Reflecting upon my accomplishments of 2010

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Friday, December 31, 2010 10:29 PM

Note: This is not meant to be a complete list, but rather the things that are coming to mind as I sit here reflecting upon the changes to Havenscourt Homestead over the past year. These items are not in chronological order by any stretch of the imagination.  Now that I've compiled it, I'm pretty amazed at everything I accomplished.  Not bad... not bad at all...

Construction Projects:

  • Converted cargo trailer into a livestock trailer
  • Rebuilt front steps
  • Tiled front porch
  • Widened driveway
  • Installed double pane windows throughout house
  • Built rabbitry
  • Goat happenings
    • Three healthy baby goats born, raised, and sold (R.I.P. – A2). Proceeds of their sale along with my companies matching gift program allowed me to donate nine goats and a flock of chickens to Heifer International
    • All four goats are in training to become registered therapy animals
    • All four goats participated in the Funny Farm at the Northern California Renaissance Faire
    • Lulu successfully bred to Harvey – due 3/15ish
    • Edible East Bay - magazine article
    • Backyard Farm by Lori Eanes - Photo essay book which may be printed in Oakland Magazine
  • Rabbits
  • Ducks
  • Turkeys (short timers)
  • Learned / Practiced humane processing of meat animals
    • Chickens
    • Turkeys
    • Rabbits
    • Pheasant
Home Dairy:
  • Milking (self taught)
  • Soft Cheese
    • Chevre
    • Ricotta
    • Feta
    • Mozzarella
  • Hard Cheese
    • Cheddar
    • Derby
    • Gouda
    • Farmhouse Cheddar
  • Yogurt
  • Butter
  • Ice cream
  • Very successful summer garden despite the abnormal weather. First time crops included
    • Sweet Peppers
    • Tomatillos
    • Pumpkins
    • Potatoes
  • Planted Orchard
  • Completed drought tolerant front yard landscaping, including a swing and solar fountain – Thank you everyone who helped with this!
  • Chosen to be a host garden for the 2011 Bay Friendly Garden Tour!!
  • Began foraging for mushrooms
Personal hurdles:
  • Spinal Surgery
  • 8-1/2 months disability (2 separate medical leaves)
  • Although I’m still in a substantial amount of pain at times, it is no where near as bad as it was prior to surgery.
  • And most importantly, I can walk again. Thank you Snow, Nali, Sammy, and Lulu for helping me to achieve this goal.
I'm sure I'm missing numerous items here.  But for now, looking at this list, I'm deeply satisfied.  All in all, despite numerous hardships, it turns out 2010 was a better year than I had originally thought.  Nope, not bad at all.

Here's looking to a happy, healthy, and wounderous 2011.  Happy New Year everyone!

Reflecting upon my accomplishments of 2010

Posted by Kitty Sharkey 10:03 PM

"Bunny, we're HOME!"

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Wednesday, December 8, 2010 4:56 PM

Saturday, December 4th, was yet another construction day here at the homestead. Ralph and his helper Jim came over to build my rabbitry. A few days before, Ralph and I had gone to get all of the materials so they'd be able to complete the structural work in one day.
Prior to that, I had of course designed and redesigned my rabbitry numerous times. I knew what I wanted, but had to figure out the best way to achieve my construction goals using the least amount of materials. When I finally settled on a plan, I must have quadruple checked all my measurements and material lists.
Ralph had reviewed my plans and material list. He actually approved of the design which was cool. Of course, I planned it with minimum waste and he always thinks of quickest and easiest, so I ended up having to go buy a couple more 2 x 4's because he didn't follow my cutting guidelines. I guess it could have been worse.

But once they got started, the rabbitry went together fairly quickly. Basically, I've built it along the back fence filling the space between the garage and the barn. It's five foot wide, so there is plenty of over hang. At the end near the milking parlor, I have a little half wall that will make a nice little cubby to put all of my gardening tools and stuff in.

Once they left, I started hanging the rabbit hutches. I had only put a couple of them together, so it took several days to finish them and get them all hung up. I wish I had a picture to show the whole row, but it was too dark by the time I finished. There are five cages in a row, with 8" behind them and 6" in between. There is about a 2 foot overhang in front which means I'll be able to stay out of the rain when feeding (like I did tonight).

On Sunday, I went to visit my friend Esparanza at Pluck & Feather. I had helped her process a couple of rabbits a week or two earlier, and she graciously offered me one of her young bucks. So on Sunday I brought home my first rabbit, Papa Charlie Jackson. I named him after an Early American Urban Blues artist. It was so appropriate! He's a 4 month old American Blue, and the brother of Scooter and Kumquat, two rabbits belonging to Rachel at Dog Island Farm. The American Blue is the most critically endangered breed of domestic rabbit. I plan on bringing a doe in from another breeder so that we can increase our local gene pool.
And then it was time to bring home rabbits from the breed I really want to work with, the American Chinchilla. Like the American Blue, this breed is also critically endangered. Both are listed on the Slow Food USA "US Ark of Taste. Finding a breeder in Northern California proved to be rather difficult. I was able to find three. At first I contacted the one closest to me, but the breeder was a little elusive and didn't quite answer my questions. This didn't set right with me, so I kept searching. I knew I had struck gold when I got in touch with Karen and Sandy of Snake Road Rabbitry in Oroville. They had just returned from the American Rabbit Breeders Association National Convention with a few new rabbits / pedigrees to add to their breeding program. That meant they were sorting through their rabbits deciding who to keep and who to sell so that they could make room for the new ones. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!
My oldest Doe is Delilah. She's 2-1/2 years old and a proven mom. Right now, she's the nervous one and quite shy. But I'm sure she'll settle in comfortably once she gets over the move. She will be the first rabbit to give birth here at the homestead once I breed her.

