I love my life (too)!!!

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Tuesday, December 25, 2012 9:43 AM

This morning, I read a post entitled "I Love My Life... No Really" by my friend Rachel over at Dog Island Farm.  After talking on the phone with my breeder Sarah from Castle Rock Farm last night, discussing how much we're both ready to put 2012 behind us, Rachel's post really hit home.
"Sometimes as I'm trudging down to the goat barn in the dark, wet from rain and mud, to do my twice daily milking chore I have to wonder why the hell am I doing this?"
Her post is well worth the read.  And I couldn't have said it better myself.

The rains this winter have wrecked havoc on my barnyard, and due to a number of unexpected factors my garden was less than spectacular last summer.  Heck, I never even got a winter garden in.  But I sit here on Christmas morning with my box of seeds, seed catalogs, past garden plans, etc, a cup of coffee, and no worries about the rain outside as I start making plans for my 2013 garden.

I have a freezer full of meat that I've raised myself, a pantry of home canned fruit and veggies, more eggs than I sometimes know what to do with, and a couple of 3 gallon carboys with homemade cider happily bubbling away in the hall closet.  This morning I picked oranges off one of my trees to enjoy with breakfast.  Yes, I had to trudge through the muck and mire out to the barn to feed all the critters.  But Tony greeted me with a number of gobbles, and Candy and Lulu bleated loudly to remind me they are in standing heat and wondering why I haven't made arrangements for their romantic tryst yet.  Soon, my sweets.  Very soon.

Sammy always wags his entire body as he runs over to greet me, and Pappy just wants his mutton chops scratched.  Nali and Snow were snuggled together in one corner of the barn, and Gretel was happily munching away at the hay feeder.  The rabbits come to the door of their pens when I stop by to feed them, several allowing me to give them a good rub behind the ears.  And while the chickens and female ducks are happily munching away on the scratch I've tossed out, Spanky my drake is chasing at my heals protecting his ladies.  Of course, I always squat down to give him some good rubs on his back with only the slightest protest.  It's like a game for us.

This winter I've had to set up a pump in order to drain away standing water in my barnyard.  I've shoveled and moved more mud and muck than I want to think about.  And I now have a sandbag berm (pictured above) built to keep the water out of the hay barn and goat shed.  But the animals are dry in their shelters and the rains are truly a blessing after last years winter drought.  When I'm trying to get the pump to work while standing in 8-10" of standing water, or slopping through 4-5" of mud, it's hard to be thankful for all that water.  But deep down, I truly am.  We need the rains.

Around my homestead, winter is my downtime.  The farm is in maintenance mode.  And I have time to relax in my warm house and plan the upcoming projects for the spring and summer.  I've returned to work after 7 months out on disability, so I'll have a regular paycheck coming in again.  Once my taxes are filed, I'm hoping to have enough of a return to be able to afford to have a drainage system installed in the back yard.  That's the big ticket item.  I also want to build another raised bed under the picture window in the front yard.  And I'm giving serious thought to a narrow concrete walkway around the perimeter of the barnyard.  I plan on replacing my compost bins with a more stable wooden structure and with any luck I'll have enough time, money, and energy to finally build the goats a deck up on the barn extension.

Yes, those are some mighty big ideas.  Some may happen, some will be pushed off to next year or beyond.  But for now I'll spend my morning deciding which varieties of tomatoes and peppers I want to plant, and when I need to get them started.

Merry Christmas everyone!  Here's looking forward to 2013!

((( HUGS )))
Kitty and the Critters

Back from my LOA

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, November 8, 2012 8:31 AM

Sort of...

I've just returned to work after being out on disability for 7 months.  Woohoo!!!  

A couple of months ago, my home computer broke down.  I haven't had the money to get it fixed.  Hence, I haven't had an actual computer to work on.  I've been keeping up with e-mail, facebook, and a little bit of research via my iPhone.  But it's not exactly an easy format for blogging.  So sadly, I haven't been able to post about any fun or interesting stuff to my blog.  But with the return to work, I should be able to afford to fix my desktop sometime soon.  And when I do, I'll be back to posting here on a fairly regular basis.

But for those of you NOT connected to me via e-mail or facebook, let me introduce a new member to my family.  Meet Pappy Stora!  He's a Shetland sheep wether and super duper sweet!  I love my Pappy!!!

I'm looking forward to learning how to sheer, process, and spin my own wool.  Should be lots of fun!!!

Thanks for your patience.  More to follow soon!


