All posts by Save Green Team

Saving Buffy Part 5 A Lesson in Futility

WHYOur Zoning Hearing was a week ago Thursday to try and save our Buff Orpington and her Friends, but this just turned into a legal lesson on futility. Definition being: Unsuccessful at this point in time.

We received the bad news via a letter from the Administrative Law Judge, stating that our request for variance was denied. It was not so much the denial that bothered my wife and I, as it was the logic behind the decision, as explained in the letter.

“Varying the acreage requirement would permit a use that would otherwise not be permitted, and the Administrative Law Judge is not given the authority to grant such a variance.”

So, the ALJ does not have the authority to “grant such a variance?” OK, so what is the point in allowing us to file and request a variance knowing up front that the court does not have the authority. Constitutionally we must be allowed our day in court, but I think this is a little ridiculous. It seems that the lesson is just a way for the county to increase a few dollars in revenue. Yes honestly it costs them more in time and labor than we had to pay for the time in court, but isn’t that the way of any Government-Spend $200 to increase $100 in revenue.

I would have to say, we were a little confused, since we are not lawyers and not versed in zoning law. My thought was to consult an attorney who had experience in zoning law. We contacted Howard Alderman, Jr, who has a long resume in dealing with zoning and land use issues. He was extremely nice and explained things in terms any layman could understand. (If you have zoning or land use issues in Baltimore, I highly recommend him)

“To answer this questions, you must also understand the legal distinction between a “USE” variance and an “AREA” variance. Under the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations, an administrative law judge in the OAH is empowered to grant variances from area requirements but not use requirements. Area variances include issues such as side/rear yard setbacks. Use variances are not (generally) recognized in Maryland. Although the issue in your case is 7600 sf v. 43560 sf of land, the relief you requested is for a ‘use’ variance versus an ‘area’ variance. To permit fowl on less than 1 acre is a ‘use’ variance because it may change the character of the specific zoning district in which your property is located. It is akin to seeking to build a house on a 1/2 acre lot where the minimum lot size is 1 acre; that relief would be denied as well. The County Board of Appeals for Baltimore County has the same authority (and same limitations) on appeal as did the administrative law judge. Reviewing Courts (appeal beyond the Board) cannot overturn the decision unless based on an error of law. Courts generally look and defer to the agency’s interpretation of its own law and regulation. “

According to the ALJ and the attorney any further pursuit would be denied on the same grounds, so we will lose our chickens within the next 30 days. So what is the next step? How about a grassroots movement in Baltimore County, on behalf of organic gardeners, homesteaders, survivalists, or just lovers of pet-chickens.

With the current County law allowing chickens on lots above an acre, this disallows many who would love pet chickens. As stated in previous posts, Baltimore City and Annapolis City have adopted pet chicken laws that are very friendly to the homeowner, not to mention many major cities across the Country: New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas to name a few.

We have joined a like-minded group on Facebook-http://www.facebook.com/Chickenrevolution or  http://www.facebook.com/Baltimorechickens and will begin to pursue our County Council Members to find those sympathetic with our cause. If there is no one sympathetic on the board currently, I guess we would need to find a candidate who is capable for the job as well as sympathetic to our cause.

I would urge any Baltimore County Resident to join our group and help spread the word. As we gain members and add more pressure to current council members, they should start becoming more sympathetic to our wants-not to mention what I consider a property rights issue. If you are not sure who your council person is, you can find out by inputting your address to this website: http://egov2.baltimorecountymd.gov/votingweb/address.aspx?pageid=3 Then email or call them to voice your support to a change in the law-find your councilpersons email: http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/countycouncil/districts/district1/index.html

Beyond Baltimore County, anyone that has been through this fight, or would have comments, suggestions, or advice, please also join and add your two-cents. We are very open since we are just beginning. I thank everyone not only for previous support, but also for any help that may be offered.

