Friday, December 31, 2010

Ending The Garden Year - Starting the Garden Year

Well, it's the last day of the year.  I still can't SEE my garden for the snow (how amazing) but I'm diving into the entertaining process of reviewing this past year's gardens to see how I think they did overall  and I'm starting the always satisfying process of deciding what to change for next year.

We are shrinking our gardens substantially this coming season and my goal will be to become the most efficient gardener I can be.  I don't know about everyone else, but Rob and I really suffered in this past summer's heat.  With luck, this coming year will reward us with beautiful, gentle summer months but, regardless, I find I just can't work in the heat like I used to.  (How on earth we worked in hot high tunnels in the summer months when we had our plant nursery, I can not now imagine.)

So, most of the 12 4'x8' raised beds will be taken out. After ten years, the landscape timbers have gradually softened and rotted away on the bottom. Rather than rebuilding, we are removing.  I've gotten good enough at timing my crop rotations that we are really using only about half of them for veggie crops - the others are "permanent" berry and asparagus plantings which can now go in ground.

I've refined my veggie gardening to those things that I really, really feel I grow better than my farmstand neighbors and those things, like fresh tomatoes and lettuce, that are simply The Best when picked from one's own garden just before eating. As for the rest of the crops, like corn, potatoes, melons and.... zucchini... neighbor-friends that I enjoy are supporting their families and putting their kids through college on those veggies and I am now happy to buy from them.   And have you noticed what a new wealth of vegetables varieties the local farmstands and farmers markets now supply?  It's the result of new, imaginative shoppers who are supporting our local farmers as they expand into more varied "gourmet" varieties of vegetables and fruits!  How cool is that?

All annual plantings possible - well, reasonable -  are moving into the gardens around the house.  I'm even relocating a couple of raised beds smack into the ornamental gardens.  I've been teaching and practicing this technique for several years but am finally making the full commitment.

Edible LandscapingIf you haven't been inspired by reading (or looking at the pictures - we all know how gardeners are) in  Rosalind Creasy's Edible Landscaping books, you'll get inspired by this short article:  http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/home_blog/2010/11/rosalind-creasy-edible-landscaping-1.html
This is the author who first got me planting cabbages in the flower bed.
Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, 2nd Revised Edition
I also love this book:  Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn.  What a hoot!  There are so many wonderful edible gardening books - I practically force them on any newbie gardeners who come to the Pungo-Blackwater library.  And if you haven't checked the local libraries in the last few years, you will be awed by the number of gardening, homesteading, chicken-raising, home power and all kinds of self-sufficiency books they now stock (or at least that the VB public libraries carry).  Popular demand, once again!

Anyhow, enough rambling.  What are you going to change in 2011?  New varieties? New gardens?
It's all amazing fun, isn't it?
Happy, happy New Gardening Year!
Sybil

PS - And this year I really AM resolved that I WILL get my sugar pod peas in early enough but not so early that they don't start well. You can be my witnesses.....  Every year it seems I'm frustrated in one direction or the other - if only our spring weather would be consistent ......  :D

Monday, December 27, 2010

Raised Beds in the Snow....

Find the 14' raised beds (there should be 4 in this photo) and the nice crop of swiss chard that was under the arch....

Bonus points for noticing the hoop house high tunnel in the background.

We've never before had snow deep enough that you could not find the raised beds - and these aren't drifts!

Amazement in the garden! - Sybil

Snowstorms Finally Over in Virginia Beach....

It is beautiful - hope all the farm plants are doing well down in there under the snow. Our little farm looks very pretty with its frosting of snow....


Even though the scenery looks chilly, I know that this snow is actually protecting the more tender plants and is a blessing for the Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana) -- although this shot was taken after I'd already been out TWICE yesterday, knocking about 6" off the plants each time!


This was a "third place" snow of all time - 11.4 on the books and well over my boots here at the farm.  Undaunted, however, we brushed off the Christmas Flamingoes and they are once again bobbing triumphantly at the back door - snow or no snow!


