Friday, December 31, 2010

2119 University Avenue, Berkeley, CA: The Keystone Berkeley

(a photo of 2119 University Avenue [at Shattuck] in Berkeley as it looked in 2009. Only the arches hint at the structure of the Keystone Berkeley club that was located at the site 15 years earlier. If you can still see the outlines of the Jimi Hendrix mural around the entrance, you may need medical attention)

Recent discussions on the vagueness of Jerry Garcia Band history in the late 70s and early 80s has reminded me of the unique relationship between Jerry Garcia and the Keystone Berkeley. I am only able to discern parts of the story, but the facts as they can be seen are quite remarkable. People who were not attending Garcia Band shows in the 70s and early 80s may not realize what an unprecedented arrangement Garcia and his various aggregations seemed to have with the Keystone Berkeley. To outline some of the key points that I will illuminate in my post:
  • Jerry Garcia played the Keystone Berkeley 206 times between 1972 and 1984, a number that dwarfs any other venue he played at in any configuration
  • Garcia shows at the Keystone almost never sold tickets in advance--they were available day of show only, in a venue that officially held about 500 people
  • Paradoxically, Garcia shows at the Keystone were almost never sold out, in my experience, anyway. You would see people buying tickets and getting in well after the show had started
  • Garcia never came on stage until after 11:00 pm, usually well after 11:00 pm, and shows ran right up until 2:00 am (last call), making for very late weeknights
Planning to see a Keystone Berkeley show was often fruitless, as shows were often canceled, added or re-scheduled with regularity--one of the attractions to the club and Garcia of not having any advance tickets that would need refunding. The band also came on so late that the next day was a write-off, and it was rarely a weekend, so that often at 11:00pm on a cold Tuesday the idea of staying up til 3:00am just seemed like too much, or no one would go with you, or your car was out of gas, or whatever. Missing a JGB Keystone show wasn't a big deal, however, since the Garcia Band would usually be back the next month.

On the other hand, one Sunday night--May 24, 1981, as it happened-- my roommate and I were sitting around at 11:00pm, talking about the Dead, and I mentioned that Garcia was playing Keystone. My roommate said "are there tickets?" I said, there's always tickets, and off we went. 10 minutes later we found a good parking space near Shattuck and University, paid our money at the door, and there we were. Shortly after we arrived, the band made its way on stage and Jerry kicked it off with "Sugaree," which made for a lot better Sunday night than watching re-runs of "MASH."

Jerry Garcia had achieved rock star status by 1967, and by the mid-70s he was starting to achieve some of the material rewards that went along with it. Yet when Garcia played the Keystone Berkeley, he was just another local guy playing a dive--and trust me, it was a dive--and the crowd happened to be whatever yahoos were able to blow off work or school the next day. That's the reason that every Keystone tape has that laid-back, drifting feel where time seemed to have no meaning. If time had meaning to you, Deadhead or not, you weren't at Keystone Berkeley drinking beer at midnight on a Tuesday waiting for Jerry to come on stage.

The Keystone Berkeley was a sawdust covered dump in a sketchy area of town that sold overpriced, watered down beer to a crowd of doubtful lunatics who were never going to be employee of the month, if they even had jobs. God, I miss it.

Keystone History, Part 1: The Keystone Korner
Freddie Herrera opened a club called the Keystone Korner at 750 Vallejo Street in San Francisco. The club was just a few blocks off of the "entertainment" district on Broadway. It had previously been a rock club called DenoCarlo's, and various local bands had played there in  1968, including a regular Monday night residency for Berkeley's Creedence Clearwater Revival. Herrera took over the club in 1969 and tried to make it into a topless dancing place, but it was too far from Broadway to capture the tourists and sailors. Fortuitously, Nick Gravenites wandered in, and he was looking for a club that he could use for various ends.

As a result, starting in mid-1969, The Keystone Korner became a rock club, often featuring various expatriate Chicagoans who had relocated to San Francisco, including Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. Bloomfield and Gravenites played there almost every other weekend from September 1969 through March 1970, and the little venue was sort of like their clubhouse. The first call bass player for the Bloomfield/Gravenites band was John Kahn, which I believe to be an important part of the story.

The Matrix
The first "hippie nightclub" in San Francisco was The Matrix, at 3138 Fillmore. It was actually a beer and pizza joint that didn't allow dancing (by law), but it was a place for longhairs to hang out while local bands played whatever they felt like playing. A lot of cool 60s San Francisco bands played The Matrix, particularly on weeknights. Jerry Garcia took to jamming there regularly, and the basis of what became the Jerry Garcia Band started as a regular Monday night jam session at the Matrix in early 1970. Garcia, Howard Wales, Bill Vitt and John Kahn made up the regular crew, and after Wales ultimately left and was replaced by Merl Saunders, that "group" started to play out a little bit. Nonetheless, the Matrix was the original home base of the Garcia/Saunders group, just as Bloomfield and Gravenites anchored the Keystone Korner.

