Gardening with Vickie

A Victory for Backyard Chickens

A photo of Vickie MorganSince I last posted (sorry it took me so long) the chicken law needed to go to the planning commission to get it’s okay, then it would become law. Well things did not go so well with the planning commission –members thought it would ruin the image of Burton if they allowed chickens and one man said chickens just had so many diseases it would endanger the public if they allowed them. So with only me in the audience in favor of backyard chickens, the law was quickly turned down.

All hope was not lost, although believe me I felt that way, the city council could override the planning commission’s recommendation. So I was excited when I heard the council was having a meeting about the chicken ordinance on July 6.

A chicken in the backyard

As I sat in the council meeting trying to decide what to say Bat reached over and whispered in my ear that he would speak about the chickens if I wanted him to. You know I said yes – whew no worries about turning red! So when it came time for audience participation he got up to speak, and then a neighbor down the street spoke in favor of chickens. One lady spoke up and said she would like to have chickens for her grandchildren and another lady living here from Australia spoke up and said it would be a great experience for her children, and she would love to give a go. She spoke about a Chicken 101 class in Genesee County somewhere – wish I had gotten a chance to speak with her afterwards you know that would be a great class to take.

Then the council spoke – all except one were in favor of backyard chickens in the City of Burton. I’m sure he is a nice guy anyway. You can read more about it in this Flint Journal article.

Can you believe it? Chickens are legal in the city of Burton! Many thanks to city council member Paula Zelenko for her tremendous help in getting this law passed. Many thanks to the rest of the council for having open minds and thinking outside the box as Bat would say.

Chickens enjoying the backyard.

The law states you have to have a ½ acre of land, but you are able to go before the planning commission if you have less and ask to keep chickens. You can keep 6 chickens but no roosters. I just can’t imagine going out in my backyard and gathering fresh eggs. Just the thoughts of that connects you more to the land you live on. I’m not sure how many people will have chickens but the idea of backyard chickens is becoming more popular and I think it’s great the city I live in has given the okay for people to have the option.

Ahhh, finally Chickens!

Sustainable Urban Farming: Everything Old Is New Again

A photo of Vickie Morgan“Everything old is new again.” That’s what the plaque my daughter gave me for Christmas read. She thought it fit me perfectly.

In order to live the sustainable life that I strive for, I’ve been finding out that everything old is new again, and it has been helping people lead a more enriching life. It is leading to people back to the land and to trying to be homesteaders again.

Everything Old Is New Again plaque

Not everyone can live in the country though and achieve homesteading to that degree. Some of us cannot afford to make the move or some of us just love living in the city. Believe it or not it’s not all bad living in the city. We love our neighbors, and the convenience just can’t be beat. That’s where the term urban homesteaders come in, which basically means that we are city dwellers who try to do as much for ourselves as possible in order to live a more sustainable life.

How to achieve this though, if you live on just a half acre like we do or an even a small city lot? A garden is a great way to start. It’s amazing how much you can grow on a small plot of land. In order to get as much from my garden as possible, I plant my seeds a lot closer than recommended, and I grow vertically as much as possible. I use techniques such as bean teepees and growing pole beans in the corn. We’ve recently expanded our garden space and this year we will be using even more of our backyard, putting it to good use growing food.

Of course, after the harvest you will need to know how to preserve the food by canning, freezing or drying. If you don’t know how to can, you can usually find a canning course at your local extension service or even at the library. Just imagine going to your pantry in January and eating green beans from your garden that you harvested in August. The taste is superior and you know where they came from and just how they were grown.

Remember though, there is nothing wrong with buying local if you can not grow it yourself – we love the Flint Farmers’ Market or going to the farm that’s close by us. For instance, last year after buying peaches from the store we came home and realized that they had been grown in China. It was at that moment that we decided to go to a peach orchard not too far from us and can our own.

Then start cooking your own meals. Get some cookbooks and begin trying out some recipes, believe me there will be some meals you choose not to make again, but after a while you’ll know what ingredients you like, and you’ll be able to know which recipe is good for you. Just so you don’t become too overwhelmed with making dinner everyday consider making a double batch of that lasagna, pizza, or casserole and freeze it for a busy day.

Raise some livestock, if your local government will allow it. Raising chickens on your lot is a great place to start, and you will have your own fresh eggs. If your city’s ordinances won’t allow raising chickens you might want to consider looking into how you can change the law, like I’m trying to do now.

