Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Defending Your Chickens Against the HOA

The following is a guest post from Shannon Boling. Shannon was raised in the country and now lives in the city. An aspiring urban homesteader, she spends her time planning events for teachers across California when she's not gardening, canning, crafting, cooking or chasing her chickens, dog and cats.

Shannon writes at the blog, Where is Shannon? Make sure you check it out! And, thanks to Shannon for this contribution!


Defending Your Flock Against the HOA (aka your neighbor doesn’t like your chickens)

Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of having to defend my dear chickens at my neighborhood Homeowners Association (HOA) Board meeting. After numerous complaints from a single neighbor, my husband and I had to attend a hearing in which the fate of our chickens was in the hands of 3 unknown Board Members. Though I won’t go into about the actual specifics about my case, I did realize I had a new wealth of information to share with other folks who may be up against a similar threat. Here are a few tips to help you navigate through the murky waters of HOA rules.

Tip # 1: Do your research

This may sound pretty obvious, but knowing the rules is the most important part of building a case for your chickens. Read your CCRs carefully. Don’t just pay attention to the rules about animals, think beyond the box. Have some knowledge in your back pocket.
  •   What are the proper channels one should take when filing a complaint against a neighbor? In our case, the HOA encourages neighbors to resolve issues on their own. Our neighbor never contacted us with her concerns about the noise our chickens made. Knowing that the HOA encourages neighbors to deal with issues on their own shows that she a) doesn’t know the rules, and b)if she knew them, she didn’t act upon them.
  • Find out what the proper dispute resolution sequence is (for my HOA, it was having a hearing, then mediation, then arbitration). It’s good to know what steps you’ll need to take in case they deny your case.
  • Are there height/dimension limits to any coops built in your yard? Do they need to be a certain distance from your neighbors’ houses? This is important to know. For example, if our coop was another 2 feet taller, we would have had to get approval from the HOA to build it.
  •  How much authority does the Board really have? In our case, the Board had the final say on issues – meaning one cannot get a measure put on a ballot for the neighborhood to vote on. Some HOA’s allow members to gather enough signatures to get something on the ballot (how democratic!) This is worth looking into just in case the Board decides against you – you could still get a petition going and leave the vote to the masses. 
  • Get your city and/or county’s municipal code, and be sure to include it with your materials. Many CCR’s defer to the municipal code (be sure you don’t have more chickens than you are allowed!) Thankfully for us, our city doesn’t have a restriction on the number of hens you can keep for non-commercial purposes. 
  • If your HOA is run by a management company, get to know the person that works with your Board. If they are friendly, use their knowledge of the CCRs to help build your case. This proved to be a great resource for me - I was told there was a 1987 CCR that prohibited poultry in our neighborhood (which changed in 2007). I never would have known that if I hadn’t *gently* prodded my contact. 

Tip #2: Get the support of your neighbors

I can’t stress this one enough. Thankfully in our neighborhood, everyone loves our chickens. It was really easy to pass a document around for their signature, stating that they did not believe our chickens were loud or a nuisance to the neighborhood. If you do get people to sign a document, be sure to include specific language related to the CCR’s. I used “loud” and “nuisance” because there is a rule against loud animals that are a nuisance. This allowed the Board to compare the CCRs with the support signatures apples for apples. Once you get those signatures, create a graphic that shows your house in relation to all that signed your petition. This is a great way of visually showing those who support you in your neighborhood. Finally, if you’ve got great neighbors like mine, you’ll have them come as your posse to the Board meeting. I had 5 adult neighbors (and 1 child) attend the meeting and speak in support of our chickens. Hearing this from others really showed the good impact our flock was making in the neighborhood. (Note: a carton of eggs is a great way to show your thanks)

Tip #3: What have other Associations done?

Google “HOA and Chickens” or any combination of “chickens”, “HOA”, and “CCRs”. You’ll be amazed at what you find. Backyard Chickens has a few great forums with information from other chicken owners and their experiences with HOAs. I found a few promising articles and presented this information to the Board. I think it’s important to highlight that people all over the country have chickens, and there are many different ways of accommodating them in a HOA (whether that means restricting the number of chickens, or how the decision to allow chickens is made).

Tip #4: Are you willing to compromise?

On a personal note, this was the hardest part for me to come to terms with. If the Board votes no more chickens – are you ready to go to the next level (i.e. court) to keep them? Are you willing to give up a few hens to keep the neighbor(s) happy? After taking everything into consideration, I decided to pair my flock down from 6 to 3. Sure, I miss the extra eggs and the sound of a happy coop. But, because I showed the Board that I was willing to compromise, they agreed to let me keep my remaining girls. In the end – totally worth it.

