|A family of owls live in our neighbor’s owl box|
This is what it’s all about.
Someone told me once that rural commercial farmers are not all that forthcoming with advice or support. I am thrilled that the urban farming community is the exact opposite.
I have met some of the most awesome people in our urban farming community. Some of them have become great friends, you know who you are and I thank you for being in my life.
If you need help a hand is offered. If you need advice you can get it without fear of being judged. If you need support someone is willing to help give you strength and encouragement.
I want to thank all you for being so awesome and for creating the best community I’ve ever been a part of.
Last night at the East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance meeting we got to meet this gentleman named Ray who had started his own mushroom business called Mushroom Maestros. He gave an informal presentation about his business which we found incredibly informative.
I now have mushrooms on the brain…
Hi everyone! My name is Shannon, and today I’m going to share my chicken coop building experience. Last year, my husband and I purchased our first home in Vallejo (also where Dog Island Farm is located). Finally, we had backyard space where we could grow our own food! And raise chickens! After about 6 months of settling in, we decided to get our first laying flock (3 Plymouth Barred Rocks). I was on the hunt for a coop, but all of the pre-fabricated ones I saw at the feedstore and online were too small, and way expensive. Unfortunately, I’m not creative enough to design one on my own, so I started looking online and in books for ideas. l ended up at backyardchickens.com, which is a great resource for anyone with chickens. They have a section where folks upload photos of the coops they have built. Everything from old converted dog houses to brand new fancy ones. After looking at tons of photos, I finally stumbled upon one that I liked. They didn’t have any plans for it, but I really liked the design:
Luckily for me, my dad is a contractor. So, I sent him the link (along with some of my own minor changes) and he came up with some plans. A few weeks later, he came down from Yosemite to build it. Here are a few shots of the building:
And the finished product! (It’s bigger than I expected…we call it the chicken mansion)
Now, I realize that not everyone has a father who’s a contractor. However, I do think it’s important to keep in mind friends and/or family members that are handy and could help you build your own coop. We just paid for the materials, and made sure my dad had plenty of beer and pizza to keep him happy while he was building. Or perhaps you could barter with someone (fresh eggs for a month in exchange for some help?)
A note about materials: we decided to use all new wood/hinges/roofing. We wanted the coop to be cohesive with our house because it’s essentially the focal point of our backyard now! If that wasn’t the case we would definitely have used reclaimed/recycled materials. There are many creative coops made out of recycled materials on backyardchickens.com. Be sure to check them out if you need some inspiration!
You can read more about me and my attempts at urban farming and crafting at whereisshannon.blogspot.com.
One of the things I’ve been missing while going a year without groceries is crunchy, salty snacks. I’ve made crackers before but have never really been happy with the recipes. So I decided to find something closer to a true saltine cracker. Unfortunately when searching for a “saltine cracker recipe” all the recipes that come up use saltine crackers. I couldn’t find any recipes that showed how to make those saltine crackers. No such luck. So I finally came up with one that can’t come much closer to the store bought ones (except they have more “meat” to them and are more satisfying).
4 c unbleached white flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 c coconut oil
1/3 c skim milk
1 c water
Oil or water and salt (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 deg. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Sift flour, salt and baking powder together. Mix in oil, milk and water until blended well. Knead dough on a surface until smooth.
Now I prefer to use a pasta machine to roll out my dough – usually ending on setting #3. The trick is to make sure the dough is rolled very thin. Otherwise you won’t get crispy crackers.
Cut crackers into squares (I like to use a pizza cutter) and put on parchment lined cookie sheet. Spray crackers with oil or water and sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.
This recipe will make a TON of crackers. If you want, divide the dough in half and freeze it for later use.
Agricultural Labs. You simply print out their form, fill a quart sized Ziploc bag with soil and ship it, the form and a check to them and they will email you the results. I choose their SC3 Soils Analysis with recommendations. Here’s a soils report from them with the recommendations included:
This can take between a couple of hours to a couple of days depending on your soil’s structure. The first particles to settle will be the sand since they are larger and heavier. Silt is the second particle followed by clay, which are the smallest and lightest soil particles.
This week we had a heat wave so it’s fitting to discuss rabbits and summertime before things really get into full swing. The summer is when you really have to keep an eye on your rabbits. They do great in cold temperatures. After all, they are covered completely with a nice thick coat – even the bottoms of their feet. This causes a problem, however, when temperatures get over 85 deg F.
If you have air conditioning and space inside, that’s the best place to keep rabbits. We don’t have either. Our house can get hotter than the outside temps so the best place for us to keep our rabbits is under the big oak tree in our backyard. Being on the north side of the tree allows them to have shade all day long. But this is definitely not enough on those really hot days.
One thing I’ve realized is that I pay a lot more attention to the weather forecast in the summer now. If the weather is expected to get over 80 deg F we start taking the necessary steps to insure the rabbits are comfortable. I keep an outdoor thermometer inside the hutch to help determine the temperatures we’re dealing with and whether it’s cool enough.
Our first line of defense is our misting system and fan. This can lower the ambient temperature by 15 degrees. You can sometimes find these systems at hardware stores, but I’ve had the best luck getting them online. When installing the misters you want to make sure the nozzles are pointed down, but away from your rabbits. The fan shouldn’t be on the rabbits directly but set up in a way that it doesn’t get wet and that it circulates the cooler air around the rabbits. You want them to cool the air without getting the rabbits wet. That thick fur can get waterlogged and when it’s warm it can make them a target for flystrike (warning: graphic). If we know the weather is going to be hot, we turn the system on first thing in the morning. It makes it easier to keep the temperatures down if you start early rather than coming in when it’s already hot and trying to cool the area down.
