Archive for ‘PRI Urban Farming Certification Program’

September 17, 2013

Urban Farm September Update

I checked my blog today to see when I last posted about my Urban Farm project.

June?  No!  I must have posted something since then, I thought to myself.  I surfed a little and realized that sure enough, the last you heard I planted 40 straw bales in my front yard.

Well, shame on me!  I do give myself a little slack because I have at least been posting periodical photos on Facebook.  If you want to catch up a little of what’s happened between June and now, be sure to checkout the Walnuts n Pears Facebook page.  While you’re there make sure and “Like” my page (if you haven’t already) and you can keep up with events, postings and photos of all that’s going on.

So… Let’s doing a little catching up, shall we?

Last you saw, my yard looked like this:


With this innovative raised bed from Organic Bob.


Well, seeds got started, transplants got planted, it rained for forty days and forty nights and then we went into a six week drought.  I fought aphids on eggplant, squash vine borer on zucchini and some evil critter on the watermelon.  Despite the challenges the garden or farm, rather, started to look like this:



And I harvested and harvested… and now it looks like this:




But it’s kind of hard to see what’s going on from this angle, so let’s go on a virtual tour, shall we?

The June-bearing strawberries are done, but spreading quite nicely.  The late Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco) is just getting ready to bloom and some Romaine lettuce is making a return.



Brussel sprouts have taken a spill because the bales have decomposed enough that they can no longer support their weight, but they aren’t damaged, so they should keep growing (I may try staking tomorrow).  They still have some maturing to do, but I can hardly wait for a few hard frosts to bring them to the table.  Redbor Kale is continuing to produce but the Romanesco Broccoli has yet to form a head (bummer)!



Up next we have the second set of Brassica family plants with more Brussel Sprouts on the left, Arugula in the middle and Cabbage tipping off to the right side.  In the lower right corner you can spot one of our two Pumpkins.



Russian Kale in the foreground, not to be forgotten!  My favorite kale is still producing nicely.



Cabbage up close and personal.



I decided to make the raised bed the Children’s Garden this year.  My son and his friend planted, cared for and harvested from this bed this summer.  I helped seed the sides, but with the drought and intermittent watering they lost a number of the seedlings.  No hard feelings on their part though, they had plenty to harvest from their garden this summer including tons of Sun Sugar Cherry Tomatoes, Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherries, some beautiful Zucchini, Sugar Snap Peas (which you can see in the dried format on the right side for saving seed for next year), peppers, radishes and their Ring of Fire Sunflowers were gorgeous!  Okay, you can’t tell here because now they are just seed heads…



… but THIS is what they looked like the majority of the summer.



On to the squash and melons… This bed is where most of my frustrations came from this summer.  It started with squash vine borers attacking the Zucchini.  I did some “surgery” slicing into the vine and mutilating the buggers with a knife which allowed the plant to continue producing, but it was never quite the same.  Next, some dirty little rats, squirrels or rabbits severed all of the watermelon plants leaving me with next to nothing.  Lucky for them I never caught them in the act!  Finally, we have more squash vine borers attacking, hence the sickly, wilty leaves, but since it’s so late in the season I’m choosing not to battle them because I’ve already harvested quite a bit of squash.  Oh, and Cantaloupe!  Well, so far the score is 1-1 Rodentia vs. Us but the one we had was wonderful!



The other Pumpkin.



Up next: Swiss Chard, Globe Artichoke and Celeriac… along with some migratory squash.


Sadly, one-by-one over the past few days, my Globe Artichoke were decapitated and left for dead.  This was pretty disappointing because Globe Artichoke is a perennial here in Minnesota and it’s the first year I’ve grown it so I was pretty excited to have it be a part of my garden.  I still have a lingering hope that the root, still in place to my knowledge, may still produce some leaves and try to survive.  It’s a stretch, but you never know.



This set of bales was interesting.  They get far more shade than the rest, they were last to heat up during the “conditioning” process, but also spiked up to 140 degrees.  I had to wait longer to plant them because they retained the heat as well.  The Lettuce is long gone (except for the couple I’m allowing to go to seed), Carrots are still doing well and the pickling cucumbers are still going strong.  If I counted correctly I should have quite a few ready in the next few days.  I’m trying to decide what to do with this set next year.  There isn’t enough sun for the majority of crops so it may have to begin a crop rotation of its own of part-sun crops.



And finally, Tomato Alley!

Home to about 13 different varieties of tomatoes, half a dozen or so peppers, a few varieties of eggplant and bunches and bunches of basil.



I almost forgot!  Another Cantaloupe, hanging out under the crib-rail trellis on the backside of the squash bales.  Not too much longer and I’ll be racing the critters for the harvest.



Well, that completes the tour for today.  I think it has progressed nicely, don’t you?

Oh, and in other news, I had my final walk-through evaluation two weeks ago and assuming things continue to go well I should be a certified Urban Farmer in a couple of weeks!


July 9, 2013

Rise With The Son

My son is an early riser. He has been since the day he was born, nearly nine years ago. And every day since then I have cringed that he’s an early riser. That is, until today.