The last city council meeting sounded positive. Of course there were a few chicken jokes cracked here and there, but overall I believe most of the questions were answered about raising backyard chickens, thanks to one of the council members. What types of questions were raised? One of the concerns was about the odor. To put that in perspective four to five chickens equal in the amount of waste to the average sized dog. Unlike cat and dog waste though, the great thing about chicken manure is that you can put it your compost, and it makes great fertilizer. The other question raised was about noise. There will be no roosters (you don’t need a rooster for eggs) and chickens only cluck when disturbed or they lay an egg.

A couple of days after the meeting a reporter from the Flint Journal called and asked some questions. We talked at length about the trend of keeping backyard chickens and my reasons for wanting them. I expected the article to be in the local Burton News, but believe it or not the article about the backyard chicken ordinance made the front page of Sunday edition of the Flint Journal, “Backyard chicken trend on the menu in Burton.” The reporter didn’t begin to cover everything I said, but overall, after I’ve gotten over the shock of my name being on the front page, I think it was a positive article.

Now just one more city council meeting to discuss regulations and if all goes well by the first of March we will be able to have chickens and then one more old thing will become new again. Not a bad thing to happen at all.

Backyard Chickens and the City Council

A photo of Vickie MorganWhen I went to the city council meeting and I asked about having chickens I thought, Well, I will have my chickens by spring. Really, I thought my work was done. I mean, I got up my nerve and spoke and asked for the chickens, so that should be all I have to do, right? Wrong, nothing is ever quite that easy. When I went to the city council meeting last night, I found out that the next committee meeting that will be dealing with the chicken ordinance will be on February 1. There will be a total of two meetings to get the ordinance passed.

I pretty sure that the subject of having chickens in the backyard will be in the paper as there was a reporter in the audience. I have mixed feelings about this – I’m happy on one hand that the word will get out and more people that want chickens in their backyard will show up and give their support, and, on the other hand, I’m kind of nervous there will be people there also that don’t want their neighbors having chickens. Thanks to your helpful comments on a previous post I was able to get some answers to questions people might have. For instance, I’ve found out that four to five hens only produce as much waste as an average sized dog. Unlike dog and cat waste you are able to add chicken waste to your compost and reuse it in your garden. For even more information on changing city chicken ordinances there here are two websites that have been helpful to me, Chicken Revolution and Changing Your City's Chicken Laws.

About a week ago I was told it would be a good thing to contact my neighbors and find out if anyone else is interested in having chickens. So one bitter cold January evening I bundled up with my big coat, scarf, hat, gloves, and long johns underneath my jeans and walked to some of my neighbors to ask them if they are interested in owning chickens. Shaking from the cold, I started knocking on doors of the neighbors I knew. Most people generally were interested – they would say things like “what a neat idea,” but just as quickly add “but I don’t want to raise any.” Then I finally hit the jackpot, and I got one neighbor who was ready to go and said he would love to come to the meeting. Another neighbor across the street said she would love to have chickens for her granddaughter for educational purposes. The lady next to her said she didn’t want any chickens, but would come to the meeting, just to support me and see what a council meeting was all about. Now, she’s nice.

Have you ever been to a city council or town meeting before? To tell you the truth I haven’t, till I decided I wanted chickens. You might be like me and think, how boring. But they are truly interesting, and you find out all the things that are going on in your area. You get the information before any one else about what streets are going to be paved, rate increases, etc., and you get to have a voice. You get to go up front before the microphone and speak your mind and let the council members know how you feel. That is if you can gather up all your nerves. But you know, now that I’ve been to a couple, I think I might continue to go. I may not get to every one of them, but I am going to go to as many as possible and keep informed about my city. Something I should have done a long time ago.

Now, on to more neighbors, the ones I don’t know by name, and ask them if they would like to keep backyard chickens in the city. I have two weeks … and hopefully some warmer days for knocking on doors.

Something for reading by a nice fire:

Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens cover

Raising Chickens: What I Don't Know

A photo of Vickie MorganIf everything goes alright and the city I live in passes a chicken ordinance, I could have chickens by the spring. I’m excited at that prospect, but lately just a little nagging question has crept in to my thoughts and keeping me up at night, repeating itself over and over again, What on earth do I know about raising chickens? Then the answer comes just a bit more softly but not by much, Not a thing, absolutely nothing. I’m a city girl who wants to raise chickens so I can have fresh eggs, and frankly I don’t know a thing about how to raise them. Spring will be here sooner than I think and I’d better get some answers quick.