Happy Winter, Everyone!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

God Bless The Little Things

Snow just beginning in Blackwater
"God bless the little things this Christmastide,
All the little wild things that live outside;
Little cold robins and rabbits in the snow,
Give them good faring and a warm place to go
All little young things, for his sake who died,
who was but a little thing at Christmastide."

                  ----  Margaret Murray


A Foot of Snow and more....

This truly has become a Tidewater Blizzard!  I've been out twice to clean the heavy, wet snow off branches of our large-leaved "tropical" trees, like my beloved Loquats, and shaken what I could from the Feijoa and Gardenias.  Everything was bent flat under the weight. The tiny sparrows and chickadees shelter under the umbrella of the Loquats near the porch, appreciating the feeders and the respite from the blowing snow.

Here is Cupcake, the Peacock (named for his favorite food), dashing for the warmth and protection of the chicken coop. 

As I fuss over my chooks and Cupcake, making sure they are snug and safe, I can't help but cast admiring and pitying eyes at the valiant little  sparrows and chickadees, brilliant Cardinals and voracious Mockingbirds - all of whom are cheerfully weathering this storm in the open, hopping about and gobbling up any and all seeds I make available to them. Although I don't  normally "feed birds" on a regular basis, I do put some munchies out during this kind of weather - just to make sure that they have enough energy to stay warm overnight.

My thoughts go out to those who are without shelter during this storm - humans and animals alike, wishing that all of them could have happy, warm homes like ours.

Virginia Beach Blizzard!

We are enjoying a day-after-Christmas whiteout here on the farm.  Made it out during a lull to take treats to the chickens and to refill their regular food containers.  Although a few hardy chooks were ambling about out of the cozy coop, most were content to stay inside out of the wind and snow.

The big surprise of the morning was discovering that my little cheap-o, pocket digital camera was not only taking still photos, but also videos. This was apparently because my awkward, gloved fingers were landing on a button I've never used before.  Who knew???

So, here for everyone's amusement (forgive the waving camera - I had no idea what it was doing) are two unexpected videos:  one of Cuppers (Cupcake) the peacock enjoying the warm coop and another of Mr. Chicken and the girls having a nosh at the in-coop feeder.



Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow on the Loquats!

Although it still hasn't been enough to cover the ground underneath, the loquats look lovely with their coating of fluffy, white snow.

Sometimes it is just delightful to see the garden covered in white - a cold, peaceful respite from gardening chores.  We are tucked in by the fire, reading and baking holiday cookies. No outside concerns for us today!

Alas for the poor bananas, which, once again, didn't get cut back or covered before the first hard cold.  They do come back regardless but I fear it will be another year before I ever discover how to have fruit.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lovin' Those Loquats!

Every year at this time, there is a special sense of wonder in one area of our farm.  Up against the south-facing side of our pool fence, the row of Loquat trees (Eriobotrya japonica) open their fat clusters of blossoms.  The sweet, slightly vanilla scent fills the air on any warm afternoon.  If you are standing next to or under the trees, the very air vibrates with the humming of hundreds of bees. 

This is one of the few blossoming plants in my neighborhood this time of year and every honeybee for acres around arrives to take delight and sustenance.  As far as I know, none of the immediate neighbors have hives - I haven't seen any on my walks - so these may be long travellers or even "wild" honeybees foraging for some hive hidden in the nearby woods. I'll bet it makes fabulous honey - I've seen Loquat Honey for sale online but never tried it.

I love Loquats.  Their striking, stiff leathery leaves remain all year, similar to Magnolia foliage, and their canopy shelters many small birds during our winter storms.  Loquats have an interesting shape, outstanding in a landscape, and they are truly the queens of the fall/winter ornamental/edible garden. The deep golden orange fruits will ripen from the early spring into the beginning of summer, but only if we don't have a severe frost in late April.

