Friday, October 9, 2009

Late Harvest Creations.

It is October. The sun is dipping lower in the sky and the days are shorter. Because we live in the pacific northwest fall means less sun and a return to the rainy season.

With less sun on the garden, many things aren't growing any bigger. Tomatoes aren't ripening on the vine. Melons that got a late start won't ever get big enough to eat. But, I am not willing to just let it all go. For me, the challenge is to find ways to use what we have. Tomatillos, green tomatoes, onions and the last of the green chiles will become sauce for enchiladas and whatever else this winter. Squash will get roasted and turned into a puree for soups. Same with pumpkins.

The cabbages like the cool weather and will be ready to harvest soon. The heads are dense and look lovely. i am bound and determined to make kim chi with some of it. I am not sure what to do with the rest to preserve it. We still have carrots and kale that will come into their own before the first frost and will be added to a stew, I am sure.

The chickens are giving us at least one egg a day and I have hopes that before the winter comes rolling in there will be more than one in the nesting boxes in a day.

This garden has been a refuge for Jenn and I this summer. We are already planning our cover crops, talking about what to do different next year, and plans for expanding the chicken run in the spring. Just because the growing season is over doesn't mean the work is done.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Two Eggs...

Although the laying isn't consistent yet, when whomever does lay is laying, double yolks seem to come up rather often. Eggs come about every other day and we have given some to two friends who have helped us maintain this urban farm through all the surgeries and treatments.

The yolks aren't as orange as I would like, but the girls are young. I tired a bite of one this morning and they taste great. I had been a bit squeamish about eating the eggs for some reason. Like, I might be eating Dolly's unfertilized baby. weird, I know, but it has passed.

In preparation for winter, we are squirreling away food. I've never canned or made pickles or jelly or jam but with all the food we've grown, there has been plenty to practice on. I did peeled tomatoes with basil and a few jars of pickled beans today. Tomorrow, I'll chop and seed some heirlooms and freeze them. We are trying many methods of food preservation to include drying herbs, and Roma tomatoes. I can see myself using them with pasta around January when tomatoes in the market taste like paper. Next week, I'll harvest cabbage and attempt a kim chi. After that, who knows. There are pumpkins still growing, squash, and so many more beans that we if we can them all, we can be eating green beans everyday for months!

Jenn has worked hard to make the farm produce, and I've kicked in some too. We did what we set out to. Grow food, share it with friends, and have a steady and healthy supply of organic food for ourselves. Does it get any better than that!

Friday, August 28, 2009

This is crazy

I knew that we would get a bountiful harvest. I know we would have good food to share with friends. I knew there would be enough to can and preserve and turn into pickles, but I did not realize just how much food a 10 by 25 foot piece of ground could produce. We have not had a need to go to the farmer's market in nearly a month and the only thing we really buy at the store are spinach and oranges.

The chickens have yet to lay an egg. I know it will come in the middle of September. That's my non-educated guess.

Jenn maed plum preserves that didn't quite set up, but it will make for nice syrup, a part of a compote, and I'm betting it will be good on vanilla bean ice cream or pound cake or angel food cake, or a whole lot of things. The grapes we harvested from the alley have been cooked and are draining nicely thru the cheese cloth and it will be jelly time this evening.

I am working on pickling, cukes, green beans, and I think I am going to do a jalapeno and Thai chile mix.

Seeds are still be harvested and dried for next year, and we bought a pink toilet to plant with herbs and flowers. A not real pig named Charlotte has been added to the artscape.

Stop by sometime, sit a minute and take in the beauty. You never know what you will find. This morning it was baby lady bugs!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

And, Now.... Produce!

It seemed silly to write just because. I could have said, "still growing" about a million times. Flowers, vegetables, and the yardbirds. Just couldn't make my self do it. I wanted ti be able to say that the bounty is upon us. That we are giving food away because we cannot eat as much as this garden is producing. WE ARE THERE PEOPLE!

