Thursday, April 30, 2009
But, I have to say, I really dislike this term "urban homesteading." We live in a very different time from those who actually lived on homesteads. We have modern conveniences and amenities that they didn't. Let's face it. We're homestead-lite. We're just playacting at roughing it. It's the equivalent of going camping beside a hotel. If we are ever sick of sleeping in the tent, we can always get a room.
More troubling, the term "homesteading" recalls the kind of pioneering rhetoric that justified westward expansion and the clearing of Native Americans from their land. Urban homesteading romanticizes the past and erases the fact that the Homestead Act of 1862 was brutal to Native tribes. It essentially took Indian lands and gave them to settlers of European descent.
I recognize that "urban homesteading" is awfully catchy, and all movements--if they are to move people--must capture their imagination and speak to their aspirations. But do we have to resurrect a term that has left such a destructive legacy?
Why not come up with a new phrase, one that reflects our historical moment and its particular contradictions and ironies, such as my blogging about "getting back to the earth"? And I'm not the only one. (See, "The Art of Self-Reliance")
I like the term, "homegrown evolution," the blog name of a couple who are, ironically, the authors of a book titled, The Urban Homestead.
Another possibility is the term "urban farming," which has also become very popular. However, to call what we are doing in our 40'x 40' back yard "farming" might be an insult to farmers.
So, if you had to capture this growing shift in attitude towards our food- and eco-systems, what would you call it?
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
We had decided to get chicks from nearby Livingscape Nursery, as a friend had given us one of their gift cards for the explicit purpose of buying chickens and chicken supplies. Checking Livingscape's website, finally there was a bulletin: they would be receiving a batch of day old Wyandottes on April 8th.
Why Wyandottes you may ask? My grandma, a veritable chicken expert, recommended Wyandottes for their friendly disposition and eggcellent laying abilities. Personally I was a bit partial toward Barred Rocks, since they reminded me of my childhood (I decorated our family fridge with a little poster of the breed having coffee at a streetside bistro, the Barred Rock Cafe), but my grandma is always full of wonderful and practical advice and I feel inclined to at least listen to her some of the time. Especially regarding chickens -- we have joked that she is St. Brigid, the patron saint of chickens, as her exploits at saving the species over the years are well known to many.
"Marie, I was thinking of getting Wyandottes ... what do you -"
She cut me off. "Listen babe. The chickens are ALL yours."
So Wyandottes it was.
We walked over to Livingscape and met with one of the staff members, Jennifer. A very friendly gal, she told us that we could pick up the baby chicks on our own if we felt comfortable doing so. Comfortable doing so? I'm the guy that used to have a pet chicken named Chicky Baby who I would hold in my arms, looking deep into her eyes, and give her long sweet kisses on the end of her little beak. Don't get the wrong idea. I was four.
A very sweet thing that Jennifer instructed me on was not to reach down from above to grab the chicks, but rather to reach down and then come in laterally. "Predators come at them from above, so we try to avoid doing that. That way we don't stress them out." I was touched. Chickens might not have half a brain, but I'm all about compassion for animals. On top of that, the chickens were in glass tanks so that they could "get more accustomed to being face to face with people." Very sweet indeed.
As I mentioned before, Portland allows three hens within city limits, and no roosters. Obviously, having a rooster in a residential neighborhood could cause problems. Our fake band has garnered one noise complaint in the past, but I could see a rooster racking them up on a daily basis! However, Portlanders can own up to six hens although a special permit is required. Not sure about the details on how to get one, but don't think we'll be needing that many hens. We did decide to push our luck and get four chicks, just in case one ended up being a rooster, since they're only sexed out to be 90% female.
We ended up getting two Silver Laced Wyandottes and two Golden Sex Links, also listed as being very good egg layers. The Wyandottes grow up to be very attractive. Check out what the hens will look like as adults here.
I selected a bag of feed and a bag of white pine small animal bedding. We ensured that the bedding didn't contain cedar, as that can be lethal to chickens. The fumes emitted can be downright lethal. With the right bedding and food, I was ready to take the babies home.
Jennifer informed me that she would rather I drive the little gals home to prevent them from getting too cold. I knew I had come to the right place to pick up chicks. Setting the dial to 89.1 FM KMHD (these were jazz chicks mind you, though I couldn't find any Chick Corea), the environment and temperature in the car were just right for chicken transport.
We got home, and set up a 50 gallon or so aquarium/terrarium, with heat lamp attached, that our friend David had loaned us. He used it last year to rear his four chicks. One of the chicks, Marilyn, ended up being a Marvin and in a pot of soup across town. David now raises three adult hens who produce eggs for him faithfully.
With the 50 gallon tank on the dining room table, a nice layer of bedding in place, the heat lamp installed, and a little water and feeder dish, their new home was ready. We put them in and ... they seemed happy, I guess. How does one gauge whether a chick is happy? I'm not sure, but I think I saw one of them smile.
At first Cricket didn't pay them any mind, but then I made the mistake of directing her attention to the tank, and now she is VERY interested. Our hope is that by handling them, taking them out of the cage and letting her smell them, and spending time watching them grow up, that perhaps she'll get over any urge to eat them. But we will have to be vigilant for sure.
Alani got into them, too! We took turns holding her up, and she peeped into the tank and made funny sounds and waved her arms and jumped up and down, so I'm pretty sure that she approves.
After a few adjustments of the heat lamp and changes to the water dish, we realized we had a good setup. We change their water regularly, and most of the time the chicks are happy in their cage. They will be there for about a month and half, until they get a bit bigger. Once they are semi-grown teenagers, they are called pullets. I am going to build the coop within that time frame. I need to have it completed by the time they are ready to upgrade from their studio loft to their foursquare style house on stilts.
For now, the girls are happy. They sleep in a pile together under the lamp, and sometimes extend their little wings out to soak up the heat. I toss them an occasional clump of grass or clover, and they have also devoured worms and even dead flies that I hunted down for them. They are growing at an alarming pace!!!
I will post more pictures of the chicks as they get older, and possibly even some video.
In the meantime, please join me in welcoming Dolly, Minnie, Rosemary, and Loretta to the world.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Our yard will never look like this again. The glorious blooms and lush green lawn. The carefully laid bricks that curve this way and that.
I tell myself that we will are not destroying beauty, but that our vegetable garden will offer new kinds of magic.
But for now, I am a little sad and nostalgic.
Fast-forward five years later:
V and I have been planning our little plot in the back for months now. The weather has finally turned a corner, and I am giddy about the sun and the longer days.
It’s an understatement to say that being married and raising a child have changed my outlook on life. With the current economic downturn and the resurgence in “victory gardens,” I am taking stock of how I live, what I consume and the impact my habits have for my family and for future generations. As a parent, I want to give my children the skills and the space to grow into their best selves. And gardening is an important part of that equation. Knowing how to transform a seedling into sustenance is profoundly empowering, and if I want my daughter to become self-reliant and independent, I need to teach her how to tend a garden.
But, first I need to learn how to do it myself.