Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The New York Freakin' Times, Baby!

I swear I will not turn this blog into shameless self-promotion, but I just had to share this with you all.

Lucy made it to the big time. Ute (our daughter) is very jealous.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On French Drains and Farming Friends

The French drain is finally done. I procrastinated on finishing that project for a good three weeks. I wasn't REALLY procrastinating, I was busy with other things  - I know, likely story, but I swear it's true.

I was so fortunate to have my friend Esperanza of Pluck and Feather volunteer to help me with the digging. Yes, you heard me right, she OFFERED to dig a hole in my backyard for free, which, in my book, makes her one of the most awesomest people in my world. When I questioned her motives, she said "How is this any different than if we were friends that liked to run together or play sports? This is the stuff we like to do so why wouldn't we do it while hanging out." God, I'm so glad we're farming buddies and not running buddies. I HATE running.

Here I am looking a little spent.

I assure you it's all for show. While I was out at the store picking up some more filter fabric, Esperanza had moved all 900 pounds of drain rock from my truck to the backyard. Damn, that girl can hustle. I told my husband that he should hire her for construction jobs. Most of the guys I've worked with in our construction business couldn't hold a candle to her. Her breakneck productivity left me in the dust feeling more than a little guilty for not being as industrious - you know, like when a guest comes over and does the dishes that you've been meaning to get to all day. What? That's never happened to you? Looks like I could use some more urban farm workouts.

After we dug the trench, we laid filter fabric (landscaping fabric) and then a 20 foot length of 4" perforated pipe in the hole.

We then covered the pipe with drain rock.

After the drain rock, we wrapped the filter fabric around the whole thing as if we were putting a baby to bed or wrapping a burrito. Rocks were placed on top to hold the fabric in place.

At one end of the pipe, I installed a small sump pump, which I placed in a five gallon bucket. I don't think we'll need it, but the husband wants to make sure we don't flood in the animal pen again.

The bucket was attached to the perf pipe and then buried only to the lid so that we can still access it in case of mechanical problems.

I put a small square of ply over it, keeping it from being crushed by curious animals.


I suppose the pump is in no danger of damage by Fruit Loop.

And here's the finished product! We're going with bark mulch for bedding, since the hay seemed to prevent water from draining into the soil. I'll keep you posted as to how that ends up working out.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Am an Urban Homesteader


ur·ban  (ûrbn) adj.
     1. Of, relating to, or located in a city.
I've got that covered.
home·stead  (hmstd) v.intr.
     To settle and farm land, especially under the Homestead Act. 
Hmmm. Maybe we should look up what exactly "farm" means.
farm  (färm) n.
     1. A tract of land cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production.
     2. a. A tract of land devoted to the raising and breeding of domestic animals. 
Well I engage in one of those definitions, but do I practice agriculture?
ag·ri·cul·ture  (gr-klchr) n.
      The science, art, and business of cultivating soil, producing crops, and raising livestock; farming.
Yup. Since there is no size requirement, I'm an urban homesteader according to The Free Dictionary.  Let's see what Wikipedia has to say.
"Broadly defined, homesteading is a lifestyle of simple self-sufficiency." (Note that this definition was last modified on January 22nd, 2011, almost one month prior to the debacle.)

Let's see; In the city of San Francisco, I raise goats for all things dairy, chickens for eggs, grow as much of our produce as I can, knit, sew, preserve, build (love my drill gun), cook most things from scratch, re-use, re-purpose, recycle, act as my own accountant, make my own toiletries (soap, deodorant, hand creams), produce energy (with solar panels), make my own music, and a whole bunch of other things that I'm sure I'm forgetting. I learned the majority of these skills from my super crafty, homesteady (and they didn't even know it) parents. They learned to knit, sew, preserve, bake, build, and raise livestock from their parents. Life used to work that way and I am extremely fortunate that my parents felt these skills were important enough to pass on. Most people my age weren't as lucky in that regard.

I am proud to be a jack of all trades, master of none. It's a great life. It's MY simple life on MY URBAN HOMESTEAD where I am URBAN HOMESTEADING. Without trademarks.

(If you are confused, see this post from a couple days ago.)

Friday, February 18, 2011


The San Francisco Planning Commission has passed the Urban Agriculture proposal! Now it is on to the Board of Supervisors. This is really exciting stuff. You can find out more information on the proposal at the SFUAA website or on the outcome of the Planning Commission meeting at Little City Gardens. Let's grow it San Francisco!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Holy Urban Homesteading Hurricane

If you've been asleep or off the computer for the last 24 hours, you've been missing one hell of a soap opera in our little urban homesteading community. A real firestorm of outrage has ignited amongst our ilk due to a well known family in Pasadena having trademarked the terms "URBAN HOMESTEAD" and "URBAN HOMESTEADING". Recently, the Dervaes family sent out "friendly" letters to businesses, bloggers, libraries, and non-profits, requesting that “If your use of one of these phrases is not to specifically identify products or services from the Dervaes Institute, then it would be proper to use generic terms to replace the registered trademark you are using. For example, when discussing general homesteading or other people’s projects, they should be referred to using terms such as ‘modern homesteading,’ ‘urban sustainability projects,’ or similar descriptions.”. But what really threw the community into fits of high passion was when yesterday, folks like K. Ruby Blume of Oakland's Institute of Urban Homesteading found their Facebook pages blocked.

