Memphis Backyard Farmer

It’s Just A Bit of Poo
April 29, 2011, 2:49 am
Filed under: Gardening, Rabbits

In late winter I made a few posts about seedlings. I’d definitely learned some lessons from last year, and was expecting some great seedlings ready to go in the ground in April. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I ended up with some tiny, scrawny seedlings that really bewildered me. I had started them in some Miracle-Grow organic potting mix, kept them in a warm spot (they sprouted immediately), and then kept them under grow lights. But here I was, late March, with some of the sorriest excuses for seedlings I’d ever seen. What had I done wrong?

A few weeks ago I was working at a Master Gardener plant show, and decided to peek in on a session about growing and transplanting seedlings. The guy was a very conventional gardener, and looking at his equipment, I frankly felt like I had a better setup than he did. But he brought along several flats of plants that were gorgeous, and was even selling plants, ready to go in the garden. Sitting through his session, there was only one thing he did differently: he fertilized. As soon as the plants were up and had good seed leaves, he started adding a Peter’s or Miracle Grow soluble fertilizer. I had always understood this was dangerous, because the added nitrogen might burn the young plants. He stated, however, that he didn’t mix the fertilizer to full strength, but instead made a fairly weak solution.

OK, that’s great information, but my wheels started turning on how I would do this as an organic gardener. Then it hit me – poo!

I came home, grabbed the shovel, and got a scoop of rabbit poo from beneath the cages. I put it in a five-gallon bucket of water and let it cook for a day in the sun (it was already well into the 80’s here in Memphis). The next day I strained it off into another five-gallon bucket using a spare window screen. Then, cup by cup, I watered my seedling flats.

All I can say, is, amazing.

The seeds I planted 2-3 weeks later than my first seedlings have caught up and passed their big brothers and sisters. They’re strong, green, and tall, but not the least bit leggy. Meanwhile, the older seedlings – which in my opinion are probably permanently stunted at this point – still have burst forth with new leaves and growth. My curcurbits’s yellowing leaves have darkened up, their weak stems have strengthened, and in fact, this morning they are covered in open blossoms.

So – once again I extol the virtue of rabbit poo, this time as compost tea. Note to self: next year, water seedlings with poo-water.


Review of “Year of Plenty” by Craig Goodwin
April 22, 2011, 8:22 am
Filed under: Reviews

I connected with Year of Plenty author Craig Goodwin first via Twitter (@craiggoodwin). Craig is a Presbyterian minister in Washington State with a passion for local food, gardening, food preservation, Jesus and a passion for how all those things fit together.

Year of Plenty is a book about his family’s journey growing food, consuming thoughtfully, eating locally, and being in relationship with the people who produce what goes on their table. From the jacket: “In 2008, Pastor Craig Goodwin and his young family embarked on a year-long experiment to consume only what was local, used, homegrown or homemade. In Year of Plenty, Goodwin shares the winsome story of how an average suburban family stumbled onto the cultural cutting edge of locavores, backyard chickens, farmers markets, simple living, and going green.”

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking, “Sounds a lot like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (by Barbara Kingsolver). True, there are several situations that indeed seem to come from the same place as Kingsolver’s: local food vs. food imported from across the globe, how animals in the food chain are treated, gardening, raising chickens, etc. Thankfully, though, Craig answers this critique right out of the gate; “Does the world really need another book about one family’s year-long consumption experiment?” he asks. The answer, he says, is that this book is about a theology of plenty, that followers of Jesus have something unique to offer the consumer/green conversation.

Goodwin weaves into his stories the way his theology informs his family’s consumer decision-making processes. Instead of this being an environmental crusade, it’s largely a relational crusade. After all, in Christian theology, we love our neighbor as ourselves. How does what we eat affect the person who grows the food? Are they getting a living wage? What are they struggling with?  Is the local farmer being cheated somehow by a middle-man, grocery chain, or seed company? After meeting a particular squash farmer, we see the Goodwin family sitting down to say “grace” for the meal, which then turns to asking God’s grace on this farmer, his fields, and his crops.

