Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Circle of Usage

Recently I had three problems which somehow managed to fit together and solve each other.

Problem #1 - It was time for my spring chicken house cleaning, but I was out of hay. I also didn't feel like shelling out money for hay, nor spend the gas to drive over to get hay.

Problem #2 - I asked my neighbor if I could have all the leaves and grass clippings he bagged from mowing. He was glad to. I came around the house later that afternoon to find at least 15 full bags of debris stacked next to my house. Uh oh! That's a lot of leaves to do something with.

Problem #3 - I wanted to lay out a garden plot, lasagna style, but only had 15+ bags of leaves to work with. They weren't composted at all, and I didn't see how my garden was going to grow that well with only some dry old Live Oak leaves.

As I sat staring at the mountain of leaves feeling overwhelmed, suddenly a series of light bulbs clicked in my mind and all my problems (at least three of them anyways) were solved.

Solution to problem #1 & #2 - I was thinking I needed hay for my chicken house, but really I needed litter. And here I had all these bags of dry, crispy leaves. Hmmmm... suddenly they looked like a large and sustainable amount of free litter. Now I had a good way to get rid of all those leaves also, solving #2 simultaneously.

Now what to do with all the old, dirty and nutrient rich hay that needed to be removed from the chicken house?

Solution to problem #3 - I used all the old hay in my lasagna garden. To this I added all the super dirt that was piling up in the chicken's coop. Now I had a wonderful, layered sheet compost pile to grow my garden in. The leaves filled up the hen house and their yard.

They will break all those leaves down with all their pecking and scratching and add their own special blend of nutrients to the mix. By fall I will have a wonderful new layer of broken up material for my garden, and probably 15+ more bags of leaves and clippings piled up next to my house. I'm sure I'll have a nice supply of clipped grass all summer long for the hens to munch, and since my neighbor doesn't spray, it'll be, for all practical purposes, organic feed.

Ah...the circle of life. Amazing how when we can think outside the box how much better everything works together.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Having It All

To live on a farm is to live in the country. You are either the town mouse or the country mouse. You have big city glamour or small town charm. To most people's minds, it's as simple as that, and there is nothing in between. They assume that if they haven't got a place with 40 acres then they must be 'city dwellers'.

Mention farming and folks get a bucolic image in their minds of sweeping fields of grain and fat, contented cattle. Chickens peck and scratch near the barn door as the sun sets behind rolling hills. Gardens bursting with greenery and ripe bounty lay like little quilts across the lawn as twilight whispers by with sleepy sweetness.

Now imagine a small piece of country in the middle of a city. The sounds of traffic are muted out by the soft clucking of hens. Emerald cabbages gleam brilliantly against a fence, causing the passing school children to wonder what on earth these strange plants could be. Fruit trees begin to bud out, promising fruits that will be taken to the beach and the library as snacks, both within a 10 minute drive.

This is urban farming, a third option in between the two extremes of rural and rat race. To me, it's having my cake and being able to eat it slowly, and with relish. I can get up in the morning and fetch my eggs for breakfast, still warm and as fresh and delicious as nature can provide. But if I run out of coffee I have the choice to stop at any of about 8 coffee house choices from trendy to mainstream. On an urban farm, life is definitely good.

There are difficulties with a countrified city lifestyle. Zoning is one. I'm lucky enough to be considered "county", even though I live in a populated area. Another thing to consider is supplies. Livestock need more then a local pet center can usually provide. I have a feed store close by, the wonderful and infamous Sue's Country Corner, hemmed in with McDonald's, CVS and a car dealership in an eclectic mix of town and country.

The benefits outweigh any difficulties, however, and the opportunities are many. For example, there's a scrap metal dealer around the corner from where I get my hay and chicken feed. All month I save aluminum cans from where I work and around the neighborhood.

When food buying time rolls around I recycle my metals and use the proceeds as a 'discount' off the chicken food. Last month my recycling paid for the food completely, and I still had a few dollars left over! In the country I'd have to drive so far to get to everything the gas alone would negate any economic bonus.

I think of urban farming as a solution for many of the issues we face today. If everyone kept a few chickens in their yard, just think of all the resources we'd save in fuel for delivery, chemicals for packages, trees for paper cartons, waste disposal from large chicken farming... not to mention all the table scraps that wouldn't go to the landfill!

In today's Age of Turbulence, as Greenspan so aptly calls it, we need to think less like consumers and be more creative. Outside the box thinking can be the difference between an impoverished lifestyle and one that finds richness waiting beyond the horizon you only thought was there. Like Columbus, you too might discover that your world has no boundaries.

I prefer my backyard live'stocks & bonds' to any high pressured make it big or bust lifestyle. Take a look around and see if you can't find your perfect solution hidden somewhere in between the layers of what we think of as our limitations. You might just find the best of both worlds.