Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why Were Hens Banned in Chesapeake? The Chicken Activist's Response

In my previous post I asked John King, Chesapeake, VA's, Zoning Administrator, when and why laying hens were originally banned from most residents' back yards. He emailed me the "when," but I had to call him to find out the "why." What he told me by telephone, on July 26, 2012, as I explained in my last post, is this:

He said that chickens have been zoned the way they have since the beginning of zoning in Chesapeake. The reason is that chickens are livestock and that there were concerns about livestock in cities due to "urban density." He asserted that at the time the zoning laws were adopted, Chesapeake was becoming denser in population, and he implied the restriction on chickens as livestock was reasonable. He asked me if I could imagine every Chesapeake resident, even apartment dwellers, owning chickens.

My husband later asked me, "What if every Chesapeake resident and apartment-dweller raised a dog?" 

Or even rabbits, which are also perfectly legal. It seems to us the objection is the misconception that hens belong in an isolated area on acres of land. Period. 

At the time I answered Mr. King that I could indeed see even apartment dwellers owning and managing hens as part of a co-op. 

Perhaps Mr. King has never had a chance to learn about Milwaukee's Growing Power, a non-profit urban farm managed by a MacArthur Genius Award recipient, Will Allen. He is the author of a great book, The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities. His 3-acre urban farm in the middle of the city is so intensively managed, he feeds 10,000 people with it. 

And, yes, the farm does not produce just  vegetables. Growing Power's livestock includes worms, fish, poultry, and even goats, as can be seen in this video. The compost from the livestock, especially the worms, is vital to growing vegetables as sustainably and intensively as this farm does.

Perhaps those who, like Mr. King, cannot imagine chickens in urban areas are unaware that they are raised, legally, even in dense urban areas like Chicago and New York City. 

That's right! 

Residents, even apartment dwellers, raise chickens in communal gardens in the Bronx and Brooklyn. A non-profit in New York City, called "Just Food," educates city residents and helps them to set up and maintain these kinds of positive, healthy, communal spaces. This video shows the fantastic results of their efforts.

If our local zoning administrators plan to advise against hens due to urban density, they had better think again. If these positive programs can happen in Milwaukee and New York City, certainly they can happen in Chesapeake. Our city is less dense, I am sure, and has fewer residents than these major metropolitan areas.  

Chesapeake, Virginia, does, indeed have "food deserts" according to the USDA. It seems to us that local zoning should work with City Council to address this problem, and to study how community gardens and urban hens might work as part of the solution to it. People, even low-income ones, even minorities, even apartment-dwellers, have the right to control their own food supply, and reasonable accommodations should be made to those who want to go about this responsibly. The community, this means the rest of us, should help them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When and Why Were Hens Banned in Chesapeake?

I belong to a group, "4 Chesapeake Hens," that is trying to amend zoning laws in Chesapeake, VA, to allow more backyard hens as pets. At Andy Shneider, the Chicken Whisperer's and our local library's suggestion, I contacted our zoning office to find out exactly when and why hens were banned at most local residences. Here is the bulk of the reply I received from John King, our Zoning Administrator:

Article VI, table of permitted and conditional use,  of the original City of Chesapeake Zoning Ordinance, adopted May 27, 1969, indicated that livestock was permitted in the C-1, conservation district and the A-1, agriculture districts. Chickens were not permitted in any residential district with the exception of RE-1. Chickens were conditional (required a use permit) in the RE-1, residential estate district. Although there have been changes to the ordinance throughout the years, the prohibition on keeping chickens in the residential districts (with the exception of the RE-1) has remained in effect since the initiation of the zoning ordinance.

This answers the "when," but not the "why," part of my question. I plan to follow up to see if we can get any more information. Does anyone else have the local knowledge to answer this question, or are there suggestions about where to research the answer? Let us know!

***Update on  7/26/2012:

I received a return call from John King, the Zoning Administrator, this morning. He was helpful and polite. I explained that his email answered the question regarding WHEN hens were banned from most residential areas of Chesapeake, but it didn't answer the question of WHY.

His answer did not satisfy us very well. He said that chickens have been zoned the way they have since the beginning of zoning in Chesapeake. The reason, according to King, is that chickens are livestock and that there are concerns about livestock in cities due to "urban density." He asserted that at the time the zoning laws were adopted, Chesapeake was becoming denser in population, and he implied the restriction on chickens as livestock was reasonable. He asked me if I could imagine every Chesapeake resident, even apartment dwellers, owning chickens. 

I appreciated his response and will answer his question about apartment dwellers in another post.

***Update on 7/26/2012
I searched through some old newspaper articles from the now-defunct daily newspaper, The Ledger-Star, at the Norfolk Public Library today. Now I am more confused than ever. Is it possible that John King's email to me, quoted above, is inaccurate? 