The corn is sweet and lovely. Tomatoes are slowly ripening on the vine. Zukes and squashes and blueberries and beans and snap peas and lettuces and even cucumbers have been plucked from their stems. Salsa has been made. Zukes have been grilled. Tomatillos and onions and tomatoes have been turned into a blended sauce for chicken or enchiladas. Salads have been made with radishes and onions and carrots that were in the ground about fifteen minutes before they hit the taste buds. Basil and parsley are standing by to be mixed with nuts and lemon and cheese and oil for a pesto of sorts.

I am swimming in the delights of our hard work and there is more to come. We have melons, and pumpkins and a second round of spinach and chard and broccoli out there. Gourds will soon be large enough to be dried and turned into bird houses to placed in the garden next spring. The cabbages are starting to have real head in their centers and slaw is in our future to go with the slow cooked pork I have promised my friends I would cook when it cools off a bit.

Soon, there will be enough sage and thyme and rosemary and oregano and lavender to dry for winter. Who could ask for anything more. Ok, we could ask for the chickens to lay some eggs, but they aren't old enough yet. Soon, though, soon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pretty Pictures Tell The Story, Don;t they?

Too tired from hospital visits, and wounds, and swelling and ultra sounds to write, but wanted very much to put some photos up for folks to see.

Jenn and Donna have created an edible paradise and I love them for doing what I cannot do right now. Oh, and the chickens are nearly full grown and ready to lay eggs.

I am grateful for the abundance we have, the lessons we've learned and the seeds that will become the fall harvest. Onward we go!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


What a little love and some caring from the women who tend this plot. It is so lush and lovely out there. The corn is nearly chest high. EVERYTHING is thriving, except the broccoli. Most of it already went to seed. We will see what happens to the rest of it.

So, not time for many words today, but here are photos.... they say more than I ever could.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And on She Grows....

The farm looked so bare when we started putting seedlings in the ground, but no longer. The first round of corn is already knee high. Small green tomatoes are starting to appear. Snap peas are starting to fill themselves out, and little buds of broccoli are looking for the sun. I harvested a head of lovely oak leaf lettuce the other day when we had our first real cookout. Lettuce you grow always tastes better than lettuce you buy so the burgers were especially terrific.

I spend so much time just looking at the plants. Watching them work their magic in the soil. I wish I could participate more in the care and feeding of the farm, but since my surgery, watering is all I can do. Ah, I did plant a pot of Gerber daisies the other day. It felt good to put on gloves and get a little messy. Jenn and our friend Donna have been the farm hands for the last two weeks. I envy them, but I watch, and kibitz from the sidelines. We brought 1,500 ladybugs to defend the crops. There are already signs of attacks by worms who love the cabbage family of plants. I have to learn more about natural defenses. Soap, and saucers of beer, I have heard, work.

The chickens continue to amaze. They are growing into birds and almost all of them have lost that last little bit of baby plumage. They have eaten everything green inside the run, and everything outside of it that they can reach. They catch flies midair and love worms, which a friend's children have promised to supply all summer long. I can't wait to find that first egg. I am hoping they use the nesting boxes and don't lay under the coop. I'll have to low crawl to get it!

I am so glad that we have this bit of peace on Earth. It brings great joy and pleasure to us, and so many more of our friends and neighbors. How simple. It's not diamonds, or a fancy car. It's so much better than either of those things.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Additions to the farm hardscape

We put in an outdoor sink yesterday. It is made from all throw away stuff. A couple of old saw horses, a table top that Fred Meyer was going to toss out, a sink my contractor got on another job site, and a few new fittings from the plumbing supply house. It drains into plastic buckets so that water can be used on the garden. Why waste what you can re-use! Cold water only so no usage of natural gas to fuel hot water. It is going to be a great place to clean and top vegetables when the time comes. No mucking up the kitchen! I like that. It will also be a handy place to set up as a bar for parties. We can fill the sink with plastic and ice and put cups and bottles on it. Double duty is another good thing about living green. We won't need a bar! The chicks brooder can now become a tub for beer and sodas!

