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Archive for the ‘HOMEGROWN Life Column’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Let’s Talk Security

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREEN-150x150Security. It’s something I never really bring up but I think it’s important that I discuss it. This time I’m not talking about food security, biosecurity or keeping your hens safe from raccoons. Rather I want to discuss keeping an unwanted two legged animal off your property.

Over the past year it’s definitely been a concern and lately that concern has become even stronger with some events that have occurred in our neighborhood as well as some outside of our neighborhood. It’s caused us to push back some of our projects to take on new ones.

The old gate

The old gate

We first started thinking about security when we had to stop giving tours. We started making changes in how we presented our public persona including being very vigilant about never sharing any details about where we live.

When our next door neighbors sold their house it sat vacant waiting for escrow to close. We have been very vigilant but we can only do so much. In the weeks it’s been empty we’ve had squatters move in (fortunately our old neighbor showed up the day they moved in and kicked them out), people sleeping in the backyard, people kicking in doors and trying to break in anyway they can. We even caught another neighbor from down the street robbing the place. The cops got involved and stolen items were returned, but the offending neighbor wasn’t even cited and it left us feeling rather unsettled. We know who this neighbor is and they have been nothing but bad news.

On top of that, when we went to go talk to our neighbors across the street about the happenings next door to us they said they had recently seen some man come out of our backyard. We figured it was our milk delivery guy but she said he wasn’t carrying anything so we can’t really be sure.

Over the course of the past few years there have been issues with urban farming. Some urban farmers in Portland that were having a go with animal activists stealing their animals. One urban farmer had 23 animals stolen from him. One of the rabbits had just kindled and the thief left 9 newborn kits to die. The rabbits were dropped off with a rabbit rescue where they were later found by the owner. Granted this happened in Portland, Oregon, but the animal rights activists here are crazy enough to pull the same stunts. Hell, they’ve already tried to sabotage Kitty’s homestead once already (one of the reasons we stopped giving tours).

With all of happening at the same time we’ve decided that it’s time to increase our own security here. While the alarm system covers our house and the dogs are great guards, we want to ensure that no one can actually access the backyard without our (or our dogs’) permission. Our animals not only depend on us for food, water, shelter and love, but they also need us to make sure they are secure. Part of that security includes keeping unwanted people out of our yard.

The new gate, installed

The new gate, installed

The first order of business was our side gate. It kept the dogs from getting out, but that’s about all it did. It was flimsy and we had just put it up in a matter of hours when we first moved in because we didn’t have a gate. This time we hired our neighbor who is a retired contractor to build us the Fort Knox of gates. None of this flimsy wood panel thing we were using. We went with full on 2×6 and 2×8 pressure treated wood with 2×8 framing. Using a metal strut we tied it to a house stud. No one is kicking it in. You’ll also notice that there is no handle or latch on the outside. It also automatically closes so we can’t leave it open on accident.

Most recently we moved and replaced our driveway gates. When we first moved in, there wasn’t any fencing along our widest side yard, which is approximately 15′. Large enough to drive a vehicle behind our house. Again it was a quick job just throwing up a gate at the back of house to keep (or in Squeak’s case, attempt to keep) the dogs in. Unfortunately this left the huge blank wall of our house on that side exposed. One of the concerns I’ve always had was vandalism. The wall is easily visible to the street and having no windows on that side I’m surprised it never became a magnet for graffiti. We have now moved the gates towards the front of the house to protect that wall along with making them stronger.

In addition, we added an 8 camera security system that we can view on our phones. We had a 4 camera system, but it didn’t cover our backyard. After the fire, we realized we really needed to be able to see what was going on back there. I see and hear about all sorts of shenanigans going on in our neighborhood and I firmly believe that between the dogs, alarm system, gates and cameras, we’re pretty secure. Honestly, even if I lived in the country, I would make sure to have a security camera system.


Rachel on Vegetable VarietiesRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!


HOMEGROWN Life: Remembering Dollie

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016


HOMEGROWN LifeHave you ever known someone who just made you feel good to be around them? Like a kind old aunt who in her gentle way, had a presence that brought out the best in the people she met.

That’s what my Dollie was like. Except Dollie wasn’t a kind old aunt, she was a goat. I lost Dollie on January 7th. There’s a big hole in the barn without her.

Now, when I open the barn door, expecting to see her face light up and greet me, she’s not there.

Dollie had a way about her from the time she came to live at Bittersweet. She was a two-year-old then. She was born on a farm in Washington, Maine, part of Pixie Day’s herd. Dollie was always a little smaller than the other girls in the herd. She had a gentle nature, and the combination of the two meant she got pushed around a bit. After she delivered twin boys in her second year, Pixie decided she would be happier living on another farm, so she contacted Brian at Seabreeze Farm to ask if he knew someone who would give her a home. Brian contacted me. I had just started my herd with two goats from Seabreeze, my Frannie and Barnie. I called Pixie and went to take a look at her. It was love at first sight.