I found an article dated Wednesday, May 28, 1969, "Zone Plan Ends Long Stalemate," by Lloyd Lewis. It explained that Chesapeake had finally enacted a "master zoning plan" after over six years of contention. But here's the part that got my attention, and I quote:

A startling feature of the new zoning law--one which is perhaps unique among municipalities--is that it allows farming in any zone of the city.

Farming  includes the keeping of livestock. Livestock includes hogs. And there are those who do not love a hog.

Thus the new law contained a built-in source of neighborhood squabbles.

The council, quick to note this, followed up its passage of the zoning plan with the adoption of a hog law designed to keep pigs in their place.

So now, after hours of effort, I am back to my original question: When did Chesapeake pass restrictions on chickens in residential areas, and what were the reasons for the restrictions? And if, in fact, this newspaper article is accurate, and if the Zoning Department therefore cannot answer our questions honestly and accurately, should we as a community accept unsupported government assertions that are sounding to our ears more and more like, "just because"?

**Update on 11/17/12: With the help of Council Member Debbie Ritter and City Clerk Delores Moore, I found the answers to the "when" and the "why." Read here for the details.

The Chicken Activist's Letter to the Mayor

4 Chesapeake Hens' "City Council Member of the Week" is Chesapeake's mayor, Dr. Alan P. Krasnoff. We wish to thank him for asking the City Manager for more information at last night's City Council Meeting. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Mayor Alan P. Krasnoff:

On behalf of "4 Chesapeake Hens," I wish to thank you for your warm welcome at the Chesapeake City Council Meeting last night. The progress of our online petition, mentioned in my speech, may be viewed at

We also thank you for requesting a staff report from the City Manager. Our group has begun some to share research of its own at You, the City Manager, or anyone else who is interested, may view this research online. Some of the videos, in particular, are enlightening; others are adorable! I particularly like the television interviews with residential flock owners in Nashville and in New York City.  The page has numerous references to magazine articles and to books, as well.

If there is anything our group can do to facilitate the process of informing City Council or of making appropriate changes to the zoning laws, please feel free to contact us. 

My contact information followed, of course!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

4 Chesapeake Hens at City Council

We are meeting at the Chesapeake City Council at 6 PM tonight! A reporter for a local paper, the Chesapeake Clipper, part of the Virginian Pilot, has promised to meet us there. This will be nice follow-up to our recent publicity on local station WTKR News Channel 3.

Our online petition now has over 590 signatures. I have prepared not only a speech for the City Council, but I have compiled comments from the online petition that we hope they will accept and read. It is past our initial deadline for signatures, but we have received so many more due to the publicity, that we are waiting a little while so those who are interested can still sign.

We are starting to compile research for members City Council and others who may be interested. There is talk of our group being scheduled for a future work session, so we want to be prepared. Our research efforts in support of our petition are available online through Google Docs.

***Update: My speech, available here, was received well.  Andrea Ball Margrave thoroughly refuted the memo the City had sent us with outdated and erroneous information. Watch our speeches to Chesapeake City Council regarding the efforts of our group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, on this video!! Fast forward to approximately 2:22 for Mary Lou's speech, and then Andrea's starts at approx the 2:25 mark.

Thanks, Mayor Alan Krasnoff, for your interest in asking for more information (approx 2:32 mark)! He asks the City Manager to prepare a staff report, a good sign for us.

The mayor said something about "moving on this," although what he meant by that, none of us is sure. Two reporters, one from the Pilot and one from the Clipper, were there, so we are hoping to get more publicity for our efforts. City Council Member Robert Ike is working behind the scenes to get a change in the zoning process moving forward.

So far, so good.

*** Update on 7/30/12: Marjon Rostami wrote a nice article about our efforts in today's Virginian-Pilot. So far the public's comments have been very positive about the idea, and we are getting new "likes" on our Facebook page. If even a percentage of these fans are willing to get more actively involved, this will bode well for an even bigger groundswell of support at future City Council meetings.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Kiva Lending

I've been having fun helping others through an organization called Kiva enables people to make micro-loans, as little as $25.00, to others around the world. The loans help people in developing countries to start up or expand small businesses. For a cute and short video that explains how this works, click here. The key concept is that anyone with $25.00 to spare can loan. In this internet age, anyone, not just the super wealthy man or woman, can be a philanthropist.

My first $25.00 Kiva loan was through an anonymous donor, who actually financed the loan and will receive the repayment. But the anonymous donor allowed others to choose the recipients. I chose Dinina Yuli from Peru. Through Kiva she received $1,125.00 to buy groceries to stock her grocery store, a little business that she has on Sundays. This loan is 50% repaid, although, like I said, the repayment goes to the actual donor of the money.

It felt so good to help Dinina Yuli, I was hooked! I began to look for someone to loan my own hard-earned cash to. I discovered Saadiya from Iraq, who needed just $50.00 to get full funding for a loan request of $1,500 toward her beauty salon. I decided I could spare that much cash to help a woman trying to help her family in a war-torn country.