Next there is my 6 month old Buck. He came with the name Rasta, but I think I'll be changing that. I haven't figured out a good name for him yet. He has warmed right up to me and loves to be stroked.

And finely, there's my little 2 month old doe. They called her Lucy, and that just might stick. I haven't decided yet. She's a total little snuggle bunny, and cute as a button! It'll be a while until she's ready to breed, but for now I'm going to work on handling her a lot so that I can trust her with all the kids that come to visit. I just know they are going to want to pet one of my new bunnies. Papa Charlie is already super duper friendly. And this little 'un is going to be a charmer as well.

I wish I could show a good picture of their fur. It's absolutely exquisite. When you blow gently on it or brush it against the growth pattern, it divides into four distinct bands of color. Absolutely lovely. And super soft. I will definitely be learning how to tan rabbit hides soon. But no worries about these three. They are my breeding stock. They are, however, meat rabbits and that's what I'm raising them for. If I end up with any especially nice offspring, I may try my hand at a show or two. Who knows. All I know is that I'm happy to have them home!

The LONG overdue post…

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Sunday, November 28, 2010 2:57 PM

My apologies for not posting anything for the past two months, but it's been a rather hectic season here at the homestead. Let's see if I can catch you up on the happenings around here. Hrm... My last post was on September 30th. Let's see what's been happening around here this fall.

I bought a small utility trailer which I subsequently converted into a small livestock trailer for transporting my goats. It will also come in handy for such tasks as hauling hay. I've added two wall vents to each side and a fan on top which pulls the air out to keep it cool. I have a temperature / humidity sensor inside so I can monitor and insure the goats comfort. I'm giving serious thought into purchasing a remote baby monitor so I can see what they are up to when we take a trip.

Let's see... What else... Lots and LOTS of canning to begin with. I took a few of those peppers and combined them with the tomatillos I harvested to make some tasty salsa. It turned out sweet and delicious! I ended up with ten 8 oz jars.

Next, the kids and I took part in the Funny Farm petting zoo at the Northern California Renaissance Faire. I'm the Guild mistress for the Guild of Saint Blaise, the Town Criers and have been participating at faire for years. But my recent back surgery made it impossible for me to march in the parades. So I had to find something else to do that would be easy on the back. I got lucky when I found out they were having a petting zoo this year. Not only did it save me the hassle of paying someone to care for my goats while I was away for the weekends, but it was a great training ground for the kids. I'm working to get them registered as therapy animals with the Delta Society. Going to faire with them for 6 weekends proved to be an excellent idea. They got used to travelling in the the trailer, lots of loud unexpected noises, and tons of kids (young and old) petting, poking, and prodding them all day. I was so proud of them! They were absolutely wonderful with all the little kids.

We also visited the vet during this time and I'm proud to say that everything turned out perfect. The ideal weight for a full grown Nigerian Dwarf is 75 lbs. Nali came in at 76.1 lbs, Snow at 76.0 lbs. Sammy was 50.0 lbs, and Lulu weighed in at a whopping 51.2 lbs. Nali got a BOSE shot to help with her arthritis, and Lulu got one to help with her fertility. :-)

A few weeks later, we all went up to visit Sarah at Castle Rock Farm in Vacaville. She was very pleased with the condition of all four goats which made me really proud. She's been a great mentor when I've needed advice, and having her compliment me on the kids really made me feel good. While we were there, Lulu had a little tryst with a handsome young lad named Harvey. He's only a little older than her, and he has blue eyes! I'm happy to note that with goats there is at least a little bit of foreplay involved in the mating. He whispered sweet nothings in her ear and kissed her neck before mating with her (3 times!). She didn't seem to freaked out by the experience at all. Now I have my hopes up that she'll have several beautiful little babies in the spring. She's due on the Ides of March, March 15th.

On October 7th, I found out that Havenscourt Homestead was chosen to participate in the 2011 Bay Friendly Garden Tour next May. This is an annual self-guided tour of private residential gardens that demonstrate gardening techniques appropriate for local conditions. From my drought tolerant front landscaping designed to invite birds, bees, and butterflies into the yard to my vegetable garden, orchard, permeable landscaped patio, and all the way to the barnyard and bee hives, I'm proud to say that I have incorporated just about everything I learned from the Bay Friendly Gardening class series. If you haven't heard of them, check them out via the following link. They are free and full of wonderful information.