Go to the meeting with confidence and your head held high – after all, you are a steward of this uncharted urban chicken-raising territory!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Products mentioned in The Non-Toxic Avenger

I've made a new page, that is available from under the banner above by clicking the tab "Products from the NTA Book", where I list many of the products that I mention in my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You. The list includes links to the products.

You can check it out here:

Products Mentioned in The Non-Toxic Avenger.

These are many of the products we have switched over to in order to reduce our exposure to chemicals. We still use all of them today.

If you have a product type that's not listed, let me know and I'll add it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hoop Houses and Urban Winter Garden Tour

I was just going to go outside yesterday and take some pictures of the many different vegetables we currently have growing in our hoop houses (as described on The Crunchy Chicken Facebook page), but I decided that I might as well make a video about it.

So, for your viewing pleasure, here's a short video of what's growing in our backyard in late January, 2012. I apologize for the weird camera smudginess at the beginning. I think our camera got some salt water spray on it from our recent trip to San Diego.



To watch the video on YouTube (if you are experiencing technical difficulties), you can see it here.

What do you have growing in your winter garden?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Top 10 Urban Farming books

I wanted to create a list of essential Urban Farming books for those who are just starting out as well as for the more experienced urban farmer. I selected books that don't concentrate on just one topic (like city chickens or vegetable gardening in small spaces), but on a wide variety of topics that range from growing food to raising animals and beyond.

For those of you who live in the city (or the suburbs), I hope this helps!

1. The Urban Farm Handbook, by Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols: Here's my review post, this is still one of my favorites.

2. The Essential Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter: This one is on my to-read list. I read Novella's previous book, Farm City, and loved it.

3. Urban Homesteading, by Rachel Kaplan: I'll be doing a review/giveaway of this one soon.

4. Your Farm in the City, by Lisa Taylor: This book is put out by my local Seattle Tilth and I can't believe I haven't read it yet! Time to hit the library.

5. The Urban Homestead, by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen: This book covers more than you can possibly imagine and will inspire you to try new things.

6. Urban Farming, by Thomas Fox: From the makers of Urban Farming magazine (Hobby Farms).

7. Urban Agriculture, by David Tracey: I'll be doing a review/giveaway of this one as well in the upcoming weeks.

8. Mini Farming, by Brett Markham: This one is geared towards those who have 1/4 acre to work with.

9. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading, by Sundari Elizabeth Kraft: This book covers the basics as well as everything from composting to clean energy.

10. The Backyard Homestead, by Carleen Madigan: Here's a short review post - this one is geared more towards a larger amount of land than most people have in their urban/suburban backyards, but it's valuable nonetheless.

Consider yourselves warned: There be Amazon affiliate links in this post.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Non-Toxic Avenger: The Book Club!

Now that the blog book tour for my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, is wrapping up this week, I wanted to announce that I'll be hosting a book club starting in February.

It will be in the same format as most of my other book clubs: each section will start with an overview, followed by discussion questions. The only key difference is that I'm the author on this one!

Here's the tentative schedule for the book club:

2/6   Part 1: Laying It All Out
2/13   Part 2: Getting Started
2/20   Part 3: The Baseline
2/27   Part 4: Adjusting to Non-Toxic Living
3/5   Part 5: Going a Little Bonkers
3/12   Part 6: Figuring It All Out
3/19   Part 7: Wrapping It Up

You don't need to have read the book to participate, although it does help!

I've created a page on Facebook if you'd like to participate in the book club that way as well. Just head on over and "LIKE" it!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Blog book tour - Week 4

This week wraps up the month long blog book tour for my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger. I'll be visiting the following blog and, as the post goes up, I'll be updating this post with the direct link. I hope that the blog tour has given you some more info about the book! I'll post a wrap-up with links to everything next week so it's in one spot.

Tour DateBlogType of Post
1/24/12http://www.climatemama.comBook Review

Thanks to everyone who has participated!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Blog book tour - Week 3

This week I'll be visiting the following blogs. As the posts are up I'll be letting you know the direct links. I'm hoping this will give you more information about my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, as well as let the readers of the other blogs learn about it as well.

Tour DateBlogType of Post
1/16/12http://tippecanoegreen.blogspot.comBook Review
1/17/12http://eco-novice.com/Book Excerpt
1/18/12http://www.GroovyGreenLiving.comInterview
1/19/12http://thenonconsumeradvocate.com/Book Review
1/20/12http://www.InWomenWeTrust.comBook Excerpt

Thanks to everyone who is participating!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The smoke screen of hidden flame retardants

The following was originally posted on the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families blog:

BritaxRoundaboutWhen my children were babies, their health and safety were high priorities for me as their mother. They still are. I made sure I breastfed my children as long as possible and made sure I bought them car seats with the highest safety ratings.