I just received my first repayment today, a total of 8% of the loan. It should take about 14 more months to receive full repayment. When I do, I plan to loan this money again.

We in the United States are fortunate. The world is a harsh place, people struggle, and this is a way to make it a little bit better, one person and one loan at a time. If you would like a free trial through an anonymous donor to get started like I did, click here, and make a loan while the offer lasts.

**One caveat if you are loaning your own funds: there are risks to this kind of lending, so it is important to choose carefully and to consider your funds a true gift if for some reason they are not repaid. Kiva's website lays out the potential pitfalls if you read all the details carefully before you loan.

**Update on 9/20/12: Dinina Yuli has fallen in arrears on her repayment for some reason. She's still repaying, according to the website; she's behind schedule, though. This is the money that is going back to the anonymous donor. I hope he or she doesn't mind!

Saadiya has repaid me 25% of the money I loaned her. i.e. $12.50, in good faith. I wonder how her life and her beauty business has changed with the generator she bought? I wish there were some way of knowing! I'm hoping that the very act of her repaying us means that she's doing better than she was before, and that the generator has been an improvement to her life.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

United States Equine Rescue League

A magnificent horse helps its less fortunate brethren
I spent a good part of my day volunteering at a concession stand at a horse show put on by the Suffolk Horse Show Association at Pachanga Farms. Proceeds from the event benefited the regional chapter of the United States Equine Rescue League, or USERL. It is a non-profit organization "founded for the protection of equines," meaning horses and their relatives, such as mules and donkeys.

My friend Amy, a friend to all equines
A good friend of mine, Amy Woodard, is deeply involved with this group. I have heard much about the amazing work this team of committed men and women do to rescue, foster, rehabilitate and re-home horses. I have seen some of it, and I can only feel admiration for their tremendous efforts.

 If you think nobody would neglect or abuse an animal as large and magnificent as a horse, think again! USERL takes in horses that are so skinny and malnourished that it is a miracle they live.

Some don't.

There is a scoring system for the condition of horses or any other animal. USERL unfortunately sees and takes in horses with a body condition score as low as 1. These horses are skin and bones. There is literally no fat to be found anywhere on the body. They are so weak, they may not even be able to stand. They often have had others in their herd whose bones lie somewhere in the pasture where USERL finds them. Other horses have not received the handling, training, veterinary care, or even farrier services that they need.

Horses' hooves need regular farrier care and trimming, at least every six to eight weeks. Lack of such care can lead to extremely painful and even life-threatening conditions. USERL has taken in horses that have had no attention to their feet for years.

It's horrible. If I were to post pictures and detailed explanations,  readers would not be able to sleep at night.

In case you think this type of neglect and cruelty is an occasional problem, think again. USERL chapters in the North Carolina and Virginia regions get calls and new cases every week! They have even had to respond to well-publicized cases where dozens of horses have had to be rescued from hoarders.

Can you imagine what it takes to feed and care for an animal that is as much as 1,000 lbs. underweight? Now multiply that by 60 animals or so, and you see the kinds of obstacles the brave volunteers for this rescue group face... and face again!

If you are reading this post and live in some other countries, this may come as a surprise to you. In your country there might be a market for horse meat, and so you might expect unwanted horses to wind up on the dinner table instead of slowly starving in someone's paddock or barn. But most people in the United States would no more eat horses than they would their own pet dogs and cats. The culture has a reverence for them that is connected with their role in building our young country. Mustangs had a role in the taming of the West, and so cowboys and horses have a cultural mystique.

Yours truly working with our best customer
Horses are beautiful and noble animals. It is a shame that a culture that has so much respect for its horses is not doing all it can to protect them from harm. I, for one, am glad for the hard and often unappreciated work of USERL in our region. Kudos to the Suffolk Horse Show Association and its fine members for hosting this event. I was glad to devote some small part of my time, energy, and money to help them, even if only for one day.

For more pictures, visit this set on Flickr.

Update on 12/8/12: USERL just released his beautiful video highlighting some of the majestic horses this group has rescued over the past 15 years. Just in time for Christmas but enjoy it any time of year!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Chicken Activist Strikes Again!

The cameraman liked our asparagus beds
My garden and I had last-minute visitors yesterday. One was Reed Andrews, a news reporter for WTKR Channel 3, a regional television station. The other was his cameraman.

Reed had learned about "4 Chesapeake Hens," our local grassroots activist group. We are trying to change the zoning laws in Chesapeake, Virginia, so that more residents can have up to six laying hens as household pets. Currently properties must be zoned agricultural or be "Residential Estates" of 3 acres or more to have hens. Our online petition for change has 562 signatures as I type this.