The potato harvest was smaller than anticipated. But I learned a thing or two about how they grow. I probably have enough to last through about half the winter. But next year I plan to modify my method in order to improve my harvest. I also plan on growing several more varieties.
I started selling eggs in the middle of October. I now have several regular customers that come to visit the homestead, play with the animals, and leave with the freshest eggs they can buy. It's been fun to visit with them.
Also in mid-October, I was contacted by a local professional photographer, Lori Eanes, who is working on a project called "Bay Area Backyards". To quote her website: "Food is big in the bay area. There's organic, sustainable, slow, foraged, and local food. Well, what's more local than growing it, making it, raising it in your own backyard?" I'm excited to be included in her project along with numerous other wonderful people in our community. She's been out here a couple of times already, and we're scheduled for another visit next week. To check it out on her website, click on portfolio and then projects. It's pretty cool that Snow is right there front and center on the opening page!
The goats and I took a trip to a local elementary to see 38 first graders and their 2 teachers. They have been studying the difference between species in the animal kingdom - reptiles, insects, mammals. It's a dual immersion school, so it was interesting because I was speaking to the kids in English while the teachers were speaking to them in Spanish. It was a lot of fun and they had a bunch of interesting questions. I hope that we'll be able to continue doing this kind of thing. It's great training for their therapy animal registration.
I was excited to be invited to participate in the Pop Up Urban Farmers Market hosted by Novella Carpenter at Ghost Town Farm. Unfortunately, I am unable to legally sell any of my cheese for human consumption so it must be labelled as pet food. I made special labels including a disclaimer for the back stating that Havenscourt Homestead was not a licensed dairy and that the cheese was sold as pet food and not for human consumption. The first market I participated went well. I sold a little over 6 lbs of cheese, 6 jars of pickled quail eggs, and 3 dozen lemon ricotta muffins. For the second market, I was rather busy so I only had time to make about 6 lbs of chevre and 2 lbs of ricotta. No time for baking, and with winter here the quails are no longer laying eggs. But I had several repeat customers flock to my table. I was sold out in just over an hour. It was a lot of fun, and I met a lot of new people in the process. With any luck, when the market starts back up again in the spring I'll be able to participate again.
On November 9th, I welcomed 3 little ducklings to the Homestead. I was having troubles trying to name them, but once I put in a tray of water and they hit the high seas I had no problem. They are named after 3 notorious pirates, Mary Reid, Anne Bonnie, and Calico Jack Rackham. At about the same time my friend Kate asked if I would raise a few meat chickens for her in exchange for her help culling a few birds from my flock. No problem! We added 3 birds for her and 2 for me. All will be harvested around the same time that Lulu is due in mid-March. It looks like that's going to be a busy month!
On November 13th, I picked up two free range, organically fed live Narragansett turkeys, Jen and Jules (aka Gin and Juice). They've been a lot of fun to have here on the Homestead. They are gentle giants. Jules seems to be especially attached to me and enjoys following me around the yard to see what I'm doing. The plan was to cull Jen, the larger of the two, for Thanksgiving and hang onto Jules until Christmas or New Years when she would be fattened up a bit. But after meeting Ellyn at S&B Farms and providing her with a sample of my chevre, the opportunity arose to barter for a 3rd turkey. It was just too good of a deal to pass up.

So I drove back up to Petaluma with 60 oz. of cheese (4 kinds of chevre and some ricotta) and picked up Brandy. It was actually Kate who named her. We had decided to follow a tip mentioned by Martha Stewart when she appeared on the Colbert Report and get our Thanksgiving turkey drunk before culling her. I broke down and purchased an Auspit (battery operated rotisserie) so that I could cook her over the fire pit. When the time came, Kate and I gave Brandy 3 ml of a locally distilled apple brandy, and then toasted her with a drink ourselves. She dressed out to 6-3/4 lbs (9 servings). Not bad for a bunch of cheese, eh? I roasted her over the fire as planned and she came out delicious! Special thanks to Gail, Kate, Garret, Freya, and Colin for coming to dinner and preparing all the delicious sides.
Honestly, I was very proud of this Thanksgiving dinner. A large portion of the meal came directly or indirectly from my back yard. Here was our menu:

  • Various bottles of wine including a wonderful Syrah provided by Colin.
  • Orange Ginger roasted pumpkin seeds - from my home grown sugar pumpkins
  • Aged White Cheddar - homemade using Snow and Nali's milk and aged for 3 months
  • Kate's hot mulled cider with Jack Daniels.
  • Fire roasted turkey (dry brined with lemon and rosemary) - bartered for with my cheese
  • Gail's Dressing - made with some of my homemade rich chicken stock and featuring apples, raisins, and Italian sausage
  • Kate's Gravy - made with some of my homemade light chicken stock and chanterelle mushrooms foraged by Kate in northern California
  • Fire roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts with bacon - featuring some of my home grown potatoes
  • Freya's family recipe cranberry sauce - nummy!
  • Creamed Chard with Leeks
  • Sweet Potatoes Au Graten
  • Ginger Cake with Pumpkin Ice Cream and Carmel sauce - featuring homemade ice cream using my home grown sugar pumpkins and Snow and Nali's milk. I also used their milk to make the Carmel sauce
  • Homemade Lemoncello - made with foraged lemons. A year and a half in the making and well worth the wait. Smooth and luscious!
Mary, Bonnie, and Jack got to go out foraging for the first time today. I'm glad I decided to let the grass grow on the little strip between my raised bed and the fence. It's a good place for them to stretch their legs.
They seemed to enjoy it a lot. It was definitely a heck of a lot easier to clean their indoor brooding box when they weren't in it. They will be 3 weeks old tomorrow and are growing at an amazing rate. But they won't be feathered out until about 7 weeks. That means I have about another month that they will be brooding in the house. I need to come up with a bigger box! Right now they have 2 wardrobe boxes linked together with a litter box pond in the center. But as long as the suns out, and especially if the weather warms up, they'll be able to go out for little foraging field trips into the yard.
So what's next on the horizon? Well, it looks like I'm finally going to get a release to return to work in early December. I'm excited and nervous. But I really need to get back to work. I'm broke!
As for the homestead, the next additions will be rabbits. I'm bartering for 2 American Blues, and I'll be purchasing 2 American Chinchilla rabbits in December or early January. The cages are already here. I just need to finish putting them together and build the rabbitry. After that I think I'll deserve a good rest before I start working to get the place ready for the garden tour.
Again, I apologize for the long delay in posting, and the long post. It's just been crazy busy. With winter here, things will slow down and I'll have more time to spend writing.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and I'm looking forward to a beautiful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

A Peck of Peppers, and more!

