Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gardeners' Porn

If you thought I was talking about something other than seed catalogs, you probably wouldn't know a tomato plant from a turnip. While very little may be happening in the garden during the month of January, you can bet most gardeners are checking their mail with a religious piousness trumped only by a devout nun's recitation of Hail Marys, awaiting the much anticipated catalogs to start flowing in. This is the time of year that I will spend a ridiculous number of hours pouring over lists of seeds like an entomologist fingering his collection of specimens. My eyes are always bigger than my growing space, but that never deters me from over-indulging year after year. I don't care. I like to dream big, even if my backyard can't quite contain my tendency to gorge myself silly.

Does the fact that Monsanto controls as much or more than 90 percent of seed genetics strike the fear of god in you? How about the latest news from the research world that GMO corn may be linked to organ failure? If you are like me, shaking in your boots at the thought of what our food supply future looks like, you are probably always on the prowl for a good seed source of open-pollinated, non-hybrid, organic seed. I've got a few places I haunt for a little peace of mind:

  1. J.L. Hudson, Seedsman - This is a public access seed bank in La Honda, California. They've been around for 100 years, operating under the belief that the "unrestricted exchange of seeds and knowledge are essential to a free society." Amen! They sell a few organic seeds, but definitely no genetically-engineered ones. However, J.L. Hudson lets us know that over time, traits from GE plants may end up being transmitted to heirloom varieties due to cross-pollination and our entire food system will have the potential of becoming modified. Scary stuff.
  2. Bountiful Gardens - These guys are a non-profit organization connected to Ecology Action, developers of sustainable mini-farming coined GROW BIOINTENSIVE (TM). They offer a load of open-pollinated, organic veggies, compost crops, medicinal herbs, and rare or odd varieties, like Beetberry, a recently rediscovered 400 year old plant that produces tender greens used in salads along with little sweet berries. I can't wait to try this one.
  3. TomatoFest - This is the place to go for a gargantuan selection of organic, heirloom tomato seed. I purchased several cool summer varieties from them last year and had beau coup success with my maters. What I like most about them is that they give a good description of the tomato so you can decide if it will work well in your area.
  4. Path to Freedom / Little Homestead in the City - I adore these folks with all of my heart. Concerned with GMO corn and soybeans entering our mainstream food supply, Jules Dervaes decided that he needed to do something drastic: unplug from the system and grow his own food. He and three of his grown children live on a tenth of an acre plot in Pasadena where they grow the majority of their food. These guys are really living their ideology. I read their blog daily for inspiration and think of them first when I need something around the homestead. They have an online store that sells all kinds of groovy urban farmer gadgets and a collection of seeds, of course non-hybrid, GMO-free, and grown using organic principles, saved from their crops. Please support these folks and all of the amazing work that they do to educate and enlighten the general public as to what one can actually do with small urban spaces. And check out their film short, Homegrown Revolution, and the documentary Homegrown by Robert McFalls, which details the lives of their family.
Happy planning to all of you gardeners out there. And for all of you brown thumb folks, scared that you couldn't even grow a weed, I just want you to know that I've killed more plants than a fox has gophers. But I get back up on my horse, dust myself off, and try again. I hope these resources inspire you to keep trying too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Making Repairs and Making Friends

The wire floor of the chicken coop finally imploded this past week, due to Ethel's species confusion - she has a tendency to eat chicken food and perch herself in the hen house. It's incredibly annoying, but goats will be goats... or chickens, as is the case with Ethel. I replaced the old floor made of .5" x .5" wire mesh with a .5" x 1" thicker gauge mesh, hoping that this will make a sturdier landing for the pain-in-the-butt goats and provide a larger opening for the droppings to fall through. Fruit Loop, my Welsummer, was all in a flap about the construction, squawking up a storm and hopping all over the mesh as I tried to pull it out. Apparently, she doesn't like her house being messed with. A few of the other birds also stood in the way of building, curious to see what was going on. All calmed down when they saw that I wasn't going to destroy their home, just fix it up a bit.

The laying boxes were also in sad shape as they were actually cardboard boxes beginning to decompose. Rather than continuing to replace the cardboard boxes with new ones, a perfectly acceptable option, I chose to build proper laying hutches. I soon discovered that my carpentry skills still leave much to be desired. My cuts were all slightly askew, screws poked through creating hazardous conditions, and since I used all scrap materials, refusing to purchase anything new, I sometimes had to use two boards where I really should have only used one. Well, whatever! They're chickens, right? I'm sure they don't care. Here you can see Sweet Pea checking out the new ghetto fabulous digs:

Speaking of chickens, this weekend I went to a get together for chicken owners in the San Francisco area. I found it through Meetup.com. It was great to share information with locals and meet fellow chicken lovers. If you are in the area and are interested in chickens, join the SF Pet Chicken Meetup Group.