Best of all, to me, is the deep, heart-felt pleasure of standing under a beautiful tree, now many feet above my head, and knowing that this tree is my doing, that it was only a small stick when I brought it here and that the lovely, nodding, verdant tree I admire today is the living embodiment of love and caring, season to season, until today. 

Didn't take as many years as one might think, either.  I'm always saddened when folks tell me they don't want to plant trees because they don't want to "wait for results".  It is not as though there is nothing to love about a tree until the day it is mature! Planting trees is like watching children grow.  They develop, they change, they suffer injury and hardship and, one hopes, recover with new strength.  Every tree has a personality born of the place in which it finds itself.  Unable to move, unable to relocate, it adapts and maneuvers itself into the best possible form it can manage.

I can't even imagine what life is like when one is not mobile, when you can only take what life brings (or refuses to bring) to your small space in the world. And yet the brave plants live, they grow and they become more beautiful than one could hope.  To be a part of that? To watch over, help and encourage such an accomplishment?  Ah, that is the highest a gardener may hope for.

When you feel the need for purpose, I suggest you plant a tree. 
For you, for the world, for the future.  Your future. Your joy.

Don't believe me?  Take a bit of time and read the inspiring story of Wangari Maathai, the woman who has been reclaiming Kenya by teaching women how to plant trees.

Namaste, Sybil

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why go Hungry?

You know, when you garden - really garden, taking joy in growing flowers, fruits and food, not just hastily plonking a few shrubs and overused annuals here and there and tossing a bunch of pre-fab mulch about - you quickly discover that there is no shortage of food. Not really.  And when you begin to garden seriously and your landscape becomes increasingly filled with edible plants, you realize that there are ARMLOADS of food that will grow in your yard.  Yes, that yard- the one that is still mostly grass to mow.  (And for the record, ours is the same way.)

Why am I on this rant?  Because all fall I was inundated with fresh chestnuts.  Yes, the same chestnuts that are selling online in specialty gourmet stores for prices from $7.50 (plus about $8 shipping) to $28.00 a POUND in some cities.  And I've heard at least three people reminiscing tenderly about bygone holidays, wishing there were still chestnuts to roast.  Well, hello! There are! I'm growing them and so can anyone else.

Yes, nut trees take time - but it becomes so worthwhile. Planting a tree is gardening on a completely different scale. We tend to become too focused on quick results, especially in a community where so many residents are military transients. Why plant a tree you may not get to see reach maturity?  Hmmm....do you ever stop and wonder, what if everyone in the past had felt that way?  A tree is your gift to your community, the wildlife in your habitat and to the future.

And, just a reminder, not every chestnut in the world went down with the terrible chestnut blight.  When the great American chestnuts had all but disappeared in one of the great ecological disasters ever to occur in this country, two dedicated horticulturists, James Carpentar of Salem, Ohio and Dr. Robert T. Dunstan of Greensboro, N.C, discovered ONE blight resistant tree (just one!) and set about reconstructing an entire population of chestnuts. The resulting Dunstan chestnuts are wonderful trees - not as huge (yet) or as interwoven into the fabric of America, but fast growing and loaded with fabulous nuts.  I can attest.  I'm eating several as I type with hundreds more on the ground.


You can read this inspiring history at:

http://www.chestnuthilltreefarm.com/Chestnuts.html

Nice folks. Great place to get yourselves a few Chestnut trees of your own.



But back to my original point:  At our little farm, we've spent this entire year with lots and lots (did I mention lots?) of food in our yard. Tomatoes, vegetables, blackberries, blueberries, figs, Asian persimmons and Asian pears, (so many that the poor young trees broke in places under the load).  Most of these are items that are hard to find or expensive in the stores.  And here they all are.  For a very modest start-up investment over the past decade and not particularly much work, truth be told.

You know, if every family planted just a few edible plants - some berry bushes, a fig tree or two, a small veggie garden - I believe it would change the health of the community, increase the overall feeling of pride in the community, and change - in many subtle ways - the way we view food and economy and self-reliance.  We need to plant more gardens and teach others how to plant gardens.

