Natural Living Des Moines

Hang that Laundry! by sarahtar
August 3, 2010, 11:24 am
Filed under: Energy, Home and Garden, Urban Homesteading

It’s summer, and the hot air that makes us all sweat is perfect for drying laundry outside! Air-drying is cheap, doesn’t use any energy, and makes your clothes last longer. Read more over at Boulevard Farm.


new Chicks! by sarahtar
June 16, 2010, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Urban Homesteading

Our 25 mixed-breed straight-run chicks arrived today! They’re fascinating to watch. Particularly because, already, they’re such lemmings. “Oh! Are we eating? Looks like we’re eating. It’s time to eat! Everyone over to the food. Go!” “oh, hey, it’s time to peck at this black spot on the wall. Peck peck. Everyone peck at the spot on the wall! Oh, now it’s time to peck at the green scrap on the floor. here it is! Peck at the green speck!”

I have a favorite. He’s the smallest, and he gets picked on, so I’m kind of afraid he might not live.

I’ve been anxious for the chicks to get here, because The Black Hen has been broody for about a month now and I kind of wanted to see if I could sneak some chicks under her. It sounds so straightforward – Hen sits on eggs. After 3-4 weeks, hen expects baby chicks. Remove eggs, insert chicks. Do it at night when everyone’s sleepy and they’ll probably be nice and bonded by morning.

Do I think this would really work? Yes. It was recently pointed out to me that I would not be fooled by this practice, but the differences between me and a chicken are numerous. My brain is bigger than a walnut, for example.

I have read FAR more successful stories about this than unsuccessful, but considering that I’ve never tried it before, I guessed my chances of success at 50%. This way, if I succeeded, I would get to feel like a Chicken Master. If I failed, it wouldn’t seem quite as bad. But it was really just a guess.

So I snuck out this evening around 11:30 with two baby chicks – black, in case the hen knows what color she is. And I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s just that Black Hen is a b*tch (a definite possibility) but she was NOT going to go for it. I think actually that I may have woken her up too much. The going advice seems to be that the hen HAS to be sleepy. But I discovered pretty quickly that our next box is ideally set up for fetching eggs, not so much for sneaking chicks under a hen’s butt. It was hard to reach in there with both arms – one for lifting her up, one for stuffing the chick in there. And then she pecked at me, and stood up and inspected the newcomer for a second before pecking at her.

However, I’ve seen her peck when she means it, and this was a pretty gentle peck, so I decided to just watch them for a bit (with a really dim flashlight). But she didn’t ever settle back down, so I took the chicks back to the brooder. Sigh.

Well, that’s a bit disappointing. I’m going to give it another try tomorrow night, and if I get the same reaction, then that’ll be that. Then my job becomes get The Black Hen off of that nest! If she’s not going to be a mother, she may as well be laying me some eggs instead of just eating my food and sitting around.

Lesson learned: next time I have a broody hen, I will move her to a different location. Then we don’t have her hogging one of the laying nests, and I can move her to someplace more easily accessible. Also, when the babies are “born,” she’ll have a private spot to watch over them. (Though most people who successfully got a hen to adopt new babies reported she was pretty aggressive about protecting them from the other chickens.)

I’ll definitely report back if we are successful tomorrow night. Considering that it’s supposed to be 91 tomorrow, and the chicks should be plenty warm outside, I might take a few out with me tomorrow and put them near the henhouse so they can hear each other cheep and squwak. Maybe that will help? Can’t hurt.

Farm City by sarahtar
April 19, 2010, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Books, Food, Home and Garden, Urban Homesteading

Last month, on a road trip with my extended family (more accurately, my husband’s extended family), I had a chance to read Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. It’s available at the Des Moines Public Library.

I will say, once I got past the first chapter, I really, really enjoyed the book. It’s a light narrative that talks you through the joys, frustrations, learning experiences, and successes of a busy urban farm in California. It was like sitting down to a long chat with the author.

In addition to chickens, the author kept ducks, turkeys, pigs, bees, and I think possibly a few other animals, as well. She killed and processed the fowl herself, which impressed me quite a bit. She fed the livestock largely on scraps (or at least that’s the impression I walked away with). Many of these scraps came from refuse bins at local restaurants – and her descriptions of their foraging trips have inspired me to find a dumpster or two to dive into myself for my own chickens.

I will say, though, her descriptions of keeping the bees made me rather less eager to give beekeeping a try. They got stung. A lot. And not while tending to the bees – just while living. Apparently, the bees liked it inside their apartment. Hm, no, thanks.

Novella, during the time of the book, was able to farm on a deserted lot that bordered her apartment’s lot. She was a squatter, but she also had permission from the landowner. I did end up wishing that I lived next to an empty, sunny lot whose owner would allow me to garden there! The trick in Novella’s case, though, was that she was living/farming in a rather impoverished part of town, and so the lot’s owner had a fairly difficult time finding anyone who wanted to build anything on the lot. I’m not likely to have that issue in my neighborhood.

One item that continually irked me throughout the book was the author’s mentioning of people’s political leanings – most particularly, anyone who somehow didn’t live up to her standards and who also happened to be (or was presumed by the author to be) a conservative. It was interesting – I’m not sure, for example, how one’s political identification affects one’s willingness to return phone calls in a timely fashion.

Regardless, this is a pretty good read that I’d recommend to anyone. I picked it up after what seemed to me to be a rather lukewarm mention in the Urban Chickens Network blog, expecting something completely different. I was pleasantly surprised. AND this made for a perfect read on our trip.

