September 23, 2009

(sub)urban chicken keeping. part II

(part I found here.)

modern chooks

So the chickens have been with us for over a year now. We love them. A friend recently compared them to having three poodles - and they weren't really far off. They follow me around the yard, stand by the backdoor begging for a treat, or to be let in, (they aren't - at least not often) and one of them in particular loves to be held. Our pullets have grown into hens, and two are currently experiencing their first molt. (Which involves the loss of feathers and decrease in egg production while all their energy goes into a glossy new coat.) It is wonderful!

So what do you need to know? This is by no means comprehensive, and I strongly encourage further reading of any / all of the resources listed at the end.

Is permission from your city required to have them?
More and more cities are allowing homeowners to keep backyard chickens. In Los Angeles, we are lucky to live in an area zoned for agriculture (not all neighborhoods are) and we are allowed to have a flock, with the only caveat being a "distance requirement". Hens are to live 20 feet from our residence and 35 feet from our neighbors residence (not the property line) and if we had a rooster, that would change to 100 feet from our closest neighbor. (To learn more about local codes, there is a good starting point over at The City Chicken - but do make sure to find out what your city, or neighbourhood, allows before buying your chicks.) **Yesterday Los Angeles passed a new law limiting the number of roosters kept in the City to one, without a permit.**

Don't you need a rooster to get eggs?
No! You only need a rooster if you want chicks.

How long do hens live? and how long do they lay?
My reading tells me that they can lay consistently for up to five years. They live (and will lay sporadically) for eight or more.

What are the costs?
Our chicks were under $3 each to purchase. The coop was more of an investment - but we are lucky that D is a carpenter and could build it in-house. Their feed is an on-going expense (and like everything, more expensive if you go organic). You should also consider veterinary pills, should a chickens become ill, or injured.


How much space do chickens need?
In my research, a rule of thumb seemed to be that each chicken should have at least 10 square feet of yard to run around in, and 4 square feet of hen house. They also need a nesting box (our three share a 4 ft sq box within the hen house), seem to like a place to perch (not too high, and wide enough to comfortably support their feet), and a spot for a dustbath. (I'll add that I don't think the nesting box is necessary - but makes it easy for us to know where to look for eggs. They like a private spot, and have also been known to lay in cardboard boxes left in the yard, as well as on one particularly hot and uncomfortable day, right at my feet.)

How do you keep them safe?
In designing and constructing our coop, raccoons and possums (to which we have lost all our koi) were forefront in our thoughts. D made sure that the run of the coop was made from heavy cage wire (not "chicken wire" which isn't very strong) and that the hen house had secure doors and window. Raccoons are very good with their hands, so we have locks (simple carabiners) on all entries that go on every night. We are fortunate that I work from home, so the hens are usually found wandering the backyard through the day. I am always listening, and they have alerted me to intruders such as neighbourhood cats and ducks (who like our pool)with lots of clucking and wing flapping.
It is also important to protect them from plants that may be poisonous to them, as they like to nibble on most things green. Oh, and chickens can't swim. So if you have a pool or pond, keep this in mind.

Will D share his coop plans?
I'll ask him... He developed his plan from a lot of research on-line, and in the books listed below.

How do you protect them from the heat?
We live in a very hot area of Los Angeles (high of 103 today!) so this has been a major concern. (We have a close friend who tragically lost a hen to heat stroke this summer.) We can easily see the girls discomfort as the temperature rises and they begin to lift their wings and pant to stay cool. We hose down their area (and the one of them that likes to be sprayed) regularly on hot days - as well as keeping a supply of ice packs at the ready to cool the nesting box and under some of our trees where they will lie, and get some relief. It is also very important to have cool water available for them to drink. I have found that while cute, our hens aren't the brightest bulbs in the box and will often not go to drink when they are thirsty, but when I bring them water they are quick to take a sip.

What do they eat?
Our girls eat "laying pellets". It is recommended that a fully grown, laying chicken needs 5 oz of food / day. They forage instinctively (good-bye backyard bugs!) and also love treats from the kitchen (pasta, rice, fuits and veggies are good, but avoid anything salty, sugary, fatty, citrus or meat.) One of ours has even eaten a mouse. Because chickens don't have teeth, they rely on grit to digest their food. If they can't find small stones in their surroundings, grit must be supplied.

Do they eat everything in your garden?
Yes. And no. We are in an ongoing experiment to see what is "chicken friendly" in our yard. (ie. It is safe for the chickens to eat, but they aren't interested in eating it.) It has been hit and miss. They do seem do love crabgrass (good!), but also loooove my succulents (bad!). We had to put a fence around our vegetable garden to ensure the produce ended up on our table. (Though they don't seem to like tomatoes.)

