Tuesday, November 18, 2014


As expected the chickens are growing fast and eating a ton of  food! Check out the pictures below:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The chickens are all doing well - I just wanted to give an update. They have grown massive amounts and are eating so much food I can hardly keep up. As they are enjoying themselves inside eating I spent all of last weekend outside working on the chicken coop.

As I have mentioned before, building a chicken coop was not as easy as it looked. This weekend I attached the structure I had constructed earlier to the foundation I built last week. I also built a frame for a slanted roof, attached that to the structure and attached corrugated metal roofing to the top of the frame (this was the first time the coop even started to look remotely like anything a chicken could live in). I also built the frame for one of the doors. While this may seem like a lot - I still have a lot ahead of me.  

This process has really helped me appreciate all the farmers I have talked too. I am having a hard time with 6 chickens, I can not even imagine farms full of vegetables and animals. Next time I go to the farmers market and buy eggs, vegetables fruits etc. I am going to think about how much work went into producing that one item of food, I never had any idea of the work involved before I got my chickens - I guess I assumed it was easier, This has been such an eye opener.

So, stay tuned for more chicken updates (they go outside in three weeks!), updates on the tedious coop building and last but not least more updates on the wonderful Urban farms surrounding Richmond VA. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Predator Proofing

This weekend I worked on predator proofing my chicken coop foundation. This may not seem like a  big deal but it turns out anything will eat a chicken. Rats, dogs, raccoon, hawks etc. Not only do you have to make sure that every crack is sealed but you need to make sure that nothing can dig under ground and make tunnels into the outside part of the chicken coop. If an animal dug a tunnel and then came up through the bottom of the coop they could very easily eat a couple chickens for dinner and then scurry off. I decided, in an effort to prevent this from happening, that I would make a predator proof foundation. First I dug a hole the same size as the chicken coop that was 12 inches deep. I then leveled the bottoms and sides and laid rat wire on the bottom. I then laid cinder blocks around the edges and filled in back up with dirt. This involved a lot of physical labor and took over 8 hours to complete. But, by designing it this way it will hopefully make sure that no predator can find its way in to feast on cute little chicken morsels.
Leveling the foundation

The foundation before we put the dirt back in 

We dug up 40 square feet of dirt!

I had a little problem when filling the foundation back up with dirt! 

Next weekend (November 9th) I will be visiting Faith Farms and this Saturday I will be visiting the farmers marker. Stay tuned for posts about those and more pictures and updates about my own urban farm. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wings with Feathers

This morning when I walked downstairs to check on my chickens I opened the lid and  one chicken flew all the way up to the top of the box and then fell right back down into the food bowl, rolled over and got up again. I picked the chicken up and looked at its wings. Above the fluffy fuzz there were  real feathers on her wing.  Not only are they getting real feathers but in only a week they are double the size they were when they arrive, the colors of their fuzz/feathers has begun to darken and they are much stronger. Here is a picture of them now:

Stay tuned for more pictures, updates and blogs!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pasty Butt and Peachy Orange

This weekend I spent a LOT of time with my chickens. Stopping them from flying out the brooder, keeping them entertained, re filling their yogurt bowl and cleaning their vents. This was the nastiest part. When chickens are young they often get this thing called "pasty butt" which is where their droppings clog their intestines. This causes them to become lethargic and not want to eat or drink. This is where I come in. When this happens you have to pick up the chicken, run them under warm running water and clean their vents with paper towels and Q-Tips, gross right? Well, gross or not it is crucial, if not taken care of it can be fatal. Well, this weekend two of my chickens got pasty butt, because of this I spent some of my weekend running my chicken's butts under warm water and believe me, they really don't like it!

Knowing this could be fatal I really wanted to help my chickens and prevent them from getting pasty butt. I researched the best solution and almost every website I read said adding some yogurt or smashed hard boiled eggs to their diet will really help. So, I added a bowl of plain full fat yogurt. At first all they did was walk through it and spill it all over the wood chips (this took some cleaning as you can imagine). Finally one if the chickens discovered the yogurt. She decided to lay down in front of it and eat. She must have eaten a whole 3/4 teaspoon of yogurt (that is a lot when you are only 4 days old!).