If you missed earlier posts in the series:

Saving Buffy

Part 2 Health Concerns

Part 3 The Coop

Part 4 Property Values

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Saving Buffy-Part 4 Property Values

Prop ValueReducing Property Values are always a hot topic when it comes to anything that may change the make-up of the neighborhood. Allowing a flock of back yard chickens is no different: At least that is the argument used by many who are ignorant of chickens and chicken keeping.

Since 2007, there has been a sizable increase in people keeping a few hens on their property in many parts of the country: Urban & Suburban. Isn’t it interesting that the timing of popularity seems to coincide with the decline of the housing market? I am surprised that many localities have not blamed the market crash on urban chickens, since they seem to want to lay blame everywhere except the true cause……..but that’s a different post.

Being in the Real Estate Industry for many years, this is an argument that has absolutely no basis in fact. I have not been able to find any evidence-not just in Baltimore, but from anywhere in the Country that unequivocally finds that someone had to sell their home for $1000′s less because there were back yard chickens in the neighborhood.

According to BackYard Chicken Keeping submitted to the Dunwoody Planning Commission February 2010:

“There is absolutely no evidence that keeping pet hens within
the ordinance guidelines would have any affect on property values.
This is property rights issue and while it is necessary to protect
neighbors from any potential nuisance, homeowners should have as
much freedom as possible with minimal government interference. If
property values decreased with backyard chicken keeping, why would
major cities like Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas,
Madison, WI, Denver…support backyard chicken keeping?”

Chicken owners are no different from any other pet owner: They care about the well being of the pet and they are concerned about any effect on property values.

Here is an article from a Realtor in the Salem, OR area concerning Property values in Salem vs Portland when it concerns Back Yard Chickens. Her assessment in Salem, as well as another professional in Portland show no evidence of back yard chickens making any difference in property values.

One of the best breakdowns I could find came from the Cincinnati Locavore: Chicken Keeping and Property Values. Of the 23 Suburbs that are broken down by property value and whether they allow BackYard Chickens: Only 6 prohibit the residential pet hen. It is also of interest to note that all 6 of those suburbs are in the lower tiers of the property values.

The authors assessment of the research:

“Communities which allow chicken-keeping tend to have HIGHER property values than those that prohibit it.”

How about a little closer to our home: Annapolis, Maryland. Annapolis adopted a new pet chicken law on April 9 of this year. Annapolis has some of the higher property values in the State, with the median housing price at $391.5K vs the median price in Baltimore County of $222.9K, according to zillow.com. The new law is very friendly to any would-be pet chicken owner. The council is siding with residents who have been hard hit by this economy. Read their new handbook: BackYard Chickens in the City of Annapolis. I just wish that our Baltimore County Council had the backbone to stand up for the citizens they are supposed to represent, not to mention standing up for personal property rights.

Through the research that I have done on the web and through local sources, I can find no evidence that pet chicken ownership has made an impact in any way on property values. With homesteaders becoming more prevalent in today’s world, backyard chicken laws should be looked at once again and rewritten to allow for those of us that choose to be more self-reliant should have the ability to do so without the Government dictating to us what they believe is right.

Read More

Saving Buffy: A lesson in Futility

If you missed the first 3 posts in the series:

Saving Buffy

Part 2 Health Concerns

Part 3 The Coop

Saving Buffy Part 3 The Coop

In my first two posts about our Back Yard Chickens: Saving Buffy and Her Friends and Saving Buffy Pt 2 Health, I mentioned the coop we built on a few occasions. I thought it may be advantageous to talk a little about the coop and our thought processes when we built it.

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Front view of coop with entrance and clean-out door

 

Our first concern, being a very frugal family, was the budget to build the coop we wanted. The wood, the shingling, the Hardware cloth, plus all the little things: nails, staples, lattice could add up to a tiny sum. Actually pricing out everything before we built was going to be about $1800 (Home Depot, Lowes, and local Hardware Store) I thought this to be a little on the ridiculous side so, as with everything, we prayed about it.

