Monday, May 11, 2015

Lacto-Fermented Broccoli Stem Spears



When you start fermenting in your kitchen, suddenly everything has potential. The usual suspects--cabbage and cucumbers--are always fantastic, of course. Thinking outside the box can be very rewarding, however. Every time I start cutting up any veggie, curiosity takes over, and I wonder "Hmm, can I pickle that?" Turns out, in most cases I can.




Broccoli became my newest pickling victim last fall. First, I have a confession to make. Broccoli is not my favorite. It's expensive, especially if you buy organic, and I've heard it's tricky to grow yourself (please chime in if I'm wrong about that!). While I like it roasted with olive oil and garlic, I don't particularly like the texture of the raw florets. The stems, on the other hand, are an overlooked wonder. I don't remember when the lightbulb went off in my head--"Oh, that's what broccoli slaw is made of!"--but when I realized broccoli stems were delicious and edible, I sought ways to use them.

Enter my new love of fermented foods. It changed everything about broccoli for me. One evening, after making a veggie tray for a family gathering and seeing the  mound of broccoli stems lying on the table, I thought "Why not?"



I ended up making fermented dill spears, and I think they taste awesome. My middle son, who is the most adventurous when it comes to my ferments, finds these pickles almost too mouth-puckeringly sour. That's what I love the most about them. They maintain their crunch, are incredibly tongue-tingly, and are so easy to grab from their jar in the fridge to snack on.

The expense of store-bought broccoli now seems more justified, since I know I'll get some fantastic fermented pickles out of it. Great alone, on a sandwich, diced up as relish, or alongside a dish of black olives and cheddar cheese, these broccoli stem spears really hit the spot as one of my daily ferment options!

Find broccoli with gigantic stems. Then start hacking away.


It only takes a few minutes of slicing, peeling and carving to get a nice pile of spears.



Though not peeling your veggies is a good idea when you are fermenting (click here to see why), for this recipe I recommend it. The outer husk of the broccoli stem tends to get tough when fermented. Still very much edible, but I prefer the pleasant crunch of the stems that were peeled.

As you work, make three piles; compost, the spears, and the florets.


 The veggies will settle a lot as they ferment. That's okay!


*NOTE: Another tasty option? Follow my Kohlrabi Hotsticks recipe, and substitute the kohlrabi for broccoli stems. Spicy and YUMMY!


The finished pickles.
The green stems will fade into a lovely yellow hue.
I remove the dill when the pickles are finished, because it tends to get mushy.


Lacto-Fermented
Broccoli Stem Spears           Print Here

glass quart jar
organic broccoli (find 2-3 heads with very long stems if you can, about 2-3 pounds)
1 clove garlic
2-3 fresh sprigs of dill leaves
1 t. black peppercorns
2 c. water (filtered or unchlorinated by leaving out in open container overnight)
2 t. unrefined sea salt

Start with clean equipment--make sure your quart jar, cutting board, knives and hands have been washed and rinsed thoroughly.

Mix the water and salt in a container and stir until salt is dissolved. Set aside. Cut all florets from the broccoli and set aside for later use.

Start slicing and carving the stems into spears. This is actually not too difficult, and it went more quickly than I expected. It doesn't matter if they look perfect, just try to get them relatively the same size.

*note: stem sizes can vary. If you don't end up with enough spears to fill a quart jar, try filling a wide-mouthed pint jar and halving the recipe. 

Place the dill sprigs, garlic and pepper in the quart jar, then pack the spears in until they are within one inch from the rim of the jar. Don't be afraid to pack them in tightly. Pour brine over the spears, making sure everything is submerged, and then place a weight over the contents. You want an inch of head space from the top of the weight/brine to the lid.

Place a lid on the jar. I recommend using an airlock for ease (fermentools are my favorite). If not using an airlock, be sure to loosen the lid on the jar every few days to allow gas to escape. Set jar aside, avoiding direct sunlight and extreme temperatures.

Start tasting the pickles after about 5 days to see if they are to your liking. I find these are a quick ferment, and ready to eat after about 2 weeks. When the flavor is perfect to you, remove the dill from the jar (it tends to get mushy and weird when fermented) and place the pickles in the fridge (removing airlock if you used one) Can be kept in fridge for 3-6 months.