We also see how Craig’s belief that all of creation belongs to God, and is being redeemed by, and through, Jesus, impacts decisions of creation care. How we treat the land is a direct reflection of what we believe about how God loves the land, and His desire for ultimate redemption.

Woven throughout he has gentle critique for the Church and how it has been a part of the consumer culture of America. Not just that we consume without thinking, but that we often think of our neighbors as merely “consumers” and turn to consumer marketing strategies to generate demand for our product. As a former member of a church staff, the temptation to “market” to communities is enticing. But instead, Craig tells us, “The greatest gift the church has to offer its neighbors is to recognize them as something other than consumers. In a world where everyone is constantly reduced to objects, the church ought to be a refreshingly humanizing force. The story of the church is to envision people as beloved children of God who are irreducible.”

For those of you who are not of any faith persuasion, there is plenty of good storytelling here. I couldn’t help but laugh at situations he and his family found themselves in as they ripped out their yard to create a vegetable garden. I’ve felt those same stares from my neighbors as I built raised beds in conspicuous places throughout my yard.

But my favorite chapter by far was chapter 11, “Green Christians”, where Craig more fully fleshes out how his new lifestyle is shaped by his theology. In this new age of “green”, it’s good to hear someone fully articulate why they eat what they eat, why they grow what they grow, why they buy what they buy. A complete connection between head, heart, hands, spirit and then pocketbook is rare. But then to have those connections explained from a Christian can be valuable for those of our number who have not yet made the connection between God’s creation, Jesus’ redemption and our participation. “We are created, not creator and our recognition of that makes all the difference. It opens up the possibility for us to participate in the grand story of God’s saving work in the world, which includes decisions about money and even personal-care products but does not presume that these choices give us the power to save the world.” (p. 159)

Well said.

My Carport Is Swarming With Bees!
April 17, 2011, 8:16 am
Filed under: Bee Keeping

 I’ve been a bit down and out since I lost two hives since last fall (see my last update). When you only have five bee hives, two is a big loss. Fortunately, I was able to order a queen to do a split from one of my remaining healthy hives. However, after a trip out to the bees about a week and a half ago, I found that one of my hives was preparing to swarm. They had built several queen cells on a couple of combs, and had several drone cells built out as well. Since I had a few extra boxes with me in the car, I decided that now was the time for the split. I grabbed the two frames with queen cells (along with fresh brood and lots of bees),shoved them in a box, and took them home. They’re now in my kids’ tree house.

Four hives now, with a queen on the way. I’m happy.

But then something even more remarkable happened. When it comes to swarms, I typically wait for someone to call me. Inevitably it happens, someone gets a swarm in a tree, wall, or even car, and they call me to come rescue them (that’s a vague pronoun – you can guess who needs saving). But I’ve heard that if you take an old hive containing one or two frames with comb out in the woods (or even close to someone else’s bee yard), then when a hive nearby swarms, they’ll smell your hive and make it their new home. But really, that’s too easy, right?


I keep a stack of old equipment on my carport; hive bodies, old frames, feeders, etc. When the weather gets warm, I always have bees poking around, licking up the old comb, stealing wax to take home as building material. Spring is no exception. But when I got a frantic call from my wife last week about the bees in the carport, I knew this was even more unusual. When I called her back, she told me that a whirlwind of bees had appeared from the sky outside our upstairs window. The kids ran outside just in time to see them light on my stack of equipment.

“What do we do?” she asked, somewhat exasperated.

“Let them in!”

So – my wife, my 11 year old and my 13 year old suited up, went outside, and just “tipped” the lid that sat atop the boxes outside the back door. Sure enough, the bees dropped right in. I inspected them yesterday morning, and they are an incredible hive of bees with – truly – the biggest queen I have ever seen. I haven’t had time to cart them off to one of the fields, but they’ve been gentle with the neighborhood kids coming in and out of the carport, so right now we’re all peacefully coexisting.

So if you’re looking for free bees, this is the best darn way of hiving a swarm that I’ve ever tried. And now I’m up to five hives, and still have a queen on the way. Sweet!