Monday, October 29, 2007

No Variances On the Flood Plain

Vacant Lockmaster House near Old Hickory Dam by Brent and MariLynn

Mondays are devoted to topics of local interest.
I was reading the I-24 Exchange about various zoning variances that were denied based on instructions from the federal government that to grant them would increase the cost of flood insurance for the entire county. It seems that the attorney representing two of the variance requests withdrew the requests, saying that the issues involved had been discussed with him and the people he represented were going to abide by the county's decision to not grant the variances. No big deal, so far. Not quite what I expected but to my way of thinking, it is the only option.

What struck me about the reports of the whole affair was the insistence of the county planner for economic development that NO CONVERSATION had occurred between her and the attorney. What's the big deal, here? I'm not sure.

Okay, maybe I'm slow or naive or don't care enough about personal county politics. I didn't necessarily assume there had been a conversation, but her insistence that there wasn't one is the cause of my suspicion. Why would she make such a big deal about it? How does this relate to the junk pile further up river that has many residents upset. It was granted a variance. Doe sit violate EPA laws or Corps of Engineer requirements. I don't know.

I think it's pretty clear that the federal law supersedes whatever the county wishes to do. That's pretty much the law of the land post-Civil War and how federalism works. But I am unsure of many of the facts of the case. This situation has been going on for a bit of time, but I really didn't pay too much attention because it seemed to be over an installation of a swimming pool.

Now I am wondering what is going on. You never know when something small will become a major butt-covering issue. That's why I encourage everyone in Cheatham County to pay more attention to what is going on around here. With the completion of the Braxton in the near future, and the super-heated house building market in the north of the county, the indicators point to an imminent rapid growth for the county. If we don't pay attention, we will look around one day and wonder where all the green space is and what happened to the barns and old houses that were demolished to make way for progress.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Vegetables per Day

Fridays are devoted to topics about nutrition

The USDA recommends 2.5 cups for women in the 30-51 age range and 3 cups for men per day. So 2.5-3 cups per day of vegetables. And that's for people who exercise less than 30 minutes per day. Most of us, I think. I know when I was working an ofice job, the most exercise I got was walking to my car - maybe 10 minutes per day.

Being super-analytical, I want to know whta they mean by a cup. Straight from the USDA themselves,

In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup from the vegetable group.

Then there is a handy chart for you to look at that describes what a cup is for various vegetables. You can get there from this link:

The interesting thing about the new food pyramid is that it is customizable depending on your activity level, age and weight. Go to and click on MyPyramid Plan to go through a "wizard" to help you plan out what you as an individual should eat.

You can build a pyramid plan for each family member if you would like. This seems to be a lot of time to me. And it can be, but if you have no idea what you should be eating and how much, it may be well worth your effort to find out.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Thursdays are devoted to animals

Here at the farm, we have very ambitious plans to fence off what eventually will be a 100 by 500 foot area into several 50 foot square pens for rapid pasture rotation. Only problem for me is that is mainly a one-woman job with occasional help from various friends. Putting in fence posts two - three feet deep can be back breaking labor. When you're in a drought, you might as well forget about digging holes. I've bent my post-hole diggers blades, more than once this summer. But it must be done for two reasons: to keep the lovely critters in and keep the predators out. Here is what I have learned so far.
  • Keep your post hole diggers clean and sharp to cut through the clay-shale mix we call a subsoil.
  • It is better to attach your fence on the inside of the pen because when the goats rub against it, it doesn't bow out so bad.
  • Check out the lay of the ground under your bottom wire. If there is more than a four inch gap, this will become a chicken escape route.
  • Goats can jump anything under four foot tall.
  • Goats and chickens can mix, but whatever flimsy thing you built for the chickens will not stand up to play time with a goat.
  • Make sure your gates swing into the pen so if you forget to latch them, the goats still can't get out.
  • Make sure your gate latch requires motion along several planes to unhook so the goats can't open it.
  • A car and a fence stretcher make things a whole lot easier and tighter when putting up a fence.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sustainable Essence

Wednesdays are devoted to sustainability

My grandparents called it reusing as in

Buy it new

Wear it out

Make it do

Do without

My parents called it recycling

And the latest version is re-purposing.