God always answers our prayers-maybe not the way we want, but we always get “the right” answer. In this case the majority of our answer came from 3 sources.

The first came from just cleaning out our basement and storage shed. We found many of the small items we needed along with a few pieces of lumber that would suit. We also had two small windows left from remodeling our house a few years ago. I had tried to sell these windows back when, but no one called on them and they ended up in a back corner of my shed.

Secondly, our neighbor, whom I work with a lot on projects, offered several pieces of wood-mostly 2X4′s which were perfect for the uprights on the walls. Another friend had the coop door, more wood, and some plywood perfect for the inside walls of the coop and nesting boxes.

Third came from scouring Craigslist. I have talked about CL before, but if you don’t utilize it, you are missing a lot of opportunity to save money-let alone helping to recycle items that may otherwise end in the landfill. We were able to get the majority of the wood, some shingles, and other items from CL-ALL for just the time and gas to go pick it up.

The only expense I had to purchase was the hardware cloth to wrap the entire coop. This is not cheap when you need a larger quantity, but outlaying $200 for the hardware cloth vs having to layout the cash for everything was fine with me.

As I had stated in the previous post, I wanted to accomplish two major goals with the coop:

  • It must be esthetically pleasing and fit with the house and neighborhood, and
  • It must be functional, easy to clean

We used a combination of designs that we had found on the internet that seemed to work well with what we wanted. The frame being no different than if you were building a small shed, without wall coverings on the majority of it. The coop itself should be enclosed for the hens to feel safe at night as they sleep.

Back side of coop, which does face a neighborhood street
Back side of coop, which does face a neighborhood street

Most people that saw us building had no clue what we were building, but I believe, we did a very nice job in making sure that the coop matched the house and shed esthetically. On the back side this summer, we planted sunflowers which covered the coop completely, so even the neighbors across the street(facing our backyard) could not see much of the building.

The side of the coop which faces our neighbor to the east, was grown up with pole beans. The bean plant covered the entire side of the coop, yet allowing some airflow through the window behind the plant.

The coop itself is approximately 12′ X 6′ or 72 sq ft of space. Most BYC enthusiasts say that there should be about 10 sq ft per chicken, so this was ample for our 7 hens. The inside coop, where the hens sleep, is about 2′ off the ground and completely enclosed. The girls can feel very safe when they go to sleep at night.

Concerned about rodents and foxes in our area, I enclosed the entire coop in hardware cloth. This sturdy steel mesh is impervious to rodents and other predatory animals. On the floor of the coop, I buried the hardware cloth about 6″ deep to cover the entire floor, then wrap it up the walls. This keeps any digging critters from trying to tunnel in from underground.

On top of the wire mesh on the floor is about 4-6″ of sand (Free from CL). Since chickens need sand as a part of their diet this was an easy choice, as well as being very easy to rake and strain chicken droppings. Of course having a little sand in the chicken droppings, along with wood chips from the upstairs bedding, is a perfect mix for our composter.

Inside our coop
Inside our coop

The nesting boxes and upstairs coop was built with flat surfaces all around. we used single cut plywood so we did not have to piece any surface. This makes the coop both easier to maintain and longer lasting with less wood cuts. We then painted inside with a high gloss paint which is very easy to wash down and scrub as needed.

You may notice that there is very little bedding inside the coop. This bedding is really only used to keep the hen droppings from hitting and sticking to the painted floor. I can use a rake to pull the droppings and some of the wood chips through the clean-out door on the side into a tub, which is then emptied into the compost bin. The wood chips we use are from TSC(Tractor supply) at $5 per bag, and a bag will last us about 2-3 months.

The two nesting boxes, see the right side of picture inside, are lined with wood chips and straw so that the girls are comfortable when they enter to lay there bounty for us. These are also easily cleaned out, but there is no need to change this bedding everyday as they never leave droppings in the nesting box.

