Home from Funky Chicken Farm

18 04 2009

I returned from Funky Chicken farm with the long end of the stick. In return for a couple of trays of seedlings Suzanne gave me a dozen happy chicken eggs laid on Tuesday, many packets of seeds including a variety of heirloom tomatoes, a strawberry plant and a gallon of Atomic Grow™.

She described these farm fresh eggs as “creamy”, which is exactly what they are. After having them I can attest that they are the best eggs I have ever eaten! I still chuckle when I recall our initial discussion about the eggs. She said “Isn’t it amazing that something so good comes out of a chicken’s butt?” Amazing indeed!

Eggs

As we toured the garden I commented upon her gorgeous strawberry plants to which she replied by yanking out a good handful of runners and sticking them into a pot for me. Strawberries are the one thing AJ’s mom wished our garden had. See how easily some wishes come true?

Strawberry

The final goody Suzanne gave me was a gallon of Atomic Grow™. I have contacted them via email and hope to have a response in order to update this post. For now, I gather that this is an all natural, organic wonder soap, that when sprayed onto all types of plants causes them to do everything they do a whole lot better. The leaves turn greener overnight, the root systems become massive and strong, and insects are repelled. It appears to be a single application, environmentally friendly pesticide and fertilizer. I will take some before and after shots of my garden to document the results.

In addition to the physical objects I obtained in my trade with Suzanne, I gained an incredible introduction into the local permaculture movement as well as a wealth of new activities and ideas in which to participate.

During my visit I mentioned to Suzanne that I would love to go on a foraging expedition, but don’t have enough local plant knowledge to do this properly. She jumped on the idea and offered to suggest this to her good friend Vicki who is a member of the Conradina Chapter of  the Florida Native Plant Society.

As soon as I get my projects under control I want to get out and forage!

Suzanne also turned me onto Eco Growers of East Central Florida:

Eco-Growers of East Central Florida is an informal group of local growers that support and participate in sustainable, environmentally-friendly agriculture and offer an outlet to exchange resources, knowledge, current events, education, and more.

Our group was started to support growers (a grower can be anyone who has a few tomato plants or fruit trees, or maybe a flock of laying hens, or someone with a small working farm) and to help raise community awareness about local food.

Our goal is to promote local, sustainable agriculture in east central Florida and help make the community aware of the opportunities to buy locally grown or produced goods, as well as the environmental and social benefits of buying locally.

The members hold a “Local Flavors” potluck approximately once per month, and Suzanne hopes to hold one at her place soon. Where am I going to find time to do all of this fun stuff?

Since my visit Suzanne and I have also decided to get into the business of raising Ox Beetles. I will try to go into more detail about these delightful insects, and share a couple of photographs in a future post. For now I must get busy in the garden.

Once I finish this post I will compile all of the links and place them in my sidebar.

All in all I would have to rate this a five star day. I returned home both exhausted and exuberated.

The garden greeted me with some spring blooms and a surprise.

Green onion bloom

Green-Onion-Bloom

Chive bloom

Chive-Bloom

Cardinal Air Plant ready to bloom

Tillandsia-Fasciculata-Flow

Does this look familiar? This is the mystery fruit from “Saturday in Review – Spring is Springing”. Things didn’t turn out quite like I expected. This is a passion fruit from a variety of which I do not know the name. My internet research assured me that it would ripen and drop to the ground, from whence I could retrieve it and enjoy it’s sweet goodness; perhaps by infusing into a bottle of vodka. Instead, the thing dried up, split open and released a handful of seeds on wispy parachutes. Oh well…

Open-Passion-Fruit

I saved some of the seeds, although I have no use for them, with a plant for cuttings growing right into my yard. I read that they are difficult to grow from seed and take many years to bloom.

Passion-Flower-Seeds

Fortunately the plant I enjoy is mature and produces a constant supply of  blooms to the joy of butterflies and bees alike.

Passion-Flower

So, that’s my wrap-up of my visit to Funky Chicken Farm. If you live in the area or find yourself passing through, I highly recommend making an appointment and dropping in for a tour. You will find a warm welcome, lots of treasures and an experience to remember.

Thanks Suzanne & Andrew!