Enjoy!





DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links. I'm eligible to receive a small commission whenever a product is purchased through these links. Click Here for my full disclosure!

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Roly Poly: Garden Friend or Foe?




Roly poly, pill bug, wood louse, armadillo bug, cheese log, doodlebug. These tiny armored creatures have a surprising number of nicknames, and are likely one of the most plentiful bugs you've seen in your yard and garden. Every time you upturn a rock, small log, or flowerpot, you see dozens of them. They are a favorite for kids because they are so easy to pick up and examine, and the way they curl up into a ball is quirky and delightful.

You may have noticed that some roly polies don't roll up when they are touched. Are they just stubborn? Actually, the ones who don't curl up are sowbugs. They appear nearly identical to their close cousins, the pillbugs, except that they have an extra set of tail-like appendages. Though the two are different species, they are close enough in their habits and behaviors that for the sake of this article, I'm treating them as the same bug. In this article they will all be referred to as 'roly polies'. I think it's an interesting distinction though, and helpful to know, especially when a child is holding a roly poly out to you and asking why it won't roll up. :)



Are they bad for the garden?

The answer is "not exactly." We need roly polies as much as we love them. However, they can cause issues--read on for more!

As I started to get serious about gardening, I began to notice that roly polies loved residing in some of my garden beds. I dug into the soil with my hands in late spring to plant green beans, and several roly polies scattered--some of them huge, some tiny. I wondered if these little guys were good, bad, or neutral for the garden, and if I should be concerned about the number of them (that particular spring the yard and garden were just saturated with them).

Some damning evidence was revealed to me a couple weeks later. The green beans I'd just planted had sprouted beautifully, and were starting to reach to the sky with their first true leaves. One morning I came out to check on the baby plants and most of them had been absolutely decimated during the night. One roly poly still clung to a bean sprout, ready to pose for the photo below. The evidence was too clear--these roly polies could definitely pose a problem.

However, I hesitate to call roly polies pests in the same way I'd call a tomato hornworm or a potato beetle a pest. Hornworms and potato beetles are decidedly out to get specific plants, whereas roly polies don't prefer your garden goodies; they only turn to them in certain situations. So there is not a simple yes or no answer to the question of whether they 'bad' or not.


Caught in the act; a roly poly eats a baby green bean plant.


Compost Helpers

The fact is, roly polies play a very important role in the garden's soil. Like our friends the earthworms, these bugs are some of the first actors on the scene in that beautiful production of humus. They eat dead and decaying organic material, breaking it down and making nutrients available to plants and other organisms.

We need roly polies to help the worms and other creatures turn decaying material into soil. But we don't want the roly polies to eat our seedlings or other garden plants. There are ways to balance the scale and to live in harmony with these little guys.


Where They Can Wreak Havoc

If roly polies are composters and prefer decaying materials, then why would they eat green bean seedlings?

It's important to note that roly polies are crustaceans; that's right, they are related to shrimp, crabs, and lobster. They are the only crustaceans who live their entire lives out of the water. Though they don't need to live in water, they do need moisture, and lots of it. They thrive in damp, cool places, and they love to munch on damp, rotting organic material. It turns out, if the conditions are right, they will gladly eat your living plants, too. This includes tender succulent green bean and pea seedlings, which sprout in the cool damp mornings of spring or early fall. Roly polies will also gravitate to any fruits or vegetables that are lying on the ground--thus trapping moisture--such as ripening melons, squash, and strawberries.




Keep Roly Polies Under Control

The key to living in harmony with these creatures is to avoid excess moisture in specific situations. Understand why they are eating your plants. The seedlings provide a moist, humid little climate that draws the bugs. The mature vegetables that are laying on the soil are also very attractive--moisture is trapped under the veggies and provides a perfect gathering place for roly polies, in the same way that rocks and logs and flowerpots do!


Protect your Seedlings

Bean and pea sprouts seem to be the most vulnerable to roly poly munching. This is because they are naturally succulent, and in the case of peas, they usually sprout during the very damp, cool days of spring or early fall. The seedlings are in the most danger a day or two after emerging, when they are the most tender.


  • Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the base of the seedling. Be careful, though; not enough DE will not dry the soil out enough to deter the roly polies, and too much may harden the soil and make it difficult for the bean or pea to sprout. 
  • Pull mulch away from the seedlings until they've grown a few inches to keep excess moisture away.
  • If the roly polies continue to attack, start seeds indoors and then transplant outdoors when the plants have grown a few inches.

Kat from simply-living-simply.com
keeps berries off the ground with a planter.
Kellie from backyardroots.com
keeps squash off the ground using a hammock.


Protect your Maturing Veggies/Fruits

Veggies like pumpkins, squash, tomatoes and anything that lays on the surface of the soil can be a heavenly place for roly polies. They love the trapped moisture and will nibble on the veggies even if they are not yet decaying.


  • Keep your veggies up off the ground, using upturned pots, or by fashionig a simple hammock. Use trellises when you can.
  • Remove any veggies that are decomposing (which is a double delight for the roly polies).
  • Try growing strawberries in a tiered bed, which makes it easier to keep berries off the ground. Alternatively, you can fashion a small support for each plant.
  • Water early so the plants can dry by evening.
  • Remove dead leaves to improve airflow and keep veggies dry.
  • Consider your mulch; you want it to be course enough to let water pass through, in large enough peices that won't pack to create a constantly wet mat at the surface. You want your moisture down in the soil with your plant's roots, not on top of the soil.

Incidentally, many of these tips for seedlings and maturing veggies will also contribute to the general health and well-being of the plant. Conditions that are perfect for roly polies are also perfect for many diseases and other pests.

Keep enjoying those intriguing little bugs, but don't give them the opportunity to munch on your garden plants.


*I always find great advice in the book below, including some of the tips in this article. It's a comprehensive source about all bugs in the garden, good and bad. I refer to it often!



If you have any of your own tips for keeping harmony with bugs in the garden, please make sure to leave a comment below!









DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links. I'm eligible to receive a small commission whenever a product is purchased through these links. Click Here for my full disclosure!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Birth of a Food Forest


"A successful community welcomes and rewards
more than one kind of person. Diverse residents support themselves
and enrich one another's lives with different talents."
-Jeremy Smith in Growing a Garden City


It could not have been more simple. A straw covered lot in heart of the city, a few dozen people, a pick-up truck with its bed brimming with potted plants and baby trees, a pile of shovels waiting at the corner of the lot.

Yet the simple gathering had an air of magic to it that I can still feel, two week laters.

Patrick (my oldest, 16) and I headed out two Saturdays ago, and lent our hands to help build a "food forest". It was an amazing experience that we won't soon forget.


Beautiful Planting Day

Everything had already been gathered: the plants, the soil amendments, the tools, and all we had to do was show up (though admittedly, we did bring our own work gloves and trusty shovels, well-worn from working in our own backyard). The planting of the food forest as a community effort was the culmination of many months of careful planning, however.

The event was organized by a dynamic young couple who call themselves The Young Urban Homesteaders. They define a food forest simply as "a perennial edible garden that mimics a mid-succession forest ecosystem." Think permaculture. Think low-maintenance, long-term food growing that will also look beautiful. Think tiny forest in the middle of the city, bursting with fruit and berries, year after year.

Samantha and Philippe, the two-member powerhouse team of the Young Urban Homesteaders (or YUH as they dub themselves) had put an open invitation out to the community on Facebook to help 'build' this food forest. It came with a warning; "We don't want to romanticize it. You will be digging holes...lots of holes. But then we are putting beautiful edible trees and bushes in those holes and laying the foundation for a gorgeous forest garden."


Permaculture, Polycultures, Food Forests

I've been obsessed with the idea of urban gardens--especially on empty lots--for years. In my mind, I've always seen rows of raised beds, compost bins, rain barrels; tiny oases of cultivation providing incredible amounts of healthy food. These are really wonderful images of tiny food-production units, but my ideas have expanded a little. Though I still love seeing tiny urban farms and gardens popping up around my city, I'm also beginning to see the power of permaculture.

Click here for an article that includes practical Polyculture growing ideas. Click here for a comprehensive introduction to permaculture, written by one of my favorite urban farming websites, Tenth Acre Farm. If you get a chance, look up this documentary, Inhabit--it's a beautiful film showing many permaculture examples in urban, suburban, and rural settings. You'll get some really good ideas and perhaps some inspiration from those links.

