Tell the Bees

Anderson removing a hive from a fence. Photo from the Backwards Beekeepers.

Urban beekeeper Kirk Anderson has a vision: bees, kept without the use of chemicals, in backyards all over Los Angeles. Homegrown Evolution was lucky to be able to attend a beekeeping class taught by the very knowledgeable and entertaining Anderson, who has a theory:

“There has been a lot of news stories about the bees dying. They became infested with a parasitic mite in the 80′s. Many Bees died. The solution for these mites has been various chemicals and medicines. These chemicals and medicines have produced a resistant mite and a weak bee and also contaminated the bees wax and the hives.

After getting into beekeeping again I read that all the Feral or wild bees were dead or dying off because of the mite. While living in Los Angeles and being a house painter I noticed this was untrue. The wild bees in Los Angeles are flourishing. I have not purchased bees for four years now but catch wild bees here in Los Angeles. This makes a good supply of healthy bees that have not been treated with chemicals. Healthy bees. I realized that the mites are in the environment now they aren’t going away. You need bees that can live with mites — survive with the mites.”

For more information on keeping bees in Los Angeles, see Anderson’s website, kirksurbanbees.com. Anderson will also capture swarms and give them a new home.

To attend a meeting/class see the blog of the Backwards Beekeepers, (backwards in the sense of going back to a chemical free style of beekeeping). Even if you aren’t in Los Angeles, the Backwards Beekeepers site has a lot of nice tips and information. And what an amazing group people! In the midst of our challenging economic times, it’s groups like this, forming around a sense of group cooperation and problems solving that are going to really shift the paradigm in the coming years. Let’s hope that Backwards Beekeeping groups will form all over the world.

Waking up on New Year’s Day with the world of long crowing roosters

Now I’m not suggesting these guys for urban situations, but New Year’s Day seems an appropriate moment to survey the world of long crowing roosters. According to poultry expert Gail Damerow, writing in the current issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine, long crowers probably have their origins in Japan and have spread throughout the world through deliberate selection. Here’s a play list for your listening pleasure, consisting of a Turkish long crowing breed, the Denizli, followed by a Koeyoshi (good crower in Japanese) and the Tomaru (black crower):

For those of you trying to awaken hungover members of your household, here’s two audio files of: A Totenko (red crower) and a Tomaru.

Somewhat perversely, the long crowing trait makes for lower fertility in eggs and greater susceptibility to disease in chicks. As Humans have bred long crowing roosters for thousands of years, it’s a reminder that people have been placing fun and entertainment before utility for a long time. An anthropology professor I once had speculated that the musical bow came before the hunting bow. Other anthropologists theorize that chickens were domesticated for fighting before people figured out the whole egg and meat thing. Far from a defect in human behavior, for me things like long crowing roosters prove that innovation comes out of play.

Thanks to longcrowers.de for sharing those videos!

Talkin’ Chicken

One of the Homegrown Evolution Hens taking care of our termite problem last week

We’re in the Los Angeles Times today “clucking” about chickens. We share mention with fellow Los Angeles urban homesteading bloggists Dakota Witzenburg and Audrey Diehl, who write Green Frieda. Witzenburg designed an amazing coop, complete with a green roof planted with succulents that you can see on Green Frieda here.

In other chicken related news, the December/January issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine is hot off the presses with a provocative article by permaculturist Harvey Ussery, “The Homestead Flock: Pets or Partners?” The article is not online yet, but you can read Ussery’s excellent guide to keeping poultry here.

Lastly, poultry expert and author Christine Heinrichs, who we met at a recent poultry show, has an interesting post on her blog about the lack of genetic diversity in chickens.

Chickens in Chicago

Another gem from City Farmer News. Somehow it’s a lot more fun to listen to someone else talking to city bureaucrats:

“Video by Chad Kimball. Raising Chickens In The City – Chicago Police Say NO. “Is it legal to keep chickens in the city of Chicago? Listen to conflicting information I receive from the police, the city clerk, and the legal department.”

For more info on the law in your area, City Farmer News suggests checking City Chicken’s list of chicken laws.

The Poultry Review June 1908

For your reading pleasure we present the June 1908 issue of the Poultry Review, in its entirety, as a downloadable pdf here (via archive.org). Download a hi-res version of the Art Nouveau styled cover suitable for framing here. We picked up this obscure periodical at the American Poultry Association meet we went to over the weekend. Highlights of this issue of the Poultry Review include an article entitled “What Does it Cost a Year to Keep a Hen?”