I'm just plain for gardens. I'm for back yard gardens, front yard gardens, community gardens, school gardens, church gardens....

I believe it's never too late for a personal Victory Garden. Or a town full of them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Time Flies When You're Not Having Fun

Wow!  Where did November go?  Since my darling mom-in-law fell and broke her leg, the weeks have flown by in a rush of hospital visits, doctor visits, rehab facility set-ups..... you name it.  All the non-joys of getting old(er).  It doesn't take much to knock my schedule sideways and this was Very Much.

Gardening? Oh, please! My gardens no longer know who I am.  My beautiful To-Do List of autumn chores, carefully planned so that each garden bed would be ready for the cold winter months, will never be accomplished. Now, it's a matter of doing a bit here and there, mostly to enjoy what lovely days are left to us.

What's happening in the garden?  Oh, my.  We are FEASTING on pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana), which is our favorite fruit in the world. (And, I have to point out that since fruits have long been our specialty, that's really saying something.) It's taken five years to really get the bushes going but the rewards ..... (happy lip smacking)....  This is perhaps the fruit I most recommend to SE Virginia gardeners - such a lovely evergreen bush/tree, stunning flowers and, finally, amazing fruits.

Life, even in the midst of calamity, is good.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Find the Tiny Possum

Tiny possum decided to take up residence in an old bird's nest in one of our Chindo viburnums. Drove the small dogs crazy.  Tender-hearted VBAC officer picked up said possum and transported it a few miles down the road. 

We already know from experience that just moving them to another part of the farm does nothing.... and possums and small dogs are not at all a Good Mix.  (No, the VVBAC officer didn't murder it -  thank heavens that policy has been rescinded.)


This is the lovely and very kind VBAC officer admiring her "catch".  Possum had an earlier injury to its tail, hopefully not from one of our pups.  Despite all their shots, I really didn't want them swapping bodily fluids with a possum.  Uck.

Turns out that if you hold a possum by the naked, prehensile tail, they can't muster enough "ab" muscle strength to curl up and bite you. 

This, and my predisposition to napping, have made me seriously consider what portion of my ancestral gene pool contains possum.  I shall  be thinking of this in the next Pilates class where I'll be doing my best to Play Dead.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tea Time!

The tea Camellia is in full bloom! One of the thrills of fall!  I love the contrast between the simple, white and yellow blossoms and the deep green foliage.  

Most folks don't realize that tea - yes, the "real" tea (Camellia sinensis), will grow here but it will and it is a delight.



I didn't pick any leaves this spring but perhaps next spring I'll take another try at creating my own green tea.  Right now, I'm happy to enjoy the beauty.


The Virginia Camellia Society has had Camellia sinensis for sale at their show in the past - in fact, I remember them being the first place I ever got tips on turning my C. sinensis bush into a cup of tea !-  so if you covet a tea plant of your own, you should try the upcoming sale at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.  For details, click here:  VCS Fall Show and Sale.

The best info I've found online giving directions on processing your own tea is here:
About.com - Growing Your Own Tea.  If anyone has more or better info, please share!

A History of Tea in America  links to a really interesting article that Martha Bowes wrote for teamuse.com about 10 years ago.  It traces tea from indigenous plants found in the northeast all the way through the Charleston Tea Plantation that flourished as one of the few, if not the only, independent commercial tea plantation in the United States. There were a lot of us who loved that tea and the idea that it was a sort of "family business" rather than a corporation.  Alas, things went awry and the plantation was sold in 2003 to the Bigelow tea company for over a million dollars (not a bad investment, it appears). Brief synopsis of the plantation's history is here: Charleston Tea Company

Now... growing coffee?  Well, that's been a lot tougher!  One thing about all this self-sufficiency?  I almost never grouse about the price on the products (like tea and coffee) that I love.  There's nothing like trying to do it yourself to make you appreciate having others grow and process it for you!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saving Your Mum....

