Archive for ‘Permaculture’

April 21, 2013

Urban Farm Beginnings

a-to-z-letters-u

It’s hard to start an urban farm when… it won’t stop snowing!

What the heck is an Urban Farm?  Glad you asked!  Basically, an urban farm is, well, kind of like it sounds, a farm in an urban setting.  In other words, food production for personal or business use right here in the city.  Chances are if you haven’t already heard the term, you will in the near future.  The term is popping up almost as fast as the farms themselves.  Right now, in our area, they are limited to crops and chickens, however some areas have goats too.  From what I hear other small livestock are in line to be a part of this program too!  But just so everyone is clear… what you will see in my front yard is purely plant related.  The chickens are in back yard.  And I’m not sold on having goats yet… although, I might be interested in the Rent-A-Goat program down the road!

I have to be honest, when I started in the Urban Farming Certification Program, I didn’t really have a definite plan for my “farm” and the plan that I have now is still evolving, but one piece of what I want to do in my yard is plant the seed, so to speak, to get people thinking, realizing, that they too can grow at least some of their food in their yard too.  It doesn’t have to be the back.  It can be the front or the side.  You need to do what works for you.

IMG_3836

Here is a picture of what my yard looks like today.  Essentially a blank slate.  The space where I will be growing food has, quite honestly, been simply ignored pretty much since we moved in.  Over the past few years we lost two large, old elm trees, which took that space from mostly shaded, to full sun and the lawn from lush and green to simply fried. It could use some TLC and since there is an abundance of sun and space, why not grow food?

Regarding the space, for a point of reference, this space is about 60 feet wide by 60 feet long.  I won’t be farming the whole thing, at least not this year, but I will be farming a good portion of it, but any piece of what I’m going to be doing could be put into a smaller or larger scale yard.

Here are some of the challenges I face with this project, not necessarily in an order:

  1. Fencing: Find inexpensive, attractive, yet effective fencing or fencing alternatives to keep the deer and other wildlife that will do heavy damage out (we have a Nature Center behind us and a small lake a block to the North) while at the same time keeping it open enough to welcome people in.  This may include shrubs to provide food for both the wildlife and people as well as a barrier.
  2. Grading:  The grade change is not drastic, but it is currently sloping toward the driveway, the residential street in the front as well as the main street on the side.  This means I’m losing water to run-off (not good!).  I’m working on possible ways to alter the grade slightly to slow the water down and store it where it is most effective: in the ground.
  3. Curb Appeal: Since this garden will be in the front yard, I want to maintain, or in this case, add, curb appeal.  Granted, not everyone is going to love seeing a garden in the front yard, but part of my challenge is to make sure it’s not offensive to most (and hopefully if they get a tomato or two out of the deal it won’t bother them as much)!
  4. Maintain set-backs/easements:  You’ll notice we don’t have a public sidewalk in the front like many urban communities do.  At first this seems like a bonus, and while it is regarding additional space, there are still limitations as to what I can do in the “boulevard” space.  In fact, if I decide to alter the boulevard, I need to submit plans to the city, pay a one-time fee and apply for a permit.  They would need to approve the plan prior to starting the project.
  5. IMG_3834Maintain sight-lines:  Corner lots come with restrictions.  The most important restriction is to maintain a maximum height of 30 inches in a triangle going from the corner, fifty feet back on both sides of the corner and a line connecting those two points in order to not block the vision of vehicles turning into or out of our street onto the intersecting street.
  6. Water:  One goal I have is to capture and store the water that is on site, meaning, when it rains, I want to make sure I store as much of that water in the ground as possible.  I want to limit the amount of municipal water that is applied to this site by redirecting water from the downspout that is currently getting wasted or turning into run-off. At the same time I hope to eliminate current water puddling/ice nuisances.
  7. Community Space: As I mentioned before I want this space to be welcoming.  I want it to be welcoming for our neighbors who live here, welcoming for visitors and passersby.  I want to “plant the seed” for others to consider doing even a small piece of this.  I want it to be welcoming to the community and I may be holding classes and/or events in this space, so I want it to be a space people want to come to and hang out in.
  8. Art/Music:  I’ve had thoughts of including art and music.  I’m not sure what that will look like yet.  My son and I like the “READ” sign at the local library, I suggested we put “EAT” in our yard.  He suggested it be “EAT WELL”.  I like his idea better. 🙂
  9. Compost space: I will need to have a place to store compost.  I believe this may need to be on the other side of the fence, because if I recall correctly, compost cannot be in the front yard in our community according to city code.
  10. Permaculture: And finally, all of this needs to happen within the context of Permaculture, because my Urban Farming Certification is designed within the Permaculture framework.

So that’s where things stand today.  I’ve given a lot of thought over the past few months as to how best to go about this. I’m trying to accomplish this without spending a ton of money, because I want people to see that gardening doesn’t have to take a ton of time, labor or resources.  I’m also trying to figure out how to “work smarter, not harder”.  In other words, are there ways of doing this project that will be less detrimental to people, the environment and the soil and yet, still achieve the ultimate goal, which is an abundant urban farm?

I have some ideas, and the final plan will be posted soon.  Until then, I’ll give you all of those things to chew on, because even though “easy” can be nice sometimes, challenges encourage us to get creative!

All my best,

Kate

 

April 4, 2013

Daffodils – More Than Just Another Pretty Face

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Daffodils, some of the first flowers to appear in the spring, even before the trees leaf out, brighten up dark corners and otherwise still groggy gardens.   They remind me of the sunrise, the centers ranging from yellow to peach to orange with the bright white petals like the rays reaching out.  Even the pure yellow daffodils shine brightly like a the mid-day sun.  But there’s more to daffodils than their pretty face.  They can serve a purpose in your garden as well.