My grandparents were children of the Great Depression. Really more like teens of the Great Depression. All four worked to make ends meet for their families. All four were masters of re-use.

One of my grandfathers dropped out of high school his senior year to work full time to help support his family. He went to night school after work and earned his high school diploma. He went on to graduate from Carnegie Tech. With five boys in his family, clothes were constantly passed from one boy to the other.

My grandmother, whom he married, recalls wearing dresses made from the flour sacks her mother got her flour in. That family even recycled the ties from the ties from the railroad track. When the old ones were replaced with new, my grandmother's brothers would haul them up the hill from the tracks and chop and split them into firewood. Probably not very environmentally friendly, but they were warm when they wouldn't have otherwise been.

My other grandmother was already out of school and working. She always had a special drawer in the kitchen for bread bags, wax paper, string and rubber bands which she re-used when refrigerating leftovers. Sometimes these items would cover thoroughly scrubbed meat trays of cut vegetables for visitors, such as my brothers and I.

Her husband, my grandfather, taught me the important skill of salvaging nails from old boards and reusing them. I learned how to pull them out straight without bending them, so I could use them again on another project. He also built several bicycles from parts he would find in the woods. They all worked wonderfully well.

My father recycles lumber scraps from garbage collection day in the city by making them in roll-top desks and other carpentry projects around the house.
My mother is a master of recycling cereal boxes, doilies, wax paper, cardboard tubes, newspapers, Christmas cards - the list goes on. They all become new items in her various craft projects she does with teens and seniors.

This week, I had an especially inspirational week. I re-purposed feed sacks into garbage bags, old drink bottles into terrariums, and broken lead ropes into goat tethers.

Call it re-using, recycling or re-purposing, whatever you like. This is the essence of sustainability. Ask yourself, what do I usually buy at the store and what do I usually discard? Can I pair any discards with needs?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is that Honeysuckle from around here?

Tuesdays are devoted to weeds and other invasives.

How about Japanese Honeysuckle? This plant is a mid-canopy forest edge dweller. Japanese honeysuckle is very like the native honeysuckle but much more invasive. Of course, it is silly, you say. It's not from around here.

The best way but also the most laborious way is to pull out your invasives, root and all. Do it like voting in Ohio - early and often. Actually, you want to start attacking the plant after its winter root stores are expended on spring growth. In the fall, the roots have stored energy from the summer growing season. Unless you have been hacking away at the foliage all summer, you probably don't want to mess with it until the spring. There are naturally, some things you will need to remember when you do go after it.

If you pull this sucker up, get the whole root or as much as possible. It will come back from even the smallest segments. Not only does it bloom and produce seeds, but it is also a runner and produces offshoots and suckers as it grows. Another name for this type of plant would be a colonizer. Do NOT put this puppy in you compost pile. Colonizer - remember. Let it dry up in a place it can't root and burn it in you annual bonfire, or bag it and drop it off. I prefer the bonfire method, because I am not adding to the landfill issue. Reason #2: I can use the ashes to supplement the soil or to cover the ice in the winter.

One way to tell the difference between Japanses Honeysuckle and the native species is to look at where the leaves join the stem. In a native honeysuckle, the leaves actually form one unit from the stem, where the leaves on a Japanese honeysuckle would be opposite distinct leaves. Check carefully before you pull, because some of the native honeysuckles can be quite rare. If you're not sure what you have, you can contact your local extension office or leave it until someone more knowledgeable can help you identify the mystery honeysuckle.

This weed will change the composition of your understory including what birds you see. It prefers full sun but is often found in partial shade. Go get rid of it. ASAP. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Winter Eating

I have often heard women complain about adding weight between Thanksgiving and Christmas becasue of the constant supply of food during the holidays. In truth, most people will add an average of 15-20 lbs of holiday weight. This probably explains why the most common New Year's Resolution is to lose weight, usually 15-20 pounds. I don't think we should get bent out of shape over what we naturally are drawn to eat in the winter. I believe we crave certain foods that can help us depending on the season. I would think that you would not want to lose the weight until about March or whenever your leafy greens come out. I am not the only one. Check out these links:

The summary is that it is healthier to eat what is in season. It takes a little work to adjust our habits of just getting any old thing to eat. It will also take a little extra effort to adjust our food preparation habits. In oding so, you can avoid or lessen things like Seasonal Affective Disorder, hypertension, sluggishness, etc.