I was happy to tell Reed about my longing for urban chickens, about my garden, and about the benefits of keeping laying hens. I spoke of property rights and of individual rights, and how the current zoning law is an infringement upon both. I expressed appreciation for the support our group has received from City Councilman Robert Ike.

Reed and his team did a great job. What a cute report! It even featured two illegal hens from a Chesapeake neighborhood who are in need of amnesty! We were the leading story on last night's 11 PM news. I was called Mary Beth instead of Mary Lou Burke, but I won't quibble. The title of the news report was, "Could Chickens Flock to Chesapeake?"

Will the news coverage help us get laying hens?

Time will tell!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More Chicken Activism!

Dear Suzy Kelly,

It was nice to meet you tonight after the City Council Meeting. I appreciate your willingness to do some research on the matter of urban micro-flocks and local zoning ordinances.

I am working on your concerns about chicken waste. I have contacted "" for expert advice about the potential impacts, positive or negative, of chicken manure and related compost piles on our watershed. I will let you know when and if I get a reply. In the meantime, I found this article that talks about the waste of chickens vs. other household pets and its uses in the garden: I am sure you could find other articles, or perhaps some universities have research they can share. Everything I have read says that a small flock of hens produces less poop than dogs or cats, that it is less offensive to the nose, and that unlike dog or cat waste it can be composted.

Chickens get the reputation for smelling bad due to large commercial operations, which keep thousands of birds in a small, confined space, and they do not clean the hen house often enough. Any animal would smell bad when raised in such deplorable conditions.

In response to your question about the hens' housing set-up, that can be different according to the owners' preferences and what the zoning laws allow. There are permanent coops that are like sheds, there are permanent pens or runs, and there are portable coops and runs. The portable set-ups are sometimes called "chicken tractors." There are a variety of examples of coops and runs at Some are aesthetically quite pleasing.

I have an acquaintance whose property is zoned R-E 1. She can and does legally have four hens as pets. If (sic) have contacted her to see if we can arrange to make her set-up available to you and to other Council Members who would like to see what a well-managed micro-flock looks, sounds, and smells like. Perhaps a field-trip can be arranged? Let us know!

**Update on 7/18/12: Suzy Kelly wants to take us up on the field trip to the pet hens. Also, we've been contacted by a local television news station about a potential future story. We have over 500 signatures on our online petition. Things are looking up!

Robert Ike, City Council Member of the Week

I attended tonight's Chesapeake City Council meeting and got to meet Robert Ike, Jr. He had some positive words to say about our efforts to amend the zoning laws to allow micro-flocks of backyard laying hens. Here is what I emailed him in response:

Dear Robert Ike,

Thank you for your words of support for our group's goal to change the zoning laws in Chesapeake to allow more residents to have 2-6 laying hens. Please feel free to contact me as a resource on this issue. Our Facebook fan page is We have an online petition at with 478 signatures, and we are collecting more signatures in the community. We would be pleased to work with you or any other City Council members who are willing to effect change. We appreciate any efforts you make on our behalf.
We are making him our "City Council Member of the Week" on our Facebook fan page to thank him for his words of support. His contact information is at

**Update 7/18/12 We have received our first response from a member of City Council, and such a supportive one it is.  Here is Robert Ike's email:

Mary Lou,

As I told you in chambers, I had a hen house in the yard behind me for over 3 years.  I only discovered it when I replaced my back fence.  They were quiet, odorless and I'm sure provided the owners with nutritious fresh eggs.

In this economy many people are reducing their grocery bill with home gardens and laying hens. We need to allow our residents the option.  I'm sure it is a great thing for children to experience as well!

Best of luck with your project, please let me know if I may be of service.

Councilman Robert C. Ike, Jr.

Update: Robert Ike introduced an ordinance to legalize up to six hens in a pen in residential backyards on November 20, 2012. The ordinance passed, 6-3.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dealing With Problems in My Garden

When I write about my garden, I like to take pictures of what looks pretty and to celebrate successes. But my garden has problems, just like any other.

My heritage pole beans, "Lazy Wife Greasy Beans," are supposed to be flavorful, disease resistant, and prolific. They have grown tall and beautiful but have not produced many beans. And the beans I did get did not taste as good as my bush beans. I've read that it is helpful to "go vertical" to increase yields in tight spaces, but it didn't work as far as the beans this year. I am not sure if the pole beans are not getting enough sun or space, or if the soil is too acidic, or what. I pulled several of the plants up to make room and light for the tomatoes and peppers around it. I planted bush beans in their stead. There may still be time to get another harvest. Next year I'll try the pole beans in a different spot and add some extra lime, since beans like alkaline soil.