A chicken that Vickie might someday ownSo, what are the questions I want to know the answers to? Since I first started writing this I found out the answers to a few but still there are a lot. Well here they are (try not to laugh too hard):

How many eggs do they lay a day? Well, that was easy look up on the Internet most places said one a day, but one site said something about resting here and there and you might get 5 eggs a week from one hen. What do they need to rest for? Oh no, another question.

Are they loud? Another look on the Internet, and I found out that roosters are the ones that are loud, but apparently chickens just cluck and make louder noises when bothered. Okay, what or who is going to bother my chickens. Sheesh, another question.

What kind of coop do I need and how much will it cost? At first a portable one seemed like the answer until I considered our harsh winters and then decided a more permanent one will be the best choice. The price of chicken coops can be sky high but I’m looking for a cheap chicken coop now on craigslist – I’m just holding off until I make sure the ordinance passes.

A chicken coop

A portable one still sounds appealing for the summer months, maybe my husband Bat can figure out how to make us one later this spring.

A possible portable chicken coopMore questions racing through my head included:

What kind of chicken do I want? Which leads to the question, do I want brown or white eggs?

At what age do they lay their eggs?

Will I get any eggs in the winter?

How long will an egg stay good in the nest?

How long are eggs good once they are in the refrigerator? (Mine come stamped with the date on the carton.)

What on earth do you feed them? This apparently is one loaded question – everyone has different ideas.

Do they need shots?

So many questions, but I have a few months – hopefully I’ll know the basics by the time the chicken ordinance is passed.

Backyard Chickens: How to Make Them Legal

A photo of Vickie MorganI want chickens, any kind will do-it doesn’t matter if they lay white or brown eggs, if they have feathers on their legs or a big plume on top of their head. I’ve wanted chickens for a very long time, but we live within the city limits, and, with no major move expected to the country soon, I really thought it was only a dream. Things are changing though, cities are becoming more open to allowing residents to own backyard chickens, and my dream might still be possible.

One day last week when I went to City Hall to pay a bill, I asked about keeping chickens and was told you need to own at least 10 acres. Well, that did us in, we own just under an acre. Then, the clerk said she had many inquiries, and she wished someone would go to the city council meeting and ask about keeping backyard chickens. I decided right then, if I wanted chickens, I was going to have to do this.

Vickie hopes this chicken will be hers in the future

Why would I want chickens, you ask? Well, the fresh eggs just can’t be beat, chickens are relatively easy to raise, and then last but not least they give you the best compost for your garden, and it’s free!

I found out that East Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti, Michigan, all allow backyard chickens. Through one of my readers of my blog, I was given the link to the chicken ordinance from the city of Ypsilanti. The ordinance reads that you can have four hens and no rooster. Four hens are about what we had figured we wanted anyway. It also states that you can not slaughter any hens. So, they will be my forever chickens, if they want this in our ordinance. I made sure I had 8 copies one for each council member and one for the mayor.

Monday night came, and so did a bunch of nerves. When I speak in public, my face will turn red, the red starts to crawl down my neck, and then my heart pounds. So, as I sat there at the City Council meeting that night, all three things began to happen, but I ignored it all. I mean, if I let that stop me nothing would ever get accomplished.

It was such an interesting meeting – a lot of people where in the audience, many where there about paving a street, water bills, etc., some very important stuff. So, I decided when it came time for audience participation I would let most of them go first. Finally, it seemed like most of them had spoken, and I raised my hand.

What did I say? Well, I started out telling them something like I was interested in having backyard chickens, it was at that point I believe I heard a couple of snickers, but I tried to act like I didn’t hear them and continued on. I told them that according the ordinances now, I would not be allowed to keep them. I stated my reasons why I wanted chickens, and let them know about the other cities that now allow them. I let them know there usually is a limit of four or not more than six hens, and most cities will not allow roosters. I also gave them a copy of the Ypsilanti chicken ordinance, which I think went over well. I think I spoke so fast I only used up a minute of my 3 minutes of allowed time!

