Spring has finally found New Jersey. The obligatory Update!

Change is never easy, ask anyone who has tried to eat better or exercise more. The challenge of change only multiplies when you have to set aside time to do it. You get used to your routine, and you can even get used to seeing your trashy side yard, but I never anticipated how much work even the slightest change would require. When I started this journey and blog I was expecting the upfront cost of money, time and effort to make my homestead viable, but the continued maintenance has caught me a little by surprise. It shouldn’t have, but it did.

Having a lawn is so easy. You mow it, and maybe water it if you’re so inclined. That’s it. I know some people use fertilizer, lime, grub X, etc., and they coo over each blade, but for most of us it’s either mow it or hire someone to mow it. Other than my potted plants, that was the extent of my outside work. Now the side yard; that was even easier! Ignore it. Maybe even add something to make it worse like an old box, or a rusting appliance. Continue reading

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Starting Herbs Indoors.

I’d like to start this post with a confession. I like bland food; it’s a curse in this time when spices are cheap. I should have been born when spice and herbs were luxuries. I have the palate of a philistine, or a slightly advanced caveman. I do have taste buds, but they have been developmentally stuck at age 1 whereby I can only describe flavors as sweet, sour, bitter, salty. Ah and I can successfully differentiate between hot or cold!

That is the extent of my palate. I am particularly outpaced and out matched at wine tastings whether it be at a vineyard or a family event. When people say “there’s a hint of ‘______;’ Do you taste it?”  I let out a monosyllabic grunt that can be mistaken as agreement and successfully covers my embarrassment as the group adds in their own adjectives like oaky (how would I know I have never eaten OAK!) Continue reading

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Want To Eat Clean? Prepare to get Dirty!

I never thought I’d say this, but I enjoyed cleaning out the coop, with its excrement, food, feathers, the whole lot of it. Why you ask, would a man be happy with this? I’ll tell you. Be forewarned, this post isn’t about chickens, although they are blog-hogs, it is about the gardening. But first a small aside. To succeed in anything, you are probably going to need help along the way. This is no different in culminating a lifelong dream (unless the dream is to be a hermit, I guess you can do that alone) or something simple like making better choices for your health and becoming a subsistence suburb kind of guy. Support is key to life, because when you have help, and not naysayers, everything in life seems to get a little better.

I know by this point we are way off topic and into Motivational Blog territory, but bear with me, I’ll reel it in and get it all back to gardening. At least I didn’t add cheesy quotes.

Since the inception of this blog and the projects that go with it, I’ve been met with a lot of support from a variety of places. The other day I was contacted by a reader, and told he had a way of getting me a heavily discounted (subsidized) composter. (See that, support and gardening). By contacted by a reader, I mean my brother texted me, but it still counts, nobody forced him to read this rambling drivel.

His county was running the program and he figured I’d want one. What aspiring microfarmer wouldn’t? So, this week I finally received it, and I needed the right excuse to set it up. That moment came when the flies outnumbered my hens in the backyard. We are still a little new on the basics –  like how long to wait to clean the coop.

This was the moment of put up or shut up. Planting a garden is one thing, you get dirty, but composting is a new type of dirty. It’s rotting organic material that smells like the Bog of Eternal Stench for God’s sake.

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Oh Waiter, There is Poop in my Soup.

My post today isn’t just about chickens, it’s not just about coops; it’s about the ingenuity of mankind, the undauntable spirits and amalgamation of necessity and invention, and more importantly, it’s about poop (and how I don’t want to clean it.)

How many times has this happened to you? It’s a beautiful spring day, you wake up ready to concur the day, and you look down only to discover someone pooped in you breakfast. I hate when that happens! You look at your sisters, and both deny responsibility; shrugging their wings, they both settle the blame squarely on … the dog. Poor Bella, always the scapegoat. Continue reading

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A Solid Foundation

The temperature is rising, the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and it’s time to get these chickens out of my basement. Yes that’s right it’s Spring Time! The latest project was to find a permanent place for the new coop, and to get these girls into their own home. I had no idea that chickens got so big. They will outweigh my dog! I must have only seen tiny chicken on my field trip to the farm, or my girls are monsters

Up till now, my hens have lived in the basement, only coming out to free range in my backyard on Saturday and Sunday via a storage tub. Yes, you read that right. Every weekend I would put them in a tub, carry them to my backyard, and let them wonder around acclimatizing themselves to their future domain. I basically took my girls for walks. At dusk they were packed back up, and put back in the basement. Continue reading

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To Build or Not To Build

That was the question. The coop debate of 2013 was heated, with amazing arguments on both sides like “of course I can build it, I’m a man” and “just buy one.” After receiving our chickens and making sure their immediate needs were met, we turned our attention to permanent housing for our girls. Build it or buy it.

