February 2012 Archives

Made By Hand- The Beekeeper

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Please enjoy this short film from the fine dudes at Made By Hand. We filmed it this summer at Eagle Street Rooftop Farms and I'm so excited to see the end result! Frankly, I'm a little misty over it!


Talkin' Trash and Black Gold

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Between 2004 and 2005, the NYC Dept of Sanitation conducted a census of what was hiding in our trashcans and recycling bins: The New York City 2004-05 Residential and Street Basket Waste Characterization Study, or WCS. It was the first comprehensive look at our waste stream since a similar DSNY study conducted in 1989/1990.

If you've read my earlier posts, you're probably aware that I kind of have a thing for trash.


While I love me some good scavenging action, there's a lot more to our waste stream than finding drawers in it. Bear with me today; this trash talk has a good point.

A few years ago, I read an article somewhere about how our thrown-away Chinese takeout leftovers produce large amounts methane, a pretty feisty greenhouse gas, as they decompose in landfills. Well, more than just the leftovers... it turned out that just about any organic material (kitchen scraps, paper, yard waste, natural-fiber fabrics, etc.) in the ol' landfill, when entombed under other crap, decomposes anaerobically (i.e. no oxygen present) and emits methane as part of that process.

trashcan_car.pngVroom vroom!

Back to the 2004/2005 WCS. I was happy to see, among lots of interesting data points, a focus on organic waste. Apparently, the amount of organics in our fair city's residential waste stream, if apprehended, could exceed one million tons of material per year. And that's only counting kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and compostable paper... and only, again, residential. If we also count paper material otherwise designated for recycling, a whopping 64% of our waste is organic.

More than half. Of the 64,000 tons* of stuff we place curbside. Per week. *According to 2004/2005 figures.

And a buttload of it is heading for the dump. Hello, methane!

The good news is that we regular folk can get crafty to address this problem, benefiting us individually and our ecosystem (and the DSNY, if you care). Fellow homesteaders, take heed.

This is what I aspire to...

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Check out a great video from FairCompanies.com on this lovely couple getting by on their own grit, ingenuity and hard work. This makes me miss my granddad, who was quite a grower and thinker in his day!

Love you, Pop-pop!

George.JPG (Me and my Granddad in front of his garden and the greenhouse and potting shed he built in his backyard Baltimore. He grew vegetables and african violets)

Real Men Knit (For Babies)

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I typically steer queer of these kinds of stupid gender role things. Sure, knitting was historically, at some time and some place, a man's job. Sure, men knitting has been the subject of a handful of books, documentaries, and blogs and online communities over the past few years. But the point isn't who. You see, real people knit - men and women. And they're all big weirdos.

For us homesteaders, sovereignty can extend beyond the kitchen, garden, and workshop... all the way to the rocking chair. If you don't practice any fiber arts, I recommend giving the ol' knitting needles a go.

Knitting is one of those crafts that can take a loooong time, present many opportunities for mistakes, and may leave you with a finished product that doesn't fit or that you don't really like. By the same token, it can be awesomely rewarding and a good way to keep busy when you're laid up or forcibly quarantined. There are a million free resources online for learning how to knit (YouTube videos!), and luckily, it's a fairly simple practice; nearly all patterns comprise a small set of common manoeuvres: knit, purl, yarn-over, slip, and a few others. If you have the tools, making your own needles is definitely an option... otherwise, kits with multiple sizes and circular setups can be pretty inexpensive, cover most projects, and last forever.

I took up knitting about eight years ago, but I'm by no means an expert. Since then, like Liz Lemon, I've picked up the needles only rarely. More recently, my knitting exploits have been mostly inspired by gift opportunities. And there's no better gift opportunity for a knitted something than the stork's arrival.

Babies are delicate, slobbery, crabby critters; as I understand it, they should be kept warm at all times, and they should be surrounded by soft stuff. Also, folks generally care about babies more than regular-sized people, so if you're a procrastinator, the fact that a baby will be receiving your handmade gift might keep you more inspired than you were with, say, that watercolor painting for grandma you never finished. Enter the knitting needles!