By the way, you can now become a fan of Itty Bitty on Facebook.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Itty Bitty at Kitchen Table Talks

Hey kids, if you're looking for something interesting to do Tuesday, January 19th, come see yours truly in a panel discussion on urban homesteading. The event is part of of CivilEats and 18 Reasons' monthly conversation series on the American food system called Kitchen Table Talks. The event will be held at Viracocha, 998 Valencia St. at 21st St from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Other panel guests include Kevin Bayuk, who serves on the Board of Directors for the Urban Alliance for Sustainability, and teaches with the Urban Permaculture Institute, Urban Permaculture Guild, and UC Berkeley Extension and Earth Activist Training, and Davin Wentworth-Thrasher, co-founder of the Ecology Center of San Francisco. Tickets are available by emailing ktt@civileats.com . But don't wait, space is limited and word on the streets is that the event is close to selling out.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy New Year!

I despise New Year's resolutions, though I have of course made a few in my past. For me, they invoke the overly puritanical roots of American society, an all or nothing mentality that my Brazilian friend, Juan, adores to mock. If you think about it, they are rather silly. How many times have we witnessed or participated in making the annual New Year's dietary resolutions, giving up the irresistible scrumptious treat that we know isn't great for us but we can't help indulging, only to fall off the wagon within days of the year's turn? I say why bother. This year, I am setting goals rather than making resolutions. Goals have more of a fluid, mutable feeling to them; they are shaped, swayed, changed by life's vicissitudes. Resolutions are so... so... resolute.

2010 is already shaping up to be an exciting year on the urban farm. So much is happening: the back 1000 is starting to take shape, the chickens are all laying, there are public speaking engagements on the horizon. I've been meaning to tell you all about them sooner, but time has gotten the better of me with all the holiday hustle and bustle that I haven't even had the space to sit down and plot out my annual plans. I promise to update everyone on the haps around the homestead, but first I want to take a moment to jot down what I would like to accomplish on Itty Bitty in the upcoming year.

  1. Finish Landscaping - The poor animals have been scampering around our obstacle course of a backyard, dodging leg breaking and gut impaling dangers with the mounds of dirt and rubble littering the lot. Furthermore, feeding time is always a treacherous task with the mud sliding slopes leading into the animal area. At the beginning of this week, we hired a friend to come help us out with building the last retaining wall and getting things set up for the fence to be put in. I'm in the back with him, humping bricks and moving dirt. Just when I think that it's "almost done", I realize how much work is still left to do. But I've got six fruit trees and six berry and grape vines coming in two weeks, so come hell or high water, it MUST get done.
  2. Use Less Gas and Electricity - I must admit that we aren't always angels when it it comes to our energy consumption. Lights get left on. I have been known to leave the oven on for half a day before realizing that I didn't turn it off. We have most electric items hooked up to power switches to prevent phantom power suckage, but are inconsistent with turning the strips off. The behemoth gravity heater that takes up a large section of our basement is a giant gas guzzler we can't quite part with - our attempts at going heater free were met with high levels of dissatisfaction, especially during that big cold snap. To remedy the situation, we are trying to develop some routines that would help us be more disciplined about turning things off when they are not in use. We are also saving up to replace our ginormous heater and are hopeful that by next winter we will be able to have it installed. Fortunately, PG&E gives us a report of last year's usage for the same time period so we will be able to check our progress.
  3. Install Gray Water System - We've got our barrel and now we need to use it. We've vowed that the next time we need our plumber friend to come out and fix something, we'll have him install a drain diverter for bath and sink water. The garden will need a lot of water this summer with all the fruit trees going in.
  4. Four Seasons of Plantings - Due to the sad state of the backyard and the chicken ordeal, I was only able to get in two seasons of plantings last year. This year, my goal is to get a planting in with every season and attempt to determine how much production is feasible on our small spot of earth. Trellising will be big. Vegetables will hang from the sky with the use of Shepard's crooks. Vines will be grown against retaining walls. Fences will support trees. I'll keep you posted throughout the year with pictures to document our future creative uses of space.
Happy New Year to everyone and good luck with your own goals in the upcoming year!