Aug 2000 We move to 386 49th St, Oakland, California, from Seattle via San Francisco. We set up house with a rotating cast of housemates and varying approaches to shared housing . . . with mixed success. We moved here with virtually no intention of gardening or urban farming, even though we were avid gardeners in Seattle. We even sold our wheelbarrow and implements before we moved.
Jan 2001 Begin process of ditching our straight jobs to work for selves at home. Focus on home place increases accordingly.
Nov 2001 Acquire our trusty Bikes at Work cargo trailer, allowing us to do virtually all of our grocery shopping and cargo hauling with our bicycles and human power.
Apr 2002 The minor forest of acacia trees in the backyard is finally removed, though their progeny will remain our constant companions. Holly and our housemate, Lara, begin planting a variety of native flowers and grasses amidst the vigorous acacia seedlings and the fertile ground their predecessors left behind.
Winter 2002 In our day jobs as book designers and typesetters, we produce the revised ninth edition of Carla Emery‘s Encyclopedia of Country Living. In the process, we essentially read the book three times, and it changes our lives. We regard it as a curiosity the first time round, but by the end we wonder how we’ve gotten on for so long without a flock of chickens. The 800-page book touches on virtually every aspect of homesteading, in a way that makes it seem not just eminently possible but necessary. We cannot recommend it highly enough.
Spring 2003 Begin planting vegetables and herbs in the back garden, gradually expanding the cultivated space. Plans for raising chickens are, um, hatched.
June 2003 We sell our car, and, for the first time in our lives, do not replace it with a new one.
July 2003 The inoperable hot tub in the back yard is removed, providing a pleasant little concrete patio nestled in a corner of the garden. We have previously dismantled the redwood deck and begun to use the wood and screws in the construction of our chicken tractor.
At this point we have turned most of the backyard into food-growing space. We measure the total crop-and-chicken area and find that we are working with 220 square feet of land. We affectionately refer to the size of our micro-farm as “Hell’s 0.5% Acre.”
September 2003 Acquire five one-week-old Black Australorp chicks.
Feb 4, 2004 The first egg is laid!
Feb 2004 I think it is around this time that we start to see our various practices — human powered transport, increased home food production and preservation, urban agriculture, permaculture — as a way of living that promotes species diversity and soil fertility as a life mission. Writings of Wendell Berry, Toby Hemenway, Bill Mollison, and David Suzuki are essential to this, as well as the advice and wisdom of fellow urban farmer and friend Joe Marraffino (hi Joe!).
As part of this mission, we shift to a permaculture model for the garden. Previously we had moved the chicken tractor from one plot to another, but this caused the garden to be tilled or turned on a bimonthly basis what Hemenway refers to as “catastrophe gardening” making it impossible to let plants grow for much longer than a few months. Now, we decide to we establish a program of permanent cover crops (clover, buckwheat, and fava beans) which will be cleared as needed to plant seedlings or direct-seed crops. Also, various perennial herbs and plants, and self-seeding annuals, will be respectively planted and encouraged. We are discovering that certain plants, such as kale and chard, will grow year-round in our mild climate.
March 2004 A bizarre heat wave causes all of our greens to bolt, but allows a head start on runner beans, cucumbers, and a chayote plant.
Summer 2004 We eat a lot of eggs. Also make many vats of cucumber pickles, using fermented and quick-pickling methods. An extended growing season provides good yields of scarlet runner beans, heirloom cannelini beans, kentucky wonder green beans, and pickling cucumbers; a reasonable crop of fantastic San Marzano sauce tomatoes; a ridiculous amount of volunteer epazote; and a veritable explosion of poppies, cosmos and love-in-a-mist. The chayote plant grows ten meters or so up our back staircase, but only bears four or five fruits, one of which we set aside to sprout for an additional plant in 2005.
The chickens are near their full size, and the heat and long days keep them at their most active. We let them out of their enclosure whenever we can, so they can peck and scratch in the dirt and weeds in the unused side yard. One of the things the chickens love to do is dig themselves a nice indentation in the dirt, and bathe themselves. The particular patch of soil that they use for this ritual becomes known as the Hen Waller.
Nov 2004 We butcher our first chicken. She lived for too long with an impacted crop and is rather malnourished, with a softball-sized crop full of sour-smelling partially fermented grasses. We cook her up into an estimably tasty red country mole. For the first time in our 30-something-year-old lives, we wonder at what point we stop referring to the chicken as “her” and start calling her “it.”
Nov-Dec 2004 The chickens stop laying, and we find store-bought eggs even the organic, free-range, omega-3 eggs to be insufferably pale, watery and bland. Who knew eggs were a seasonal crop? (A lot of people, probably, but not us!) We butcher our second hen, who was suffering from a prolapsed vent. She, being in excellent health, is considerably tastier than the first. We are discovering that matured, homegrown chicken has a markedly different, distinctive, and intense flavor when compared to the usual store-bought 8-week-old Cornish cross.
January 2005 The chickens start laying again, and we start eating eggs again.
Late January 2005 Letter from Hen Waller, long promised (to our selves) and never before delivered, is created.