Wednesday, September 30, 2009

State Fair

While I'm on the subject, the other highlights of the State Fair included:

Cute animals:

Christmas present ideas for John:

Cute animals:


Scary animals:

And the Heritage Village, which hosted an interesting variety of historial farm equipment.

Urban Agriculture

You've seen enough posts here about my attempts at vegetable gardening to know I have an interest in producing my own food. I think the urban agriculture movement is gathering momentum as it becomes more difficult to source honestly produced food at affordable prices. Urbanization recently crossed a threshold and now half the world's population lives in urban areas. While I fall into the urbanized half, my current locale has few barriers to growing crops and keeping livestock on a small scale. Many of my neighbors tend well developed vegetable gardens, and a few miles away a man raises guineas and other small fowl. Unfortunately I doubt I will expand my agricultural efforts while I remain in rented accommodation.
My interest in urban agriculture was recently revived by a visit to the State Fair. You may think that a festival of everything rural is a strange place to find inspiration for suburban farming, and indeed there was no direct mention of urban agriculture at the Fair. However is was clear from the Fair in which direction the rural community is headed. It is not 'up'. The traditions of the past are kept alive by an aging population and their barely-willing offspring, and an overtone of the inevitable demise seems to permeate the festivities. Coming into contact with the rural community also made me aware of just how suburban I am. I may enjoy digging around in the dirt, but I didn't grow up on a farm and no amount of book-learnin' will make up for my metro upbringing. However attractive the idea of living in the country, I will probably remain shackled to a job in town and a long commute goes against everything I believe in. The solution, therefore, lies in harnessing the organic sustainability of the rural lifecycle on a micro scale in suburban environment.
On this subject the State Fair provided plenty of inspiration. Obviously small livestock such as chickens and goats would form the backbone of any urban agriculture effort. Beekeeping is also gaining popularity with suburban growers as bees are a vital component in the web of life that enables cultivation of any crop. The beekeepers had a large presence at the fair than the infamous Virginia vintners! Taking things to extreme, the mini-Hereford cow is held as an example breed ideal for people farming on a small scale!

Monday, September 21, 2009


I was really disappointed when I got home from my honeymoon and discovered that the potato plants had withered and died in our short absence. They had been doing rather well with very little attention but a spell of very hot weather wiped them out before they had a chance to bear fruit. I was reminiscing about this sad loss to Kristal the other day and gosh darn it, she said potatoes grow underground! So I takes me fork an' digs around in the sod and by Jove there's spuds all over! No, seriously, I did know they grew underground but somebody had mentioned that they don't mature 'til fall and the buggers died the first week of August so I wrote them off. When I pulled up the plants I figured it'd be obvious if there were any potatoes attached. They've all been sitting there under an inch of soil and a good layer of mulch! Big 'uns, too!

I think I'll make soup.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Looking back through my Blog Archives I realize I've never really posted about Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. I did do a short piece about Grovin' in the Garden '07 where I was first introduced to Son Volt. Somehow I missed blogging about seeing a band of men wearing and playing gourds there way back in '06. Well, today I will atone for my past neglect of this gem of Richmond culture by giving an glowing account of our visit there this past Sunday.

The main attraction is an exhibition called ButterfliesLIVE. The event is being held in the North wing of the greenhouse and features a variety of exotic butterflies and moths. You enter through an air-lock style staff-controlled doorway and receive stern instructions not to step on any priceless specimens! Entering the butterfly sanctuary you really do have to remember to look at your feet from time to time as your eyes are irresistibly drawn to the vibrant fluttering wings filling the air. Signs helpfully remind you to watch your step. In fact this one sign was incredibly accurate! When the butterflies close their wings many species to an incredibly good job of blending into the surroundings. The result is not only are they had to see against the paving stones, but in fact the longer you spend looking around, the more and more creatures you spot sitting on every leaf or branch. Each time I thought I was ready to leave, my attention would be caught by another variety.

One of the most amusing things about the exhibit was watching the photographers. Obviously the Botanical Gardens draws many budding camera enthusiasts and we are no exception having brought Kristal's dSLR. Taking a picture of a butterfly in flight, in an open room, is like the ninja catching the fly with chopsticks. But people will make themselves dizzy trying. Certain folks, who have accepted the futility the airbourne shot are instead focusing intently on a perched individual. It is a large specimen. The underside of it's wings are a drab brown so it is inconspicuous as it rest with wings folder together. Occasionally, the wings will open as the butterfly stretches and yawns. This is the moment we have been waiting for, as the upper side of the wings are electric blue so intense the color-junkie viewfinder-cowboys go weak at the knees.

