Sunday, December 30, 2012

Garden Catalog Mania!

The garden catalogs are arriving almost daily. My favorites so far are from Johnny's Selected Seeds and from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I haven't committed to any purchases yet, except for ordering 18 sweet potato slips, but every time I look at the catalogs I change my mind about what I want.

Every year I tell myself I'm just going to be patient and buy some started plants from a local store, or direct seed when the time comes, but I can almost never wait. I want to give horseradish a try, since Don likes horseradish mixed with mustard on the frozen pretzels he likes to heat and eat.

How about my readers? What region of the world do YOU live in, and what are your plans for your gardens this year, if any? What are you already doing, or what preparations are you making?  Please leave me a comment and let us know!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Asparagus in December?

 We just started new asparagus beds this year. We haven't harvested any, because everything we've read has said to let the plants develop and the crowns grow before harvesting. In the second year, we can harvest for two weeks, and then for four to six weeks in subsequent years. The bed should last for fifteen years or more.

Now I have a dilemma. Our Purple Passion asparagus is coming up in December! So is that the end of last season, even though I've taken all the dying, yellow vegetation and thrown it in my compost piles this fall, or is it the beginning of the spring harvest, and therefore a good thing to harvest? Or will the frost kill it off so quickly, it won't matter?

I'll post some pictures of winter beds, mulched with leaves from our yard, in case you don't believe me. You'll see the garlic, kale, and mustard that you'd *expect* to see growing this time of year, but you'll see the asparagus as well. I'm also growing Russian Comfrey as a high-protein supplement for our future laying hens. Don is working on our coop every chance he gets.

Purple Passion Asparagus with Russian Comfrey in the Background

Birdbath with ice in it; taken the same day

Garlic and kale

Winter garden bed with kale, mustard, garlic, and sage

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Trip to Washington, D.C.

Don and I traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and Wednesday. What a great trip!

We parked at nearby Harbor Park in Norfolk at the new Amtrak station. From there, we took Amtrak's bus to Newport News. We rode the train to Washington, D.C.  The trip was very relaxing. Don and I could get up, walk around, stretch our legs, read, go to the restroom, use our cell phones, eat in the dining car, etc. The views were pretty, too, although the windows were a little grimy.

Don and I at the Washington Ballet

Once in D.C. we took the Metro to our conveniently-located Club Quarters Hotel.Tuesday night, we watched Septime Webre's Nutcracker, performed by the Washington Ballet, at the beautiful Warner Theatre. It was enjoyable. It's a version of the Nutcracker with distinctly American allusions, such as to Native Americans, George Washington as the Nutcracker, etc. The only world-class Nutcracker I had ever seen was the Boston Ballet, so it was interesting to see the differences. The music and dancing were, of course, very beautiful. This production had lots of children in it, who were very cute!

The Beautiful Warner Theatre

On Wednesday our train didn't leave until 2:30 PM, so we had some time to explore. We visited some of the museums and walked around and took in the sights. We didn't have a bad meal the whole time we were there! A civil war photography exhibit was a highlight, especially one where the old stereoscopic prints were re-done as a 3-D exhibit. We felt like we were standing right there, like we could touch the subjects of the photographs. Another highlight was a sculpture by Xu Bing, "Monkeys Grasping for the Moon." There were lots of exhibits on the theme of Muslim and Arab culture, which were all very enlightening.

Don and I got a lot of reading done on the train. I finished a Dale Carnegie book, and I read all of a well-written novel, The Song of Achilles. I'd bought it for $3.99 on my Nook, a great deal! Our train did have internet access for those who were so inclined, but Don and I deliberately left the computers home this trip. We are already thinking of what other adventures we can start together, especially by train.

Another view of the Warner Theatre

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Norfolk's Local-Foods Activist Extrordinaire

In an earlier post I mentioned how I would like to do something personally to bring fresh, healthy, local foods to residents of food deserts in Chesapeake and the surrounding areas. I'm also looking for ways to share my love of gardening. Recently, I've started donating fresh, local produce to the region's food bank through the Coastal Farms online food co-op. But I've been wanting to do more with my own personal time and energies in this direction. But where, and how?

The beginnings of an answer may have come to me today when I met with Bev Sell, the General Manager of the Five Points Community Farm Market in nearby Norfolk. Five Points has its own CSA program, a local-foods market that sells meat, dairy, seafood, and produce, and a lovely little cafe. It houses several small "incubator businesses," as well, all in the same building on the corner of 26th and Church St.