I'm starting to understand permaculture as a way to not just sustain the ground that you grow food on, but to also heal it, make it better than it was before.


Food forests have the capability of continually providing food while healing the ground, nurturing native species that have been all but lost from the cities, and becoming self-sustaining. Even the most avid  and passionate gardener can find themselves suddenly abandoning a lot full of raised growing beds despite their best intentions. I've seen it happen. On the other hand, a food forest has the potential to grow and thrive for decades--or longer--whether the original planner(s) stick around or not. I think there is a place for cultivated annual veggies and food forests throughout the city. Seeing the birth of a food forest on that gorgeous Saturday only heightened my interest and made me realize how much potential this idea has.



The Young Urban Homesteaders are true visionaries, and I really appreciate that they invite the community consistently, with open arms. They are sweet, soft-spoken, and have a peaceful, welcoming aura about them. They grow tons of produce on a double lot in the city, not too far from the newly planted food forest. The food forest is one of their current projects (the double lot they live on and farm is an incredible undertaking in itself), and I have a feeling they will continue to grow new projects and spread inspiration as time goes on.


Stretching the Comfort Zone

Having urban farm visionaries like the Young Urban Homesteaders is so important. Because they are willing to have the community help and learn, it allows people like me to come out of their comfort zones. I'm a hermit by nature. I'd hole up in my house and my yard for all eternity if I could. Yet as I've learned more about growing food, especially in an urban setting, I'm starting to discover that it's very much a community affair. Getting out and meeting new people is not such a bad thing! I can expand my knowledge in ways I'd never be able to on my own, and I can see projects that I have so far only read about actually coming to life right before my eyes. What a valuable asset, these young teachers!

Philippe admitted that he did feel a little trepidation about the project. It's a pretty big undertaking even if by the time we all showed up to help it seemed so simple. Sometime during the planning, a neighbor approached him, a man who has lived in the neighborhood for many years. He told Philippe that thirty years ago, he'd had a dream about young people growing food in the empty places of the neighborhood....long before this particular lot was was even empty. This story gave me a deeper sense of connection, and made me realize that the projects like these tie us all together in ways we may not even realize.

Making Projects Happen Through the Doubt and Fears

Whatever fears or trepidation Samantha and Philippe may have doesn't stop them from starting their inspired projects (I could really learn from that...if I would just do all the plans I make!). Last year YUH raised funds with some creative community outreach and bought this lot. It was actually their fundraising efforts that first caught my eye and piqued my interest in their vision. In its infancy, the lot certainly didn't look like much. It was a typical grassy, weedy, trash-strewn 50' by 83' piece of earth. I had probably driven past it dozens of times and never even noticed it.

Soon after they had raised enough funds to purchase the lot last spring, they invited the community to come help clean up the lot, "Treasure Hunt" style. If treasure was found, the finder could keep it. This appealed greatly to my middle son, Simon, and so during a hot afternoon last April, we scoured the lot with our work gloves. We picked up every piece of trash we could find, and quite a few 'treasures' as well, at least in Simon's 10-year-old eyes. Simon brought home a polished piece of discarded glass, a carpenter's pencil, a keychain, a feather, and other items that had been long forgotten in the soil.

Prepping the Soil

Samantha and Philippe tilled the lot and planted pounds and pounds of seeds--mustard greens, amaranth, sunflowers--in order to draw out any toxins that may be present in the soil. See their video here about how these plants can detoxify city soils.



At the end of last summer, the plants (which had turned into something incredibly gorgeous) were chopped down to help form a thick mat of mulch over the entire lot. As winter settled in, dragging us all down for the long haul of ice and snow, dreams and plans were being quietly made for the lot. Samantha and Phillipe set to work mapping out the food forest. Here is a diagram they made showing what plants would go where:


YUH did all the planning, all the work, made all the hard decisions. They spent hours gathering soil amendments and preparing for planting day. And then they graciously offered to share this beautiful plan with whomever wanted to show up. As they said in the open invitation: "We want to share what we know and learn what you know. We are all learning together." 