However, in Spring 1971, the Matrix closed. Garcia and Saunders would need another place to call home, and they seem to have chosen Keystone Korner. The first Garcia/Saunders Keystone Korner show was April 1, 1971, but their first extended run was in May 1971, after the Matrix had closed. Bloomfield and Gravenites had largely stopped playing Keystone Korner by this time. I have to think John Kahn's familiarity with the club may have been in a factor in encouraging Garcia and Saunders to play there regularly.

Keystone History, Part 2: The New Monk
In the 60s, there was an infamous beer joint in Berkeley popular with fraternity boys called The Monkey Inn, known as "The Monk," and located on 3109 Shattuck, between Prince and Woolsey (the site today seems to be the La Pena Cultural Center at 3105, just next to the Starry Plough at 3101). In 1968, the place moved closer to campus, to the corner of University and Shattuck Avenues. The new club at 2119 University was called The New Monk. It had local rock bands headlining on weekends, but most of the time it was just a beer and pizza place for college students.

In the middle of 1971, however, The New Monk started booking higher profile club bands. Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders played there on June 4 and 5, 1971, and then again on June 26 and June 27. At the end of August, Keystone owner Freddie Herrera officially announced that he would be buying the New Monk. It's my belief that Herrera had been booking the New Monk already for some months. Garcia played Keystone Korner 20 times in 1971, so clearly it was the preferred venue, but Herrera's takeover of The New Monk put it on Garcia's radar..

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Keystone History, Part 3-The Keystone Berkeley
Herrera ran both the Keystone Korner and The New Monk throughout 1971. In March, 1972, the New Monk changed it's name to Keystone Berkeley, to distinguish it from Keystone Korner in San Francisco. The first Keystone Berkeley show I have been able to find was March 2, 1972, with the Sons Of Champlin. The first Garcia/Saunders show at Keystone Berkeley was soon after that, on March 8, 1972.

Garcia/Saunders played Keystone Korner 19 times in 1972. However, in July of '72, Herrera sold the Keystone Korner to Todd Barkan (former pianist for Kwane and The Kwanditos), who turned it into a jazz club. Garcia and Saunders did play two dates for Barkan on July 7-8, 1972, that had been previously scheduled, but from the Summer of '72 onwards the Keystone Berkeley was Garcia's go-to choice for casual gigs with all his side bands, and he played a dozen shows there in 1972. Other Dead spinoff groups played there as well, particularly during the 1974-76 period.
(The March 1974 Keystone Berkeley calendar)
A Note On The Name
The New Monk was re-named the Keystone Berkeley in March 1972 to distinguish it from the Keystone Korner. At some point in the mid-70s, the name was changed to The Keystone, since Keystone Korner had no connection to it, and in any case didn't book rock acts. However, everyone called it "the Keystone, in Berkeley," or just "Keystone Berkeley" but strictly speaking it was "The Keystone."

Of course, in early 1977 Herrera and his partner Bobby Corona opened the Keystone Palo Alto (about which more below), and the official name of the Berkeley club reverted to Keystone Berkeley.

Keystone History, Part 4-Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone
The Keystone Berkeley was one of the leading rock clubs in the Bay Area. However, the sort of band who could headline the Keystone on a weekend was about at the level to be 2nd or 3rd on the bill at a Bill Graham show. There was intense competition between Bill Graham Presents and Keystone for acts, and much accusations were thrown about, usually directed at BGP for threatening not to book acts, etc. Generally speaking, however, acts that played Keystone did not play Graham shows and vice-versa, or not in the same year, anyway. The Jerry Garcia Band was a complicated exception, but in the mid-70s at least Garcia did not often play BGP shows.

Good bands played Keystone Berkeley, but they were generally on their way up or their way down. When they were hot, they played for Graham. A lot of Bay Area heavyweights played Keystone between record deals or else just as they were getting their new band together, looking to graduate. Garcia's part-time status was unique, essentially, to Garcia, but it must have frustrated Bill Graham no end.

In early 1977, Herrera and his partner Bobby Corona took over a club called Sophie's, at 260 S. California Avenue in Palo Alto, and re-named it the Keystone Palo Alto. The Jerry Garcia Band had already played Sophie's 7 times (in various incarnations) in 1975-76. Keystone Palo Alto allowed Corona and Herrera to book acts for two nights rather than one, and made them a better competitor to Graham. In 1980, Corona and Herrera opened The Stone in San Francisco, at 412 Broadway, and this allowed them to book touring bands for three nights, making them direct competitors to the Bill Graham hegemony (I have written about the rock history of 412 Broadway elsewhere).

Once Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone opened, Garcia could spread his shows out amongst the three clubs. Every few months, he typically would play one night at each club over three consecutive nights, but this would vary based on which acts were playing the three clubs. If there was a popular act playing one of the other clubs on a certain night, Garcia would sometime play an extra night at a different club (e.g., if Tower of Power was booked at Keystone Palo Alto on a weeknight, Garcia would play two nights at The Stone instead of one in Palo Alto). As far as I know, both Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone stuck to the pattern of only offering Garcia tickets on the day of the show and starting at 11:00 pm or later (I have seen a Keystone Palo Alto ticket stub from 1985, so Palo Alto--typically-may have had it's own arrangement).

