Small businesses need support to thrive, and that is particularly true in the world of farming where the learning curve is steep, the risk is high, and if that wasn’t enough, farmers also must to do their own marketing, distribution and administrative tasks to survive.
One of the most adorable chickens at the Garden Home is called the Silkie because of its fine feathers that feel and look like strands of silk.
The Silkie isn’t a prolific egg producer, but it’s one of the best breeds to have as a pet. Docile and friendly, they will come to you when called and like to be held. The more you spend time with your Silkie chickens the more socialized they will be.
Children love Silkies because of their wacky appearance. They have a top hat like crest and turquoise earlobes that look like fancy earrings. And they have five toes! Most chickens only have four. They also have feathers on their legs, which makes them look like they are walking around in their pajamas.
Silkies come in both large and bantam (dwarf) sizes, but even the large version is small. They come in black, white, buff, gray, blue, and partridge (brown and black). You can get ones with or without a beard.
As an added bonus Silkie chickens don’t make a lot of noise, which is ideal if you live in an urban environment.
Where can you find these fuzzy fowl? One of the best ways to find them is at a poultry show. At the show you can find a breeder who offers baby chicks or adult birds.
Did you know?
Silkies came from China and were referenced by Marco Polo in the 13th century.
Imagine for a minute that your neighborhood doesn’t include a grocery store. Not unusual, but what if you don’t have the means to travel outside of your neighborhood to find a store? You live in what is referred to as a food desert – an area that lacks a source of affordable, healthy food whose residents don’t have access to transportation. It’s a jarring thought and sadly not uncommon in the U.S. The good news is American farmers are stepping up to the plate to reach these communities in need.
One type of farmer is bringing the mountain to Mohammed by establishing urban farms in the nooks and crannies of their cities. You might see a farm on a rooftop or in an abandoned lot or in your neighbor’s backyard. Some farmers have converted warehouses to year-round grow houses. Their efforts are pretty amazing and, in some cases, ingenious.
The concept of urban farming as a way to alleviate food insecurity isn’t new. Consider Victory Gardens during WWII or go back even further to the 1890s when "Pingree’s Potato Patches"€� sprung up in Detroit as a way to help people through an economic downturn. Urbanites have a rich history of shoring up our larders by producing food within the city limits.
The 21st century version of a philanthropic urban farm works to promote awareness, education, and empowerment as well as supplying inexpensive, homegrown food to the community. These groups want to show others what they can do for themselves and their neighborhood.
In most cases these urban farms get financial support by selling what they produce to local restaurants or directly to the consumer at farmers’ markets, retail stores and through community support agriculture (CSA) programs. Supporting a local urban farm couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is buy their products or participate in their workshops.
Resources for finding out more about urban farming:
Urban Farm Magazine
USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
EPA Steps to Create a Community Garden or Expand Urban Agriculture
There is so much to discuss about Heifer Ranch I thought it deserved a second post. In the first post I introduced you to this farm and learning center that is a part of Heifer International. With only three full time gardeners who maintain almost four acres of produce, I figured the folks at Heifer Ranch would have some good tips for us home gardeners. Here’s what they had to say.
- Plant Early: Ryan, manager of the garden, says the first step to success is putting in a spring crop as early as possible. It helps the workers get a jump on the season and take advantage of Arkansas’ short spring before the weather turns too hot.
- Succession Planting: To stay in constant supply of fresh produce, the gardeners plant the same crops every 3-4 weeks. This is especially helpful for pest-vulnerable crops like squash, but it also helps if a heat wave or flash flood destroys one planting group.
- Row Covers: Many people shy away from them, but row covers made from thin agricultural fabrics are used to cover plantings for two main purposes: frost protection and as an insect barrier. This is an added protection for tip 1- planting early- but it also helps with weed control.
- Rotation: The Heifer Ranch gardeners try not to plant a crop of the same family in a particular spot within four years of another member of that family being planted there. For example, the areas that have tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant this year will not have any of those items planted there for the foreseeable future. It’s a task that requires a little note keeping, but it greatly helps with the prevention of disease and insect pressure for future crops.
- Drip Irrigation: With the typical Arkansas summer, and especially this year’s drought-plagued summer, drip irrigation is a saving grace. The use of drip tape or line helps them conserve water and helps keep plants foliage dry, which reduces disease. It’s especially useful to keeping the soil moist when plants are young so that roots won’t dry out.
- Compost: The dynamic duo of food waste from the cafeteria and manure from the barns with the addition of garden remnants creates “black gold” to greatly enhance garden soil.
- Cover Cropping: Despite the extra work it may entail, the gardeners try to never have bare soil. When a “cash crop” is finished producing, they quickly plant a crop like cowpeas in the summer or winter wheat in the fall because in sustainable farming, cover crops help manage soil fertility & quality by adding nutrients back into the ground and help keep weeds, pests and diseases at bay.
- Mulch: By placing mulch around the base of plants, the gardeners can keep the soil consistently moist and cool while also discouraging weeds- the less weeding they have to do, the more time they have for planting and harvesting.
- Organic Pest Control: Heifer Ranch is a certified organic producer and they avoid chemical-based pest controls. But as a last resort for those hard-to-beat pests, they rely on the organic pyrethrum-based controls for blister beetles and fire ants and baits containing Nosema locustae against tomato hornworms and grasshoppers.
- Hard Work: What garden doesn’t require this? All of the vegetables are harvested by hand, so the three full-time gardeners are out in the sun for 8-10 hours a day. Even so, they rely on help from volunteers, guests, and CSA members to keep things fully harvested. Gardening and farming are social events at Heifer Ranch.
Do you use any of these methods to keep your garden in top form? We’d love to hear which of these you use, or any other tips you have to make a garden manageable.