I find it hard to believe that is has been almost 3 months since my last entry! The family had a nice vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii. While we were there we visited a small, single family run aquaponics farm, Coastview Aquaponics. It was great to learn about how the farm came to be, and learn from their successes and struggles. We also enjoyed eating the kale and lettuce we bought from the honor fridge!
Two new chicks have joined our homestead mid-May. Their names are Sunshine and Autumn. They currently spend their days in a small pen next to the big chickens. That way they do not take too many lumps as they learn their place in the pecking order. They will join the Flower and Louise soon, as they are almost big enough to withstand the hazing. They will add to egg production in about six months.

The big chickens gained a new run to spend their days in. They no longer get free reign of the backyard. They wreak havoc on the garden sprouts. I keep it interesting for them by throwing leaves, grass trimmings, and some vegetable scraps. 
To the left, I am digging out the base for a concrete slab for the greenhouse that will house our sprouting and first aquaponics system! Thanks to Carson for coming over to help dig!

Last Thursday, we picked up meat from our quarter share of a grass-fed, free range, happy cow in Petaluma. The cuts range from all manner of steaks, ribs, roasts, ground beef, and soup bones. Our deep freezer is full of this bounty. We will make a significant dent at a BBQ with friends and family in August. 

Zoe and Willow went in to the butcher shop with me as I paid for the meat. While we were in their two butchers were processing cuts of meat, and the carcass of a pig was hanging from a hook. Neither of them said anything. I asked Zoe if she noticed the pig, her reply was simply, "yes".

I know it is not always possible, but look into local ranchers in your area. It does cost a little more. But, like everything in life, you get what you pay for! Eating meat that you know where the animal came from, what it ate, and how it was processed is healthier for the animal, the rancher, our community, and ourselves.
Finally, I just launched the website for our business venture in the making: pirate produce.com

This website will continue to chronicle our adventures in homesteading. Please, visit the new site to see the development of our sustainable agriculture business. 

If you would like more info, or want to get involved, there is a contact page on the website.

It has been a busy couple of months. As much as I wanted to update our website, school, work, and family life have not left much time for this little project. However, during this time work on the homestead has continued. The most significant project is chronicled here.

I had built a decorative, four-tiered garden from bricks and had two harvests. It looked good, and we had decent yields from the plants. There were potatoes in half the top section the first year. As it happens, I did not harvest all the potatoes so we had a second harvest, including some nice large potatoes.
However, this design is not efficient for yield or maintaining the soil. For instance, water started making drainage passage ways between the bricks and soil. So, I began to take down this decorative garden, to make way for standard rows of crops.

As I was tearing apart the bricks the chickens would follow me and eat the insects that were living under the bricks. This became valuable as I tore down the back wall, and found cockroaches living in the gaps of the cinder blocks. The chickens efficiently and organically cleaned up the colonies. 
With the new layout of the garden, not only will the plants have the benefits of being protected from the elements and changes in the weather. The garden has gained significant area to allow for more plants, compared to the fancy structure I was using in this same space.
I referenced the website "The Door Garden" by David LaFerney for instructions on building a hoop greenhouse. The following pictures show my progress. It took me a total of about 12 hours, spread over 4 days. The main structure was competed in two days following a short vacation for my birthday. I really enjoy working on projects like this as a vacation!

The door frame was almost entirely made from recycled wood from other projects around the  house.
The structure is not completely level and plum, however it is sound.
The cover was installed in under two hours, one afternoon before going to accounting class.
After finishing the doors, I covered the beds in composed chicken manure, and a layer of leaves I saved from the tree in the front yard that fell during fall. In the center of the greenhouse, I placed a wine barrel, and planted the two passion fruit that have grown from seeds I brought back from Hawaii. I am not sure if they will make it. The first couple of nights have been colder than they like, an they have lost most of their leaves. I hope they make it, their flowers are gorgeous, and if they fruit, I would not complain :)
Now to get some seeds started...
I woke up this morning and found Princess dead on the floor of the chicken coop.  I have no idea what happened.  She wasn't injured.  There was no indication that some critter got at her.  She was acting normal yesterday.   The other chickens look fine.  I am totally confused.  Maybe she wasn't able to tolerate the cold as well as the other two.  Maybe she ate something she shouldn't of (there is so much crap in our backyard that it is possible).  Maybe she was sick.  We'll never know I guess.  
Zoe took it well.  She wanted to know what happened.  I told her I didn't know- I just found her that way.  She wanted to know if we could get another chicken.  I told her sure.  
I feel a little silly, being sad about a dead chicken.  After all, I eat chicken.  But Princess was a pet, not just an egg machine. I worry that she suffered and I somehow missed it. I raised her from a chick.  I held her. Granted she was the least friendly of the three, but she was part of the family nonetheless.  
By the way, I hate touching dead animals.  The few times I have had to do it, I have been seriously creeped out.  I couldn't leave her in the coop.  I had to get her out of there.  One of the things that sucks about being the grown-up - you have to dispose of the dead things.  Gag.  Too bad Sundown wasn't  here.  With a deep breath and a short prayer- Princess was put to rest.