An Economic Assessment of Jerry Garcia at the Keystone Berkeley
The Keystone Berkeley was an economic entity designed to sell beer. Technically, it was a restaurant, which by California law meant that it had to serve food but could then also serve food and wine. I guess a few people bought fries or Chardonnay, but basically the Keystone sold beer on draft, by the gallon. The club was open six or seven nights a week, even when only local bands played for a dollar cover charge. There were usually two acts, and they often played two sets each, as far as I know, in order to extend the evening. Bigger acts had tickets available in advance, but the Keystone was more oriented towards getting people to wander in and hang out and listen to music, drinking beer the whole time. Once, for example (On Oct 6 '83) I saw the latterday New Riders for free at Keystone Berkeley, with the provision that you had to buy two beers (which you paid for at the door in return for drink tickets). That was a pretty clear assessment of where the money was.

The odd set up of Garcia shows at Keystone Berkeley makes perfect sense when considered from the point of view of beer sales. People would line up at Keystone Berkeley for the day's show starting in the morning. Why, I don't know, since everyone usually got in, but Berkeley was tolerant and a lot of people had come from far away. In any case, the doors would open at 7:00 pm or something, and the drinking would begin immediately. I think there were a few tables in the tiny balcony behind the soundboard, and some benches around the sides of the main floor, so perhaps these were desirable, but the point was that Jerry attracted a crowd that came early and liked to party.

Since everyone was drinking beer and not the harder stuff, and there was some food, the crowd at the Keystone was always pretty drunk, but not totally gone. Of course, for a Garcia show some other substances dominated, but in any case with no Whisky or Tequila in play, the whole thing was manageable in a rowdy sort of way. There was always an opening act, usually a solo guitarist type, keeping the patrons entertained while they drank. In the later years, they were usually local blues or folk guitarists (like Steve Hayton [sp] or Mike Henderson), but they never seemed worth getting there early for. Of course, having made this determination, the next time I showed up at 10:45 for a JGB show I discovered that I had just missed a set or more by Ramblin Jack Elliott (Jan 24 '83), so some interesting players may have opened on occasion. Nevertheless, the point was to get people there early and keep them drinking beer, and the laid back nature of the Garcia audience was custom made for the Keystone's business model.

I only became conscious of the Keystone's peculiar business arrangement with Garcia when some friends in my dorm with fake ID's attended the January '76 JGB show where Keith and Donna debuted (Jan 26 '76; they had no idea who would replace Hopkins until Keith walked on stage). However, I have no reason to believe that things were much, or any, different from 1972 to 1975. For example, have you ever noticed that no one has any ticket stubs for Garcia shows at the Keystone Berkeley? That's because there weren't any. You couldn't buy tickets in advance, and they just stamped your hand when you went in. This also meant that the entire evening was pretty much an all-cash transaction at the door and at the bar, always attractive to businesses who don't like to leave complicated paper trails.

Jerry Garcia shows at the Keystone Berkeley were advertised in the paper and the club's monthly flyer, but they were often changed. Garcia would be booked for two or three days in a row, and one would be added or dropped at the last minute. Since no tickets were sold in advance, no money had to be refunded. I have to think this was one of the key attractions to Garcia. He could book shows at Keystone Berkeley, knowing that if there were last minute complications in his schedule he could simply add or subtract dates as needed. Of course, from an historian's point of view this makes things very difficult, as there were so many changes, but the flexibility was essential to Garcia's willingness to playing the club.

Since the Keystone Berkeley was generally open every night anyway, it wasn't catastrophic if Garcia canceled or re-scheduled a date. The opening act would just play anyway, and maybe another local act would be booked, and a few beer drinkers would wander in, but that was what the Keystone would have booked anyway, so it was worth giving Garcia the opportunity to play. By the same token, if a local band was booked on a weeknight, and Garcia abruptly wanted to add a show, it seems the Keystone just kept the local band's booking and made them into the opening act.

The 1980s
By the time the 80s rolled onwards, Garcia was playing at The Stone and Keystone Palo Alto as much as Keystone Berkeley. In fact, JGB played more shows at The Stone than either of the other two, both because The Stone was nearer Marin and because it had fewer really good bookings to conflict with Garcia's dates. I also think that as the Grateful Dead became bigger, Garcia's schedule became more rigid. There were fewer dates at the Keystone Berkeley, and indeed all of the Keystones, but there were fewer last second additions and subtractions of dates either.

Changes in the rock market and the parking situation in Downtown Berkeley caused the Keystone Berkeley to close in Spring 1984. Garcia's last shows at Keystone Berkeley were March 21-22, 1984, and the club closed soon after. Between March 8, 1972 and March 22, 1984, Garcia had played an incredible 206 times at the Keystone Berkeley, in a variety of bands. I do not believe there is a single venue that the Grateful Dead played more than 50 times, and Garcia quadrupled that at Keystone Berkeley, a fact that many Dead scholars take for granted. The Garcia configurations that played Keystone Berkeley were:
  • Garcia/Saunders
  • Old And In The Way
  • Great American String Band
  • Legion Of Mary
  • Jerry Garcia Band
  • Reconstruction
Garcia continued to play for Bobby Corona and Freddy Herrera at Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone, but the two clubs closed as well in 1986 and 1987, respectively. Starting in 1987, the Jerry Garcia Band started to perform regularly for Bill Graham Presents. Granted, the JGB was bigger than they had ever been, but the loyal Garcia could have worked for Bill any time, but he stuck with the Corona/Herrera partnership as he had since 1971 until they went out of business. The loyalty Garcia showed to the Keystone family is remarkable in its own right, and to my mind largely unremarked upon.