Daffodil

Daffodil

Daffodils are guards in the garden, defending it from both encroaching lawn and from four-legged predators.  When planted densely, daffodils will keep grass out of planting beds, making weeding a much lighter task.

Often times, many of us will plant a fruit tree in the middle of our lawn.  Unfortunately, lawn is not a fruit tree’s friend.  The lawn competes heavily with the trees for water and nutrients in the surface of the soil during the heat of the summer.  Daffodils, on the other hand, are relatively deeply planted bulbs.  They will begin to establish themselves when planted in the fall, put on growth and bloom in early spring.  Then, about the time the trees need water and nutrients, the daffodils begin to die back, reducing their need for water until fall when the tree begins to go dormant and process begins again.

In addition, daffodils help defend fruit trees against predators.  As a member of the onion family, they contain a toxin that deters many animals, including squirrels, deer, gophers and mice from gnawing on the tender bark when planted close to the trunk off fruit trees.  One word of caution, however, although daffodils are in the onion family, they are toxic to humans and should not be ingested!

Other benefits of daffodils are that they are a perennial bulb, therefore only needing to be planted once and will return year after year. They will also gradually reproduce, making them a great bulb for naturalizing under a tree or in a shade or woodland garden.

 

Naturalized Daffodils

Naturalized Daffodils

One last fun note about daffodils – their faces follow the sun throughout the day.  This is fun to observe both for kids and kids at heart.

Many of the daffodils relatives, in the onion family, will serve the same purpose in the garden.  Allium, the tall blue, white or purple puff-ball on a stick, which resemble fireworks in the sky, will add color and can be found in a variety of heights and sizes.

Allium

Allium

 

 

 

 

 

Chives and garlic chives again, provide the same defense against predators and will also attract beneficial insects to the garden, such as teeny-tiny parasitic wasps, plus they have the added bonus of being edible.  And we all know, I’m all about things being edible! 🙂

Chives

Chives

 

 

 

So there you have it. Daffodils (and alliums and chives and garlic chives) are much more than just another pretty face. 😉

Kate

February 2, 2013

Connectedness

Breathe in. Breathe out.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
When you take a breath what do you think about?

Do it again. This time, think about your breath and the air you breathe.
Where does it come from?
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

Did you think about the plants and the trees?
I know. Many of us don’t want to stop and think about that. We feel weird. Or think others will think we’re weird.
But the plants and trees give us the gift of oxygen every second of our life.
And we, in return, give them carbon dioxide.
We have a relationship with the plants and the trees around us.

But it’s easy for us to forget.
It’s easy for us to forget that we have a relationship with the plants and trees on this planet.
But there’s more to it than that.
We have a relationship with every living species whether we want to admit it or not, we are connected.

When I stop to think about that, it makes me wonder, why is it then, that we find it so easy to abuse that relationship?
Why is it that we get so focused on “me” and lose focus on them?
Why do we find it so easy to ignore the earth and neglect the environment?

I know, some of us, myself included, like to think we’re being conscious of the environment. I recycle, I shut the lights off when I’m not using them, I don’t use chemicals in my yard, I compost and I try to be conscious of the Carbon Footprint I’m leaving behind, but the reality is, I like my life.

I like sitting on my iPad, typing away in my dining room, while the furnace runs to keep me warm on this frigid day. I like my car and the ability to go where I “need” to go whenever I want to.
I like the convenience of the stores that provide the “necessities” within a couple of miles of my home.

I like my life. And the reality is, to acknowledge that I’m connected to this planet, to the air, to the water, to the plants and the trees, and every living being from the microbes in the soil to the animals in the jungle on the other side of the world means I need to take responsibility for it.

Most of us would do anything to take care of our family and friends if they were in need. They are our blood, they hold a special place in our heart and we wouldn’t want to lose that. Yet to ask us to think about the earth, the environment or the living things around us is a different story. We take it for granted. In our lifetime, we’ve always had air to breathe, water at our disposal and food on our tables.

What if you chose not to feed your children or take care of an elderly grandparent or neighbor, how would you feel? Would you feel a pang of guilt in the pit of your stomach? Would you heart hurt knowing you’re neglecting them when you could be and should be doing something to help?

So why is it that when the plants and trees that supply the air that we breathe get neglected or the water that we take for granted that runs from our taps everyday gets wasted and when we abuse the resources that the environment provides for us, by using more than our “fair share” do we not feel equally guilty? Why do we find it so easy to disconnect ourselves from this?

What if we didn’t? What if, instead, when we go out the door or look up from our phones or out the windows of our house or cars, and we started paying attention to the air we breathe, the amount of water we use and the ways we could take care of the world around us a little better?
What if we treated the air, the water and the environment like family? Would you do anything differently? I know I would.

And when you really stop to think about it, we should. Because whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are connected. We’re connected to every living thing around us just like we’re connected to our families and friends. Yes, we have a direct relationship with some, and a more distant relationship with others, but it’s no different than the relationship we have with our parents versus our distant cousins. And while we might feel a tighter bond with our mother or father or siblings than we do with our great aunt she is still family nonetheless.

So let’s pretend, even if it’s just for a moment, that the air is our mother, the water our father, the soil our siblings and the oil our grandparents. Let’s pretend we love them and value them the same as we do our families. Let’s pretend we care. Because if we do, we might change how we treat them. We may start paying attention to them. We may begin feeding them, nurturing them and watching out for them. We may restore the neglected relationship we have and start living in harmony again.

Let’s pretend for a moment that we are connected to the entire world around us. Let’s pretend that if we care for that world, that it will care for us.

Because guess what? She’s not called Mother Nature for nothing. We are connected.

Kate