One of my three yellow squash plants never produced well, so I also pulled it up. There's no sense in it taking up space and nutrients if it's not producing fruit. What little it has produced has tended to go soft before I can harvest it. My watermelon will need more space soon, anyway. The other two yellow squash plants are a good size and producing enough squash for us, but  it is succumbing to powdery mildew, a chronic problem here in the hot, humid South. I should probably have sprayed my vines at the first sign of the mildew earlier in the year. I will probably have to pull the two plants up soon to prevent the spread of the disease, but I am loathe to do it, because the plants are still flowering and producing well, and we like to have the summer squash. My research says the best way to deal with powdery mildew is to plant resistant plants and to plant and to be sure plants get enough air circulation and enough sun. More ideas for next year.

I found squash bug larvae on one of my butternut squashes. I think I squished most or all of them with the palms of my hand. I didn't see any other bugs or eggs on the undersides of the leaves, but I'll continue to keep a look out. I need to find a board to put in the bed. Squash bugs like to hide underneath wood. If you get up early and go out in the cool of the morning, before they get active, you can flip over the board and kill as many as you can.

On a positive note, when I pulled up the pole beans I found a sweet bell pepper, the first of the season. It had been hidden behind the other plants, so I had no idea it was there. I harvested it and scrambled it with some other vegetables and tofu for breakfast. Yum!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Dog Park at Chesapeake City Park

As I mentioned in a previous post, my dog Elvis and I have started going to a local dog park at Chesapeake City Park. Elvis enjoyed his visit, and I plan to take him back.

Elvis the Walker Hound at the dog park

The park has several features I like. It is a large space, so dogs have room to spread out and not get too crowded. It gives Elvis plenty of room to roam around, to run, to sniff everything, and to mark the place up with urine, a favorite dog activity. Humans like their email, but dogs love their  "pee-mail."

The park has reasonable rules that are posted: no females in heat, no intact males over one year old, no food in the park, dogs must be off-leash and vaccinated, no digging, no young children, poop must be picked up, they must have special tags, etc. The rules are for the safety of the dogs and their humans and to prevent fights.

Doggy water fountain
I like how the park has a separate entrance and exit, and how there are double gates to help prevent escapes. The fencing is tight to the ground to discourage escape artists. There is shade, a picnic table and a bench for the humans, and a water fountain for the dogs. There are stations that provide waste pick-up bags and lots of trash cans, so I was disappointed to see that some owners have not been picking up after their dogs as they should. There's really no excuse.

Elvis and I met some nice other dogs: two Labrador retrievers and Buddy, an elderly miniature schnauzer.


A chocolate Lab
I did some research when I got home from the park. Elvis had such a good time at the park, I felt a little guilty we didn't bring our other two dogs along. But there are online articles that explain that there are downsides to dog parks, that owners need to know about dog park etiquette, and that dog parks aren't good for all dogs. Dogs can learn to be bullies or aggressive at the parks if owners aren't careful. Other dogs find them annoying or even frightening. And while Elvis enjoyed his visit, I suspect our other two would have found it stressful.

Update on 11/10/12: I inadvertently upset some (human) patrons of the dog park today, when I insisted they round up their dogs and move them away from the entrance gate. After Elvis and I  entered, I explained that it's considered rude behavior to allow your dogs to crowd a dog as it's entering the park. That was news even to the folks who were regulars at the park. The reason is that dogs don't like to be crowded all at once, and the gate itself can lead to something called "barrier aggression," which is something we don't want our dogs to learn or practice.

For some other good Do's and Don'ts for dog parks, visit the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Low Sodium Blueberry and Summer Squash Muffins

I made my family fantastic muffins last night with summer squash from my garden and blueberries from our online food co-op. Zucchini would also work. I chopped up two small summer squash with a food processor we really like, the Cuisinart Deluxe 11-Cup Food Processor DLC-8S - Cuisinart Pro.  You may use other flours, but I am particularly fond of King Arthur. If sodium and cholesterol are not issues for your family, you can substitute one tablespoon regular baking powder for the Featherweight, and two large eggs for the egg whites. Here is the recipe:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 12 muffin tins.

  Dry Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • Dash of ground cloves
  • Dash of lemon peel, optional
  • 2 tablespoons Featherweight Baking Powder

  • 1 cup finely diced yellow summer squash
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained
Wet Ingredients:
  • 4 egg whites from large eggs, beaten well
  • 1/4 cup milk or soy milk (I used vanilla)
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • Heaping 1/4 cup packed brown sugar; more to taste

 Stir together the dry ingredients. Stir in the add-ins. Beat together the wet ingredients, fold them into the dry ingredients, and mix just until the batter is completely wet. If the batter seems too dry, add a little more milk or soy milk. Immediately ladle batter into muffin tins. Reduce oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until done.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Elvis the Walker Hound

As I mentioned in a previous post, we live with a Treeing Walker Coonhound. For why the breed is called a TREEING walker hound, watch this incredible Youtube video. We got him from the SPCA of Northeastern NC in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

 My Walker's name is Elvis, after the old Elvis Presley song. Like the song says, he does whine a lot at times, mostly when he is bored, which is a lot of the time, despite our best efforts to exercise, socialize, and play with him.