I went through a long period where I simply refused to buy potted chrysanthemums ("mums") in the fall because they really didn't last all that long, compared to the months of color pansies provide, and I hated chucking them out -- and I hated even worse trying to keep them alive in the pot.

Then I discovered that here in our Zone 8-ish location, I could drop the root ball into the ground when the blooms grew tired, cut it back a tad and let each mum rest over the winter while it rooted in. Yep, they died back. Yep, they don't look like much for most of the summer.  But now they are in their glory.    I cleared a lot of the inner garden area where the mums had been residing but missed this little gal.  I realized that this valiant mum's been blooming like this every fall for at least five years. No special care.  I think maybe I run pruners across it when it first takes off and I suspect legginess might be in store.  After that, it kind of hangs out amid the showy summer flowers, just a green ball.  Now the others are gone and there it is.  I leave it with this haiku, for the chrysanthemums are a treasured part of oriental flower lore:

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment.

 - Yosa Buson  Translated by Robert Hass

Friday, October 29, 2010

Compost Cab

Yes! It's a compostable scrap taxi!
I stumbled on this interesting and hilarious new business this morning and just had to share.

Compost Cab is a very special service that has debuted in Washington, DC.  Yep, practically on our local doorstep - but urban enough for serious restrictions on back-to-the-land home farming efforts.  So there you are, city folk -  you've absorbed all of the information on conserving, recycling your recyclables, saving your compostable materials... how do you actually make the final leg of the food-to-garden recycle-cycle happen?  Sure, there are city recycling bins and pickups for your paper, metal, plastic ... but compost?

Enter the Compost Cab! They give you a bin, you fill it and off it goes to a nearby organic farm to make delectable, fertile compost. You owe it to yourself to read their blog and check out how it works - not because you need it but because it's so fun to see this kind of innovation. Wait! On the other hand, if you are "in town" Norfolk, Hampton... or buried in neighborhood restrictions... maybe you DO need a Compost Cab!

 From their website:


Compost Cab makes it easy to compost in the city.

We deploy a cleanconvenient, and cost-effective pick-up service for your organics. Then we deliver these materials to a nearby not-for-profit urban farm, where they’re transformed into the fertile soil needed to grow good, nutritious food for the local community. Everybody wins.
As we pursue our shared goals of building a more sustainable city and living healthier lives, we’re excited to invite you to join Compost Cab. Please sign up now and you’ll be composting before you know it!



Monday, October 25, 2010

Chicken Slaw!

I am frequently asked how and what we compost.  We've done a lot of experimenting over the years and we've discovered several things. Good compost is an art. Starting with your fresh material, you need to chop it, mix it, turn it, keep it moist, make sure it thoroughly heats... and then you really get something that is beautiful.  Otherwise, you get a large pile of sort-of-rotted plant material that hasn't really heated enough to kill weed seeds, disease pathogens, fungus or anything else.  Not bad stuff, but not what you were dreaming of.  Ninety percent of the time, that's what we find ourselves looking at.  Oh, in time - a couple of years - it rots down into something pretty decent, but it's not what the articles have promised. In our case, we just forget to get out there and turn the pile. 

Oh, and I should probably mention that when we were seriously composting food and garden scraps and cuttings, our compost heap was something we turned with a full-sized Ford 3930 tractor bucket. Not a little bin and a hand shovel type operation.

Now we've "retired" and I'm too lazy to shovel all that stuff.  I grind everything outdoors that I can with our hand lawnmower, which drives Rob crazy because he feels, probably correctly, that I'm dulling the blades.  Grass cuttings go into the chicken run to amuse the girls and, while they are at it, they pick out all the grass and weed seeds and turn the bits over and over until they decompose. I use the chickens to do the composting of our food scraps.  Here's the deal:


Fresh veggie scraps are the very best thing.
Torn into large pieces, they fit into the processor
and chop up in an instant.  The eggshells keep
our hens supplied with calcium.
 (A) Food scraps get loaded into the food processor:


I rarely use meat because the doglets get the good scraps.  All veggies go in, unless they are icky (remembering that you never feed your animals anything you think has gone "bad) and all eggshells are added.