Traditionally, baby knits involve small needles and thin, lightweight yarn. That means more stitches per square inch, and, thusly, more time spent knitting for the same amount of finished fabric. So socks would seem like a good way to go for a quick project - babies have tiny feet. Unfortunately, I've only experimented with the humble tube sock and have yet to truly master the art of gusseting. Tube socks are fine for my calloused, worn feet, but doesn't an infant deserve something a little more?

Although it will, I'm warning you, require a significant time investment, I think that a really beautiful and thoughtful way to celebrate the birth of a baby is with a knitted blanket. I made one with a simple, repeated pattern a few years ago for my cousins' daughter, and it was a hit. Now, whenever my family talks babies, I inevitably get the look that says, "You'd better dust off those needles." Funny how quickly a family tradition can develop...

So, with the news of my second first-cousin-once-removed's birth, I'm back at it. Last week, my cousin Kelsey and her husband Aaron welcomed baby Brayden into the world, and I couldn't be more excited to play the part of fairy godfather.


Gardening for Transients

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In spite of my impending move to Locust in August, I still plan on gardening this season same as I ever did. I'll only make slight modifications so that I can take some of the fruits of my labor with me and leave some for the people I've shared the yard with for the past 6 years. It takes a slightly different game plan, but ultimately most of it will be the same.

My seeds are started. I WILL have a garden this season. Even if it means it's all in 5 gallon food buckets. I've got seeds started. It is on.

seedlings1.JPG seedlings2.JPG Grow you little f*ckers, grow!

It occurred to me that some readers and students have asked me before what to do when they aren't sure how long they will be in their apartments. I often tell people just to start a few containers and hold off on any big plans until they get settled. That response isn't entirely fair since many young New Yorkers never really do get settled. Living here can mean a lot of bouncing around from place to place. Should they have to miss out on the joy of really getting down in it and growing more than just some basil on their kitchen windowsill? I don't think so.

Now that I am in a position to actually consider mobility, I have some better advice to give. This is based on my experience this season so if any migratory gardeners out there have anything to add, please feel free to comment.

There are a few things to consider before you start dreaming up your garden:

Are you anticipating a planned move during the growing season?

Consider your move date. There are plenty of short season crops that you can harvest a ton of before you have to uproot yourself. Think of lettuces, radishes, cool weather crops like peas and kale and chard. Pea shoots are also a great crop as they are quick to harvest, can be planted densely for maximum yield and taste really friggin' good.

Seed catalogs are going to be your best friend for researching harvest dates. Pick things that can be planted early and will be harvested by the time you need to move. If you just HAVE to have some late season crops like squash, peppers and tomatoes, pick compact types that grow in containers without trellising. It'll make moving them easier.

SexySalad.JPG Porn for gardeners. That's some sexy salad!

Are you not expecting a move but your living situation seems...precarious?

Keep it in containers. It's pretty straight forward advice, but it's the most sensible. If you have to move it unexpectedly, you won't even break a sweat over it...with the exception of the sweat that comes with lifting heavy containers full of wet soil.

You should also stick with some of the short season crops listed above so you can get as much food out of your garden in as short amount of time as you can. Make it worth that ever-present sense of doom looming over your precious garden. There's no telling whether or not you'll be able to bring your beloved plants with...or if the new outdoor space will have the same conditions as your current backyard.

As for me, this year I'm going greens heavy in the raised beds in our yard. Radishes, spinach, mustards and pea shoots will adequately fill my salad quota and tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will be planted in movable containers. I've got garlic and Egyptian Walking onions in the ground right now which I'll be able to harvest right as I pack my boxes to go. Anything else I need I'll just have to buy from some of my urban farm-y friends.

For the neighbors I'll be planting some pole beans in the other beds, and everyone will be able to enjoy them for a time, along with the jerusalem artichokes I planted this fall. I'll likely put a few tomatoes and herbs in permanently so that the place isn't empty when I leave. Once I get to Dirty Jerz, I'll be able to sow some more mustards for a fall harvest along with some winter wheat and other fun junk. I haven't even begun planning any of that yet but I'll let you guys know when I do!