We have purchased four high-quality, durable dog beds for Elvis and our two other dogs, but Elvis likes to spend much of his indoor time curled up in a lawn chair. How he manages to fit, or to climb in and out of it, I don't really know, but he manages.

Elvis, the Treeing Walker Coonhound, relaxing at home
I am proud of Elvis for learning how to walk nicely on a loose leash when he is wearing a buckle collar. We will often put a martingale collar on him, instead of the buckle collar, when we are out walking, though. He can and will back out of a regular collar or even a harness if he smells game nearby. Walker Hounds have no sense around cars at all when they are on a scent, so we try our best not to let him get loose. We also have him micro-chipped to aid in recovery efforts.

The difficulty with teaching him to walk on a loose leash is that Elvis pays humans almost no mind when he is outside. Around the house he is an athletic, energetic doll, but outside he is an athletic, energetic hunter. Period. All he's interested in is his environment and "sniffies" and finding potential prey. After all, he's bred to hunt.

I train my dogs using positive methods. I refuse to use prong, pinch, or choke collars for reasons that have been outlined in many places on the web. But the #1 tool in my positive-training arsenal, food, has no effect on Elvis when he's outside. So what did I do?

I used the environment itself to train Elvis. When he acts in a mannerly fashion and keeps the leash loose, he gets to move forward, sniff, and move in the direction he wants (within reason). When he pulls forward, we stop. If he pulls like mad toward a sniffy, I immediately drag him in another direction so he can't have it. I walk in tight circles with the dog on the outside, almost like lunging a horse, and then resume the walk with Elvis in the proper position when he calms down again. I also walked him a lot in the (boring) middle of the street and only let him over on the nice, sniffy grass when the leash was loose. (Just be cautious not to walk your dog on hot pavement on hot, sunny days. You'll burn the pads of his feet!)

I also used a lot of "micro-stops" to discourage him from getting into a pattern of starting up, pulling to the end of the leash, stopping, then starting over. I can't describe the micro-stops very well, but Ian Dunbar has described something similar in some of his books. The basic idea is, when I start up again, I barely do so--maybe leaning forward or taking a step of an inch or two. Elvis will tend to immediately get excited and pull to the end of the leash, causing me to stop completely. After a series of these false starts, he'll start to hesitate or wait when I lean forward. BINGO! We move forward and keep moving forward at as fast a pace as I can walk comfortably. When and if he gets to the end of the leash, we stop immediately and restart the process of micro-starts. After a while, Elvis will be very careful not to tighten the leash and stop the process of moving.

The most important thing is that I am also VERY consistent about never allowing the pulling. This required a lot of patience on both our parts at first, until Elvis, who is very smart, figured out the rules. Now I can take him anywhere on a collar.

Elvis having fun at the dog park
 Today was Elvis' first visit to the Dog Park at Chesapeake City Park. Recently, when we've been walking, Elvis has been straining to the end of his leash, barking, play-bowing, and acting like a madman (maddog?) when he sees another dog. Since he gets along with other dogs, I took him to our veterinarian for the required kennel cough vaccination, got him a city dog tag and then, with the tag and his immunization records, I got him a  tag for the dog park. I figured if he got some off-leash playtime with other dogs, it would satisfy a need, and he would be calmer around other dogs when I walked him on his leash.

The Chesapeake Arboretum
So far, it seems to work. He enjoyed the dog park, met some other dogs, ran around a lot less than I expected, and sniffed a lot. Then I took him to the nearby Chesapeake Arboretum for a walk on the trails through the woods, which he seemed to enjoy even more than the dog park.

Probably better sniffies!

Anyway, we met some other dogs on-leash on the trail, and although he was excited to see them, he acted within limits I could live with: no lunging, barking, etc. I don't have ESP, but I predict more trips to the dog park in Elvis' future!

The Chesapeake Arboretum is pretty, but the SNIFFIES are wonderful!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Virginia Beach Woman Faces Fines, Jail, Over Hens

On Tuesday, July 10, 2012, I had the chance to meet Andy Schneider, the "Chicken Whisperer." Andy hosts a nationally syndicated radio show about chickens. He is also a national spokesperson for the national backyard-chicken movement. He has been featured on CBS, CNN, and in The Economist. He's also the author, along with Brigid McCrea, of a book, The Chicken Whisperer's Guide to Keeping Chickens. The co-host of his radio show is Patricia Foreman, author of City Chicks, one of my favorite books on keeping hens.

As the founder of a local group called 4 Chesapeake Hens, I felt I had to meet Andy as soon as I learned that he was going make an appearance in nearby Virginia Beach, Virginia. Our group is trying to get the zoning laws changed in Chesapeake, Virginia, so that more city residents can keep laying hens on our property. Andy has a reputation for being extremely helpful to groups like ours.