Once to twice per month, I pull everything out of the coop, replace all bedding, clean out the sand and power-wash. Some may say this is a little to often, but I am a through believer in taking a little time more often than having to spend a lot of time later. Keeping up with the maintenance and cleanliness of the coop is much easier than trying to scrub it or make repairs every few months.

I am happy to share ideas or give advice on what to do, or not do when planning your backyard chicken flock. Please feel free to add any comments or questions you may have, I always respond.

Please take a moment to check out the group on Facebook to help Change the Zoning Laws in Baltimore County to allow Back Yard Chickens.

Read More:

Saving Buffy Part 4 Property Values

If you missed the earlier posts:

Saving Buffy Our Year Old Orpington

Saving Buffy-Part 2 Health Concerns

Saving Buffy and Her Friends, is an ongoing project-At least until the middle of October when we go in front of the Administrative Judge at the zoning hearing. Homesteading with Back Yard Chickens has become a hot topic in many jurisdictions, with one of the primary arguments against is health issues caused by or acquired by the flock.

To humans, there are two main issues: Avian Flu and Salmonella. Both of these are tested for by the veterinarian with a simple blood draw from the birds. Since the majority of backyard flocks are very small-two to ten birds-this is really not an expensive process, but well worth it. If groaning neighbors complain and play the health card, it is very good to have the signed clean bill of health from the vet. We have a local vet that will make house calls for our birds, but the initial blood draw and general health inspection will be done at his office. It is not going to be fun toting seven birds to the vet, but I want to be sure I have covered all my bases for anyone that may show up at the hearing screaming health issues.

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Build an esthetically pleasing, yet functional coop

 

The birds being disease free is just one issue that needs dealt with. Keeping the birds in a disease free environment is another. Building and maintaining a proper coop is a good start.

We built our coop to match our house and out-buildings-basic white with off white vinyl siding-which makes it fit well with our property as well as the make-up of our neighborhood. No one can make negative comments about how our coop looks within our yard.

But looking nice is only half the battle as the coop must be easy to clean and maintain. We clean out our coop daily to insure there is no build-up of droppings, but also to add the droppings and wood chips into our compost bin. Both the wood chips and droppings aid our composter to produce a rich soil in as little as 14 days.

Our Lifetime Compost Tumbler
Our Lifetime Compost Tumbler

Speaking of chicken droppings, this seems to be a real hot spot when it comes to complaints. Bringing up this argument just shows how little the average person knows about poultry. Chicken Manure provides Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium to the compost which is in perfect combination for any any garden: Vegetable or flower.

The same cannot be said about dog or cat feces, which must be scooped and discarded in the garbage. Most domestic animal feces will cause health issues if not properly disposed-usually meaning the landfill. Actually in 1991 the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) labeled dog feces as “a non-point source pollutant” putting it in the same category as herbicides and insecticides.

Chicken droppings are not listed in the category, as they are very beneficial to the gardener when composted in the proper way. I will discuss proper composting in another post, but the bottom line is the coop still needs to be clean and waste free. Removing and composting the droppings daily keeps the coop in good condition and odor free and I think it also keeps “the girls” very happy. I

Inside our coop
Inside our coop

According to BackYard Chicken Keeping submitted to the Dunwoody Planning commission February 2010,

“A 4-pound laying hen produces 0.0035 cu ft of manure per day. According
to FDA, an average dog generates ¾ of a pound of manure a
day that cannot be composted because of the harmful bacteria and
parasites (hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms) that can infect
humans. This waste is considered a major source of bacterial pollution in urban watersheds.”

Using the FDA formula, our 7 hens would average droppings of less than 1/4 cu ft per day(.0035 X 7 = .0245) less than that of a single average dog.

Rodents love animal droppings, but more along the line of dog and cat droppings. Chicken droppings are not as “tempting” to any local rodents, but we do clean our yard daily of all droppings. This is one of the last things I do in the evening when the girls are heading off to bed. They are very predictable, as the sun begins to set, they will head toward the coop to get on their favorite perch for the night. When they go inside, I lock up the coop and spend 5-10 minutes walking the yard for droppings to add to the compost bin.