Are they clean?
Like any pet, that depends a lot on your input. The birds themselves are very clean. They love to have a dustbath, and will take up in one of the flowerpots if not provided a spot. (Ok, to be honest, they may take up in a flowerpot anyway. I have lost a lot of plants to this.) They spend a lot of time grooming themselves, and unless you are showing them, do not need to be bathed. They void half of their poop in the night, so their coop does need to be cleaned regularly. (Aside from the daily cleaning we wash it out thorough with a teatree oil soap monthly, and we have dusted with foodgrade diatomaceous earth every six months as part of our pest-control management.) We also keep our food supply locked in a metal garbage bin at night to dissuade any rodents looking for an easy meal. The design of our coop allows us to move it around the yard, so one area does not become inundated with all things chicken. Their food and water receptacles also need to be cleaned regularly.

heads or tails

Ok, but what about the poop?
Yes, chickens poop. And sometimes it seems like a lot. We clean our coop and run every day, and the smell isn't evident. We line our hen house with shredded newspaper (only the non-glossy pages, printed with soy ink) and toss it, poop and all, into our composter. Chicken poop is rich in nitrogen, and makes for lovely compost. We haven't found a marked increase in flies - though I have heard others complain of this.


If you had to do it all over again would you?
Yes. No hesitation. I have been converted. While certainly not for everybody, they have been a wonderful addition to our family. And their eggs are yummy too!

Further reading / resources (again, by no means comprehensive):
Green Frieda (I love their coop - which was featured last winter in the LA Times.)
Homegrown Evolution
One Block Diet (Sunset Magazine's blog)
The City Chicken
Urban Chickens

On the bookshelf:
Keep Chickens!
Keeping Chickens
Keeping Pet Chickens (great for my kids, ages 5 and 8. Lots of simply presented, important information.)
The Fairest Fowl(No info on keeping, but gorgeous photographs and information on various breeds - as well as an essay by Ira Glass.)
The Urban Homestead (you can get an autographed copy via their website:

In the neighborhood:
Los Angeles Urban Chicken Group (I'm excited about this and hope to make it to their next meeting!)

Happy Clucking!

September 20, 2009

for chicken fans

card from dandylion press

last night i went with my housemate to a garden for the environment evening of film shorts about homesteading, led by these folks. (the event included home brewed beer, homemade bread, singalongs and a goat bleating impersonation contest.)

this short film from these homesteaders' website is about a community egg co-op. i would SO go in on one of these if i knew of one around here. maybe we'll have to start one...

and this is an article about how artist hope sandrow ran into a rooster one day and how that meeting changed her life. it's a charming story with great photos.

September 17, 2009

hungry for books?

considering that almost all of my posts here have been about books related to food and sustainable agriculture, you can imagine my excitement when i found omnivore books on food, an sf bookstore owned and run by book collector celia sack. celia sells new and antique/collectible books on cooking, baking, food + agriculture politics and food history. the very small store is packed (beautifully and carefully so) with gorgeous, shiny new cookbooks like these, alongside often smaller, more faded, but somehow even more alluring rare and collectible books like the (golden pig) one at the top of this post. out on the shelves are many victorian-era books with fanciful and strange illustrations of things like sugar spinning (done on tip toe on a chair if i recall correctly, in a full-length gown, strands of sugar hanging almost to the floor like so much rapunzel hair—this illustration can be found in celia's favorite oldie, a book from 1894 called fancy ices).

i was lucky enough to sit down with celia and talk with her about her store. below is a bit about what i learned, and it is also what makes this bookstore a true gem.

celia on left

celia knows her books. inside and out. especially the collectible ones. i mentioned a recipe from a book my housemate had bought at omnivore, and celia knew right away which book i was referring to (this one)! she made numerous such connections throughout the interview (talking with me and with customers). the store is organized by subject, but without signage. i didn't ask, but i am pretty sure the lack of signs is on purpose, and it certainly makes things more interesting. as soon as you ask celia where to find something or how the books are organized, she springs to action. she can determine exactly what you might like (even if you would normally be shy and not prone to divulging all your food and agricultural passions to strangers). if she doesn't have the book you're looking for, she'll offer one (or seven) others that might be just as good, and more likely better, than what you had in mind.

the events! intimate author readings and pie contests, for example. i attended a pie contest there last week. i don't think anyone expected 48 pies!! to show up. the place was brimming with pies. just when there was no more room for pies, another pie would arrive—blackberry, ginger peach, strawberry cream, banana cream, blueberry and on and on. luckily, there were also plenty of pie eaters. see more photos from this fun event here. (i made a lemon cream pie with a walnut, homemade graham cracker crust.) the winning pie was the banana cream.