You see, today we started harvesting from our little farm in the city, the little urban farm, the front yard garden, the straw bale garden. But today we did it a little too late. We got out there late in the morning, after the rain stopped, and harvested salad greens and kohlrabi. Then we started “processing” our greens; harvest, cool, triple wash, dry, weigh, bag and cool. Along the way we did a little sampling. We were disappointed to find some of our greens were bitter. This can happen for a few reasons: the greens got too big, they are not heat tolerant varieties (ours are) or they were harvested too late in the day. So we sorted through our greens, figured out which ones were still sweet and which went bitter. Although we got a nice harvest, we composted an unfortunate amount of bitter greens and decided that tomorrow we’re starting earlier, before the sap in the lettuce goes bitter from the heat.


I can’t tell you how many days since starting this adventure in January, that I’ve gained so much respect for the farmers who grow and supply us with food every day. They rise with the sun, go to bed with the sun and work every hour in between. We’re trying to plan a little road trip this summer and it’s stressing me out. I can’t stop thinking that I might be gone when my harvest will be at it’s peak. And if spring had been “normal” I would be closer to my original harvest schedule, but it wasn’t normal and having put all of this time and energy into the garden this year, I want to minimize as much loss as possible. And… assuming I’ll be able to sell some of the produce, it would be a shame to miss that opportunity as well. This experience has made me realize just how connected to the land farmers really are. They are caring for our food from the day the seed hits the soil until the day the crop comes out of the ground. They know when it is too early to harvest, too late and when it is just right. It has also reminded me why school starts when it does in the fall and ends when it does in the spring. It has made me realize that when you are growing a garden for your family it doesn’t matter so much when your crops hit peak harvest, but if you are growing for others, or for your livelihood, it does. This experience has made me wonder if I will still want to do this again next year when I get to the end of this season (I’m pretty sure I will). And it’s made me realize that food really isn’t all that expensive when you realize the time in planning, planting, tending, watering, harvesting and proper handling that goes into it. Are those fresh greens or those tomatoes worth the money they are asking for them? Um, yes. And probably more!


It’s funny, when you begin to walk a day in someone else’s shoes, you begin to gain perspective into their life and have a different appreciation for who they are and what they do. Somehow, we become a little more connected, even if it’s just a better understanding of each other.


Before I go to bed tonight I will say a little prayer, thanking all of the farmers for the food they have grown that has nourished me for so many years when I was too busy worrying about other things to stop and genuinely thank them for what they do.

And then, tomorrow, I will rise with my son and we will begin to harvest again.


April 21, 2013

Urban Farm Beginnings


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.


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,



November 12, 2012

I’m Dreaming… of an Urban Farm

Have you ever had something make you take notice but then once you realized what you are looking at, you disregarded it, only to find later that the information actually applied to you?

Take for example my wedding dress.  When I first got engaged, years ago, I would flip through wedding magazines trying on dresses in my mind, picturing how they would look on me.  I remember running across one dress, thinking to myself, “Wow!  That’s really pretty… on the right person…” and then continued flipping pages.  Later, after I purchased my dress, I found myself flipping through the same magazine, again stopping on the same page.  I looked at the picture and thought,  “Wow.  That’s a pretty dress.” and then started laughing.  That was a pretty dress.  That was my dress.  The dress I bought.  Funny, I didn’t even remember the dress when I went out shopping because I had disregarded it so quickly as something that I “couldn’t wear”. Yet here I was, flipping through the bridal magazine, stopping on the same page and realizing that was the dress I ended up buying.  Apparently I shouldn’t have disregarded it so quickly!

Well, a similar thing has happened again.  A number of months ago while hanging out in Egg|Plant I found myself perusing their magazines.  I grabbed a copy of Urban Farm magazine.  I kind of scoffed at the concept of an Urban Farm.  I was thinking about how people keep coming up with these names, titles, buckets for everything.  New names for the same stuff.  “Urban Farm is just a new name for gardening”, I thought to myself, but I bought the magazine anyway “because it had some cool articles”.  A couple of months later I found myself back at Egg|Plant buying yet another copy of the magazine, still not thinking of myself as an “Urban Farmer”.  Well, sometimes life has a funny way of working out.  This morning, as I awoke to a white dusting of snow in the yard and heard reports of icy roads, I stood under the warm water of the shower trying to calm my nerves for my interview at the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) to get into the Urban Farming Certification program.  If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be doing this, I would have laughed.  Yet today, as I made my way over to the interview, on icy roads, I could hardly contain my excitement.

The interview went great and yes, I was accepted into the program.  (Woo hoo!)  I think it will be a perfect fit for me and for what I want to do going forward.  Plus, the people I met with were great!  The next step is registration.  Then the holidays and then I’ll be off and running.  I’m so excited to get started!  Actually, the only way I could be any more excited is if it started tomorrow!  But alas, I must wait until January, January 5th to be exact.  So, while some of you may be dreaming of a white Christmas and Jack Frost nipping at your nose, I’ll be dreaming of the new year and my future Urban Farm.