Imagine a Sunday morning breakfast of a simple omelet with goat cheese and herbs, and a hunk of toasted bread drizzled with honey. How great would it be if you could ensure the freshness of those eggs and the quality of that honey by harvesting them yourself? If only you lived in a place where you had the space and ideal climate to fully realize this possibility. As it happens, you live in exactly such a place.
Last Saturday, 40 eager students gathered at the L.A. Arboretum to learn the basic logistics and concerns of raising backyard chickens and "fostering" a beehive. John Lyons of The Woven Garden offered ideas on getting started, tips on keeping your egg and honey producers happy, and troubleshooting from his years of experience keeping both chickens and bees.
Keeping chickens is (mostly) legal in Los Angeles County, though specific zoning regulations apply depending on your area, and most neighborhoods will not tolerate roosters. You can find more information by visiting L.A. Animal Control, but the very best thing you can do is communicate with your neighbors. Assure them the coop will be tidy and disease-free, and propose fresh eggs as thanks for not calling the authorities unless provoked.
Beekeeping was legalized in Santa Monica last year. If you live in a single-family residence and are registered with the City's Animal Control Office, enjoy your hive. If you have a roomy yard and are prepared to care for the bees, just let your neighbors know your plans (assure them the bees won't swarm) and check that no one has a serious bee allergy.
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Neighbors are on board? Time to get started.
Keeping egg-laying hens in your backyard is not as stressful or daunting as you are imagining it will be. There is a commitment of some time and cost, as with any animal, but chickens require approximately the same maintenance as an indoor cat. They need a safe, dry place to live, fresh water and a calcium-rich diet. Almost anything, including old furniture or a swing set, can be made into a coop. If you have a garden they are tremendous pest removers (no more snails and slugs) and will provide you rich manure, and sublime eggs. Three hens is the right number for two adults, and the birds will lay eggs for about three years. After egg-laying has ceased, the hens will continue to police bugs in your yard, or you may prefer the "coop-to-kitchen" option. Los Angeles Urban Chicken Group is a fantastic resource for getting started, finding a community and seeing your little birds prosper.
Bees are invaluable to the food supply and grossly underappreciated. Their livelihoods are compromised by loss of habitat, parasites and use of pesticides. Providing a colony in your neighborhood with a place to reside will improve your landscape (both edible and decorative), and likely deliver a generous yield of honey. With ancient hierarchies, fiercely geometric home construction and ruthless adherence to job descriptions, they are a fascinating species to observe and befriend (with the proper attire, of course.) For a wealth of instructional videos and to join a group, check out Backwards Beekeepers -- they uphold organic, natural beekeeping practices, and you can go observe them safely catch a swarm of bees.