"Backstage" At The Keystone Berkeley
No discussion of the unique circumstances of Garcia at the Keystone Berkeley would be complete without explaining the stage set up. The club had a conventional setup, a rectangular room with the stage at the far end, opposite from the bar. There was a little balcony for the soundboard and a few tables (members of the Dead would sometimes watch the Garcia Band from the soundboard). Backstage, such as it was, was a big room behind the bar. It can be viewed on the inside cover of the Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders Live At Keystone album. I never tried to go back there (not my style), but people have many legendary tales.

However, in retrospect, the remarkable thing about the Keystone Berkeley was that there was no backstage per se, as the stage was on the opposite end from the bar and the back room. Thus the band--including Garcia--had to walk through the audience to get to the stage.  It was actually on the East Coast where the Dead became really huge, and Garcia became larger than life. Nonetheless it was still astonishing that the Dead could headline Madison Square Garden, and a few weeks later Garcia would play this bar where he had to walk through the crowd to get to the stage.

In the 1980s, more and more people either visited the West Coast or outright moved to the Bay Area to be nearer the Dead. Seeing Garcia at the Keystone was a must-do. Typically, visitors or new arrivals would be thrilled to discover that "tickets were still available," not realizing they always were, and spend all day in line. One of my friends, a Manhattanite himself (hi Bobby), took a special pleasure in finding some newcomer near stage right (the steps to the stage were there) and getting him to look at the stage just as the lights went down. As the eager eyed Deadhead peered backstage, looking for Jerry amdist the hubbub, my friend would wait and say "hey, look behind you" and there was Jerry walking right past them (and Steve Parish and Keystone security staff, too, of course). Every time the astonished visitor would say "he couldn't do this in New York [or wherever]," and indeed he couldn't. Right up until the end, for all it's hassles, rowdiness and late hours, Jerry Garcia at Keystone Berkeley was a singular event that had no parallels in the Dead world.

Sometime in the late 90s, I was in Berkeley on a hot day, walking on University back towards campus. I was fading, so I ducked into a drugstore to grab a soft drink or something. As I stood in line inside the Thrifty Jr store, I had a weird moment of recognition. I looked around, and realized I was in the remodeled Keystone Berkeley. Where I was standing would have been right in front of the stage. For a moment all my memories came rushing back, about things passed, ne'er to be seen again.

I walked away in a different mood. I couldn't see the outline of the 40-foot high mural of Jimi Hendrix that had adorned the entrance in the 80s, but I knew it was there.

The neighborhood cat - Friend or foe of the backyard chicken?

by Rachel Hurd Anger

Due, in part, to our privacy fence progress being stalled in the post phase, we're getting four-legged prowlers looking for a warm chicken dinner.

Neighborhood dogs sometimes find their way into our backyard after an afternoon of dining in stray garbage bags. Of course, we shoo them away, with no real means of protecting our chickens other than banging a door -- adding to that no desire to pack any sort of weapon, either. It seems even the strays are well fed enough to leave and not return.

Enter, the stray cat, strutting into our yard, making it her own, as cats do. Two of our indoor cats are impervious to the fence-leaping feline -- hopping the remaining chain link that our neighbors don't want removed -- but our cat Lily is a born huntress, territorial as such that she marks her territory on the inside of the house at the sight of our visitor, which is incidentally a pet-control problem to relate on a cat blog, I suppose.

Our flock is just over 3 months old, and without a rooster for guidance (as much as the feminist in me despises the thought of our girls needing a man), the chickens just don't know how to defend themselves … yet. Even though each chicken -- save for our half-blind Polish -- is as large as the cat, they're visibly alarmed by her presence.

My husband shoos her away immediately, but the last time she visited, I wanted to see what would happen. I allowed her to linger around the coop, and let the chickens get to know the cat.

With the photo as evidence, our visiting cat sat down for a rest. She even closed her eyes a few times while the chickens ran around a bit spooked in the run, heads flopping back and forth, looking for danger or a falling sky.

For as often as she's come around, she's not once pounced at the flock, as the dogs have. Nor has she perched herself on top of the coop, which would be a cozy place to sunbathe. So far, she seems completely non-threatening. Perhaps, like me, she just likes the view.

Those of you with experience, is the prowling neighborhood cat a friend or foe? Certainly, she seems to like our yard, and certainly, a 6-foot privacy fence isn't going to keep her out. I'd like to think that once the fence is done, and our chickens are full-grown, they'd protect themselves from a cat smaller than themselves.