paula helps organize pie tables

the many connections. the store is connected to sf's food history. around the turn of the century, the store used to be a butcher shop, and the freezer door, meat hanging rack and scale remain intact. it's also connected to sf's (and beyond) food past through the books celia collects. many of the collectible books were printed in sf or california. celia worked at the sf book auction house for years and knows all those antiquarian book fair folks (or antiquarian hair fair folks as a friend of hers calls them—apparently there are a lot of large beards and intricate mustaches at the fairs.)

celia and her partner paula have owned the pet store next door for eleven years, and celia herself is an sf native, so omnivore books has some deep roots. celia also supports the business of an older lady farmer by buying the woman's free range eggs and selling ten dozen or so a week of them at the bookstore. and of course the in-store events lead to community connections as well. day-to-day customers include neighborhood folks, pet owners (wandering over from next door), local chefs, and people specifically seeking out the store for books (old and new) on food (the ultimate connector).

sidenote per celia regarding events: "the people who are into baking are the nicest." she told me that like bluegrass musicians, bakers let everyone have a turn. they happily share their skills and recipes (and treats). they have a the more the merrier attitude. (this tidbit is not that surprising, right? it's not often that someone who bakes cookies for people is a meanie.) so, baking events=always good events to attend.

here are some of the fantastic upcoming events at omnivore books.

if you're interested in reading a transcript of the interview, leave a comment with your email address and i'll send it to you. (it's five pages long!)

thanks so much to generous celia for a delightful interview! and to diana who loaned me her tape recorder.

cross posted on mecozy.

September 10, 2009

seedling pots for an urban garden

fall/winter garden

we recently did some renovation in our backyard. we've always been weekend gardeners planting tomatoes and peppers and other veggies in planters every summer. this is the year, though, that my husband decided to get more serious about our gardening patch. he's now decided that he wants to try doing some farming all year round.

we definitely live in an urban environment - our neighborhood is mixed use with warehouses a stones throw away. we used to joke that hummingbirds and butterflies would make a pitstop in our yard flying from more vegetated areas.

[side note - is seems like we're not the only ones thinking urban gardening. i'm sure you already have heard - but check out the white house's new veggie patch.]

we try to have our backyard reflect our tastes and needs. so my husband built these fenced in vegetable areas. we have dogs and cats and so we wanted to be able to protect the plants from animal [and kid] invasions. he also set up a drip system that runs on a timer so that we can be as economical as possible with our water usage.

tomatoes in a bathtub

in the spirit of re-using we put our tomatoes and anaheim peppers in an old clawfoot tub that we rescued from a neighbor's remodel.

Newspaper pots
Originally uploaded by Clementine's Shoes

the other day i was looking at Clementine's shoes' blog and she had posted some newspaper origami pots she had made for seedlings.

Newspaper pots
Originally uploaded by Clementine's Shoes

what a great idea i thought. if we are going to try and have carrots and onions and broccoli and fava beans and lettuce going throughout the winter starting from seed we'll have to start plants continually. i was trying to think of an easy, eco-friendly way to do this lo and behold ! here it is. we get the Sunday Times - why not turn it into our start pots?? She links to it in her post, but here are the blow by blow directions . i have saved a bunch of the plastic started pots you get from garden stores, but those eventually fall apart - and i personally hate the "bio-degradeable" brown started pots you can get. they always seem to crack and break and never seem to fully degrade. newspaper is the ticket!

when i emailed Clementine's Shoes to ask her if i could re-post her pictures she mentioned that she also knew that people used toilet paper rolls as starter pots too.
indeed they do .

happy gardening. i can't wait to taste our beets!

September 7, 2009

summer souvenirs

sea ranch: rock 2

as summer
melts into autumn,
it's time for change.
i start putting away
my tank tops and sandals
and thinking of
corduroys and cardigans.
there's always something
a little sad about
summer ending.
like the last few days
of vacation before
you head home and back to work
(even though many of us
work right through summer).
perhaps it is a reminant of
our school days
years ago.

i remember
as september
would near
i would collect
sand dollars,
sea urchin shells
at the water's edge.
my souvenirs
for another
summer gone by.
to hold those
relics in my hand
as the weather
cooled and
dusk came
each evening.

sea ranch: my collections

as autumn nears
i like
to rearrange
and redecorate
my apartment.
put away flower vases.
arrange acorns
on the windowsill

in piles
in the garden.

searanch: collection

there are many
and beautiful ways
that artists
(and you too)
can use rocks
as decoration
in your own home.

