Sunday, April 17, 2011

Urban Chicken Keeping

Mr. Treat and the chicken

Mr. Reginald Treat, Fox Esquire here.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the Green Metropolis Fair in Chicago and they had a discussion on urban chicken keeping. What a wonderful idea! Chickens for every backyard, balcony, and rooftop deck I say!

Now, while you might think you need to read up on the subject, here are all the main points:

* First, why keep just a few chickens? Go for lots of them! (Meaty ones are better.)

* Make sure they're really, truly free range by doing away with chicken wire, cages, latches, etc.

* Always keep a box of napkins near your chickens as well as several sauces. (Feel free to get creative here. Maybe an apricot-balsamic reduction, or a tangerine gastrique? Of course, if thick, spicy BBQ sauce is your real forte, by all means do that!) These items are there just to, uh, help the chickens get Omega 3s into their eggs. Yeah.

* Finally, make sure all your hard work doesn't go unnoticed. Certainly don't hide your chickens away behind fences; maybe even post a small sign or two. Your chickens will be stars as your neighbors lavash praise on them and you. Soon, everybody in town will keep chickens and we'll all be soooooo happy!

Friday, April 15, 2011


Wren transplants seedling

My grandmother grew African violets. They dotted window ledges and side tables throughout our house. They always seemed to be in bloom, their velvety leaves offset by tiny jewel-colored flowers. I never paid much attention to them, perhaps they were too small or too precious, or they just couldn't compete with my dolls. But from time to time my grandma would divide and transplant her treasures and on those days, for me, everything else stopped.

You knew it was one of these special days when my grandma would cover the kitchen table with newspapers and start dumping out mounds of potting soil. And there would be my sister and me, hovering off to the side, waiting until she was done.

Our playing in the dirt probably involved small cars or toys. I don't know. I only remember the soil—its richness of color, its smell, its texture. I remember pushing it around, mounding it, scooping it, molding it. I don't think my grandma ever hurried us or scolded about the mess we must have made.

Now, as a gardner, I know what she knew then. Something as absolutely basic as dirt can bring the simplest joy. And yes, I still play in it.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Paper Pot Maker

Seedling in paper pot
I've tried lots of methods for growing seedlings but my fav involves The Paper Pot Maker—a little wooden mold for forming paper pots. These pots are easy to make and can be transplanted directly into the ground. No more plastic pots to store or wash! It's also incredibly green. Not only are you recycling paper, you don't have to use water to wash out the pots or bleach to sterilize them.

Some tips for using the Paper Pot Maker:

1. Just use one thickness of paper. Using several layers or really heavy paper prevents it from going fully into the mold and forming a nice secure shape. It's the ridge at the bottom that really holds the pot together so you want that tightly formed. And newspaper works great but I also like to use recycled (medium weight) brown bags.

2. Use the suggested size (3½ x 10") strip of paper, or close to it. I used to not pay attention and completely wing it. Some pots were great, some fell apart. So I made a cardboard template. (It's a bit longer, 3½ by 11.) Now, without being too precise, I can cut the paper fast and still get a good size to work with.

3. If the pots are coming out a little wobbly, press the paper harder into the mold. You can salvage an imperfect one by pinching or folding the paper a bit more to stabilize it. Really, the only pots that just don't work are the ones with too big or too small strips of paper.

4. Don't worry how they look because, after several weeks, they'll look terrible. In fact, they'll disintegrate. And that's the point! Rest assured, even if the bottoms pretty much rot out, there's enough paper and, at that point, root mass, to hold it together for planting.