It seemed like all of them agreed that this was not a bad idea, and they agreed that the no rooster clause in the ordinance would be a great thing in the city. They said they would look into it, and the ordinance should be ready before spring. Just in time to order chicks. Hurray!

Baby Quilt: An Unexpected Heirloom

A photo of Vickie MorganWe’ve been keeping busy here going to sales, oh the garage sales are over, but the estate sales continue all the way through out the winter. The man who does them here has a website, and we just keep watch and look at his pictures and decide whether or not to go. Of course, most of the time we go. When we looked at the website this past Friday I got a little excited when I saw that this lady had loved to sew. There were lots of pictures of fabric, sewing machine, and sewing nooks.

I’m not sure if everyone knows just what an estate sale means – it means the person who once lived there as passed away and the family is selling their household goods. Most of the time I try not to think about this part of it – it can make you really sad. But of course, you have to remember they cannot take their precious things with them.

So, Bat headed out to the garage to look at the tools, and I headed to the basement where the women had started to gather, looking at tables with tons of fabric laid out. A lot of the fabric was baby material that I can make things for our new grand baby with. Then I found it, a baby quilt put together with pins ready for someone to sew together. Now I’ve never actually quilted before, I have tied a quilt together though. So I thought this would be an easy project to do. So, I grabbed the biggest armload of material and me and Bat loaded up our purchases and headed home. Home with someone else’s treasures.

When we got home I got a closer look at the quilt – she had painstakingly hand basted where she was going to quilt this piece of material. It was like she was showing me just where to sew. Just how I can do this. So, I’ve started making the triangles, straight lines, and squares she has shown me throughout the quilt. I should have it done just in time for Christmas.

Baby quilt and sewing machine

How to Start a Garden Inexpensively

A photo of Vickie MorganWe all want to get back to the simple life, and one of the ways that we all can do that is to plant our own garden. The benefits from eating from our own garden are many. You’ll know just where you food has come from, just when it was picked, and how it was grown.

Imagine going out in your own garden backyard, no matter how big or small, out on your deck full of pots, or even reaching down in between your flowers, and picking your own vegetables and having them for dinner that day. You just can't get it any fresher than that.

Then there is the exercise and the fresh air that you will get by getting out there and tending to the garden. Better than a gym and less expensive. It can be both invigorating and relaxing. Some of my best ideas and thoughts have come from being outside and tending my garden. Believe me, no one will bother you there!

The problem for many, though, is the start up cost. For a new gardener, it can be overwhelming. I just can't imagine if we all just went to the store and bought everything we need or think we need to start gardening. So, I thought of some tips that might help a new gardener get started, and they might help us “old gardeners” as well.

  • Buy used: Consider buying your gardening tools like rakes, hoes, shovels and tillers used. A lot of people are getting out of gardening about the same time you are getting into it, and you can find many deals at early spring garage sales or on Craigslist. I have also found many canning jars this year that have come in handy. While you’re at it, look for gardening books, the more resources you have to help you out with your questions the better.

Wheelbarrows and rakes

  • Free fertilizer: You can make your own free fertilizer by making sure you compost. I have a compost bin, but that is not really necessary, you can start composting in just a pile.
  • Buy seeds on sale: Seeds can be costly to order from the seed catalogs, and of course if you’re new to gardening you don’t have any seeds saved. Now is a great time to find them in the clearance section and don't worry, they still will be good next year.

    Even though I've saved and traded seeds, I never seem to have enough, so I just recently was able to by some seeds for 5 cents a package at a clearance sale.

5-cent packages of seeds

  • Seedlings: If you think you might start seedlings indoors, start saving your egg cartons and plastic cups, such as yogurt cups and cottage cheese containers. They make great seed starter pots.
  • Share: Become friends with other gardeners, most of us love to share plants and seeds from our gardens and maybe help you when you need some advice. My neighbor, Wilma, really helped me when I first got started.
  • Pot gardening: If you don’t have lots of room for a garden, consider growing plants in pots on your deck or plant a few tomato plants in with the marigolds.
  • Don't start too early: It’s so hard not to get out there and start gardening the first sign of spring. Of course, you can plant early spring crops like peas, but to plant tomatoes or other plants that are not hardy, our date for vegetable gardening here in Michigan is Memorial Day. That doesn’t mean we haven’t made this mistake a few times and lost a few plants.

I hope these tips will help you start a garden next year and reap all its rewards – inexpensively.