Longing.

I just replanted 18 Sweetie and Yellow Pear starts into their own cowpots today. They’ve taken up a new place under a grow light in the back bedroom. They bend toward the sparse blinding light allowed through the southern window. I check on them many times a day to make sure their stalks are straight, to turn them away from the sun when they bow too deep to their god.  As warm and bright as it is, the light from that window is no match for the clean, scorching heat you feel in the yard.  Free of the confines of double-pane glass and studded walls the warmth of a Florida summer beats down in pulsing waves kissing skin with melting breath. You work hard and fast in the morning hours to be relieved before that afternoon intensity shocks your soul, when your boot shod feet feel too heavy to move and the weeds in the garden are insurmountable obstacles. And you hate Florida then, you hate the three growing seasons, the ridiculous number of pests, the heat that turns you to walking liquid in seconds flat and wish you didn’t have the drive to plant, to sow, to grow.

Then you leave it, thinking the break will be nice.

But by late spring, when chick sales are booming and your spam box is ridiculing you with a vast number of gardening emails you start to bend, searching for the sun, for the heat, for the clean beauty of dirt in your nails, sweat on your brow, the pink stain of sunlight on your shoulders. Laughing at yourself for whining over the weather because you had no idea how good you had it.

The seedlings will be going to new homes with rich full sun and no restrictions on their tap-roots, though they don’t know it yet. And me? I’ll be alright for a few seasons, I just have to keep my stalk straight.

 

 

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Being Stewardly Begins at Home.

I’m going to rant for a moment but the point is that I would really enjoy hearing your opinions on this pet peeve of mine. We have recently moved into income restricted housing in a very busy part of town. We’re extremely close to a multitude of theme parks so there is also a good bit of tourist traffic. I’m still transitioning. At times I Love the city and at others I feel claustrophobic, the people are just much too close for my liking. But there is nothing to be done about it right now so I am trying to ignore all the people.

One thing that bothers me, that has always bothered me no matter where I lived, is people deliberately leaving trash on the ground.

It bothers me to no extent.

I feel terrible when I go outside and see the maintenance people wearing blue gloves, the midday heat rolling across their hunched backs as they diligently pick up scattered trash around the compactor. I always want to help but I’m usually running to my car or the mail box and have the kids inside and can’t leave them for that long. So I do what I can which is be mindful of my own trash. Set the example to others when I put my garbage in the bins or pick up something I dropped on the sidewalk.

I don’t understand why people think it is okay to litter. And this is outside their own homes. I can’t imagine that it feels pleasant to see others clean your mess when you leave your trash for someone else to clean up. To walk over random bottles, papers and fast food bags as you try and get in your car.

I know it doesn’t feel pleasant to deal with someone else’s garbage.

This is such a common occurrence that when we moved in the maintenance man instructed us on how to throw away larger boxes and things by going through the back gate and opening a much larger door behind it. I remembered the lesson and the other day was throwing out a moving box I couldn’t salvage (all our empty moving boxes are in storage for when we have to move again), I opened the creaking metal door, holding my breath from the smell and chucked it in. I left the dumpster the way I found it, with doors closed. On my way to the mailbox I smiled and waved at the maintenance man who was on a phone call outside the pool. He stopped his phone call to thank me.

Let me say that again, He stopped his phone call mid sentence to say “thank you for putting your trash where it belongs. We tell everyone that moves in but no one does it.” I didn’t know what to say so I just say you’re welcome and went on my way.

Being a steward starts at home, folks. We need to be mindful of our surroundings. We need to be thoughtful of the garbage we accumulate day to day and see it properly disposed. Before we can look at saving the ocean or the mountains or the rivers and lakes we need to do all we can not to create the mess in the first place.

Because once each and every one of us takes responsibility for our garbage, the lakes and rivers and mountains and oceans and everything else will be alright. Start local, start with your house. Make yourself an example to others.

Grow one thing and grow it good.

It’s really easy to get swept up in the gardening craze. You have a bit of earth in a pot, some seed packets in your pocket and a whole bucket full of good intentions. A tang of rain is riding on hot spring breath. You are ready to start taking charge of your food and by golly this year things are gonna change!

Quite a lot of us have very limited growing capability, we either do not have the knowledge or do not have the time or space to grow enough food to adequately supplement our food supply. Growing too many different things in too little space is going to yield very little come harvest time. And if our goal here is to supplement, actually create a significant deficit in the quantity of food purchased from the store, well, folks, we’re going to have to rethink those colorful little packets of promise you have in your back pocket.