What You Can Do Now by sarahtar
February 28, 2010, 3:29 pm
Filed under: Urban Homesteading

Too often, especially this time of year, I get all caught up in the “oh, but I can’t do that” syndrome. I am friends with a lot of people who live on farms, and they’re planning their gardens and their animals are having babies and whatnot. I read blogs of people waiting for their rooftop gardens to thaw out, Jill at Blue Gate is taking over her parents’ cabin to make massive quantities of noodles, etc.

I don’t have a place to garden. I can only keep a few small animals. I don’t have a cabin to make noodles in. There’s a LOT that I can’t do, or that I choose not to do because it’s not very practical for our family.

And it’s easy to get tied in to all that What I Can’t Do stuff.

But it’s probably better to focus on what I CAN do.

This year, I CAN  add to my flock, and I CAN add another small meat animal. This year, I CAN add some fruit trees to my yard. This year, I CAN make smaller batches of noodles in my extremely tiny kitchen.

There are things I CAN do, and I’d bet there are things YOU can do, as well. Maybe you can’t raise chickens in your backyard, but you can find a small sunny patch to grow some salad greens. Maybe you can’t have goats for fresh goat’s milk, but you could find a local farmer who can supply you with fresh goat’s cheese. (and if the Legislature passes the raw milk bill, said farmer could even supply you with fresh milk!)

Urban Chickens in Iowa City? Not if Mayor has her way by sarahtar
November 11, 2009, 12:31 pm
Filed under: News, Urban Homesteading

I enjoyed this article today about Iowa City Mayor Regina Bailey and her concerns about allowing urban chickens.


University students often leave pets behind, she says, and the city – home to the University of Iowa – would need to develop facilities to shelter abandoned chickens.
Another problem: Small Midwestern farmers are increasingly trying to raise a diversity of organic produce beyond corn, oats and soybeans. But that movement faces an uphill battle, Bailey says, when locals who are passionate about high-quality eggs bypass their local farmers.


Hm. I’m not sure that abandoned chickens will turn out to be quite the overwhelming problem she anticipates. Chickens are yummy and they move slower than most of their predators. Also, you can eat them.

Free Mulch and one step further into self-sufficiency on our Urban Homestead. by sarahtar
November 7, 2009, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Home and Garden, Urban Homesteading, Waste

Today, we took our new Yard Chipper out of its box and put it to work. (And I broke it all in one day.)

<a href=”; title=”Chipper by sarahtar, on Flickr”><img src=”; width=”332″ height=”500″ alt=”Chipper” /></a>

Um, can you say LOVE?

Here at our little Urban Homestead, we have tons of trees. They are beautiful and also a pain in the butt. One of the reasons they’re a pain in the butt is that they regularly drop large branches. Usually during storms, but sometimes just for kicks. When I say large branches, I mean that I have friends who have trees that are smaller than these branches.

These branches accumulate in the yard. We haul them into a pile. And then, after a year, we have a huge pile. In the city, we can’t burn our pile. So, if we need to have tree service, we pay the tree service people to haul it away. This is expensive, but we’ve done it. Otherwise, we could chop the branches up into the 3 foot lengths required for city pickup, and pay the city to pick it up. Expensive and labor-intensive.

Add to this nonsense the fact that we have a high need for mulch around here. Mulch is also expensive.

Enter the Yard Chipper. Yeah, it was like $150. Yeah, that’s kind of a lot. But, um, hello? FREE MULCH! Just in today’s work, in which I nearly obliterated our backyard brush pile, it’s easily paid for itself in terms of money saved in haulaway charges, and money saved in purchasing mulch.

Even more, it’s another step towards being self-sufficient. We have the source for all the mulch we could possibly need or want right here in our yard. Why buy it from the store?

In case you’re wondering, our chipper is a Yard Machines electric model. Most of our yard equipment is electric. It will handle branches up to 1.25 inches in diameter, though it’s more realistic to say that it’ll handle straight branches 1.25 inches. Anything bigger, we cut up with our chainsaw (rechargeable cordless electric Ryobi) and add to the woodpile for use in our outdoor fireplace. Or our indoor one if we ever get the chimney fixed.

Des Moines urban chickens by dianabauman
May 19, 2009, 10:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized, Urban Homesteading | Tags:

Urban chickens have been popping up in backyards throughout the metro.  Des Moines active involvement in the local food movement has the most lenient ordinances in the state for backyard chickens according to the Des Moines Register’s article, City-dwellers look to chickens for food, but some laws say no. I’m one of these people that finally bought my first flock of backyard chickens.  My five hens will provide my family 20-25 eggs a week.  Raising my own chickens is a natural procession to self sustainability.

This trend, as people like to call it, is exploding throughout our nation.  People are turning back the clock 50 years when it was the norm to see backyard chickens.  With the sludging economy and consumer awareness of the harsh realization of factory farms, people are becoming more interested in growing and raising their own food supply.  Raising backyard chickens happens to be EASY!  All you’ll need is chicken feed, a coop for shelter, roosting and nesting and a backyard filled with fresh green grass, weeds and bugs.  You’ll have nutritious farm fresh eggs in no time.  Chickens are also great with kids.  Although not the smartest animals, they do have wonderful temperaments.

Some of the benefits of raising free range hens in your backyard,

  1. They TASTE so much better! Rich orange yolk.
  2. Less Cholesterol, up to 1/3 less cholesterol than factory farmed eggs
  3. Less Saturated Fat
  4. More Vitamin A and E
  5. More Omega-3s

If you’re interested in learning more about raising backyard chickens in the metro, please visit and join the facebook group, Iowa Urban Chicken Farmers or
Diana Bauman is a Local Spanish foodie. You can view her personal blog at: A Little Bit of Spain In Iowa.