Friday, August 31, 2012

You Need Chickens

Well... you may not NEED chickens, but there’s hardly a better animal for the preparedness junkie, the egg-lover, the avianaphilic, or soup.

On a scale from 1-10 in the “How Ready Are You For The Collapse Of Western Civilization And The Time of Drinking From Toilets” scale, owning chickens is a solid 10. They provide meat and eggs with a minimum of input and can be kept in confined spaces. A henhouse can be much more productive than a garden. Think of how many lettuces you’d have to eat to be satiated. Now think of how many eggs. Plus - eggs provide protein, vitamins and fat that are hard to get from the vegetable realm.

If you’re in the city - what’s wrong with you? CITIES ARE DANGEROUS! Sorry. I get carried away when I remember Miami traffic. If you’re in the city, you can still own chickens. It may be “against the law” where you are - but a little civil disobedience might be in order. I’ve been a part of trying to change city ordinances regarding chickens and it’s almost impossible. Why? City leaders are generally bureaucratic idiots who like feeling important and hate letting people live their lives without government oversight. It’s the nature of the game. The people who want to be in charge are generally meddlers - and those who want to leave others alone never run for office. Great plans for small coops abound on the ‘net and tucking a few hens away in a corner isn’t a bad idea. Roosters are likely to rat you out... and hens don’t need one to lay, so they’re more eye-candy than anything else.

In rural areas, chickens truly come into their own. They provide a wide variety of useful functions, such as:

1.Being yummy food (I know... already mentioned that...)
2.Tilling the ground
3.Eating weeds
4.Eating pests
5.Source of feathers
6.Source of fantastic fertilizer
7.Entertainment

Admittedly, #5 is a bit tenuous, and #7 is a stretch, it being rather lame to sit outside and watch the chickens when you could be inside playing rooster with your hen... but it’s better than watching anything on the major networks, including “CSI: Hickville.”

Creating a moveable enclosure (a chicken tractor/ark) for your hens will allow them to tear up the ground and bug hunt. Then, after they’ve bared and tilled and manured that space, you plant it with something tasty. I built my tractor as a 4 x 8’, since that’s a good garden bed size. Soon I’ll build another and we’ll really have some tilling going.

A family can live off their chickens if they have enough. A family of four needs about 8 chickens to provide enough eggs, a family of 10 about 20 chickens. We eat a lot of eggs so I keep around 25 chickens, make lots of egg stir-fries and egg smoothies, and give away some of the extra eggs as gifts to my neighbors. Openhandedness wins friends and muffles the crowing of roosters.

Hens will generally start laying between 5 and 6 months of age. Don’t mess around with silly breeds if you want dependable layers that will be there for you in hard times. Get Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons or other hardy dual-purpose breeds. (Orpingtons are handsome birds and look great in a flock, though they aren’t quite as excellent a layer as a Rhode Island Red.) One thing to consider: if you want a self-perpetuating flock that maintains its purity for a generation or two, settle on one good breed and get them all in that type. I’ve got a mix and wish I didn’t. When you end up with a few extra birds because one of your hens went broody, it’s nice to be able to sell “Barred Rock Pullets: $10 ea.” rather than “Weird Mongrel Freaks - Austrolorp Bantam Ostriches? Make Offer.”

A good place to purchase chicks through the mail is at http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com, though the minimum order is 25 birds. Of course, if you don’t have room for that many, you can always sell the extras locally or farm them off to other chicken enthusiasts.

The best way to get going with chickens is to read a bit... then get some chicks. Cluck cluck.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ready to Grow Your Own?

Plants need very little. Much less than we do. In fact, they generally stay put, get some nutrition from the soil, a lot of sugars from the sun, and plenty of water when you wash your car. Unlike us, they can also survive without gin and cigars.

All you need to do is make them happy and they’ll feed you.

“But Dave... everything I touch dies...”

Unless you’re an entity made of antimatter, soon you won’t be able to say that. If everything is dying, you’re Not Doing It Right. But that’s okay. Most of us have succumbed to the Lowes Effect. Spring arrives, we see all the cute little tomatoes in flats and the garden junk for sale and we think “THIS YEAR I’M GONNA DO IT!” Then everything dies. It’s natural.

Florida isn’t kind to novices or Yankees. Yet that’s what most of us are as gardeners. We remember Grandpa’s garden in Upstate New York or the sweeping fields of Midwestern wildflowers... or the yuca and papaya of Mexico... and then the sands of sunny Florida bury us like Pompeii.

Most of us know that things are busted in the US. The price of everything is going up - and as the banks get bailed, the little guys get screwed. Practically everything in this nation is based on lies and distortions... from the GDP numbers to the Food Pyramid. And the chances that things are going to get better in the near-term are about equal with the chances that you can be the World’s Best Ballerina Astronaut.

So... if you’re smart, you’ve saved some cash... maybe bought some hard commodities... and hopefully are eliminating debt (or, Lord willing, are debt-free). What about food? Extra canned goods are nice... but healthy fresh produce is tops. If you don’t have your calories covered - and gas flies up to $10 a gallon - or your food stamps get canceled - you’re in trouble.

That’s why I've set up www.floridasurvivalgardening.com. Florida presents some great opportunities for gardeners - but you have to work with her, not against her. Don’t expect broccoli in July or pineapples North of Okeechobee. What you can expect, though, is an incredible jungle of food if you play your cards right. Pomegranates, citrus, peaches, sweet potatoes, passion fruit, tobacco and melons all grow wonderfully - and they’ll taste better than any pesticide-laced offering you’ll find in your local grocery.

So... stick around. We’re gonna grow us some food, experiment with designs, take a little permaculture, a little organic know-how, a little madness and a lot of fun and mix them together into something that may just keep you afloat when all else is lost.

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