One of the reasons we decided to get chickens was for the droppings. In past years, I was purchasing droppings from a local farmer by the truck-load. This meant having to pile the manure in the yard and use it in the composter a little at a time. Getting the chickens meant that the manure would be “made” a little each day eliminating the pile, while also eliminating the opportunity for rodents to think the pile was their personal restaurant.

Egg production from Back Yard Chicken flocks is much healthier than that of commercially gathered eggs. According to Mother Earth News:

“Most of the eggs currently sold in supermarkets are nutritionally inferior to eggs produced by hens raised on pasture.” Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx#ixzz283iBUtwr

The same article continues to say eggs produced from hens that are allowed free range, which include most backyard chicken flocks) have:

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
    • 1/4 less saturated fat
    • 2/3 more vitamin A
    • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
    • 3 times more vitamin E
    • 7 times more beta carotene
Our “Ginormous” Eggs compared to a large
Our “Ginormous” Eggs compared to a large

Our eggs, which currently are produced at a rate of about 3 dozen a week, range from large to extra-large, to what I call Ginormous. Of course our homestead of 5 cannot eat this many eggs, so we are very willing to share our bounty with many neighbors who are very appreciative of the healthier, better tasting eggs.

As well as being great pets, chickens add healthy things to our life: Healthier eggs, and high quality manure for growing bigger, better vegetables. So keep the chickens healthy with the help of a knowledgeable vet and they will add immensely to any homesteaders lifestyle.

Read More:

Saving Buffy Part 3 The Coop

Saving Buffy our year old Orpington

WP_000142“Buffy” is a Buff Orpington Pet Hen. We got her a few months ago from a person that needed to thin her BackYard Flock, so getting her was very easy, even though Buffs are a more rare breed. She acclimated well to her new surroundings, quickly fitting in to the fold of the 6 other hens we have. They are all Production layers, similar to a Rhode Island Red. We acquired them at 2 days old, so they have become a part of the family. We lovingly call them “The Girls”.

Anyone who follows this blog knows one thing about it, we are all about saving money and being self-sustaining as much as possible. So having the girls fit very well into our homesteading life-style. The rub came about 4 months after we moved the chicks to their permanent home in the backyard coop. We found that Baltimore County does not allow any backyard chickens on less than a acre of ground. We have approximately 1/5 acre. We were served with a citation from the county code inforcement officer on July 28, with the express instuctions to remove the pet hens by August 28th. Being involved in Government in a former life, we took steps to get additional time to deal with the county officials: We filed for a zoning variance.

Of course just filing for a variance never guarantees a favorable outcome, but we are doing everything possible to insure that the administrative judge at the hearing-Scheduled October 11, 2012-has proper information to make an informed decision about our situation. But let me digress to July when this began.

A complaint was filed with code enforcement from a neighbor stating that we had chickens, roosters, and that they were attracting rats to the neighborhood. The complaint itself shows the ignorance of people when it comes to chickens.

We do have hens, so there is no argument on that front. But because the hens cackled some mornings, roosters were added to the complaint. Of course, we have no roosters as they would make noise whenever they felt like it-day or night. It is a misconception that they crow only at sun-up. Also, there is no need for a rooster for the hen to lay eggs. The rooster only serves to fertilize eggs if we wanted to hatch and raise chickens, which is definitely not something we want to do. So roosters are not and will not be in the picture.

Hens make noise on three occasions: when laying, when bored, or when a predator is near. When laying, they tend to cackle as they pass the egg-ladies how would you feel giving birth…..DAILY! After the egg is layed, they will strut and cackle for a minute or two, just to let everyone know what they did. The strut is a proud walk of accomplishment!