So, come to find out chickens LOVE to eat styrofoam. Styrofoam is also poison for chickens.
Princess got into our trash area. A place we try to keep the chickens from visiting. We recently replaced our broken television, and the packaging shows signs of pecking. Princess must have eaten quite a bit.

What a tough lesson to learn. The loss is greater than you would think. Princess had a personality and had become a member of the household. She will be missed.

- Sundown
When I was about 14 I discovered the band The Smiths.  They were a relevation to me.  Before that, my tape collection was full of New Kids, Tiffany and Exposé.  I remember sitting on my bedroom floor listening to The Queen is Dead over and over.  This music, these lyrics, I thought, speak the words my heart would say if it had a voice.  Morrissey whispered in my ear, crawled into head, settled into my cells.  The music knew me.
Meat is Murder

This album, more than any other, changed my life. Each track was a heartbeat, every word a breath. I became a vegetarian from that day on.
Heifer whines could be human cries 
Closer comes the screaming knife 
This beautiful creature must die 
This beautiful creature must die 
A death for no reason 
                                                                                                                              And death for no reason is MURDER  

At first, I still ate chicken. For a long time, I went back and forth with chicken. Eventually, the words to that song overcame me.  I spent most of my teens and twenties meat-free.  It was a process.  Like most newbie veggies, I was overly righteous, more veggie-than-thou, a total pain in the ass.  
And the flesh you so fancifully fry 
Is not succulent, tasty or kind
It's death for no reason 
And death for no reason is MURDER

It wasn't the healthiest diet, at least not in the beginning.  I ate a lot of french fries and cheese (veganism is NOT for me).  It took me a long time (and a college nutrition class) to learn how to eat well without meat.   It really isn't hard, especially where I live.  You can't throw a block of tofu around here without hitting a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.  Meat alternatives are easy to find.  I lived off bean burritos, "chicken" nuggets and peanut butter.  
And the calf that you carve with a smile 
And the turkey you festively slice 
Do you know how animals die? 

When I met my husband, I converted him.  He still ate meat occasionally when we ate out, but our home was meat free.  Even our pots, pans and dishes were "meat-free". Our wedding reception was meatless (though my dad threatened to buy some KFC and sell it outside the reception hall). When I had my daughter, Zoë, I was determined to raise her as a vegetarian.  I remember watching her with pride as she munched tofu cubes and veggie nuggets. I planned on living like this forever.  
Kitchen aromas aren't very homey 
It's not "comforting", cheery or kind 
It's sizzling blood and the unholy stench 

It didn't last forever.  As time went on, I became an ambivalent vegetarian.  It maintained the diet, even enjoyed to food, but I lost my self-righteousness, my sense of indignation, it all seemed a little pointless.  Why?  I don't know.  Chicken slipped back into my diet.  There was no conscious decision, no tortuous catharsis, just a long slow slide from vegetarian to carnivore.    
It's not "natural", "normal" or kind 
The flesh you so fancifully fry 
The meat in your mouth 
As you savour the flavour 

Not that started rolling around in rare steaks or anything.  I still don't eat pork (that is a whole other blog post).  I still find the meat industry to be cruel, wasteful, and poisonous.  Fact is, meat IS murder in that , but that's nature.  Something dies so that something else can live.  I'll be worm food eventually.  I die, they live.  They will feed the soil, that grows the grass that the cow eats, that is turned into steak, that is eaten by some guy at a barbecue. Circle of life baby- I am part of it.  I am not nonchalant about their sacrifice.  I honor it and them.  

No, No, No, IT'S MURDER 
No, No, No, IT'S MURDER 
Oh ... and who cares about an animals life?

That said, I could never eat an animal that I have looked in the eye.  But that has less to do with guilt than it does my tendency to instantly connect with every animal I meet.  I can't help it.  I love animals.  As such, I try to minimize the suffering of the animals who give their life for me by buying from smaller producers who treat their animals kindly and kill them humanly.  It's a bit of an oxymoron, I know.  

Morrissey would not be happy with me which makes me a little sad because I still LOVE him.  