rocks with felt covers

Beautiful art rocks to buy:
* woven rocks by white forest pottery
* porcelain pebbles by Manos/Karin Eriksson
* pet rocks by stephanie congdon barnes.

rocks with felt covers

rocks with felt covers

Make your own felted rocks:
* Craftzine: How to make felted rocks
* DIY felted rock on DesignSponge
* Martha Stewart: felted rock paperweight
* see some here.

you can also
or crochet
your own covers.

i knitted covers
by knitting in the round
with simple
and decreases...
knitted rocks

i covered
all sizes of rocks.
knitted rocks

then i put them
in the washing machine
in a delicates laundry bag
and washed them a few times
while doing my
weekly laundry.
knitted and felted rocks

you can mix
and unfelted
felted and crochet rocks

for more
check out
one of my favorite
everyone needs
a rock

green crochet rock

your rock.
enjoy autumn.

September 3, 2009

conscientious consumption & donation

Consumption is a tricky issue when it comes to living green.  The greenest option is really, not to do or buy anything.  But our economy is based on shopping, livelihoods are based on shopping, and most folks really like to acquire new stuff.  But how much stuff is enough?  It is probably a lot less than we think, and a lot less than we have.  

Teaching conscientious consumption to myself:
My mom is a shopper of the worst kind; charge cards for different department stores, a first name basis with salespeople in clothing departments, and a full closet & a mountain of debt.  I remember her telling me once, if you find something that fits, buy one in every colour.  I don't have the luxury of that kind of reckless income, and the older I get, the more frugal I have become.  I met my parents at the mall yesterday- to take my daughter on the carousel and so my mom could make some returns.  She runs into the store, and I follow in a few minutes later to find her buying 4 eyeshadows at the counter.  We have one of those "freaky friday" moments where I say "how many eyeshadows do you need? You only have 2 eyes!".  So anyway, I wasn't raised to buy conscientiously, I learned on my own.  And more importantly, that is what I want my child to learn.  

So one major project I have implemented is "sell to buy" for clothes.  If I want to purchase a clothing item, I have to sell clothes that I already have.  And I have more than enough [my background catches up with me].  Its a small step, but it allows me to think a bit more about the actual cost of what I own, and makes shopping more of a rewarding challenge.

I found a jacket that I adored, but was on the pricey side.  So I waited a few days to see if I even remembered it, and if I still wanted it.  I did.  So I went through my closet and pulled together a large bag of clothes that I took down to Buffalo Exchange.  Luckily there is one just a mile from me, so its an easy option, but there are all kinds of consignment shops, etsy, ebay, craigslist, and other options for reselling clothes.  I was able to make 50% of the purchase price of the jacket from my reselling.  Sold.  Not only do I make a bit of money on my old clothes, but then the clothes are resold at a massive reduction on the original price, no new items are produced in the process.  Donation is also an option, but in Southern California, thrift stores are scoured by resalers who buy cheap and mark up extensively [Melrose Ave. I am looking at you!].  Unsold clothes are all donated anyway by Buffalo Exchange.  

My rules for buying conscientiously: 

With every purchase I ask myself the following questions to encourage conscientious consumption [since it doesn't come naturally to me]
  1. Do I need this?
  2. Can I afford this? [not on credit!]
  3. How does this purchase impact the environment?
  4. Do I have something just like this already? [do I need another grey tshirt?]
  5. Can I get this borrowed or used?
  6. Can I make this myself?  Will I make this?
  7. What can I sacrifice in order to buy this item?
  8. Would I rather have money in the bank or own this item? [HUGE question- and it usually is the major dealbreaker]
  9. Who does this purchase benefit? [small business owner? large corporation?]
  10. How long do I need to think about this purchase before making it? [it is easy to get caught up in store displays & merchandising- sometimes walking away will make you forget all about it]

With the holidays approaching [I know, I know! I am in retail and we buy for holidays in July] start to implement a conscientious approach to consumption and enjoy your possessions & purchases even more!

Teaching this to my daughter:

For my daughters first birthday, we did a party with 3 other 1 year olds and in lieu of gifts we collected toy donations for the Miller's Children Hospital Pediatric Cancer Ward.  All the kids were born at the hospital and we wanted to give something back.  I called the hospital and talked to them specifically about what they needed- plastic toys for 0-6months to be used in the playroom, preferable music toys.  In the invitation we wrote out this detailed request and set up a table and sign for the party.  
People were able to buy gifts for kids, we didn't come home from the party with bags of gifts [I had been to a few 1 year parties and the amount of toys is ridiculous!].  My daughter is thrilled with empty boxes and plastic cups, so that is what she got for her 1st, and the hospital received a wagon of gifts.  I plan on doing that every year.