If you’re fed up reading labels in the grocery store trying to find some real food that won’t kill you, I feel your pain. Not to worry, there is a solution and it’s awesome. The truth is, you don’t need to depend on food corporations or the government to keep you healthy. Why would you want to anyways?
One of our favorite aspects of living in Los Angeles is our ability to garden all year round. Although the sun dips barely above the horizon and the hours of daylight shrink from October through March, there’s still enough sunlight to grow certain vegetables all the way through to spring. In fact, you don’t even need to live in the Southwestern United States if you are fairly handy and can construct a decent greenhouse. We, however, are fortunate in that we live in an area of constant sunshine and, though the more sun-needy vegetables won’t grow (well), we still manage to keep a steady supply of fresh greens in our diets during the fall and winter months. Continue reading
CC BY 3.0 Richard Stephenson
With spring suddenly upon us – at least according to the calendar as we really don’t have traditional winters here in Southern California – we decided to combine our minimalistic approach to our outdoor spaces, cleaning out all the old leaves, furniture, and general clutter inhabiting the backyard, area behind our laundry room, patio, and side entrance on the south side of our property. Out went the old plastic lawn chairs, corroded fire pit, and rusty smoker (retrieved by the unseen curbside pickers in the middle of the night), leaving behind only our patio table and matching chairs, chicken coop, and propane BBQ. Our vegetable boxes also remained, but they survived the cut due to both their productivity and attractiveness (and they occupy former lawn space). Continue reading
by MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF
Clucking all the way to the bank: A hen models a polka-dot diaper from MyPetChicken.com, a multimillion-dollar business that sells everything from chicken caviar treats to day-old birds.
There’s free range and then there’s free rein — around your house.
When Julie Baker’s backyard birds started spending more time inside, it was tough to keep them clean. So she got innovative.
She sewed up a cloth diaper — chicken-sized, of course — added a few buttons and strapped it onto her little lady.
One thing led to another, and eventually, a business was born.
“A lot of my customers use them as dresses,” Julie Baker, of Claremont, N.H., says about the poultry diapers she sells online. “They want their chickens to look really cute.”
Now Baker’s Pampered Poultry ships out about 50 to 100 diapers a week to urban farmers around the country. The store also sells saddles.
Wait a minute. Saddles? Who’s riding chickens?
“The roosters,” Baker says. “They’re busy boys.”
“Saddles are almost more useful than the diaper, quite frankly,” she tells The Salt. “A rooster isn’t particularly kind to a hen when they mate. He grabs her by the back and pulls her feathers out.”
“The hen ends up with a completely bare back. It gets raw and bleeds a little bit,” she says.
So Baker started selling saddles to protect the hens’ tail feathers.
And she’s not the only one.
A quick Google search finds several other shops offering custom-sized diapers and leash-ready saddles.
Husband and wife team Derek Sasaki and Traci Torres have even turned the avian accessory business into a multimillion-dollar venture: MyPetChicken.com.
Diapers are a small part of the website’s annual sales, most of which come from selling baby birds, Sasaki says.
Hello, big guy: Hen lingerie like this “saddle” adds a twist to the phrase “safe sex.”
Courtesy of Julie Baker
But “our chicken treats are popular,” he tells The Salt. These include chicken caviar and “chicken crack” — a mixture of organic grains, organic seeds, dried meal worms and dried river shrimp.
Much has been made in the past few years about the rising popularity of backyard poultry farming.
About 0.8 percent of households in Denver, Los Angeles, Miami and New York City owned chickens in 2010, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. What’s more, nearly 4 percent of residents in these cities say they plan to pick up a chick in the next few years.
“Chickens are a symbol of urban nirvana,” The New York Timeswrote last year, “their coops backyard shrines to a locavore movement that has city dwellers moving ever closer to their food.”
Perhaps the “poultry Pampers” and hen lingerie point to the next phase of the urban chicken trend: home invasion.
Ryan Slabaugh thinks so. He’s the editor of Backyard Poultry magazine, which touts tens of thousands of subscribers.