Funky Chicken Farm
3510 Hield Rd.
West Melbourne, Fla 32904
Suzanne at 321-505-4066 or at srichmond2@cfl.rr.com

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Funky Chicken Farm: Part 2

18 04 2009

Funky Chicken Farm owners Suzanne & Andrew Malone with some of their feathery friends. Suzanne-&-Andrew

On Wednesday, I was so privileged as to find myself sitting around a large table at Funky Chicken Farm with four fascinating and like-minded individuals: Suzanne and Andrew, Christi and Carol. Funky Chicken Farm is a joint endeavor by Suzanne and Andrew Malone. Andrew is the poultry specialist while Suzanne does the gardening, brewing, bees, worms, herbs, Crusty Man Balm and Tie-Dye shirts. They help each other with all projects, many of which are symbiotic. Don’t ask me what “Crusty Man Balm” is. We talked about so much that this one got overlooked. Hopefully, Suzanne will fill me in and I will describe it in a later post.

Had I known so much would be taking place I would have brought a notepad. Instead, I attempted to absorb as much of the rapid-fire conversation as my feeble mind could contain. I’ll try to break it down into digestible segments. Suzanne and Andrew are as compatible as any two people I’ve met. They both struck me as gregarious, intelligent, easygoing and passionate about their varied interests. These are not people I would expect to find with their noses buried in the TV while the world passes them by. They are busy; busy doing lots of interesting and beneficial things. These are my kind of people! The conversation started with The Growboxes which are featured here and here. The Growbox looks like a Rubbermaid storage bin, but there is much more to it. Suzanne explains it best:

A Growbox is a self watering container that is portable, and contains all the water, air, and nutrients for a plants optimum growth. Great for patios, apartments, and even those in wheelchairs as you can put them on a raised platform. No more bending over! You will participate in making your own Growbox to take home, you will learn the quickest way to make them, you will use power tools and you will get a farm tour of my garden of veggies in over 50 Growboxes. Includes discussion on what to grow, trellis systems, and how many seedlings to grow in each box with a printout. We’ll cover composting, worm culture, and the chicken tour.

The mechanics still remain somewhat of a mystery to me, but upon viewing her garden, there is no doubt as to their effectiveness. I mentioned that I used one of those containers to start plants, but it wasn’t as sophisticated as her setup. Everyone took interest in my mention of initially using my container for raising beetles. Somehow I found myself explaining how there is a community of people who raise beetles and other insects as a hobby; and that I paid the rent one summer by capturing and selling Ox beetles (Strategus antaeus) online. We discussed black lighting and the forum where I met my fellow insect enthusiasts (insectnet.com). Andrew and Carol both found it interesting enough to jot down the website. It’s so refreshing to find people with the same interests.

I asked about their worms and Suzanne offered me some “Worm Tea”, which I learned is a great liquid fertilizer extracted during the process of worm farming. Their offerings so outweighed mine that I felt compelled to reign in my enthusiasm for fear of being a mooch. Next time I will come bearing our wild caught Florida shrimp and trade for some of the things I didn’t get today.

Next I learned that Christi started and moderates a yahoo group called Brevard_CoSeed&CuttingsExchange. Although I am happy to financially support the preservation of heirloom varieties I love her philosophy that plants should not cost money. I didn’t realize that the meeting was also a cutting swap. Now I feel bad for not bringing some cuttings to offer. I have since joined that group and found that Christi is looking for jasmine, which I have aplenty.

Everyone raved about the Brevard Rare Fruit Council until I was thoroughly convinced that I must join. I suggest that anyone who lives in the area should check out the website and take advantage of the benefits offered by this group. I certainly intend to. The topic of edible weeds was raised. If you have read back into my previous postings you may know that I’m a big fan of foraging and would love to be involved in a foraging group. I listed a few wild edibles that I nurture and when prickly pear came up Suzanne mentioned that prickly pear makes great wine. This is when I learned of yet another interesting hobby of theirs. They belong to the SAAZ Homebrew Club.