(B)Then I  pulse the processor to chop it all up. Whatever amount - this isn't rocket science!


Everything is chopped to bite-sized pieces.
Looks like cole slaw for chickens, doesn't it?

Everyone runs to see today's offering!



Dottie, the Spangled Hamburg, and LockenFlocken, the Lackenfelter hen, are always first and last at the snack bowl.

Eventually, what's left gets kicked into the run where the chooks gradually root through it, turning it into the straw and chips and soil to make a lovely composted mix that I shovel out periodically and finish off outside the run. 

The final mixture goes into the raised beds where we will raise the veggies that will become our food and the next batch of tasty scraps for the chickens!
Full circle once again.

On the No Impact Trail

Admittedly, this isn't exactly "gardening", but I can't separate what I do here on the farm with what I do in the world.  And a big step, after starting the process of "cleaning up" our act here at the farm, is carrying that commitment with me out into the rest of the world. 

With our setup here on the farm (bearing in mind that this is hardly a farm, just 5 acres of land with house, small barn, hoop house, chicken coop, half-hearted orchards (I'll rant about trying to grow apples in Tidewater another day) and gardens.  We are the smallest of what Hobby Farms magazine targets when they say "Hobby Farm". 

It's enough to give us a nice full circle, however.  We recycle in about a dozen ways.  Our paper, bottles, cans and all of that go to the standard city recycling system - which really doesn't accept much, given all the plastics not accepted.  Yes, I use my own shopping bags (love those big insulated bags that Bloom now sells!) for our groceries and other shopping. but the corporate packaging on everything from individually wrapped muffins to "fresh" vegetables is just horrendous.

Food scraps? Those are for the chickens.  They love 'em! I offer them up with their regular corn and feed and the girls munch away.  What doesn't interest them gets scratched around with the grass clippings and leaves that are also tossed into the run for the chooks to play with.  They scratch and hunt and scratch and hunt.... and, eventually, I get to shovel up delicious compost for the garden: turned, churned and fertilized.  Now, that's a win-win!

Starting to track of all of this for the No Impact Experiment really makes you think about everything!   http://usefulgardens.blogspot.com/2010/09/no-impact-project.html

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ack! My title!

Wow, I just opened the blog to find superimposed title on title on graphic..... whoa. Back to Photoshop, something's amiss!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wal-Mart to Buy Fresh and Local?

Erin Barnett, Director, Local Harvest,  http://www.localharvest.org/
has a email newsletter just out discussing her thoughts on the new initiative by Wal-Mart to buy local produce.  Is this another attempt to move into, underprice and destroy a small cottage industry or does it represent recognition by large corporations of how important this once grassroots-only local food movement has become?  I loved her take on the broad, almost intuitive meaning that local food has for most of us.

In the article Erin says, "For me, "local food" is a kind of shorthand for an entire ethic. In this ethic, food is produced under quality conditions, on a scale that feels human rather than corporate, by people whose focus is on natural resource stewardship as much as it is on the bottom line, in a business whose owners do right by their employees. On the consumer side of this ethic, the food is purchased, prepared and eaten with awareness of its true value."



I think this is what appeals to all of us: that feeling of a caring connection - what  Erin describes as "kindness" - between the producer and consumer, the worker and the farmowner, the farms and their communities.

Find the Local Harvest email newsletter here:   http://www.localharvest.org/newsletter/20101021/
And do consider signing up!
For the original NY Times article on Wal-Mart's new buying local initiative, go here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/15/business/15walmart.html?_r=1

I'm thinking maybe the world is changing after all?
Sybil

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bullfrog in the Pool Skimmer!