If you decide to try seasonal eating or are already doing so or aren't sure how to get started, post a comment below and let's get a discussion started that can benefit us all.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Let Slip The Dogs - NOT!

Puppies in a whirl

Thursdays are devoted to animal husbandry.

Lately we have been having a dog problem around here. Our "charming" dogs are eating a chicken nearly every day. Needless to say, I am about to go on a rampage over this, especially after I calculated the economic consequences of a dead $16 chicken that lays eggs nearly every day. The chicken murders have slowed down a bit since I threatened to execute the main criminal. My husband put him on his very own run very far from the chickens. Now I have the quite annoying, not properly socialized, new momma, Star to contend with. Seems motherhood has prompted a taste for chicken. While this is more excusable in theory, I still cannot afford it. Presently, she will have a new home in the old chicken coop for her and her puppies. Plans are to sell her off as soon as the puppies are old enough.
At Mule Shoe Farm like many small farms, the dogs have a purpose: to provide a guardian function, rid the yard of rodent pests, and act as an early warning system. These "jobs" are extensions of what dogs do naturally.
So is killing chickens, unless... We can all understand why a chicken is an attractive option to a dog. Folk wisdom holds that once a dog gets a taste for chicken, they never get over it. Folk wisdom also says to tie a chicken around a dogs neck, beat it with a chicken and various other remedies to cure it of chicken eating. We are instructed to essentially punish the dog for doing what it does by instinct. I do not believe punishment is the right answer. In fact it can be very counterproductive.
The key is to put the dog in a situation where doing its job correctly is much easier than not doing its job. In other words, don't give the dog the option of not doing its job. At the same time, the dog must be permitted to act naturally in a natural setting as much as possible. Since dogs are long domesticated, this could include anything from house confinement to fenceless containment depending on your budget. My budget is for water, not champagne or beer.
Low cost solutions include fenced areas for dogs or chickens or confine the dogs to a pen. I have found that obtaining used fencing is not that difficult and usually free. We also have plenty of rope lying around for this or that other thing. If the dog most benefits from being on a run, we will place the dog on a run. To keep the dog actively employed, the run is strategically placed near garden areas that would otherwise be subject to grazing.
In the case of new mom with socialization issues, it is prudent to keep her in a pen with her puppies. As the weather is quite variable, it needs to be somewhere that we can easily access with electricity for heat lamps and well-protected from the elements. Done.

Now what about the chickens being eaten. Really, I haven't found an effective way to keep the older dogs from killing the chickens once they already do. What I have noticed is that the younger dogs who have been around chickens since birth, could care less about the birds and in fact, pointedly ignore them. There it is. The solution. Star's puppies are not be chicken eaters if they are exposed to chickens from the beginning, even if Star, herself is a chicken killer.

This new litter can be introduced to the chickens individually once their eyes are open. To do this, we take the puppies one at a time in our hands and carry them to the chickens. Holding the puppies on the other side of the fence, the chickens approach and take a look. The puppy gets a look. Let this continue for up to five minutes or however much patience the puppy has. Make sure you take the puppy away before, it gets bored with the situation. Do this for each puppy and do this frequently as they get older. Maybe once a week to once every two weeks. How often depends on the relative intelligence of your dog for these things. The dogs pictured here, remember things quite well and are easily trainable. We do the introductions about three times for each one and move on to other things.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Help my Compost Pile - I Don't Have Leaves

Last week I talked about what you needed for your compost pile. Compost is composed of the following elements: green plus brown plus water plus air over time = compost. The green component is your kitchen waste. The leaves are the brown component. But you don't just need a little leaves, you need a lot of leaves. A huge amount. Tons. 30 parts for every part green. But I don't have that many, you say. Can I use something else? Please.