Spring is really close guys! Are you as excited as I am?

I freaking love these bees!

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Just went up to check on my two remaining hives. Both, I am happy to say, are still kicking, with plenty of food stores left for now. I'll probably need to give them a feeding boost in March, but if this mild weather continues, we're likely to have an early bloom that the bees can take advantage of. Lots of early blooming Norwegian Maple around here and I often see the bees bringing bright red pollen in around late March which I haven't been able to ID yet. I need to get one of these!


Anyway, my one colony is approaching it's 4th season here in Brooklyn! Never a chemical in that hive, culled about 75 percent of all of the foundation and it's still kicking. I'm proud as hell of those bees. I hope they continue to thrive either in NJ at Seven Arrows or at Brooklyn Navy Yard. I still haven't decided where I'm going to put them down, but I'm sure wherever they go they will be of real benefit to the gene pool there.


The second colony was a first year package that seems to have taken well to being on a rooftop. Mild mannered, productive. Low mite counts throughout the season. Also no treatment and foundationless. Some promising bees, for sure! Can't wait to see how they do in the Spring!

Man, moving these things sure is going to suck.

My style of homesteading is the down-and-dirty kind. That's not to say I'm struggling to survive or living in filth; quite the contrary, actually. But you won't find me showing you how to make jerky out of a gorgeous D'Artagnan whole filet, no matter how good Ross's looked. And boy, did it look good.

I'm too cheap, too broke, and too habitually tinkerish to do the kinds of otherwise homesteady things that require lots of purchased inputs. What I hope to share here are stories of creative problem solving with a minimum of brand-new, bought things and a maximum of, for example, "Did you see all that old wood piled up on Broadway?" That means lots and lots of scavenging.

Scavenging, or the art of finding - either through gritty determination, pure luck, or both, plus alcohol - gems among refuse, plays an important role in many homesteads, mine included. Among its children are some pretty polar extremes like dumpster diving for edibles (which gives some people the willies) and buying ludicrously-priced vintage designer clothing and accessories at small LES boutiques (which, I guess, gives some people the willies too, come to think), with lots of stuff in-between. For me, scavenging usually takes the form of finding useful materials on the sidewalk or in dumpsters, and there are few materials more useful, in my view, than the humble drawer.

I first truly considered the drawer after swapping some furniture with my roommate, Ariel. I had no space in my new bedroom for the big ol' dresser I'd found on the street in Park Slope (a scavenger's furniture goldmine, by the way), so I traded it to her for two small white Ikea dressers. I used one appropriately and ended up looking at three left-over roughly cubic foot drawers, thinking, "What the hell else can I do with these". The rest is history (see "planter", below).

The drawer can be made into all sorts of goodies:

At easiest re-imagining, the open-topped box is great as-is, as a storage box, under-bed or otherwise. Think...

Turned bottom to the wall and properly hung, shallow-ish drawers make cool shelving for all of your Tami Hoag and James Patterson thrillers.

With a few holes drilled in the bottom for drainage, a drawer becomes a nice planter for your container garden. Lettuces, I've found, particularly enjoy this kind of digs.
drawer_planter.png (Important: keep in mind the actual drawer material here. Better to stick with solid wood or plastic for planters, as particle-board (or worse) bases will rot and you won't be able to move them without the bottom falling out. I speak from experience...)

Drawers can usually be disassembled fairly easily into flat boards for other uses...

And don't forget about the pulls. You can do all sorts of shit with pulls: coat-hangers, towel-hangers, jewelry, more jewelry.

Like with mushrooms, it's said, once you've learned how to look for drawers, it may seem they're looking for you. As always, keep your eyes peeled, especially on trash day - or, better yet, the night before. Focus on large apartment buildings, which are more likely to be constantly tossing furniture items. If you are new to scavenging bigger items and, like me, don't own a car to haul them away, remember not to take more than you can carry home. Carrying a large and awkwardly-shaped treasure, even if it's light as a feather, can get real old real quick.