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, September 30, 2010 9:01 AM

Nay to the nay-sayers!

You can indeed grow peppers in Oakland! Practice (and patience) makes perfect!

Normally, this isn't the right time of year for peppers. However, we haven't exactly had a normal year here in the Bay Area. Our summer was much cooler than normal and I personally wondered if anything would ever ripen. But with the recent heat wave, everything has ripened all at once. This morning I finally harvested my peppers. It took me a couple of years to find the correct micro-climate in my small garden, but this year I'd say I hit the jackpot!

To successfully grow peppers, it is important that you find the hottest spot in your garden, and the place that gets the most sun (not necessarily the same thing). Plant several varieties to see which ones grow best in your area. Merritt College usually has a plant sale in the spring where numerous heirloom and other unique varieties are available.

I don't suggest starting your peppers from seed, at least not at first. Peppers can be tricky, so starting with plants will take one hurdle out of the way. Once planted, make sure to keep peppers watered well. I use a soaker hose in my garden and the peppers are right at the very beginning of the line so they get the most water.

Also, it's important to remember that peppers do not like peat moss. So use some nice rich compost to ammend your soil before planting. Finally, if you don't have luck the first year, don't give up. Try a different spot. Try a different variety. Eventually you'll hit upon a winning combination.

Last week I was crazy canning tomatoes. I've also harvested a lot of lemon cucumbers, tomatillos, picallo squash, pumpkins, and even a few small tiger melons. I've still got a trickling of tomatoes coming in, and a few peppers and tomatillos that will be ripe in a few weeks.

Overall, I'd say I've had a successful garden this summer. But it hasn't been easy. Having spinal surgery definately made it a challenge. So I'd like to thank the numerous friends, both old and new, that have generously donated their time to help me plant, weed, water, and harvest. Without all of you, I wouldn't have been able to do it. Thank you for enriching my life!

3 Raccoons, 1 Cockatiel, and an Animal Control Officer – Oh My!

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, September 16, 2010 9:27 AM

So, it's been an interesting week here at the homestead. This morning I woke up about 5 AM, which is definitely not normal. After getting some snuggles from Max, I rolled over to look out the window at my goats to see what they were up to. All of them were staring intently at the corner where I keep my quail. Oh great, I thought. Is it a cat or a raccoon that might be interested in the quail?

After staring into the corner watching for moving shadows for a good 5 minutes, I couldn’t see anything. Then the goats shifted their attention to the patio. So I figured it must just have been a cat. And then all of a sudden, I hear some rather loud splashing. I got up and went to the other window where I watched as 3 raccoons first drank, then played, and finally started fishing in my fountain.
I was torn between spooking them off and watching them play. They were only about 2 feet away but didn’t notice me at all. They were big fat healthy raccoons. Personally, I don’t mind if they get water. But fishing? No, I don’t think so. I opened the window and scared them off. But after I went to the bathroom I saw that they were back. So out the back door I went to send them on their merry way. They scampered up onto the garage roof. Just for good measure, I pulled down the ladder and went up onto the roof to make sure they were well on their way. I watched as they climbed down a neighbor’s fence and ran through their yard. My guess? They’ll be back.
Yesterday afternoon, Wednesday, I came home from the store and heard a loud squawking above my head. I’m pretty attuned to the sounds of all the resident birds, and this was definitely not a sound I had heard here before. Above me was a bird circling, calling out as if it was in distress. Then it landed in the sycamore tree across the street. I went inside to grab my binoculars and take a look. Frankie was over working on the porch tiles and we both had a good look at the fella. Yuppers! It was a Cockatiel, and a big one at that. It was obviously either an escaped or dumped pet. Not good.
So I sent a text to Wendy, knowing she was an expert on all things related to parrots and pet birds. She suggested putting out a cage, adding food and water, and a toy, preferably one with a bell, and then trying to get its attention. Oddly enough, I happen to have all these things. So Frankie helped me separate the two linked cages that I keep the quail in and get one of them down. Sorry quail, back to a tighter space for a bit. After installing food, water, and a bell toy, Frankie noted that the bell on the toy really wasn’t loud at all. Actually, it was pitiful. But no worries. I knew just where to find something louder.
No, I did not pull out my Crier bell. That wouldn’t do at all. But I’m sure all you Ren Folk will remember those gawd awful bells we all used to have back in the day. Yeah, those bells on strings that are not costume approvable. Yes, well I happened to have a string of them stashed in a drawer. Back out front, bells in one hand and binoculars in the other, I decided to see if they had any affect.
The fella seemed to be sleeping, all puffed up and no head in sight. I started shaking the bells to see if it had any affect. Up came his head. He was obviously interested. He was looking around and bopping his head around to get a better view. And then he launched into the air! I’d say I caught his attention. He flew around in circles screaming for a full minute if not more, most likely a bit confused as to what to do. Then he settled back down in the tree. I don’t think he’s used to flying that much.
So although I didn’t manage to attract him to the cage (yet), we did jiggle the bells numerous times during the rest of the evening just to let him know which direction to focus on. He squawked at me several more times. I think he’s scared. After dark, I rang the bells a few more times, hopefully to reassure him. I’ve done it this morning as well. With any luck, he’ll be hungry and thirsty today and will associate the bell and cage with food and water. If not, at least I can say I gave it a damn good effort. I’ll be ringing those bells several times today.
This brings us to the day before, Tuesday. I was expecting Freya and Colin around 6 PM. Freya needed a bodice for Casa and wanted to see if I had one to fit her. It was about 5 PM and I was getting ready to clean out the chicken coop. I walked out to the front yard and was greeted by an Animal Control officer in the driveway asking if I had goats. Oh great! Here we go again. Yes, I do have goats, and they are legal in Oakland. She said she knew, but they had received a call so she had to make a visit. She was very polite and easy going. I immediately liked her. I have great respect for the folks that dedicate their lives to animal welfare. I wish I could do it.
We went into the backyard. The kids all greeted her warmly. Once again I started talking about homesteading, animal husbandry, the municipal code, etc. She started taking some notes, but somehow ended up putting her notebook away rather quickly. It was obvious I knew my stuff and that everything was in order. She was very impressed with the barn and took some pictures. She was especially interested in the milking parlor. I gave her my website and told her she could look there for more pictures.
She said someone had called but wasn’t sure what the complaint was (i.e. couldn’t tell me). But she did mention that not everyone knew goats were legal in Oakland. She also stated that some folks are concerned about slaughter or ritualistic sacrifice. I assured her that my goats were for dairy, not meat, and that after I spent $400 on a goat, I certainly didn’t think I’d be sacrificing it anytime soon. Love you Lulu!!!
Once again, knowing the municipal code came in handy. Mentioning that Vector Control had already been here and I had passed their inspection most likely helped as well. She said that they occasionally get goats, but they don’t adopt them out like cats and dogs. They have special needs, you know. You can’t just go to your local Safeway and buy a bag of goat food. She said they find farms that will take them and know how to care for them. That made me happy.
It was sort of funny at one point. I was talking about the number of goats I could have based upon their square footage requirement. I have 4, but could technically house 8. Of course, I wouldn’t do that because it would overload my system and I’d end up with a manure problem. But the municipal code would allow it as long as I kept it clean and didn’t have any vector issues. She mentioned that a person could even have a cow if they dealt with the manure and cared for it properly. I laughed. I don’t think I’ll be getting a cow any time soon. I won’t be getting a horse or pig either. Well maybe a pig sometime, but not here. I’d buy a meat share into one raised by Sarah and Mark up in Sebastopol. Cute little piggy. Yummy! BACON!
All in all, it went quite well. Officer Nicole was very nice, had lots of questions, and seemed to like everything she saw. Heck, she even came inside for a second to check out my sizable tomato harvest. Sorry to whichever neighbor called, but I’ll be keeping them. And we’ll see you next time I take them out for a walk around the block. I promise to sweep any poop off the sidewalk.