The other great thing that happened yesterday was the chickens first time out in the run. Jenn had to use a broom to get them out of their comfy digs, but once out in the sunshine they explored every little nook and cranny. They found worms and fought over them. They scratched, and pecked, and poked around for quite a long time. Because of their size, they cannot be left out unsupervised. Beefcake and Pig Bitch are trying to find a way to be there at the right moment when one of the girls sticks her head out of the wire. I think they would bite it off if they could. Jenn had the best time digging up worms for them. They really love the squirmy little things. Shirley, the littlest girl, loves them the most. Seems Dolly and Laverne have no interest in them yet.

Everything is coming along so well. Now, we move on to the patio and awning portion of the design. I did my first grilling of the season last night and it would have been nice to have the patio completed before hand. Guess the call of the grill will be incentive to do the project, once my surgery is over and I can at least direct the work of constructing the crushed stone patio and arbors.

It takes a lot longer to tend this farm than it did any garden I've ever put in, but I love my time in the early morning light with the plants and the hens. It is the best way for me to start my day.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What's Worse, permanent or one time use?

I am referring to coffee filters. I recently started using a hemp cone instead of the brown ones made from recycled paper. Now, I am wondering if washing out the hemp filter every morning is using up more water than in the making of the paper filters.

Christ! It is so hard to be deep green. If you buy paper filters there is water used in their making. How much? I need to find out. In using a hemp filter I run the water for approximately 45 seconds to rinse out what does not come off the filter when I scrape the grounds into the compost. I wash it with soap and water twice a week, so that takes more water. I don't know which is more ecologically sound but I am sticking with hemp until someone tells me it is the worst thing I can be doing for the planet.

Speaking of compost, I have a major overhaul planned for our triple bin system. It was constructed poorly by the people who stayed here while we were off on our fabulous adventure last summer. Although it held all the pieces parts in place, turning the sucker has been a nightmare. With some refitting, it will be easier to turn and a continued source of fabulous, rich, healthy humus for the garden this year, and next.

And, because Jenn has been a real trooper there are only a few more starts to plant. All the later crop seeds have been sowed and soon it will be a watering, and weeding, and waiting game. There tiny little starts on one of the strawberry plants. Five tiny little nubs that will be fruit. One of the pepper plants has a bloom and the blueberries are looking promising for this year. Lettuce can be harvested in about two weeks, and the broccoli rabe maturing quickly.

I love my time alone in the garden in the morning. Just me, and the plants and the chickens. I water with intent and with as much Zen as I can muster. I try and see the small changes taking place in the vegetables. I soak in the colors and the drops of water as they fall down the leaves and into the the rich, dark, fertile soil.

Life doesn't get much better than this.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Slow Progress

Life and the sudden rain showers keep me from having the garden completely planted. With Jenn's hard work yesterday, we are about half way there. Rain today and tomorrow means we probably won't get finished, but we plug along. My lovely partner is following companion planting fundamentals so the strawberries, tomatoes, and chives are all together with some marigolds in the mix for pest control. Cabbages, chard, and some salad greens occupy another space. The plan for the Three Sisters planting of corn, beans, and pumpkins is ready and the seed will go in the ground today. I am loving the look and loving all that digging in dark, rich, worm filled soil.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Just Some Things I'm Thinking About

I read a piece in the online version of the New York Times this morning about chicken manure being the best, least savage, kind of fertilizer. I am glad that we will have a glut to put on the garden this summer. Lesson learned: chickens poop, a lot!