Our second line of defense are frozen 2L or 1/2 gallon water bottles. We had to make room in our freezer for them, which wasn’t easy. The rabbits like to lean on these and to lick them when it gets really hot. It’s important to use larger bottles because the smaller ones don’t stay frozen long enough. Also, it’s key to plan ahead as these can take a couple of days to freeze solid.
Rabbits can go into heat stroke quickly so it’s important to monitor them on those really hot days. If your rabbit is laying with it’s head thrown back, panting and flaring it’s nostrils it’s in the first stage of heat stroke and must be cooled down as soon as possible. If there is moisture around it’s nose and mouth with the above signs, it’s gone into the second stage of heat stroke. If the moisture has run down the front of the rabbit, this is the third stage and you only have a 50% chance of saving the animal. If it’s gone into convulsions it’s in the final stage of heat stroke and should be humanely euthanized.
The best way to cool a rabbit (or any animal) that has heat stroke is to get that animal wet. Keep a bucket of water by your hutch. You want the water to be ambient temperature as cold water can throw the animal into shock. Dunk the rabbit making sure to get it’s ears wet, but not it’s muzzle. This gets the water down to their skin to help cool it faster. Be careful of using a hose because if it’s been in the sun all day it can come out extremely hot. In an extreme emergency, such as heat stroke, flystrike is the least of your worries so go ahead and get your rabbit wet. It’s when the animal is wet for long periods of time that you have to worry the most.
Of course an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – so make sure you have the proper system to keep your rabbits cool.
Once a month I’ll be answering your questions! Ask them in an email (if you want to be anonymous just say so) or just leave a comment – I’ll find them and answer them the best I can.
So here is one I found in our comments that I haven’t had a chance to answer…until now.
…we are trying to do the bathtub to garden water thing, so have been leary of the baking soda & vinegar shampoo. It seems like that wouldn’t be good for the garden, no? Right now we use the oasis bio compatible soaps, but would love to switch to something more simple.
I would think baking soda and vinegar would be fine in the garden. Did you ever do that experiment in elementary school with the volcano? You mixed vinegar and baking soda together and it bubbled out like lava. This reaction between vinegar and baking soda creates CO2 (the bubbles), pure water, and a very dilute solution of sodium acetate. Since you’re already using a diluted amount of both baking soda and vinegar in relation to the amount of water you’re using in the shower the amount of sodium acetate would be negligible.
I did find this information regarding an alternative deicer that utilizes Sodium acetate:
The environmental impacts of Ice Shear™, an alternative highway deicer, have been evaluated using standard laboratory tests; biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) tests, chemical oxygen demand (COD) tests, acute rainbow trout bioassays, and phytotoxicity tests were used. Ice Shear consists of equimolar sodium acetate and sodium formate. The organic matter of the deicer can be readily degraded microbiologically in the natural environment with a slow rate of degradation at lower temperatures but an increased rate at higher temperatures. At elevated temperatures, highway runoffs of the deicer may reduce the level of dissolved oxygen in the receiving waters to cause an adverse impact. However, the apparent activation energy calculated for the BOD rate of Ice Shear is low (8.78 kcal mole−1), indicating that the temperature variation may not significantly influence the biodegradation of the deicer compound. Ice Shear appears relatively harmless to aquatic animals, showing a high 96-h LC50 value (16.1 g/L) derived for rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Ice Shear causes minimal toxicity to representative roadside vegetation; herbaceous (e.g., sunflowers, beans, and lettuce) and woody (e.g., pine seedlings) plants. Rather, the deicer at low concentrations (less than 2 g/kg soil) seems to work as a fertilizer, promoting the yield of biomass. The test results indicate that Ice Shear poses minimal environmental disturbance in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
So, in my opinion, the baking soda and vinegar should be a-ok for using.
|Alfalfa and Orchard Grass|
When you live in an urban environment it can be pretty much impossible to grow everything you need. I wish I had enough space to grow all the grains we need and all the animal feed as well. But we can’t – there just isn’t enough room.
But just because you can’t grow all of it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try to grow some of it. We have a fairly large area of fallow ground in our backyard. The reason we don’t plant it with crops is because it’s in between and behind our fruit trees.
This no-man’s land is perfectly suited for weeds, and boy, do they let me know. This year, however, we decided to seed it with various plants, including some forage for our livestock. I purchased some alfalfa and orchard grass seed from Peaceful Valley and spread it out last winter. Most of it was beat down by the weeds, but we did get some to pop up. Since both plants are perennials they will hopefully be back next year. I’m allowing them to go to seed so that they will spread.
Some other plants I’m working on bringing to the weed patch are mustard, oats, and wheat.
The alfalfa I seeded with was a semi-dormant type that was coated with mycorrhizae and calcium carbonate to help speed germination. You can plant it shallowly from fall, in mild climates, through to spring in colder regions. It will need summer irrigation if you live in a Mediterranean climate.
Because alfalfa is a legume (related to peas and beans) it fixes nitrogen – up to 200lbs of nitrogen per acre. It also offers habitat to beneficial insects and bees love it. While not shown here, ours just began flowering these beautiful purple flowers on spikes above the foliage. They have very deep roots so it works very well as a cover crop, bringing nutrients deep in the soil to the surface when turned in.
My hope is that eventually the wanted “weeds” will push out the noxious weeds that we can’t give to our livestock as forage. It may take a few years, but as long as I keep at it, good things will come.