Chose one thing. Grow it Good.

Now, I see you’re getting in a little tizzy. It’s hard to decide, I know. But look at those packets, really look. What if you could only grow one thing? What if you could only chose one herb or veg to eat for the next week? Only one to freeze or dehydrate or can? What would it be?

Stack up your seed packets in order of importance with the top food on the top and working your way down to the ones that you picked up because you thought it’d be neat to grow or the colors called to you. We’ll get to those, just not right now.

Now, I want you to do more than just read the back of the seed packet. I want you to really research the one you picked. Find out soil requirements and actually test out your soil. Find out earliest germination dates, earliest harvest dates and write them down in your calendar. Watering requirements? Fertilization- does it like coffee grounds (like tomatoes) or blood (like a fig) or ammonia (like tomatoes, again) or doesn’t like anything at all? Think about how you’ll get those things to it and write down when you’ll apply it, where you’ll get it and how much you’ll give it. How do you prune it, do you need to prune it? How does it pollinate? What other plants are appropriate companions for it when the time comes for expansion? Will it weather the winter or will you need to replant new ones next spring? Will it need stabilization later on? Can you seed save from it? What pests are going to be attracted to it? What counter-attack methods can you prepare for?

Become an expert.

 

Sure, you could throw a million different things in the ground, everything and anything that passes your fancy but I can tell you from experience what that is going to get you. You’re going to end up with stunted plants producing sub-par. You’ll end up with crisis after crisis and not just a few failure-to-thrives. You’ll have wasted space, time and life, worked your butt-off for little reward. For those of you that are complaining that growing “just tomatoes” or “just brassicas” isn’t fun, go ahead, after you’ve sown your primary focus and plant a few other things from the order of importance you’ve assembled. Research using the same formula and plant away, my friend!

But if you do the things above, you’ll increase your yield, lighten your work and have the skill and ability to really put a dent in that shopping bill.

Start thinking of the holidays

If you’re interested in raising your own turkeys, pigs or chickens for holiday dinners now is the time to start purchasing poults, chicks, goslings and piglets. If you don’t want to raise them yourself, now is the time to start searching for a local grower. I know that these purchases (pastured, free range, etc) can be expensive options but contacting a farmer now is the first step to enjoying humanely raised animals on these special occasions. Talk with them to set up a payment plan or put down a deposit. For $5 or $10 a paycheck you could secure your share, use your dollar to vote for humanely raised meat and support a local small farm. I’m not sure there’s a better gift to give or receive this coming holiday.

Easter is coming. Please don’t be stupid.

Easter is a week away and with it comes a feeling of rebirth, renewal. Frosty minds are thawing out, frozen limbs are shuddering to life. The grass becomes thick pools of verdant color screaming against the deadness that is slowly melting away with the rise of the thermometer.

It’s a gorgeous time.

And with the cools winds that carry a streamer of the future’s heat our primal inner selves scream for newness. And babies. Lots and lots of babies.

Babies are just cute and the promise they carry on miniature faces, glittering like forgotten hope in clear, bright eyes, can be difficult to resist.

But you can do it because you are a grown-up and civilized and not ruled by your yearning internal instincts or your external pleading off-spring.

BABY FARM ANIMALS ARE NOT TOYS. They are not gifts. They are not cutesy ways to celebrate holidays. They carry with them a price that many cannot pay. “Oh but I got a book about rabbits from the library for my child, they have been telling me for years to get them this for a pet.” I’ll break down some information on the top two Easter animals in easy to digest little bullet point pills for you to swallow. If you find yourself choking on any of these, perhaps this pet is not for your family.