Speaking of real old real quick, why on earth all this drawer talk? Firstly, I just really love drawers because they're so useful. Secondly, the other night, the Homestead Fairy hirself gave me an early Valentine's Day present: two clear plastic drawers in a pile of rubbish on Willoughby and Lewis Aves.

cats and drawers.png

I'm going to try something new with these beauties: "cold boxes" for my garden, to help my crops get a head-start early in spring. They'll act as mini-greenhouses, turned upside down with a hinged top flap, protecting seedlings against the chill. But that's a project for another post.

Folks are always throwing away drawers. Give one a new life on your homestead.


I met Michael James Meier in passing last year at a Backwards Beekeepers meeting hosted by Brooklyn Grange, where he serves as their farm manager. I had been hearing stories of his resourcefulness and creativity. I also caught wind of how he jokingly refers to himself as the "Brooklyn Homo-steader" which I found totally hilarious and awesome! I recently met up with him to see if he'd want to pick up some of the slack on the blog and contribute some of his own musings to which he happily agreed to be involved! I'm really excited to have a different perspective shared on Brooklyn Homesteader for a change! Welcome, Michael!

You guys will see more posts from Michael in the future, focused on crafting with salvaged materials, homebrewing, beekeeping (this spring will be his first year!) gardening and eventually some livestock adventures of his own. In the meantime, here's a little Q&A with Michael to get you all acquainted!

So, Michael. Where are you from?
I was born and raised in a little town called Stuart on the southeast coast of Florida, just north of Jupiter and even more north of Palm Beach, and even more north than that of Miami. I've been living in NYC for about seven years and have tried out a few neighborhoods along the way: East Village, Financial District, Chinatown, Crown Heights, LES, and, now, Bed-Stuy (where I plan to stay put for a while).

When people ask you "What do you do?", what do you tell them?
Well, I worked in digital media and advertising for a couple years after school, helping big bad companies like Walmart, Kraft, and Goldman Sachs spew shit all over the internet. Mea culpa. The money was great, and I managed to pay off my hefty student loan debt. But luckily the experience was pretty polarizing for me, so I was able to eventually escape despite the material cushiness of it all.

I bit the bullet in early 2011 to make right with the world and pursue a career in urban farming. Right now I'm employed with Brooklyn Grange as farm manager alongside Ben Flanner for the 2012 season. Otherwise, I'm the proud father of two formerly-feral cat siblings (Boy and Girl); an enthusiastic, polite bicyclist; thrift-store rummager; community-gardener; seamster; knitter; found-materials artist; and otherwise homesteader.

Can you tell us a little bit about your Brooklyn homestead? What kind of projects do you have going on right now?
I like to experiment, so I've usually got at least one new project going at any time. But, generally...

Food: Right now I work with about 70 sq. ft. of container growing space on the roof of my apartment building, some clay pots but mostly stuff found on the street... buckets, storage bins, crates, and drawers. I'm also lucky to have two beds at my community garden around the corner (probably should keep that on the downlow). All in, I grow a nice haul of veggies: tomatoes, peppers, onions, beans, beets, carrots, kale, lettuces, and mustards. I'm shooting toward completely covering my veg needs, at least throughout the season, but haven't quite gotten there yet. But I like going to the greenmarkets anyway. I have played around with canning, but never get my hands on enough stuff at one time to make it worthwhile. I save seed. Too much seed.

Tipple: I brew beer year-round with a setup I bought (gasp!) at Brooklyn Homebrew. I don't get too creative unless I'm brewing for holiday presents; I usually stick to good ol' IPAs, or saisons in the summer heat of my un-a/c'd apartment. I'm thinking nice and hard about a still for this year.

