Poultry Houses of the Ultra Wealthy: Part 2

Are $100,000 chicken coops a sign of an empire on the verge of a decadent downward spiral? If so it’s time to get that bug-out location ready because Neiman Marcus publicity flacks just announced a $100,000 “Heritage Hen Mini-Farm.” From the description on their website:

Dawn breaks. The hens descend from their bespoke Versailles-inspired Le Petit Trianon house to their playground below for a morning wing stretch. Slipping on your wellies, you start for the coop and are greeted by the pleasant clucking of your specially chosen flock and the site of the poshest hen house ever imagined. Your custom-made multilevel dwelling features a nesting area, a “living room” for nighttime roosting, a broody room, a library filled with chicken and gardening books for visitors of the human kind, and, of course, an elegant chandelier. The environment suits them well as you notice the fresh eggs awaiting morning collection. Nearby, you pick fresh vegetables or herbs from your custom-built raised gardens. You’ve always fancied yourself a farmer—now thanks to Heritage Hen Farm, you’re doing it in the fanciest way possible!

The Neiman Marcus folks apparently didn’t get the memo on what happened to the original owner of Le Petit Trianon. Those angry mobs of real French peasants weren’t all too happy with a royal family of pretend farmers. Will Neiman Marcus offer a diamond encrusted Gucci guillotine when the chicken coop class war breaks out?

And, in my humble opinion, British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey has a better coop.

Thanks to Root Simple reader Birdzilla Studios for the tip! 

Urban Chickens and Lead

From the One More Thing To Worry About department, the New York Times has an article on lead levels in eggs laid by urban chickens “Worries About Lead for New York City’s Garden-Fresh Eggs.” According to the article, the lead levels found in New York City’s home grown eggs ranged from none to over a 100 parts per billion. Since the FDA does not have an acceptable lead level in eggs it’s difficult to interpret the results. And I have to wonder what unknown problems lurk in industrial eggs.

It’s a reminder that those of us who live in older cities and grow food need to confront the lead problem. Personally, I’d also like to see the Real Estate industry come clean on this issue beyond boiler plate disclosures buried in sales documents. But I’m not holding my breath.

Radical Beekeeper Michael Thiele Ventures Into New Territory

Thiele with an unorthodox hive–picture from his website Gaia Bees.

One of the lectures I went to at the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa earlier this month has really stuck with me. It was a talk by radical biodynamic beekeeper Michael Thiele that, frankly, I walked into biased against. But by the conclusion I could tell that the whole audience, including myself, left deeply moved by what Thiele had to say.

The reason for my bias was that I was not too impressed with the two other biodynamic lectures I attended. One was just too pseudo-scientific even for my intuitively biased brain. The other lecturer, when asked why biodynamicists follow certain unusual practices such as burying dandelion flowers stuffed into the mesentery of a cow responded, “because Rudolf Steiner said so.”

Thiele was different. He is influenced by, what I believe to be, the true spirit of Steiner’s ideas rather than the dogma of his followers. Steiner, I think, would want us all to continue to use our sense of intuition rather than rely on what he said to do. Thiele balances what we know from science about bees with an intuitive relationship with bees as a whole, and complex, organism.

Continue reading…

Poultry Houses of the Ultra-Wealthy

Root Simple reader Christopher Calderhead tipped us off to a story in the Guardian on the plans by British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey to build a neo-classical chicken coop. Odey will, apparently, be spending at least £100,000 just for the stone. The Telegraph also covered the story and has more details on the construction,

The temple’s roof – adorned with an Anthemia statuette – will be fashioned in grey zinc; the pediments, cornice, architrave and frieze are in English oak; and the columns, pilasters and rusticated stone plinth are being hewn from finest grey Forest of Dean sandstone.

Sir Peter’s duck house.

This isn’t the first poultry house to cause a scandal in Britain. In 2010 Sir Peter Viggers claimed a £1,645 duck house as part of his expenses as an member of parliament.

Now if your taste runs more towards Dwell Magazine than the neo-classical, a British company sells a £1,950, “Nogg” chicken coop. Modern design, apparently, comes with an even higher price tag than Sir Peter’s duck house!. And, like most modern design, the Nogg is more conceptual than practical. Looks like a tight squeeze for a couple of hens. The Nogg could get Prince Charles started on on one of his anti-modernist architecture rants.

Continue reading…

Modesto Milling’s Organic Layer Pellets

I could blog for weeks about all the lectures I attended at the National Heirloom Expo, but I thought I’d take a break to highlight a product I came across in the vendor hall: Modesto Milling chicken feed. I’ve been using it for a few months now on the recommendation of Craig and Gary from Winnetka Farms (where our chickens came from). 

In my opinion, if I’m going to go through the trouble of keeping my own chickens they should get good feed in addition to kitchen scraps and yard trimmings. Since I don’t have a pasture to let my hens forage on, this feed is the next best thing. So that’s why I’ve decided to use Modesto Milling’s organic layer pellets, even though it’s more expensive than the feed I used to use.

Modesto Milling feed is carried at stores in California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Hawaii and online (though I imagine the shipping charges might be prohibitive). I pick mine up at a local pet store. A list of retailers is on the Modesto Milling website. You can also arrange a bulk order and split it up. And if you’re trying to avoid soy in your diet they have a soy free chicken feed.