DIY SIPs - Part Two

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, August 9, 2012 1:40 PM

Did I mention in yesterdays post and pictures how much I love corn?  Or how excited I am to actually have success growing corn on my garage rooftop?  Yes, well...  What can I say.  CORN!!!

But here's what wasn't included in yesterdays DIY SIP post.  After a few weeks on the rooftop I was so impressed with the rate of growth, how healthy the plants were, and how easy the system was to maintain.  So what did I do?  I pushed the envelope a little further!

If you know me at all, then you know that I like things to be aesthetically pleasing rather than just functional.  And I am not going to fill up my backyard with a bunch of blue plastic totes.  All the large pots in my backyard are already modified SIPs that I've considered quite successful.  Now I'm thinking about further modifying those pots to incorporate some of the things I learned with the totes.  And I'm also already envisioning improvements that will make it even less work.

Meanwhile, I decided to test out the same system but in a half barrel instead.  Well, basically the same system.  A few modifications were necessary.  I used a cat litter box in the bottom to create my reservoir.  The holes in the bottom of the barrel are the overflow.  I also used a sturdy nursery tray that fit over the top of the litter box as my support shelf.  This meant I didn't need to use the little pots as spacers.  I packed the landscape fabric down around the litter box and then filled in beside it with my planting mix.  Like I said in my post yesterday, be creative and use what you have laying around.  That's exactly what I did.  I substituted materials, but otherwise kept the entire process the same.

The results?  Well, it's not time to harvest yet, but this one is definitely a huge winner!

This is a red variety.  In order to prevent cross pollination, it's positioned out front.  Also, since it was planted later, it's tassels and silks came in much later.  Hopefully it worked as I'd like to try saving seed from this planter.
I could just look at it all day.  The color is so beautiful and rich.  And there are a lot of ears growing.  Soon this planter will be ready to harvest as well.  I'm super excited.  Can you tell?  ***HAPPY DANCE***

I'd say that my SIP experiments this year have been a complete success.  I can foresee a few major changes in my garden next year.  Ah, but why wait?  I wonder what I should put in here for the winter once I harvest the corn.  Hrm...  Ideas???

DIY Self Irrigation Planters (SIPs)

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Wednesday, August 8, 2012 2:44 PM

Okay, so it only took me about three months to complete this post.  What can I say?  I wanted to wait until I knew these SIPs could really produce.  And the test results are in.  I think I'm going to be making more of these in the future!!!

Click on the link below for detailed instructions, images of the entire process, and some pictures of the results.

CLICK HERE ---> DIY instructions for SIPs

Just for fun, I've submitted this post to the Homestead Barn Hop.  Hopefully I'll be chosen.  If you've never checked it out, you should.  New blogs are featured each week and there is some really fun stuff happening out there in the homesteading community.

Heavy Weight Champion Chickens

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, August 2, 2012 12:00 PM

Let's face it, I'm anal.  Not "sort of anal" mind you.  Dead spot on.

Whenever I need to make a decision, whether it's which varieties of seeds to purchase or when I should breed my goats, I'm an over achiever.  I spend hours upon hours researching a subject.  I make spreadsheets with pivot tables to help weigh the pro's and con's.  I talk to people online.  I visit people in person.  I take things into consideration such as which months are my busiest at work or when will I be working at Ren Faire with my petting zoo .  I analyze a subject to death.  I spend hours making a decision, and then set it aside for a day or two before coming back to review, re-analyze, and see if I come to the same conclusion again.  If I don't, it's further research into whatever variables altered my decision.

Can you see it where this is leading?  Yeah.  Dead spot on!

But that isn't always a bad thing.  For example, when I first decided I wanted chickens, I spent an entire winter researching breeds to figure out which ones were right for me.  I immediately settled on heavy dual purpose breeds that don't fly.  Why?  My barnyard is separated from my garden by a 3-1/2 foot high fence,  the perfect height for leaning on to check on the critters when I don't want to go inside.  I also knew I wanted birds for both meat and eggs.

The problem was there were too many sources of information in too many places (books, websites, etc).  So what did I do?  I created a Chicken Breed spreadsheet and consolidated all the information.  I made categories for things that were important to me such as egg size and quantity all the way down to whether the chicken had feathered feet.  (psst... dead spot on)

It was a lot of work, but I've never regretted it.  I have referenced and updated this spreadsheet time and again over the past 4-1/2 years, fine tuning my decisions about breeds and making educated compromises when I found myself fond of a particular breed that wasn't an ideal producer.  I've shared it with several close friends (who are anal too) to help them with their breed selection as well.  But this data intensive decision making process isn't for everyone.