More people are keeping chickens as pets instead of as farm animals, Slabaugh says. “I bet close to 50 percent of our readers have chickens around for companionship rather than for any real agricultural purposes,” he tells The Salt.
“There are many breeds of chickens that are good to look at but don’t lay very good eggs,” he says — and they’re still popular with urban farmers.
“I got a call the other day from a lady in Idaho because her chicken had a problem with its foot,” he says. “She called it a ‘lap chicken.’ It crawled up in her lap, just like any other pet.”
But Torres of MyPetChicken.com says this might be more the exception than the norm.
There are a few die-hard poultry people who keep the birds in their homes 24/7, she says. They have decked-out chicken condos that can be outlandish.
“But usually what happens is that a bird will get injured and someone might bring it inside to recuperate,” she says. “The diaper makes cleanup much, much easier.”
After the rehabilitation, it can be tough to send the bird back to the yard, Torres says.
And voila — a lap chicken is created.
In May of 2012, we visited a neighbor two blocks away in our quiet Mar Vista neighborhood and heard an odd sound emanating from her backyard. Upon further probing, we discovered, much to our pleasure, that she had four egg laying hens tucked into a coop, producing one egg apiece each day for her and her family to enjoy. In addition, the hens provided an easy way for her to compost leftover kitchen scraps, which she threw in each morning for the hens to happily devour. Surprisingly, there was no bad odor coming from the coop, which we found odd, and she went on to explain that, on occasion, she let them out to rummage around the entire yard and play with her three kids. We left intrigued to say the least, and the thought of raising our own backyard chickens took hold and we passed the idea around to a few friends to get additional information.
Coincidentally, two weeks later, we received a call from some fellow parents at our son’s elementary school (Beethoven Elementary) who had a pair of young hens that needed a home and would we be interested in adopting their two birds. They had apparently gotten them to somehow keep their duck alive and the experiment had failed, resulting in two unwanted chicks and one deceased mallard. Cautiously, we invited them over to meet said fowl and 24 hours later we were presented with two adorable six week old chicks in a plastic nesting crate. One was a white Delaware hen, the other an Araucana brown, both very friendly and well-known for their reliable egg production and easy going personalities. In fact, the Delaware is actually kind of rare, listed at “threatened” by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. We were instantly smitten, though not completely ready to take the leap to welcome them into our home without further research. However, after a quick discussion between ourselves, we couldn’t resist and Extra Crispy and Original became part of our household the next day.
Building A Coop
Obviously, we couldn’t keep them in a small plastic box forever, so the matter of building an appropriate chicken coop became priority number one. Being only slightly handy, we decided to construct a basic wooden structure out of 3/4″ plywood and 2×4’s, raised up on concrete footers to enable easier cleaning and maintenance. We wanted to give them a small outdoor “run,” which would require posts and chicken wire, so we added those materials to our list and headed off to Home Depot in Culver City. The total cost of materials: three 4’x8′ sheets of plywood, six 8′ length 2×4’s, four concrete footers, a box of 3-1/2″ deck screws, and a roll of chicken wire set us back approximately $85.00. Luckily, we already had all the necessary tools, such as chop and circular saws, impact drill/screwdriver, wire cutter, level, and tape measure, so no additional expenses were incurred in that area.
Our original idea was to construct our coop to resemble the Jawa’s Sand Crawler from “Star Wars – A New Hope,” so we cut the plywood sides at 20 degree angles, which would resemble the vehicle and also allow rain water to easily run off the roof. The bottom of the coop was covered with thick plastic, which we cut from an office chair carpet mat we found in a nearby alley. We then drilled holes at two different heights for perches, made from closet dowels we no longer needed, securing them into place with screws. Because we have possums and raccoon roaming our neighborhood yards at night, we fashioned a heavy sliding door with which to seal the hen house each night at dusk. This was done by taking scrap molding we got from a neighbor’s old carpeting project and making a channel in which the door could slide up and down, attaching a rope threaded through a pulley for easy lifting. Finally, we cut our 2×4’s into 4×4 foot lengths and screwed together a frame, stapling the chicken wire to the outside and attaching to the front of the coop for our chickens to have a safe outdoor place to roam and forage.
