Category Archives: In the Garden

Late July/Early August, 2016: A long overdue report

While Sarah has her hands full in her new social work position, I’ve settled into a nice little groove here at home. Here’s a short – and very long overdue – report.


We’re having a cool summer, with temps mostly in the high 70s/low 80s, peppered by a few heat waves. Tomatoes planted in April are just now ripening, namely ‘Flamme,’ a French heirloom. Fruits are small to medium in size, about 3″, with orange skin and flesh, and are mild, but rich in flavor.

'Flamme' tomatoes.

‘Flamme’ tomatoes.

This is our second year growing ‘Black Beauty’ zucchini, another heirloom variety, and while it may not impress any summer squash aficianados, I’m liking it for two reasons: 1) the fruits are pleasantly flavorful and tender, even when large (12″), and 2) our consumption rate seems to dovetail with the plant’s production rate. No begging friends, family, neighbors, and total strangers to take zucchini; we harvest 2-3 fruit about every 3-4 days.

'Black Beauty' zucchini.

‘Black Beauty’ zucchini.

Contraptions built of PVC pipe and deer net/fence to protect the grapes and Bartlett pears from rats, squirrels and raccoons are working so far.


We had one of our worst seasons of losses last fall and winter, coming into this spring with only two hives. Sarah did splits, and we acquired a new colony from a fellow beekeeper in order to diversify our genetics. We’re now up to five colonies. We harvested honey from dead-outs in the fall and spring, but haven’t harvested much since, and I imagine we won’t have much of a summer harvest either.

The 'newbees'.

The ‘newbees’.

Sadly, the specialty wine shop that carried our honey decided to close its doors after 130+ years of business. So, our relative slow pace of production hasn’t created any stressful consequences. In doing business with the wine shop, however, we entered the dark hole of business licensure and taxes. Unsurprisingly, we’re due to pay more in taxes than we will ever sell in honey or hive products. While we may have fantasized at one point about making a living keeping bees and selling hive products, we’ve long since realized that the scale of production necessary isn’t one we’re willing to pursue.

Simple bee-water system using wine corks pre-drilled and skewered.

Simple bee-water system using wine corks pre-drilled and skewered.

On the upside: five hives in two locations has made our beekeeping a little more manageable.


Our pantry dwindled while Sarah traveled and studied in Guatemala last summer, and gratefully, she’s been diligent in restocking it. She’s made apricot jam from farmer’s market fare, plum jam from our Santa Rosa tree, and pickles galore from our garden. We’re growing ‘Mini White’ and ‘County Fair’ pickling cukes, and have watered more frequently this summer to ward off bitterness. Both make a tasty pickle, with Mini White sweetening up a bit in either lacto-fermented or fresh-pack processes. We’ve decided we like the flavor of fresh-pack pickles better than lacto-fermented, but admittedly, we haven’t mastered the art of lacto-fermentation to a point of consistent results. Our lacto-fermented sauerkraut and cauliflower turned out well, but our pickles have been hit-or-miss.

Next up: white peach jam, courtesy of fruit from a client’s garden.


 Sarah’s travels extended to Cuba last year, where she picked up honey from a few different sources. Her host Yaritza gifted her with two big rum bottles bought on the street. We suspect it had been thinned with water, since it began to ferment soon after Sarah returned home. Tragically, Yaritza was diagnosed with a brain tumor a few months later, and passed away after a surgery to remove it. In her honor, I hope, I made an orange mead, using ale yeast (Safale 05) for the first time.

Lately, I’ve been avoiding Campden tablets so as not to introduce unnecessary sulfites: instead, I gently heated the honey in water, bringing it to a near-boil, then letting it cool. I juiced the rest of the oranges and five Bearrs limes from our trees, which yielded about a gallon of juice. Raisins (a more natural alternative to yeast nutrient) and high-quality jasmine tea (to provide some tannins) rounded out the recipe. Since so many of my meads and melomels have seemed to need years of maturing, the inspiration to use ale yeast was to create a ready-to-drink mead. I still need to either rack it again, or go ahead and bottle it, so how ready it is remains to be seen.

Yesterday, I started a plum wine. I’ve been trying to use fruit from the freezer, and had a few gallon ziplocks of whole Santa Rosa plums, along with two 1.25 liter bottles of plum juice. To that, I added a few pounds of cut-up Burbank plums, a sizeable sprig of tarragon and a 2″ length of cinnamon stick, along with about 4 lbs of white sugar and about 3 lbs of honey. I used a yeast I haven’t tried before: RP–15 Rockpile, a yeast isolated in Syrah-making described as emphasizing fruity flavors. It’s always fun to experiment, and I’ve been looking for a good yeast for my meads and melomels that isn’t a champagne yeast or derivative.

Stirring the plum wine mash.

Stirring the plum wine mash.

Sarah’s vinegar-making has filled our cupboard with red and white wine vinegars, so I also started making shrubs – another great way to use freezer fruit. The best to date were a blueberry shrub with red wine vinegar and a peach raspberry shrub with white wine vinegar.

From my internet perusing, the general rule of thumb for shrubs is 2 cups fruit: 1 cup sugar: 1 cup vinegar, but I have found I like a less sweet, more vinegary drink, so I add less sugar during the maceration period, then more vinegar to taste during the maturation or rest period. The process timeline varies according to different websites, for example, how long to macerate the fruit and sugar, as well as how long to steep the mixture in vinegar after maceration. Another variation includes whether to add vinegar to the sugar and fruit mixture or whether to add it to the strained syrup (from the fruit and sugar).

The ultimate difference might be in the health benefits rather than the flavor: no matter which process you use, the end result is a uniquely tasty, refreshing drink. If you’re using unpasteurized vinegar, like we do, I imagine the health benefits remain stable, but that’s just a guess. We didn’t intend to jump on the hipster shrub bandwagon here, we just had all the raw ingredients at hand, and plenty of them: fruit, sugar (honey) and vinegar.