Chickens are similar to other pets, so they want attention. When they are bored, they will cackle to get someone to pay attention to them and break their boredom. Yes you can hold, pet, and love your chicken just like any other domesticated pet. They are not as attention needy as some dogs, but they are not as aloof as some cats. So to me they are a perfect pet, as well as a “producing” member of the family.

The only other time I hear noise from them, aside from normal cooing, is when a neighborhood cat or other predatory animal, is sitting outside our fence, waiting for the opportunity to pounce. I think the thing about chickens is they have keen senses: eyesight, hearing, and smell. As any of the girls sense the predator, they sound an alarm-cackling and running to congregate with the other girls. I do truly believe they think there is power in numbers, and feel very safe when in the group.

I like to spend my mornings sitting outside while the girls run free in our yard to forage and feed. I let them out around 7am and sit at the outside table working on the computer. This is a very relaxing, enjoyable way to start each day. Some days I may sit there until 11 or 12 without ever realizing so much time as elapsed. I prefer not to have them out of the coop if I am not outside where I can keep an eye on them.

We have a 4′ fence that surrounds our backyard, which yes, contrary to popular belief, they can easily fly over. I am surprised that they have never tried to leave the perceived safety of the yard. They have jumped onto the top rail of the fence, but have always jumped back into the yard, after they have completed their visual scan of the neighborhood.

The Girls love their mealworm treat!
The Girls love their mealworm treat!

We live on a corner lot and the neighbor’s next door and immediately behind our property, love to sit outside when they see the girls out. They get relaxing enjoyment just as we do watching the fascinating flurry of activity in our yard.

Since we live in an older neighborhood, the majority of our neighbors are 50+. Many enjoy bringing the grandkids over to play with and learn about chickens. The adults sit at the table watching the little tikes trying to catch or pet each chicken. It is a true joy to watch the fascination in those little eyes of the children.

I believe I have filled enough of a page for today-gloating about my grand-chickens. I will over the course of the next few days add more about our fight to Save Buffy and Her Friends! If you have BackYard Chickens, I invite you to comment with your stories. If you could submit this post to your twitter or facebook, so maybe I can get others to join in to Change the Zoning Laws In Baltimore County.

Read more in Part 2-Saving Buffy Health Concerns

Oh, HaBee day!…..NOT!

We were truly thrilled to install our newly purchased nuc’s in our bee hives in April, it was a truly HaBee day, but along with issues in our other projects, and being behind on getting our garden beds done, we lost over half our colony to 2 swarms.

About two weeks ago, laying in our bed, looking out the window at the bee hives, my wife and I noticed a flurry of activity around our most active hive. It looked as though 10,000 bees were playing gleefully in the air above the hive.

We went outside to see why there was so much activity and saw that the bees were flying to a neighbors property and congregating on one of their bushes. The picture below is not very good, but the bee swarm is circled:

Bee swarm in neighbors tree
Bee swarm in neighbors tree

Bees will swarm for various reasons, but it boils down to the hive not being able to sustain the colony. In our case when opening up the hive, it looks as though the bees were very productive and bore far too many bees for a 2-box hive. The hive still looked very full and productive, even though we had just lost, I am sure, over 10,000 bees.

Our original queen was evidently a very fertile and active queen. Queens can lay up to 1500 eggs a day, so my guess is that she was doing just that and had plenty of worker bees to maintain the growth. I guess I have a better understanding of over-population now when it comes to hives.

I did not have a third box readily available to add to the hive, but the bees were already lost, so I did not worry too much about it. Yes, I could have captured the bees and put them in a new hive, but remember this is only my second year. I am really not that confident yet.

Well, the bees stayed in the neighbor’s tree for about 2 days before moving to a permanent location that they had chosen. I again checked my hive and all was going well. They were filling the 2 boxes with their winter stores and all seemed habee again.

Yet………two weeks later, to the day, a second swarm occurred from the same hive. Wow was it overpopulated-2 swarms in 2 weeks. Again, had no extra equipment, so again lost the swarm. Another 10,000+ bees gone.