The market is run by a non-profit. It is close enough to the rather upscale "Ghent" area of Norfolk to attract the kinds of loyal customers that keep it profitable, but it's deliberately on the edge of a low-income district and along a bus route. The market was originally started as an attempt at urban renewal in an area of the city where the crime rate was trending upward.

The atmosphere inside the building is upbeat, energetic, friendly, and pleasant. The selection of organic and local foods is fantastic, and all the food I've tasted has been terrific. Bev has invited 4 Chesapeake Hens to participate in a Sustainable Living Fair at the Webb Center on the Campus of Old Dominion University on February 16 and 17, 2013. We will be happy to take advantage of the opportunity to educate the public about backyard laying hens.

When Bev found out I'm a teacher, her eyes lit up. She is working on a summer program for low-income city youth to attend a day camp on a farm to learn more about where food comes from, how it is grown, and the value of fresh food. The youngsters may even get a little taste of what it's like to work on a farm. She is concerned about the decline of small family farms in Virginia, and she sees this program as not only educational for the children, but hopefully as a way to encourage our youth to consider farming as a career.

I told Bev she could count me in as a volunteer during the summer months when I tend to have more time. I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chicken Coop Ideas

"4 Chesapeake Hens" has been getting inquiries about chicken coops. I prefer the idea of a movable chicken tractor, myself. Here are some ideas of compiled over time.

Legalizing coops may open up some opportunities for small businesses, like this one building cute coops:

Easty and inexpensive chicken coops to build yourself:

Free chicken coop plans along with space recommendations:

Nice how-to guide for backyard flocks from N.C. State:

Want one built for you? Money’s no object? Check out this offer from Neiman Marcus:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

4 Chesapeake Hens: How did we change the law?

 On our Facebook page, I've been getting inquiries about how our group managed to be so successful that we changed local laws regarding laying hens in residential areas, and in less than a year. Here's my short, but not so simple, answer:

It was hard work in the beginning. I started our page, "4 Chesapeake Hens," under another name in late December of 2011. We started with about two or three "likes" and grew, SLOWLY at first, from there. I tried to keep the page positive, upbeat, and informative. Even when we had few fans, I tried to post some news article about chickens with some comments every day. 

It took weeks before anyone among the fans was posting anything themselves. I took the best of those ideas and shared them on our wall. I did everything I could to publicize our page and our efforts, not just on Facebook but on Twitter, YouTube, XtraNormal,, by email, and through the local media (newspaper and television when opportunity arose). 

When we got some active supporters who made good suggestions, I followed up on the suggestions and let the membership know. I constantly invited members to MEET in person to work together on changing the law. It took months before I actually got the first committed members to join me for a face-to-face meeting. The first meeting was at a local I-Hop. 

Once I had that kind of face-to-face interaction, I invited leadership: those who consistently posted great information on our wall, made good suggestions, and used common sense and courtesy when interacting with others, I made an admin. on our wall. When folks have made suggestions that would help the cause, I've told them to run with it, putting their own energy into it, and supported them all I can.

 I've shown gratitude for everyone's hard work, and it HAS been hard work! I've tried to avoid a culture of excuses and blame; we are all volunteers and contribute what we can, when we can. I've tried to listen very carefully and to compromise and reach a consensus on important matters, even about when and where we'll meet. I've tried to be helpful, giving a ride to events to an interested fan who lacked transportation. I ask for HELP, I work with others, I provide and listen to good information, I discover what others' interests and talents are, and put them to use. 

We became a team involved in a group effort. These were people I didn't know back in December. Many have become my very good friends. "4 Chesapeake Hens" is now a fantastic team with solid leadership. We work together to make great things happen. 

This may sound like a lot of work. You don't know the half of it. But it has been worth it. Soon, my family will be enjoying fresh eggs from Buff Orpington hens cared for right here in my own backyard. We appreciate the help of Robert Ike on our City Council and of Marjon Rostami and others of the Virginian Pilot and Reed Andrews of WVEC TV.

Update 12/2/12: I mentioned data but didn't give any up above. Here are our publications that helped us convince Council:

A Case for Chesapeake Hens

Our rebuttal of the Staff Report  

Lanette Lepper's fantastic report regarding communities with similar density and how hens have had minimal impact there.

Our group's constantly-evolving Chicken Research page.

Update 1/27/14: I forgot to mention one idea that seemed to help: City Council Person of the Week. As a group we would concentrate on one local politician at a time in the weeks leading up to the vote. Our Council Members are elected at large, so this approach seemed to make sense in Chesapeake. Please note that our group developed a reputation for being well-informed and unfailingly polite. This reputation helped us, since that is, unfortunately, NOT what Council Members are used to, and so our approach helped our group stand out.