I like the thought of a neighborhood cat adopting us and our chickens. But, it's unlikely. As much as she likes our hens, she doesn't seem to like me. She ran away, camera shy, and sent the girls into first a tizzy, then relief, as she hopped the fence and sashayed across the neighbor's yard.

She'll be back, but we likely won't know her true intentions until the fence is up and our girls hit the yard for real free ranging. None of us can wait! Most of all, the cat, I'm sure.

Contact the writer at

Photos: Rachel Hurd Anger

Delightful Deptford and glorious Greenwich

If one of your new year resolutions is to take more exercise, or just to get out in your local area a bit more, you might like to join the local Ramblers Association for this walk on 2 January which is part of the RA's Winter Walks festival. (It's actually called Glorious Greenwich and delightful Deptford but I took the liberty of rearranging the title to reflect the true status of the two areas despite what it says in the blurb ;-))

"Greenwich might be a World Heritage Site but its less glamorous neighbour has much to discover including one of the most outstanding London churches and a curious link to a Russian tsar. Start the year by finding out more about them both on this enticing stroll, also part of the Ramblers Festival of Winter Walks. 6.5km/4 miles, 2-2½ hours.."

The 4-mile walk starts at 10.30am on Sunday 2 January, meet at the Cutty Sark DLR station. Full details are here.

Thanks to Luke for the tip-off.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Breed Spotlight: Plymouth Rock

by Nancy Farrell

Well, it is time to start thinking and planning our flocks for 2011. The e-mails have started telling us that spring orders for chicks may now be placed. If you’ve read some of my past posts you’ll know that for 2010 we got a variety of chicken breeds to see which of them suited our family and situation best. Looking at our hens we’ve found that the Orpingtons and Plymouth Rocks are two of our favorite breeds. For this blog I’m going to focus on the Plymouth Rock while we decide if this is one of the breeds which we will expand our flock with in 2011.

The Plymouth Rock breed is an American breed established sometime in the mid-1800s. The first color variation established was the Barred variety with White, Buff, Blue, Black, Silver Penciled, Partridge and Columbian coming later. They have single combs, yellow legs and lay brown eggs. They are large birds who tolerate confinement but enjoy free ranging and the winter does not slow down their egg production, they lay about 200 eggs per year. The average rooster weighs 9.5 pounds while a typical hen weighs 7.5 pounds. These birds are dual purpose birds good for both eggs and meat. In fact, the White Plymouth Rock Hen was crossed with Cornish Roosters to get the Cornish/Rock cross that dominates our American supermarkets today.

From our own experience we know that the Plymouth Rock is a very inquisitive bird with a friendly temperament. They are inquisitive but very quiet. These traits make them a perfect bird for backyard flocks, as they are not frightened by the hubbub of a household and they are quiet for the neighbors.

Mini, our pet White Rock Hen
In fact, to pick our backyard pet chickens, as opposed to our farm chickens, we selected the friendliest, most curious chicks from our 25 chick variety pack to stay at our house. Of the four selected, three were Plymouth Rocks, two white and one barred. Mini, a White Plymouth Rock, is one of our favorite hens. She loves to run inside when we open the back door to let the dogs in; she has found that she can sneak in under the Golden Retriever and we don’t even see her. She then systematically checks the house for crumbs that the dogs may have left behind. When my teenage son is home she follows him everywhere he goes.

At the farm one of our other favorite hens is Laverne, who is a Barred Plymouth Rock. She helps rule the roost and has established herself as one of the top hens and was the first one in her age group to start laying. Classified as recovering by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, it appears that this is a very popular breed for new backyard chicken keepers. I'm pretty sure we'll be ordering more soon!

Laverne, our Barred Plymouth Rock

For those interested in learning more about this wonderful breed, check out the Plymouth Rock Fancier Club of America and/or the Plymouth Rock Club of the UK. For those wanting to order some of these wonderful birds they are available from most major hatcheries, including McMurray and My Pet Chicken, which is where we obtained our hens.

New Cross underpass refurbishment

Darryl over at 853 has already posted some rather nice photos of the refurbished New Cross underpass but I thought it was worth a few more pictures and a short critical appraisal.

From the user's perspective, any refurbishment of this dreary link would have been welcome - it was dirty and uninspiring even if it wasn't really long or dark enough to be particularly threatening.

The entrance to the underpass has been improved at both sides - on the Deptford side with new trees, paving, a planted edging and decorative steel fencing panels, and on the New Cross side by improved paving and a direct link across to Fordham Park.

The architects have managed to include some rather artistic steel panels as part of the new lighting design through the underpass itself - the cut-out floral design is similar to those used as fencing on the Deptford approach and they are supported by steel piping units which have the main lights set into them.

I am slightly dubious as to how resistant to vandalism these panels and lighting units will prove - even after being in place for a very short time, a couple of the tubular lighting units were wrapped in hessian (perhaps broken?) and one of the lights behind the decorative panels was not working. The working versions of these lights change colour and give the underpass a very pleasant visual ambience at night time - quite an improvement on the previous set-up.

Fordham Park

There's been a lot of landscaping going on in north Deptford over the last year or so, and work on Fordham Park is now almost finished. I had a nosey around just before christmas to try and get an idea of what it's going to be like when complete.