The girls are getting so big and we are moving them to the hen house on Monday. With the heat lamp, and warmer nighttime temperatures, they will be fine in their new home. The brooder, which is not really a brooder at all but a galvanized tub, is just too small for all of them anymore. They are staring to bicker too much about space and food. The NY Times writer described chickens as, "savage and prehistoric, a fluffier breed of lizard". I would have to agree. They bite at each other and now they are pecking at me! Dolly and Bruiser in particular. I am hoping that with a whole lot more room they will leave each other alone until they can all go outside and play in the yard!

Speaking of the yard, the coop is finally finished! Completely finished. Screened in, tightened up and fully functional. In a few weeks, the girls can take time outside, according to what has become my chicken bible. "Keep Chickens!" by a lady here in Portland has become nearly daily reading. I watch the girls grow and then read about what is coming next. This is no easy task, this chicken keeping business. I sent Jenn a text message last night after the last creature had been fed and watered, and the garden had a drink too. I told her this was going to be a working summer instead of a fun filled one like we had last year. No long road trips, no week in LA or one in NYC. We are going to be home bodies. We will travel when the farm has been put to bed in the fall, as long as we can find reliable help with the dog, cats, and yardbirds!

The journey continues...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

When Will It End

Stalled by rain, and procrastination. But, the starts are healthy and so are the chicks.

The birds are growing so fast now. They have so many of their adult feathers. Even the little girls. Dolly, Buffy, and Bruiser should be able to live outside before too long. In the hen house, but not yet big enough for the run. I can't wait for all of them to be able to take their first walk outside. Seems really wrong for them to only have their feet in scratch, and on newspapers. I took the brooder out on Sunday so the girls could work on their tans. It is a shame that the weather has been so wet and cold. I would like for them to be outside a bit more.

We had the chance, for a few hours on Sunday to plant. Jenn and our friend Cole decided to re arrange the garage instead. Instead of guilting our other two brunch guests into helping me get some things in the ground, we just watched them, and video tapped them bantering back and forth about what should go where. Very funny.

So, it is the fifth of May and although we are farther along with everything that we were two summers ago, I am feeling a bit like I am not doing my job very well. All over town people have their plants in the ground and their seeds sowed. The rain is supposed to stop tomorrow. Jenn and I have done some pinky swearing on this planting thing and we will get everything out back planted where it is supposed to be by the time the new week starts. Then, it will be time to finish up the coop and get the girls outside on time! This farming thing ain't easy, but I like it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

I know I should not be saying that. The rain is helping the compost and manure work it's way deeper in the dirt, but I want to plant. The seeds and starts are all here, ready to go in the ground.

Jenn mentioned a book she once had about growing "more vegetables that you ever imagined" so we went and got a copy a couple of days ago. It is chock-a-block full of great ideas about companion planting and crop rotation. I never really thought about rotation on such a small farm. Soils get depleted. Size does not matter. The tome is a bit more scientific, and has less pictures than I would like, but I am wending my way through the thing because I want to be an absolute success at this.

Work on the chicken run and coop is on schedule. There are only a few small things left to be done. The chicks are healthy and growing. The three older girls, Dolly, Buffy and Brusier Woods are really starting to feather out. I am sure they will be beautiful once the transition is complete. But to me, right now, they look like aliens or prehistoric birds. The little girls, Laverne, Shirley and Penny are pretty much still in the cute baby stage of development. Cleaning up after six messy birds three times a day can be a pain. How is it that such tiny creatures can make such a mess is beyond me. I know, by the amount of waste in the brooder that we will have a large supply of poop to put on the garden over the summer, and can stock pile enough poop filled straw for next year.

Today, I read the overly scientific tome and draw a map of what needs to grow next to what. Pictures of the results in a few days, if the weather will cooperate.

Monday, April 20, 2009

From Chef to Farmer

My role has changed. instead of calling myself a cook who writes, I am now a farmer who cooks and writes and has chores to do every morning.