Rabbits

  • Male Rabbits urinate (spray) a lovely orange-red pattern whose height, diameter and range will amaze you day after day after day.
  • Rabbits cannot vomit. If you think to keep it inside as a “house bunny” realize that anything they ingest (from Legos to pencil shavings, receipts to power cords) and cannot pass will cause a blockage and the bunny will slowly die. If you think this won’t happen, think again. Angora rabbits can choke to death on their own fur. Think about how you would want to go, choking on something because your owner was negligent (meaning to or not) doesn’t sound fun to me.
  • If you plan to keep your rabbit outside, how often are you going to play with it? What happens if it gets out of your hands? Rabbits are not dogs or cats, they are PREY ANIMALS. If they escape from their handler, they will run. They are VERY fast and have VERY sharp claws and teeth. They will amaze you at their ability to fit through holes you thought only big enough for a mouse. They will bite you, they will scratch you when you catch them. And your child. A rabbit that escapes after being brought food will not do well in the wilds of your city. They will eat things they shouldn’t (see above bullet), they will get eaten by the neighbor’s dog.
  • They poop everywhere. Yes, if you have patience and determination you can litter train a rabbit but it doesn’t mean they’ll do it every time and the process doesn’t sound like very much fun. (see bullet 1)
  • Rabbits smell. Yes, I’m sorry to break it to you but if you get lazy and don’t want to clean the cage every couple days the ammonia smell will be outrageous. The cages need to be cleaned out completely every. single. week. The rabbit needs to be removed, the walls and floor wiped with a non-toxic bleach mixture (1:10) and left to air dry. The food bowl and water bottle needs to be cleaned out every two days at most. This means completely removing and disinfecting. The rabbit needs to be in a secure place (preferably a backup cage) during this process. Then you need to clean out the backup cage. If you have an angora, be prepared for this to take about an hour or more. That hair gets everywhere.

Sound like a lot of work? It is, and we haven’t even gotten to the really heavy part of rabbit raising like grooming and injury care.

Chickens

  • Cute fuzzy little chicks that feel like over sized cotton balls in your hand grow up to be sleek, not quite cute chickens you carry under your arm and more than likely they’ll all be Roosters. The probability of you buying a chick to get eggs from later on and ending up getting a testosterone infused male looking to fight you or mate you (or probably both) is about 80% (if you have luck like mine it’s about 95%). Sexing (or determining the sex of the chick) is more a religion than a science, you have hope in your gut and faith that you’re right and pray not wrong more than your right.
  • Chickens eat a lot.
  • You cannot buy just one chicken. No really, they will do very poorly all alone in their coop or running around your back yard. They like to be in a flock. Minimum I’d say is 3, 4 is better.
  • If you end up with 2 males THEY WILL FIGHT. They’ll fight each other, the dog, your child, you. Heck, just one will fight the last three and it starts around 3 months of age and doesn’t really let up until they’re much, much older. Especially, if they only have a couple hens to look out for and have limited space. Yes, you’ll hear stories of other people’s wonderful house roosters that perch on their shoulders and cuddle with the cat. That is an exception, don’t count on it.
  • Hens don’t lay until they are 6-8 months old. This means 6-8 months of twice daily feedings, water duty, opening and closing the coop, moving the coop around if you have a tractor, scooping their poop out of the coop every other day, buying stuff for fleas, treating illnesses and injuries, keeping your kids from chasing them, keeping the dog from chasing them, finding a chicken pet sitter so you can go on that last minute business trip or the vacation you’ve been planning all year. ALL this before you get that one tiny first egg.
  • Chickens will eat bugs, yay! But free-ranging chickens will also eat things you don’t want them to, they’ll scratch up your plants, scatter your mulch, poop on your deck, roost on your railing, poop on your grill, come in your house if you leave the door open (even by accident), then poop in your house, poop on your car, try and roost on your laundry lines even when there are clothes on them, get inside your car if you leave the door open, the possibilities are endless.

95% of Easter rabbits and chicks don’t make it to their first birthday. Animals that could live up to a decade or more die as babies because of impulsive, seasonal purchasing.

I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from starting a backyard rabbitry or a personal flock of chickens. If you’re really serious we can talk more (I’d LOVE to talk more) but pleasepleaseplease don’t go out and buy a kit or poult or duckling or chick because you want to see the delight it will bring your child. The light will still shine in their eyes if you make your purchase later and this time it won’t get shadowed with disappointment, sadness and guilt when you realize these animals are not for your family or when they die because you weren’t really and truly prepared.

And if you wait about three weeks after Easter to start looking, once you’re serious and determined and your head is clear of spring pollen and fanciful ideas, all the people that didn’t read this blog will be giving them away for free. Be that person, the one that helps others with their mistakes, giving homes to innocent animals that had no choice in the time of year they were born. The one that realizes the enormity of caring for these creatures and makes an informed decision, a conscious choice.  And next year, pass the message on.

Introductions

Hello! I’m Crystal, creator of the Suburban Steward. This blog has been created to combine my passions for farming, education and healthy living into a macaroon of deliciously helpful information. It’s also going to be a place where I chronicle my journey learning and forming my own small business as a consultant for urban/suburban/mini/micro farming. Helping others to create a thriving farm oasis in their own property lines, supplement their food supply with righteous nutrition and establishing realistic, workable goals to move from city living to country life are just a few things I look forward to.

Here goes nothing.