As I dug into the soil that morning, and saw hundreds of happy earthworms squirming around inside the fresh holes, my mind was swirling. It was the first truly beautiful spring day of the year; brilliant blue sky, warm sun, the gentlest breeze. I was gathered with over thirty perfect strangers, making pleasant small talk and enjoying the gorgeous day, and I realized I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. It felt good to work together on this dream.


The Effort of A Group Makes Work Easy 

What would have taken an entire weekend if only a couple people were planting took less than two hours. We dug the holes, placed into them veggie/fruit scraps, coffee grounds, a little sand for drainage, and then tucked the plants in. There were over 40 varieties (see the list at the end of this post), which I find just astonishing considering the meager size of this lot. The baby plants were tiny, the trees not much more than twigs. When I stepped back and looked at the lot as a whole, it was hard to even make out the plants we had put in. However, if I stretched my mind a little bit into the future, I captured clear glimpses of what this lot will turn into; I could see the grape arbor, the living walls of berries, the tall hazelnut and almond and pawpaw trees. This lot is really going to be something amazing, and I'm going to love watching it change and grow through the years. I'm already looking forward to writing updates.


Start With Your Yard

If you don't have an entire empty lot to work with, you can implement so many ideas within your own yard. Edible landscaping and pockets of permaculture can fit in some really tiny places! What if you plant something and it dies? What if your ideas don't work? It's okay. Everyone starts somewhere. You can add stuff later, change things around. The best thing you can do right now is to barrel through your fears and plant something!

If you are interested in planting a food forest filled with delicious perennials, there are many resources you can look into. Your imagination really will be the limit. The idea is to discover native plants of different varieties and sizes, to create a little ecosystem. 

Google 'permaculture', pick up a book or two from the library, and do some reading. Then, most importantly, start planting. Don't stop growing your annual garden--but look around for places to put some permanent native edible plants as well--they may just outlive you while providing food every year!







The Young Urban Homesteaders bought all the plants for this particular forest from Starks Bros Nursery. I love 'window-shopping' there. When you find a plant you are interested in, you can search to see if it is a good fit for your growing zone. Newly planted in this food forest were: blueberries (9 varieties), grapes (4 varieties), gooseberries (3 varieties), currants (3 varieties), pawpaws (3 varieties), hazelnut (2 varieties), honeyberries, raspberries, blackberries, hardy kiwi, almonds, seaberries, and strawberries. YES, that was all on one 50' x 83' lot!





DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links. I'm eligible to receive a small commission whenever a product is purchased through these links. Click Here for my full disclosure!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Turmeric-Lemon Miracle Soup




Miracle Soup is a pretty big claim, isn't it?

I love soup in general--I'd be hard pressed to ever pick a favorite. I think I could live on soup.

But to me, this particular soup is nothing short of miraculous when I need it most. It soothes my tummy on days when nothing else sounds good, and when I'm feeling worn down and icky. I don't know what ingredient  gives me the most comfort--maybe it's the just-tender-enough bites of cabbage and rice, or the zing of lemon, or the tang of nutritional yeast. I don't know what it is about this soup (probably all the goodness combined), but when I'm feeling a little beat-up, or achey, or not in the mood to eat much of anything, a hot mug of miracle soup hits the spot. There are days I simply crave this soup-- sick or not!


Awhile ago on my Facebook page I mentioned my "Triple Threat". I bring out the triple threat whenever I start getting those dreaded symptoms of a looming monster cold--aches, pains, sore throat, and just in general feeling like I've been hit by a small truck. Fire cider (click her for a great recipe) is the first player in the triple threat, and though I've become a believer in its healing properties, I have to admit, it burns a little going down. To tame the tingle, I eat a spoonful of honey, and then enjoy a cup of miracle soup. I then spend the next hour or so sipping on herbal tea. I repeat this for as long as I need to, usually several days, but I feel better the very first day. 



A Note About Nutritional Yeast

In my opinion, nutritional yeast (affiliate) is what makes this soup tick. Nutritional yeast is used in many vegetarian and vegan recipes to add a cheesy, umami kick, or in this case, a soothing tangy broth.  If you've never had it, you must try. It can be found at any health food store in the bulk section, it's relatively inexpensive, and it offers a boost of nutrition, mostly in the form of vitamin B12. 