Okay, enough begging. I'll tell you what I know. Straw works well. Brown, woody stems from perennials work best in the spring after they've wintered over. Wood mulch or wood chips from a shredder can be used.

Make sure you rake up as many of your own leaves as you can. If you can shred them before using them, then you will have speedier results when everything else is equal. If you don't have enough, you could borrow your neighbor's or your whole street's leaves. On your way to or from work, take the road less travelled and go through neighborhoods where people like to bag up their leaves. Go ahead. Pick those bags up from the curb. The garbage men will thank you.

If you use straw for anything, like mulch, to grow potatoes, or for autumn hayrides, hang onto it. Keep it somewhat dry or let it dry out. Or you could volunteer to take your neighbor's chicken laying box straw. Last resort, you could buy a square bale of straw from a variety of places. The last option works well if you do not have too much to put into your compost pile. Make sure the straw you are using doesn't have nasties in it like Bermuda grass.

Some perennial stalks to use could from day lilies, cannas, cone flower, bear's breeches, coral bells or sedum. Of course they are many options in this category. You are not actually completely confined to perennials. You could also use corn stalks and sunflower stalks left over from the winter. You would probably prefer to shred or cut them up first. Plan ahead and be sustainable. When you plan your flower beds, make sure to include taller perennials with stems and brown matter you can use. As you do your fall or spring cleaning in your flower beds, set the brown stuff aside in its own pile for later use.

As you trim and prune your trees and bushes in the spring, you can take the wood and shred it. A shredder for branches no bigger than two inches in diameter should be sufficient for what you need. Be frugal in your purchase, as well. There is no need to purchase the biggest, baddest Tool Time super-mega-horsepower shredder for this. A good used one will do. Shred right into your brown bin.

A little pre-planning and ingenuity will go a long way toward good soil when it is time to mulch. You want to use compost before anything else. A healthy plant means less disease, less pests and more fruit. Good Luck!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Operation Clean Sweep Starts Next Week

To paraphrase Julius Caesar, " All of Cheatham County is divided into three parts." Three quite littered parts.

The high schools in the county serve to illustrate the divisions. The northern part is served by Sycamore High School, the central by Cheatham Central and the southern end by Harpeth High School. A distinct feature of our county is the two rivers, several large notable creeks and numerous small tributaries. Cheatham County is crossed by the Harpeth and Cumberland Rivers. Two notable large creeks are Sam's Creek which used to a be a resort area and Sycamore Creek. Coming up from the Davidson County line on River Road we have Pond Creek, Sam's Creek and Brush Creek.

You would think that with all this water surrounding us, we would have a fairly wet farm. Not so. Mule Shoe Farm is located just off the flood plain in the limestone hills which are also a feature of the county. While we have numerous wet weather springs and seepage from the hills, we don't actually have much of a water supply. Many wells in the hills have dried up or were not much use in the first place having either very hard water or sulphur water.

This means that the main water supplies for the county come from the Harpeth and Cumberland Rivers and Sycamore Creek. As I noted last week, there is lots of trash all over the county which often makes it way down the various banks to the rivers and streams. Another matter for consideration is the large number of sink holes in our area. In the past, people quite often would throw their trash in sinkholes and down hillsides. Now we have dumps to hold our trash.

It is still a concern that there is so much trash laying about. Recently the county picked up trash along my road. That was maybe two weeks ago. Today as we about our errands fro the day, my daughter made up a little diversion of saying litter each time she saw trash by the side of the road. Need I say, she talked the ENTIRE trip. Litter, litter litter litter litter litter, etc. for 20 minutes. Yikes!

This trash will eventually make its way into our water - our DRINKING water. That's it. Clean Sweep Week starts on October 22, 2007. Use that week to make an extra effort to clean up your trash and better yet, don't throw it on the ground in the first place. All during clean sweep week, you will be able to take all sorts of trash to the dump without paying the dumping fee. Take advantage of this opportunity to improve our county's greatest resource by starting to pick up your trash this week. Also remember to securely fasten and tarp your loads on the way to the dump. That way the trash won't distribute itself along the road on the way to the dump.