As a mom, I take pride in making sure that I am doing everything I can for their well being. I expect that children's products available on the market are safe and contain nothing to expose their young, growing bodies to hazardous chemicals. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.

A report released on Wednesday from Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States shows that children and families are exposed to chemical flame retardants in children's products. These toxic flame retardants were found in 85% of the products tested, ranging from nursing pillows, changing pads to car seats. The most prevalent flame retardant found was chlorinated Tris (TDCPP), a chemical that was voluntarily removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s when it was found to cause adverse health effects. In fact, California recently classified chlorinated Tris as a carcinogen, and evidence links the chemical to neurotoxicity as well as hormone disruption. It's a chemical that should not be anywhere near our children.

So, that nursing pillow from My Brest Friend that I received as a gift and used with both my kids when they were tiny? Two different kinds of toxic flame retardants. The co-sleeper my babies slept in by Arm's Reach? Five different kinds of toxic flame retardants. The Babies R Us Changing Pad that we used for at least three years? Three different kinds of toxic flame retardants. And the Graco SnugRide Infant Car Seat and Britax Roundabout car seats that got years and years of use? All contain chlorinated Tris.

To say this makes me irate is an understatement. Without research like this, how would consumers even know what kind of toxic exposures our children are being subjected to? And, furthermore, this illustrates the fact that there are probably far more undiscovered toxins lurking in the many household products that are surrounding us.

To read the rest of this post and find out how you can avoid flame retardants in your kid's products, please visit the original article here on the Safer Chemicals blog.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Top 10 Homestead Goals for 2012

Erica over at Northwest Edible Life is running a giveaway of The Urban Farm Handbook and, as part of the giveaway, she's asking what the entrant's Big Urban Homesteading goal is for 2012.

Well, since I already have the book and I have a lot of goals, I decided I wanted to share them in a post. I also wanted to find out what your homesteading goals are for this year, urban or otherwise.

Here are mine (in no particular order):

Top 10 Homestead Goals for 2012

1. Double the number of chickens we have (we are getting 3 more chicks in March)
2. Go in on a pig share (done this past weekend - post to follow)
3. Add one more raised bed in the backyard (work in progress)
4. Get front yard re-landscaped to remove grass and put in edibles (March/April 2012)
5. Get started with meat rabbits (May 2012)
6. Buy some pasture land in Eastern WA (working on convincing the hubs on this one :)
7. More canning - tomato sauce and pickles, relish and, of course, jam
8. Join the Honey CSA from Urban Bee Company since we won't be hosting a hive
9. Get into goat cheese making (working with a local source)
10. Learn how to dispatch rabbits and chickens (hooking up with The Urban Farm Handbook authors Annette, for rabbits, and Joshua, for chickens)

So, what are your homesteading goals for 2012?

Pig pic from the wonderful Conyac Brothers' Farmstead in Marysville, WA.

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This post is part of this week's Homestead Barn Hop.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blog book tour - Week 2

This week I'll be visiting the following blogs. As the posts are up I'll be letting you know the direct links. I'm hoping this will give you more information about my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, as well as let the readers of the other blogs learn about it as well.

Tour DateBlogType of Post
1/9/12http://www.bestofmotherearth.comBook Review
1/11/12http://www.thegreenparent.com/Guest post
1/11/12http://blog.saferchemicals.org/Guest Post
1/12/12http://www.mindfulmomma.comBook Review
1/12/12http://www.greenokla.com/Book Review
1/13/12http://condo-blues.blogspot.com/Book Endorsements

Thanks to everyone who is participating!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Non-Toxic New Year's Resolution

Many of us make New Year's resolutions revolving around health - generally of the lose weight, exercise more and eat better kind. But few stop to think about other things that affect our health. Sure there is quitting smoking and wearing seat belts and other very valid resolutions. But what about reducing your exposure to toxins? And not just if you live near a pesticide sprayed field or a superfund site.

No, I'm talking about the toxins we are exposed to in our every day lives. Toxins like Bisphenol A (BPA) that's found in plastics, canned foods and on store receipts that cause hormone disruption. And, what about Triclosan, a potent anti-bacterial, that's found in many things from hand soaps to toothpaste and tennis shoes that can contribute to super resistant bacteria and cause a whole host of health issues not just for humans but for fish and aquatic life downstream?

I propose that this year you look at not just the amount of food and what kind you are eating when trying to be healthy, but also what you are putting on your skin and breathing in that also impacts your long term health. And, because the whole topic of toxins in consumer products can be extremely overwhelming, I recommend people focus on the following low-hanging fruit of toxins.