Also in the greenhouse are the garden's collection of orchids. Again, a very popular destination for photographers as the shapes and colors are exquisite. However the greenhouse is a very small portion of what the garden has to offer. Between the main building and the greenhouse they have a herb garden that explains the medicinal properties of the various plants. We were particularly struck by the black ornamental pepper. Then as you wander down the hill from the entrance you enter a veritable maze of paths winding through different habitats and themes. The Japanese gardens transition into a wetlands bursting with carnivorous pitcher plants. At the bottom of the hill there are areas for all the family including a kiddies garden. We were very keen to see what autumn crops they had growing. It turned out they had collards, cabbage, broccoli and even a few carrots poking up.


On Saturday I took my mountain bike out for a ride and found the best spot on the James River in the Richmond area. I mean, two other people there on a glorious sunny Saturday. So I'm torn. Should I post about it on my Blog and risk everyone finding out about this secret paradise. Well, luckily nobody very much reads my blog. As far as I know it hasn't yet become the 'Time Out' of RVA. I think it's probably safe to give everyone this snapshot of the locale.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Pulled Pork

We're talkin' serious bone suckin' sauce here, people. My amazing multi-talented wifey put the new crock pot to good use today to make some homemade pork barbecue. After 10 hours of simmering it was just a big plate of flaky, juicy, pig goodness. With coleslaw, and beans. A little slice of Southern Heaven.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Climbing Kittens, originally uploaded by evens.john.

For at least six months now we have been the home away from home for our next-door neighbor's kitten. She first came to us as the runt of the litter, desperately hungry because her brother would scarf all the food. We would take pity on her and supply a handful of kibble or a few cat treats, but her small size and speed meant she could easily slip in the house a steal half of Barry's dinner before he knew it was happening. Eventually we gave up trying to keep her out. She and Barry got along fine and she never made a mess in the house. Her friendly temperament is rivaled by few cats I have ever met and one has to admit she is a fine looking specimen.
Just over a week ago, after final putting together the clues (round belly, huge appetite and conspicuous nipples) we realized our precious girl was no longer a kitten! One of the rotten neighborhood cats had had his wicked way with her! Now, you may notice that heretofore the feline in question has borne no name. Sadly the neighbors never christened the poor lass, but in light of this new development we felt obligated to provide her with a title. 'Juno' came to mind as a befitting name.

We were desperately worried that Juno's small size would be an impediment to her carrying and successfully delivering the kittens (of number, unknown). The neighbor seemed unconcerned, and we fretted as to whether we should take her to the vet for a check up, and pay out of pocket. In the end, events took care of themselves. We returned home on Sunday afternoon and Juno followed us in as usual. However, this time her mood was noticeably different and her agitation wasn't simply caused by hunger. It quickly became apparent that kitten birth was imminent, and moments later Juno had disappeared into our bedroom closet.

As the first kitten was making its way into the world backwards, the neighbors arrived home from wherever they'd been. I delivered the news that the kittens were on their way, and I wasn't sure how well it was going. The neighbor told me he thought it was funny that his cat was giving birth in my bedroom, but I wasn't particularly amused and returned inside to check on the progress. Thankfully, nature was taking it's course and two kittens had soon been delivered, cleaned and nudged in the direction of a nipple.

The action appeared to have died down, so Kristal and I went out to a friend's house for dinner. Upon our return, we discovered the kittens had multiplied! There were now four new lives in our closet! Two calico, one black-and-white and one with the same coloration as it's mother.

The deed had been done in the bottom of a cardboard box with little time for preparation. It was now more-or-less covered in bodily fluids so the first order of business was to transfer mother and litter to cleaner surroundings. We set a towel and some paper shreddings in a large Tupperware and managed to get the whole family situated. On Monday evening the neighbors apparently decided they should take some responsibility in this situation so took the whole kit-and-kabodle back to their place. Hope I get my Tupperware back.

We were sad to see them go. Juno is practically a member of the family, and while we didn't do much but let her get on with it, we are proud to have been able to provide an environment where she felt safe to house her new family. She did an admirable job for such a small girl. We hope that the neighbors keep and eye on the new arrivals, although we will probably be over there ourselves on a frequent basis to check the kittens' (and mother's) progress.