Cast and Crew

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli

It's that time again.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

What will you be ordering for your 2014 seed collection?

Here's my dilemma.

You probably already know that food policy is something I genuinely care about. You also likely know that I support small, sustainable operations, from the neighborhood brick & mortar shops to the 1 acre hobby farm bringing fresh herbs to my local farmers market. Seeds aren't really any different. In fact, supporting small growers and distributors of vegetable seeds is perhaps one of the most important contributions an individual can make to steering food policy (on the large and small scale) in the direction of recovery and investment in our (horti)cultural future.

We're deciding this year that we will never again buy from a seed distributor who has not signed the Safe Seed Pledge. Lucky for us, there is a bountiful list of producers who value genetic diversity and the preservation of important species as much as we do.

Our seed list for 2014 will be fulfilled by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds again (we have ordered from them several times before). We have also decided to grow what we are good at and what we really enjoy eating from the front yard. This means fewer tomatoes, and those that we will grow will be in pots, little or no eggplant, and definitely no potatoes. Some things are just cheaper, better, and easier when they come from a farmers market. I should admit here that I get a lot of grief for my good-intentions-but-poor-follow-through with trellising tomatoes every year. Ditto for the typical pumpkin and winter squash extravaganza that inevitably ensues.

Now my only issue is to find where we will plant all of these! A few old standards from our seed stock will also find homes in raised beds this year. Our garden plan is almost complete, and it's nearly time to start prepping beds and planting the earliest little ones for transplant in March. Where does the time go?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Has It Really Been 18 Months?!

Wow. Eighteen months is a long time to abandon a blog.

And, yeah, I'm sorry for leaving you hanging for so long, but I totally have a good excuse. I swear.

Darragh is our newest little urban farmer. He hasn't learned too much about composting, permaculture, or succession planting, but he totally understands what tastes yummy. He was born in December, so we've been very busy learning how to be parents between now and then. The garden is a little weedier than usual, but things are still growing, producing, and going to seed when we miscalculate how much time we have to wash diapers, clean bottles, fold laundry, get the dog hair out of the baby's mouth, and harvest bok choy.

In both the sad and happy news side of things, our flock of laying ladies has gone through much change. Of our original group, only Ellen remains. She still mourns Portia daily. Of the second group, only Dark Meat remains. And she has taken up the torch of Resident Mean Bird (though she could never surpass Raquel in that role). Winnie and Ingrid are buried between the pear trees in the back. We miss their antics and crowing (more on that later). To replace our losses, five new girls have come home to roost with us. Three New Hampshires, one Brahma, and one Cornish Game hen are now nicely settled in and laying pretty pullet eggs. They remain unnamed as part of our layer-to-meat-bird program. After having to "put down" Winona, I am finding that personality, individuality, familiarity, and compassion combine into a disabling force for the hand holding the axe.

We have also gone through some changes around the yard. Our contractor friend built two new cedar decks for us, so we will be redesigning the back and side yards to coordinate. We also have plans to expand the chicken run since the ladies are now confined all the time. With winter around the corner, our seedlings for the cold months are already in and thriving, and cover crop will be planted in the other beds soon. A few more beds will be added before the worst of the autumn weather hits, and we already know what will live in those next year. Garlic should show up in the post any day now, onions will need to be ordered, new carrot seed will be picked out of a catalog, and a possible deal for more space will be struck with a neighbor.

This will also be my last year of college classes. Hurrah!

As the next season approaches, what are your plans?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

RBCF Early Spring Photos

Red Barn Community Farm

Four miles from my house, down the side streets and back streets behind the train station, through old neighborhoods built in the early 1900’s, past signs of houses for sale or in foreclosure, and alongside a small huddle of people waiting for a city bus, I parked near a decrepit, red barn with boarded up doors. The driveway down to the field is still thick with mud after all the winter and spring rains we’ve had. Thankfully, I remembered to throw my muck boots in the back of the car. Larimer Road, which becomes Lowell-Larimer Road another mile or two south, is one of those hard-to-find back country drives through scenic farmland and momentary river views. I think most people don’t even know where it goes anymore. What little noise comes from it faded as I worked my way down the muddy track toward what will be the parking area once things dry out in a few weeks. I was accompanied by robins hopping through the thick blackberry tangles. Smaller birds, and here my lack of bird knowledge will show quite clearly, darted in and out of tall, dry grasses. Far to the east, beyond the border of this ten acre plot, a bird of prey swooped low over the fields looking for an early lunch. The sun warmed me through layers of polar fleece and wool, but it disappeared with the fast moving clouds overhead. A swift wind was whipping its way around the farm. I wondered how seedlings would be able to withstand it. A little further along what was once a roadway, I see stakes marking plots. Most of them have been taken over by wild mustard, chickweed, quack grass, and others I can’t identify. I’ve read that the types of weeds your soil grows will tell you a lot about its fertility. This looks like healthy soil. The demonstration gardens up front, and a second plot further back, are still being used. Kale, broccoli, collards, onions, and some cabbages stand in defiance of the wind. I kept walking back, all the way to the edge of the area that had been plowed up last year. It’s an impressive amount of space. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen ten acres bare and waiting like this. Living in the city, it’s difficult to envision how big an acre is. Ask me how big a three by six raised bed is, and I can show you without a measuring tape. This scale, on the other hand, looks daunting. I turn to look back at the barn by the road, now in the far distance. Welcome to the Red Barn Community Farm.