Come meet my goats at the Eat Real Festival

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, August 19, 2010 10:38 AM

That's right! My goats and I will be participating in the Eat Real Festival this year. Our shift is on Sunday, 8/29, from 2 - 5 PM. I'll be doing a milking demonstration during the latter half of the shift.

For more information on the festival, click on the link below.

Come on out, introduce yourself, and meet my kids. Hope to see you there!

A message of thanks, and a new video posted

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Sunday, August 15, 2010 8:09 PM

This message is to everyone who participated in my landscaping party last Sunday, August 8th 2010, as well as those who helped out earlier in the project.

From the bottom of my soul, I wish to thank each and every one of you for coming to my home last Sunday to landscape my front yard and side orchard. Without you, I don't know when it would have gotten finished. Because of you, I can sit back in my swing, relax, enjoy watching the flowers grow, and heal.

Having it complete with the exception of the flagstone walkway (which has to wait until I have some additional funds) has taken a huge burden off of my shoulders. The outpouring of assistance was overwhelming. I am truely proud to be a part of both the Renaissance Faire and Homesteading communities. Both are filled with amazing, wonderful, generous, and compassionate people.

Yesterday, with the assistance of Huey and Frankie, I was finally able to install my solar fountain and constructed wetlands. Frankie is about half way done installing the tiles on the front porch. Ralph is in the process of finishing the patch job on the corner of the wall by the driveway. Once they are both finished, I will be out of construction mode for a while. That is until I can afford to rebuild my chimney, stucco and paint my house, and finish the interior remodeling in my studio library. It's taken two and a half years to get this far. At the five year mark, I hope to have everything complete. Everything takes time.

Although I was barely allowed to lift a finger, much less a cup of coffee, I was exhausted by the end of the day. It has taken me a full week to recover from the event, and not just physically. Mentally and emotionally, the bonds of friendship and love that I feel every time I relax in my swing and look around at my yard has taken me a while to wrap my brain around.

I am indebted to you all. Thank you for being a part of my life!


Havenscourt Homestead featured in Oakland Local

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, August 12, 2010 10:59 AM

Check it out!


Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Friday, July 30, 2010 9:19 AM

The following quotations are from "Goats Produce Too! The Udder Real Thing Volume II - Cheese Making & more..." by Mary Jane Toth


According to the USDA, milk should be cooled to 40 degrees in 30 minutes or less to meet their Grade-A Standards. Improper cooling can be the number one cause of off-flavored milk.

...milk is a perfect medium for bacteria. Unless you are doing a good job of cooling the milk to slow them down, the bacteria can be multiplying by the millions. This is true whether you pasteruize or drink the milk raw.

If you are at least a Grade-B, give yourself a pat on the back. This rating is very good for home use.


...bulk cooling tanks
This method assures milk will be at 40 degress or less within 30 minutes.

