Tag Archives: zoning

Suburban Homesteading-A New Way of Life?

Urban and suburban homesteading have grown beyond belief in the last decade. Many living in the city or near a city have chosen to be more self-sustainable through gardening, beekeeping, aquaponics, permaculture, and raising/breeding meat animals (rabbits, chicken). Not all inclusive, this list is considered by many, a new way to be more self-sustainable, more “green” in today’s world.

Planted Garden
Ready and planted garden beds for 2014 growing season.

Being a part of suburban homesteading, doing all I can to make the best of our little 1/5 acre, has taught me many lessons. Among those is that this trend is not a new lifestyle- it is a reversion to the lifestyle of our ancestors. Our ancestors being self-sustainable out of necessity were really living a “green” lifestyle before green was cool!

Our trip into homesteading began with two major forces driving our decisions, beginning with the economy, on to the need to house and feed more people under our roof. Economic conditions over the last decade have not been all the best, of course coming to a head in 2007-8 with the collapse of the housing market. This is when we truly became serious about be more self-sustainable.

We have always gardened, but the amount of land dedicated to gardening grew substantially as more relatives (children and siblings) began to move back in with us due to lost jobs, lost homes, and health issues. As our population grew, the need to produce more of our own food grew. We quickly went from one main garden bed in our back yard to over 30 raised beds throughout the property.

Growing our own food became a necessity, but we found that we had some much more control over what was going into our bodies. We chose to never again use any type of pesticide or herbicide within our property limits, determining that using natural substances made better sense and in many cases was more effective. Enter the chickens!

Chicken manure is among the best “natural” fertilizers available, but having the actual chicken made so much more sense with the added value they bring to any yard and garden. The pecking, natural soil aeration, eliminating bugs and other pests, the eggs, and not to mention the shear joy of just watching them run and play in the yard made having them a no-brainer. Of course the County did not have the same opinion and took our chickens after a year because of local zoning regulations. More on this in other posts.

Bee package
First 3# Bee Package

So without chickens, we moved to rabbits. Choosing to raise meat rabbits at least gave us another great fertilizer source, but also another source of meat. There were no regulations on growing personal use rabbits, as well as we did not sell any, nor could we butcher any in public view. So at least we could still accomplish some of our goals without the County constantly in our business.

As our garden grew, we felt a need to expand our ability to insure a good crop each year by adding bees to our little homestead. Seemed like a natural jump and fortunately we live in a county that has no regulations concerning beekeeping. Bees are an interesting lot and require little effort on the part of humans. If we provide proper housing for them, they are very attentive to their own needs to survive. This was a great step into our expanding homestead.

First Aquaponics bed
First AP Tank/bed

Extending our growing season for some fresh vegetables became a project last year, opting to try indoor aquaponics. Although this process had a huge learning curve for me, since I had no knowledge of fish or gardening without soil, we ventured forward. This has been one of the most enjoyable ventures so far and one that I was able to actually help fill a need to others in perfecting a “portable” AP system for other local enthusiast’s.

Greenhouse
Completed Greenhouse side view

This year was a major project year, deciding to build a 10′ x 20′ greenhouse to expand our growing season to year round and move our aquaponics into a larger area outside our basement. Again comes the County! This fight through multiple hearings, petitions, emails and phone calls finally came to an end in our favor after about 8 months. So we have been able to move forward and complete the structure, we are still very much in the set up phase of the interior.

Of course how could I get through this post without thanking my parents and grand-parents for teaching me many of the skills I never thought I would use in  my life. Canning, freezing, and dehydrating have become commonplace to extend our ability to use our own fresh crops, which I learned from my mother and grand-mother. Planting, growing, and harvesting knowledge are an extension of my father’s passed down skills. My grand-father taught me about chickens, cows, and horses-although our land could never accommodate large animals, I understood the value of chickens on our property.

Every day is a joy to be able to get out of bed and do something I love that is a benefit to my family, my budget, and my community since we always have enough to spare to our elderly and disabled neighbors and our friends. Although my initial reasoning for our lifestyle had nothing to do with being more “green” I have found that many of the skills handed down to me are just that-a greener lifestyle. Self-sustainable and green can go hand in hand, but a” new” lifestyle it is not. Our ancestors understood a green lifestyle out of necessity, and passed down the knowledge and skills so future generations could enjoy the benefits of a self-sustaining lifestyle!