Red Barn Community Farm is an urban agriculture project in the city of Everett, Washington. It sits on ten acres of Everett-owned prime river bottom soil, of which about two acres have been actively cultivated. The farm is divided into individually farmed plots which are rented, crop share plots worked by groups, food bank plots for the Everett Food Bank, and a demonstration garden. 2012 will be the second year that this land is farmed by the Red Barn Community Farm.

As of the month of March, I have begun an internship with Red Barn Community Farm (which may be referred to as RBCF throughout all related posts). You might already know that I’ve been studying Environmental Planning and Policy through the Huxley College of the Environments at Western Washington University, and this internship will help me satisfy some credits and requirements for that degree. More importantly, however, this opportunity will let me jump into a hands-on urban agriculture project in my own neighborhood. I’ll be chronicling the steps in this journey through blogging, interviewing, and writing reports, and you’re welcome to join me along the way. Yesterday was my first visit to the farm itself. It thrilled me to the very core. This is exactly what I feel I should be doing in the world, and it feels great to express it in actions and words.

My internship will evolve as the seasons progress. For the time being, I will be involved in planning and organizing some aspects of the farm. I’ll show up for work parties and other events that promote RBCF, I’ll create and maintain social media for the farm, and I’ll be looking for local businesses and organizations willing to share labor, materials, and other types of donations to keep us going. I’ll learn about what makes a volunteer-driven organization succeed or fail, and hopefully I’ll figure out how to build a farm like this in any community. During this experience, I’ll also conduct interviews with participants, organizers, and other organizations around the world who are doing similar work.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about where I fit in when it comes to my environment, my community, my family, my job, and even my own garden. Deciding to take on an internship of this size is nothing to sneeze at. I started this blog to find a way to write about my experiences as an urban chicken farmer. Somewhere along the way, I realized I needed to do more. Now I find myself in the middle of an intense college education, struggling with a job that doesn’t fit very well anymore, and ready to take on not just a career change but a lifestyle adjustment. This is still just a city chicken farm, but it’s about to grow into something more.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hoop House Line-Up

We've had a busy summer! Even though things stayed cool this year, we harvested a HUGE amount of produce from the front yard. These pictures are only a small representation of the bounty we have enjoyed.

Yay for eggplant! This was our first year seriously trying out eggplant and peppers, and they were both a tremendous success. Thank you hoop house!

We grew four varieties of eggplant and four varieties of peppers, sweet and hot, and everything was successful. The peppers didn't turn red until they were picked (more on that later), but the flavor has been awesome. As for the eggplant, we had to give tons of it away because there was just so much!

Who knew we could get actual raspberries the same year we planted canes? These went in early in the spring (March to be exact), and they started producing ripe berries in September. We're still harvesting them this week. I expect they'll continue until the first frost hits, which we expect to see in the next two weeks.

Have you been thinking about constructing a hoop house for your garden? We're still harvesting ripe tomatoes off the vine, and once they're out we'll use the plastic to cover one of the winter crop beds. Hoop houses and cold frames are a great way to extend the season in your area, and they allow you to grow hot weather plants in the cool Pacific Northwest.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Spring Buzz

We installed our first package of bees on May 10th, and they've been busy buzzing away since then! I worried, as I always do with new things, that something would go wrong, but our hive appears to be strong and healthy, and they're making solid progress.

These pictures were taken three weeks ago, and there's even more comb development now. The bees clustered around the queen (who is marked and has been seen recently), so I switched a few of the frames to spread them out. They started out all on one side of the hive.

Look at all the beautiful new comb they've built! For those of you who raise bees, yes, we're letting them go wild with the comb building, and I probably should have cut some of this off, but I simply couldn't bear to destroy something so gorgeous.

Up close and personal, each individual bee is doing her own thing. During inspection they hardly notice that you're watching them. They keep working, building, dancing, and buzzing along.

Clusters of adult bees protect young larvae from the chill of being exposed to the spring air. We try to observe our hive on warm, sunny days at about 2:00 PM when the workers are out gathering pollen and nectar.

Capped brood comb is a good sign! Bees only live for about 45 days, so they really need to start that next generation of youngsters quickly.

Sometimes the girls get a little creative with where they build comb. This bit was attached to the inside of the inner hive cover (I flipped it upside down when I removed it from the hive). I had to scrape this bit off with the hive tool, but it wasn't a tremendous loss to them. The real bonus was getting our first taste of honey from our own bees!! Sure, it tasted mostly like the sugar water we're feeding them, but it's the thought that counts.

Is anyone else starting off with bees this year?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Raquel's Raspberry Bed

Raquel took ill Friday evening. I found her sitting with the younger hens in the coop, something she would never have done if healthy. Raquel was always at the top of the pecking order in our flock, and she's pecked everybody in the household including me. I brought her inside for a checkup, and I found that she was covered in poo. This happens sometimes when a chicken gets too weak to stand or move. It's terribly undignified. I bathed her in the sink and gave her a blow dry, then carried her back to the coop to be with her friends. She was worse on Saturday. I kept her in isolation in the mud room for a few hours, but she didn't last long.

We don't know what claimed Raquel's life; possibly an impacted crop or something she ate. I held her at the end when she thrashed her way out of this world, and it still hurts to think of her suffering.

Raquel would have been two years old in just a couple of months. She had a crooked toe, a wicked sharp beak, and was the fattest chicken we had ever seen. She will be sorely missed. In her honor, the newly built raspberry bed will be named Raquel, and we'll think of her each season when the new shoots come up in spring.
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