Home: There's been lots of renovation and new construction in my immediate neighborhood since I moved here, so I've been a pig in shit. Lots of old wood, new wood, screws and nails. My dad got me a drill kit for my birthday a couple years ago, and boy has it come in handy. I've made lots of shelves and some little decorative odds and ends, but my biggest project so far has been a cabinet made with old red-stained cedar with ikea bed slats for shelves. It's missing doors, but for now it'll do. I also have a thing for taxidermy, and much to the chagrin of my poor roommates, I can really stink up the apartment when I don't know what I'm doing (which is just about always).

Other: I make my own toothpaste and deodorant off and on and make pomade with beeswax (soon enough, my own beeswax). I like to get crafty with my knitting needles and sewing machine, and there is nothing that can't be made out of burlap coffee sacks, let me tell you. My worm bin eats up most of my rubbish, and I use the castings in my garden.

How did you get into doing all of these things?
I was doing homesteady things for the fun of it before I even knew of the word, but I suppose that's how it always goes. Things just kind of developed over time. I guess my first real forays into homesteading were when I grew some veggies and herbs and foraged edibles in my backyard in Crown Heights. Once I caught the bug, it spread to other areas. I'd been doing the thrift store/free-box/craigslist thing, crafting, building stuff, and sewing and knitting here and there for years, but it all seemed to coalesce after I started to take control of my food. Along the way, I had delved deeper into food policy, economic policy, environmental issues, global corporatism, etc. and it began to make a lot of sense for me. What was becoming my homestead had already proven incredibly enjoyable and rewarding personally, so when I started to understand it as a way to rebel against evil, there was no turning back.

Who inspires you to keep living the sustainable life?
Probably the most influential piece of homsteady literature I've ever read is Dolly Freed's landmark Possom Living. Freed - especially as she was, then - is my homesteading idol. Otherwise, I'm particularly inspired by Vandana Shiva, Gene Logsdon, and Will Allen. To my other idols out there, sorry for blanking.

Dolly Freed in Possum Living from Tin House Books on Vimeo.

Want to describe yourself in five words?
Five words are not enough!


Want to learn to keep bees here in the finest metropolis on this planet? Sign up for my class at 3rd Ward!

In this class you will learn about honeybee anatomy and behavior, hive function and construction, neighborly relations, urban beekeeping pros and cons, disease and pests, legality and safety and much more. You will leave this class with enough understanding and confidence to start your own colony in the Spring.

There are a couple spots still available, so grab one before they're all gone!

A Trip to Cold Antler Farm

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a.k.a. placing my rabbits in foster care.

Just got back from an overnight trip to Washington County to drop of the rabbits until I get settled in at the new place in August. Jenna was sweet enough to take my gang in for a few months, which was a huge relief. It's a lot for any non-rabbit person to take care of that many critters, but Jenna has experience and I trusted that they would all be safe in her barn with the rest of her rabbits.

borntoride2.jpeg (The gang, ready to roll. Salad took the front seat with me. After all, she IS my girl!)

I'm kinda bushed but I really wanted to share my experience in some capacity. I wish I had the energy to describe the whole trip, but I managed to snap a bunch of pictures with my phone while I was there so I think I'll just share those instead. Enjoy!

photo (24).JPG(Tim O'Neal is a Brooklyn-based urban beekeeper, instructor and blogger over at Boroughbees.com. When he's not obsessing over Apis Mellifera, he keeps busy baking first-prize quality pies with pictorial crusts.)

I should start off by saying that this is probably the prettiest beekeeping book I own. Not only is the layout and design extremely thoughtful, but the quality of the paper and printing is top notch.

Beekeepers Bible.jpg Unfortunately, this is probably the best thing about the book, and alone is not enough to recommend spending any of your own hard-earned money on it.

Fortunately, this book was gifted to me (thanks, Meg), so we won't have to worry about that and I don't have to be sour about spending $35 that I could have spent on something better. (Cheeseburgers?)

