Actor Aaron Paul has been devoting his time in quarantine to farming and composting with his family at his home in Los Feliz and learning to live off the land. From family-friendly chickens and honey cocktails to scaring off coyotes with a couple of alpacas, he breaks it down for us. Literally.
LEO: How did you get started composting? Was this something you were already getting into before the quarantine?
AARON: When everything started to close down, I started coming up with ways to live off of the land. First thing was to start a garden. I went from one bed to four beds. Tomatoes, peppers, basil, mint, cucumbers, and everything else. I read a book that stated you don’t really have a true garden without a compost pile, so that’s when I decided to take it up a notch.
Let’s start with composting. Any pro-tips?
It’s honestly the easiest thing I have ever done in my life and everyone is incredibly impressed by it. It’s hilarious. All you do is throw scraps into a bin inside of your kitchen and when it’s full you take it out to your compost pile. The idea is to just let things rot. A good mix of browns and greens in your compost pile is about 4:1 browns (carbon) to greens (nitrogen). Browns are anything from dried leaves, newspaper, straw, and sawdust. Greens are grass clippings, food scraps from your garden, coffee grounds, and manure. That being said, you may need to adjust your piles somewhat depending on what you put in it. Some green materials are higher in nitrogen than others, while some brown materials are higher in carbon than others. Rule of thumb, if your compost starts to look a little wet, just add some browns into the mix. Easy.
How does one get started? Is there a kit you recommend? Or any specific materials?
It’s just about creating a space to throw scraps in. You can either order a do-it-yourself kit online, or bins that are made out of plastic so you can easily turn it over when it needs to be flipped.
Simple steps are: grab pieces of wood, hammer them together, and start throwing trash inside of it. It just needs to be on a level space on top of dirt. When you start your compost, I recommend picking up a compost starter at your local nursery and picking up any sort of helpful hints they may want to provide.
How long does the whole process take?
You won’t be able to start using your soil from your compost for roughly six to nine months, but depending on what you throw inside of it, it could take up to a year.
What are some of the benefits of composting?
Composting is just another way to live off the land and not create waste. You’ll be surprised how much you can actually throw inside of your compost, and in turn, create soil that you could use to plant with. You save money and you are creating life out of waste.
What kind of farming are you getting into?
We have turned our entire backyard into what we hope is the start of a working farm. We started with the garden and then a compost, and now we have a bunch of bee boxes that produce roughly 60 pounds of honey a month. We are building our own chicken coop that will house four chickens and two ducks, and looking at getting some pygmy goats so the chickens and ducks have more friends. We are also looking at getting a couple of alpacas for our animals and baby girl Story to play with. We live just below the Greek theater in Griffith park and we have a pretty serious coyote problem in our backyard, and once these chickens and ducks and goats get here they are going to need some protection—believe it or not, alpacas do just that.
Does this require a substantial piece of land, or is it something one could get into with a normal-sized yard?
Chickens, ducks, and goats don’t need that much land, but they do need a place to sleep at night. It’s really nice to be able to have space to let them naturally graze on the property if possible. Alpacas need a bit more space. We are fortunate enough to live on roughly about an acre and a half so we have plenty of room for a couple of alpacas. If you want to start with a couple of chickens you can easily do that with a very small amount of room. Just make sure to let the chickens run around as much as possible. They are incredibly friendly if you treat them like a part of your family.
Does your daughter like it?
Our daughter Story loves being outside and is obsessed with honey. Once the animals start arriving, I think she will fall in love with all of it.
Why is this valuable to you as a family?
I think the situation at hand has shined a big light on factory farming for me and my family. We stopped eating red meat years ago. I think we all know it’s a really bad situation out there, but we decide to turn a blind eye. I can no longer do that. We all need to do what we can to be more humane.
How long does it take for the “fruits of your labor”, so to speak, to show up?
Gardens are quite quick. Honey from the beehives takes a minute but once there is honey, then you always have honey as long as you take care of your bees. They need room to grow, and you never want to take more than half of their honey. Half for them and half for you and friends.
How much of what you’re growing are you actually able to eat or cook with already?
So far we are just able to eat the veggies. Soon the honey will be ready and I will be teaching myself to make plenty of cocktails with said honey.
And you’re making your own jam? How easy or difficult is that process?
Making jam is the easiest thing in the world. It sounds complicated but you just throw a cup of fruit onto a stove with some sugar, jalapeños, and maybe some lemon and you are good to go. There’s lots of ways to make jam and most of them are extremely easy.
Do you stick them in little jars and give them to friends?
Of course. That’s really the main reason. Also, if you don’t have fruit trees, a little advice—walk around your neighborhood and you will notice so many fruit trees with fruit in them that go to waste. Knock on the door and ask if you could use their fruit, and in turn hand over some jam when done. It’s a win-win.
What’s you’re farming attire of choice?
Really anything from you. Beat-up jeans and a t-shirt is always the way to go.
CHECK OUT AARON
As Caleb Nichols on season three of HBO’s Westworld
As Warren Cave on Apple TV’s Truth Be Told
As the voice of various characters on Netflix’s Bojack Horseman
As Jesse Pinkman on AMC’s Breaking Bad and Netflix’s El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
As Steve Watts in Eye in the Sky
As Scott Quittman on HBO’s Big Love