Archive for February, 2011

Books Worth Reading: food gardening and the chicken micro-flock

The New Food Garden is the newest volume by Frank Tozer, an author I admire for his complete and knowledgable gardening books that don’t seem to get the attention that they deserve. This book is about how to create an integrated property producing vegetables, fruit, and pleasure. He uses permaculture principles but doesn’t get dogmatic about it. There are good sections on garden design, fruit trees and trees generally, “hard drive” infrastructure garden stuff such as paths, buildings, and greenhouses, and lots of information about outdoor living areas that assumes you will want to live in and enjoy your garden as well as harvest food from it. There are brief but interesting sections on a variety of subjects that give you a good framework for more detailed reading, such as fencing, water features, and use of human urine and humanure. It doesn’t include much info on growing specific vegetables, because he’s already written an entire book about that (and a very good one, by the way.)
This and Mini Farming are my favorites of the scads of new gardening books that I’ve looked over this winter. What’s the difference between them? MIni Farming emphasizes very precise soil amendment techniques and concentrates on maximizing returns in small spaces. Tozer takes a more relaxed approach in which compost, mulch, and other organic techniques are used, parts of the property are used as living areas rather than producing a food return, and fertility builds at nature’s pace. Please also note that Mini Farming has very detailed info on integrating chickens into the small layout for meat and eggs, while Tozer is a vegetarian and includes no information on food use of animals. The best solution is to get both. They won’t go unused.
Best tip and best quote: “You probably never realized that you are a walking plant fertilizer factory and that every day you are literally pissing away money.”

City chicks is a very good collection of information for the chicken owner who plans to have a micro-flock of laying hens. There is lots of information about every aspect of keeping a few layers, clearly organized so that beginners can find what they need. If you plan to have a dozen hens or fewer and don’t plan to produce any meat, I would recommend this book above most others. Do be aware that there is zero information about butchering and meat production, so if you plan to replace your hens every couple of years to keep production up, you’ll need another source of information about how to get them into the stockpot.
Best tip: Use plastic laying mats inside the nesting boxes. These are like stiff artificial turf, and droppings don’t stick to them. They can be hosed clean. They keep the eggs clean and dry. The hens can’t scratch them out of the laying boxes as they will with other types of bedding. This matters, because they then lay on the bare floor of the box and the eggs can be cracked, which renders them useless and introduces the hens to egg-eating. They cost about $4 each. I got mine from Murray McMurray, but other hatcheries have them too.

Choosing a CSA

If you don’t want to garden yourself, or don’t have room, a CSA is a great local-food option. You share in the season of a local farmer/gardener, and receive truly seasonal vegetables. Using a CSA for a season is also great preparation for starting your own garden, since it trains you to cook with what is in season and grows well in your area. We have several CSAs in our area, but recently I was contacted by Jill, a HIgh Desert yoga instructor who has a small CSA and is ready to take a few more customers. I have not used her CSA myself, but this is exactly the sort of Earth-friendly mini-farm that we need more of, so I’m reproducing her ad below.
Whenever you are considering a CSA, I suggest a discussion with the farmer by phone or email about growing practices (most mini-farms can’t afford the organic certification process, even if they use organic methods,) the variety of vegetables that you can expect, whether fruits and/or flowers are ever included, roughly when the season will start and end, and how many family members each box can be expected to feed.
After one or two CSA seasons, you might be ready to grow your own!

Vegetables by the box.
Mama’s Garden is a Northeast heights backyard garden CSA providing a fresh and delicious variety of seasonal vegetables, herbs, flowers and melons. Mama’s Garden is run by Jill Palmer and her son Narayan and has been selling its pesticide-free produce at local grower’s markets since 2009. Sign up by May 5th for your weekly box throughout the growing season and pay weekly. Free deliveries to the NE heights and Nob Hill. Contact Jill at

Jill adds in her email: ” I am happy to provide you references of my previous CSA members or any
> other info. you might like to know about us. Having just a backyard,
> I am not cert. organic, yet I use no pesticides and prep. the soil
> with yummy compost I make at home and from Soilutions as well as horse
> manure. I have enough variety to keep the box fun…as every few
> weeks a few more veggies begin to fruit. I sell a 1-2 person amount
> as a $15/box and 3-5 person amount as a $30/box. Yet amounts/prices
> can be tailored for more persons than that with discounts.”