Inside the coop, in addition to the perches, we stacked a few bricks, placing a plastic waterer and feeding mash dispenser on top so they could easily eat and drink to their hearts’ content. The rest of the floor was covered with a thick layer of pine shavings, acquired in bulk at the local pet supply warehouse (Centinela Feed – $14.00), and we sprinkled in FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth ($8.95 per pound), which we were told would help compost the droppings and reduce the need to clean the coop often. The last step before introducing our hens to their new home was stocking up on basic feed, so we visited Malibu Feed Bin, an LA institution since the 1960’s located on Pacific Coast Highway, and purchased 25 pound bags of mash and scratch ($40.00), two necessities for proper protein and digestion suggested by their helpful staff. We couldn’t resist a tub of dried meal worms ($14.00), either, as we were told that chickens will do almost anything for these tasty treats. All the feed is stored in two, 5 gallon airtight storage containers we found at Costco for around $25.00 apiece.
Now, with the coop ready to go and possessing everything necessary to keep our new house guests happy, we opened the door of their new home and released them into their cozy environment…
Next up: A destroyed backyard, welcoming McNugget, and waiting for eggs.
Early European settlers would certainly never have survived without the gift of the Three Sisters from the Native Americans, the story behind our Thanksgiving celebration. Celebrating the importance of these gifts, not only to the Pilgrims but also to civilizations around the globe that readily adopted these New World crops, adds meaning to modern garden practices
Success with a Three Sisters garden involves careful attention to timing, seed spacing, and varieties. In many areas, if you simply plant all three in the same hole at the same time, the result will be a snarl of vines in which the corn gets overwhelmed!
Instructions for Planting Your Own Three Sisters Garden in a 10 x 10 square
When to plant:
What to plant:
Note: A 10 x 10 foot square of space for your Three Sisters garden is the minimum area needed to ensure good corn pollination. If you have a small garden, you can plant fewer mounds, but be aware that you may not get good full corn ears as a result.
How to plant:
1. Choose a site in full sun (minimum 6-8 hours/day of direct sunlight throughout the growing season). Amend the soil with plenty of compost or aged manure, since corn is a heavy feeder and the nitrogen from your beans will not be available to the corn during the first year. With string, mark off three ten-foot rows, five feet apart.
2. In each row, make your corn/bean mounds. The center of each mound should be 5 feet apart from the center of the next. Each mound should be 18 across with flattened tops. The mounds should be staggered in adjacent rows. See Diagram #1
Note: The Iroquois and others planted the three sisters in raised mounds about 4 inches high, in order to improve drainage and soil warmth; to help conserve water, you can make a small crater at the top of your mounds so the water doesn’t drain off the plants quickly. Raised mounds were not built in dry, sandy areas where soil moisture conservation was a priority, for example in parts of the southwest. There, the three sisters were planted in beds with soil raised around the edges, so that water would collect in the beds (See reference 2 below for more information). In other words, adjust the design of your bed according to your climate and soil type.
3. Plant 4 corn seeds in each mound in a 6 in square. See Diagram #2
4. When the corn is 4 inches tall, its time to plant the beans and squash. First, weed the entire patch. Then plant 4 bean seeds in each corn mound. They should be 3 in apart from the corn plants, completing the square as shown in Diagram #3.
5. Build your squash mounds in each row between each corn/bean mound. Make them the same size as the corn/bean mounds. Plant 3 squash seeds, 4 in. apart in a triangle in the middle of each mound as shown in Diagram #4.
6. When the squash seedlings emerge, thin them to 2 plants per mound. You may have to weed the area several times until the squash take over and shade new weeds.