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Can’t have them running around all day

With pride on the line, I think you know what side I was on. I was dead set on building a coop from new and re-purposed products. My wife was on the other side of the debate with the belief we should purchase a pre-fab coop. With an ever level head and a true understanding of time is money and of her husbands’ carpentry skills, she laid out her three valid arguments and made her point. I on the other hand had but one point, and who needs validity, this is America, this is construction, clearly my realm! Continue reading

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My Garden has been Berry Good to Me

The first Subsistence Suburb project is at last finished, and it feels great. People in urban and suburban neighborhoods are really missing out on the great feeling “farming” (since now my land is producing) brings you. We broke ground on the berry garden last weekend (check out the post under gardening) and finished it up this past Sunday. Granted it wasn’t an acre being turned over, and I may just get one bowl of berries by fall, but I don’t care. It will be the greatest bowl of blueberries I will ever eat.

As I go through this experience I would like to share a major misgiving I had before purchasing my home some 4 years ago. “Your property comes with dirt” – Nope, it does not. It comes with brown used up soil or clay or rock or any combination of those. I have had to buy so much dirt it is ridiculous. I don’t know where my top soil went in the 80 years since my home was built but it doesn’t matter ‘cause where ever it is, it’s long gone.
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Chickens Can’t Fly!

Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far your chicks have a home; they are fed, watered, and happy. This is a great start. Now, you might not be aware, but chickens are naturally curious creatures, have different personalities, and FLY!

I’ll admit that the only other live chickens I had ever seen were on a working 19th century farm, and in a pen. So, let’s just say I was underexposed to fowl. I assumed that chickens kept both feet firmly planted on God’s green earth like an ostrich, or the gentle kiwi. Yes, I know a lot of you already know how foolish that notion is, but again super suburban guy over here.

So when I say fly, I don’t mean soar majestically like an eagle, it’s more like a feverish jump with frantic wing flaps. Continue reading

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You thought I was playing a game of Chicken

Welcome back to the all-you-can-read chicken blog…oh wait…that is exactly the opposite of what I set out to do. It was brought to my attention that my posts were getting a little too chicken focused. So we will leave the chicks growing up and coop talk for later. I don’t want to alienate anyone who is never going to own or simply doesn’t even like chickens. I also know a few of you out there are saying…oh three chickens and this guy thinks he’s gone green acres and subsistence…well I’ll have you know that I can garden like a 60 year old women! And that is exactly what I did this weekend.

When I said I was going all in on The Subsistence Suburb Land Usage Act of 2013 I meant it! None of that “Look I grew my own basil and an upside down tomato, I’m a farmer now.” NO, I’m going to tear up some earth and grow where I know, even if I have soft peach like hands from working at a computer all day! So here is the first non-animal, crop project …well half at least…I need to keep you in suspense – keep those hits coming, posts don’t grow on trees you know.

This is the side of my garage. A long forgotten, let’s be frank, trashy looking side yard.
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Off to Tractor Supply Co.®

Let me start out this post with some mild hubris by telling you that I am a handy guy. I was a maintenance guy for 11 years, a roofer for 3 summers, I am an avid horticulturist and can hold my own in home garden, carpentry, electric, and plumbing projects. You need a dishwasher put in or a new wall studded out – I can help. That being said, I haven’t met a Home Depot® or Lowes® that I haven’t felt pretty cocky in. But let me assure you, those stores are not Tractor Supply Co.®, or anywhere close to any type of farm store. So to all of you Suburban men and women out there, who consider themselves weekend warriors, prepare yourselves for the delicious taste of humble pie.

Now the provider of our feathered friends was kind enough to drop off a large quantity of feed, a chick feeder, a small waterer and pine shavings with the chicks, but with supplies running low we needed to re-up. Apparently there is a huge difference between chicken feed and bird seed. Come on, really, their birds. So the 50 lb bag of seeds wouldn’t do. Off to our not-so-local Tractor Supply Co.®. Our nearest store is about an hour drive.

You can easily spot some key points where I went wrong on this trip.

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