The SAAZ Homebrew Club in Brevard County Florida is an AHA registered club. We sponsor a national competition every year in September. Social events include our Summer Party, Octoberfest, Pub Crawls and Christmas Party. We encourage and help new members in the art of homebrewing to further our mission of educating and promoting homebrewing and craft beers. We have members who make beer, wine and mead (honey wine) and are happy to share their knowledge. Our normal monthly meetings are at Charlie & Jakes (6300 Wickham RD, Melbourne FL) on the 3rd Sunday of the month at 2pm. Due to the number of special events during the year it’s a good idea to check the calendar, or contact the club president at Prez@saaz.org  if you are interested in attending.

See why this took multiple posts? Actually, any one of the many topics we spanned could justify a post of its own.

To my surprise Carol began extracting small plastic cups and bottles of brown liquid from her bag. I wondered to myself “Is there no end to how interesting these people are?” As she opened a bottle and began pouring out shots she described the cloudy liquid as “Kombucha”. I had never heard of this beverage, but it turns out to be an interesting and tasty form of fermented sweet tea. From the Wikipedia page:

Kombucha is the Western name for sweetened tea or tisane that has been fermented using a macroscopic solid mass of microorganisms called a “kombucha colony”.

First Carol shared a spiced version rich with cinnamon, ginger and apple flavor. This was really good and reminded me of apple cider. Next she gave us a taste of the straight brew. The experience created an image in my mind of sitting around a campfire in New Guinea passing around native brew in a gourd, like you might see on The Discovery Channel. Of course, everyone sat in chairs and had their clothes on. Carol talked about the health benefits attributed to Kombucha and the conversation shifted to a variety of homeopathic  remedies for cancer and diabetes. The entire conversation was stimulating and educational.

Although I occasionally enjoy discussing politics and religion, it was a welcome relief to take part in such a gathering where these topics were never raised. It was as though a group of kindred nature lovers conspired to make the world a better place through acts of kindness, generosity and sustainability. When the shit hits the fan I want to be in this tribe.

After the Kombucha Suzanne offered to take us on a tour of the farm. Again, I wish I had taken notes because the vast number of plants she has was more than enough to overwhelm my memory. Suffice it to say that she has just about everything I do and ten times more. Suzanne showed us the Growboxes as Christi’s son investigated the ripening produce, causing his mother to repeatedly remind him “No picking.” He was a well-behaved child who did his best to maintain his composure in such an exciting place. Once or twice she had to retrieve him as he wandered off to look at chickens, but who could blame him? I had the same urges myself.

Some of Suzanne’s heirloom tomatoes.

Suzanne's-heirloom-tomatos

I forget what this one is.

Suzanne's-Garden

The Growboxes.

Grow-Boxes

A selection of herbs. Throughout the tour Suzanne plucked aromatic leaves and offered them up for our olfactory enjoyment.

More-Grow-Boxes

A robust bunch of celery from Victory Seed Company. Yikes, I think I planted mine in too small of a space!

Suzanne's-Celery

Once our tour of the garden was complete we continued towards the back of the property to view the portable chicken pens they had built from simple and inexpensive materials.The coop and pens can easily be moved to give the hens frequent access to fresh grass. There is a netting over the top to protect them from birds of prey.

It is obvious that Both Suzanne and Andrew are big fans of creative solutions too. I wish AJ could have been with me; I know he would have been impressed. Anyone interested in these chicken pens can contact Andrew at 321-505-4227.

These are some happy Funky Chickens!

Layers

Awww…what a cute little duckling.

Duckling

Check out my next post for a wrap-up of the day’s events.





Funky Chicken Farm – Part 1

18 04 2009

Tuesday I alluded to an excursion that I was to take on Wednesday. Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, it was all I had hoped for and more. So much more, in fact, that I need to break it into three posts.

On Monday I joined the Yahoo group Fruit Swap of Brevard, and offered a surplus tray of seedlings left over from the garden projects. Because it was  a fruit swap I expected to be offered coconuts, star fruit or citrus of some sort (all of which are wonderful) however, the response I got was a pleasant surprise.

Hi Roxanne,

I am interested!   I buy from Victory Seeds too.   I can trade you some honey or fresh eggs, Atomic Grow.
We are located at Funky Chicken Farm in W. Melb, off Minton, on Hield Rd.

My phone is 321-505-4066 as I will be away from the computer…

Suzanne

Right off the bat I knew this was a cool person and a fun place.

