Chickens just might be part of your future. You never know.
Now that unpredictable financial twists and turns have become the norm, and creative ways of saving or making money at home are eagerly sought, raising chickens in the backyard may be the next big thing.
In Los Angeles, it is perfectly legal to raise chickens. The only stipulation is that they reside at least 20 feet from your house and 35 feet from your neighbor’s house. If you have a rooster, make sure you have 100 feet of separation between it and surrounding domiciles.
A little biology is in order here: Hens do not need roosters to lay eggs. However, if you want those eggs to have the potential to hatch into chicks, then you will require the assistance of a rooster.
For our purposes here, chicken manure makes excellent fertilizer, containing the most nitrogen of any barnyard manure, although goat manure is also acceptable. (And by the way, it’s also legal to raise goats.)
However, barnyard manure should not be applied fresh or it will burn your plants. In general, the smaller the animal, the hotter the manure. It is preferable to allow chicken manure, mixed with chicken bedding or other carbonaceous material, to age for 60 to 90 days before application.
In any compost pile, the rule of thumb is to combine green or nitrogen-rich material such as fresh barnyard manure, grass clippings, hedge trimmings, weeds, vegetable and fruit peels and cores, coffee grounds, garden prunings and seaweed (rinsed to remove salt) with brown or carbon-rich material such as hay or straw, fallen leaves, woody tree and shrub prunings, eggshells, tea bags, corncobs and sawdust.
In a compost bin or windrow, put down a 3-inch layer of brown material topped by a 2-inch layer of green material. Alternate these layers, separated ideally by a thin layer of topsoil, up to a height of 3 feet. You will want to aerate the pile with a spading fork, exchanging material from the surface and sides with material from the center of the pile and vice versa, on a weekly basis.
You will also need to keep the pile moist, like a wrung-out sponge.
A properly prepared compost pile will give off considerable heat, reaching temperatures of up to 130 degrees. If you do everything correctly, you will begin to see rich brown or black sweet-smelling finished compost at the bottom of the pile after two to three months.
I was inspired to write about chicken farming upon perusal of a new book titled “Backyard Homesteading: A Back-to-Basics Guide to Self-Sufficiency” (Creative Homeowner, 2012).
David Toht, the author, focuses on chickens, goats and bees as the preferred members of the animal kingdom for sustaining urban homesteaders. However, fauna receives minority attention in Toht’s book, where most of the pages are devoted to growing and preserving vegetables, herbs, berries, fruits and nuts.
It may come as a surprise that, to quote the author, “a 15 x 20 foot garden (300 square feet) is large enough to grow fresh vegetables to feed a family of four as well as a few extras for preserving or storing for winter use.”
The idea is to create a series of small, raised planter beds 4 feet wide, enclosed by wooden planks. Toht even has a picture of leafy greens growing in raised planters constructed in a narrow parkway, that problematic strip between sidewalk and street, although local regulations may restrict the height of the crops you can grow there.
If you have little yard space but a flat roof, you can grow vegetables up there in kiddie pools. The key is to “start small and expand as you learn the ropes.”
Keep in mind that you will require at least six hours of direct sun for your edible garden. In Los Angeles, that might mean growing crops in the front yard instead of the back, since large trees behind the house may severely deprive you of sunlight.
Toht has included detailed information on preparing garden beds; valuable cultural tips for growing common vegetables, herbs, brambleberries and tree fruit; as well as plans for building chicken coops, goat pens and apiaries. Internalize this book and you can quit your job, sustaining yourself like your ancestors did not too long ago.
Loren Zeldin, Reseda’s master gardener, once enlightened me with his observation that flowering maples, more commonly known as abutilons, are much more drought tolerant than people realize. I have learned this to be true during our very dry winter. I have not watered several mature ‘Fruit Salad’ abutilons all winter and each of them is now heavy with scores of flowers. They face west and receive at least half of the afternoon’s sun.
Abutilon is an anomaly because it does not possess any of the classic attributes of drought-tolerant plants such as thorns or succulent leaves. I would not plant abutilons in a cactus garden but, once mature, they probably do not require watering more than once a week, no matter how hot it gets.
It may also be true that the weeping growth habit of abutilon keeps its roots shaded and cool, mitigating water stress.
The more I look at plants, the more I am impressed by their symmetry. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the more I look at plants, the more I equate beauty with symmetry.
The long blue-violet conical inflorescences you see on pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum/candicans), for example, are undeniably beautiful appendages. Is there a person who breathes who could naysay the beauty of this floral display?
With plants, bounty is also closely associated with beauty. The fact that each pride-of-Madeira inflorescence is perfectly symmetrical would be cause enough to rejoice, but when you see dozens of them together, the reaction is one of unrestrained glee.
Tip of the week
It is fairly well known that Epidendrum and Cymbidium orchids, barring a severe frost, grow just fine left outdoors anywhere in the Valley throughout the year. They do best in patio and balcony containers, confinement increasing their flower production, as opposed to planting them in the ground.
Just recently I was made aware that Dendrobium kingianum orchids will also accept year-round Valley growing conditions. Mine have been growing in the same 6-inch pots for several years and they are flowering now for the first time since they were brought home from the nursery. It may well be that this year’s unusually warm winter has promoted their bloom, an indication that if they had a more protected location during typical, somewhat colder winters – closer to a wall, for example – they would be more likely to bloom regularly at this time of year.
Chickens just might be part of your future. You never know.