My day starts in the garage, our version of a barn. I feed and water the chicks, change out the bedding in the brooder and spend a little time bonding with the girls who will be our egg providers. They are starting to grow adult plumage. Real feathers instead of the downy coat they are born with. I am falling more in love with them everyday.

My next stop is in the field. Ok, it's not really a field, but I don't want to call it a LARGE garden. It is my field of dreams. Right now I water the starts, dig a bit more of the grass out of what will be the six or so beds, stir the compost and add the bits and bobs and coffee grounds from the house. I know it's not much, but by next week there will amending, and watering and weeding and more planting than I've ever done before. I am thinking of getting a new garden hat, like the ones I've seen in pictures of farmer's wives in the 1940s.

I am enjoying my new role and hope to be a success at it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Trouble With Baby Chickens

is that some of them die. We lost two of the first three we brought home. I don't know why it surprised me. Last spring we were in San Diego at an RV park. A mother duck with a dozen little ones made the rounds everyday. By the time we had been there a week, she was down to four or five little sets of webbed feet following her around the park. I did not mind so much that her brood grew smaller. I did care that ours did.

The two chicks, one yellow and one black, are buried right outside the chicken run. I thought it would be nice for them to spend whatever eternity chickens have close to the place where they would have lived. And yes, I understand I did that for me and not really for them.

We decided, the day we found the second dead chick, to see if we could get a couple more that appealed to us as replacement flock mates for the one we have now decided to call Bruiser Woods, a Black Maran that will lay dark, chocolate brown eggs. She picked on the two little ones that died so much, ran over them to get to food, and certainly was the dominate presence in the brooder. We found two that looked hearty and were certainly large enough, we thought, to hold their own against the Bru. Two days later, everyone is still alive and thriving. We are so certain about the new kids survival that we have named them as well. Not a flower in the bunch. We have a Delaware that we named Dolly and a Buff Orpington not so cleverly named Buffy. Jenn wants a one of the reds she will call Penny and I want a Laced Wyandotte that I will call Buttercup. We have to have at least one flower name in the bunch!

It is work to keep up with their needs, especially the cleaning up of the poop and scattered food. But, they are entertaining and calming too. Jenn and I sat out in the garage late last night for an hour just watching them do chick things, like falling asleep and falling over, or practicing their scratching techniques, or just being cute babies. They are still covered in that soft down you can't help but stick your face into. The down on their wings, however, is giving way to the start of real feathers.

I love them all so much and will be a very proud "flock momma" when one of them lays her first egg!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

There is Much to Learn

I am reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". Early on she talks about how the school year was set up to run from fall to late spring in order to make sure children weren't in school when the crops came in. The people who set this schedule up knew things I don't. They knew when the last frost arrives, when the first one will come in the fall. They knew what plants can go in the ground before that last frost, and which ones will keep over the winter. They knew what you needed to can or preserve. There are still people out there who know the rules of Mother Nature. I am not one one of them, at least not in the truest sense.

In my attempt to expand my own sense of living differently by creating my urban farm, what I've come to realize is that my agrarian gene is gone. I have no idea when the last frost comes, or what plants can go in the ground before that last frost. It isn't enough to build a place for the chickens and till the land for planting, there is studying I now need to do in order to be a successful urban farmer. I have to read The Farmer's Almanac and consult with experts in the field of growing food. I've only done one small garden since moving to the Pacific Northwest. It went in late, but had what I would consider to be an above average yield. This year, there are way too many variables to consider. I am planting so many things. There are 37 different fruits and vegetables going in the dark, verdant, beautiful smelling ORGANIC soil. If I just do thing all willy nilly I won't reach my goal of a killer harvest. If what I've read is correct, my partner and I will be begging people to take some of our harvest. The plot of land we tilled should give us more than enough to sustain us.

This move is a process, and everyday I find out just how much I don't know. Good thing I am not afraid to ask for help and get the information I need to be successful. I am very much enjoying this journey to a more self sustained existence.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Coop(ed) Up

Yesterday we finsished the hen house and coop for the chickens, and I found someone to come and till the garden.

