Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Working with Dave Tally

It's good to know the local news stations haven't forgotten about our Garden Coordinator Dave:

USA Today
Local Fox Station
Arizona Local News
Huffington Post
Note: Dear Huffington Post. It's spelled Tally, not Talley.

In light of the recent surge in interest in my co-worker Dave, I thought I would toss in my two cents. Dave and I have been sharing an office for nearly 3 months now and for multiple reasons, he has been a fantastic co-worker. First, I consider myself a morning person, but Dave still regularly beats me to work by about 2 hours. Also, Dave consistently helps me put everything into perspective. As one could imagine, his range of experiences in life are well beyond anything I have gone through. Therefore, when a little crisis happens at the garden, he can calmly find a way to fix it while I'm running in circles like a chicken with my head cut off. Finally, Dave has been a great resource for local knowledge about Tempe and Arizona as a whole. He has been traveling with a group of other motorcyclists all around the state and been bringing back some great stories. His quiet calm demeanor doesn't match what you would expect in a serious motorcyclist, but that is what I want to emphasize with this article. Dave, like anyone in this world, is a complex guy who is more than can be summarized in short human interest story.

It's been great working with him and I hope I'm not annoying him too much by posting yet another article about him.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chicken Diary: Day 7

After a week of chickens at the community garden, Dave and I have learned a few important lessons.

First, these chickens are surprisingly sneaky (above is the most stealthy looking picture I could find). Closing the coop door seems to have no effect on them. Hopefully as they grow bigger, they won't be able to squeeze through the open spots in the coop.

Second lesson: Our hens show a surprising level of teamwork. Don't assume the word teamwork means they are well coordinated or make what would be considered "good" decisions. Far from it. They show the same kind of teamwork you would see in the Keystone Cops. If one runs into a wall, all of them run into the wall.

The last lesson for the week is that they have very particular tastes. As you can see above, they get a mix of whatever is going to go bad at the food bank so they get a full salad bar of options. The remains of what they don't like goes on the compost pile. As you can see, they will ignore everything if there is sweet corn anywhere in the pen. I should point out that there is one exception to their love of sweet corn: insects. Paleontologists have been telling us that birds are closely related to dinosaurs and at no point is that more obvious than when these gals see a beetle. It looks like the velociraptor scenes in Jurrasic Park.

In other news from the garden, the cool season crops are really growing quickly now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Escalante Community Garden welcomes five new employees

As you might have guessed from my previous post, the Escalante Community Garden now has chickens. We have been chicken-proofing the compost area of the garden for the last few days. This included sealing the areas under our fences and putting the final touches on their chicken coop (a old playhouse donated by Gretchen and Raul).

With that finished this morning, we picked up our five new residents. Our first chickens are Silver Laced Wyandottes. We picked up five of them to start, but if all goes well, we hope to expand the flock in the future. Silver Laced Wyandottes are known for being good egg layers, calm and hardy. Our new ladies (roosters are not allowed in city limits) are 2 months old, which is good for us because we decided we did not want to raise a whole batch from chick-stage only to find that it wasn't worth it. Unfortunately, the downside to this strategy is that we missed this chicken stage.

As one could imagine, our new Wyandottes were a little confused finding themselves in a new place and spent the first few minutes backed into a corner. They showed a surprising level of teamwork in defending against whatever imagined threat was lurking in this new area. Eventually, however, we lured them out of the corner with a mix of food scraps from the food bank. These scraps aren't a special occasion either. We hope to be able to raise these birds on mostly food scraps from the TCAA food bank. These scraps are because the food bank gets donations from many grocery stores and a lot of the produce in these donations is a little past the state of human consumption. Chickens, on the other hand, have a more liberal definition of what is edible. They prefer scraps more than others, however. When I tossed them a pile of food, they all squabbled over the same grape-sized radish for the first ten minutes before pecking at anything else.

Now the next logical question is obviously: what are you planning on naming them? Since they all look quite similar at this stage, Dave and I have decided to keep it simple and name them all Jesse.

UPDATE: While I was in the office writing this article, Jesse, Jesse, Jesse, Jesse, and Jesse all snuck out of the chicken coop. This was a surprise and means we aren't done chicken-proofing the coop yet. However, it's not too much of a setback because it only means they discovered their outdoor area earlier than we intended.