One of the frequent questions I get asked by folks just starting out is which breeds I recommend.  So I decided it was time for a short list.  Something I could just e-mail to them and/or give them on a single sheet printout.  Now keep in mind these are MY recommendations based solely on productivity, both eggs and meat.  Hence, they are all heavies.  The first list include birds that are known to lay throughout the winter, thereby keeping egg supply semi-consistent all year long.

Egg size = M
Egg quantity = 3/week unless noted
  • Brahma
  • Buckeye
  • Faverolle (4)
  • Langshan
Egg size = L/XL
Egg quantity = 3/week
  • Jersey Giant
  • New Hampshire Red
  • Orpington

Egg size = L/XL
Egg quantity = 4-5/week
  • Delaware
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Rhode Island Red
  • Sussex
  • Wyandotte  
If you are not concerned about your winter egg supply, or if you want to provide additional light inside the coop (14 hours per day total)  to force them to continue laying, here are additional breeds you may want to consider.  Personally, I don't bother with extra winter lighting.  If a bird naturally takes a break in the winter I'm okay with it.

Egg size = M
Egg quantity = 3/week unless noted
  • Dorking
  • Java
Egg size = L/XL
Egg quantity = 3/week
  • Maran
Egg size = L/XL
Egg quantity = 4-5/week
  • Australorp
So, which breed is my favorite and which breeds do I have currently?  Hands down, my favorite breed is the Wyandotte.  I give them 5 stars!  Not only are they good producers, they are beautiful, sweet, and calm.  They also go broody reliably each year which means they can raise any chicks and I don't have to go through the whole brood light/box hassle.  I've tried giving chicks to other broody breeds and have only had this type of success with an Orpington.  It's less work for me, and it allows them another outlet to express their true nature.  

Right now my oldest Wyandotte, Lily, is raising a Wyandotte chick and a Blue Slate turkey.  Toni (Tony?) the turkey is now larger than she is now.  But if I corner Toni and pick her (?) up, Lily will come racing across the yard to her calls.  Lily puffs all up and curses me out until I put down her baby.  It's quite funny and very cute. 

My next favorite breed is the Cochin.  "What?  That's not on your short list".  Nope, it's not.  But I just love their big fluffy plumage and their sweet gentle personalities.  Pip is a favorite when I run the petting zoo at Ren Faire.  She will literally jump up on the table to get some love from folks.  I've seen her surrounded by 5 or 6 little girls that were taking turns gently petting her.  Was she stressed?  Nope.  Just sat there quietly taking it all in.  When most of them left, did she get up?  Nope.  As long as there was one little girl sitting next to her petting her, she remained firmly glued to the spot.  Yes, a large part of her personality has to do with the handling she received as a chick.  But some breeds are predisposed to being calm and friendly.  The attention just reinforces and enhances their natural behavior.

Another breed that isn't on the list that I absolutely love for sheer beauty if nothing else is the Mille Fleur d'Uccle bantam.  Okay, so Mille Fleur is actually the plumage coloring, but it's the most common in the U.S. so the breed is often just referred to by this name.  I have two of them.  Yes they lay tiny eggs and don't have enough meat on them for a snack.  But I keep them because they are beautiful, entertaining to watch, and have fun personalities.

Here is the current roster of breeds in my barnyard.  Keep in mind that some of the hens are getting quite old and not laying very well anymore (or at all).  The pullets and chicks are either replacement birds or are destined for my freezer.  

  • Ameraucana
  • Cochin
  • Mille Fleur d'Uccle bantam
  • New Hampshire Red
  • Polish
  • Wyandotte
  • Astralorp
  • Cochin
  • Jersey Giant
  • Welsummer
  • Wyandotte
When it's all said and done, for MY needs and desires I enjoy having a variety of breeds.  I love their varied personalities and plumage, and I'm not trying to maximize production.  If I were, I'd only have Wyandottes.  I had hoped to introduce a few Brahma chicks into the mix, but they ended up being breakfast for a scumbag stray cat that decided my yard was a drive-thru.  But that's another story for another day.  I now have an electric fence surrounding my backyard to keep any predators (wild or domestic) away.

So which breed is your favorite?  Which breeds do you recommend?  What's in your barnyard?  What factors are most critical to you when you're deciding which kind of chickens to bring home?  I'd love to hear it.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll have to tweak my spreadsheet with additional information.

What's your favorite way to preserve plums?