His reputation is well deserved. Andy was down to earth, polite, thoughtful, a wealth of information,  and fun to have around. He was in town to support Tracy Gugal-Okroy, the self-proclaimed "Virginia Beach Chicken Outlaw." Tracy, a hair stylist, keeps between twenty and thirty hens on her 3/4 acre property in Virginia Beach. She claims her "girls" are clean, well housed, and very well kept. But her property is not zoned agricultural, and chickens are considered livestock in Virginia Beach, just as they are in most of Chesapeake. Tracy refuses to get rid of her backyard pets. She now faces a court appearance and possibly fines. She vows that she will not re-home her flock even if it means jail time. This is a real possibility for her if future court appearances go against her.

Tracy and Andy at City Hall
Andy had come all the way from Georgia to speak to the mayor and Virginia Beach City Council as an expert on backyard chickens, but it was not to be. There was a mix-up on the dates that the public is allowed to address the council, and the mayor would not make an exception to the rule.

It's a shame, because the council members of the City of Virginia Beach, just like those of Chesapeake, sorely need education about the potential benefits of backyard hens in our communities and how the benefits clearly outweigh any potential downside.

I did pick up some useful tips from Andy, enjoyed delightful conversation with fellow chicken enthusiasts at Croc's 19th St. Bistro, and came away with fresh appreciation for those who are willing to engage in civil disobedience when the law clearly tramples on our rights. While I have no personal desire to keep twenty-plus hens, until our communities come up with just and reasonable laws regarding the keeping of hens as pets that preserve our property rights, I see civil disobedience as possibly justified. And if Tracy has kept the hens as humanely as she claims, it is abhorrent that she could be facing jail time for her love of her birds.

Will justice prevail? Time will tell.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Horse Manure

“You can’t chemical your way out of soil infertility” 

We finally found a source of horse manure that is definitely free of a chemical that causes toxic compost. The owners of the property keep bees, so they never spray any chemicals, and they said they don't feed hay. We found them through our local Freecycle List. Actually, we found two sources, I mean horses:

Annie the Escape Artist
It seems strange to me that property owners are willing to give up compostable manure. In my eyes, manure is valuable, and getting rid of it, the loss of a great opportunity. If I had a couple of horses, I would be eagerly harvesting their manure and mixing it with sources of carbon. The carbon both decreases the smell and helps lock in the manure's valuable nitrogen. When the compost pile cooled off, I would use it for vermicomposting. I'd sell the red wrigglers or feed them as a source of protein to my chickens . I'd compost the chicken manure, too.

Then I would use the composted manure and the worms' castings to improve the soil in my lawn and gardens. Heck, if I had more compost than I could handle, I suppose I'd sell that, too.

All this guy wants is for us to leave the gate open...
...Back to reality. Of course, I do not have horses nor am I even allowed chickens without changes to the zoning laws in Chesapeake, Virginia. So Don and I headed off yesterday evening to a local farm. We gathered the hopefully-nontoxic manure, and then we collapsed with exhaustion. Don always seems to pick the hottest days of the year (or the muddiest) to go get horse manure.

Don working in the heat
This morning I loaded about half the manure into our ComposTumbler.  I added some weeds, some yard waste from my garden, some scraps from my kitchen, some hay and shavings mixed with manure from a local guinea-pig and rabbit rescue, and some clean, non-toxic sawdust we collected from a local woodworker, again through Freecycle. Tomorrow I will start to load up one of our other composters with the rest of the horse manure combined with more sawdust. I like the tumbler better because it composts faster. The compost is so easy to turn and aerate!

On the other hand, a regular compost pile is nice, too. It is pleasant to just compile the ingredients and then let the compost slowly break down while we go about our daily lives.

The farm also has peacocks, dogs, and a mini-pig
Composting is generally a pretty easy and forgiving process. Just put the ingredients together in an appropriate bin and let mother nature take its course. There are many composters available on the market, or you can build yourself an inexpensive 4x4x4' bin out of scrap wood and chicken wire or welded fencing.

If you are new to composting, my advice is to read up a little bit, so you know what to avoid composting, and then just start. If you want to garden but don't want to turn compost or even dig a bed, make the compost right in the garden bed using the no-till lasagna layering method. Just be sure to plan at least a season ahead. It is a great feeling to keep waste out of the landfill. It also feels great to take other people's garbage-- or sanitation problem, in the case of the horses-- and turn it into something useful and good, like flowers or vegetables. For more on toxic compost, check out this article at Mother Earth News.

Mother Nature is creative; sometimes we just need to help her along!