The rest of the weekend I spent finishing the frame for the chicken coop and choosing the color. This was not an easy task. At first I wanted orange, then I wanted green. I then considered purple and blue. Then I thought about gray and green. Once we had gone through about every color on the sample wall we took the samples up the paint counter. I was still deciding when we got there. Coincidentally the man working at the paint counter also raised chickens. After a lot of back and forth he convinced me that orange was they way to go. The color is below:


Sample wall - what a lot of choices!
In total we spent about 3 1/2 hours over the course of the day at Home Depot. We looked at siding, roofing, rat wire and hinges. It all seemed SO expensive. I have raised all the money for this coop babysitting and I am really counting every penny.  As we were driving home I was looking at buildings and thinking that if it costs this much to build a chicken coop I can not imagine how much money one of those would cost!

When we got home and started painting I discovered the orange was a big mistake, it looked really bad!  It was an ugly peachy color and was a huge eyesore. It looked almost like a big cube of cheddar cheese in the middle of our backyard. We are reconsidering and thinking we may paint it the same earthy green as our shed. Overall we had a very busy weekend! Right now my chickens are peeping happily in the brooder box in the basement and eating yogurt. Here are some pictures:

Stay tuned for more pictures and updates! 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Today was the big day! The chickens arrived. It was a very comical arrival. The post office called mid morning and told us, as if it happened every day, that our chickens had arrived and were waiting in the back room. Once we got to the post office we asked about picking up the chickens. The person working went in to the back room and brought us a very very small box! The box had holes in the top and warning stickers and signs pasted all over it. They handed the box over slowly and I could hear the peeps coming from inside the box. We must have looked very funny walking out of the Post Office with a cheeping box covered in warning signs because we got our fair share of funny looks.

As of now all the chickens appear to be healthy. When we opened the box they were cheeping and lively. There is one little one who is getting picked on by the bigger ones but I hope she will start to fight back soon. Below are some pictures of the chickens in the box they came in:

 Once we got them home we had to carefully transfer them in to the prepared brooder box.  I had a big box that I filled with pine wood chips. There is a picture below:

I had also prepared a feeder and a water machine filled with fresh water and medicated chick feed. The chicks really do have bird brains and it took me sticking their beaks in the water and shoving their faces in the food from them to realize they had access to food and water. When they found out they begin to run around in a feeding  frenzy. They have everything they need in their box: heat, food, water, wood chips, treats and essential oil to calm them. Everything is working out so far! In 2 weeks I am visiting Faith Farms, a local and sustainable dairy farm. I will have a blog about that soon. Stay posted!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My Own Urban Farm

Richmond and the area surrounding it is the home to many Urban farms that support and educate the people living in these communities. I have looked at and reviewed quite a  few farms (see earlier posts) and I have been inspired by each and every one of them. Them something came to me - if all these other farmers and able to grow and produce food locally, support the community and environment , why can't I?

Obviously because I go to school everyday and do homework every night I can not independently run a local farm that produces like Origins or Tricycle Gardens but maybe I could do something on a smaller scale, like chickens!

So I have decided that with no expertise, a small backyard in Henrico County, a dog, a cat, two siblings, and a computer that I am going to raise chickens. The first thing I needed to do was research, I contacted a few people I know who were already raising chickens and learned there was a lot more to it than I thought.

For the first 5-8 weeks chickens need to stay in a brooder box and be kept warm. When they first arrive the box should be 95 degrees and then each week you decrease the temperature by 5 degrees until it reaches outside temperature. Considering that it is the middle of October this make take longer then expected. Chickens also need special feed and attention for the first weeks.

But, because chicken ordering season is almost over I had to get on it fast so the first step was to order chickens. I am getting a total of 6 hens (and hopefully no rosters, there is a 6% chance). A couple of the breeds I got are referred to as lap chickens (they are very social)! Below are the pictures of the chickens I am getting:

Black Frizzle Cochin Bantam 

Welsummer Bantam 

White Crested Blue Polish 

Golden Buff

My friends dad owns a construction company and very kindly donated wood to build my chicken coop. I created plans based on pictures and designs of other coops I had seen. Each chicken needs an average of 2 to 4 square feet inside the coop and then the same amount of outside space. This may seem like as easy requirement to meet but the big deal is making it predator proof. EVERYTHING eats chickens. Snakes, birds, hawks, raccoons, rats, dogs, cats and may other animals. This means that every little hole needs to be sealed. This weekend I worked on building the coop. The first step (because the wood was untreated) was to prime all the wood. This would help it withstand outside weather. The second step was to assemble the frame. I only got this far in this process but the next step will be to attach siding, make the roof, make the nesting boxes and paint the coop. 