I Googled “Funky Chicken Farm” and was directed to their profile on Local Harvest. I’m familiar with Local Harvest because we are members with our shrimp business The Shrimp Pimp. Local Harvest describes their mission as:

The best organic food is what’s grown closest to you. Use our website to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. Want to support this great web site? Shop in our catalog for things you can’t find locally!

I called Suzanne and scheduled an appointment to visit the farm on Wednesday. I figured that my meager tray of baby lettuce was maybe worth a dozen free range eggs or a container of honey. After all, it only cost me pennies to grow, aside from a little bit of watering. I took a little bit of cash because I knew I’d want to buy more. During our conversation I learned that Suzanne knows John Rogers (AKA “Bamboo John”). It seems that he is a sort of local gardening guru (which I already suspected).

With plants loaded in the trunk of the car I hurried to get my work done and then made a beeline to Funky Chicken Farm. It was easy to find with a great sign on the road.


Funky-Chicken-Farm-Sign


Funky Chicken Farm
3510 Hield Rd.
West Melbourne, Fla 32904
Suzanne at 321-505-4066 or at srichmond2@cfl.rr.com

I followed a winding, tree-lined road to a house surrounded by all kinds of stuff going on. I won’t even try to describe it; you’ll just have to go and see for yourself. Within moments of pulling in I was greeted by Suzanne with a jovial smile and a warm handshake. She was accompanied by a woman named Christi, whom she identified as “The moderator”. I didn’t get this at the time, but later I understood what she meant. Christi’s son was having a grand time exploring the place and had already done his share of “touching the chickens”. As soon as the introductions were made another car pulled up and I was introduced to Carol. Carol and Christi recognized each other from Freecycle.org. I believe that Carol knew Suzanne from The Brevard Rare Fruit Society. As I witnessed the threads of this community pull tighter, I decided that it was a community that I wanted to be stitched into.

I had arrived at lunch time and Suzanne invited all of us to join her and her husband, Andrew, on the back porch for lunch. We wove our way through chicken and duck pens, gardening things and all kinds of interesting looking projects to a large table on the back porch.  Along the way I dropped off my plant offerings in the garden, where they were received with enthusiasm by Suzanne. Before she went in to retrieve her food, Suzanne presented me with a bin of seeds in envelopes to pick through. She had already portioned out a variety of heirloom tomato seeds just for me. Everyone gathered around the table and I eagerly sorted through the packets picking out a few from some varieties I didn’t yet have. Just as in my excursion to John Rogers’ property I felt like a student trying to soak up as much information as I could.

These are the seeds I chose:

New-Seeds

Suzanne presented us with a beautiful appetizer made with her heirloom tomatoes. I passed, only because I was full from having just eaten; but the dish was beautiful as though prepared in a fine restaurant. Suzanne’s husband, Andrew, emerged and they ate as the conversation rolled.

Cont. in Funky Chicken Farm: Part 2





Week in Review – The Thriving Landscape

6 04 2009

It’s been a nonstop busy week. AJ’s mother, Karen and her beau, Mark stayed with us last weekend and through Tuesday morning. We worked hard the rest of the week and on Friday afternoon got news that Allan Sr. (AJ’s dad) was on his way. Exhausted and with a marginally functioning brain, I fear that I was a terrible hostess. A good night’s sleep, some great coffee and a hearty breakfast found me in better spirits by Saturday morning.  The remainder of the weekend was filled with more abundance and goodness on behalf of Allan Sr. It seems to be a trend that our quality of life drastically improves on a weekly basis. I will share all of this in my very next post, but first I want to give a progress report on the flora in our mini-Eden.

Tillandsia Fasciculata

This beautiful native airplant was rescued by AJ and given a new home in the dead hickory tree which we now call “The Mushroom Tree”, due to its proliferation of shelf mushrooms. The native bromeliad has put out four flower stalks since we adopted it; two former stalks still drying and releasing seeds as a new one emerges.

Tillandsia fasciculata

New flower stalk

Tillandsia fasciculata flower stalk

Old Seed Heads

Tillandsia fasciculata Seed Pods

Seeds

Tillandsia fasciculata Seeds

Although these native bromeliads are difficult to grow from seed, they do put off numerous pups. Today I made “Tillandsia Crabs” by placing some pups from another plant into some shells I have been holding onto for years.

