Posts tagged ‘compost’

April 21, 2013

Urban Farm Beginnings

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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.

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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

 

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November 13, 2012

Facing Our Fears Part II: Chickens

As you probably already know, I have been contemplating getting chickens for a while.  Then, when I decided that chickens might be a good idea I planted the seed with my son (easy target) and husband (surprisingly easy target).  I expected at least a little resistance, I got nothing.  Then came the chicken class… a success!  I wanted to get started right away.  Then reality set in and I realized that next spring would be better.  That would give us enough time to select a coop design, get the parts and pieces, build it, wire it, critter-proof it.  We could ask for chicken stuff (lights, waterers, heaters, etc.) as gifts for birthdays and Christmas and finally, next spring, we could bring in baby chicks.

Then a curve ball.  A friend-of-a-friend of my Dad’s has chickens needing a home.  He asked if we’d be interested.  Sure, why not?  (I’m a sucker for taking in animals that need a home.)  We went and met the chickens.  They were cool. We saw their current coop and knew that while the coop worked great in their current location, it wouldn’t work so well in our yard.  Backing up to the nature center means everything short of lions, tigers and bears (oh, my!).  So, after going on the Twin Cities Chicken Coop Tour and scouring the web for coop designs we decided on this one, except ours will be blue and a mirror image (so we can see the chickens from the house) and got to building.  That, was a month ago.  We’re still building.  Speaking of which, did you know that you can end a drought by simply building a chicken coop?  It’s true!  We literally were in a drought.  Hadn’t had a drop of rain for months… until the day we started building the coop.  Then the sky opened up and the rain started coming.  And, it hasn’t stopped since.  Okay, actually it has, on the days we are not building the coop.  That aside, we’re getting there.  And hopefully very soon (I don’t want to say when for fear of jinxing us again) we will actually have the chickens.

Back to my fears.   As you may or may not have read in the first installment, Facing Our Fears, my first fear to face was writing.  Now that I’ve worked through that, my fear is chickens.  I outlined a few of my chicken fears in U is for Urban Farm (a.k.a. Contemplating Chickens), but there’s more.  So why on earth would I want to build a chicken coop and get chickens?  Well, okay, it’s not the chickens I fear.  It’s the stuff that goes along with chickens.

I hate winter.  Period.  I love the snow.  I think it’s beautiful.  Beyond that, I avoid going outside on cold days.  I hate cold fingers, cold toes, cold ears, cold noses… Although it is kind of cool when it’s so cold out, that when you sniff, your nostrils stick together.  Oh, that and frosty eyelashes are kind of cool too… but other than that I hate cold bodies, cold cars and cold seats (car and toilet)!  So what better plan to get over hating winter than to get chickens, right?  Yea, I know.  I’m not sure about that either, but I’m hoping it will help.  If I have someone or in this case, chickens, to care for, I’m hoping I will come to ignore the rain, snow, sleet and cold and just enjoy the chickens.  At least I’ll get to hold a warm egg in my hands, right?

Bird poop.  I hate bird poop.  I fear bird poop.  As a kid, while in Seattle visiting my Aunts and Uncles, I was sitting with my feet up, stretched across to another chair and a flock of sea gulls, or was it pigeons, flew overhead and a moment later, I felt the warm splattering gush of goo in-between my toes.  Um, yea, I cried.  And then, one morning at the bus stop,  a couple of years ago, I was chatting with a couple of other Mom’s on the block.  It was a clear morning, not a cloud or a bird in the sky, we were busy chatting when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a huge blast of bird poop hit my arm.  It splattered not only all over my entire forearm, but my clothes and all over my friends too.  Talk about gross!  We all scrambled, checking our pockets for a napkin, Kleenex, anything, to wipe it up.  A friend of mine found a receipt in her pocket.  I’ve never been so grateful for a receipt, ever.  That, and my second shower of the morning.  Anyway, I’ve got this fear of bird poop.  So, you might ask, why would I even consider chickens? After all, they are poop factories, right?  Right!  But their poop is good stuff!  Their poop will be combined with my compost, making my compost cook faster and make my garden soil even richer!  So I’m hoping to get past my fear of bird poop for the good of the garden.

My other chicken fears?  Chicken death.  Chicken death-by-dog, death-by-fox, death-by-raccoon, death-by-hawk, death-by-eagle, death-by-owl and death-by-weasel.  Until recently I wasn’t afraid of death-by-weasel, but my nephew just told me of chickens getting killed by weasels.  I don’t even know if we have weasels here because I’ve never seen one, but I added death-by-weasel to the list because now it’s in the back of my mind.  Thanks, Jeff. 😉  Hopefully our coop design will fend off all of these death-by-critter fears, and I will no longer need to fear chicken death, but time will tell.

Death-by-weather.  Living in Minnesota you can’t help but worry about how the chickens are going to hold up in the cold.  We are going to be getting cold-hardy chickens (I know, I didn’t know there was such a thing as cold hardy chickens either) so hopefully any mistakes we make will be offset by their hardy genes.  Cold weather means making sure their drinking water doesn’t freeze, making sure they don’t freeze and did you know if they roost on too narrow of a board they can get frost bite on their feet!?  I think I’ll make them recycled sweater mittens for their feet.  Recycled sweater chicken booties. 🙂 Oh, and then there’s the heat.  When it’s not too cold, it’s too hot and chickens don’t sweat.  Like dogs, if they get too hot, they pant.  Panting = chicken death.  Not good.  If anyone has a Barbie window a/c unit about 4 inches by 4 inches, let me know.  We’re getting a Thermo Cube too, which is a temperature controlled outlet, so hopefully that will take some of the thinking and worry out of the of the death-by-weather scenarios.

Okay, all my fears aside, I’m hoping for a bond.  The chickens we’ll be getting are over a year old, already producing eggs (bonus!).  They haven’t been handled a lot, so I’m hoping my wanting to hold them won’t be offensive.  I’ve heard that chickens LOVE kids.  I’ve heard that they will follow them around and treat them like their own (which should be humorous).  I’ve heard of them snuggling and watching TV, although we WON’T be having chickens inside the house.  At least not yet. 😉  I’ve heard chickens are guaranteed entertainment.  I’ve heard that you can train them to do tricks and that they like to be petted.  I’ve heard that even on our worst days just watching them can make us laugh and smile.

Long term, I’m hoping to love the chickens.  I love that they’ll be eating our kitchen scraps and converting it to good stuff for the garden.  I’m looking forward to having fresh eggs and making custard pies.  I’m looking forward to the challenges and fun the chickens will bring.

I’m also looking for a pair of rubber boots to wear in the coop.

Kate