Oh lordy, were people pissed! And justifiably so. Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) cropped up almost immediately on Facebook after the news broke and in less than 24 hours, 2,124 people have "liked" the page. Incredible!Well what did the Dervaes family expect? The "friendly" letter informs all of us out here in blogland that we need to cite the Dervaes Institute whenever we use the terms "urban homestead" or "urban homesteading" as these words are now their "intellectual property". For reals?

Since I started my urban homesteading (I refuse to trademark this term on principal and in solidarity with my fellow urban homesteaders) project, I have looked up to and greatly admired the Dervaes family for their accomplishments. What they have done on their little lot is truly amazing. I've gone out of my way to purchase seeds and other products from them and to promote their endeavors on my blog. I've even felt protective when folks gave them crap for writing about their religious practice of keeping the Sabbath. And I'm an atheist! I believe they have the right to claim ownership over their work, but this over the top power play for dominion over common use words that are most often utilized in a descriptive manner was just too much. It felt like a good, hard slap in the face from a beloved friend that turned out not to be a friend at all. I was hurt.

And then I was angry. Which is what happens when you feel hurt. I know this. I've spent years in therapy.

So I moved past the anger and once I did, I felt really sorry for this family that is now being bombarded with all kinds of vitriol from an intensely passionate community who feels betrayed. I couldn't withstand that kind outrage from a well-spoken, articulate mob. Yet the back-peddling on their blog, posted multiple times a day without addressing the valid concerns and questions the community has raised, only justifying and reinforcing their stance is... goodness, I'm embarrassed for them.

If they could only bury the self-aggrandizing flag and realize that all of us urban homesteaders have something of real value to contribute to the conversation. Each urban homestead is different - different projects, different configurations.. Each person or family faces their own challenges. Most of my urban farmy friends read loads of  blogs from all kinds of folks in all kinds of situations. We learn from each other.  I'm certain there is room for all of us at the urban homesteading table.

And to anyone else out there who thinks they are singular in their self-sufficiency ideas (don't even get me started on whether or not any idea is truly our own - we borrow from everyone else and we all know it), I say phooey to you. Tell that to my friend Martin, who grew up with Chinese immigrant parents. They always kept a chicken in a shopping cart out in their Richmond district neighborhood of San Francisco. Or to my neighbor who told me one day while I was out walking my goats that his Mexican immigrant father who lived only a couple blocks away kept rabbits and chickens for food over 20 years ago. And what about the Asian families in my neighborhood who use every inch of ground to grow something edible? I snapped these photos during the summer of 1993 in an urban neighborhood just north of the Boston University campus.

At the time, I called this permaculture as I had recently finished my design certificate course. My sister told me that there was a large Asian community in this neighborhood and that they always had food growing in their front lawns. I was flabbergasted by the efficient use of space. I'm sure they didn't slap any fancy labels onto what they were doing. They, like most immigrants, probably called it "surviving".

If you want to read more about the drama, you can see the Dervaes' posts on their website and find most of the blogospheres reactions at the Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) page. Who knew that age old traditions of gardening, preserving, and raising chickens could find themselves in the midst of a patent war. And why does this whole thing smack of the second grade drama my child whines to me about, "Mom, Dolores was copying me today and I didn't like it." Honey, copying is merely a form of flattery.

Friday, February 11, 2011

It's Here

Hey Bay Area folks, did you feel it? That blustery northwest wind gusting through our parts earlier this week? Baton down the hatches kids, spring in San Francisco is here! Aside from the annual zephyrs,our city's de rigueur Purple Leaf Plum trees are bathing us in their sea of pink, sweetly perfumed blossoms for the next week or so. Blink and you could miss this classic indicator of the season.

So have you ordered your seeds yet? Better get a move on. There's not much time! In fact, you should have been planting yesterday according to lunar cycles. We've been planting by the moon for the last year, not so much in that woo woo astrology kind of way, but more as a means of staying organized and on track to ensure continuous yields. We also figure that it's probably been the way humans have been planting since the dawn of agriculture and that there might be something to be said for a tradition that has withstood the ages.

What is planting by the moon? Here is a good explanation of the basics. I also find this site really useful.But once you have a general understanding of the way it works, you can just check in with the moon phases and you'll know what to do. The Farmer's Almanac always has a lunar calendar and a list of ideal dates for specific gardening chores, a great choice for the lazy gardener.

