Saturday, January 18, 2014

On My Birthday, No Less!

I'm crazy excited, super stoked. Today was my birthday, and I gave myself a present; I went to visit the library for the very first installment of ...drumroll... a series on Sustainable Living! It wouldn't have mattered how they advertised, but the picture of a chicken coop with a cat perched on top sold me. Immediately.

Here was the blurb on FB:
Have you ever raised chickens or rabbits in your backyard? Have a bee hive in your yard? If you want to learn more be at the New Haven Branch at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 18. This is the first in a series on Sustainable Living.

Started at 2. Had to rush over there from Patrick's swim meet, and I wasn't even sure how to get to the New Haven branch of the library, so I was nervous about getting lost. A quick call to Craig as I was driving got me on my way.

As soon as I pulled up in the parking lot, I saw an old pickup truck, filled with firewood, a somewhat-grizzly looking man with a white beard and a notebook getting out. "Hmm, I bet he's here to learn about the chickens." I was just a few steps behind him as I entered the branch, clutching my own notebook with anxiety.

After a few minutes of waiting with a small group of people, the meeting room was ready and we filed in. I almost expected to see an actual coop with chickens in it, right in the middle of the room, but no...just people, a table full of books, and an air of anticipation. There were about 30 of us in the audience, and a quick scan showed me that we were all ages, and all types.

I didn't take down the names of the presenters, but I hope they come to the next meeting. I had to cut out 15 minutes early to get back to Patrick's swim meet, but here is a rundown of what was discussed.

1. The bee guy spoke first. He was so young--not more than his early 20s I would guess--and he said he started beekeeping at a very young age after he pestered his dad into it. He gave us an amazing presentation with a slick computer slide show (think powerpoint on steroids!), covering all the basics:

  • History of beekeeping (earliest evidence from 7000 BC, a cave painting of a man collecting honey from a hive)
  • Hive Types through the centuries (current, efficient model introduced in mid 1800s)
  • Beekeeping tools (mentioned that the veil and gloves may become optional with more experience, and knowing the mood of the bees
  • Products (honey, wax, royal jelly, pollen, propolis)
  • Pests that bother the hive
  • Seasons with the hive
  • Local info: NEIBA meets monthly at Classic Cafe click here for their site!
  • NEIBA offering intro class on March 8, from 8-4 for 125.00 which includes startup tools and box
I was amazed by the wealth of bee knowledge this young man shared with us. His young age, obvious passion, and ability to use technology to present the topic to us in such an interesting way gives me such hope for the future of beekeeping. One woman in the audience raised her hand and said she had caught a swarm of bees in a box that she had purchased (wow, that would take guts) but that the entire hive had died over the winter. She wanted to try again. And I want to try for the first time. Everything about bee-keeping sounded fascinating, yet relatively simple. It's on my bucket list!

2. Next topic-Chickens! A woman spoke to us about her chickens (I'd say she was around my age). She was hilarious! Very frank about the intelligence of her 'girls' (pretty much non-existent). She has been raising egg and meat chickens for 8 or 9 years. Previously having lived 'in town', she and her family moved to the country and immediately started to raise chickens. I soaked up all the practical information she was sharing, even though I'd read most of it before in books. There is so much information to be found in books, that it can be absolutely overwhelming--talking to a real-live person and being able to interact is nice. A couple ideas she threw out that I actually had not run across before;
  • Chickens only lay for about 2 years (and then you've got to choose to keep feeding them or butcher them)
  • Kitty litter boxes work well as laying boxes!
  • Brown Chickens, in her experience, are the best layers with biggest eggs
  • She described an alternative to laying boxes: a chicken 'tunnel' with curtains at each end. Chickens will go in to lay the eggs but won't sleep in there; eggs will stay cleaner
  • She warned that chickens are MESSY. Think poop everywhere. They are also destructive.
  • You can trim chickens' feathers to keep them from going over fences
  • Chickens are extremely hardy, and need very little care. Even in the bitter cold of winter, they don't need extra heat, and are good at surviving as long as you keep them fed and watered
I liked her frankness and her funny personality. Though I was soaking it all up (and having strong memories of Grandma's chickens, too), I had to keep from feeling discouraged about my own situation. My teeny tiny yard, with room for maybe 2 chickens (I would say one, but I have this thing about animals being lonely!), opposed to her 8 acres and 16 laying birds and 25 meat birds.

The city code was brought up. The meeting was being held in New Haven, which is where most of the audience appeared to be from. In New Haven, there is no law or code against backyard chickens. In Fort Wayne, however, it is against code. Not allowed. Boo! The guy behind me offered up this; Yeah, it's 'not allowed.' However, say you get a few chickens. If you keep the neighbors happy, there's a great chance they won't tattle. DON'T get a rooster (duh) and pass over eggs now and then--keep people content with the fact that their crazy-in-the-head neighbor has chickens, and you may just stay under the radar. If I look at the layout of my property, I would have to potentially pacify 5 sets of neighbors. Seems doable to me.

3. The last guy to speak before I had to leave was a mixed bag. He said he'd been invited to talk chickens, but that he wanted to focus on the entire topic of sustainable agriculture. I could tell immediately this guy was intense and serious, and the tone of the meeting altered noticeably. This was a guy who believed and LIVED the stuff I've been reading and researching about for years; closed loops, water conservation, growing most of his own food and meat. It was clear he had property with which to do this; he keeps 150 chickens, at least a dozen pigs, several cattle, goats. All of which he butchers himself. And the blood from the butchering he uses on his garden crops, mixed with river water that he pumps out himself. Everything he does is as close to a closed circle as possible, with very little waste, and he said he has an almost non-existent grocery bill. I was blown away, completely. Shocked, even. This guy meant business.

As he spoke, he invited people to chime in. We got down to the nitty-gritty about what is going wrong currently with monocultures and chemicals and farmers barely making it despite working insane hours with full time jobs in addition to the farm (this is where encouraging personal stories, like the one found in this book, come in handy to offer a refreshing alternative). People became engaged, offering hope that within a generation or two we can turn it all around. I hated having to leave right as stuff started to heat up; my heart was pounding as everything I've learned the past few years began to manifest in a real conversation with like-minded people. I was buzzing with excited energy as I left to get back the pool and my waiting son. I had to switch gears during the 20 minute drive, but my mind was swirling. I can't wait until the next meeting. This may the beginning of really learning what I need, and diving more fully in the sustainable life I seek.


  1. Hi Andrea! Jo just told me about your blog and I thought I'd stop in and say hi! I loved this post, it sounds like you've learned a lot at your seminar. The guy behind you was totally right, by the way, I know lots of people in our city that keep chickens without the required permit. As long as you keep it super clean, and smell free and bribe them with eggs, it can work out fine. Before we got chickens in the city we talked it over with our neighbors, they couldn't understand why we'd want chickens, but they were all totally fine with it. Anyway- enough about chickens. I'm glad to meet you and will be following you on bloglovin. Feel free to stop by my blog if you want to read more about our chickens and gardens in the city. We're at

  2. Hi Meredith! I have actually run into your blog before and I LOVE IT! Thanks for chiming in here with your support. I know that a few of my neighbors would raise their eyebrows, but I don't think anyone would outright be against me keeping hens. Taking the step to do it seems so hard to me right now, but I dream about it daily. I will stop by your blog often for inspiration!