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.

Homemade Sauerkraut Results

After almost four months of waiting, the New Year’s Eve half-gallon sauerkraut batch results are in. Drumroll, please….

Kelly proclaims the sauerkraut, ‘perfect,’ ‘fabulous,’ and ‘just the way sauerkraut should be.’ There is none of that is-it-my-imagination-or-is-this-slightly-rotten taste we experienced when we broke into the smaller spicy sauerkraut batch just a few weeks into January. I’ve picked up the same questionable flavor in most of the homemade krauts I’ve tasted that are less aged. Despite our trepidations, we ate the spicy kraut for a few weeks until Kelly decided it didn’t agree with her guts, and I began to feel queasy after indulging in my morning spoonfuls.

With this four-months-aged kraut, I do detect what might be described as a subtle fish tank flavor, but Kelly hasn’t picked up on it, and it’s really just aquatic tasting rather than fermented/rotten tasting.

Mostly, though, it’s satisfyingly sour, with a good crunch. The kraut toward the top of the jar is slightly discolored, but we can’t tell a taste difference between the top kraut and the stuff lower in the jar.

Secretly, I had all but given up on this batch of sauerkraut, eyeing its slightly browned contents with distrust. It had lived on the kitchen counter since New Year’s, in plain sight, but we had avoided actually opening it for a taste when the three-month mark recommended in the recipe came and went. Opening the air lock lid tonight, we were braced for disappointment.

Having finally tasted a mature sauerkraut, we’re now convinced we should be more patient with all of our lacto-fermented veggies.

With success still fresh, and being my annoyingly overenthusiastic self, I immediately suggested harvesting a few of the cabbages currently in residence outside and starting a new batch, but Kelly insists this half-gallon jar will last forever.


After taking out the little jar that had been weighing down the kraut...

After taking out the little jar that had been weighing down the kraut…

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


In the Shadow of the Boom

Over the past two days a crew of workers descended on the garden, bringing with them an enormous crane, a cherry picker, good old-fashioned shovels, and soil tamping equipment. Basically, our worst nightmare.


Nothing quite like having an enormous crane toting a 50 foot pole high above your home and garden to make you feel tiny…


All the commotion is due to the utility pole in the far corner—a decrepit rotting beacon, frequented by woodpeckers and boasting over 60 years on the job, according to its weathered metal tag.

We’ve worried it would someday fall, weighed down as it is by high voltage wires, and leaning at a precarious angle. We’ve also worried that replacing it would wreak havoc on our precious growing things. And we’ve been particularly concerned about the grandmother fig tree just a few feet away.

The tree is almost more dead than alive, but each year it produces some of the best green figs we’ve ever tasted. With the help of a magnifying glass, we counted over 120 rings on a branch cut off several years back, before the tiny lines blurred in the last half-inch from the edge.

Who planted this tree, long before any of the houses on our block were built? This question continues to fascinate me, and I feel an especially ferocious urge to protect the tree.

Months ago, when PG&E started making noises about replacing the pole, I expressed my concerns to everyone in uniform I caught in the backyard. Of course, they all assured me that the tree would be fine, and of course I didn’t believe them.

Some of them also alluded to the fact that there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop them from conducting whatever work they deem necessary in that corner of the lot. This is true, and it’s an unpleasant reminder of how powerless we are when it comes to power line easements.

But we are fretful controlling types and tend to take action even at the risk of looking ridiculous. Early yesterday morning, Kelly procured a roll of bright yellow caution tape and we set about cordoning off…just about everything.

The fig, all tied up.

The fig, all tied up.

We tied the fig’s drooping branches back and strung tape around the raised beds, the grapes, the asparagus. When the crew arrived, we affected friendliness and gave them one last talking to. The young guy who had just hung his key ring on a delicate fig twig, snatched it away and (to his credit) marveled openly at the tree’s age. (I rounded up for that uncountable last half-inch of tree rings—Believe it or not, this tree’s 140 years old. Please be really, really careful!)

This morning, with a larger crew on-site and a gargantuan crane leering over the side fence, I was back at it with the foreman—I don’t mean to be paranoid, but does the crane operator know about the fig tree?

And then, like magic, an hour later the job was done.

The crane picked the new pole up off the street like a Tinkertoy and lowered it down exactly into the new hole—no wild swinging to and fro, no smashing the greenhouse to smithereens. The only knocks the fig tree endured were from the workers brushing past, and even then most of them dutifully ducked out of the way.

Only once did one of the men stoop under the caution tape to take a detour down a path between two raised beds. My hackles rose. I wondered if he would step in the leeks or the purple cabbage, or the spring onions, or the mustard. Then he saw that the way ahead was blocked by yet more tape, and he gave an audible grunt of annoyance, turned on his heel, and took the high road around the veggies.

I’d say we all weathered the new pole amazingly well and that it’s time for me to update my notions of what big equipment can accomplish in small spaces. What did I really think, anyway—that we would have a 50-foot pole swinging like a pendulum across the whole backyard?

The bees hanging out with the crane on the other side of the fence. They were very well-behaved.

The bees, hanging out with the crane on the other side of the fence. They were very well-behaved.

Playing it safe with the veggies.

Playing it safe with the veggies.

And, lest there be any confusion about our wishes….

And, lest there be any confusion about our wishes….


Up, up, and away!

Up, up, and away!

As the new pole dropped lower, I feared the worst.

As the new pole dropped lower, I feared the worst.

…But then the workers threaded it through the whole mess of wires, and…

…But then the workers threaded it through the whole mess of wires, and…





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.

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.