Remember Operation Clean Sweep starts on October 22 and runs through October 27.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Big Size Does Not Fit.

Fridays are devoted to writing about all aspects of nutrition.

Call me a restaurant snob if you want, but I would like to have a reasonable amount of food at a restaurant when I eat out. I guess I got spoiled when I was travelling to Europe and the like as a computer engineer. In France, I noticed that eating out was definitely not the same as in the U.S. For one thing the service was noticeably better. But the main thing that stood out right away was that when I was finished with the meal, I wasn't stuffed. But I wasn't hungry either. I had just the right amount.

I attended a support group meeting last night devoted to families with children who have congenital heart defects. Our speaker was a young lady whose occupation is all about getting children to eat their food and get the proper nutrition. She was a food therapist. We discussed everything from the steps to introduce foods to children to how to supplement nutrition for children.

One of our topics was portion size. She noted that often we overwhelm our children with the amount of food we put on their plate. Her guideline was 1 tablespoon per year of age up to three or four years of age.

The food therapist also pointed out food groupings that parents could use to ensure that children receive the proper nutrition. These groupings are protein, starch and fruit/vegetable. In the case of a two year old, the child would receive at each meal: 2 Tbsp each of protein and starch. Then 2 TBsps of fruit/vegetable.

At age four, the parent would use the new food pyramid to allocate portions. Simply put, children need to take in at least as much as they expend to stay the same. Most children need to take in a little more calories than they obviously expend because growth and activity levels must be accommodated.

The size of the bowls and cups into which we put our child's food will influence how much they want to eat. If our regular size cup is 12 or 16 oz, that is how much we will drink at one sitting. If you buy 9oz. cups, you and your family are far more likely to consume 8oz. of liquid at a time. That allows you to properly portion out high calorie items like juice. Which by the way, your children should have no more than 2 glasses (8 oz. glasses) of juice per day.

Why does it work like that? Wouldn't the kids just get another bowl of whatever. Not necessarily. It depends on the environment in which your children eat. Since the body signals fullness after about 20 minutes of eating, a child may not feel hungry if they take their time eating the sweet cereal.

Eating environment is another area where parents must take charge. Studies have shown that most people will eat more if they eat while watching television. Children get distracted by things like television and radios playing in the other room or the same room while they are eating. If they eat sprawled on the floor or the couch, they digestive systems have a harder time receiving their food. These two factors indicate that sitting up at the table while eating with the family can have a profound effect on your child's eating habits.

Although childhood obesity rates are on the rise in the United States, we have the opposite problem at my house. My daughter must be convinced to eat an adequate amount of food. She will eat nearly anything you give her, but she will more than likely not eat all of it. She also takes a long time to eat. This causes her to feel full when she has not consumed enough calories.

The same problem works in reverse with an overweight child charging through a bag of Doritos in 10 min or less. The body hasn't signalled it is full, so the child grabs another bag of chips. How many calories are in a bag of Doritos? I'm scared to look plus I don't have any in the house. Think about how many two bags might have. Yikes. Then child doesn't go out and play to burn off those calories. It is more than likely that the kid will either watch TV or play video games. Watching TV burns less calories than sleeping. Yikes again.

If we, as parents can give our children a consistent eating routine that is balanced and proper, we will do them a huge favor. If you are curious about the new food pyramid, check out where you can find explanations, online tools and guidelines.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Now What Did I Do With All Those Leaves?

Wednesdays are devoted to sustainability.

I first came in contact with sustainability through organic gardening. As far back as I can remember, my mother had a very large and quite productive garden. She grew everything organically. One of my brothers had the daily chore of putting things in the compost pile. Every so often, my father would spend a Saturday moving the compost pile from place to another. There were discussions of good locations for the pile tempered by conversations about what comments the neighbors might say regarding our pile of nameless brown stuff in the yard.

A regular composting routine is essential to organic gardening. You do not want to spend hours of effort handpicking pests from plants or spraying plants with various organic anti-pest remedies. You want to build success into the equation from the very beginning. From the bottom, up. As you tend a garden, you realize that you often have lots of vegetative matter and nothing to do with it. Maybe it's weeds. Maybe it's straw. Maybe it's the leaves you raked of the ground from last fall. All of these things go towards composting.