What Do Microbes Have To Do With Homesteading?

So what are the activities that microbes make possible around the homestead? To name just four:

  • Fermentation
  • Beekeeping
  • Soil Fertility
  • Human beings

Pretty important stuff. In fact, new systems thinking, applied to our natural word, is demonstrating that things like human beings are really just symbiotic sacks of microbial life. An article in the Economist, “Microbes maketh man” discusses just how important microbes are to human health:

The traditional view is that a human body is a collection of 10 trillion cells which are themselves the products of 23,000 genes. If the revolutionaries are correct, these numbers radically underestimate the truth. For in the nooks and crannies of every human being, and especially in his or her guts, dwells the microbiome: 100 trillion bacteria of several hundred species bearing 3m non-human genes. The biological Robespierres believe these should count, too; that humans are not single organisms, but superorganisms made up of lots of smaller organisms working together.

Natural beekeeper Michael Bush has made the same argument about bees. Elaine Ingham has emphasized the importance of microbes in soil.

Mess with the complex interdependent relationships between microbes and people, soil etc. and you’re asking for trouble. This, for me, is the argument against things like GMOs, Miracle Grow or conventional chemical beekeeping. We don’t know enough, and probably never will know, how 100 trillion bacteria will react to our latest innovation. Best to be conservative when it comes to microbial life.

Looking forward to seeing more of this microbial paradigm shift in science.

Picture Sundays: Bike Rack With Bee Smoker

Bike Snob NYC predicted back in 2010 that beekeeping would be the new fixed-gear. Don’t know where I found this picture (Facebook?) but it looks like bikes and bees are achieving a kind of synergy. I think this is a custom rack just for that handsome Dadant smoker, which like the design of the bicycle, has not changed much in a hundred years:

Dadant smoker in 1910.

Does this mean that Dadant will come out with a titanium smoker?

Does the scent of compost make bees angry?

I think I’ve stumbled upon a strange phenomenon: the smell released by turning compost pisses off bees. Yesterday was the third time this has happened to me. I took a sting just underneath my eye and another one to my right hand when I was turning a pile located about 15 feet away from a hive. Coincidentally, the same thing happened to a friend yesterday: he got stung while working with compost near a hive. Ordinarily our bees are reasonable about living in a small yard with humans–they are not even very aggressive when I open their hive. But apparently turning compost near them is a different matter.

I look like I’ve been in a fight. Lots of Benadryl today.

I have a theory. Bees are incredibly sensitive to odors and use them to communicate. Their alarm pheromones alert the hive to predators such as bears and people. Bee alarm pheromone consists of many different compounds. Interestingly, a lot of these compounds such as n-Butanol and Isoamyl acetate are byproducts of fermentation processes. I’m guessing that a number of these compounds are present in compost, and that when you turn a pile the act releases a cloud of compounds that mimic the bee’s alarm pheromones, causing them to attack.

It turns out that other lifeforms like to mimic honeybee alarm pheromone. Some species of orchids mimic bee alarm pheromone in order to attract pollination services. Small hive beetles, who raid beehives for their pollen, apparently bring with them a yeast that causes a fermentation process that mimics alarm pheromones. The small hive beetle’s fermented alarm pheromone, in turn, attracts more small hive beetles who quickly overwhelm the hive. These sorts of deceptive, symbiotic and parasitic loops in nature really amaze me. 

As a side note, I’ve only had compost pile related bee stings at this time of year, when honeybee numbers are at their peak and pollen and nectar sources are getting scarce (summer is hot and dry in Los Angeles and not much is blooming).

If you don’t have a hive, I doubt random, foraging worker bees would go after you if you are just turning compost in your yard. But if you’ve got a compost pile and are thinking about installing a hive–or vice versa–I’d seriously consider keeping the two as far apart as possible.

Am I alone in noticing this compost/bee alarm pheromone issue?

How to Make a Native Bee Nesting Box

Back in the spring I made a native bee nesting box by drilling a bunch of holes in the long end of a 4 by 6 inch piece of scrap wood. I cut one end of the 4 x 6 at an angle so that I could nail on a makeshift roof made from a piece of 2 x 6. I hung the nesting box on an east facing wall or our house with a picture hanger.

I used three sizes of holes to see which ones would be most popular: 1/4 inch, 3/16 inch and 1/8 inch. All were moved into by, I think, the same native bee within days of putting up the box. This afternoon, when I went to check on the nest to take some pictures for this blog post, I was delighted to see a lot of activity. There were bee butts sticking out of the holes, as well as bees flying in and out. I think they are some sort of mason bee–extra credit to the person who successfully identifies the species:

They move fast, so I was only able to get these two blurry shots. No, they are not Chupacabras.

With the success of this primitive native bee box, I decided to make more nesting boxes to see if I could attract other solitary, native bees. I put this one together with some small pieces of bamboo that I found in a neighbor’s trash can:

I think there’s a great potential to create works of public art that double as insect nests. For a nice example of this idea see the “insect hotel” designed by by Arup Associates.

For general guidelines on how to build nesting boxes see this guide from the Xerces Society

We also have a project for a native bee box in our book Making It.

If you’ve built or seen a nice native bee box, leave a comment or a link.