Our #GrowInspired series features our innovative and creative garden partners. Whether they’re working with two acres or 200 square feet, we are constantly in awe of their hard work and kick-ass gardens. These are some of our favorite growers and gardeners who inspire us to get out and play in the dirt.
Anne Kuo, known for her hilarious — and informative — Instagram account @realhensofoc, and her popular book The Beginner's Guide to Raising Chickens: How to Raise a Happy Backyard Flock, is a homesteader in Southern California. When she’s not giving advice on self-sufficiency and sustainable urban homesteading through her social media and coaching, she’s tending to her microfarm and raising her riotous funny flock of chickens. Anne — also known as “lady human” — was gracious enough to chat with us and we know you’ll enjoy her story of gardening for her health, her favorite chicken (spoiler: it’s a roo), and some tips on starting your own backyard flock.
How Anne Got Started Gardening
I have been gardening on and off for a number of years; my dad taught me about gardening when I was younger and was always trying to get me to do gardening projects for my elementary school science projects. Then, in college, instead of spending money on clothes and makeup like a lot of my peers did, I spent my money on crafting and buying plants for my balcony. I even composted those days on my balcony in a kitty litter box!
In my adult years, once we moved into the house I am in now I had a lot more land to work with and a partner that was willing to work with me, who cared about what I was growing and picking to eat. And it really just went from there. I really started to get into gardening on a bigger scale when we moved to this property.
The Evolution Of Anne’s Garden
I’m in USDA hardiness zone 10b, which is a really dry, Meditteranean climate. We are lucky to have found a large piece of property which is rare in Southern California — we are on about ⅓ of an acre but much of it is hilly, which is hard to garden on. During the pandemic we were able to terrace a portion of the hilled area ourselves — it was a ton of work — and create more usable garden space. Now we have about 1,700 square feet of gardens.
Our big shift into growing food came when I was having a lot of health issues — I was really sick and we couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I ended up doing an elimination diet and realized that I was reacting to conventional produce grown with pesticides and I really needed to control the food that I ate. I couldn’t trust the produce at the grocery stores and could really tell which ones had chemicals on them. I also found out that I have Celiacs disease and my body can’t tolerate any gluten whatsoever. At the time I was feeling really crappy and I didn’t really feel like going anywhere — which is also where the chickens came in. They were a way to control the quality of eggs that I was eating while also being a kind of therapy pet to me at the same time. It went from there once I realized what deep personalities the chickens have and I really fell in love with them. They’re now part of the family — part of the homestead — and they provide us so much entertainment.
The chickens — and gardening — also provide me with a huge sense of relief when I’m feeling down. When you get your hands in the dirt it’s amazing too because you’re connecting with the earth. That one tiny seed can grow so much food and you can share with other people; I think that’s the other part of why we created our microfarm in backyard suburbia. We have pride knowing that we’re growing stuff that no one else does and love sharing it with other people. I built myself a community on Instagram and social media and found people in my local community that feel the same way and get excited about the same stuff. We love sharing our knowledge and our harvest so I feel really lucky to have found this community.
The Pluses And Challenges Of Growing In Zone 10b
We grow all winter long, although we do have challenges growing certain things and there are some things that we just don’t grow. For example, I can’t grow brussel sprouts — it’s just too warm at our house. I’ve only ever been able to get foliage. Broccoli is also a hard one, but that might be more my PH balance of my soil than my climate. My dad is two blocks away and he can grow broccoli, but it can definitely be challenging growing short-lived cold crops here. At the same time, there are a variety of things that grow amazingly here; no matter where you’re growing, or what microclimate you're in, you will face challenges. I don’t tend to follow a lot of rules in gardening and even if there is a certain variety that says it can’t grow in my climate, I am still going to try it. I may not be super successful at it, but I will always try. Even if I get a tiny, little heard of broccoli I am happy because I tried and it’s something I’ve achieved.
Anne’s Favorite Crops
I would say in short — my favorite crop is a variety. I pride myself on growing a wide variety of plants and try to add something new whenever I can.