Really, the title of this book is appropriate. Like the bible, it tells a great story, full of historical trivia, interesting characters, quotes, battles, parables, and bite-sized lessons. Then again, like the bible, it isn't a lot of help in living your modern life, or managing your bees, as the case may be. The trivia adds context, as do the characters, but the lessons themselves are out of date, trite, or just one-sided. Both were even written by committee! The Beekeeper's Bible has no less than 22 listed authors, and just like its namesake, suffers from constant self-contradictions in sections written by different people with different opinions on how things should be done.

That's not to say that this book is useless- The Beekeeper's Bible has more of these quotes and tidbits of beekeeping history and lore than almost any other beekeeping book I have in my library, and it presents it all beautifully. About a full third of the book is devoted to this material and it tells a wonderful narrative of how humans and bees came together over thousands of years to arrive at the relationship we have today. The section on different varietal honeys is the best I've seen. It also has the nicest looking chapter on identifying species of honey bees from all over the world that I've seen in any beekeeping book. This is nice, but not particularly useful when you're likely to only ever work with one, Apis mellifera, the European honeybee.

This is an example of the book's greatest flaw. So much space is dedicated to the context and imagery of beekeeping that there is very little left for the immediate and practical lessons that a new beekeeper requires. As I mentioned, the history of beekeeping gets a full third of the page count. Sections on different products of the hive (varietal honeys/wax) and their uses (recipes/crafts/value added products) take up another third. These sections are great, but of little interest to me, so I won't be discussing them in detail.

That only leaves (let me do the math) ONE THIRD of the book for information on practical beekeeping. For a new beekeeper, this is woefully insufficient. In a book with room enough to devote 13 pages to describing the various plants that one can have in a garden to attract bees, surely there should be enough room to devote more than two half-pages to the varroa mite and how to treat them.

Nosema, probably the most common bee disease, is mentioned early on in the book as, "...one of the most important diseases in honeybees." It gets four paragraphs in a section on bee diseases, pests, and parasites, and no suggestions for treatment other than the use of Fumigilin-B, a fungicide. (P.S. Fresh food, water, brood, and ventilation will do the trick without the use of any drugs, if you were wondering.)

In the end, this book is a hard sell. If you are a new beekeeper looking for a solid book to get you on your feet and your bees through their first winter, look elsewhere. This book is not what you need. Try the Beekeepers Handbook, 4th Edition by Alphonse Avitabile and Diane Sammataro.

0 B's - bbbbb

If you are an experienced beekeeper who is looking to expand your library, this book is somewhat more appealing. The sections on historical beekeeping, plant varieties, recipes, and value added products are top-notch, as are the illustrations. Just don't expect to learn anything you'll use in your bee yard.

3 B's - BBBbb

Amazon link: The Beekeeper's Bible

Recent Happenings

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I'm not sure I can adequately articulate the strain I've put myself under for the past 6 months. It's been brutal. My desire to pile us much up as I can fit on my plate has in some ways caused me to bite of more than I can chew. Between farming upstate, trying to write a book, struggling to maintain good relations with neighbors and make enough money to pay NYC rent I've been burning the candle at both ends. I've been sick because of it. Headaches and stomach aches and self medicating with excessive good drink and good food have been common themes in my life since Summer. Es no bueno.

But, gladly that is coming to an end it seems. While I'm approaching my busiest time of year I've improved my time management skills a bit. I've been leaning heavily on Google Calendar and to-do lists and that's helped me prioritize and move things through the queue a bit more swiftly. The next step for me is turning off the AirPort on my computer so that I can focus on completing the last couple chapters of The Rooftop Beekeeper instead of noodling about on Facebook (which I've become convinced is some tool of oppression, but I digress...I'm mostly kidding). My manuscript will be done soon and that will be one large weight off of my shoulders.

In other news, over the next 6 months Neil and I will be wrapping up life here on Jewel Street. We'll be taking up residence on a little speck of land overlooking the Navesink River in NJ. We'll be just an hour outside of NYC, which means we both can hold on to our sources of income until we get our little farm off of the ground. We'll be able to keep more chickens, more bees, our rabbits and maybe even add some goats and pigs to the mix! Hell yeah!