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Chickens-Progress?

WHY

Chickens have been an ongoing battle in Baltimore County for the last 5 years. We have stood at the forefront of the battle since losing our backyard flock to county regulations a few years ago. The battle has been hard fought but we seem at this point to be making some progress.

In September of 2013, our county council adopted resolution 73-13 directing the planning commission to research the possibility of allowing backyard flocks on properties smaller than 1 acre. As of yesterday the planning commission finally came up with a set of standards that they are going to put to a public meeting for input.

Proposed Standards: 73-13_Final_Report chickens

The proposal will be viewed and discussed by the planning board on Thursday June 4, 2015, with a preliminary public input meeting on June 18, before being sent to county council. Once at council, a second public input meeting will be scheduled, before being voted on by council.

The summary of the proposal would be:

  • Lot size must be a minimum of 5000sf
  • Coop building would come under the auspices of the local planning/zoning
  • Coop and run would need requird square footage to house amount of birds: i.e. 4 sf per bird in the run, 3sf per bird in the coop
  • No free-range-No roo’s
  • Annual permit and fee
  • limit of 4 hens up to 1 acre

I personally have no problem with the permit and fee, within reason, but limiting of only 4 hens seems a little too strict to me. Baltimore City and Annapolis City, have adopted only 4 birds per yard, but they are primarily row/townhomes with less than 2000sf of land. I have 1/5 ac which could easily handle 4 times that amount without issue.

My current chicken coop (the one that now houses my rabbits, since the county took my girls) was built to accommodate 9-10 hens with plenty of room to spare. Sorry rabbits, if this passes we will have to find you new digs!

Now is the time for Baltimore County residents and surrounding county residents wanting backyard chickens, need to stand together to make a strong show for the approval of any bill put forward. We will still fight for the regulations we would like to see, but at least this is a step in the right direction.

To join our groups on Facebook:

Chicken Revolution in Baltimore County-Closed group, but just request join from admin-all chicken lovers accepted.

Change Zoning Laws in Baltimore County for chickens and small livestock- Open group, just join

UPDATE: 6/7/2015 The planning board meeting on the 4th went without much discussion, just setting the public input meeting for the 18th. Please join and see information in the above 2 facebook groups. Would love to flood the room with supporters that night!

New Chicken Coop-Auto Chicken Door

I wrote a few weeks back about our new coop we had to build at a friends property due to outdated Baltimore County zoning regulations. I was really happy with the coop and how it turned out, considering it was built from free pallets off of craigslist. The only issue is that the coop being about 1 mile from us, meant having to make the trek every day to let them out and put them to bed. Enter: CoopTender Automatic Door.

We received the new door a few weeks ago and it took me almost 2 weeks just to get the time to go over and do the install. The install was actually very easy, just framing it in and using 4 screws to bolt it to the frame.

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I was pretty excited as it is a solar operated with battery backup. It can be programmed to open/close at dawn/dusk +/- X minutes or set to specific times which I really like. It also has the ability to be set to freezing temperatures outside so it won’t open if its to cold for the girls to be out. Once installed I programmed everything and it operated beautifully with the exception of the wifi.

Being out in the sticks there is NO wifi signal any where in the area that I could piggyback off of to get it loaded to the internet. Even tried setting a “hotspot” on my phone, but it would not download. Oh, well, I will worry about that later.

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For the moment, I was happy, no more having to rush over or worrying about being there by a specific time at night to close them in the safe and secure confines of the coop. But things are never easy are they?

The 3rd night after install, we had a huge influx of storm systems, one right after the other for 3 days straight. During the first night of storms, something went haywire and the door lost all the programming I had input.

When I tried to reprogram, the keypad would lock up and not allow me into the programming menu. I checked the book, then got on instant chat with the manufacture in Pennsylvania.

I will say that the manufacturer was very kind and helpful, but to no avail. I had to remove the faceplate with all the electronics and ship it back to have it tested and repaired. They won’t even receive it until tomorrow (Tuesday) so I won’t have it back until probably sometime next week.

I am still very impressed with the quality and operation of the door, as well as the quick response and helpful suggestions from customer service. I truly hope they are able to find the issue and repair or replace the faceplate. I am so looking forward to not having to run over at specific times to deal with them.

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.