Now is the time to start. As you rake your leaves up this fall, you need to find a spot for them to stay. Leaves are the secret ingredient, the magic potion of the whole affair. You can pile them up loose and cover them with a tarp. You can buy a special purpose compost bin or tumbler. Or you can build a quick conatinment system byt driving 4 metal t-posts in the ground about 3-4 feet from each other. Then you attach fencing material that doesn't have openings more than 4". Chain link, poultry net. Garden fence. Whatever. T-post clips are relatively inexpensive or you can recycle some wire coat hangers if you have a pair of wire cutters and pliers for twisting.

Now you can just leave the leaves where they are and next year you might have compost. But really you want is compost in the spring. So here is how you do it. Have another pile. When you put kitchen waste in it like fruit peels, squash innards, potato peels, etc., you add 30X that amount of leaves. That's right 30, not 3. Then at least once per week, you want to flip the pile. If you make a third compost bin, you can flip the pile between the two bins leaving the leaves where they are. Make sure the pile stays damp but not wet. About the dampness of a well-wrung sponge. You can use waste water from your dishpan for such a thing.

Optimally the pile should be a 3 or 4 foot cube in contruction size. This is approximate because as you know, piles don't come in cubic dimensions usually. At least at my house they don't. Also make sure the pile is not in the shade. When you walk up to it in the middle of winter and the pile is steaming, you know you are on the right track.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Beauty Run Rampant

One plant that has really been a bother here at the farm has been Japanese wisteria. Wisteria is usually planted to provide an ornamental vine. It features white to purple clusters of strongly scented, sweet-smelling flowers. It is also a vigorous grower and must be aggressively pruned each year. It can tear down bricks and mortar, choke trees and buckle pavement when neglected.

There are actually several different types of wisteria. One variety is native to the Southeastern United States. The others are imports from Asia. The Asian wisteria has all but taken over the native wisteria which is a less vigorous grower. Wisteria from large retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot is usually the Asian variety. Most of the time, the sales staff will not know that there is a difference.

Wisteria will die back in the winter, but it starts growing fairly early in the spring. It blooms around the end of April and through May. Its stems can root at just about any point. It roots can easily sprout leaves. When cut back it suckers and its flowers release thousands and thousands of seeds. When the conditions are favorable, it can grow as fast as kudzu. It will still grow even when the conditions are not so favorable.

Wisteria also puts out a distinctive smell when cut or pulled from the ground. This smell is produced to drive off less aggressive vegetation. Day lilies can crowd it out, but they have to be fairly thick to do so. Forsythia and periwinkle, both appear to be companion plants to wisteria. That is to say that neither takes over the other and they grow together.

The best way to get rid of wisteria, is to pull it up every time you can. The roots and stems will break off when you pull with sufficient force, but it ain't easy. Cut it back and it will sucker. The easiest time to pull it out is actually in the winter when it is mostly dormant. Do it before the ground gets hard and you can make huge inroads. To get it off your trees, cut the vine anywhere between the ground and the tree trunk in the spring just before It starts to bloom. Once the part on the tree trunk dies off, you can easily pull it off provided, it's not too twisted. But you can't slack off for a season. Pulling and cutting wisteria must be part of your routine to be successful at keeping it at bay.

If you currently have wisteria in your garden at home, remember that this plant can be aggressively pruned without ill effect. Prune it. Aggressively. It needs it. Also remember that it cannot be neglected and then expected to behave itself and not take over.

Monday, October 8, 2007

What Is Going On Here?

Check out and post your own local news or items you have for sale.

A link was forwarded to me regarding a junk pile just barely within the county line. The property was not zoned for such a thing, but when the matter came up for a hearing the zoning board decided to grant the necessary exception, code or whatever the technical term is.
Since the debris is being stored in the flood plain, the arrangement may impact water quality in Ashland City and surrounding areas. Read more about it and post your comments here:

Prior to the zoning hearing, there were great big signs posted across the street and next to the property,inviting everyone to attend the zoning meeting and protest the rezoning of this "lovely" little spot.