It's fall and the amphibians are moving around all over the farm, scoping out good places to winter over when the cold weather comes.  This is the charmer we managed to extricate from the pool skimmer basket where he had wedged himself while hunting the beetles that washed in there.  I'm betting it's the same @#$ bullfrog that leaped onto my back one night this summer when I was enjoying a late night dip in the pool in the dark.  I almost had a heart attack. The neighbors are still worried about the strange screaming in the night.  Must weigh 5 pounds.  Rob didn't believe me at the time..... NOW he does!!!

Leaf Blowers

Well, the first leaves are falling and the "yard crews" are out around the subdivisions and malls.  This reminded me of a post I wrote for my older VBGarden blog.  My feelings haven't changed, so I just swiped it from that blog and I'm editing and reposting it here for the beginning of fall.  With all of the pre-election posturing (not action, mind you, just loud rhetoric) about the unsolved environmental problems here in Virginia, the imagery still fits.

"Today I drove past a number of landscaping crews busily cleaning up business "yards" and subdivision entrances in the aftermath of a quick series of storms that brought down the last of the fall leaves. The workers were armed with safety goggles and leaf blowers, which they aimed ferociously, like weapons, at the leaves and litter, blasting them to new locations off the property they were hired to protect.

It occurs to me that the irresponsible attitudes that have weakened our society can be related to the effect of leaf blowers. (Yes, I know it sounds mad, but hear me out.)

Do you remember, years ago, how each business owner would be up and out early in the morning, diligently tidying the entrance to his/her shop, sweeping and raking the area and gathering the debris into the trash bin or compost? People swept and cleaned the sidewalks in front of their homes. Leaves were gathered and composted or burned (and I still guiltily miss that wonderful fall smell). Each resident took responsibility not only for cleaning their personal area but also for making sure the material gathered was disposed of properly. Compare this to our manic, modern work crews and residents with their noisy blowers. Sure the leaves and trash get rapidly moved out of the way, from the sidewalk or parking lot into the street - or neighboring property - but is it actually taken care of? No, it's just loudly shuffled far enough to become someone else's problem.
Too many of us, individuals and government representatives alike, have been behaving exactly like those landscape crews. Problems are never really solved, no one takes responsibility for seeing that a situation was truly "cleaned up and put away" - problems are just quickly shuffled off - with a lot of blustering! - for someone else to deal with... again.

Now when I hear someone say that they took a problem in to be solved and the representative or responsible person "just blew it off", I know exactly what image fits."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Banner Magic

No, no, in answer to questions, I haven't actually changed the blog -- but I have discovered that I can do artsy things with the top banner.  Well, sort of artsy things... being limited only by my limited-edition Photoshop.  I've been playing with photos, large and small, to see what might make a nice heading that better represented our farm.  That's little Chick Number Six in the left hand banner photos that are up right now. 

I was terribly fond of her, brave little orphan, but she got et by a snake. I was not, not, not pleased.  I know we are a certified wildlife backyard habitat.... and we do support the rights of natural predators and those wild things that had prior rights to this land but that's a heartbreak.

Look at that feisty step!  She's on her way to get to the feed dish before the bigger chickens gobble everything up. Her mom was killed by a racoon on the one night this summer that I didn't remember to close the run after the chooks had been out free ranging in the grass. Six was a lonely little thing and would comfort herself by standing under the tall peacock and looking out from the safety of his legs. Would that I could've gotten a photo of the two of them.  It was, as they say, a picture.

Raising Chickens... no, I mean RAISING chickens!

Barred Rock Hen Struts Out
Wow. We've gone straight from dry, hot September to wet and chilly November. Where are the crisp, clear October days and nights?  One taste and gone?  I demand a rerun!

Well, I slogged out to the chickens to see how they were faring in the continuing drizzle and damp. Although their fenced outside run drains fairly well, the ground is chicken-trampled and tumbled and it tends to turn to mud, mud, mud in the wake of any storms.  Eight inches of rain didn't seem to make it any worse than one or two inches of rain has done... but the continuing wet air, wet ground, wet grass was keeping all of the chooks muddy and dispirited looking. 

