Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter Crops

We spent the past week trying to complete our holiday shopping. We failed miserably! When I was young, I always liked to spend time at the mall. Now, I find it extremely tiring. I'd much rather spend time planning the urban farmstead.

We ordered a mushroom kit last week and are anxiously awaiting its arrival. We eat a lot of varieties of mushrooms in our house, but especially enjoy button mushrooms in just about everything. We didn't grow our own in 2008. Instead, we purchased them at the local farmers market. Purchased in large quantities, they were sliced and then frozen in bags. We are rapidly running out, so the idea of growing any variety of 'shroom when it is snowing outside is really appealing.

With about 6 inches of snow on the ground, the only other crop that we are still producing are sprouts. This week's seed is a mix of red beet, alfalfa, broccoli clover and radish. Our sprouter is a small, two-tray affair that was purchased from a mail order catalog a couple of years ago. We love to sprout seeds for fresh veggies when the garden isn't producing. They really spruce up salads and stir frys.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ask And Ye Shall Receive...

I mentioned to a friend that we were planning to expand our vegetable gardens next year. I told her that I was going to try to get involved in some seed swaps to keep the costs down. She made me a proposition that I couldn't refuse:

She is the leader of a local non-profit youth group that I often volunteer with. They had received a seed donation and decided to share the seeds that they could not use with neighborhood gardeners. In all, I received about 30 packs of seeds. In exchange, I will allow the group to tour my gardens in the summer so that they can see some of the more unusual items, like amaranth and broom corn. Of course, both of those plants will produce copious amounts of feed for my chickens!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chickens On The Cheap...

I am fairly frugal by nature. I caught a break a month or so ago and was able to purchase two wooden playhouse kits for only $80 each, which would make perfect chicken coops. Their purchase had been an investment in our future farm. We hadn’t planned to use them at our city property, but at least one would be put to good use on our urban farm.

City life can be treacherous for chickens. I always heard that everybody likes to eat chicken. However, everybody in that sentence should be changed to every species. That includes stray dogs, cats, raccoons, skunks, hawks, even peregrine falcons! We also have harsh winters that include blizzards and bone-numbing cold. In the northeast, storms can creep in with very little warning. It just made sense to create an indoor pen to protect our chickens. They would have opportunities to forage outside when we were home, but while at work it was important that they be safe.

We determined that the best place to do this was on the second floor of our carriage house. It was a rather large affair, roughly the size of a raised ranch house. We wouldn’t have more than 6 hens, but they would have about 700 square feet of living space. Once we partitioned off the chicken pen, there would be room for some storage and maybe some of our other farm ventures. Since the weather was so cold, it wasn’t feasible to start the construction work. But it did give us several months to start to collect construction materials from Craigslist, Freecycle and even the curb. I would also have the time to watch the sales at Tractor Supply and other places until we had everything that we needed to go forward in the Spring. Mission: 2 Mars urban farm was really starting to come together.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Managing Money

Money…money…money… It doesn't grow on trees and it truly was the root of most evil. It was certainly at the root of many of our problems. The stock market had taken a nosedive, which negatively affected our retirement savings. We were fortunate enough to have decent jobs during a time when so many people were unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. We also had two children in college. They had developed the unique ability to suction money out of our wallets as though they were vacuum cleaners.

The Mission: 2 Mars urban farm would need to be put together as frugally as possible. We didn’t really want to invest any more money into our current property when our dream was to move to a five acre farm. We set a goal of $1000 to get started. That’s right! $1000… Not much, but it would force us to think carefully before making any expenditures and seek out freebies when possible. The costs broke down as follows: Securing an area for chickens and/or quail would cost about $200. The gardens were allocated $300 because we would need to truck in additional soil and possibly build raised beds. The aquaculture of tilapia would require another $300 for the equipment, leaving a whopping $200 to pay for fish, birds, seeds, a few plants and the inevitable problems or miscalculations. Any additional money required would have to be raised by the farm itself through the sale of its products. For now, a hobby greenhouse was way out of our budget. Ideally, we would find ways to locate recycled materials to cut our costs down and find a way to add a greenhouse to extend our growing season in time for next winter.

Armed with an outline for both the urban farm layout and a plan for the finances to create it, the real work was to begin immediately. It might be winter, but there was a lot to be done right now.