The old park had some nice trees and a big grassed area in the middle, with a few paths skirting around the outside, but the railings that surrounded it meant access was restricted to just a few gates and there was little to entice anyone to linger unless they were playing ball games on the central area.

With the railings gone and more paths criss-crossing the park, permeability is considerably improved for pedestrians and cyclists. The hard paving is particularly good news for people passing through the park, especially in the winter months; the rest of the paths are gravelled. Access for cyclists is hugely improved, with the link through the underpass now going directly across the road and into the park, instead of having to do a dog-leg down the road to a different entrance. There is also a choice of routes using the improved paths through the park.

Although there is still a grassed area in the middle of the park for football and so on, there are also a number of other play areas which should attract other users. Next to the Moonshot Centre is a paved area for ball games and a couple of rather sturdy looking concrete table tennis tables with steel nets. Large stone block seating, the same as that used in Margaret McMillan Park, is in evidence in places, along with additional park bench seating.

At the far end of the park a children's play area is under construction (although I am not sure how long some of the pieces of equipment will last, they look rather alarmingly flimsy) and there are also a few of those carved wooden 'totems' that are also in Margaret McMillan Park. New humps and bumps have been added in the landscape to create a bit more visual interest, and it seems that most of the existing trees have been retained.

My only criticism (apart from the length of time it seems to have taken to do the actual work) is the ugliness of the lighting columns (you can see them along the left side of the first picture). On paper I'm sure they looked quite classic - a streamlined design with the lighting element set flush into the column itself. Unfortunately in practice they just look rather lumpy and grey and I suspect they may have been the victim of a bit of 'value engineering'; I'm sure that's not quite what the architects had in mind.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


this year i am thankful for love, opportunities, my camera and the kindness of strangers. i am so thankful sometimes i smile outloud and as hard and long as you might try you could not break my spirit. 

 for my first thanksgiving i was flown across the country (from fast-breathing new york city) to san francisco, to spend the day with zelda's family (thanks dearly to the kindness of her beautiful mother). i stayed in their castle of a home, on a cliff over water. in the sun-hazed distance you could see the san francisco bridge, like a tiny magnet in the sky. i looked at it through the glass and thought (as i often do) that this is something i could never have imagined happening to me. 

their home was so filled with art i felt like i was wandering through a gallery. a museum of an extravagant life i couldn't relate to. a secret world you needed a key for.

thanksgiving day was being prepared days before. chefs filling the kitchen and men and boys lifting furniture here and there, moving boxes, setting up tents. i knew something fantastic was being created and when it all came together it was like magic. there were psychics, a famous magician, a photobooth, champagne glasses that never emptied, waiters wandering with plates of beautiful foods and the hubbub of blissful children running wild under our feet. as always i watched it all through my camera. 

thanks to cheesy american films i spent the night imagining that when it came to dinner we'd announce the things we were most thankful for. even though it never happened, in my head i heard myself say 'most of all, and as cliche as it may be, i am thankful for life and the lives of those around me.' and that means you too, dear readers. you give me a reason to photograph everyday. i have so much loyalty for you and without your love for this blog it would not exist and i would one day forget the little details. 

black and white action by my lover

More Than Three, Not-So-French Hens

We are deep in the holiday groove here at 1840 Farm. For weeks, the trees have been lit and decorated. Cookies have been baked and eaten. Handmade gifts have been unwrapped from under the tree. Christmas is behind us and New Year's is staring us square in the face. The chicken coop is even decorated for the season.

Without realizing it, our newly formed flock has become part of our holiday celebration. There were several chicken-themed handmade gifts under our tree this year. My daughter spent hours carefully painting me a picture of one of our chickens to hang in the kitchen. Our chickens have woven themselves into the fabric that is our daily life and this holiday season has been no exception.

My children have gotten themselves into the chicken hysteria as well. Just in the last week, they chose to watch Chicken Run while we were finishing up a few holiday crafts. They laughed and talked about how funny it was to imagine our chickens talking to each other and doing the things that the characters in the movie do. Which one of our chickens would knit? Which one would be the ringleader trying to plan for an escape?

Then we stopped off at the library and chose a few books to check out. Wouldn't you know that we somehow managed to come home with a chicken-themed holiday book? Three French Hens by Margie Palatini made it into our library bag along with our other books. After arriving home, we settled in to read it together and found ourselves laughing at the story of the three French hens visiting a fox for Christmas.

It was almost too much for me to take later that day when I heard my iPod playing the Muppets version of the "Twelve Days of Christmas." My children were following along about each of the day's offerings and singing loudly about the Three French Hens. They had listened to and sung that song each year and enjoyed it because the Muppets are so lovable, but this year was different.

Now Three French Hens really meant something. It wasn't a vague reference to an old-fashioned gift. It was somehow a real commodity. Three French Hens meant the gift of eggs and perhaps food later down the line. The mention of it turned their attention to the rest of the song and a discussion of what exactly was a Lords-a-Leaping?

