feel energized to begin a productive new year and to continue learning and growing.

Here’s the December harvest scoop:

  • Asparagus ‘Farmer’s Favorite’: .13 lbs.
  • Basil ‘Aroma 1’: .06 lbs.
  • Butter lettuce: .75 lbs.
  • Cabbage ‘Parel’: 11.25 lbs.
  • Carrot ‘Nantaise’ (with tops): 1.5 lbs.
  • Eggs (Ameraucana 13; Welsummer 6): 20
  • Green onion ‘Purplette’: .86 lbs.
  • Kale ‘Wild Kale’: 1.6 lbs.
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’: 1.34 lbs.
  • Lemon ‘Meyer’: 3.25 lbs.
  • Lettuce ‘All-Season Romaine’: .06 lbs.
  • Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’: .06 lbs.
  • Mustard ‘Tah Tsoi’: 1.31 lbs.
  • Navel orange: 23 lbs.
  • Parsley ‘Dark Green Italian Plain’: .25 lbs.
  • Persimmon ‘Fuyu’: 76.5 lbs.
  • Rosemary: .03 lbs.
  • Sage: .03 lbs.
  • Thyme: .03 lbs.

Total: 122.01 lbs.

2014 harvest total: 1073.13 lbs.

2014 egg count: 447 eggs

2014 growing stats and notes


In 2014, we doubled our small flock of chickens, welcoming a Welsummer and an Ameraucana chick in February.

Many thanks to Petunia, Luma, Bell, and Fifi for last year’s 447 colorful eggs!




In 2014, I resolved to ‘master’ honey bee hive division. A lofty goal that I can’t claim to have achieved. I did, however, perform a four-way walk away split on one of our best producing  hives, and all four successfully raised laying queens!

Although we lost our longest-lived colony in 2014, between my 100% success rate on hive divisions and collecting a local swarm from just a few blocks away, we maintained a seven colony apiary through the summer. So far (knocking on a hundred pieces of wood!), we haven’t had any hive losses this fall/winter. This is a record for us! We would be thrilled to make it through the winter with zero losses.

In 2014, we harvested 156.5 lbs. of extracted and comb honey–not a particularly impressive figure for seven colonies and due in large part to drought and to our conservative bee-robbing approach. Still, it was more than enough to give to friends and sell (for the first time!) at the county fair.

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.

loquat and bee

Bee butt in the loquat blossoms.

Harvest stats:

In 2014, our average monthly harvest was 89.4 lbs. Perennial crops made up 62% of the year’s harvest, while annual crops made up 38%. ‘Fuyu’ persimmons squeaked in a few pounds above ‘Hachiya’ persimmons to claim the title for largest harvest (151.75 lbs. to 147.2 lbs., respectively). The apple harvest was utterly abysmal, as were the asparagus, fig, zucchini (who ever heard of such a thing?!), and loquat harvests. The okra was a summer superstar, as were the eggplants, melons, and beans.

2014 projects:

In 2014, Kelly expanded her quest to install drip irrigation in all major beds. She also continued experimenting with olive curing, and with making liqueurs and fruit wines and melomels. Together, we dutifully weighed and recorded (most of) the harvest, vastly improving our garden record keeping. I grew my first vinegar mothers, and tried my hand at lacto-fermented vegetable pickles. We also opened a Little Free Library and seed exchange on the curb out front. I’ve stopped trying to count the books going in and out every day–there are just too many!

Many of our adventures last year didn’t make it onto the blog; unfortunately (or fortunately?), not every task involves pulling weeds and putting up produce, and often we run short on time when it comes to writing about our farm exploits.

Onward to 2015:

This year, we’ll grow more food.

Can we double our yield? Or triple it? I think so. I also know we will gripe and procrastinate. We’ll start seeds later than we intended, and then we’ll get starts into the ground even later. I will threaten no jam this year, and no pickles either. Kelly will say we have enough plum wine stored away to last a lifetime, and she’ll decide curing olives is too much work. She’ll decide to retire from beekeeping for the third year in a row.

Then the seasons will call to us. The plums will ripen and the bees will swarm, cucumbers the size of sour dough loaves will peer out at us from under wilted leaves. I’ll fire up the water bath canner and crank up the bluegrass music. Kelly will pound out more bee frames and set her olives to soak. We’ll get to work.

Light in the Darkest Day

Happy Solstice to gardeners everywhere!

The little sunflower that could (all the way through December!).

The little sunflower that could (all the way through December!).


Future sauerkraut!

…And the basil that just won't quit.

…And the basil that just won’t quit.

Pudy: feline ballerina in the grandmother fig.

Pudy: feline ballerina in the grandmother fig.

Cabbage for the masses.

Cabbage for the masses.


Anybody want to help us weed?

Knock on wood, all of our hives look good this winter.

Knock on wood, all of our home hives look good this winter.


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.