Re Rustica

  (Squaw Valley, California)
love your food!
[ Member listing ]

Goose Versus Lynx

Goose versus Lynx.

Who wins? Goose! Why? She’s brave, big, strong, healthy and ferocious!

Who stupidly tries again the next day? Lynx! Why? Guess it’s hungry. Or dishonored.

How wide to make aisles and beds?

The decision of how wide to make beds and aisles is a question of economics, ergonomics and of biology. The plants must be able to reach the aisles with their roots so they can eat from them, so the beds cannot be too wide. The beds must be no wider than human hands can reach to harvest from the middle of them and aisles must be big enough to walk through and till. The beds and aisles must be big enough to produce maximum yields.

The question of how far human hands can reach into the middle of beds for harvesting is easily answered. The average person can reach 2 feet from a squatting position easily, and so the beds cannot be wider than 4 feet across.

How wide the aisles must be depends on the machinery to be used in tillage and the width of the people tending the beds. A human can easily walk and kneel in a space 2 feet wide, and so this becomes a minimum width of the aisle. A shovel is about 1 foot wide – smaller than the minimum width.

But what if shovels are not the primary form of tillage? Two horses pulling a plow are 6 feet wide – if this is the primary form of tillage, than the aisle must be at least 6 feet wide. Our tractor is 6 feet wide, but sometimes we use shovels. So, sometimes we have 2 foot wide aisles, sometimes 6 foot wide.

Based on ergonomic analysis, it would be good if the plants can reach at least 2 feet from the middle of the beds to the aisles.

The question is tested by tilling a wedge shape into untilled ground. The dimensions of the triangle shall be a length of 20 feet and a base width of 20 feet.

Plant the seeds of the crop in question in a line down middle, from the apex to the base every 12 inches so that the first seed is 0 feet from the hard ground, and the last (20th) seed is 10 feet from the hard ground, so that every seed from the apex has more tilled ground surrounding it.

You will notice that the seeds closer to the base are larger. This is because they have more tilled soil to eat: their roots can penetrate further, eat better and have more fertile soil to eat. Measure the yield or biomass of the vegetation as it travels down the line. You will notice that at a point, there is no longer an increasing rate of return for more soil. This point represents the greatest width you’ll ever want to have your beds.

Depending on soil conditions and species, we have found this ideal bed width distance to lie somewhere between 4 and 6 feet, on average. Clearly, the 2 feet the plants must traverse is within this maximum bed width.

But how wide should the aisles be?

Examining the same data with different objectives, you can observe that each plant does best when it has about 4-6 feet of soil to eat. This suggests that the aisle should be 4-6 feet wide for maximum yield, for most crops.

There are exceptions: some crops (especially sprouts!) need less soil to eat, and others need much more. Experimentation must be done on each crop to be grown if the exact data is to be learned. A good rule is, however, aisles of 4-6 feet wide, and beds of 4-6 feet wide, and if human hands must reach the middle easily, the beds should be limited to 4 feet wide.

We prefer beds 4 feet wide and aisles 6 feet wide because our tractor is 6 feet wide and we can till easily in the aisles then, and reach into the beds.

Is this an inefficient use of space?

Using the same data gained in the experiment described before, you can calculate anticipated yields based on aisle width and bed width. You will find that the point of decreasing marginal returns is the point at which you will earn the most money. Well fed plants are the best use of space: it is better to have fewer well fed plants than many starving plants – so long as you don’t have too few plants per bed. Aim for the maximum number of plants you can feed well – the point of decreasing marginal return for aisle and bed with… 4-6 feet per bed and aisle.

On some of our lands we maintain a 2 foot aisle and 4 foot bed. Why do we till less than the ideal width?

We combine those plants with condensed root systems so that we can maximize the use of land. All those plants that have extensive root systems enjoy the 6 foot aisles, but for many crops, this is more than necessary. Spinach, radishes, lettuces, peas, sprouts, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes, among other high-water crops, need less root space than plants like squashes, beans, small grains, large grains, lambsquarter, and other “xeric” or low-water crops.