Before we transplant ourselves, I'll be operating a small Urban Farming Pop-up store called Hayseed's Big City Farm Supply with the folks from Brooklyn Grange and Domestic Construction. We'll be selling beekeeping gear, chicken and rabbit feed, seeds, soil, books...we'll have workshops and a reading nook filled with old farm and garden books. We want to be a springboard for dreamers. Come all ye pie-in-the-sky-ers!


For now, I'm simplifying things...I'll be planting most of my garden in containers so that come August I can just move it to NJ. In the raised beds I'll plant early season crops. I'm moving the rabbits to Jenna's place upstate. She was so kind to offer her barn for them to reside until I set down roots. I'm heading up tomorrow and I was invited to attend a work horse lesson which is tremendously exciting to me.I like to fantasize about having a team of oxen one day, though horses seem to make more reliable workers. I'm quite looking forward to the opportunity to bond with some larger four-legged beasts.

I'm a little worried about Hazel. She's gotten a pretty funky ear infection. The same sort that Salad came down with right after the kits were weaned. I imagine it has something to do with a weakened immune system. Sal's ears are nearly cleared up after a few feeks of applying propolis tincture and ointment. I will have to do the same for the other now. Hoping that in the next 24 hours Hazel's ear improves (I've cleaned and dressed it this a.m.) or I won't feel comfortable taking her up there. It's one thing to take a healthy rabbit up to a friends house for looking after. It would be quite rude to take an ailing bunny.

So, that's how my immediate future is shaping up. I start checking bees for dead outs this week. I've seen my bees flying on mild days so I expect I'll find them hanging tough in their little pine boxes. It's hard to say what my clients bees will look like, but we'll know soon enough. I can't wait for be season, I'm telling you!


Online Vegetable Gardening 101!

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Well, my beekeeping 101 online class went over nicely (students, expect the final recorded session shortly) so I've decided to add a class for those who prefer the gentleness of growing veggies over the stewardship of stinging, venomous insects. Behold, Vegetable Gardening 101: The Online Edition.

Check out my next class! It's going to be really fun...full of videos and reading and homework about microbial life and light mapping and rot and squishing bugs! Doesn't that sound exciting?! (I'll answer for you: It does! You just don't know it yet!)

Sign up, learn 'em veggies and help me get my behind onto a farm where it belongs!

DIY Jerky: Food for the Post-Nuclear Family

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rbb profile.JPG

(Guest-blogger Ross Brown lives in Boerum Hill Brooklyn with his wife Lisa and teenage kids Tobin and Avery. A still-new urban gardener, he is adding his second beehive on his roof this year and proud to be one of the founders of the Backwards Beekeepers of NYC. An avid runner, you can find him crossing the boroughs with NYC Bridgerunners.)

When I began keeping bees on my Boerum Hill rooftop, one of my main concerns was how my neighbor, whose balcony abuts my roof, would react. Gabe is a lovely young fellow who was thrilled to see the hive being set up. He told me he thought beekeeping was super-neat (maybe those are my words, but you get the point) and that he, too, was a bit of a DIYer. He makes his own jerky. He gave me a bag of some beef jerky with a spicy dry rub he made and I was blown away. As a baseball coach and father to a teen athlete, I spend a lot of time at the ball field and often depend on jerky for quick easy protein snacking. Unfortunately it's typically packaged, commercial jerky, so receiving something so freshly made was a real treat. It was delicious, flavorful, and the freshness was unmistakable. I asked if he could teach me and he was kind enough to spend an afternoon in my kitchen sharing his expertise. And when my mom and step-dad visited recently, my step-dad Bob was kind enough to help me make a fresh batch, and he took these great photos so I could share the process with you.
jerky ingredients.JPG
The first step is deciding if you're going to make a dry-rub or marinade, or both. Think of flavors you like and don't be afraid to experiment. I use a broad range of flavors: cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne, chili powder, salt, pepper, brown sugar, molasses (lots of molasses), soy sauce, onion, garlic, orange/ lemon zest and juice, anything you can consider. I mix the rub together and set it aside for application, and I also cook up a batch of fresh marinade.

