An Araucana Egg

Our Araucana hen, the lowest hen in the pecking order of our backyard flock, took a bit longer to start laying. Yesterday we got our first egg with the distinctive blueish green hue Araucanas are known for.

And once we get over the nasty flu we’ve picked up (not the bird flu!), we’ll get back to regular postings and some big changes to the blog.

The Horror

Terrifying photo via Bike Snob NYC
The day began with the discovery that our neighbor’s roommate, practicing the kind of gardening we associate with crazy people and goats, had hacked off half the length of the native grape vine that we had counted on covering an ugly chain link fence. An innocent mistake, but evidence that some folks apparently don’t know what grape vines look like and that they loose their leaves in the winter. So what does this have to do with man bras? Nothing, but both make us cranky.

Our crankiness leaves us at a loss for words, so instead of a lengthy post we offer a few bike related links:

Bike Snob NYC has a nice essay on why cycling is a fringe activity, which may explain why it’s one of the least favorite topics on Homegrown Revolution according to a poll we did last year. Hint: it has something to do with aesthetics. And for the bike fetishists out there, Bike Snob’s deconstructions of Craigslist ads are a great time waster.

Fellow LA Bloggist and committed bike commuter Will Campbell (his mileage indicates that he’s got the Kool-aid in those bottle cages), has smacked down Cato institute stormtrooper Randall O’Toole in an ongoing debate on cycling in the pages of the L.A. Times.

Urban Velo #5 is available for download and it’s free.

Lastly, Commute by Bike has some tips on how to ride in cold weather without opening the wallet for expensive clothing.

Here’s this morning’s Vitus californica desecration (Vitus californication?):



Do Hens Make Noise?

Yes, indeed hens make noise. Far less than a rooster, but when it comes time to lay an egg you often get the stereotypical hen vocalization, technically known as “cackling,” which goes something like, “cluck, cluck, cluck, CLUCKAAAAAWWWWK!” Thankfully this only happens around laying time, which for our three productive hens is no more than once a day, and usually at a respectable time between around 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Some of our club hopping neighbors may get an early than wanted wake-up call, but so far nobody has complained.

Being naive first time chicken owners, the first time we heard this sound caught us by surprise. We suspected that it’s the result of discomfort from squeezing out an egg, or some wonder of selective breeding, a way to announce to the poultry farmer, “Hey, time to collect an egg!” In fact, research presented by University of Sheffield animal scientists Tommaso Pizzari and Tim R. Birkhead, in an article entitled “For whom does the hen cackle? The function of postoviposition cackling,” posit that cacking is a way for hens to get the message out to nearby roosters that they ain’t in the mood. As Pizzari and Brikhead put it, “One function of postoviposition cackling may thus be to avoid the costs of sexual harassment by signalling to males a particularly unsuitable time for fertilization.” This contradicts earlier theories that cacking was, in fact, an invitation to boogie.

For those who’ve never heard it, we’re pleased to present the postoviposition cackling sounds of one of our barred rock hens. Towards the end of the track you’ll hear the usual soft clucking. For the DJs out there, please feel free to use for mashups, mixes and Quinceañeras:

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Borlotto Bean Lingua di Fuoco

One of our favorite vegetables, Borlotto Bean Lingua di Fuoco, is once again growing in our garden from seeds we saved from last year. We usually eat our Lingua di Fuoco (tongue of fire) beans young in the pod, but they can also be shelled and eaten fresh or dried. The handsome red speckling, which gives the bean its name, disappears when you cook them. The plant comes in both pole and bush versions.

Borlotto beans are basically the Italian version of kidney beans, hailing originally from the New World. Italian folks traditionally use them in soups. We’re considering growing an edible wall of beans along the south side of our house this spring in order to see if we can grow enough to collect dried beans and make some soup. For cultivation and harvesting details for dry beans click on over to the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute.

It may seem like we’re pimping for Seeds from Italy, but these beans are yet another success we’ve had with the Franchi’s companies seeds that Seeds from Italy imports. We just discovered the competition, Italian Seed and Tool, which imports the rival Bavicchi company’s seeds. We’d appreciate feedback from anyone who has ordered Bavicchi seeds.

2008 . . . a year of luxury

2008 began with the sort of absurd juxtaposition we’ve come to expect from life in Los Angeles–loading 25 pounds of chicken feed into a $70,000 Jaguar (not our car for those keeping score). It was all part of a combination run to the feed store for chicken supplies and trip to the Getty Villa to scope out their Roman herb garden and ancient tchatzhahs.

The reason to hit the feed store was a return of schoolyard bully behavior from our pushy Rhode Island Red hen. We bought a bottle of Rooster Booster Pick-No-More Lotion™ to keep her from pecking the araucana hen. Thankfully the lotion, combined with a few other measures we’ll post about, seems to have stopped the problem. The lotion has lessened the amount and severity of the pecking and turned the araucana’s butt into a matted tarry mess. Mission accomplished!

While at the feed store we also picked up a copy of The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow. It’s a detailed guide to preventing and treating chicken diseases and problems. We’re new to poultry and, in just an hour of reading, have learned a lot from this book. It’s a must have for anyone thinking about getting chickens. Thanks to info in the book and our microscope, we’re looking forward to a year of DIY chicken fecal examinations and turning those parasite egg counts into a drinking game.

We’ll inaugurate a new year of posts with an entertaining excerpt from The Chicken Health Handbook,

Spontaneous sex change is a phenomenon whereby an old hen develops the characteristics of a cock, perhaps because an infected ovary has caused hormonal changes. The hen’s comb grows larger, she molts into male plumage, and she may crow or mount other hens. If the infection is successfully cured before the next molt, the “cock” will lay eggs. This phenomenon was once considered witchcraft, the most famous case being a “cock” named Basel who was burned at the stake in 1474 for laying eggs.”

Cichorium intybus a.k.a. Italian Dandelion


Our illegal parkway garden has got off to a slow start this season due to low seed germination rates. We’ve compensated with a trip to the Hollywood farmer’s market to pick up some six-packs of seedlings. One plant we made sure to get is Cichorium intybus, known in Italian as “cicoria” or chicory, but somehow, in the case of leaf chicory, mistranslated as “Italian dandelion,” probably because the leaves resemble the common dandelion weed, Taraxacum officinale (a relative which is also edible).

Both Cichorium intybus and its weedy cousin share a powerfully bitter taste that took our supermarket weaned taste buds some time to get used to the first time we tasted this plant. Changing the cooking water a few times if you boil Italian dandelion is one way to deal with the bitterness, but we prefer to just throw it together with some fat in a frying pan, such as olive oil and/or pancetta. We also add some hot pepper flakes for a nice hot counter-punch. Italian dandelion makes a good companion to balsamic vinegar marinated pork or game (squirrels perhaps–they’ve been stealing our lemons!).

The big taproot this perennial plant has means that it can bust through crappy soil. The bitter root can also be ground up to make a coffee substitute or flavor additive. Never having tried this we’re a bit sceptical, especially since it lacks caffeine, but it’s worth an attempt this coming year.

Since we purchased seedlings we have no idea what cultivar we’re growing, but seeds are available from Seeds from Italy, which has an astonishing number of varieties.

Greywater Linkage

Outlaw water activists the Greywater Guerillas have added a nice set of examples to their website showing some creative greywater strategies. As figuring out how to get greywater out to your garden depends a lot on, say, if your shower is higher than your bamboo grove, it’s great to see some real world examples.
Next step around our little crackhouse will be to figure out how to reuse our shower water. The GGs have given us some ideas . . .