Welcome to our Flock's Newest Adoptees

We’ve adopted some more hens! One of the folks in the neighborhood was moving to where they could not have any chickens. Did we want to give them a home? Of course!

Usually we’re adopting from shelters, but a true victory is to keep these good, productive and beautiful hens (and possibly one rooster?) from entering the shelter in the first place. There’s six of them, and one “micro” chicken we’ve named “Two Pence.”

The micro chicken is a breed that naturally is smaller. She’ll lay as many eggs as her larger sisters, but smaller eggs.

Mama Clucky's Adopted Chicks

  [Read More]

Bags - a new way of cooking not just for backpackers and truckers anymore!

  [Read More]

adopted chickens

Today we adopted two chickens and one duck from the Stanislaus Animal Shelter.  They were brought into the shelter together, and were inseparable friends there even when provided with a huge field and barn to eat and play in.  Though we’ve never raised ducks before, we’re glad to give this sweet bird a home with our chickens and geese. 

We love raising day-old chicks and goslings, but it is equally rewarding rescuing birds from animal shelters.  From a business perspective, adopting older birds can be an advantage by saving us five months (for chickens) or a year (for geese) for the birds to lay eggs.  It can also be a risk if you get a sick or too-old bird: chickens stop laying eggs after a few years, and while we don’t mind giving “retired” chickens a home, it is better for business if they earn their keep.  Sick birds, of course, can be dangerous to your entire flock, but are typically easy to tell if they are sick.  Stressful living situations, such as living at an animal shelter, will tend to exasperate any underlying illnesses so that when you adopt from a shelter you can more easily see if the chicken is sick. 

We also just rescued seven two-month old chicks. Their previous owner had raised them (inadvertently) to be cannibalistic.  Chickens are curious and omnivorous; when they are young, especially, they will peck at each other for various reasons.  If one chick gets injured and bleeds, the other chicks will naturally peck at the blood.  If one catches the problem quickly, it is simple to apply a bad tasting ointment to the wound and/or isolate the injured bird until it recovers.  Depending on why the bird got injured in the first place, other measures may need to be taken to prevent a reoccurance (for example, fixing a dangerous cage, eliminating overcrowding, or relocating an overly aggressive chick). 

The problem with the chicks we bought seems to be that early in their chick-hood they tasted blood and no retraining was undertaken.  As a result, they learned to make each other bleed (just a little, on the tailhead) and appear to have been “tasting” each other ever since.  Only one of them has a tail; the rest have been pulled out and scabbed over from repeated injury.  This is an easy problem to fix, though it would have been better if it had been prevented in the first place.  If they had been younger, or if we had no rooster to retrain them, we would have applied bad-tasting ointment to all their tailheads (actively bleeding or not), to teach them that eating tails is gross.  Luckily for us, though, we have a good rooster and could take the easier path: we simply put all the chicks in the coop with him and let him teach them how to behave like proper grown up chickens.  With a  few days of discipline (he never hurts them, just demands obedience), they have all but quit their bad pecking habit. 

One of the more challenging parts of adopting chickens is introducing them to the flock.  In most cases (excepting situations like the cannibalistic chicks that needed quicker intervention from our rooster) we keep the new chicken(s) in a cage in the coop for a day or two, so that they can introduce themselves without fighting.  Then they are let loose in the coop, but all chickens (new and old) are made to stay in the coop for a few days to get well bonded.  This is greatly aided by having a good rooster.  Skipping this step tends to lead to the new chickens wandering off and getting lost or eaten.  Finally, the chickens are let loose like normal to free range around our farm.  If the training was successful, they’ll stay together as a flock and return to the coop in the evening.  If not, we try locking the flock up for a few more days together in the coop to bond a little more.