Like anything tried for the first time, the whole thing took longer than Kate or I thought it would. But, the finished product was created from 95% recycled materials, and a whole lot of sweat, tears, and love. I am proud of the fact that we had much of what we needed, and the new neighbor next door had the rest. He just finished a bunch of work and had a fabulous scrap pile in his backyard that we tapped into several times. We have a very earth friendly place for the girls to live.

Next comes tilling and the laying out of the beds. We are going to grow 34 varieties of fruits, herbs, and vegetables. I have made room for everything on paper. I hope that my paper plan translates well to the soil.

I am starting to realize that is garden, and the birds, are going to take up a lot of my time. I don't think I've bitten more than I can chew, but it will take more effort than I first thought. I am not going to give up. I am not going to grow less, or have fewer chickens. We can do this. I know we can.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rain Stops, Construction Starts

My contractor is a go-getter of a woman. She stopped by yesterday afternoon, right as it stopped raining. Her "I just came to check things out and see what kind of materials we have" turned into construction. A couple of hours later, we had the footings in, the posts up, and a frame for the floor. We have lift off of the hippy-dippy, made from recycled materials, hen house and chicken coop.

Today, we continue. I am exicited about the way it will look, although a lot of the actuals about the design will come as we go. One thing that was not part of the original plan is a deck that is taking shape outside the hen house door. The little ladies will have a place to sit to watch the sunset. They will also have a large window, a roost under the hen house, and a yard with soil full of worms to et. They, luck bitches, will be living over the most tended and fertile part of the garden. I worked that soil myself, with a shovel, amending it to death two years ago when I started my first garden here.

Pictures tomorrow....

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rain Stalls Coop Construction

Yes, the rains stalled the start of the construction of the chicken coop and hen house. We had planned on starting late this week but the weather left us no option but to postpone. Looks like this weekend will give us drying time and maybe a chance to get it done before the next spring storm arrives.

Working around Mother Nature is a real pain. I'd like to stick to the schedule. The chicks arrive on the 7th and I'd like to have a space ready for them. Not that they can just have the run of the place, but they can live in their little cardboard inclousure inside the hen house. All warm and dry and not in our house!

I was wandering the garden, looking for things that might have wintered over from what got planted last year by the people who stayed here while we were gone on our trip. I found some mint, and a few things that are probably medicinal herbs, but I have to study up on them to find out. I will dig everything up, and then put it back in once the tilling is done. Who knows what we might end up with later on in the year.

The adventure of being an urban farmer continues.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Locally Grown

I am in New Mexico for a couple of weeks helping out my Siren sister. The desert is so dry this year, the drought continues. How do you eat good food that is locally produced in a place where there is no water? If we are to effect the carbon emissions created by growing food and getting it to market, we need to eat food grown within 100 miles of where we live. I would have to do more research to add scientific validation to my claim, but I think it would be difficult to do this winter in this very dusty place unless you are willing to give up most everything.

We went to a local organic grocer the other day and had the choice of buying stuff grown in Argentina, Chile, and Mexico in the produce department. We did manage to find some things grown in California, but nothing that was grown anywhere within the 100 mile limit. No tomatoes, no berries, no avocados, no lettuce, and no lemons or limes. These things are staples in the diet of the people who live here. What are they supposed to do?

It is challenging to change the way we look at the food we buy, or what we grow. When I stand in the produce department, I am no longer faced with just two questions, is it organic and is it fresh. Now, I must check to see where it was grown. I believe I will be doing a lot of drying of fruit we pick this summer so we can have some at that time when the fresh berries are flown in from thousands of miles away. Same with bananas.

