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Nina Lalli's Posts

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Peebottle Farms: Insta-heirloom

Peebottle garden beds before.

Peebottle Farms is a series about the backyard farm Nina Lalli maintains in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn.

OMG you guys! I’m so excited to tell you all about the lush organic garden I planted at exactly the right moment for optimal nutrition and beauty, because I’m perfect. Just kidding. I planted some seeds rather randomly and then my stir-crazy chickens destroyed the whole thing.

It’s my third summer as a backyard gardener, and apparently I’m still on the curvy part of the learning curve. First of all, when exactly were we supposed to start planting this year? Instructions like “after the last frost” are vague enough in a normal year. But I think New York’s last frost may have occurred sometime in October this year because the world is ending. Since we had such a freakishly warm winter, I held out for the possibility that Mother Nature would throw some ice at us in May just to keep shit crazy.

Read more: Food, Urban Agriculture

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Peebottle Farms: The dirt on the dirt

Photo by Jonathan Steffens.

I’m a phenomenal putter-offer, and getting my backyard soil tested is exactly the kind of chore I am fantastic at avoiding. It is the obvious, responsible thing to do, after all, but the results can be a punch in the gut to any urban farmer.

So I blindly ate my way through two growing seasons before curiosity compelled me to find out whether I was slowly consuming an enormous amount of lead and vintage Brooklyn arsenic.

After clearing our building’s backyard of waist-high weeds and an array of very upsetting litter (note the name of our “farm”), my boyfriend, our helpful friends, and I built three raised garden beds about two feet deep. We debated whether to seal the beds off before adding new soil, using pond liner or, preferably, some organic material, but decided it was unnecessary since we wouldn’t be growing anything with very deep roots.

Were we right, or just cheap and lazy? Maybe all of the above? Sometimes, the paranoid part of my brain plays me footage of all the scary shit in that pale, diseased, clumpy soil leaching its way into our moist, innocent dirt. In this imaginary film, the toxins seep up from under the wood frames of the beds, and up the stems of our precious plants. I’ve also tried to imagine our compost somehow fighting it off. And we do even have our own organic-fed chickens pooping nitrogen gold. What more could you need?

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Peebottle Farm: Keeping city chickens in winter

Gathering eggs in the snow (the cracked one is frozen).

Every year, I dread the arrival of winter. When leaf-watchers get jazzed and back-to-school sales are in full psychotic swing, my nail-biting worsens; my stomach turns with every minute the sun sets earlier.

This year, it was worse than usual. Since my joyful entrance into chicken-keeping last summer, the most frequently asked question I’ve heard has been: “But what happens in the winter?” “Oh,” I’d shrug, and say, as the farmer who sold us our six chickens had, “These birds are native to the Northeast. They’re fine, as long as their water doesn’t freeze.”

Nonetheless, as the stupid earth continued to revolve around the stupid sun, my anxiety became more and more precise. I pictured myself shoveling a path through four feet of snow every morning towards the chicken coop in the frigid darkness to feed the hens and defrost their water. And all for naught, since hens go on semi-strike due to lack of sunlight in winter, producing far fewer eggs. I started strategizing early: Should we install lights and put them on timers? Should we insulate the coop just in case?

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Peebottle Farms: Talking to plants

A friend sent Nina an urgent text message that said: "Alert! Today is a good day for planting garlic!" KK Haspel talks to the plants on her farm. She also grows astoundingly delicious vegetables and bonkers-gorgeous flowers. The connection between these facts is not something I can confirm, but I'm happy to believe there is one. Before she gave me a crash course in her brand of biodynamic farming (on the telephone) from Southold, Long Island, the other day, all I knew was that biodynamic made organic look like amateur hour and had something to do with Rudolph Steiner and …

Read more: Food, Urban Agriculture

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Peebottle Farms: What to feed your chickens to get the best eggs?

"I have a theory, and I don't think you're gonna like it." Justin was seated across from me at a communal table in a "Secret Restaurant." We had met not half an hour before, but were now deep in discussion about what chickens should eat to produce the best-tasting eggs -- an obsession of mine recently. "I think they're carnivores," my new friend finally revealed, with a devilish twinkle in his eyes. I was pretty positive he was wrong. I've been a backyard egg farmer for just a few months now, and my eggs are good, but I'm going for …

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Peebottle Farms: Have eggs, will barter

The first egg.Photo: Nina LalliOn July 14, when my first backyard pullet became a hen -- anonymously donating a perfect brown egg to the world -- I lost my shit. Even though I had been checking the chicken coop every day with great anticipation, seeing the egg sitting there so nonchalantly, while the chickens milled around, blew me away. It's a weird and miraculous thing, and I wished I'd known which of the ladies to congratulate and thank. I scooped up the egg like a precious jewel, wrapped it carefully, and brought it to my sister's house. Tei, my boyfriend, …

Read more: Food, Urban Agriculture

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Peebottle Farms: Chicken expertology

White Butt.Photo: Nina LalliThree months ago, I drove to a farm, bought six young lady chickens for $72, and brought them home to Brooklyn so I could call my garden a farm. And boy have I learned about hen-having! Here are some lessons for people approximately three months behind me: Myth: Chickens are a ton of work After my boyfriend and I had made our selections at the farm -- two each of three different chicken breeds -- and they'd been packed up in a box and paid for, we lingered, listening to the questions another couple was asking in …

Read more: Food, Urban Agriculture

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Peebottle Farms: Chicken run

Barred Rock chickens.Photo: Nina LalliLast week, a friend called me for no reason -- just to "say hi," which I think is incredibly intrusive and even presumptuous. But I was feeling pret-ty good at that moment, and picked up. It went like this: Friend: "What're you doing?" Me: "Just hangin' out, drinking the kombucha I bartered some eggs for." Friend: "Jesus f***ing Christ. Don't ever talk about that to me again." How did I arrive at this height of clichéd existence, living as a Brooklyn creative type with connections to kombucha brewers and a backyard chicken coop? Easy: It turns …

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Peebottle Farms: Cooped up in the city

Tei's hen ladderPhoto: Nina LalliGardening is a gateway drug. Smoking pot didn't make me want to snort coke and getting a wimpy tattoo never made me crave bigger tattoos, but show me a sage bush and a bunch of sorrel and all I can think about is a chicken coop. Growing vegetables is pretty amazing, but animals who give you stuff is about as thrilling a prospect as I can think of. Because I love animals, I love food, and I really love free stuff. Almost immediately after my boyfriend, Tei, and I cleaned up the filthy yard behind his …

Read more: Food, Urban Agriculture

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Peebottle Farms: Back to the land in Brooklyn

Plowing the urban land, you find the darndest things.Photo: Nina LalliI brag a lot about the various smells and chores generated by farm life in Bed-Stuy. But it surprises even me to hear myself go on about which hen is laying the biggest eggs or how the squash is taking over the garden. How did I go from being a single lady in a third-floor walk-up to running a farm with a guy I had known for less than a year? Considering my inclination toward rescuing filthy, abandoned street animals and my love of food, it's really a wonder it …