We went to the computer and visited Wikipedia for a little researching. We found several different accounts of both the song and the festival of the Twelve Days of Christmas. We learned about the origins of both and how they had changed over the years. We discovered that we could officially celebrate our more than three, not-so-French hens on the Third Day of Christmas that falls on December 27th each year.

It was one more item that I could add to the long list of things that I have learned since chickens came to live at our farm. I assumed that we would learn about chickens and animal husbandry. I never imagined that our chicken keeping would teach us a history lesson about a holiday celebration. I guess now my children will have to decide which of our hens would be the history professor in our Chicken Run scenario.

I know that the progression of the song is meant to give greater weight to the final gifts. It is meant to be understood that Twelve Drummers Drumming is a more impressive gift from your true love than a lowly Partridge in a Pear Tree. For me, I'll take the hens. And in case you're wondering, there's no need for them to be French.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

21 Egg Boxes for Around $30

by Jennifer Sartell

At times I thought we were crazy, as each chick found its way home in a makeshift cardboard box. Heat blasting from the car blower to keep things nice and toasty, I would stop at a red light, wipe the sweat from my forehead and peek in the box one more time to see the shining little eyes and all that fluff looking back at me. With that familiar, soft "peep," a smile would involuntarily spread across my face. Yup, crazy ... crazy for chickens.

This year we have more chickens than I've ever had at once. Our flock numbers have always fluctuated, but our current number is 48, with 35 laying hens. Needless to say, as our new little girls came of age, we needed more egg boxes. I'd like to share with you our design for building 21 egg boxes for around $30. Each box is approximately 12" tall, 14" wide and 13" deep. The whole contraption takes up very little floor space, as it rises 2 feet off the ground. It has removable front slats for easy cleaning, and each row of boxes has a convenient ledge for our hens to land on before choosing a box. It's an egg box condominium!

Materials Needed
Our chicken coop is 8'x12'. We built the egg boxes against the large wall, using the existing wall as the back of the condominium.

The first sheet of plywood should be cut as follows:

The notches will fit inside each other and create the boxes. This design also gives additional support and eliminates the need to drill tons of screws at weird angles. The notches should be a little wider than 1/2". We marked the width, cut the outside lines, then repeatedly used the width of the blade to cut out the remaining material.

The second sheet should be cut as follows:

It has almost the same cut marks, except the notches will not be needed for the ceiling and floor.

The third sheet should be cut as follows:

Once all the pieces were cut, we assembled the condominium laying down. Start off by assembling the sides and the ceiling.

Lay the 6 vertical cross pieces inside the frame, notches facing up, parallel to each other, approximately 14 inches apart.

Interlace the 2 horizontal cross pieces with the notches facing down into the notches of the vertical pieces, until you have what looks like a tic tac toe board on steroids.

You can now add the bottom. We screwed the boards into the ends of the perpendicular cross board, but you can use "L" brackets to make things easier.

Ask a friend who loves chickens as much as you do to help you lift the whole thing upright against the wall. Use "L" brackets to attach the condominium to the wall, and give your friend some free eggs.

Use the 2' 2x4" pieces vertically at the bottom, toward the front to give the whole structure extra support.

Screw a few screws in the floor of each ledge, so that an inch or so of the screw is still exposed, approximately 1/2 inch from the wall of the boxes. This will hold the removable slats upright. The removable slats will be around 3" tall and will slide in and out for easy clean up of the boxes. We simply remove the slats and brush out the soiled chips with a hand broom or trowel, replace the slats and fill each box with clean pine chips.

Check out all the new and exciting things we do around our farm. Visit Iron Oak Farm.

Consider breeds carefully for regional weather and pecking order

by Rachel Hurd Anger

Despite nearly 4 1/2 years in Louisville, I'm still getting used to the climate differences from my home state of Michigan. The warmer, shorter winters are great, but the summers are far too long (for me), way too hot, and there's nary a thunderstorm in sight late summer when everything turns brown and dies long before the temperatures turn cold enough for autumn to do its own job. So, choosing the right chicken breeds was not easy.

Last July, when I ordered my chickens each for their laying ability, I attempted to find breeds to fit Kentucky's unpredictable cold snaps and heat waves. After declaring my choices, my husband decided he wanted to choose one, too, and thought my choices were rather ... boring.

Hubby wanted a "crazy chicken."

Going back and forth between available breeds, I succumbed to his calling to make a Buff Laced Polish his little backyard buddy a girl who will lay small eggs if she lays at all, and runs around erratically because she can barely see.

Sadly, the Buff Laced Polish draws the genetic short straw with every hatch.

As a day-old chick, Sookie was a born alpha. She was the tallest chick (in part because of her rad chick 'fro), and the bossiest little thing I'd ever seen. She pushed the other chicks around, and her body type differed so much for a while that we thought she might be a rooster.

Three months later, poor Sookie is the runt. Her body is thin compared to the other girls. Her "hair" is so big and pouffy, not only is she mostly blind, but she easily loses her friends when out to free range, leaving her in a honking panic.

Mabel, the Red Star and our flock's head hen, often comes to Sookie's aid, running to her and gathering her. But, the other hens don't seem to give Sookie a second thought.