For this year's New Year's Resolution try this instead of or in addition to your other pledges:

1. Get rid of the anti-bacterial soaps. Nobody needs them - studies show that good hand washing is just as effective at cleaning as anti-bacterials. Avoid the ingredient: Triclosan

2. Ditch the non-stick. Start with your frying pans and work your way through your bakeware. Choose quality stainless steel, glass or cast iron instead.

3. Avoid artificial fragrances. You'll be surprised at how many products in your home contain artificial fragrances which house the chemicals phthalates, which are powerful endocrine disruptors. Avoid the ingredients: artificial fragrance or parfum.

4. Stay away from canned food. Most canned items are lined with BPA, which has been shown to cause healthy breast cells to act like cancerous ones. Make your own soup and store it in glass jars, buy dried beans and look for BPA free cans. And, while you're at it, stay away from soda cans.

5. Buy organic food. Stay away from pesticides by choosing organic foods over conventionally sprayed ones. Your body and the environment will thank you.

Are you willing to pledge to lower your toxic exposure? Which ones are you avoiding?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

30 minute mozzarella

Last weekend, my husband and I hit up The Cellar Homebrew near our place for some cheese making supplies. Since we got a cast iron pizza pan for Christmas to replace our old non-stick Teflon pizza pan, we wanted to try out making pizzas. And what better way to top our homemade pizza dough and pizza sauce I canned from last summer's tomato bonanza than by adding fresh made mozzarella?

I dusted off my old Home Cheese Making book that I've had for years (and never made anything from) and decided to actually use it. Over the years, I've been too lazy to scout out the odds and ends required to make mozzarella, opting for easy homemade cheeses instead.

Since we were busy with other things over New Year's weekend, we went with the 30 minute recipe, rather than the more traditional one. The 30 minute recipe is super easy and goes a little something like this:

1. Mix citric acid into gallon of whole milk (make sure it's not ultra pasteurized or it doesn't work)
2. Heat until warm
3. Add rennet
4. Stir and heat until 100 degrees or so - the curds will magically appear
5. Remove curds with slotted spoon
6. Microwave on high for 1 minute, drain whey and knead with spoon
7. Microwave for 35 seconds, drain whey and knead with spoon
8. Repeat #7 and knead in some cheese salt
9. Eat or store

I was flabbergasted at how easy this was and how quickly it came together. My husband was dubious about the whole process and predicted it would take me an hour and a half at least to have some form of cheese ready to go. Nay sayer, I tell you!

With the cheese all ready to go, we sliced it up and put it on the pizza. It was very good, but not exactly what I expected.

My final thoughts
It certainly wasn't like the fresh mozzarella balls we buy from our favorite market. It wasn't as creamy and looked more like a combo of fresh and the Organic Valley regular mozzarella we buy. I was hoping we would be making caprese salad like crazy, but I wouldn't use it for that. The texture is all wrong.

Would I make it again? Maybe. I think I'd rather try making the longer, more involved mozzarella recipe from the book and see how they compare.

Photographic evidence
Here are some pictures of the process for your viewing pleasure:

Right after adding in the rennet, the curds separate from the whey.


The cheese curds after removing them with a slotted spoon.


Paco, casting a spell, "You must give me all the cheese..."


Melty cheese, right out of the microwave.


The finished product. Note the cheese browned in a rather oddly brown way.



Have you tried making mozzarella? Did you do the 30 minute kind or did you go the traditional route?

This post is part of this week's Homestead Barn Hop and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Blog book tour - 2012!

Hey everybody! Tomorrow kicks off my blog book tour. What's that, you ask? Well, it's like a regular book tour, but rather than travel all over the country (with a high travel carbon footprint), I'm virtually doing a book tour on people's blogs. For the most part, this tour will be three weeks long and will visit several dozen blogs.

This week I'll be visiting the following blogs. As the posts are up I'll be letting you know the direct links. I'm hoping this will give you more information about my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, as well as let the readers of the other blogs learn about it as well.

Tour DateBlogType of Post
1/2/12http://www.thecrunchychicken.comBook Tour Launch!
1/3/12http://eco-novice.com/Healthy Child, Healthy World Nomination and Q&A
1/3/12http://farmersdaughterct.com/Book review
1/3/12http://www.momscleanairforce.org/Guest post on clean air
1/5/12http://www.mnn.com/Book excerpt
1/6/12http://www.RetroHousewifeGoesGreen.comInterview
1/6/12http://www.strocel.com/Podcast with Amber (20 minute interview)

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