Heading up to the local supplier to buy more equipment, don’t want to take a chance on a third swarm, since the hive still seems very full!

Greenhouse Project-Phase 1 Completion

The Greenhouse project is moving forward with completion of Phase 1, the exterior build of the greenhouse. Yesterday we received our final inspection approval on the exterior.

Greenhouse from rear.
Greenhouse from rear after completion certificate issued
Greenhouse side view
Greenhouse side view-before flashing installed at peak
Greenhouse front view
View from front

We are thrilled to finally get to this point, but did get some bad news after it rained last night. The upper windows are leaking, not just a little but severely.

All of the window framing is permanently installed-would have to do major construction to re-install windows, so we are going to try and work from the inside to get the leaks repaired. Hopefully we can because I really don’t want to have to do a partial tear down. Of course, we really can not proceed to phase 2 (the interior) until we are sure there are no more leaks.

The interior will take some time, since we will need to dig out approximately 3 ft of earth to install a rocket-mass heating system, along with all the insulation and interior walls. Not to mention the electric (solar) and plumbing for a 1200 gallon aquaponics system. I am excited about moving forward to this phase, but that won’t happen until we repair the issues in phase one.

Greenhouse Project-Inside

Aquaponics-the adventure continues

Days grow longer-Time grows shorter

I was amazed to see that it had been April 6 when I last posted, almost 2 months, wow. But as every avid gardener knows, when colder weather gives way to the warmer, longer days of spring, our time seems to grow so much shorter. This year we had the added pressure of completing the greenhouse project, which I will write more about later.

The last few weeks have been spent doing the final preparations to the garden beds for planting. Since we use all raised beds, turning the dirt and mixing in dried grass and leaves is the final step before adding our plants which were started inside about 6 weeks ago.

Weeds, grass, hay, and rabbit poop on beds before preparation.
Weeds, grass, hay, and rabbit poop on beds before preparation.

After this long hard winter, we are starting way behind, but the beds are full of grass, weeds, hay, and rabbit poop-perfect for the final step of mulching it all together with the dried leaves from last fall.

 

We have about 40 large trash bags of bagged leaves that we have let sit all winter, which will now be used to mix on the garden beds. The hardest part is just lifting our mower into each bed to do the job. Here is a pictorial of the process.

Spreading the dried leaves bagged last fall
Spreading the dried leaves bagged last  fall
Piles of dried leaves to spread and mulch
Piles of dried leaves to spread and mulch
Spread dried leaves
Spread dried leaves
Dried leaves after mulching
Dried leaves after mulching

 

At this point, it is just a matter of covering with landscape fabric, planting, staking, and adding the top media. Top media is a combination of dirt, straw, hay, & rabbit poop. If you look to the top and left of the picture below, you can see our ever bearing strawberries.

Completed, planted beds
Completed, planted beds

I am pretty proud of how our strawberries are coming in this year, should harvest enough for a small family festival!

Lots of blooms and buds
Lots of blooms and buds
Strawberries Anyone?
Strawberries Anyone?

Northeast Polar Vortex Causing Havoc with Utility Rates

Polar Vortex Northeast
Polar Vortex Northeast

The winter that never ends in the Northeast U.S. has caused much trauma with people when it comes to paying energy bills. The Polar Vortex has caused a huge spike in energy demand, thus causing prices, especially variable rate products, to increase dramatically.

The legislatures of states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York have been in much discussion since the huge increase of complaints lodged against many energy suppliers. These complaints have prompted the utility commissions and legislatures to take a hard look into “price gouging” in the energy market.

EnergyChoiceMatters.com has published several stories relating to the debates going on in the northeast states. One of the most recent concerning U.S. Senator Charles Schumer calling for an investigation into Polar Vortex Pricing.