It is done.

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This morning we woke before sunrise and dispatched Sal's litter. We let them run around freely in the cool morning air for a while before we thanked them and harvested their bodies. They were beautiful creatures and they met their end at the hands of the people who loved and valued them. I'm happy to report that everything went swiftly and smoothly and now my freezer is full. I'll spare everyone the details and pictures. It was a pretty personal experience, raising an animal from a baby and then converting it into food...one I think any meat-eater should experience for themselves. I look forward to honoring them in the kitchen.

After we cleaned up, we had drinks nearby and toasted to their little spirits.

AToast.JPG (Tequila Sunrises in honor of the rabbits.)

The rest of the gang will be moved upstate this week for a few months while I work out plans to move to a new farm nearby. This is big news. I'll have space to grow food on a larger scale. I'll be able to raise goats and pigs and a larger flock of hens in addition to rabbits. I'll still be close enough to the city to continue teaching classes weekly. Actually, I should get into the habit of saying "we" because Neil, my devoted boyfriend, will be participating in this endeavor as well. He's been a tremendous support and we'll be taking this voyage together. We will be farmers. It is what I've always wanted and now it's happening.


The End?

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Yesterday I got some bad news from one of my landlords. I should preface this by stating that I have one wonderful, responsible landlord and one not so nice, kind of irrational one...I've posted about friction in the house of late but now it's come to a head. Their partnership is dissolving and now I have to move the backyard farm.

At first news of this, I panicked. This has become my life and I am not certain how I will adjust to not having access to a space to grow food and raise critters to feed myself with. And then it dawned on me...I've simply outgrown being here. While I certainly don't think I deserve to be the target of anyone's anger, I do see how my lifestyle might rub people the wrong way. It marks me with a rather large bullseye. My interests are not meant to anger anyone, but I can't much help what other people think or feel about it. I thought I was doing the best I could to be considerate, tidy and self-aware but it may not have been enough. And so it is. I have to clear the farm stuff out.

I'm moving my rabbits over to Dara's place temporarily. They will live in the hollowed out carriage house in her backyard in Bed Stuy. I've got to cull Salad's offspring this weekend. I'm simultaneously filled with dread and anxious to see the job done. They've been getting free outdoor time daily and seem happy and I've been enjoying my time with them. Even so, the time as come. I may just sell off Hazel's litter because I just don't know where I'll be able to cull them once they are of age. I've had kind offers from folks upstate to host such an event but money is extremely tight right now and I can't afford the gas and tolls for such a trip.

The chickens are staying put for now. The bees will be moved to Brooklyn Navy Yard in the Spring where they will be part of Brooklyn Grange's new bee yard. It'll be a good place for them because I can pester Tim to check in on them every so often.

As far as the gardening is concerned....I'm not sure if it's worth trying to plant at all this Spring. Maybe just a ton of early crops. Radishes, greens, peas...

I'll be able to get my hands really dirty with the ladies at Domestic Construction this Spring and Summer. I've signed on to help them get Design Plot, their urban garden, up and running. They are really inspiring ladies so I'm so completely stoked that I get to work with them on this. I've got a post coming up on a truly awesome project involving me, the Grange folk and Domestic Construction...Stay tuned for that!

Anyway, I'm certainly sad that things are ending on a sour note here at Jewel Street, but I've been sensing the end drawing close for some time now. I've been planning and scheming. I've got a project on the wings for later this summer, into 2013 which would afford me space, freedom, and some quiet all within reach of the city I've grown to love. I'll be able to bring my critter kingdom back together under one canopy of trees overlooking the shore. It's going to be beautiful and inspiring and I cannot wait to share it with you all. Once I've got all of that settled and confirmed, I'll spill all of the beans about it.

With that, I hope that you all continue to follow me on my journey. I'll still be teaching classes and working with other folks on their projects. Things will be different, but not much so. This is not the end. Just a little bump in the road. I've been fortunate to be cruising for as long as I had been.


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