We name all our chickens, but the chickens have to earn their names.  The geese don’t have names because they look very similar and behave as one unit.  We tend to name them between one and five weeks of age (few have distinct lifelong characteristics earlier than one week of age).  Sometimes, though, they don’t earn a name until they are fully grown. 

Every chicken has its own unique “chickenality” (personality), which is usually what they become named for.  Scuttle, our head rooster, disliked being picked up when we first adopted him.  He is very intelligent, and quickly learned how to evade being caught.  Whenever he saw us coming he would scuttle under the nearest bush!  Cluckey is one of the most talkative chickens we’ve ever had occasion to listen to.  Occassionally they are named for some unique physical characteristic.  Stubs lost a toe during her chick-hood.  Nina is smaller than her companions. 

Soon we’ll be getting about a hundred newly hatched chicks, and we look forward to learning what names they’ll require!

Winter's Delicious Foods - Eating Seasonally

Aaron's grandfather told us about how the first supermarkets came to town and put all the little stores out of business. People wanted the foods of summer all year long, and were willing to pay freight for the luxury.

In our family, we have always loved the foods of winter as much as those of summer, and because we know the history of this dietetic and environmental catastrophe, aren't surprised when we meet people of the "boomer" and later generations that grew up without seasonal foods, changes in flavors and balance of diet.  Soon, the monotony becomes boredom, and the love of food dims. 

Life, like food, has seasons, and the change in diet that seasons produce prepare us for what challenges life naturally presents us with.

The foods of winter are a necessary balance to those of summer, and the beans, flours, eggs, dried fruits and veggies, and the storage fruits and veggies are not only a delicious treat when the rich foods of summer have waned, but a nutritious need.  The first bitter, spicy, flavorful greens are a welcome greeting to the work of summer, the first sweet winter squashes and dry beans and flours signal a period of well-earned rest.  Bitter, sweet, sour, salted, we savor life as the flavors change.

Masanobu Fukuoka, Columella and Tull, the three most important farmers in the history of the development of the science, each came to the same conclusion that that as much as the spring and summer foods give us the quick energy required to accomplish the opportunities of the warmer months, the winter foods give the strength required to rest and prepare ourselvs for the rigors of the coming year.

Who wants the heavy breads of winter for dinner when there's work to do by moonlight?  Who wants the light fruits of summer when the snow is falling and a sleepy book by the fire stands between us and bed? 

Of course, a farmer's work is never done.  In the winter we work as hard as in the summer, building, sharpening, strengthening our selves to achieve the opportunities of the coming summer.  The animals need cared for, the crops need tilled.  But winter work is fundamentally different than summer work: winter is a time of patience and rigor.

In summer it is all about frantic speed, the frenzied pandemonium.  We always notice when Father Time first takes a moment to rest on his scythe in autumn.  Everything takes a breath, and looks about at the wonder of the world as if for the first time.  In summer we are blinded to the end we all face, and like vainglorious barbarians revel in our own strength and endurance to work day and night and day again. 

The moon rises and sets, the sun spins about the earth and we never see our own shadows.  The stars sing and dance and play all summer long.  It is little wonder humanity loves the summer and would miss the foods of the season for the sake of the melancholy memories She gave to us.  In winter we have the time to think of those missed opportunities, and if we do not recognize the benevolent paternal love Time bestows upon us, we mistake the bitterness of spring for punishment.

It is not punishment, but the hard, loving discipline of a world that loves us.  Winter and Time teach us to live fully in summer...and then rest.   

Aaron's grandfather taught us that if only people could taste the foods of their ancestors they'd remember how much they love the pleasures and tastes of the winter months!  It was his greatest pleasure to share the experience of those ancestral foods with us, those foods from beyond the mists of a globalized trade, from before supermarkets.  How quickly a century becomes ancient!  A short time, a few seasons.