...containers small enough to place in tubs of ice water.
This method cools the milk to 48 degrees in 30 minutes, 42 degrees in 60 minutes, and 40 degrees in 90 minutes.

...small containers and placed in a sink of very cold water, with the water being changed 2 to 3 times.
This method cooled the milk to 60 degrees in 30 minutes, 52 degrees in 60 minutes, and was 50 degrees in 90 minutes.

Milk placed in freezer.
Cooled to 60 degrees in 30 minutes, 50 degrees in 60 minutes, 43 degrees in 90 minutes, finally reached 40 degrees in 105 minutes.

...placed in the refrigerator.
After 30 minutes the milk was 76 degrees, after 60 minutes it was 67 degrees, after 90 minutes it was 59 degrees, at 120 minutes 55 degrees, after 3 hours 51 degrees. Finally, after being in the refrigerator for 8 hours the milk was at 42 degrees.

So, as usual, I'm striving for perfection here at my homestead. When I read something like this, it becomes a challenge to me. How good am I doing? Can I do better without spending a ton of money or taking an excessive amount of time. I like to streamline my processes as much as possible.

Previously, I had been placing the milk into a sink with ice packs to cool it as quickly as I thought I could. But I never left it in there for 90 minutes. I had never really taken the temperature. I just waited a while (20-30 minutes?) and then put it in the refrigerator. It tasted good to me. And it made excellent cheese.

But now I had this book in hand that showed me I wasn't doing it good enough. After all my work to make my milking room and milking practices as sanitary as possible, I was defeating the purpose by not cooling my milk fast enough. My brain started working. Challenge on!

So after experimenting for a week or two with various ideas from circulating the milk in the pail while cooling to using my ice cream maker to speed the process, I think I've finally settled on the solution. Meet the contraption!

Here's the setup:

I purchased two pre-fab feet that are meant to be used for couches or chairs from the hardware store. I drilled holes into a 1/4" x 2" x 2' piece of lumber. After running the board through the handle of my trusty old mixer, I screwed the feet into the board. This placed the beaters about half way into the water. Not ideal, but good enough. Full immersion would probably be better. I'll play with heavier bottles to see if I can add more water to the sink for this purpose.

Next, the sink is filled with a couple inches of water and 4 ice packs. I leave the water to cool while I go milk my goats. When I get back in the house, the milk is approximately 90 degrees.

After straining the milk, it is placed in small jars in the sink of ice water. I use my digital themometer to first see what the temperature of the water is (48 degrees), and then place the probe in a bottle of the milk.

The beaters do a good job of circulating the cold water around the milk. This is supposed to cool the milk to whatever the water temperature is in 30 minutes or less. I'm still playing with the times. It cooled to 55 degrees in 10 minutes, but it took close to another 10 minutes to get it to 50. My guess is the water was warming up.

Once the temperature stabilizes and doesn't appear to be dropping rapidly any longer, I place the containers into the freezer. As you can see, I leave the probe in because I want to time the process.

Once I've achieved 40 degrees, the milk is transfered into quart jars and placed in the refrigerator.

And the results are in. I've used this process 3 times now.

Trial #1 - 29 minutes
Trial #2 - 40 minutes
Trial #3 - 32 minutes

Next time I'm going to try splitting the milk between 2 quart jars. This will allow me to increase the water depth. The result should be better water circulation and more surface contact. With any luck, I'll be at or under 30 minutes consistantly any day now. I just need to tweek the system a little bit more before it is perfected.

But I can tell you one thing. The milk definately tastes sweeter when it's cooled faster. Yummy and full of pro-biotic digestive goodness!

Quail Chow Fun

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Sunday, July 25, 2010 7:49 PM

Ok - So it's not the best picture in the world.  But at least you should get the idea.  It's a tight space to try and shoot.

As those of you who have visited Havenscourt Homested know, I like to provide my animals with enrichment.  You may recall my post about the goats playing soccer.  I like to mix it up for them.  Well today it was the quail's turn.

Whenever I go to the feed or pet store, I'm always looking for items that I can use to provide some entertainment and fun for my animals.  Having something different to do, a challenge or a treat, keeps them happy.  Today, at the feed store, I scored!  This little ball is actually a veggie ball for hamsters.  But I took one look at it and just new if I stuffed it with suet, the little quail would have some fun.

At first, they were a little frightened of this new thing in their cage.  Quail don't like change.  They get skiddish.  But I just hung it in there, went about my chores, and waited.  When I came back into the goat shed, a few of them were checking it out.  It took a little while.  But once a few tentative pecks were had, well... Quail Chow Fun!

I think I'll give it to the chickens next time.  I may have to just get a second.

Havenscourt Homestead scored an "A"

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Tuesday, July 20, 2010 11:51 PM

The plus is on the way...

Apparently someone in the neighborhood had an issue with my homestead. The questions were who and what. I now know what, but I’m not quite sure of whom. I suspect it was the neighbor, not directly behind me but two doors down to the right on 66th Ave. I only suspect this because I have actually seen them out in their yard (twice), not that I can actually SEE much of their yard.

The neighbor directly behind me and the ones on either side of her NEVER go out into their backyards. When I look down from the roof of my garage, all three yards are nearly waist high in weeds. The house to the left has the back door and windows boarded up, even though I know a guy lives there. 

And the garage of the guy on the right has become a green roof due to years of fallen debris and neglect. There is absolutely no way I would step foot on that roof. I’ve seen the back wall of that garage directly behind mine, and what’s left of it is rotten to the core. I honestly don’t have a clue what is holding that building up.