But in the meantime I had some research to do. My chickens will be arriving soon and it would be nice if I knew something about chicken care. I found a wonderful research website called mypetchicken.com which gave me all the basics about what they eat, how they behave and how to keep then happy but I really needed someone with firsthand experience. I contacted two family friends who already raised chickens and they both were very kind and informative. 

My chickens are arriving on October 15th and they will be 2 days old. I will keep you posted on how things are going with my own little Urban farm! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014


This weekend as part of a Richmond Farm Tour I visited 2 local urban farms in this area. The link to the farm tour is below:


The two farms were both unique in there own way but at the same time both were equally dedicated to providing locally sourced food and food education to the surrounding community. I was struck by how each and every person I met was dedicated and seemed excited about what they were doing. I believe every city need farms like these that are committed to help the surrounding community by providing produce to people and places that otherwise may not have it. 

The first farm I visited was The Jerusalem Connection Garden, which is associated with Renew Richmond, a program dedicated to creating Urban farms and gardens in Richmond. When we first arrived we pulled into what appeared to be a parking lot right off the main road. I was thinking that the GPS had to be wrong. It turns out it was not. The Jerusalem connection Garden it located on less than an acre of land truly in the center of an Urban area.

The Farm

Shortly after signing in and dealing with all the formalities of the farm tour we started to look around. The garden was very impressive for such a small space. We found out later that all the space was not used as effectively as it could be because the the main goal of this farm was education and outreach. But still, take a look at this picture, the farm seemed pretty productive to me!

About 5 minutes after we arrived the farmer, who also happened to be the tour guide, showed up. One of the first thing he explained to us was their mission as an urban farm. It is to educate the population living around them. This seemed like a big mission for a one acre farm, it seemed like an even bigger mission when I found out this farm was totally volunteer run. This blew my mind. In order to look that good the farm must have had a lot of willing, dedicated and talented volunteers. He went on to tell us that they also provide produce for pop up markets at 2 churches and the health department.

The farm, as I mentioned, was not big. They only produce 3,000 pounds of produce a year, while this may not be feeding a ton of people it is raising awareness in the community. They often reach out to schools, church groups and other groups of people who would benefit from there mission. A lot of the people benefiting from this Garden would not otherwise have access to fresh food.  They donate produce to local churches, who in turn prepare meals that can be frozen and given to families in need.

Another way Jerusalem Connection Garden makes sure it is really serving the community is they raise what  the people want. Instead of growing crazy unheard of vegetables and trying to introduce them to people who have not even had a carrot before they grow what people will actually eat and enjoy.  Instead they grew things like strawberries, tomatoes, squash melons, carrots and apples. 


Apple, Pear and Peach trees-a new garden of fruit trees.



Another thing they talked about was if  Urban farms are supposed to help sustain a certain group of people it does not work to only provide them with food in the summer. Food is a necessity in the winter as well. One of the things this urban farm had were metal structures that were covered with a thick plastic called hoop houses. The plastic captured the heat and did not let it out! When you walk in it is like walking into a sauna. Because of its temperature even in the coldest month of the winter it is still suitable for growing. When we visited the farm they were growing seeds for this years fall and winter plants in the hoop house.

Hoop house
Purple carrot seeds in the hoop house

They also focus on more than just the food. They focus on the entire Eco-system of a garden. They have a rain garden leading back into the apple orchard.
Rain Garden 
Because the farm is on the middle of the city they need to do things that other farms may not need to do. One of these things is having a bee hive. The bee hive means there are always bee in the garden pollinating the flowers.  Urban settings are an important habitat for bees.  Here is a link to some information regarding urban bees:  http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-28888218

They also have a section of flowers that attract butterflies. Butterflies and bees contribute to the urban ecosystem and improve the functioning of the gardens.

Raised beds are a common solution used by urban farmers in order to have optimal growing conditions. This may seem like a waste of wood, soil etc, but in fact when gardening in the middle of the city the soil often contain arsenic and other poisons. Gardening in a raised bed allows the soil you plant in to be totally separate from the unsuitable soil beneath you. This is not true in all cases but because this farm is located right next to a parking lot ( providing a smooth clean path for runoff) it is essential to take this precaution. 