It is work, but it is worth it. I know that if enough of us change the way we think about not only what we eat, but where it comes from, we can make a positive impact on the health of this planet. Although I feel for the people who are trying to grow food in this dry, sand lot of a state. It's no wonder I moved.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Another Reason To Go Deeper In The Green

I just now finished watching a documentary about corn. How much there is of the stuff, how sick it makes the cows that eat it, and then we eat them, and how because they figured out how to turn the stuff into sweetener, we are pretty much corn based beings. If you don't believe me, get a strand of your hair tested.

I am not saying the everyone in this country is in the same corned fed boat, but most of the population certainly is. I am probably a bit better off than most, and less than some, but it does not change the fact that corn, unless it is that variety that we can actually eat in its natural form, is evil and it will make you as sick as the cows if you don't start reading labels and NOT eating processed foods that have high fructose corn syrup in them. It is going to be difficult if you eat processed foods. Which is why I will grow as much of my own food as possible this summer. Food kissed by the sun, and danced around by the chickens. As whole as it comes.

As it stands now, I pretty much eat real food. The labels on the stuff I buy say organic, grass fed, sweetened with cane sugar, or whole wheat. With the advent of sustainable agriculture, I don't have to eat tainted food. I am not saying that I don't eat some of the horrid syrup, I do. I am human after all. After watching the doc, I am going to try and NEVER eat the stuff again.

Rent the movie, and see if you don't change your ways...... they use killer chemicals that eat skin in the making of corn syrup, and that alone should make every man and woman rethink that stuff in the pretty packages at your local warehouse supermarket!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

On To My Feathered Friends

I have moved on from garden and chicken coop design. I have decided what food to grow, and have tentative plans on where to put it. My focus has shifted to actually deciding what kind of chickens to buy. There are so many breeds. It makes my head swirl. Do I go with bantams? Standards? There are standard white chickens. There are buff colored chickens. There are black chickens. There are Golden Laced Wyandottes and Blue Langshans and even a breed called Jersey Black Giants.

I wish there was a chicken consultant who functioned much like a wine merchant. I could tell this poultry genius I want chickens that are good layers. I would tell them what color eggs I would like to find in the hen house (blue or brown please), after some thought they would tell me what to buy. Alas, I’ve not found that person so I have to do my own detective work in books and online. I have settled, at least for now, on starting my small flock of four with two Silver Laced Wyandottes, and two of their cousins the Golden Laced Wyandottes. I chose these particular birds because, according to the McMurray Hatchery catalog, they are “an outstanding example of American poultry breeding”. Ok, I am lying. Different breeds of chicks, it seems, arrive at feed stores staring in March and can come as late as the end of April. Being the instant gratification type, I looked at the list from my favorite feed store to decide what day had the best chicken names and then found out what they looked liked. April 7, 2009 will be the day when we get to the feed store as early as possible for a better chance to get our pick of the Wyandotte chicks. The guy who gave us our list said that he hated chick season as people act insane around the procurement of poultry. I know Jenn is pushy enough to get us in and out with our little girls in record time. She takes no prisoners, and will be a force to be reckoned with on chick day.

We will have a month to get the coop ready after the babies come home. For their first thirty days they will live in what is called a brooder. Or, more simply put, they will set up housekeeping inside a cardboard ring that is 18 inches high and has a feeder and waterer along with some towels or newspapers (I am not yet sure which I will choose as there are varying schools of thought on which is better for the bottom of the enclosure) and a heat lamp hanging overhead to keep them at varying degrees of warmth depending on their age. Now, to figure out where to put the little buggers before we put them in their permanent home.

Learning To Be More Self Sufficient

I’ve said, for twenty years, that I wanted to be a urban farmer. For many reasons, mostly due to a lack of land, my want has only been realized in small spaces, with room to grow only basic stuff.

This project of putting in a garden that is four to five times the size of the one I planted two years ago seems daunting, exciting, and a bit like a magical mystery tour..... This year, I have this space that seems large enough to accomplish most of what I want to do and I am thinking and planning before the last blasts of winter have passed and the spring awakening begins. I am ahead of Mother Nature and that feels fantastic!