“What does it cost a year to keep a hen? This was the conundrum propounded to the chairman of the Committee on Agriculture at Washington a few days ago. The congressman who asked the question was in a facetious mood, and the question was greeted with ripples of laughter. But it is no laughing matter to several millions of people in the United States. It is a more important question to the poultry keeper than the cost of our army and navy, the amount of the river and harbor bill, or even the fate of our foreign dependencies.”

The article goes on to tell how the Boston Herald took up the question and offered a prize for the three best answers, a testimony to how many people kept chickens at the time.

For those tired of poultry, an ad in the back of the Poultry Review asks, “Are you Discouraged with Chickens? If so, try the Ginseng Business. It will pay you LARGER, SURER, PROFITS, requires very little land and the least amount of work of any crop grown. Sells for $6.50 to $9.00 a pound.” Sounds like the $20 a pound Goji berries I saw at Whole Foods last week.

Like many magazines and newspapers today, the line between the editorial department and the business end is a little vague. Poultry Review, in fact, seems to be a thinly disguised ad for the “Philo System of Progressive Poultry Keeping” developed by its editor as an intensive method of raising chickens.

Now, who can identify the chicken breed on the cover? Leave us some comments . . .

So Much Poultry, So Little Time





Homegrown Evolution just got back from the American Poultry Association Annual Meet at the Ventura Fairgrounds. We know nothing about show chickens and we’re too exhausted to blog coherently, so we’ll let the pictures speak for themselves with just a few observations:

-If you don’t want to bother raising chicks, a poultry show is a good place to start a flock and talk to some knowledgeable folks. There were quite a few chickens for sale at reasonable prices.

-Someone needs to put together an urban version of the 4-H club to bring urban agriculture programs to the inner city. Maybe it’s already been done, but from what I’ve been told urban 4-H clubs are all about nutrition, science fairs, and maybe training guide dogs. Kids desperately need contact with nature and animals. Let’s grow some food! But we may need to hippify the uniforms a bit . . .

-When the economy hits the skids people start thinking about keeping chickens. I spoke to the editor of the always informative Backyard Poultry Magazine about this phenomena. She said that she tries to tell people that you should keep chickens in good times and bad (amen!), but that when the economy tanks Backyard Poultry’s circulation soars. We predict Ben Bernanke will put together a coop behind the Federal Reserve.

-And speaking of big things, Jersey Giants are bigger than the national debt.

Stay tuned for some scans of the June 1908 issue of the Poultry Review that we picked up at the meet.

Plymouth Rock Monthly

What magazine had 40,000 subscribers in 1920? Answer: the Plymouth Rock Monthly, a periodical devoted to our favorite chicken breed. We have two “production” Barred Plymouth Rocks in our small flock of four hens, and we’ve found them to be productive, friendly and, with their striped plumage, an attractive sight in our garden. While the internet is an amazing resource for the urban homesteader, there are a few holes in this electronic web of knowledge. In short, would someone out there please get around to scanning and putting online the Plymouth Rock Monthly? All I can find are images of two covers lifted off of ebay.

The February 1925 issue, at right, promises articles on, “Selecting and Packing Eggs for Hatching”, a poetically titled essay, “The Things We Leave Undone”, “Theory and Practice in Breeding Barred Color”, “White Plymouth Rocks”, “The Embargo on Poultry”, and “Breeding White Rocks Satisfactorily”. Incidentally, the Embargo article probably refers to a avian influenza outbreak of 1924-1925 that repeated in 1929 and 1983.

By the 1950s interest in backyard and small farm flocks vastly decreased and the Plymouth Rock Club of America, the publisher of the Plymouth Rock Monthly, collapsed down to 200 members from a peak of 2,000. Thankfully, interest in keeping chickens is now on the rise again and an informative magzine, Backyard Poultry has been revived. Plymouth Rock fans can read an artcile about the breed in the latest issue of Backyard Poultry.