Though we face many different challenges than our people did long ago, we still require the same measure of strength during these dark months that all people have forever.  We still require the strong foods of winter before the summer comes and we work until exhaustion.

The winter season is coming to a close, and we are savoring the beans in our chili, the lentils steaming from our pots.  The fluffy, crusty bread and the hearty soups of dried vegetables, carefully saved away during the careless months of plenty. 

Soon we must say goodbye to these foods for a while, for there will be summertime work to be done.   From home to home, these foods of summer are not strangers to us and are welcome.  The fluffy breads gradually will become flat breads (which take less time to cook) and will eventually be replaced by potatoes, and in the fury of summer we will scarecely eat at all!  The filling vegetable soups will become steamed and then become raw plates of salad.  The fruits will revive us from the heat of the sun.  We won't notice our hunger until Time takes pity on us and delivers us from Summer's work, commanding a rest in the autumn.

And then we'll hunger again, and be fed at his table, and remember our ancestors, our grandparents and the meals we shared at the table with them.  Parents, children, siblings and cousins gather and take stock, and give thanks.  The sacred rest, the benevolent year, we are grateful.

Now again the hungry summer that lies beyond spring beckons us, and we take our last meals with Father Winter, His lessons to rest and prepare ourselves.  We will see him soon.  A customer asked when the summertime foods will come, but we reminded her that there's only a short time left of winter, and it'd be a pity if she didn't at least try those delicacies while they were in season...

Big Hats for Important Geese

People like to ask, are the geese with bigger hats more important in the flock than those with little or no hats?  The answer is yes.

The Tufted Roman Geese we have sometimes have tufts, or "hats."  Those with tall hats are higher in the pecking order than those with smaller or no hats.  This may be because the geese think that those with big hats are bigger. 

Our head goose has a nice "ten gallon hat!" 

So, make sure you greet the geese with bigger hats first!  It's polite.

Coming Home to Roost

Chickens have a strong sense of home, and gain that sense of home by sleeping in the same place for a week or so.  Whenever we move our chickens to a new home (though we do try to avoid doing that), we keep them inside for a week or so to force them to sleep there consistently.  Then, when they are released and free to wander about, they’ll always come home to roost where we want them to. 

Why they do this is similar to why they take care of each other outside the coop in our infirmary.

We just adopted 7 new Rhode Island Reds, 1 rooster and 6 hens.  One of the hens has a broken leg and was to be fed to the cats when we spoke for her.  She'll lay lots of good eggs and serve the flock as well as any rooster by being an ideal companion in our infirmary.

The infirmary is a special coop we build that allows sick birds to both be physically isolated so they don't infect other birds and can't be harassed by them while allowing them the necessary social visitation to keep their stress level low.  We usually put at least two birds in the infirimary, even if only one requires it.  Our broken-legged hen (whose name is Tammy) will be a permanent resident.

But even when a bird spends even weeks in the infirmary, they don't forget where home is.  Tammy's home is one intended for visitors.  Sometimes even geese!

Geese are very attached to their homes, as well.  We all are. 

Geese dislike going home and must be taught from an early age how to return home.  We train ours by whistles and the voice command “go home.”  If the training is reinforced periodically by treats presented in their home, they will never have trouble returning to their coop.

Geese require a very well ventilated coop, and we provide ours a dog kennel with a poultry wire roof.  This reduces disease, and helps them regulate their temperature best.  For laying eggs, they prefer a doghouse within their kennel. 

Geese and chickens rarely get along, but when a chicken is sick, geese will care for the hapless bird...and chickens will comfort an ill or distressed goose.  We like to pride ourselves on the service of our roosters, but Tammy's service will be no less important to our flock.

The roosters are instrumental in teaching the hens where home is.  They lead them back and forth from home to the grazing areas daily, and call home any strays at night with their goodnight songs of "come home," "time for sleep," and "have good dreams, I love you!"  In the morning, the roosters who stay behind to guard the coop sing the song all day to remind hens where home is, and whenever a hen comes home for whatever reason during the day, she is warmly welcomed: she's been working hard and needs a comfortable home.