On my street, the neighbors two, and on one side three doors down as well as two neighbors across the street all know about my homestead, come over to visit, and have never expressed any issues or concerns. I would hope, since I’ve been so open and generous (garden surplus anyone? Eggs?) that they would come to talk with me if they had an issue. So the question is: Who called vector control?

That’s right. Alameda County Vector Control. On Thursday, July 8th, I came home to a nice little door tag with a card from a vector control officer that stated he needed to discus an “environmental health hazard” in the neighborhood. Great. Just great!

I can’t tell you the horrors and legal battles that went through my mind. I shot off several e-mails to other homesteaders in Oakland to see if they had had any issues with the department. I did a quick mental walk through of all my control systems and knew I was more proactive than 80% of the homesteads I’ve visited.

Let’s face it folks, I’m pretty damn picky and resourceful. A visitor once told me that if Martha Stewart had a homestead, it would look like mine. I wasn’t sure how to take that since I’m not really a MS fan. But I took it as a compliment (clean and orderly enough to be on her show). I have designed my entire homestead around ease of use and maintenance. Hello? I’m disabled. It’s all about striking a balance and not overloading the system. So WTF was the problem and who complained.

I called when I got home from work on Friday (my last working day for two months) with a cheerful positive attitude and left a message asking him to call me and that I was available for a visit on Monday. After that I wasn’t going to be available for a week or so as I was scheduled to have spinal surgery on Tuesday the 13th. I called again on Monday morning and left basically the same message. No reply. But no more notices either, which was a good thing.

So yesterday morning, I got “the call”. I took the upper hand with a very positive attitude and invited him to come on over for a visit and to discuss any issues he saw as well as possible solutions as long as they were environmentally friendly. He said he had waited to call because of my message. That was very considerate of him. Good sign…

He said if I wasn’t up to a visit due to the surgery, he was more than willing to wait and schedule a time later in the month. But I told him I was actually up and mobile with a walker in the house and a cane outside.  I was available all day.  No worry about the time, just swing by when you’re in the area. I did ask him if he had received a complaint. He stated that he had received a call, but it was more of a concern than a complaint. Hrm… what did that mean?

At about 1:00 PM, he showed up with another lady officer (his partner?).  I was just saying goodbye to another visitor when they arrived. I showed them into the house and asked them to wait for just a moment while I went to the bathroom. Pee, deep breaths, wash hands, square off with myself in the mirror, another deep breath or two, and then a smile. You go girl!

I greeted them again and asked the question that was burning in my mind. “I know you’re not allowed to tell me who called, but you said they had a concern. Can you tell me what it was before we go out back?” He said someone was concerned about my bees. Apparently they have grandkids and had noticed some dead bees in the spider webs on their back fence which they had never seen before. He was here to assess the situation, make recommendations, and so forth.

Bees… whew! I knew I was safe. I invited them to come out, see my homestead, and meet the residents.

“You have more than just bees?”
“Oh yes. I have chickens and goats and…”
“You have goats?”
“Yes. They’re my therapy animals”

I explained that when I had injured my back a year ago, I had to go out on disability for 4-1/2 months. The first month, I was basically bedridden and wasn’t making any progress. My physical therapist wanted me to get up and move, to walk and stretch. So I got my goats. They gave me a reason to get up each day. I didn’t have a choice. I had to go out at least twice a day to feed and care for them. A flake of hay or a scoop of grain didn’t weigh anything. But having those chores gave me purpose. And the affection and emotional healing that came from them was incredible. Within two weeks I was up, moving about, and showing improvement. I explained that I believed the reason I was standing today rather than lying in bed after spinal surgery was because of my goats. They are helping me to heal.

FYI, this is not just a story. It’s 100% true. But the fact that I had just come home from the hospital and had a handicapped placard in the car didn’t hurt my cause one bit. Into the backyard we plunged. They were immediately impressed by the gardens. I started talking about all the things I grow and how I’m trying to produce 75% of my own food supply.

They could see the hives on the roof of the garage. I explained that I was working with this guy Steven who is a college professor. He teaches genetics and is concerned about Colony Collapse Disorder. He has hives all over the bay area and is trying to develop a disease resistant queen. They nodded as I continued.


We discussed my pond and the constructed wetlands.  I noted that I didn’t have any mosquito issues because I didn’t have any standing water. As if on queue, a big beautiful yellow butterfly fluttered by and landed to take a drink from the bog garden. I explained how it not only provides water for my bees, but habitat for all sorts of insects (beneficial or not). I have a thriving population of California Slender Salamanders that depend upon those wetlands for survival. I’m hoping to attract a frog or two at some point.

Then into the barnyard we plunged. All four goats immediately came to greet them. The officers were all eyes, looking everywhere at once and wandering around. I explained the various fly controls that I use. It starts with manure management. I scoop any chicken or goat poop twice a day and it goes into the compost pile. I have a monthly subscription to Spalding Labs for Fly Predators, tiny wasps that feed on fly larvae. They were very interested the bag of little buggers hanging from my tree. I spray the yard with an organic Pyrethrin insecticide that is approved for use on the animals. No I don’t spray the animals, just the yard. I showed him the bottle and we discussed the dilution I use as recommended on the back.

I know, I know. Some of you are cringing at the thought that I spray any kind of chemical in my backyard as I consider myself an organic gardener. But let’s face it folks. I live in the middle of a city on a standard city lot. I have wall to wall (ok – 10 feet between the houses) neighbors for miles in all directions. Having a fly issue is not an option. Period. I take what I do here very seriously and consider it my responsibility and duty to make sure that my activities do not adversely affect the lives of those living around me.

They were impressed with the barn. I explained that there was an existing structure that was falling down.  I have rebuilt it and expanded upon it. As required by code, the hen house is 20 feet away from any house, school, or church. They inspected the goat shed. We talked about the quail. I pulled one of the little hens out for them to pet. Oh how cute! They could see that all my feed is stored in sealed bins.

He asked, if I wasn’t offended by the question, do I ever… you know… eat any of my animals. Yes, as a matter of fact I do.  I raise several chickens every 6 months or so for the dinner table. I explained that I live alone and that each chicken basically amounts to 6 meals. So if I slaughter 3 or 4 chickens, that gives me meat once a week for 5 or 6 months. I also explained that I was raising the quail for meat. One quail = one meal. Instead of 4-6 months required for chicken, quail only take 6-8 weeks from hatch to table. The goats were strictly for dairy and no, I didn’t sell any meat products.

We looked into the milking parlor. I explained that the reason the milk stand was so high was because it was designed for a disabled person (me). Everything in the yard was designed with my disability in mind. Milking has to be done in very sanitary conditions.  I designed my milking parlor so that I can literally hose it out. I think they were impressed. I assured them that I was not selling any dairy products.
Next, we went inside the central barn building itself. I showed them how I designed the chicken coop with a raised laminate floor for easy access and cleaning. I showed them my cleaning supplies and explained how I could use a whisk broom and dust pan to scoop all of the chicken poop into a bucket. Then I use a little Swifter sweeper thingy and some spray cleanser to mop it out. I asked them how many coops they visited where the homesteader not only mucked out the coop, but mopped it out as well. None. The woman turned to me and asked “How did you come up with all these great ideas?” I just smiled, pointed at my head, and shrugged.

I explained that by raising the floor of the hen house I had allowed myself room for five bales of hay. Again, the chicken feed was in a sealed container. He asked me if I ever had any issues with rats or mice. I explained that the only exposed grain on the entire property was here inside the coop where the chickens ate. As he could see, there was no evidence of mouse droppings in the food. When I built the coop I had a concrete floor poured in order to seal the building. With the door shut, there was no way for any rats or mice to get in.

Unfortunately that system failed when I had electricity and lighting installed. Instead of coming through the wall of the barn, my electrician brought the conduit up between the wall and the floor of the building. He broke my seal. Grrr. A little after that, I started noticing mouse poop. So I installed two large TomCat bait stations. I found one dead adult and two dead babies the next day. Since then? Not a single mouse or any evidence. 

Finally, it was time to check out the bees. I showed them the custom ladder I designed. In order for someone to access my bees, they have to make an effort to do so. I said I had ordered a “No Trespassing – Honey Bees” sign to bolt directly onto the stairs. So a person would have to stare directly at the sign while unhooking the bundgie cord to take down the ladder. I consider this the ultimate safety net. There is no chance of someone stumbling into my yard and accidentally running into two hives. You only have to hear the story about a guy that was running from the cops. He hopped a fence and ran smack into a beehive. He got hundreds of stings and had to go to the hospital. He sued the homeowners and WON. Ridiculous!!!

The man declined going up as he had a bad knee. I jokingly called him a woos, and said that even I could go up and I had just had spinal surgery. We had a laugh, but the woman followed me up. She was immediately taken by the view of the hills. Beautiful.

She glanced over at the hives, and then I showed her the backyards behind me. I’m not sure that she meant to use her out load voice, but she said “Well none of these people should have anything to complain about.” I just smiled to myself and continued with the tour. She gave one of the hives a little push to see how stable it was. Not a budge.

Back into the yard we went, where the gentleman explained that the neighbor had been concerned about what would happen if a raccoon were to tip one of the hives over.

“Are you serious? Do you know how much one of those things weigh?”
“No. How much?”
“Oh, a good 70-100 lbs. I don’t think any 10-15 pound raccoon is going to tip one of them over.”

I also explained that they couldn’t easily open the top. Bees seal their hives. In order to access and inspect them, we humans need a hive tool – basically a fricking crow bar. I also said that I doubt resident raccoons or possums would go to the trouble of trying to access the hive. Let’s face it. In our environment, they are scavengers. They are looking for garbage, dog food, and stuff like that. You think they are going to risk several hundred stinging angry bees for a little honey when they can just tip over or climb into someone’s garbage? Um… no.

All in all, they were very impressed with the systems I had in place for vector control and even complimented me. As for the bees, their only suggestion was that I move them away from the edge of the roof and into the center of the garage. That way their flight path would be less obvious to any neighbors, and any dead bees that were cleaned out of the hive would be deposited on my roof rather than on the property line. Not a problem. I said I’d call Steven and tell him we needed to move them (all of 5 feet) next time he came to inspect the hives.

Before they left, I did apologize for the woos remark. We talked about my current project of converting the front yard into a drought tolerant landscape. I’m planning on turning the parking strip into a pollinator garden for butterflies, bees, etc. The woman and I shook hands. The gentleman and I actually exchanged a one arm hug. They left happy, and apparently satisfied with everything they saw.

WHEW! After they left, I cracked open a bottle of wine and settled down for a nice relaxing nap on the chaise under the new picture window in front. What an experience!

My advice to any homesteaders out there – make sure your shit is in order at all times! Read and know your local municipal code (I was able to quote all 5 times that goats are mentioned in the Oakland municipal code). And most importantly, have a positive attitude during any interactions with any authorities. It makes all the difference in the world!