A Pennsylvania Energy Boss has also put heat on one supplier that has imposed a surcharge to recover high costs this winter, even though the customers are on a legal fixed rate contract. I believe a large percentage of people in the Northeast this year have opened at least one bill with a look of disbelief at the cost.

Consumers are scrambling to find ways to reduce their energy bill, whether through reducing consumption or finding alternatives to the current energy supplier.

One alternative that is growing significantly in popularity is the addition of  Windmills or solar arrays to the home. Over the past few years these options have become very doable for the average homeowner. We hope to have our home converted later this year when I catch up on the many other projects happening now.

Looking for alternatives does not have to be hard. Doing a little research will offer the consumer a plethora of  options from which to choose. Finding a fixed low rate for either a short term of 6-9 months or longer terms up to five years with some companies, can be an easy choice.

I know in our situation, not only was I concerned about the rate I was paying, but I also wanted to make sure that we could have some environmentally friendly options as well. Finding a company that offered both a great fixed rate and a green energy option that still saved me money had me jumping up and down. I was thrilled to lock in at a great rate, lower than the local utility AND still was able to get a minimum of 50% of my energy use from Green sources.

We have also began the process for solar installation on our home. Although a total off-the-grid package was completely out of the question for us, we have been able to settle for an option that does allow us to get around 55% of our energy usage from installed solar panels. We originally thought solar was out of the question, but with advances in technology and reduction’s in costs, we can achieve a large part of our goal.

I won’t say that this Polar Vortex was a once in a lifetime occurrence, but hopefully we don’t see another winter like this one for many years. But at least we will be prepared if it does.

 

 

 

Oh, HaBee Day!

The weather begins to give us a glimmer into warmer days, a tease that we may actually be through this winter. Truly that just means that as a suburban homesteader, my days are about to get long to get everything done to start outside planting.

Starter plants for 2014 garden
Starter plants for 2014 garden

This spring is even more tumultuous than previous years as we are in the middle of our greenhouse project (wet, cold weather has severely delayed the project), and I have begun building aquaponics tanks for other enthusiasts. Both of these projects are keeping me hopping (16 hours yesterday), but on the bright side, I beginning to lose that excess winter weight very quickly!

As harried as yesterday was, I took great delight in installing our new bee colonies in their new permanent home in our backyard. In my last bee post, I told of our problems last year and how we lost the colony.  I am very optimistic this year that we will have 2 strong colonies survive next winter.

Instead of package bees, like last year, I went ahead and spent a little more to buy “nuc’s”. Nuc’s are 5 frame units  full of bees born from the queen in the nuc. Since these bee’s are all “brothers and sisters”, they are already well adept at working together. They will only need to adapt to their new home in my hives.

I opened my hives, pulled out 5 empty frames and replaced them with

Nuc frames in new hive
Nuc frames in new Hive

the filled frames from the nuc’s. The bees were so busy they never even really took the time to notice they were moving into new  digs! At least the first nuc didn’t notice, the second one was a little more observant and not happy about the change.

In working with bees, I have never “suited up” except for a pair of gloves, since I have to grab full-of-bee frames. These bee’s decided I should be taught a lesson, maybe they thought I was a little cocky for not wearing protection, but……….Having longer hair and a full beard is not good when you upset a bee colony.

Ok lesson learned, I will at least wear my head gear with the gloves, since 6 or 7 bees gave their lives to teach me to bee humble. This encounter may discourage many. Anytime one learns a new task, there is always a learning curve and sometimes mistakes are made. Mistakes are always painful, but become a necessary tool in the learning shed.

Nuc Transport Box 2
Nuc Transport Box 2
Nuc Transport Box 1
Nuc Transport Box 1

Oh well, I finished installing the new colonies, filled and installed the feeders, and closed up the hives for the night. I sat the boxes in front of each hive since there were still many bees in them. They will make their way to the hive soon, since they are working for the queen that bore them.

New Home
New Home

Well the journey has begun, again. I am hopeful that we have better results this season than we did last year.