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How I Got into Backyard Farming

Idea:

Backyard Farming sounds crazy, so let’s try it  

What is it?

There is a movement where regular people are turning their backyards into micro farms and doing things like:

  • Growing all the salad ingredients they need for a year (minus the Russian dressing)
  • Growing 100 pounds of potatoes on a tiny patio
  • Raising a couple of chickens for meat and/or eggs
  • Raising Talapia fish to eat
  • Raising rabbits or quail for meat
  • Converting lawns into mini farms producing staple crops like corn and wheat
  • Using things like fences, walls, posts and garages to trellis things like grapes, squash, beans, and melons
  • Growing 100 pounds of garlic and selling it for $10 a pound at farmers markets
  • Raising bees and selling honey for $7 a pound at farmers markets
  • Making your own Beer, Wine, Meade, Cider or Brandy

Why this could be Awesome:

The goal here is that you do these things on your property without anyone really noticing or caring.  The goal is not to start up some “you might be a redneck if” style crazy farm on the lawn and instantly tank the neighborhood housing prices in the process.  With this project the goal is to be clandestine, or at least unnoticeable.  Do it right and neighbors will compliment how well your property looks as you bring them goodies from the garden all year long.  Other reasons this scheme could be awesome:

  • Lower your grocery bills
  • Be totally organic and chemical free
  • Potentially earn income
  • Less lawn mowing / Less using anything that runs on gas
  • Could be Fun

My Situation:

I live in a typical Cape Cod house on a quiet street in a medium sized city in Ohio.  I have neighbors very close on both sides and in the back.  In total I have about 0.3 acres of “land” which consists of a small front yard and a descent sized backyard enclosed in a chain link fence.  I have a tiny 1-car garage, a small patio, and normal guy yard tools.

Research Phase:

I went to the library and to the internet and looked up the following topics:

  • Small space / patio / container gardening
  • Permaculture / food forests / Organic Gardening
  • Homesteading /  Survivalist / Prepper (I’m not a prepper)
  • Aquaponics

Take a look at some YouTube videos on people who have backyard food forests.  Also Jeff Lawton’s videos on this topic are amazing.  I also recommend the book Gaia’s Garden and the website Permies.com

Let’s Do This:

And so when Spring rolled around I began…  The plan was to start small and incorporate little things at a time into my landscape, wait until I was used to them and make sure no one freaked out, and then slowly expand. 

Things I have Accomplished:

I’m on year three now and I think things are going relatively well.  Here’s a summary of things I have been able to do.   Note: Each topic below will have its own full post soon.

  • Toxin Free:  Gave up insecticide, commercial fertilizer and other toxins totally.
  • Compost: Created a composting system that produces about 1 pickup truck load of compost per year.
  • Waste Reduction: Generate zero yard waste.  Generate 1-2 bags of garbage per week, which is a reduction from 5 bags.  This reduction is due to composting, canning, burning paper with wood fires and using ashes in garden, reduction of processed foods purchased, etc.
  • Rainwater harvesting:  Made and Installed 2 Rain Barrels (55 gallons each), with a system to auto water the front yard with the flip of a switch using garden hose and gravity
  • Lawn Reduction:  More than half of my front yard is garden (but doesn’t look out of the ordinary at all).  Converted 1/3rd of my backyard to garden
  • Hugelkultur:  Installed about 56 feet of Hugelkultur mounds
  • Heavy Mulching: Threw down 2 dump truck loads of mulch, 3 pickup load of hay (about 40 bales) and 1 pickup load manure. 
  • Sheet Mulching: Experimented with Sheet mulching using cardboard and other materials to convert lawn to garden without digging.
  • Less Weeds: Cut weeding time down by using mulching techniques as well as chop & drop methods.  (you still get weeds, but less, and easier to pull)
  • No Dig / No till: Gave up Tilling totally.  There are many good reasons to do this. 
  • Less Mowing:  Mow only about 4-6 times a year (due to letting certain “weeds” grow into the lawn such as clover which doesn’t grow very tall).  Also, I mow the front lawn every other time with a gas free reel push mower, which saves gas and is very quiet (and a good workout).
  • Less Watering:  Cut watering in half (because of the rain barrels, a well-placed swale to slow down run-off and Hugelkultur mounds which soak up water like crazy)
  • Perennial Food:  Planted long-term plants such as 2 apple trees, 1 cherry tree, 2 blueberry bushes, 2 raspberry and 2 blackberry bushes, 10 square feet of strawberries, 2 grapevines, 8 asparagus plants.
  • Quasi Perennial Food:  Tomato patch comes back 80% every year from self seeding.  Also get a lot of self seeded greens and squash, by not picking everything.
  • Seed Starting:  Beginning to perfect a seed starting regimen that is actually starting to pay off.  Seed starting takes practice!
  • Big Crops:  Set to plant about 50 garlic plants this year.  Set to plant about 30 potato plants this year (these two plants both can be mixed into the front yard landscape).  Planted about 60 mustard green plants (also a beautiful plant)
  • Medicine:  Growing comfrey to be used for medicinal purposes as well as green manure / mulch.
  • Cool mini-Projects:  Things I have made from my backyard include Grape Juice, Vinegar, Tomato juice, Dijon Mustard, Tomato sauce, Roasted Dandelion Root coffee, Echinacea tincture, garlic braids, burn medicine, flower arrangements, and lots of delicious meals.