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Wednesday, July 25, 2012 9:21 PM

Freya and I took a trip over to my friend Joe's place a couple of days ago to pick plums and visit the kids.  He is the guy who adopted Lulu's boys, Mac and Vango.  He also just adopted James Brown, a little lad I had to re-home.  He's now named Charlie Brown.  

Our friend Glen lives within walking distance of Joe's place, so he joined us after a while to pick some blackberries.  It was fun.  Little Charlie followed us all over the field, and Joe's Golden Lab Lola played fetch with us the entire time we were there.  That dog never wears out!  And she's such a sweetheart too!  

When it was all said and done, we managed to harvest 92-1/2 pounds of Santa Rosa plums and 2-1/2 pounds of blackberries.  We're still processing the plums.  Freya plans include sauce, syrup, BBQ sauce, salsa and pie filling.  I'm planning on making jam, syrup, sauce, BBQ sauce, pickled plums (think X-mas), and of course plum cordial.  I've also been researching cider recipes, so we'll see what I come up with.  Right now though, most are getting pitted, diced, and vacuum packed for the freezer.  Oh, I see some fantastic ice cream toppings in my future!

The blackberries?  They've already been processed.  I have a nifty attachment to my food processor that removes all the seeds so I just end up with the pulp and fruit.  This is already infusing a rather large volume of brandy in a 3 gallon carboy.  Now that's going to be some damn fine liquor.  

Nom nom nom...

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Sunday, July 22, 2012 11:37 AM

I think it's important to provide enrichment for domestic animals.  Whether you're throwing a ball for your dog or using a string to play with your cat, it keeps them stimulated mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

Caring for domestic livestock is no different in this regard.  If I lived on 10 acres there would be plenty for the critters to explore and do.  But here at the homestead, I introduce things into their environment that provide that extra bit of fun and joy and even a special treat that they have to work for.
Today's enrichment item for the goats is a HUGE pile of trimmings from Andrea's rose bushes.  Rather than dump them on the ground - boring! - I bundled them and hung them from the chains at the ends of my hammock.  I do this with lots of food treats.  It's a healthy way to supplement their normal diet.  It encourages their natural browsing instinct, forcing them to reach up and stretch out for their food.  Plus there is healthy competition for the best bits.
Goldie, a 4-1/2 month old Nigerian Dwarf is visiting the homestead to participate in Herd Camp.  She spent her first few months playing with small children.  Therefore she thinks she's a 5 year old human child.  By integrating her into an established herd she should learn how to be a goat.  This enrichment encourages her goat behavior and helps to bond her with the herd.  It's the old "breaking bread" tradition.
Boo, a 2-1/2 month old Nubian/Nigerian/? mix is visiting the homestead in order to wean her from her mother Ginny.  She's having the hardest time adjusting.  However the desperation in her cries for her mother has been substantially reduced this morning.  She's having the hardest time integrating.  Her voice is completely different from the Nigerian Dwarfs, so it's like she's speaking a foreign language.  But even with these challenges, she's doing remarkably well.  And she's a smart little bugger too!  She didn't want to miss out on the tasty rose branches but was timid to approach them at ground level.  Her answer?  Jump up into the crotch of the tree!  It's like being at the head of the table and having all she can eat without any competition.

In other stimulating news, the duck pond has been drained into the orchard (liquid fertilizer) and is ready to be refilled.  They'll be getting some feeder fish today which stimulates their natural dabbing behavior.  It also provides a mental and physical challenge which results in a physical and emotional reward.  Finally, it provides them with an excellent alternate source of protein that is appropriate for their dietary needs.

While Bonnie and Mary love this treat, it will be interesting to see how the 5 little ducklings react.  If their eagerness to eat every last little dot of duckweed I give them is any indication, it should prove rather entertaining.  Unfortunately, it will also be a short and supervised session.  Although they love swimming in the tub, they don't have much in the way of feathers.  So I have to pull them back out after about 10 minutes so they don't get waterlogged and drown.  That means the ramp to the tub has to always be up for now except when I provide enrichment for them.  Soon enough it'll be back to free access.  They grow so fast!

Believe it or not, in the time it's taken me to write this short post the goats have almost completely stripped all the leaves off of the rose branches.  They've now settled in for the juicy stems.  Nom nom nom!

