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!

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,
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:
And do consider signing up!
For the original NY Times article on Wal-Mart's new buying local initiative, go here:

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

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? 

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

Friday, October 1, 2010

And the Rains Kept Coming!

It rained and it rained.  yesterday, the last day of September, we logged (we waterlogged) 4" in the rain gauge.  There was a pause and then, in the night, the rains came through again.  This morning we had 3.5" more in the gauge.  All together, from the very onset of this weather system, we're up 8".  Hurray for the cosy new roof!!  We were snug as bugs during the storm.

There are roads closed all around us, we are actually marooned on the farm. Water has flooded the Pungo Ferry Bridge Road, Blackwater Road, Indian Creek Road and pretty much every access road out.  Amazingly, none of our roadside ditches are full.  Just how dry was the ground here?  This has been a wind-driven, tidal flood.... the ground has little standing water.

It is the kiss of autumn, however.  The air is now cool and the sky is gray. We have gone from muggy to chilly overnight.  All the plants I was hanging onto colllapsed overnight.  Zinnias, flat. Tomatoes, a mess. Echinacea and coneflowers?  Don't ask - all those long black seed heads are flattened all over the garden.  So much for the little finches who have enjoyed munching every seed remaining in those old flower heads.

Sentimentality over the end of the summer season is gone.  I am now prepared to head out in the lovely fall weather promised for this weekend to tear out wet, nasty flower beds and everything else I can lay my hands on. 

Let there be tidy ground!!!