Things I want to Try:

There are so many things in backyard farming/ urban permaculture I still want to try. Here is my to-do list:

  • Plant way more fruit trees.  The ultimate goal of the permaculture “food forest” is basically to have tons of food growing everywhere on your property that requires little to no maintenance.  The hardest part should be picking all of the bounty.  Of course a key to this end state is to have lots of mature fruit trees that produce large quantities of high calorie foods year after year.  And even in cold Ohio, we can grow so many different kinds of fruit like cherry, apple, peach, plum, apricot and lots of berry and nut trees
  • Plant a successful cash crop.  I want to sell something at the farmers market!  I think garlic will be my first attempt because it is 100% maintenance free and 99% guaranteed to come up beautiful.  It also sells for a lot of money.  So far I have been eating mine, but each year I plant more and more.  One other nice thing is that you can space them really close together and plant them almost anywhere on the property, including right out in the front yard.  I tried to sell my mustard greens but nobody wanted them :(
  • Get bees.  Although probably not for everyone, I want bees.  There is some cost and some work involved, but you get honey, wax and increased pollination, and that is more than enough for me to want to try it.
  • Meat?  I’m not allowed to have chickens or any animal like that in my city.  Rabbits could work since they are silent and you could raise them somewhere covert and no one would know you had them.  But I don’t think I could kill and clean rabbits I raised.  I looked into pheasant and quail but same thing there.
  • Eggs? I’m not yet to the point where I’m going to defy my local laws and get a couple of chickens for egg productions, but If you are, there is a whole community on the net of covert chicken raisers.  The more hip urban cities such as St. Louis have legalized it, so do some research and go for it.  Don’t get any roosters unless you want to anger everyone within a 5 mile radius.
  • More Mulch!  Once you get into this hobby you quickly find that your soil sucks.  If you have a typical American house your soil is terrible because for the last 50 years your property has consisted of 90% grass which some guy mowed short twice a week and probably dumped mass quantities of weed and feed and other chemicals onto it.  All of the clippings were bagged and sent to the landfill and heavy rains continuously washed away any soil that happened to build up.  The fix is to throw down tons and tons of organic material like leaves, cut up weeds, hay, mulch, coffee grounds, manure, compost, etc.  But if you are a regular person with an office job you probably don’t have access to as much of this organic mulch as you need.  I’m always on the lookout on Craigslist for free manure and mulch, but it can be hard to come by.  You can grow your own, but this takes time.
  • Flowers  I got so caught up with food that I realized I didn’t plant many beautiful flowers that can serve multiple purposes.  I want them for cut flower arrangements as well as for medicinal purposes and sheer beauty.  Next year there will be flowers!
  • Edible Seeds:  I also want to get some edible seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin, yum!  Per square foot, sunflowers are one of the most productive foods you can grow, calorie wise.

There’s been a drone coming around at night, peeping in windows, scattering my animals, and driving people nuts in the area. The sheriff finally gave me the okay to shoot it down due to “ongoing harrasment”.

When I get it, you’ll know. I’ll be wearing a piece of it around my neck like a trophy.

February 27, 2017.