Rabbitry Remodel - July 2012

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Wednesday, July 11, 2012 4:00 PM

Sorry for the length of the attached videos, but I was just so damn excited to show this off now that the first stall is complete.  Here are a few details

Approximately 47 square feet of romping room in each rabbitry stall:

  • Lower level = 21 sq ft
  • Middle level = 12+ sq ft
  • Hideout roof = 3 sq ft
  • Upper level = 11+ sq ft
Cage on upper level can be closed easily when isolation is necessary, such as when Melissa kindles.

Entire interior can be removed quickly and easily when a total muck out is necessary:
  • Built using standard fence boards
  • One screw connects the cage to the first board on the upper level.  Wires suspend the balance of the cage from the roof (same as before).
  • Two screws connect the stairway to the bracket on the wall.
  • All level "floor" boards are not screwed in, but rather sitting on the horizontal supports so they can just be lifted out.
  • Hideout can easily be lifted out.
  • If a board becomes damaged, it only costs $2.05 to replace it.
2" x 4"s and Lattice door are reclaimed from other/old projects.

Although it's taken me about 10 times longer than it should have to build the dang thing (I'm working with a cam boot on my right foot), I have to admit that I'm pretty pleased with myself right about now.  I love it when things come together in the end.


OMG!!! It's a Valley Carpenter Bee!

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Wednesday, June 20, 2012 5:56 PM

I was just enjoying an afternoon break in the swing when I spied the most amazing bee I've ever seen.  It was HUGE and FUZZY and entirely YELLOW!!!

I immediately rushed inside to get my camera in hopes that it would still be there when I returned.  And indeed it was.  
This is a male Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta.  It's common in Southern California and north through the Central Valley.  But from a quick Internet search, I don't think they are very common in the Bay Area.  
This is a fuzzy yellow male and he has emerald eyes.  I love that they are called Teddy Bear Bees, because that's exactly what he looked like.  I am super excited that this fellow visited my Bay Friendly Garden.  I planted the entire front yard for pollinators, and seeing this huge guy (about an inch long and as thick as my little finger if not more) makes me oh so happy!  I'm literally jittery!  


Upcycled Goat Shed

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, May 24, 2012 12:19 PM

Upcycling:  the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value.

When most people see my homestead, they incorrectly assume that everything was purchased new.  But that's not always the case.  A lot of the structure itself is upcycled, while the facial is purchased.  For example, the main part of my barn is actually a reclaimed 6' x 8' metal utility shed.  I had to replace some of the supporting lumber inside to stabilize it.  But it's worked out perfectly for my needs.

Yesterday, I designed and helped construct an upcycled goat shed for Lydia and her three goats, Ginny, James, and Madonna.  Freya came along to help out.  OK.. So Freya's main job ended up to be keeping the goats distracted and out of the way.  

Here, she's giving James a height advantage for trimming the mulberry tree.  I think she had as much fun as James did.  There was an awful lot of giggling going on under that tree.
She also gave little Madonna a ton of snuggle time.  She's super cute.  I nicknamed her Boo, because she was a surprise.  No one knew Ginny was pregnant when they got her.  I like to take those big floppy ears and cover her eyes for a second, then pull them away and say "BOO"!  I know, I know... but I like playing with four legged kids!

Lydia's daughter Andrea and her husband handled the heavy construction while I supervised and gave guidance.  We used three pallets to build the walls and I pitched in a couple of 4" x 4"'s from my construction scrap pile that were about 4-1/2' long for supports in the front.  Lydia had a pile of old fencing boards that were perfect for making the siding.  It actually looked really nice.  I love weathered wood.  

When it came to the roof, we started scouting the work shed, garage, and yard for something to use as a main support beam across the front opening.  After tossing around a bunch of ideas, Lydia said we could use the old step ramp for her deck.  They are in the process of replacing her steps with new redwood ones.  Basically, the ramp was a 9' x 2'(ish) pallet.  Once we had the 4"x4"s secured to the front and a cleat screwed into the side of the work shed, it fit like a dream.  It was screwed in firmly on both ends, and the new goat shed was suddenly extremely stable and solid.  

Andrea and I went to work overlapping and attaching additional fencing boards to create the roof.  As designed, it turned out to be perfect and slanted away from the work shed, sloping down towards the back far corner.  Any rainwater should drain nicely off the back side.  
To finish, we spread a bale of straw underneath and the goats immediately took to it.  The final dimensions are 9' long by 6' deep.  Perfect for these three lucky kids!  

I'd call that one happy family!  We had a lot of fun putting the shed together.  And the only thing purchased for the entire goat shed were screws.  Upcycling is awesome!

Is that a GOAT?