Dollie came home to Bittersweet and I gave her a stall to herself. She was pretty scared. She hadn’t been handled much and I realized she just needed space to adjust to her new home. For the next four months, I spent time letting her get familiar with her new surroundings, and me. It took time but finally she stopped running into a corner of the stall when I opened the gate. We went from her not wanting to be touched, to daily brushings and time playing with the little ones. Eventually, she assumed the position of “herd Queen”, being the oldest.

Still, she was always gentle, never pushing anyone away when treats were given, always allowing the little ones to have their way. I think she always remembered what it was like to be bullied in her original herd. As the years went by, she liked coming out of the big stall to enjoy her twice daily ration of grain and sit with new little ones in the next stall. They would gently push their foreheads together, share bits of grain and hay and sometimes, at least it seemed to me, talk to each other. She was like that gentle old Aunt you know who was always happy to share bits of candy from her apron pocket.

Dollie lived at Bittersweet for five years. During that time, she gave me two sets of twins, two boys and two girls. Shellie is her baby from two years ago. She’ll have babies of her own next spring. Shellie is very much like her Mother. She too has a gentle way about her. She plays with the babies, always waits patiently for her food. Sometimes, when Frannie decides she needs a few more pats, Shellie will look at me as if to say, it’s ok, I’ll wait.

This was the last Christmas I had with Dollie. On Christmas morning, I sat in her stall with her head in my lap and we listened to Christmas carols on the radio. Their station is always set to WBACH. It was the most peaceful Christmas I’ve ever spent, and I smiled at the irony of it. Twelve days later, I was calling my friend Duke to help me put Dollie to bed in her final place. She’s in the pasture, where each day I can visit, say good morning and then go out to the barn to greet her herd mates.

They say if you want to learn how to treat your fellow human beings, spend some time with animals. I know mine have taught me a lot. Dollie’s gentle ways and kindness towards her herd mates is an example. She had a quiet presence, but her manner and gentleness shouted a big lesson in how to make it through this life with humility, grace and compassion.

I miss you Dollie. There’s a big hole in the barn without you. I thank you for the five years we had together. You’re gone far too soon and I’m sure if we had more time, there would be so much more you could teach me. I’ll miss our talks and our giggles at Frannie’s antics, especially times when she thought she’d dethrone you from being “herd Queen”. You’ll always be my Queen of the barn. And, in the spring, if Shellie has a girl, we’ll name your granddaughter after you. I’ll be thinking about our times together when you gave birth to babes with me by our side. It will be Bittersweet. But, I’ll never really be without my Dollie.


HOMEGROWN-life-dyan-150x150Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.


HOMEGROWN Life: Deciding Which Vegetable Varieties to Grow

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENAnother year has come to an end. The seed catalogs are rolling in, and as I sit here drooling over them, I keep coming across new, exciting vegetable varieties that I just have to try.

There’s a part of my brain that’s screaming at the rest of it: “Don’t fix what isn’t broken!” Year after year, I post about what I’ve learned, and one of the recurring themes is to stick with the things I know work for our area—not to risk losing productivity because I’m feeling adventurous. But really, what fun is that?

Vegetable VarietiesThere are some things I’m set on keeping the same. The Orangeglo watermelon and Bidwell Casaba have been very kind to me, unlike most other watermelon and melon varieties, so those are here to stay for the long haul. Catskill Brussels Sprouts will also probably stick around. There seem to be so few varieties of heirloom sprouts, and these do the best.

I always say not to mess around with our corn selection. We grow Bloody Butcher corn, which has served us well. It gets HUGE and gives us multiple relatively long ears on each stalk. The corn can be used fresh, or you can let it mature into a dent corn. After a failed attempt at saving seed from it and coming to the realization that we just don’t have enough space to save corn seed and avoid inbreeding depression, I’ve decided to expand my corn-growing horizons to include a flour corn, a sweet corn, and a popcorn.

Unfortunately, there’s no fast way to determine which varieties you should grow for all vegetables. Your best bet is to find varieties that were developed in areas that have a similar climate to where you live. For instance, Italian varieties will probably do best in coastal California, where we have the same basic climate. Russian varieties might serve you well if you live in colder areas. If you have a short season, choose varieties that mature quickly. This, of course, can take some research to figure out. For cool season crops, you’ll want to make sure they have enough time to develop before warm weather hits. For warm season crops, you want to give them time before the frosts come. Seed packets and catalogs include a number, usually next to the name or after the description, denoting that variety’s average number of days to maturity.

When it comes to latitude, rather than season length, onions are much more specific than most other vegetables about where they can grow. Varieties will either be long day, short day, or intermediate. If you live north of 35 degrees latitude (draw a line from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to approximate), you’ll want to grow long-day onions. South of that, grow short-day onions. If you’re just on either side of that latitude, you can grow intermediate onions. I’ve also had good luck with long-day onions here on the 35th parallel.

Besides climate, you’ll also want to look at the size, yield, and disease resistance. If late blight is a problem in your area, choose vegetable varieties that have some resistance. If you have a small garden, choose compact or high-yielding varieties to make the most of your space.

Or you can do what I like to do and just pick a bunch of varieties to try and see which ones do best. Good luck!


Rachel on Vegetable VarietiesRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!