Craig Wisner



Eating a 100% homegrown breakfast this morning.  Everything is coming together.

Two backyard chicken eggs, scrambled with yellow chard, topped with fresh tomato and cilantro  (Yes, we already have tomatoes; a few popped up early from last season’s fallen seed and are producing already).

Homegrown, self-sufficient goodness!

Chickens in the garden…

...with my beautiful bird-tamer.

Thanks to my daughter, the chickens are grown and very tame.  For weeks she’d go outside, open the coop, and sit with grass in her hands until they were comfortable enough to get onto her lap and eat.  We owe their friendliness entirely to her- neither my wife nor I have had the time to tame them.  They come out during the day now, roaming and doing what chickens do; plucking bugs from the weeds and fighting one another for the coveted earthworm (Yes, that looks like grass in my yard, but I assure you it’s all wild growth and weeds.  Grass doesn’t get water at my house).  They don’t like being put back in the coop…this is where the dog on a leash comes in handy to corral them back in She loves to chase them, thoroughly enjoying sending them into a panic- though she won’t bite if she catches one.  Eggs are due within a few weeks.  Everyone is healthy and happy- they’ve proven to be a real fun edition to the home.

Three of my neighbor’s chickens were killed this weekend, two Cochins and a white Silkie.  We couldn’t tell if it was raccoon or coyote, but something killed two without too much gore and took the third one with it, leaving only a feather pile in the front yard.  Given the fencing of his yard, I have a hard time believing it was coyotes.  Needless to say, I just got back in from fortifying the coop, sinking more cinder block around the perimeter to seal it from digging attempts.  Stakeout with the compound bow?

One Bowl…

…one plate, one cup, one fork, one knife, one spoon.


That’s it.  I finally did it.  I’ve been thinking about it for years, who knows what was stopping me.

There will be no more putting a dirty plate in the sink only to grab a clean one for the next meal…

I cleared out the cabinets and drawers tonight; so nice to see only 12 pieces of silverware in the drawer.

I’ve hidden all the extras in the back of a cabinet; we still need spares for company, but I intend to keep them off limits for daily use (the kids can’t get to them anyway).


Now if we could all only have one shirt, one pair of pants, one pair of underwear, one pair of socks…

Bok Choy!!!

We’ve got a huge crop going in the beds out front, it’s a really easy, hearty winter plant.

Here’s a quick, mean, green, easy dish  (I don’t measure anything):

a mess of bok choy, chopped

4 cloves crushed garlic

minced ginger

splash of low sodium soy sauce

sesame oil

Heat the skillet/wok with sesame oil, add garlic and ginger.  Next add soy sauce and bok choy.  Wait.

I like the stalks in mine, served on jasmine rice.  And don’t forget the Sriracha chili sauce.


More Chickens!

The last of the ladies are here now, also purchased from Wes.

First up, we have Poppy, a Barred Rock hen.  Poppy is almost two weeks old.  They’re brown egg layers.  She looked a lot like a small penguin when she was born.

Poppy, Barred Rock hen.

Next is Chuck, an Araucana.  Araucanas are known as the “Easter Egg Chicken”, famous for laying colored eggs ranging from turquoise, to olive, to brown.  Chuck is exactly one week old today.  Nice eyeliner.

Chuck, Araucana.

Finally we have LaLa, the sweetest and most docile of the bunch.  She’s a Buff Orpington and will turn a golden-yellow.  Also a brown egg layer and one week old today.

LaLa, Buff Orpington.

It looks like we’ll be calling it quits with five, though we’re tempted to get one more.  They’ve all bonded with each other well, no pecking or dominance issues.  Surprising, considering Pip and Chum are now three times the size of the new ones.

Pip is in a very awkward stage; not quite grown, feet too big, feathers growing in weird places.  She starting to get her comb (ridges between eyes above beak) and ear lobes.  Her wing feathers are almost allowing flight.  She’s by far the largest and reminds me quite a bit of a small dinosaur.  She’s definitely the most inquisitive of the bunch, constantly striving to see what’s going outside of her box.  She’s ready to eat human food now, as is Chum.

Pip, Rhode Island Red, just over 3 weeks old.