With so much back stock of seeds and such limited growing space, I decided to order from only one seed company this year, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I've had great luck with their products and the selection of rare varieties is mind boggling. It literally takes me 12 hours, minimum, to go through their glossy, over-sized mag in order to pick out what I want to grow. I love every second of it. Since we have a super long growing season, but very little summer heat, we have to choose our seeds with great care. For traditional summer crops with heat requirements, we go with short season varieties. I've found that Russian heirlooms do exceptionally well around these parts. Here's the list of what we will be taking a stab at this year:

Beets - Golden
Broccoli - Romanesco Italia
Cauliflower - Purple of Sicily
Carrots - Jaune Obtuse de Doub, St. Valery, Parisienne
Cabbage - Early Jersey Wakefield, Bacalan de Rennes
Pak Choy - Extra Dwarf, Shanghai Green
Spinach - Merlo Nero
Onion - Yellow Flat Dutch, Noordhollandse Bloedrode
Fava Bean - Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto
Bush Bean - Hutterite Soup, Dragon Tongue
Cucumber - De Bourbonne, Early Russian
Eggplant - Diamond
Giant Cape Gooseberry
Melon - Minnesota Midget
Pepper - Lipstick
Pumpkin - Jack Be Little
Winter Squash - Table Queen
Tomato - Orange Icicle, Caspian Pink, Rose de Berne, Black from Tula, San Marzano Lungo No. 2, Isis Candy Cherry
Watermelon - Blacktail Mountain

Hmmm, I think I went overboard again with the seeds. Maybe I'll have to borrow the neighbor's yard for the melons and squash. They get more sun anyway.

What kinds of interesting things are you growing this year? I have to settle for living vicariously through folks who have hot summers.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Come One, Come All

Please support urban agriculture in San Francisco by joining us at City Hall next Thursday. Pimp some green colored clothing to show you're down for the cause. We hope to see you there.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


The Killing Never Ends

Romper, bomper, stomper, boo. Tell me, tell me, tell me do. Magic mirror, tell me today, have all my friends had fun at play? Any Romper Room fans out there?

I can see my friend
Novella, whom I'd like to thank for her posting about these bug zappers. The kiddo and I spent the better part of an hour fighting over who would get to fry the flies.

"Can I try?"

"Wait, wait. Just let me get this one."

"Please, can I try it?"

"Wait till I get that one flying really high."

"Just one time? Pleeeeeeease!"

It's obvious that I was totally bogarting that electric swatter, but before you feel too bad for the child I did let her get her fair share of zaps in. We had a blast with our new toy, high five-ing each other after every good zzzzzt. There's nothing better than the sound of sizzling bugs. I think I've found a replacement for my flea picking compulsion. The dog and cat will be so relieved.

Goodbye stinky, gross fly traps. You've been replaced.

Farm Tours

I know I've tried this before, but I really mean it this time. For reals. Starting next week, the farm will be open on Fridays from 10-11 a.m. for visitors and anyone looking to pick up some farm goodies (email me for address). Please show up within this time slot if you want a good look around and a bit of chat. If you show up at 10:55, you will get a whirlwind five minute tour and if you show up after 11 you will be "shit out of luck", as my mom likes to say. I hate to sound like such a biznatch because we really do love showing folks around and sharing our space with the urban farm curious, but the amount of work that needs to get done around here combined with two (work at home) jobs precludes us from being available all the time. I realize this is an impossible time slot for those of you with regular jobs so if you really, really can't make that time, email me and we'll work something out.

Here's a list of current farm treaties available:

Spicy Salsa
California Chile Salsa
Strawberry Syrup
Ollalieberry Jam
Lemon Apple Butter
Blueberry Jam
Goat Milk Soap
"Cluckin' Good Eggs" T-shirts

Internships and Apprenticeships

Did you know there's a difference? I'd been using the words interchangeably until I read this article and realized I shouldn't be playing fast and loose with semantics. "Say what you mean, and mean what you say." That's what my dad always told me to do.

Anywho, I had a couple of folks who were supposed to start interning at the beginning of the year, but that fell through. I've now got a couple slots open for any interested parties. Folks should have an interest in the following:

1. Gaining firsthand experience with various aspects of the urban farm: food production and preservation, animal care, and maintenance/use of space/beautification. The internship can focus on any or all of the three categories, depending on interests.

2. Committing to working 6-8 hours a week for a minimum of 12 weeks.

3. Having a real desire to learn about urban farming practices and a willingness to work hard at a variety of tasks including light construction, mucking manure, digging, and handling stubborn, willful goats.

Itty Bitty is an experiment in self-sufficiency (like we don't make any bread for making our own bread, man) so we can't pay interns money. However, we do shell out in eggs, milk, and produce for a hard day's work. Email me if you are interested.

Spring Chicken Class

A good number of people had said that they would be interested in taking a chicken class at Itty Bitty if it was offered. Hmm... so what happened to everyone? Do you all have plans that weekend? Is it the time? Are you afraid that I'm going to be really mean and have you stick your fingers up the backside of a chicken to prove your readiness for hen ownership (I swear I won't do that)? Talk to me, people. I was expecting a larger number of folks to sign up and I would hate to have to cancel on the couple that have already committed.

The class will be on February 26th from 1-4 p.m. I promise it will be super fun. There will be loads of good info, you'll get to try your hand at wrangling chickens, I'll give a wing clipping demonstration, AND there will be farm snacks.

(Wow, I didn't mean for this post to be so long... and bitchy... and whiny. Sorry. I'll go ahead and blame it on "that time of the month".)