Now every time I drive by, I try to see what I can see from the road. So far, no luck. I will look harder when the leaves fall off the trees. I can imagine that it is a real eyesore to the people on the other side of the river who can see it right now. How much is your view worth to you? How much is clean water worth to you? Debris in the floodplain affects not only the water supply but the wild life and vegetation that use that water supply. How much is that worth to you?

I would not ordinarily be described as a rabid environmentalist and I don't generally consider myself one. But this is one time when I can say that, while trying to keep an open mind about all possible aspects of the situation, it incenses me that people - not just one person - are soooo complacent to think that it is okay even for a little bit to allow this trash to just sit there. Recycle it and move it along, already.

While I am on the subject, it is really NOT okay to through your trash out the window of your car while you are driving along any number of our scenic roads here in Cheatham County. Yes, I know we have people to pick up, i.e. prisoners; but that's not the point. Picking up trash and debris is only one way they can pay their debt to society. There are plenty others. If they weren't so busy picking up trash, maybe they could helping to pull out those exotic invasives we all would like to get rid of.

I include throwing cigarettes in the littering issue. Those filters do not decompose, people. Not to mention the fire hazard a lit cigarette is. We're in a drought. Do you remember that we're in a drought? We have a 16"+ deficit in rain fall this year. All these lovely woods can go up in a split second. Keep the trash in your car until you can dispose of it properly. When you're not driving down the road.

And I really don't need all those empty bottles and bags across my easement either. Or the newspapers and morning coffee. I have plenty of my own. At home. In my trashcan. Where they belong. Thank you very much.

We live in a lovely place. God's own country. A beautiful, natural and mostly wild part of Middle Tennessee. Let's not continue to mess it up. Let your representatives know that you care about where you live.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Talk Amongst Yourselves.

Thursdays are devoted to animal husbandry and care topics.

I have been a bit under the weather, so I did not publish anything yesterday. Stay tuned for next Wednesday's installment on composting.

Now on to chickens. I think I really like these funky little two-leggeds. First of all, there's a whole lot more going on with them then one would suspect. They make over 50 different calls and sounds. Each one has a purpose. There is also a lot of nonverbal communication between birds.

Last week I mentioned that George the rooster spends much of his time looking for food and when he finds it he gives a low call to the hens. They come running to where he is standing and start pecking the ground. He stays there with them looking up and around his surroundings. He does not eat until the hens have had whatever they want and start to wander off.

Houdini Hen has a peculiar call when she is getting ready to leave the fence. It is a very loud one that she repeats as she walks the fence looking for an opening. It is as if she is telling everyone that she is attempting to leave. It is one note, no syllables. It is almost likea smoke alarm in it's frequency and intensity although not its pitch.

If I am near and the hens want something, like water or food, they crowd together repeatedly squawking. Actually, it's not just me, but anyone who walks into their general area looking like they carry a container of food or water.

The hens seem to pick out the red containers better than clear, green or blue containers. They also crowd the fence when I drive the car down the driveway toward the pen and slow down. I have on several occassions stopped the car to deliver water, feed or correct a problem in the pen. It is clear to me that the chickens associate both our vehicles with something they want.

Chicken management books stress talking or singing to your chickens and letting them know you are coming their way either by whistling, singing or calling to them. These would be those books discussing chickens more as backyard pets than commodities. But the chickens can see you coming, usually before you pay much attention to them. They will recognize what you are about and respond accordingly.

Two other things, I've noticed tounch on their eyesight. I have noticed that if I place their food passively and unobtrusively on the ground, it takes them a while to notice it. If I toss their pellets to the ground so they spread and bounce a bit, the chickens rush to them and start eating almost immediately. It appears that movement is key to their perception.

When I get ready to catch one or another of them, how they act depends on where they are. In the ten foot square pen, they will crouch down when I go to pick them up. In the larger more exposed grazing area which is 50 foot square, they will run away when I go to pick them up. Not so fast now as they did when I first put them in there. But they still run.