We all do.  And Tammy will help keep our birds comfortable when they occasionally have to spend the night away from their usual home.

Lucky Clucky

An update: Clucky was found today, alive, well and... not clucking.  After working through her chicken angst, she walked up to us from out of the forest and wanted to be picked up.  We did so, and gave her her favorite treat (safflower) and put her in the coop.  We are keeping all the birds in the coop a few days to let them better bond, and Scuttle, our Head Rooster, is doing his best to encourage all of the hens to adopt her as one of their own.  She is now sleeping in the midst of the other birds and is still not clucking!  We may have to change the name of this once-cranky bird!

Tillage helps plants grow

You can learn a lot about farming from looking at your car or truck in the early hours of the morning.

Sometimes, they are covered with a fine layer of frozen water because the air inside is of a different temperature than the air outside.  This forces the water in the air that touches the vehicle’s shell (usually the windows, for they convey the temperature best) to solidify upon the surface in the form of ice. 

When it warms, it melts and sinks into the soil.  This is water that would have never entered the soil otherwise.

When you till your fields, you create many such small air pockets.  When the temperature changes every night, the air inside the air pockets remains about the same, and forces water to condense on the field and within the numerous pores your tillage has made.  This increases the amount of available water, and increases your crop yields.

Tillage also decreases evaporation by insulating moist lower soil levels with moist air, and also decreases run-off when rain occurs. 

Some scientists have found that the act of tillage can, when done poorly, reduce soil moisture 25%.  But regular tillage improves soil composition and structure to increase moisture levels.

Tillage changes the soil composition in two ways.  The first is by adding water, the second is by adding air.  By adding these two ingredients together, the microflora in the soil are able to produce the chemicals plants need to live and grow, Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, Copper…everything that is required for life.

But tillage also affects plants directly.  Trimming plant roots by tilling in the aisle results in the damaged root putting forth new, smaller roots.  These small roots have more mouths per inch and are able to eat better than older, larger roots.  They also have loose soil to eat, which is easier for them to ingest.  This soil is better fertilized by the microflora.

Tillage is good for plants!

For further reading, we suggest the excellent work of Dr. M.J. Goss, especially his “Losses of nitrate-nitrogen in water draining from under autumn-sown crops,” printed in the Journal of Soil Science, 1993,44,35- 48

Also, read Jethro Tull’s experimental data published in his “Horse Hoeing Husbandry,” 1731. 

You can also do your own research to confirm these results!  Contact us for FREE experimental instructions and supplies:, or 559-977-7539.

Chicken Language and Excess Eggs

Geese and chickens do not like to brood all their eggs, and usually abandon most of them.  This helps them ensure that they do not overtax their resources.  Another technique they use to ensure wise resource use is language.

If our birds ever want to brood their eggs into chicks or goslings, we allow them to.  The reason why they produce more eggs than necessary is much the same reason why humans produce more eggs than necessary.  A large flock is as hard to feed as a large family.

Chickens like to grow their population at a very slow pace – just like humans.  Growing at too fast of a pace means the risk that later generations may have exceeded the resource capacity of their home. 

When a flock of chickens grows too large, one of the minor roosters will take his hens and his roosters to a new home, much as bees will swarm.  But, head roosters are always looking for new resources for their flock, so this rarely happens.  A head rooster will claim more roosting space by singing in the environment: this “marks” the territory.  The birds associate the place with his song, and the effectiveness is similar to that of the chemical markers that dogs or bees use to claim territory, or the visual markers humans use. 

The head rooster is always traveling between his minor roosters to see they are taking care of his hens well.  If some of the hens are not eating, the minor rooster is punished and then all of the minor roosters’ hens (and the minor rooster himself) are shown to a new food source or the food source in that locality.