**Update: For an overview of different composting methods, check out this website from the University of Illinois.

Update: Hens are now legal in my backyard in Chesapeake, VA, with certain restrictions.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Potted Herbs Beside the House

We grow potted plants along a sunny wall outside our house. I probably will move the herbs to the main garden behind the house eventually. For now, it is very convenient to have them within easy reach of the kitchen, since several of the plants are herbs. We grow thyme, oregano, parsley, a little lettuce, tomatoes, and flowers. The tomatoes are from the "Little Tomato That Could," a plant that came up last fall. We nurtured it all winter long.

The mixture of herbs, tomatoes, and flowers attracts beneficial insects and predators to the garden. We haven't had problems with insect pests in this corner of the garden all summer.

Lettuce and Oregano

The Little Tomato That Could
One of the logs from a tree Don recently trimmed to give my vegetable-gardens more sun is quite pretty. I asked him to cut the log in such a way that I can move it to my garden and use it as a planter. I am thinking I will put some soil in the hollowed-out area and plant shallow-rooted crops like lettuce in the fall. It will be decorative and a little useful.
Marigolds Attract Beneficials


Potential Container for Lettuces

Another View

Monday, July 2, 2012

Attracting Predators to the Garden

Black Swallowtail Caterpillars in my dill
I try to use eco-friendly gardening practices. This means I use lots of compost and minimize or eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, fungicides, and other "-cides"  when I garden. When I do use a chemical, I will use an organic one, and only if other options have failed. I try to attract birds, wasps, and other predators to my garden to eat caterpillars and other pests so that nature does much of my bug-killing for me. If I wanted to kill off the caterpillars in my dill,for example, I would hand pick them off and squish them. But it's the end of the season, the dill is bolting, anyway, the predators do need food, and I happen to like Black Swallowtail butterflies, so the 'pillars pictured get a break, at least from me.

It's amazing how fast caterpillars grow and how fast they eat up plants, though. They have enormous appetites. If I needed that dill, these caterpillars would be history, pretty as they are!

Sunflowers attract beneficials

The first rule to attracting predators is not to kill them. This is one reason why I use pesticides and other "-cides" very sparingly. "-Cide" is Latin for "kill." Pesticides on the vegetables I am going to cook and eat are not only bad for the health of my family, but they can easily kill off the "good bugs," birds, and other creatures I actually want to attract to my vegetable beds. If I must use a pesticide or other chemical, I use it sparingly and according to the directions on the label. I spray in the evening, after the bees and other pollinators have mostly gone to bed for the night.

Birds need water!
Birdbaths are an easy way to attract robins and other birds to your garden. Look for one that is easy to clean. It should be shallow at the edges and then gradually become deeper towards the middle. Birds need not only to drink fresh water, but they also need to take baths, too. They like to dip their feet into a birdbath and then gradually walk down to a depth that is comfortable for them before they actually start bathing.

Place your birdbath away from bushes or anything that can hide cats; birds feel vulnerable when their wings are wet. But try to put the birdbath near some low-hanging tree branches, fence posts, or other locations where the birds can shake off the excess water, look around, and preen themselves for a bit once they've finished their bath. Robins really like to visit my garden and birdbaths, and I like to see them, since they and their young have a huge appetite for caterpillars and other insects.

Speaking of insects, be sure to dump out the stale water in your birdbath every couple of days in the summer, and replace it with fresh water. This prevents mosquitoes from breeding in your birdbath. Be sure to check it frequently and replace water as it dries out, too. A dry birdbath does the birds no good! Keep the birdbath full so the birds keep their habit of stopping there frequently. Keep it clean so the birds don't get sick from the water.

Spicy Nasturtiums are not only flowers, but edible too!
Flowers will attract not only the pollinators that you need for your tomatoes, squash, and other vegetables to set fruit, but they will also feed and attract predatory insects. This year I have planted cosmos, nasturtiums, marigolds, and other flowers in and around my vegetable beds. Some, like the nasturtiums, are actually edible. So far the different kinds of flowers have been growing at different rates and blooming at different times of  year, which is great, because pollinators and predatory insects need food all season long. Marigolds and sunflowers have particularly strong reputations for being easy to grow and good at attracting beneficial insects and keeping the "bad bugs" away.

"Cottage Red" marigold
I recently read that mint plants attract beneficial wasps and predatory flies to the garden. We tend to think of wasps and flies as bad, but this isn't necessarily so. I moved my potted mint, which had started to flower, out near my vegetable beds. Every time I look I see predator flies and wasps of different sizes and colors greedily feeding at the nectar from these tiny mint flowers. I am careful to leave the wasps alone, and they don't bother to sting me.
Wasps love mint flowers
The wasps feed themselves from flower nectar, then they go hunting for caterpillars and other bugs to feed their larvae-babies. Just be sure to keep your mint in a BIG pot or contain it in some other way, because mint will take over your garden if you let it! If it goes to seed, watch for it germinating in unwanted places in the spring, and pull it up before it has a chance to establish itself. It easily becomes a weed.