If you have chickens, hang out with them for a little while after you place their food. Once they settle down, you will notice all different kinds of "talking" between them. These various sounds can tell you what's going on with them even when you can't exactly see them.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Heaven on Earth?

Tuesdays are devoted to discussions about weeds, including any number of exotic invasives.

We see them all the time and don't even know it. They look a lot like sumac, but don't turn red in the fall. They grow quickly and can take over native trees in a very short period of time. And guess what? They are hard to get rid of. Another Exotic Invasive. This one is called Ailantheus or Tree of Heaven. You can even order it from some nursery catalogs. No. Don't do it. If you really want some, I'll give you plenty, but your neighbors might not be very pleased.

This tree is very commonly seen along the highway and will colonize recently cleared places. It's leaves look very much like sumac. Its rapid growth and spread can be attributed to a couple factors.

Ailantheus can spread through seed or through suckers. The suckering is it's secret to rapid establishment. When cut, the stump will send up suckers almost immediately. That way if the plant doesn't get a chance to seed, it will still spread.

If you start to cut it or dig it out, you will immediately notice a rather pungent not so pleasant odor. This is also a secret to success. The scent that repels you, repels the local plants as well and prevents other native trees from establishing themselves. Sumac does not smell the same.

Ailantheus also grows quickly, often reaching 10-20 feet within a year or two. Once the weather gets moderately warm, it's growing. Its height shades out other slower growing and not as tall species. This is one of the ways you can tell it from sumac. Sumacs tend to branch closely to the ground, while alantheus will often have a cluster of leaves and small branches at the very top of the tree. There will not be any lower branches. The tree's energy is put into gaining height. This is one of the reasons for its name.

Alantheus trees are native to southeast Asia and do not seem to have natural predators here in the southeastern United States. I did notice this year that the freeze in April, did them in quite nicely and it took them quite a while to recover. Eventually they did, but their growth was not as exuberant as it was last year.

To get rid of these pests, you will have to cut and dig them out. You can spray them with a strong chemical if that's your thing, but then you have the chemical hanging around to deter native plants. I think that watching the weather and cutting them back right before a cold snap in the spring will be the best way to slow their growth. Then if you can put in some more vigorous native species, like sumac, you can limit the Tree of Heaven that year. Like most invasives, it will take sustained effort over a number of years on your part to eradicate. And that is even if you use chemicals. Be patient and persistent, just like an exotic invasive. Only you belong here.

Monday, October 1, 2007

All Things Cheatham County

On Mondays, I will be posting notices about local events, points of interest and anything local to Cheatham County.

Did you ever wonder how you could find who has a farm locally? Do you have something to sell or a notice you want everyone to know about? Have you had trouble trying to figure out how to get your message out to folks in Cheatham County? Well, you're in luck because now all of us here in this county can use a nifty new bulletin board website to post announcements, have discussions, find items for sale or post your sellables.

Let's give a big welcome to put together by Jim Day of Timbertop Farm with the excellent assistance of his oldest son, who by the way has an uncommon acting ability and is a talented writer, as well.

Cheatham Chatter is a bulletin board. In ancient computer times, a Bulletin Board existed as a dial-up number were you could download short messages and upload you own text only messages. I remember as a teenager that having a phone number and password to a bulletin board was a hotter ticket than any black market commodity. Now, bulletin boards have progressed quite a bit thanks to Internet access for all, but the concept is still the same. It is a terrific way to post messages and news.

I test-drove it and it is a nice simple friendly way to get news out. First you must register. You type in a username and password of your choice and when you've submitted your registration, the system zaps you an email lickety-split. You will be prompted to agree to a user agreement during this process.

Open the email and authenticate your password. Now you are ready to post. I found the posting form easy to use and very self-explanatory. It looks a bit like Word. I did not see any ability to post pictures per se, but I'll bet that with some bona fide actual looking for this function, it would be there. Once you click the post button, your text is forwarded for review before posting. I posted a bit about Mule Shoe Farm under Local Foods.

What are you waiting for? Go see it. Now - ish at
Feel free to comment by clicking on the comment link above. I want to see what you have to say.