Wednesday, July 29, 2009

For variety's sake, here's a picture I took over the weekend. I am continually awed by the landscape out here and the sheer vastness of everything. Though it's sometimes too hot for my liking and much drier than I am used to, I still think the landscape is fascinating and beautiful.
Yesterday while at work, I started thinking about the kinds of things people might like to do in their gardens. And I thought... bees! Some friends of my family keep bees in their backyard, in the middle of my home town, and they were telling me some about them. I am no expert, obviously, but as far as "pets" go it sounds like you set the bees up initially and they pretty much take care of themselves. They're also very, very good for the neighborhood because of... pollination! A story I came across yesterday (the location since lost in a flood of information) talked about an apple tree in someone's backyard. It produced a very small amount of apples, but once either that family or the neighbors started having bees in the backyard, the apple crop increased exponentially.
As for people who would be interested in having bees, I found some resources. Gobeekeeping has free online classes, a coloring book (which I thought was fun... my sparse cubicle wall could use some decoration), and various other resources on its website. This website on backyard beekeeping is more geared towards someone living in a city environment, and has a lot of useful tips. For instance, if you "smoke" the bees, they are convinced there's a forest fire. So they rush back to their hive, gorge on honey (to save it, presumably), and once they are full of that liquid gold they are much more docile. And apparently, honey bees are often mixed up with yellow jackets, the bees that sting more often. I remember when I worked on the farm and the cucumbers, zucchini, and squash were blossoming. There were bees absolutely everywhere pollinating like crazy, and even though I had to essentially stick my face in this swarm day after day, I was never stung. Fun fact! I also thought it was interesting that I couldn't find a comprehensive Beekeeper's Association for southern Idaho.
My animal research naturally extended to chickens. It turns out that in the city of Boise, you can have up to three "pet" hens but no roosters in your yard (except in restricted neighborhoods). I think that's really interesting. I found this information at The City Chicken, not a city of Boise website, so it may not be entirely accurate. But if it is, I was very interested to read that in Minneapolis, the number of chickens you can have is unlimited, as long as they are penned and you have permission from 80 percent of your neighbors (This information is on the chicken laws page, and it has laws from all over the country).
Then, when searching how to build a cheap greenhouse, I stumbled across Instructables, an amazing website commited to the Do-It-Yourself philosophy. I promptly signed up for a free account and have been spending much too much time searching it for ideas to make stuff. On the subject of chickens I found a page that instructs you how to build a backyard chicken coop and how to clip chickens' wings. There were so many more, but I had to limit myself and stay on task :) When I dealt with chickens on the farm last summer, I was generally afraid of them... but there's really no reason to be. Whenever they saw me coming, they would crouch down and spread their wings out. I think they're generally pretty terrified of... everything. When I managed to collect my first egg, I felt like I was on top of the world. It took almost all of the courage I had to physically reach under that hen and make off with her egg.
And, I did find a solution for a cheap greenhouse on Instructables here. It's very small, but it's very cheap! With the cost of it you could make a lot of small ones!
I was also very delighted to discover in this Instructables that the Starbucks policy of giving away their coffee grounds for fertilizer is universal. I was under the impression it was only in Boise, but according to this you can go to any Starbucks and simply ask for it.
In my research I've been focusing heavily on the cheap, easy side of things. If I had to guess, I would assume most people who will (hopefully) be wanting to start community gardens next season won't have a lot of resources at their disposal. And as a branch of a non-profit organization either do we. That part of the starving college student mentality may serve me well this coming year!

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