Except, someone's been pecking at Sookie. We found her missing some head feathers, and all four of her foot webs were bloody. So, I brought her inside, and cleaned her up with peroxide and Neosporin. She spent about 3 1/2 days back in her chick brooder.

In just one day, her feet were completely healed, and I suspect the cold rather than pecking for the problems with her feet. As it turns out, we'd neglected to double check that the Buff Laced Polish is cold-hardy. Unfortunately, it is not, so we will need to be extra vigilant to protect her from cold snaps.

But, her vacation in the brooder kept her extra warm for a few days, giving her some time to rest and heal. Her scalp is missing feathers in an area roughly the size of a nickel.

(Note Sookie's missing toe in the photo. She came to us this way, from the hatchery of hard knocks.)

Mabel, who happens to be the friendliest and most social, was actually the first suspected offender, simply because she's also the most aggressive. But, any one of them could have done the pecking. Our theory? As Sookie's feathers sway with her every twitch, the other girls may go after the moving feathers like it's a game; however, since they're missing from one place, we think it's happening at the feeder where Sookie is forced to eat sideways.

We check Sookie closely every couple days, and so far, she's only improving. The pecked-out feathers are slow to come back, but they're on their way. If pecking resumes, she may need a new home. My hope is that as time goes on, and the hens solidify their pecking order (preferably without pecking), Mabel will continue to take Sookie under her proverbial wing.

If you're considering backyard chickens, do know that the breeds you choose are important, as are the combinations of breeds. But, who's to say that we could have prevented all of this by choosing one different breed, or by fate, being sent the sister hatching to the left? Regardless of the breeds, or the personalities you end up with in your flock, there's going to be a pecking order, and one of them will be at the bottom. The establishment of that order may be more fierce that you'd expect. After all, chickens are animals, and survival of the self and of the fittest is always priority one.

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Photos: Rachel Hurd Anger

Monday, December 27, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

by Joy Currie
I just came in from morning chores. It is that cold, dry kind of morning when the snow is squeaky under your boots, and the sky is a clear, cloudless blue. It's the kind of morning when the temperature gauge says 6. It's the kind of morning where the husband makes lots of excuses to stay under the warm blankets, the kids are sitting in front of the space heater eating cereal and the boar won't come out when I pour his feed in the trough. But my little flock, not minding the cold, was chooking around and peeking out the windows of the coop waiting for me.

I debated for several weeks on whether to heat our coop or not. I had had two egg-bound chickens because of the extremely cold temperatures, but according to several web sites and a couple of articles I had read in Mother Earth News, chickens can withstand very cold temps if given adequate shelter. I changed my mind after an unfortunate incident involving our rooster, Ronald.

We had had temps consistently in the low teens every night for a couple of weeks. The flock seemed to be happy, although afraid to step out in the snow. This is their first winter, and it was hysterical watching seven good sized Wyandottes huddle together on a six inch snow-free strip of grass on the west side of the coop. Yes, the cold weather did cause two of our hens to become egg bound, but a night in the kitchen on a low, moist heating pad helped each girl to pass her egg. Everyone seemed to be happy otherwise.

A couple of weeks into cold weather, and after fighting to keep their waterer unfrozen, I resorted to a large, open bowl of warm water twice a day. This seemed to work well until Ronald got his hiney in the water. Late one afternoon, I noticed Ron had a rather large chunk of ice and poo, roughly the size and shape of a baseball, stuck to his fluff.

My husband suggested a hair dryer, but I did not really want to tangle with a large, frightened roo in our little bathroom. I could just picture feathers flying, spurs wielded, wings I came up with the brilliant plan to keep Ron in a large box in the kitchen overnight to thaw.

The stage was set. After the flock had gone to roost, I brought a sedate Ron into the dark kitchen and settled him into the box, covering him with a window screen weighted down by a #12 Griswold cast iron frying pan. I figured all would go smoothly as long as the kitchen remained dark. Everything did go smoothly until 4am when Ron decided to wake everyone with his spectacular crowing! And he continued to crow every 15 minutes until 6 am when it was light enough to get up and take him back out to the coop.

When I turned on the kitchen light, Ron was primed and ready. Off flew the frying pan and screen, out shot the rooster into the kitchen. Ron was crowning and flapping. I was screaming and grabbing at the blur of feathers. Chairs were tipped over. Dishes were knocked off the counter. The cat was completely traumatized, huddled and twitching in the bathroom. Husband came to the rescue, capturing the renegade rooster and transporting him back out to the coop, thawed and ready to reassert his kingly position over his harem. His little rooster hiney was quite red and possibly a little frost bitten, but his feathers fluffed back up and he seems none the worse for wear. My kitchen, on the other hand, was covered with pine shavings, broken plates and chicken poo. The cat refused to come out of the bathroom for two days!

So that morning, I sent Husband down to the farm supply store to buy a heat lamp and cord. It doesn't keep things warm in the coop, but it keeps the flock somewhat thawed out when they roost, and since we installed the heat lamp, we have also had no problems with cold hens who are egg bound. I'm glad to say we have had no more icy roosters either.