Speaking of poultry, the American Poultry Association will be holding their annual meet in nearby Ventura, California on October 25th and 26th. More info here. You can bet that Homegrown Evolution Root Simple will be there, blogging (tweeting?) live and picking up some fine schwag, such as the amazing patch on the left. What a nice symbol–a feather through a wishbone. We hope that the A.P.A never updates that nice logo! Get one for yourself in their “virtual shopping mall“. And take down that faded Nagel print and pick up their handy poultry breed chart for your living room.

Helping the Bees with Science in your Backyard

San Francisco State University associate professor Gretchen LeBuhn is currently coordinating the innovative Great Sunflower Project, enlisting gardeners around the country to plant sunflowers and count the number of bees that visit them in a set period of time. We participated this summer, planting the sunflower seeds provided by the project. It’s too late to start this year, but you can sign up for next year’s project here. When we last did an observation, we counted five bees within ten minutes visiting the flower we chose to watch. See the video above for an instant replay.

This project is very important, and participation and support of it is a way we can all help out with what appears to be an alarming decrease in bees due to colony collapse disorder. In a fascinating and well written new book, A Spring Without Bees, author Michael Schacker explains the details of colony collapse disorder and the media’s poor job of covering it (hint: it ain’t cellphones, moving bees around or a bee rapture). Schacker blames the bee decline on two pesticides: GAUCHO, manufactured by Bayer Crop Science and Fipronil, manufactured by BASF. You can read more about Schacker’s efforts on Plan Bee.

An Omnivore’s Dilemma

I’m constantly amazed at the wide spectrum of people interested in the subjects profiled on this blog. Our readers run the gamut from leftists to libertarians, to Republicans, with a sprinkling of hunters, new moms, city dwellers, suburbanites, and more all united in the common goal of manifesting a better world.

Of course such a wide coalition isn’t always going to agree on everything. This week we heard from some animal rights activists amongst our readers who politely took issue with the fact that we keep chickens for eggs. I’ll keep my rebuttal short, hoping that we can stay focused on our common goals. With the animal rights folks I agree that current agribusiness livestock practices are appalling and I suspect most of our readers agree on this point. I don’t agree with animal rights activists on the nature of the relationship between domesticated animals and humans. I see a long historical, symbiotic, beneficial relationship cutting across almost all the peoples of the world (with some exceptions such as Hindus). Farmer Bryan Welch sums up my attitude far more eloquently than I can in an essay in Mother Earth News when he says, “I get a lot of laughs watching my animals figure out their lives and I get pretty sad when it’s time to kill them. I have a lot more death in my life than I did before. And, ironically, that’s part of the reason why I feel like I have a lot more life in my life. That’s why I farm.”

Even though I’m raising hens for eggs not meat (though I don’t have a problem with doing so), there are ethical questions involved in keeping backyard poultry. Is shipping chicks by mail humane? What to do with roosters? Would keeping hens on pasture be better than confined to a run? I believe these concerns are outweighed by the benefits of knowing where my food comes from, but others may disagree and I respect that.

Since I’ve been asked in the past, I’ll let everyone know that I’m a omnivore (though I don’t eat much meat, following Michael Pollan’s admonition, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”). Mrs. Homegrown is a “fishetarian”. And I’m interested in hearing our reader’s opinions on the ethicacy of keeping backyard livestock: please leave comments. I’ve also crafted a poll that you’ll find along the right side of this page to indicate your dietary practices which I’m curious about.

Bird Flu and Industrial Agriculture

While I have not seen this new documentary, Shall We Gather at the River, its website contains three provocative interview clips with Michael Greger M.D., the U.S. Humane Society’s Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture. In these excerpts Dr. Greger asserts that industrial agriculture’s penchant for cramming thousands of animals into sheds is the most likely vector for a host of scary diseases such as bird flu and mad cow disease.

Keeping chickens in our backyard has brought home the debate on biosecurity and bird flu. There’s considerable dispute about how these viruses spread, with the industry trying to make the case that wild birds and backyard poultry keepers such as ourselves are a greater threat. A report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Industrial Livestock Production and Global Health Risks (pdf) lends credence to Dr. Greger’s assertion that the hazard of a bird flu outbreak comes not just from backyard flocks but from large scale livestock operations. It seems logical: pack thousands of immunosupressed birds in a shed and spew their waste into the air and waterways and you’re asking for trouble.

And f.y.i. our sickened hen (not by influenza) seems to be on the mend and will hopefully rejoin the flock soon.