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Tuesday, May 22, 2012 4:32 PM

Some people take their dogs to the pet food store.  Me?  I take my goats to the feed store.  It's the same thing, right?  This afternoon, Vango and I went to pick up some supplies at Mike's Feed & Pet in San Leandro.  He enjoyed all the attention he got from both employees and customers alike.  Afterwards, he settled comfortably into a basket so we could do a little shopping.

But we also had another reason to visit Mike's today.  Meet Joe!

Joe will soon be the proud new Papa of both Vango and Big Mac.  I'll be taking them to their new home on Saturday late in the afternoon after Joe gets off work.  He doesn't have to work on Sunday, so they'll have some quality bonding time together.

Joe has a wonderful set up.  He already has a barn and a fenced in coral.  He also has about a 1/2 acre of fenced in property that is full of browse - blackberries, brambles, brush - oh my!  I saw pictures and it looks beautiful and an excellent set up for a couple of pet goats.  He already has chickens too.

I may just talk him into letting me take my herd over there so they can have some browsing time in a large enclosed area.  I know they'd enjoy it.

I said shake, rattle and roll

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, May 17, 2012 1:40 PM


Who else do you know that has a Seismograph bolted to the floor of their garage?

As of today, Havenscourt Homestead is officially a USGS NetQuakes monitoring station.  How fricking cool is that???

I applied for the program about 14 months ago.  I received a standard auto-response "we'll get in touch with you if selected" e-mail and then nothing.  That was until last Monday.  I had just finished a goat consultation and was checking my voice mail before going over to Soul Flower Farm for a visit.  Wow, was I surprised by the message!  My home had been selected for the program and they wanted to make an appointment to come out and install the equipment.  It's now four days later and the seismograph is online.  It's tucked nicely under one of the shelving units in the library.

No, I won't be able to tell the magnitude of an earthquake when we have one.  The purpose of this equipment is to log the ground movement at set locations, North/South, East/West, and Vertical.  One of the things they use this data for is to determine where to send First Responders should a major earthquake hit.  The area with the most movement is most likely the area with the most damage and potential for human injury.

Within the next 24 hours, my location will appear on the instrument map, and I'll be able to view the data sent from my homestead.  And so can you!  My station number is CO63.

Yes... I'm a total gadget geek!  Wicked cool.

Conserving water? This speaks VOLUMES!

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Wednesday, May 9, 2012 2:21 PM

Conserving water has been a huge goal for me here at Havenscourt Homestead.  After all, I do have a lot of things that require extra water like gardening and raising livestock.  So I've made a lot of investments in water saving devices as well as adjustments to various activities in my life.

Let's take a look at some water use statistics and I'll break down some of the things I've done to reduce these figures.

The item that uses the most water in a home is the toilet, a whopping 26.7%.  By installing a low flow toilet, you can decrease the amount of water used by approximately 55%.  Want to improve that number?  Do what I did and install a SinkPositive over your toilet.  

This device cost me approximately $120.00 and took less than 10 minutes to install.  I use fresh water to wash my hands, but grey water to flush the toilet.  By doing so, I've cut the water used by my low flow toilet in half.  That means my toilet uses 77.8% less water than the average household unit.
The next water guzzler is the clothes washer, coming in at 21.7% of the average households water usage.

I installed an energy and water efficient clothes washer when I moved in.  Front loaders use less water than top loaders.  This one has a load sensor that adjusts the amount of water it uses based upon the size of the load.  It also has a speed wash setting.  Unless my clothes are super dirty from mucking around in the yard, this is the cycle I use.  At 22 minutes, it's saves me time, energy, and water.  And with all the sunshine we've been having lately, my clothes dryer hasn't been getting a heck of a lot of use, but the clothes line outside sure has been.

Another water hog in the average household is the good old shower at 16.8%. No, I haven't quit bathing.  But I have drastically reduced my water use in this area of my life as well.  I have a wonderful jacuzzi tub in my bathroom.  I used to relax in it with a good book and a glass of wine several times a week.  Although I still do this from time to time, I've switched to quick 5 minute showers.  I relax with a book and a glass of wine out in the garden instead.

Speaking of the shower and its close water use runners up, household faucets (15.7%) and leaks (13.7%), simple and inexpensive solutions are available.  If you order the free WaterSmart Home Survey Kit from EBMUD and return the form, they'll even send you FREE water saving faucet aerators and shower heads to replace your inefficient ones. 