I've found that nutritional yeast is cause for some debate, however. As an advocate for real, whole foods, I figured I had better do a little research. It turns out, the research is murky and there are some alarming rumors about nutritional yeast that don't seem to be based on solid studies. I'm not by any means a medical professional or a holistic guru, but here is my take on it: I think that we all have an inner voice that lets us know when a food is not helping our bodies (like the way I feel when I eat too much gluten--a topic for a future post in the works). If nooch (a cutesy name for nutritional yeast) gives you any negative reactive feelings, then by all means avoid it. This article addresses nutritional yeast and explains some of the myths surrounding it.

If You Don't Want Nooch, Make Miracle Soup with Chicken Broth

While I love 'nooch' and prefer this soup be made with it, I've also made it with chicken broth. After all, chicken broth is one of the top sources of comfort people turn to when they are feeling under the weather. My vegetarian friends do not turn to chicken broth for comfort, however, and will love this vegan option. I have found you need to add a little salt to your cup if you are using chicken broth, since you will be missing the 'nooch zing'. (Can you tell that I really want you to try making this soup with nutritional yeast, at least once?!)

*Note: Don't be alarmed if your pee turns bright, bright yellow after eating the nooch version of this soup. It's okay! It's just the extra water-soluble riboflavin being released. It means you are getting plenty of those B vitamins and riboflavin that your body needs, and releasing the extra is not harmful to your body at all.



Don't overcook this soup. This is important. Follow the times in the recipe even though it seems like it couldn't possibly have cooked long enough. While I do freeze individual portions to have on hand if the need for it suddenly arises, the soup is best fresh. Every couple months or so I make a pot of it to keep in the fridge, dipping bowls of it out to warm up for a snack, light lunch, or breakfast. Once you freeze it, the texture of the rice changes slightly, but it's still wonderfully effective.

*I adapted this recipe from this obscure book I found at my public library. (affiliate link).

Below are the herbal teas I find the most helpful in my Triple Threat. They are all from Traditional Medicinals and available at most grocery stores.

Throat Coast, Gypsy Cold Care, and  Breathe Easy
 are my favorites:







Turmeric-Lemon Miracle Soup   print here

Ingredients:

4 green onions, chopped (white and green parts) OR 1/4 c. chopped white onion
6 cups shredded green cabbage
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of pepper
1 t. turmeric
2 T. coconut oil
3 c. precooked brown rice

8 c. water  OR  6 c. chicken broth and omit Nutritional Yeast
3/4 c. nutritional yeast

juice of two medium lemons (about 1/4 c.)
1 T. tamari, soy sauce, or Bragg's liquid aminos



In a soup pot over medium heat, saute onions, cabbage, garlic and spices in oil for 8-10 minutes. Stir frequently and if the veggies start to brown or stick, turn heat to medium-low. Do not overcook--the cabbage should have a bit of crisp left in it. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Eat the soup hot out of a mug. Take with fire cider and herbal tea to help chase away the cold-season ickies.

Tastes best the next day. Make a batch of miracle soup and keep in the fridge when you feel a minor illness coming on, and eat a mug of it each day. Or, freeze in 1-cup portions for those times you need it.

Variations:

*Try substituting kale for part or all of the cabbage.

*Gently whisk a tablespoon of miso into your cup of soup to make it super-charged with immunity boosters!





DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links. I'm eligible to receive a small commission whenever a product is purchased through these links. Click Here for my full disclosure!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

If Dad Approves Chickens, Surely The City Will

Adorable photo taken by my cousin Lindsey;
who also knew Grandma's chickens in our childhood
So my dad called me this afternoon, and in his typical style, launched into a conversation with no preface or warning.

"You were right; egg color does depend on the breed of chicken, not their diet. Grandma must have had Leghorn chickens. But I do remember her having brown chickens, too, so she must have had Rhode Island Reds; they look red in the light, but mostly brown. I have been googling...I printed off some breeds for you."

I tried catching my breath--not because I wanted to say anything, dad would have talked over me anyway--but to try to hold in my glee. Let me explain something about my dad. When he makes a phone call out of the blue, has lots to say about a topic you love, and even admits to googling it...well, it means you've earned his approval. You've sparked his interest and given him a way to bond in his own quirky way.