I've been humming this song all day:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another shameless plea for votes

Greetings from the garden,

As some of you might know from Facebook or Twitter, the Tempe Community Action Agency has gotten the opportunity to earn a $40,000 donation for our non-profit's website. If you can, please vote for us here:

You can vote once per day per e-mail. And please don't be stingy with the votes, I know most of you have a work e-mail. Or that AOL account you make when you were 16? Yeah, you can vote with that one too.

Thanks again, Pyxl, for this opportunity, and welcome Tempe.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Potential for growth in Escalante Neighborhood

I had a realization today as I was walking to Escalante Park from the light rail:

Wow, this neighborhood has a lot of open space.

To check exactly how much, I looked up the most recent aerial photographs of the neighborhood. I limited my view to the areas north of Apache Blvd, south of University Dr, west of Price Freeway, and east of Smith Rd. I found about 10 large empty lots scattered around the area. In total, these lots take up an area of 390,000 sq. feet. Now, assuming you haven't gotten bored and gone back to checking your Facebook status, you should be asking me: "Neal, why are doing this?" The answer my friends is extrapolation.

The community garden is approximately 1500 square feet and is on pace to produce around 300 pounds of produce in our first year. In our defense, basil doesn't weigh that much. Next year I'll try and grow more watermelon to bring that statistic up. However, I will continue my calculations assuming the fairly low yield of 300 pounds. This equates to 1 pound of vegetables per 5 square feet per year.

This means if one were to convert all the bare dirt from these large empty lots, the community could produce 78,000 pounds of produce on the first year (39 tons!). Since the USDA estimates that the average American consumes 428 pounds of vegetables per year. This means the neighborhood could provide 182 people with vegetables for a year (and one person for just a quarter of the year).

Just a little food for thought the next time you walk to the light rail.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New Project at the Garden

Thanks to a donation from Gretchen and Raul, we are starting a new project at the garden. I'll let you all guess what the plan is. Here are a few hints:

-It's an old children's playhouse, but we are definitely not opening a daycare.
-It's going near our compost bin where we toss the food scraps.
-If you are alektorophobic, you might want to stay away from the garden for a while.

Anyone have a guess?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Review: The Arizona Cook Book

"Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are."

When studying what to grow in the garden, I decided to look back at what food was eaten in Arizona in the past. In doing this, I found one gem in the Central Library. "The Arizona Cook Book" was published in 1911 by the residents of Williams Arizona to help raise money to build a public library for their town. The recipes in this book tell interesting stories about early life in Arizona.

The book balances basic pioneer cooking and more complex dishes. On one hand, you can make a rattlesnake bite remedy, chicken medicine, or pack a cowboy lunch (includes packing his own frying pan). On the other, there are recipes for oyster cocktails and strawberry ice cream.

Another theme in this cookbook is the preference for two good things: parties and pies. A number of the drink and dinner recipes are so large that the cook will have to invite their whole block. The most entertaining is the Mershon Woods Stew, which is not only massive but also involves a multi-page recipe involving seven different animals (but NEVER rabbit) and an equal number of suggested vegetables. Pies, too, receive a good amount of attention, and not just by the authors. The pie section of this cookbook is 12 pages long (twice as long as the bread section) and has sustained more damage from spills splatters and tears than the rest of the book combined (the book has been scanned from a used copy). This may speak to the quality of the recipes, or simply remind us of the natural human enthusiasm for pie.

As far as ingredients, the recipes use a diverse range of fruits, vegetables and meats. This is probably because once the issue of water shortage was solved for a homesteader in Arizona, it became possible to grow nearly any fruit or vegetable for the table. From the gardening perspective, this is pretty good news. I'm sure many locals could have already told me this, but it seems as though a dedicated gardener could grow almost anything around here.

Speaking of which, here are some updates from the garden:

The pepper plants are blooming and producing again.
We are looking forward to a good harvest before the frost.

Our cool season crops are up and growing. We had some germination issues but now everything is up and going. These are our beets and carrots but we also have arugula, lettuce, redishes, cabbage, peas, garlic broccoli, chard mustard greens, cilantro, onions, collard greens, and a few other surprises you'll have to come and check out.