I hauled out a bale and a half of old hay that's been staying dry in the unused half of the solar hoop house. (My next-door neighbor, Kristi, gives me any hay that gets "past" being good enough for the horses.) I swear hay bales get heavier every year. What are they baling in there? Lead?  Surely the amount of effort it takes can't have anything to do with my middle-aged, out of shape muscles.

I marched around in the mud and spread the flat books (sections) of hay around on the mud.  Rob was able to hand mow the yard near the house and he added a nice, tasty layer of fresh and seedy grass to the top.
Basking in the Sun - finally!

The plan was to raise the chickens up off the wet ground so that they could walk about on dry material. Well, okay, everything promptly got wet in the drizzle but at least the thick hay wasn't sodden. I think the poultry, individually and collectively, was pleased. ... were pleased? I have to think that one through.

And so, in closing, I'll wedge in a nice shot, from my el cheapo digital camera, of Mr. Chicken and Hi-Ho Silver, the Silver Leghorn hen, free-roaming the orchard in a nice bit of setting sunlight.  Let's hope October returns and we all (farmers and chickens) get to enjoy the beautiful fall weather that makes Virginia famous this time of year.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

NC Bans Plastic Shopping Bags

Let's hear it for NC Senator Marc Basnight who proposed and fought through the new ban on plastic shopping bags! Did you miss this amazing news?   http://hamptonroads.com/2010/09/ban-plastic-bags-goes-effect-outer-banks?cid=srch 

I can't tell you the number of times I've driven to town from out here in Blackwater, following one of the city trash trucks as plastic bag after plastic bag blew out the top of the truck's trash container.  It's not that individuals are tossing the bags out along the roads, although I frequently see bags blowing out of pick-up truck beds.  Shoppers put their plastic bags in the trash - since we don't recycle them at curbside yet - but if the bags aren't knotted or put inside another container (another plastic bag!?)  before being dumped into the trash,  they blow out of the trash trucks and waft off into the ditches where they are carried into other waterways, into the trees where they blow in the wind for months and into all of the yards, shrubs and fields along the way.

If you read the Virginian-Pilot article, you noticed that the ACC (American Chemistry Council - a big plastics  support lobby) claimed that the ban could only "force people back to paper" and cited the environmental and economic costs of paper bags.   Ditto from concerned retailers who now again have to purchase more costly paper bags for their customers.  Nonsense!!!  Paper bags aren't the only response to the plastic shopping bag problem or to this legislation.  Why is there little emphasis on reuseable shopping bags??

I love carrying my shopping bags (and I adore those big, insulated bags grocery stores sell now).  The bags are bright and fun and it cheers me up immensely to see my goodies packed in colorful, bags. Fellow shoppers admire my shopping cart!  More effective is the fact that I can put my groceries in about four of the strong, woven reuseable shopping bags, where it used to take almost a dozen of the flimsy plastic baggies.


It took a while to stop leaving the bags in the car when I went shopping but once I made myself GO BACK to the car and get them a few times, I started to remember.  I also really do enjoy the positive comments from other shoppers and I love, love, love seeing more and more reuseable bags in other shoppers' carts.  I now also carry a couple of the nylon bags that roll up to nothing in my purse so that I always have a bag handy, whether I'm grocery shopping, mall shopping - whatever.

BlueAvocado FAKRD Fit Kit Reusable Grocery-Bag System, Red WildflowerMy own friends tease me about being a fanatic. Wrong generation, I guess.  Some of the most appreciative comments I hear come from the young clerks at the stores.  A store clerk packing my foodstuffs held up my flower and abstract patterned grocery bag the other day, turning it to admire all sides.  "Awesome!" she exclaimed. 
VT Logo Virginia Tech Hokies NCAA Logo Reusable Grocery Shopping Bags 5 Pc Set ECO EARTH FRIENDLY GREEN Totes
I agree wholeheartedly.  

Oh, and there are special bags for the Hokie shoppers.... how could anyone resist?
      with a grin,   Sybil