Tillandsia Crabs

Tillandsia Crab

The Edible Landscape

This is a cactus I salvaged from a debris heap. I knew it when it was a massive and mature cactus so large that were it to fall on a person it would cause serious injury if not death. The cactus produces large, sweet fruit; which I eagerly anticipate. For now I have it in a pot with purslane and pink purslane at its base. Purslane is an edible weed, rich in omega 3 fatty acids. I made a delicious salad for dinner using some collected from my garden. Good stuff!

Purslane & Moss Rose

Oasis2 still awaits soil. This is my project for next weekend. The pole beans, lima beans, watermelon and musk melon are all from heirloom, open pollinated seeds from victoryseeds.com. A promisingly prolific tomato plant is from my friend Robert.  All await their new homes in the future raised bed. Stay tuned for the details of this project.

Oasis2

Victory Seed Company

I can’t say enough good things about Victory Seed Company, other than I wish they would have warned me about how prolific their seeds are! Assuming that not all would germinate, I planted too many, too close together. Everything I have planted is growing fast. I did a mini-harvest of spinach, lettuce and a few other herbs to add to our dinner salad. I don’t think we will have to wait longer than a week or two to really begin eating from this garden.

Baby Bibb Lettuce from Victoryseeds.com

Baby Bibb Lettuce

Baby Sage from Victoryseeds.com

Baby Sage

Baby Spinach from Victoryseeds.com

Baby Spinach

Baby Carrots from Victoryseeds.com

Baby Carrots

Baby Pablano Peppers from Victoryseeds.com

Baby Pablano Peppers

The Flea Market Tomato Plant

This tomato plant has at least 20 tomatoes and counting. Can’t wait to see how they taste!

Tomatoes

Gift From the Universe

Last but not least, behold The Dumpster Chair. I have been looking for a small chair or bench from which to reflect upon my garden. Friday I took the trash out and discovered this little treasure in the dumpster. A nice coat of white paint should restore it to its former glory. Another project for another day. For now, it is the perfect garden seat.

Free-Chair





Another Week Gone by in the Trailer Park

28 02 2009

Since we have to work in the morning I consider today to be more like a Sunday instead of Saturday.

It’s past 3:00pm and I’ve yet to do anything productive. This morning was cool and the light was nice so I took my second mug of coffee outside and hung out with the cats. Once they had all been sufficiently fed and petted I picked up my camera and took a tour of The Oasis. Yesterday I spotted a red-tailed skink in the compost heap. I looked it up online and decided that it must be a Peninsula Mole Skink (Eumeces egregius onocrepis). I also saw a Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis) hanging out on the shed, and a Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) which casually glided into a shrub and then quickly propelled itself upwards at a brown anole, missing by only an inch or two before it continued on along it’s hunting trek.

This morning it was too early for most reptiles to be active, but I did capture a Brown Anole (Norops sagrei) sunning himself on a bamboo stake in the garden. We have built a fence, a garden enclosure and trellises with locally grown bamboo. The anoles immediately set up housekeeping inside the hollow tubes and can often be seen peeking out from the tops of the poles.

Brown Anole (Norops sagrei)

Cuban Anole

The Sweet Basil and Dill are also taking advantage of the mild weather and are steadily growing.

Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Sweet Basil

Dill (Anethum graveolens)

Dill

Jorgi, the gray tuxedo cat, does not allow me to inspect The Oasis without his assistance.

Jorgi

The recent cold weather and wind has taken a toll on the banana trees. Even in their worst condition, these lovely tropical plants are elegant and interesting. Backlit, this dead banana frond resembles a piece of burlap.

Banana Frond

The Bromeliads have shrugged off the recent weather and are doing nicely.

Ball Moss (Tillandsia tenuifolia L.)

Tillandsia recurvata


The endangered Giant Wild Pine (Tillandsia utriculata) which I rescued from the asphalt of a parking lot, where it had fallen from its host tree.

 

Tillandsia utriculata

Although I have plenty of important work to do, I believe I will take another tour of the property and try to roust up the native reptiles.