The thing I’m most proud of growing would probably be garlic. There’s a myth that you can't grow hardneck garlic in warm climates, but that’s not really true. You just have to do it right. Right now it’s garlic season and my living room floor is littered with freshly-harvested garlic, most of which are hardneck and I managed to get some giant bulbs out of some of them which is great.
My advice for new gardeners is always ‘Don't be afraid to fail. Just try.’
Anne’s Favorite Thing To Make With Her Harvest
There are so many things it’s so hard to choose. But I really enjoy making fermented hot sauce from our peppers.
On Anne’s Famous Chickens (And Choosing A Favorite)
You don’t talk about it! That’s like Fight club. You just don’t talk about your favorite chicken. I have a few favorites but it’s really like asking to choose a favorite kid.
Right now we’re really emotionally attached to Shadow, our bantam rooster. He has always followed us around since he was a chick instead of playing with his siblings. Last year, he got really, really sick with something called fowl pox and it’s a very devastating form of chickenpox for chicken or other poultry. He almost died but because we realized early we were able to save him and since then he’s been even more attached to us. He won’t sleep in the coop, he just wants to be inside the house. We have a box in the house for him and every time we try to move him to the coop he won’t go — he’ll just come back to the back door and wait for us on the porch. But when you baby an animal like we did and save them from the brink of death, just as you would with a dog or a cat, you have that extra emotional bond.
Our total number of chickens varies as we have new babies that often go to other homes to live. But they all have different personalities and different traits.
We have two big standard roosters that keep an eye on our flock and they are so great. They are very friendly and gentle.
On Anne’s Popular Book, The Beginner's Guide to Raising Chickens: How to Raise a Happy Backyard Flock
The book really happened because of Instagram — honestly. I started my Instagram because I was stuck at home [when I was sick] and wasn’t going out. I wasn’t socializing and didn’t have anyone to talk to about gardening and chickens. So my Instagram was a creative outlet for me and then a publisher liked my account and proposed that I write a book and that’s how that happened.
Anne’s Advice For New Chicken Owners
Research, research, research, before you even think about getting them. There are so many stories about people who didn’t research, especially during the pandemic, and just picked up chickens at the pet store during Easter. Then they don’t know what to do with them or don’t realize that some may be roosters that they may not be able to keep. I get messages daily or weekly from people asking me to help rehome their roosters. So that’s really one of my biggest pet peeves — is people who decide to get chickens or hatch their own chickens and don’t have a plan for their roosters. You can’t dump them at the park; you can’t drop them off at the feed store; you really have to have a plan and either decide to keep them and have a ‘bachelor pad’ run at your home or know of someone who can raise them as meat birds. And if you can’t or don’t want to do that, then you shouldn't be hatching.
Anne’s Favorite Ways To Eat Eggs
I really love a nice fried egg. I think the most delicious way to enjoy a fresh egg is to cook it in a really hot cast-iron pan. I don’t even season my eggs because they’re so fresh. But if we have a bunch and we need to cover lunch and dinner for a few days, we always make a giant frittata with whatever harvest or leftovers we happen to have from the garden. There’s so many different ways to make a frittata and we can incorporate our harvests so we really like doing that.
On Using C-BITEs In Her Garden
I received a bunch of C-BITEs last year and they did a great job supporting my Dahlias and keeping them off the ground. I am waiting for them to come up again this year and then plan on setting the C-BITEs back up in the same spot!
Anne’s Thoughts On Relying On Her Land For Nourishment
There is such a sense of accomplishment in having a garden and animals and having real control over where your food comes from. Especially given COVID, which was so stressful for everybody, but we actually felt OK because we grow most of our produce that we eat anyway. If we really have to, we can live off of everything we grow and produce on our microfarm, including our eggs. The eggs are a great bartering tool too — In 2019, my friend Kevin @epicgardening started this thing called the Apocalypse Grow Challenge. He was challenging folks for an entire month to only eat things foraged, grown in their own garden, or bartered. So basically nothing from the store. And we did really well because we had eggs to barter with people. That was also practice for COVID; before the pandemic hit our goal for 2020 was to do 200 days of the year only eating our own food from the garden or bartering and we ended up having to do it anyway!