The biggest questions.... What do I need to put where? What do I want to grow? Can I make room for enough of the anti oxidant bullets that fire on the stuff that might be building inside me; getting ready to send me to an early grave? At fifty-three, I need to plant, eat and grow as many of these bullets as I can.

Should I have the soil tested to insure that there is no residue of pesticides? Which chickens do we buy to get the most beautiful eggs? Should I get rabbits? What about a goat or two? Would they be good to have on my mini farm even if we don’t eat either of them? Goats give milk, what about making cheese? Can I grow enough to feed us for the season, give the animals enough room, and have food to put up for winter as well?
The largest space for my farm is 33 feet long and ten feet wide. There is another space behind the kitchen that is 25’ long and five feet wide. It is not a lot of room to work with.

I made a drawing this morning. I think I can have eight substantial beds, five large pots for flowers and herbs, and still keep the triple bin composting set up we have now. In that plan there is room for the chicken’s house and coop and a place for the rabbits. There is a small patio with trellises for wysteria and roses in my drawing. If I get goats, will they be able to live in that space behind the kitchen. If I get all these animals, will it bother my neighbors? I don’t know....

If I do everything I want, will I have enough energy to accomplish the myriad of tasks that come with the garden and the critters? All the animals have to be fed, everyday. The weeds must get pulled, the crops thinned, and there is the watering.

I can’t hardly stop myself from going overboard no matter how much work it will take. Will Jenn, for all her excitement at the prospect of having all these things, really share the load with me? If she doesn’t, am I willing to do it alone? What happens when we take that week off to go to New York?

Besides the commitment of time, the biggest issue is cost. I want to do this project with as much free, used, and recycled materials as possible. It is not that I can’t afford new, I just want to be as Green as I can in putting this garden together. I have been trying, with a some degree of success, to either not buy at all, or buy used goods. I figure that having a large garden is not enough of a green move and to make it as Earth friendly as possible, I need to beg, borrow, and Freecycle my way to completion of the hardscape.

Can I get bark dust, or wood chips or nut shells for free from the city? Can I find low cost willow branches and tree branches to make into the trellis’ that will hold up the beans and peas and form the frame of the patio? What can I use to make the floor of the patio that is not concrete, or expensive pavers? Is there gravel laying around some where for me to find? Can I get the soil tilled and prepared by trading my cooking skills? Barter would be the way to go..... I do things I can for things I can’t. It seem silly to buy a roto tiller when so many people in this town already have one and know how to use it. I wonder if you can barter for organic seeds too?

So many questions.... so much to learn, so much to do in a few short weeks if I hope to start getting plants in when it best suits them. Two years ago, my non-gardner of a girlfriend and I put in a small plot out back that was pretty successful. It would have been more so if we had gotten off our duffs a bit earlier in the season. We did get some decent corn from our three little rows. We harvested enough green beans and cucumbers to keep Jenn happy for most of the summer. There was an abundance of basil. We raised two pumpkins, and enough tomatoes to eat some fresh, and cook some up for the freezer. We had enough green tomatoes, due to us putting them in late, and a short growing season that year, to supply a southern restaurant for a week.

Now, I want to make sure that we get tomato plants in the ground on time, as to improve my chances of having an over abundance of big heirlooms that I have to push off on my neighbors and friends because there is just no more room in the pantry and freezer. I want to harvest enough from my garden so that I need to learn how to preserve food in those lovely Mason Jars. In all my years of cooking and working in restaurant kitchens, I’ve never canned or pickled a thing. I never paid attention when I was growing up to learn from my Auntie Ruth. Silly me. I was too involved in running around like a wild Indian during the summer.

I am excited by this project. I am excited soon be able to look up from my desk and see life starting to poke it head up through the dark earth in the beds and furrows. Now, to find those branches for the trellis. Wish me luck!