Saturday, April 20th’s Mar Vista Green Garden showcase brought over 125 people to our Ashwood Ave. home, most of whom were drawn by our three “plucky” chickens, Original, Extra Crispy, and McNugget. With their moment to shine, the three didn’t disappoint, laying eggs, allowing themselves to be picked up and held dozens of times, and preening around to show off their fine feathers, and generally enjoying all the commotion swirling around them. It was amazing to meet so many neighbors and share ideas and conversations in such a great setting.
In the front of our home, my wife, Alicia, greeted everyone with a warm smile and explained the ongoing transformation of our front yard from lawn to edible vegetables and native, drought tolerant plantings. She said our 1964 Aristocrat Lo-Liner vintage trailer even got a few looks and comments of encouragement. The sun was shining brilliantly and our community was definitely showed its best light all day long.
For those of you visitors who didn’t have pen and paper to write down our garden box recipe, here it is for you to print or copy…
A raised bed. We make them out of Home Depot “seconds” lumber, which can be found in the back corner of most Home Depot lumber departments. This wood is 1/2 to 1/3 of the regular price and they will cut it to size for around 10 cents per cut. We use 2″x6″ pine boards, with 4″x4″ corner posts to hold it all together. If they don’t have a good selection of seconds wood, buying new shouldn’t be much more than $20-30.00 depending on the size you wish to make.
Once you have your box made, place it in a sunny spot in your garden and cover the bottom with a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard. There should be no dirt showing through. On top of the cardboard, add a layer of alfalfa, approximately 4-6″ thick, then a layer of straw up to the level of the top of your planter box (break it apart from the bail and spread it loosely). You can get alfalfa and straw at any feed supply store. Here in Los Angeles, we drive 15 minutes up the coast to Malibu Feed Bin, located at the corner of Topanga and Pacific Coast Highway. Sprinkle some blood meal AND bone meal, which you can find in any garden center or nursery, on top of the straw. No exact measurement, we simply sprinkle in a couple of handfuls of each. Finally, top everything off with a layer of garden soil. This can be dirt from your garden or a purchased bag, and you want to cover the straw so none is showing. As you apply the soil, the straw will compact down; however, don’t feel you have to add lots of dirt as you only need a few inches of it for planting purposes. Now, give the whole thing a good watering for 2-3 days so everything can settle in for a productive growing season.
Acquire your plantings or poke some holes for seeds and get to work! If using plants already in pots from your local nursery, dig down INTO THE STRAW AND PLANT THEM DIRECTLY IN IT. Once in, just move a little bit of soil to fill in the top to stabilize your seedling and give it a little drink of water. You may want to add a pie tin filled with beer at this stage to control slugs and snails. And that’s it! Water daily or run your drip irrigation lines into the box and watch in amazement as your vegetables take off like nothing you’ve ever seen.
As for you prospective chicken farmers, we can only say “do it!” We had zero experience when we took the plunge in May of 2012 and have never regretted introducing them into our lives. We will have lots more to say on the matter in future posts, but just know it is NOT that difficult and the rewards in eggs and experience are more than worth the effort. Feel free to contact us via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to connect and share chicken tips and tricks.
One of our very favorite sites is Growing Your Greens, featuring John Kohler, who provides easy to follow videos on how to do all kinds of things in your garden. He obviously focuses on vegetables, organic urban gardening, and things you can eat, but most of his principles can be applied to just about anything that grows.
About Learn Organic Gardening at Growing Your Greens
Growing Your Greens is the most watched gardening show on youtube. It’s a fun and enlightening show on how to grow food at your home and beyond. John provides you with tips and tricks as well as shares his experiences growing food at his urban homestead. John is dedicated to helping you sustainably grow your own food in your front yard and beyond. Don’t forget to subscribe to keep up with all the latest episodes.
April 20th is the date to mark to come to our neighborhood and see all the amazing gardens our fellow neighbors are cultivating. It’s the 5th annual Mar Vista Green Garden Showcase, which includes approximately 100 gardens all over Mar Vista showcasing vegetables, plants, flowers, chickens, rainwater reuse, sustainable practices of all kinds, and more! Here’s a video of Ian and his chickens, one of the many stops along the way and featuring an “egg-stra” special treat for those stopping by…