Let me back up a little.

Chickens have been on my brain for several years now, though my yard contains none. Our city doesn't allow backyard chickens, and lots of us would like to change that. About this time last year, petition number one made the rounds on the internet, my hope was spurred, and I wrote this post when I was told that 'urban people are not farmers'. Petition number one died out, sadly, and during the past year I started to think of ways to enamor my neighbors with the idea of my secretly keeping chickens, assuming that they'd never be legal. THEN, petition number two showed up, written and promoted by a local woman who had once kept chickens illegally in my city.

This petition picked up speed quickly, and not only that, Michele (writer of the petition) gathered a bunch of us through Facebook to approach city council. The meeting was on Tuesday night and left me feeling ecstatic. I have no idea yet if any of the city council members are willing to take on the proposal, but a few seemed very intrigued and enthusiastic. The conversation's been started, and we will keep bugging city council until they take action or bluntly turn us down.

My excitement was still tangible last night during my weekly Friday-night visit to my parents'. Both my brothers and their wives were there, and they had caught wind of my newest chicken adventures. My dad never knew I wanted chickens in my backyard and, of course, he was initially astounded--but not speechless. He immediately started telling me all the negative aspects of chickens, not knowing I've been researching for years.

He grew up with chickens. He does know what he's talking about. And every point he made was valid:

"There will be shit everywhere. You will walk inside with it on your shoes every time you go outside."
"You have to feed them. Feed's expensive. So you certainly won't be getting free eggs."
"They stop laying eggs after a few years."
"Do you even like eggs?" (He doesn't.)
"They can escape."
"You do know that predators will be after them?"
"Where would you put them?"
"Chickens in the city are not a new idea."
"....there will be shit, everywhere." (Again with the shit--dad, I get it.)

I'm very accustomed to my dad's initial reaction to most ideas, and I've learned that he is not trying to be overly critical or discouraging. When he goes on a little rant about whatever topic has been brought to his attention, what he is actually doing is thinking out loud to find whatever negative aspects might be involved. It's his way of staying realistic. I recognize the quality very well, since I have that same trait. Outwardly I might be enthusiastic and positive, but I'm a critic and skeptic by nature. In fact, my mind inwardly races with everything that is wrong even as I outwardly champion an idea--like backyard chickens. I want them, but the idea does terrify me a bit. I have laid awake at night worrying about the very issues dad mentioned, plus some.

As my dad went on that night, I realized what he was doing, and I didn't get defensive. I acknowledged all his concerns, impressed him a little bit with some of the facts I have learned on my own, and then we talked a little bit about Grandma's chickens. I ended the conversation with "Dad, I grew up with chickens, too. I was at Grandma's house almost every day. I know some of the realities of chickens, but I don't care...I still want them."

His phone call was a welcome surprise this afternoon. I smiled as I imagined him googling and discovering some things about chickens in general...things he may have forgotten over the years or simply never knew. I heard papers ruffling as he referred to notes he'd printed off. I was happy inside knowing that this was my dad's way of giving a stamp of approval on something he actually thought was insane--his way of acknowledging that I'm a very different person that he, but that my ideas are okay. He had taken time out of his day (and the man never stops for much of anything), had looked for a way to connect and bond, and left me feeling on top of the world.

"Grandma and Grandpa complained about one thing a lot." I held my breath, not wanting to tarnish the romantic view I had of my paternal grandparents, wondering what horrible thing about chickens I was about to hear next.

"They hated those store bought eggs. Said they had the consistency of snot. They wouldn't even consider not keeping chickens for that reason." I let my breath out, smiled, and said "I know."


If my dad is willing to look at the chicken situation with a level head and encouraging words, then I have the highest of hopes that city council will, too.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Clean Water, Please! Berkey Giveaway


This giveaway has ended. Thanks to all who entered!
Keep an eye out for future giveaways at LittleBigHarvest.com!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Winter as a Blank Slate



One of the littles with our mini snow shovel,
digging a path on the sidewalk next to the side garden.
Our property ends at that little sidewalk--yes, there
actually is a garden smooshed up there against the house! :)