Overall this farm really amazed me. Only a few volunteers have been able to do something that really benefits the community. They have created an entire farm system in the middle of a parking lot. They are educating many people and providing healthy and local foods to the community. I highly encourage, if anyone has some free time to go and volunteer, this is a really important thing and we do not have enough people helping out.

The second Urban farm I visited this weekend was Tricycle Gardens. There name is directly related to Urban Farming. The name comes from a story. One day, when Tricycle Gardens was first beginning, they were digging in the soil and they found the pieces of a tricycle in one of the soon to be raised beds.  Because you are gardening in urban soil you never know what you might find buried underneath the layers of soil. There might have been a building, dump or park there before. You never know.

When we got there, Claire, one of the employees gave us a tour of the garden. The garden is located on a hill so they have two levels of the garden which they call the upstairs and downstairs. The upstairs is a more recent addition to the farm. Last year, only counting what was produced in the downstairs, they grew 20,000 pounds of produce, This year with the addition of the upstairs they hope to make at least double that. Like The Jerusalem Connection garden, they care a lot about education and outreach in the Richmond community.

Tricycle Gardens has used a similar technique to what  Jerusalem Connection uses. They created hoop houses (like green houses) so they can still produce food in the winter. Last winter, as we all know, was really really snowy and unfortunately their hoop houses did not hold up. The temperature inside was not suitable for growing. They contacted a farmer in Maine who farmed during the winter (I did not know that was possible). He suggested they use a double layer of plastic. We need to wait for this winter to see if it works!
Uncovered hoop houses 
I noticed Tricyle Gardens used every bit of space.. When we looked around the downstairs of the farm there were pumpkin vines creeping around on most every surface and the end of the summer crops and the beginning of the falls one occupied almost every bed. There were a couple beds that were not occupied but were about to be planted. Clare mentioned that this year they had decided not to till these beds. They thought that tilling it would mix up the natural soil layers. This made perfect sense to me but I later found out it was only possible because they were farming on such a small scale. In order for the plants to be healthy you must mix up the soil a little bit. They can do this by hand at Tricycle gardens but I don't think it would work on an 100 acre farm. 

Along the edge of the garden downstairs there were lots and lots of compost bins. Claire mentioned that they used red wiggler worms in the compost.  Because city soil is not always the healthiest compost is essential for the growth of plants, but this is not the only reason they have compost bins. They are a wonderful way to recycle all the food scraps and more obviously compost is good for all plants not just city plants. 

Funny sign on compost bin!

Compost bins

We then headed up to the upstairs part of the farm. This was a recent addition. The upstairs used all raised beds and had a greenhouse and a new hoop house. Earlier that weekend they had a volunteer day and had tidied it up and put wood chips in between the beds. The upstairs looked like it had more crops growing at the moment. They had okra, delicious tomatoes, eggplant, Malabar spinach (spinach on a vine) and many other vegetables, fruits and flowers. Below are some pictures of the abundant produce (and cool bugs!).

BIG spider between two raised beds


Look at all the produce!

Malabar Spinach

I noticed how well watered and healthy these plants looked. Claire informed us that this might be because they water all there plants from below. They have little plastic tubes that go down to the roots of the plant and they poor the water into the tubes and it water the plants from below. Not only does this cut down on the amount of water wasted but it  means the water does not get on the leaves of the plant and promote burning or roting. 

We then went  to the top  of a little hill at the edge of the upstairs. The raised beds were built into the hill. There was also a beehive at the top. The bees help pollinate the plants on the farm.

 From the top of the hill you could see most of Tricycle Gardens and I remember thinking that this was simply amazing. An enormous amount of energy and effort went into creating an urban garden that not only helped and sustained the community but also educated others to the same. 

As I was driving home after touring the farms I was thinking about how much I had learned that day and how  impressed I was by these 2 urban gardens in Richmond. Then I got to thinking, Richmond is a big city and getting bigger every year. We need more of these Gardens. Tricycle and Jerusalem connection Gardens have done a wonderful job pioneering this movement but we need more. This should not be a rare thing, we should see gardens like these everyday and everywhere. We all need to make it happen. 

Stay tuned, next week I will blog about two more farms in the Richmond area!