Posts tagged ‘urban farm’

June 18, 2013

Urban Farm Update

Back in April I introduced you to my bare front yard and the beginning of my urban farm.

Quite a bit of time has passed since then and there’s been a lot going on, so let’s see how far we’ve come, shall we?

As I was waiting for spring to come and mulling over the possibilities of the design and method of starting my farm, I attended Joel Karsten’s seminar on Straw Bale Gardens and bought his book.  That led to a few phone calls, which lead to this.


Eighty five straw bales getting delivered to my home.  No, I didn’t plant all 85.  I ordered extra for some of my friends and family that are “doing the bales” as well.  I’m only using 40.

But before ordering the straw bales, I had to make a final decision on which design I was going to go with.  After toying with a few ideas I decided that I really liked one of the keyhole garden designs from the book Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, which looks like this.


I modified it a little to work with straw bales, add a couple of openings for access both for logistical and community purposes and ended up with this.


It’s a little geometric with the bales, but part of my long-term plan is to turn at least some of the straw bales into traditional keyhole beds. At that point the overall design will begin to look more like the design from Gaia’s Garden, which is a modified mandala garden.  Another thing I’m trying to achieve with this garden is to make it partially a perennial, edible food forest garden and partially an annual food garden.  In addition to planting the straw bales, I am adding fruiting shrubs as well as annual and perennial food and flowers for both pollination and for attracting beneficial insects in the areas between four of the horseshoe-shaped beds.

You would think that would be enough to keep me busy this summer, but having a little bug for trying new things, I also decided to add a four-foot raised bed from Organic Bob.  You see, part of my plan for this space is to make it a learning space and I wanted to include a learning space specifically for children.  Turns out this raised bed was the perfect solution for that.  And not to go on about the bed itself, but one of the things that makes this bed unique is that you can plant in the sides as well as the top, and orientated the right way, you can take advantage of the sun and shade, planting heat-loving plants on the South side and those preferring it a little cooler on the North side.  Nothing like playing with your food before it even hits your plate!


In the above picture, you will find two clay circles sticking out of the soil. Those are Ollas. Ollas are unglazed clay vessels that you “plant” into the soil when you are planting the rest of your garden.  The vessel gets filled with water which gradually seeps out into the surrounding soil both benefiting the plants by encouraging deep roots, making them less susceptible to drought and minimizing surface watering, thus cutting down on nutrient loss as well.  From what I understand, the only drawback in our climate is that they need to be dug up in the fall because if they are left in the ground over the winter they will crack.  I’m pretty excited about them because they can be used in every climate, probably even more effective or beneficial in hotter climates, which is where, if I’m not mistaken, they were originally developed.


This is what my Ollas look like, but they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  I got mine here, but they can be found in other areas and there are DIY methods of making them from clay pots as well.

Well, I think that covers the highlights of what’s going on with my little farm in the city.

Until next time, enjoy the sunshine and envision an abundant season!


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,



June 17, 2012

U is for Urban Farm (a.k.a. Contemplating Chickens)

Remember back in April when I was doing the A to Z blogging challenge and I stopped at T?  That’s because I got a block.  A mental block.  A bad one.  I went two months trying to figure out what the heck U could stand for.  Well guess what?  I’ve now made it to U and U is for Urban Farm.

When we originally bought our house seven years ago, in addition to falling in love with the house, I fell in love with the yard.  Actually, I fell in love with what the yard could become because at the time it was just a “big yard”.  In other words, a lot of grass.  I know it’s not for everyone, but to me, plain old grass is a waste when I could be growing something.  But at the time we bought the house I never envisioned that the “big yard” would transform into the garden it is today.  They say gardening is a process and that couldn’t be more true.  I’ve found that there may be a beginning, a place in time where our interest is sparked, but if you enjoy gardening, it will never be complete in the same way a painting or a meal or a song may be.  Gardening is a never-ending journey, so if you don’t enjoy the experience you’d better get off the ride!

It’s probably an understatement that I love gardening.  And while the term “gardening” used to cover pretty much everything: fruits, vegetables, flowers, annuals, perennials we now have separate terms for each type.

Until recently, “Urban Farm” was a gardening term I kind of scoffed at.  I envisioned an Urban Farm being a small house in the city with a tiny lot.  And on this farm they had a small barn, a dwarf cow, a dwarf horse, a miniature dog and a few stalks of corn in a miniature field.  Since then my concept of an Urban Farm has changed, as have my own gardens.  The small veggie garden changed into two raised beds and the fruits and veggies have expanded into the landscape.  There has been the addition of three grape vines, hardy kiwi, and in addition to the original red raspberries that came with the house, there are now golden raspberries and blackberries as well.  And then there’s the blueberry bush (bought a pair, lost one, still need to add another).  Oh, and there are pairs of both pear trees and apple trees.

You’d think that would be enough, but since I love to experiment with plants, it’s not.  Last Thursday my son’s baseball game got cancelled due to rain and thunderstorms.  I found this the perfect excuse to head to one of my favorite garden stores: Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply in St Paul.  I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I absolutely love this place.  Anyway, the little trip on Thursday evening to see what’s new expanded into going back this weekend with the truck to pick-up a peach tree, cherry tree and plum tree (not to mention a few other plants for the veggie garden).  And as if that’s not enough, I also signed-up for the Backyard Chicken class next weekend.

I know, I know, I might be crazy, but I’ve been contemplating chickens for quite a while now.  Add that to the fact that they had day-old chicks in the store (which were so darned cute) and it brings me closer to getting some.  (Yes, I realize they don’t stay chicks.)  So if I’m drawn to chickens, why haven’t I gotten them yet?  Well, I have been fearing a few things:

  1. I don’t like to get pecked.
  2. I was told chickens are messy.
  3. I was told chickens stink.
  4. I’m afraid Jake, my rescue dog from the Leech Lake Reservation who has BBs in his hindquarters (most likely from chasing chickens) might kill them.
  5. I live behind a nature center, so I’m afraid the raccoons, wood chucks (are they carnivores?), fox or coyotes might get ’em.
  6. I’m afraid I’ll be a bad chicken mom.

Well, while visiting Egg|Plant I talked to Bob, one of the owners, about my fears.  And he asked me one question.  “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”  I said, “Either my dog or the other critters would kill the chickens.”  His response was, “Okay, now you know the worst thing that could happen.”  It took me a minute to process it, but he was right. I’ve worked myself up so badly about chickens dying that I haven’t been able to think past that point.  Thanks to Bob, I’ve now realized that the worst that could happen is that the chickens will die.  And if they do, and eventually, even if I care for them really well, they will, I can deal with it.   So now that I know that, I can quit focusing on it.  I can redirect my energy and focus on the chickens and the experience of having them.

So this morning, as I continued contemplating chickens, I looked out the window on my backyard.  That’s when it dawned on me that if I do this, if I get chickens, I’ll be crossing that line from an Urban Garden to an Urban Farm.  I don’t have a barn.  I don’t have miniature dogs or mini-fields, but I do have fruits and veggies and two full-sized dogs and a dwarf cat and after the chicken class next weekend, I might even have chickens.  I might become an Urban Farmer.  I just might.