One of the things that I try to do to save money and make my life easier is weekly menu planning.  Every Wednesday, I plan a weeks worth of meals.  Why Wednesday?  Because that is when the sale flyers come out.  I try to plan my meals based on what is on sale that week.  It also helps keep down wasted food. It's not a perfect process, but I manage to stick to the menu about 90% of the time.   On a related note, if you have a Sprouts market near you- shop there.  The prices are low and the produce is great.  If you shop the sales, you can fill your bags with fresh fruit and veggies for around $30.  Today I stocked up on avocados (we go through 1 a day usually) at .77¢ apiece. 
I wouldn't get anything done if it weren't for my Moby wrap*.  For those of you who are not into baby wearing, a Moby wrap is a long piece of fabric that you wrap around yourself and tuck tuck the baby in.  The twins have been super fussy lately and they don't like being apart, so I use mine everyday.  It is the only way I can do chores around the house and I couldn't grocery shop at all without it.  We are quite a sight at the store, me and my child army.  Usually it's Willow and one baby in the double stroller, one in the Moby, and Zoë walking.  I can only buy as much as I carry in my shopping bags.  I get a lot of sympathetic looks.  I also get a lot of "Oh, you must have your hands full" type comments.  Note- parents of multiples hate hearing that.  

Mostly I feel like a kangaroo.
*I really wanted to make a joke about Moby, the singer/techno guy, but I am not that clever.
The twins are six weeks old now.  I remember thinking before they were born "How am I ever going to manage two at a time, plus Zoë and Willow?".  Now, despite the chaos that is my life, I can't imagine it any other way.  

The tv went out yesterday.  We get sound, but no picture. My googlefoo tells me that it is probably the backlight power source.  Whatever.  I think it is probably a good thing.  The Mr. disagrees.  But it is too easy for me to get sucked into stupid shows and the kids got into the habit of watching too much when to twins were born because I was too sore and exhausted to do anything else. Anyhow, I am in no rush to fix it.  Between the tv, the iPhone, the iPad and the computer were all gonna get the black shakes.  Really...
Although I wouldn't mind it so much if it came with a visit from Henry Rollins.  

Back to work.

Despite having chickens, I am not a huge fan of eggs. I have what can only be described as "egg issues".  I like scrambled eggs, or fried eggs if they are cooked VERY hard.  If I taste the tiniest bit of runny yolk, I am off my food (the result of being forced to eat runny yolked eggs as a kid).  So I was disappointed (but not surprised) that the taste of fresh eggs was hard for me to get used to.  They were just too eggy.  The yolk taste was intense.  I thought perhaps I really didn't like eggs after all.  Maybe I just thought I liked eggs all this time.  

"Crap"  I thought.  After all the trouble of raising chicks, I don't like their eggs.  

Well I kept trying.  Finally, with a little garlic salt, I enjoyed my egg.  If you haven't had a fresh chicken egg, you need to try them.  The color brighter, and taste like store bought eggs times 10.  If you live close enough, I am happy to give you a couple.  With each chicken laying 5-6 eggs a week, we have have eggs a plenty.  

We bought our chicks back in May, as week old pullets.  Three cute as can be little chicks, a Rhode Island Red, a Cuckoo Maran, and an easter egger who Zoë named Louise, Princess and Flower.  From my research, I learned that chickens raised from week old pullets are friendlier and bond better with humans.  They lived in the spare room in a big box with a heating lamp for the first 8 weeks or so.  
I learned a few things raising chicks- they are noisy and they make a huge mess. Every time I thought I had secured their water dish, they found new ways to knock it over.   Don't get me wrong, it is worth it.  But it was more work than I thought it would be.  
Also, chicks are escape artists.  Our chicks learned to break out of their box.  I don't know if you have ever tried to catch three tiny chicks (one behind the dresser, one under the bed, one boldly running around the floor).  It is not easy.  But like parenting, you recognize that they won't be little forever and you won't always be squeezing yourself under the bed to try and save one.

Time flew by and Sundown finally finished the hen house.  I admit, I was worried how it would turn out.  I gave him rough notes from my chicken care class and he drew up a quick sketch.  It turned out awesome and he got to use up some of the old wood from our former kitchen cabinets (my husband's inability to throw stuff out will be the subject of a future blog).  Eight weeks after they arrived at our house, the chicks moved into their new place- just in time for us to leave for Colorado.

This is where poor planning almost bit us in the ass.  See Sundown finished the hen house literally the night before we left for Colorado- as in he finished around 11pm and we left for the airport at 4am.  So we had no time to test it and make sure that the chickens would be fine before leaving them (and my wonderful sister Reina- who was chicken sitting for us).  Come 4am we put the chicks in the henhouse and said goodbye.  