Chum is a bit smaller than Pip, thought the same age.  She’s not quite as strange looking right now.  She reminds me of a hawk.

Chum, Brown Leghorn, just over 3 weeks old.

Everyone’s healthy so far, it looks like we have a good batch.  They’re pretty tame now as well, very comfortable perching on a finger, thought they don’t like being separated from one another.

Sheet Mulching

My friend Ben first told me about this technique.  To prepare a bed that’s overgrown with weeds, first sheet mulch it with cardboard or paper.  I’ve tried both and have had great success, cardboard being able to successfully kill off bermuda grass and dandelions prior to planting.  The process is simple:  hoe the bed and lay down cardboard or paper in a thick layer.  Cardboard takes longer to decompose but works better at killing weeds.  It also attracts far more worms.  My current preference is brown builder’s paper as our beds are now in good shape and I want to plant right away.  After laying the paper or cardboard, soak it thoroughly.

Soaked brown paper in bed.

After soaking, cover in topsoil/compost and water it again.

If weed activity was bad, cardboard is better.  I found it takes a good month for the cardboard to break down.  When it does, however, the soil beneath has a ton of worm activity and really good moisture.  If the bed was in good shape and weeds/grass were barely sprouting, paper is enough.  When using paper, I plant right away, cutting holes through the paper when the plants go in.  In this bed I’ve also buried two watering jugs for watering (see post on watering jugs).

This bed is planted with white kohlrabi and iceberg lettuce.

So far this technique has yielded really good results for a couple seasons.

Chickens are here!

We picked up our first two chicks from Wes’s Pets and Feed in El Monte yesterday.  I can’t say enough good things about Wes so far; very knowledgeable, friendly, great to work with.

So far we have Pip, a Rhode Island Red (large brown eggs).  She was hatched Tuesday, 1/2/11.

Next is Chum, a Single Comb Brown Leghorn (large white eggs).  She was also hatched on the 2nd.

They already show distinctly different personalities, Pip being larger, more energetic, and noisier.  Chum is far calmer, trying to nestle under Pip to sleep every chance she can get.

They’re a lot of fun so far, the kids are really enjoying it.  We have them inside in a cardboard box, running a 60w lamp for warmth.  The floor is simply paper with a rag to sleep on and a small, shallow dish for water.  Feed is just sprinkled on the floor.  We’ll run the lamp 24/7 for the first week, then switching to nighttime only, and eventually down to a 20-40w bulb for night.  After a month they’ll be ready for the coop.  In the second week we can start introducing human food- veggie scraps, fruit, rice, noodles, pretty much anything non-meat/dairy.  If all goes well they should be producing eggs by this coming June.

We’ll be picking up the next batch of chicks sometime in a week, having about a 1 month window to add new ones to the group before creating a pecking order and problems.  We’re still looking to get 2-3 more; one Ameraucana, a Barred Plymouth Rock, and a Black Orpington.

Here are a few images of the coop and run.  I was able to build it entirely out of recycled wood and old paint, the only things being purchased were the hardware, roof corrugate, and wire.  I’ll show images of the inside of the roosting area when it’s done- I still have to put in some boxes, branches for roosting, and get pine shavings.

At this point we probably have $40 invested in the coop and $15 for chicks and feed (chicks were $5 each).

Water Jugs

Used throughout the Southwest as irrigation devices, water jugs help conserve water in garden beds.  Bisque fired, porous clay is used, fired to a relatively low temperature to ensure greater porosity.  I used a fairly porous high fire clay body, Soldate 60, and fired to only cone 017 (~1400 F).  The first batch are all wheel thrown approximately 1 gallon in volume, a second batch waiting to fire are all ~2 gallons.  Watering jugs are buried to their necks in the soil, staggered throughout a bed, plants put in around them.  When filled, water will slowly seep through the porous clay, ensuring continuous moisture, less watering runoff and evaporative loss, and less frequent watering.   A 1 gallon jug should be sufficient for plants about in a 2-3 foot radius around it.  I haven’t buried the first batch yet, waiting for spring and drier weather; our soil stay plenty moist throughout winter.

My first jugs in the rain, awaiting burial.

Look at them beautiful veggies in the background….