I've installed a low flow shower head with a water shut off button.  I also have a low flow faucet on the kitchen sink with a water shut off lever.  These make starting and stopping the flow of water quick and easy.  I know what you're thinking.  "Why not just shut the faucet on and off?"  Because with a shut off switch, you instantly have the same water pressure and temperature available rather than wasting time and precious water re-adjusting it.  Water faucet aerators on all other household faucets reduce water usage as well.

Believe it or not, the average dishwasher doesn't account for as much water use as you might think, only 1.4%.  But that doesn't mean I don't conserve water and energy here as well.

I installed a water and energy efficient dishwasher.  It has a Quick cycle that only takes 38 minutes and does not include a dry cycle.  When I have a load of dishes that require a little heavier cleaning, this model has a Smart Auto sensor that adjusts the water usage as well as the cycle time.

Out in the yard, it's easy to conserve water as well.  A few years ago, I ripped out my front lawn and installed drought tolerant landscaping with the help of some amazingly wonderful friends.

Not only is it beautiful all year long, it barely uses any water at all.  This is what it looks like right now and I've only watered once this year.  Honestly, I didn't need to water.  But I needed to finish emptying out one of my rain barrels in order to elevate it higher than it was.  I have soaker hoses installed in the landscape so when I do have to water, the lines are already in place.  What you can't see in this picture is the 200 gallon water barrel in the side yard orchard.  It's set up so I can gravity feed the water into the front yard when necessary.

Speaking of rain barrels, I actually have two.  Each can hold 200 gallons of rainwater run off from my roof.  The one pictured here is the one I had to empty.  I decided to raise it another 18" and add additional cinder blocks to the supports so I could use them as planters.  The green hardware cloth has been wrapped around it so that the beans planted in the blocks will have something to climb.  Once they've grown, this will be a beautiful corner in the garden.  

Oakland has a Rain Barrel Program to encourage residents to harvest rainwater.  Right now, the program subsidizes the full cost of the rain barrel.  Residents only pay the tax and shipping.  I may have to do some serious upgrading soon.  Although I have 400 gallons of storage on site, it's just a drop in the bucket compared to what runs off my roof.

This rain barrel is used to water all the potted plants in my edible patio garden.  Most of these pots are home made self irrigation planters (SIPS).  They conserve water by holding it in a reservoir in the base of the pot rather than letting it flow out of the drain hole and onto the ground..  This also means I need to water these pots less often because they have a built in water supply.  The main raised garden bed is watered using a soaker hose.

Even my livestock participate in saving water.  The rabbits are on an automatic watering system so not a drop is wasted.  The automatic watering buckets used for the goats and chickens are emptied into the compost bins when they get cleaned.  Composting requires water, you know.  And what better water to use than grey water?  And the duck tub?  Once they've sufficiently mucked up the water, it is gravity fed into the side yard to water my orchard.  I call it liquid fertilizer.  

I haven't used a drop of spigot water in my orchard since the day it was planted.  Grey water, or in this case mucky brown water, does the job perfectly.


So what's the point?  Why do I go to all this effort and expense to save water?  No, not to save money on my water bill (although that is a nice added benefit).  It's because water, my dear readers, is a precious resource.  Only 1% of the water on earth is suitable for use by humans.  And here in California, our state's water supply and delivery system is in a crisis we can't ignore.  Unfortunately, water conservation isn't the answer.  But it is part of the solution.  And for me, I've made it a point to do my part.  

And the results of my efforts?  This is my current bill from EBMUD showing my water usage.

I have made a whopping 57.5% decrease in my water usage compared to last year!

Not bad, folks.  Not bad at all.  I hope this post encourages you to think about water usage around your own home.  There are simple actions you can take right now that won't cost you a dime and may even save you one.   Check out these WaterSmart Tips from EBMUD, and learn how to conserve even more water in your yard by practicing Bay Friendly Gardening.  Start conserving water today and help insure we'll all have some to drink tomorrow!

Dreaming of owning goats?

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Sunday, May 6, 2012 12:25 PM

Come take my class! I'm teaching a basic goat class next Sunday, May 13th, for BioFuel Oasis.

City Goats
Sunday May 13th, 1:30 p.m-4:30 p.m.
Location: Sticky Art Lab, 1682 University Ave (at McGee), Berkeley
Cost: $35
Goats are taking the urban ag scene in America by storm. Once seen as exclusively rural livestock, more and more people are keeping them in their backyards for milk, meat, and natural fertilizer. Many people love goats but aren’t sure if they are ready or can keep them. This class will go over the basic requirements for keeping goats: feed, housing, health, herd management, neighbor relations, milking, and cheesemaking. It’s a great beginner class for the caprine curious.
 Follow THIS LINK to sign up.  There are still a few spaces available, so don't delay!


Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Friday, May 4, 2012 1:29 PM

Yes indeed.  Once again, PB is in charge of a bunch of little'uns.  Last year she hatched 7 ducklings for me.  This year, she's in charge of raising my replacement laying hens as well as a few meat birds.  She had been broody for about a week when I stuffed 4 chicks under her yesterday.  This then morning, she took on 6 more.  They all took to her big fluffy underbelly/wings immediately.  And PB?  Immediately protective of "her brood."

I had to flip the kennel over so the doorway would be on the top and she could easily hop in and out if she needs to do her daily business.  So while I was remodeling the nursery, she took her little ones for a round about the barn and introduced them to Nali.  If you don't already know, Nali loves chicks.  And they always love her.  So it was fun.  They aren't big enough to climb all over her yet, but they will be soon.

I do have 4 other chicks out in the yard, but they are several weeks old and it's too late to introduce them to PB.  But no worries.  They bonded with the ducks in the side yard and well...  It's just another day on the farm.

Fort Havenscourt

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Tuesday, May 1, 2012 7:12 PM

So what do you do when you have five bales of straw?  Why you build a goat fort, of course!  The kids were just having too much fun not to share a few photos.

Thanks go to my neighbors Huey and Earl for hauling the straw into the back yard and building the structure.  No rain in sight, so I think they'll be enjoying it for a while before I have to tuck it inside.

Strawberry Pyramids

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Thursday, April 26, 2012 1:59 PM

After numerous requests over the past year, and following my Container Gardening class last Saturday for The Institute of Urban Homesteading, I've decided to post a pictorial instruction guide for my pyramid strawberry planters.  I didn't need to construct another one, so instead I deconstructed one of my existing boxes.  Truth be told, it's been three years since I built them.  It was time to empty them both out, amend the soil really well, and replant.

  • Measuring tape
  • Square
  • Marker
  • Saw (preferably a circular saw, but a hand saw would work just fine)
  • Drill
  • Screw driver bit for drill
  • 1/4" drill bit
Cutting Guide:
  • Board #1 = 2 pieces 18" long and 2 pieces 15" long
  • Board #2 = same as board #1
  • Board #3 = 4 pieces at 9" long and 2 pieces at 18" long
  • Board #4 = 2 pieces at 18" long + 36" left over for another use or a second pyramid
  • Split one of the 18" long pieces lengthwise into 2 pieces approximately 2-1/4" wide.  Don't worry about getting this exact as it won't be seen so it doesn't have to be perfect.
  • You should end up with the following:
    • 7 pieces 18" long x full width of board
    • 2 pieces 18" long by 1/2 width of board
    • 4 pieces 15" long
    • 4 pieces 9" long

I'm assuming some basic skills here, like how to screw two boards together and use a square to make sure the box isn't lopsided.  If you need help with this, I'm sure you can find a handy friend to lend hand (or even construct the entire thing for you).

1)  Build the bottom box.  This requires four 18" pieces for the sides, and three 18" pieces for the bottom.

2)  Add the two 18" long strips to the bottom to help with drainage.  Drill several 1/4" drainage holes on each bottom board.  Although it's not shown in the picture, now is a good time to put a strip of Corry's Slug and Snail Copper Tape Barrier all the way around the bottom of the box

3)  Assemble the first riser using four 15" pieces.  Offset each board so that the part hanging out is 3" long.

4)  Assemble the second riser using four 9" pieces.  Again, offset each board so that the part hanging out is 3" long.

5)  This picture shows the placement of the first riser on the bottom box.

6)  This picture shows the placement of the second riser.
7) And this is what it should look like once it's built.
8) Place the bottom box in the location that you want the pyramid to be.  Fill the bottom box full of soil.  Tamp it down a little bit, but don't compact it.
9)  Place the first riser on top of the bottom box as shown and fill it with soil.
10)  Place the second riser on top of the first one as shown and fill it with soil.
11)  Plant 3 strawberries on each side of the bottom box, 2 strawberries on each side of the middle tier, and 2 strawberries in the top.  Alternately, as long as you add a support cage or some type of trellising you can plant one determinate tomato plant in the top as I did.
12)  Water regularly at all levels when the soil starts to dry out.  The plants will fill in nicely and most of the berries will hang over the edges rather than lay in the dirt.

TA DA!!!!  That's it!  A simple, elegant, space saving solution for growing strawberries.