Well, that evening my sister calls.  She got to our house after work and....Flower is gone.  The gate to the coop was closed, there were no feathers indicating that a critter had got at her- just a missing chicken.  Being out of state, there was nothing we could do.  Reina thought maybe the chick had managed to fly over the top of the henhouse fence (which we thought unlikely because it was four feet high).  She fashioned a cover from some leftover plywood and tried to think of a way to tell Zoë that she lost one of her beloved chicks.

Turns out- the chick was hiding.  We think that she managed to squeeze a tiny opening in the gate door.  According to Reina, Flower came back a little, very hungry, but otherwise ok.  As long as the gate was shut tightly, there would be no more escapees.  

The chickens adjusted to their new digs and we began the wait for our fresh eggs.

It was a very long wait.

It wasn't until November that they began laying.  Louise laid the first egg.  It was a pretty brown egg.  We were so excited.  Seeing as Sundown built to the coop, he got to eat the first egg.  It wasn't long before the chickens all started laying.  Louise and Princess lay brown eggs, Flower lays green ones.  

I am a terrible hippie.  I just need to get that out of the way before I say anything further.  I'm not much for dirt or bugs.  I really don't  like being sweaty.  I hate kale. There I said it.  I hate kale.  I like shopping and spa days. I read gossip websites.  I can name all the Kardashians (though I am a little embarrassed about it).  My preferred radio station plays Lady Gaga, not talk news (sorry KPFA).  I eat McDonalds, and I like it (though I am really trying to change that).  

I am the most unlikely candidate to become a farmer's wife.  

But here I am, canning tomatoes and plums, tending to the chickens, making my own laundry soap, learning to sew, homeschooling my kids, giving kale one more chance.  It has been a slow process getting here.  I am naturally a little lazy.  I am resistant to change.  But I am also a mom and wife and I want what is best for my family.  

So what it is best?  For me it means feeding my family the least amount of processed food as possible.  I really try to avoid serving food that comes in a box or can.  I am not perfect.  After all, I have four kids under five and, as I said, I am lazy.  So I started small, mac n' cheese.  It isn't hard to make from scratch, boiled pasta and a simple cheese sauce.  It went over well.  So added more items, mostly expensive items that I was tired of buying- soup, Bisquik, boxed rice/pasta, canned veggies, instant anything.  It isn't as time consuming as you might think and I tend to make enough to freeze for future meals.  

That said, I am no Gwynth Paltrow, sitting smugly and congratulating myself on my superior nutrition skills.  As I said, I still like McDonalds.  I am also a serious caffeine and sugar addict.  

Baby steps.  Baby steps.

I refuse to beat myself up over it.  But I often wonder how women 100 years ago did it.  No washer/dryer, no microwave, no Starbucks.  Maybe that's why everyone looks so grim in old photos- it was a lack of lattes.  

Our farm is an experiment in urban homesteading.  We are taking steps to ensure that our family (and later our community) has access to fresh, locally grown food that is good and good for them. We are applying our love for each other to food we grow and to the world around us.  Everyone deserves the best possible nourishment for their bodies.  

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas! We had a wonderful day with family, lots of good food, (mom rocked the eggs benedict and dad smoked a prime rib that melted in our mouths) and gifts were plentiful. 

There are a couple of farm developments from last week that I would like to capture here. 
Our front yard was buried under a blanket of leaves from the tree by the street. It takes a couple weeks of filling the city yard waste bin to have it all removed. As I was raking the leaves, I had an epiphany! These leaves would make great compost band mulching material. I needed a place to store the leaves until it was time to put them to use. Jennifer suggested I use some of the left over chicken wire to create large baskets. I put one together, and it worked really well! The leaves that do not fit will get added to the wood chip cover that covers most of yard. 

Today, I finished the "Teaming with Microbes" book. Coincidentally, the last chapter was about tending to the soil food web through each season. One of the recommendations it made for autumn was to save fallen leaves to use in the spring time for mulch and compost material. I feel validated.

Last week, we had thought the chickens were taking some time off from laying eggs. Then, while I was working in the backyard, Louise was squawking loudly. Jennifer came outside and said that song was Louise's laying song. I disagreed because Louise was not in the laying box. Silly me, I was of course wrong. Jennifer went over to the rosemary bush near Louise and found about a dozen eggs! About half of them were a new color and shape, as well; narrow and light green. We believe these green eggs are coming from Flower. I have since raised their laying box off the ground, and they have (mostly) returned to laying in their box.

Finally, The cute, tiered garden I constructed a year-and-a-half ago, is coming down. There is a picture of what it looked like last year below. We grew some decent crops, and it was a fun project to put it together. However, it is not practical, and I believe the space will provide a higher yield with standard raised beds rows in the same space.