WP_000311
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

The Greenhouse Project-Phase 1

We have never been a family to just do one thing at a time. We are always in the midst of several projects at once and as one gets completed we tend to add two more. So on top of our bee’s, chickens, rabbits, tilapia, & aquaponics, we are in the middle of completing our 21′ X 10′ Greenhouse attached to the side of our home.

Of course the original plan was to have this project completed before Thanksgiving 2013, but best laid plans………

We found that starting the project before pulling the permits was probably not the best idea we ever had. We got a little excited and started building,  thinking that we had the required set backs etc, so getting a permit should not be a big deal. After we started, I thought, I ought to go ahead and get the permit to be safe.

So down to Baltimore County Zoning I went, thinking I would have the permit in hand when I got home. Well, that did not happen. I found that because we sit on a corner lot that the setbacks are 25′ vs the 6′ I was expecting. So here we go again having to get a zoning variance to get our permit.

About the same time, one of our neighbors across the street from my backyard, decided that she would call in to see if we pulled the permit. This neighbor does not understand or want to understand our green, homesteader lifestyle, so complains about anything we do. Note: Also the neighbor that turned in our chickens to the county.

Ok, so we were issued a stop work order until we were able to

Greenhouse
Greenhouse when stop work ordered issued

secure the proper permit. Fortunately, we were not issued a citation, so we were able to file for an administrative zoning variance, meaning we would not have to go in front of the judge.

We needed to file all the proper paperwork with site plans, and reasoning for our greenhouse in the location we had chosen. This seemed a lot better than compiling everything and going in front of the judge to plead our case. He either signed it or not. The only hold up would be if a neighbor complained and demanded a hearing in front of the judge.

So we were on pins and needles until the day that the judge was supposed to make a decision on our case. We contacted his office every few days to see if anyone had complained or demanded a hearing, although we knew there was only one that would.

And of course they did, the day before the judge was to make a decision. They were unwilling to pay the fee’s associated with demanding a hearing, so they simply lodged a complaint and let it go. But it was enough for the judge to go ahead and order a hearing so he could here both sides.

We were scheduled for a hearing on December 19, 2013.  So on top of our holiday preparations we needed to compile our case for our greenhouse.  We worked hard the few weeks leading up to the hearing date, including securing signatures of every other neighbor within 500 ft of our property.

To my amazement, when securing signatures, twelve of our closest neighbors offered to go to the hearing on our behalf. This just shows how good of a neighborhood that we live in, most neighbors watch out for their neighbors and help whenever they can.

The day had arrived and our caravan of neighbors journeyed toward the courthouse.  We felt there was no real reason we should be denied, we had all our ducks in a row, we thought. We were excited, yet apprehensive, since we had no idea of what our complaining neighbor would say. Whatever it would be we felt we had compiled plenty of counterpoints with supporting documentation, including neighborhood pictures.

We entered the courtroom about 15 minutes early and waited patiently for the judge and any others to arrive. About 10 minutes after scheduled start time the judge entered, saw the crowd, and asked if the complainant was in attendance-they were not. He allowed a few more minutes for them to arrive before starting the proceeding.

No arrival, so the judge began and asked us to state our project details and why we needed a variance to accomplish it. After laying out our case he asked the others in the group to speak, which were all in favor of our variance—–no opposition.

The judge was courteous and weighed the arguments vs county regulations and immediately approved our variance. He stated that the only reason he requested the hearing was to see how serious the complainant was and what arguments they could have against a greenhouse.

What a relief! Now we could move forward. Although we were already 3 months behind, maybe we could get a few nice days, get the tarp down and at least get the exterior done where I could work inside during cold days.

That was not to happen either, this winter has been very cold and very wet compared to our usual winter. Plus it just keeps hanging on and on and on. Maybe we can get done by this Thanksgiving.

Greenhouse
Greenhouse facing side street

We did get a nice weekend last week-mid 50’s low 60’s but windy. We took the opportunity to get some work done, before the next snow storm that they were calling for the following Tuesday.

Front view GH
Front view GH
Front of GH
Front of GH
Rear of GH
Rear of GH

 

 

 

 

At least we were able to get the house siding put back on and make the house and greenhouse look a little more presentable. But it is now back under cover until we can get another break in the weather, which looks like it may happen in a couple of weeks.

GH re-covered
GH re-covered

Read On: GH Project Phase 1 Completion

Greenhouse Inside