When an attack occurs on his flock, the head rooster will vigorously defend his hens, with the assistance of his minor roosters.  We have seen a head rooster defend his flock against a coyote, another defend against a mountain lion (with the help of his minor roosters) and against worse enemies than that.   They are very brave.

One or more of the minor roosters will stay back during such an attack and keep the hens away, or herd them to a safer place. 

One of the minor roosters always will stay at home and defend the nest area against attack.  This is usually the same rooster’s job every day.  When the flock is very large, the head rooster will require the help of a lieutenant to check up on all the flock.  This Second rooster will often rotate between a handful of the best roosters.

Hens have some say in who their roosters and head roosters are by bonding themselves to one rooster or another.  They can and do love all their roosters, but their greatest love is always for the head rooster, and then the second rooster, and so forth.

Hens are less vocal than roosters.  They will sing many songs, but they are usually eating.  Both hens and roosters have love songs, hate songs, songs of joy, happiness, sadness, fear, alert, and anger.  Only roosters have territory songs, mating songs and battle songs. 

The roosters will battle each other, but never injure each other.  They bounce up and down and try to jump higher, and then jump over their enemy rooster.  Ultimately, they make their enemy bow before them.  After that match is over, sometimes it is redone, sometimes another rooster wants to play.  Roosters will strut when they have beaten all the other roosters in their flock, or after defeating a real enemy.  After defeating a real enemy, all the roosters will sing a special victory song, which is a variant on the territory song.

Of course, our favorite rooster song is the “all’s well” song which is, in human music, a classic trill: CDCBC.  Sometimes it is emphasized, C’C’CDCBC, or when things are mediocre, CDC, or just CD.  The defining characteristic is the change from C to D.  When the roosters have a victory, it almost sounds like laugher, C’C’C’C’C’C’C’D’’C’D’C’B’C! 

Love songs are characterized by an upscale swing, B_C, and emphasized by shortening or repeating the B and lengthening the C.  Alarm calls are similar, B’D!  This suggests that in alarm, they seek their lovers to protect them.

When chickens mourn, they are silent.  When they are sad, especially after losing a battle, they sing a quiet D_C’B. 

When one of our favorite roosters, Poopy, got shot last year (we lost almost all our flock to criminals), all the chickens mourned for him.  Nobody laid an egg for a week.  We compared our notes and saw that when he came of age, egg production had increased more than 10% for several weeks.  The roosters also mourned for him, sulking at home.  Roosters are very important for egg production, both in protecting the flock and making them eat enough to be good layers, but also in motivation.  Poopy was always dancing with his hens and singing to them, and singing victory songs of encouragement to his fellow roosters.

When they hate something the roosters will click and growl and the hens cluck and growl.

When they are pleasantly surprised, they will peep like chicks!  Mother hens and father roosters will also speak “baby speak” to their chicks, and will fuss about them, clucking and clicking.  The roosters love to show chicks what is good to eat, sometimes demonstrating several times for their benefit, even pushing them back to “school” if the lesson becomes boring or repetitive.  As far as we can tell, there is no “hazing” of young roosters – they take their place among the older ones without ceremony or battle.

Our second favorite is the alert song: it tells us they are doing their job: it sounds like a car alarm alert, “bwoop bwoop!” (B’B_E’B’B_E) followed by a long lower note  C’C’B_B  It is similar to the “look at this tasty thing to eat!” song, B’D’C’B, and sometimes is accompanied by clucking, clicking or growls.

Roosters will share their adventures with their hens, re-enacting their battles.  After the magnificent defense against the coyote, one rooster pretended to be the coyote, sneaking up on several roosters pretending to be hens.  The head rooster then charged the “coyote,” and the minor roosters sang victory songs.  The performance was repeated several more times that day…and the next!

They all laughed for more than an hour, and danced until dark.  It was a chicken party!

From Columella to Tull


  [Read More]
RSS feed for Re Rustica blog. Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader