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!