So not only can chickens tend to your little spot of earth; they'll go a step further and give you a steady supply of eggs for the cost of care and feed.
They're not the simple rental like their goat friends, though, and can get a bit involved in a hurry. Rural areas tend to have farm stores such as Rural King, Smith, Orscheln and Wilco that will not only occasionally give away chicks for free, but show new owners how to set up a coop, install heat lamps, feed chickens, fence them properly, deter predators and get the most egg for their money.
For city folks, however, there's a growing number of "chicken consultants" available in cities including Chicago, Portland and Dallas that will not only get you set up with a coop and chickens, but offer advice if they get sick (and make house calls). In some cases, as CNN found in Los Angeles, consultants will offer chicken sitting services while urban owners are out of town.
Bee gardenersYour garden doesn't pollinate itself, and the world's be population isn't what it once was. While once limited to larger farms and orchards, beekeepers and apiarists now lend their services to anyone. Services such as Redwood City, Calif.-based Golden Harvest Beekeeping, Fairmount, Ill.-based Long Lane Honey Bee Farms and Eastern Tennessee's Arnold Honeybee Services will either lend out bees to pollinate farms and gardens, teach gardeners and farmers how to keep their own hives of bees or sell bees to folks who want them.
While some rental and pollination services will give customers pounds worth of the honey made during the spring and summer, those in it for the long haul may want to consider investing in bees of their own. Not only will it help a farm, garden or orchard thrive and leave lots of honey and wax to work with, but it'll give beekeepers and excuse to pick up snazzy-looking cedar hives like those produced by Portland-based Bee Thinking for the garden or backyard. What's the point of artisanal urban beekeeping if you can't look good doing it? Manure fuel Sure, you could just restrict your exposure to manure to the few times you need some to fertilize the occasional planter or garden bed, but that won't get you much mileage. Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Ind., uses 5 million pounds of manure from its 30,000 cows to not only power its milking equipment, 10 barns, a cheese factory, a cafe, a gift shop, a dairy museum and a movie theater, but to provide natural gas for its 42 tractor-trailers. That's taking 2 million gallons of diesel fuel off of American highways and has the potential to take a 10 million gallon bite out of America's 135-million-gallon-a-year gasoline habit. The best part? If you're near one of the 15 locations in Texas and the Midwest where Fair Oaks Farms and Chicago-based AMP Americas are partnering to set up natural gas filling stations, you and the converted engine of your choice can ride on the remnants of cow droppings for miles. Household weed killer The worst part of spring for any homeowners with grass, clover, moss or anything green on the ground is the moment those first yellow-headed succubi known as dandelions start showing their sunny, smug little faces around your property. Mow them, you say? They just come back. Yank them out by the roots? You try it, tough guy. It's as if someone tied them down with Gordian knots beneath your soil. Get some of that high-potency, long-lasting weed killer to, ahem, round them up? Only if you're cool with killing a bunch of stuff around them, tainting the groundwater and potentially making the very thing you're trying to kill a stronger, mutated version of itself. Know what you need to stock up on, according to the good folks at PlanTea? Boiled water, mulch, tarps and vinegar. It sounds really dumb, but pouring boiled water on dandelions will reduce them to dead, wilted husks of their former selves just a few weeks after a good dousing. If you don't want to wait that long, smother them with some mulch or tarps to deprive them of oxygen. That will also likely kill whatever's around them, so don't commit to this unless you're willing to resign yourself to a mulch bed and little else.
A far more effective method is using a 5% concentration of vinegar -- that's household vinegar to you and me -- to spray the dandelions to death. The vinegar acts as natural herbicide, but doesn't linger around in the soil to kill the plants you'd prefer to keep alive. This works on not only dandelion, but foxtail, velvetleaf, smooth pigweed and thistle as well. Happy pickling. -- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.