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! Urban Homesteading

 
pollinator
Posts: 51
Location: Topeka, KS, Zone 6a
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We currently live in a city, on a typical suburban lot, about .25 acres. Good news, it's on a corner so it's slightly larger than the surrounding lots and I only have two neighbors actually adjoining and they are both super chill about my backyard "projects". I've got mini-hugels, a pond we're struggling to seal properly (almost no clay in the soil at all, weird, huh?) and lots of plantings going on. Comfrey, mint and horseradish are super happy (the wife not as much with those plants). Who else is homesteading in the city? What issues do you run into?
 
master pollinator
Posts: 379
Location: Durham, NC
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Eric Tolbert wrote:We currently live in a city, on a typical suburban lot, about .25 acres. Good news, it's on a corner so it's slightly larger than the surrounding lots and I only have two neighbors actually adjoining and they are both super chill about my backyard "projects". I've got mini-hugels, a pond we're struggling to seal properly (almost no clay in the soil at all, weird, huh?) and lots of plantings going on. Comfrey, mint and horseradish are super happy (the wife not as much with those plants). Who else is homesteading in the city? What issues do you run into?



I also am "homesteading" in the middle of a city.  I don't really think of it as homesteading, because that seems like a grandiose term for what I'm doing. I look at this all as building skills for when I do get land and I'll have a better idea of what works.  I still rely on the grid and grocery stores and the farmer's market.

I think of it like other skills.  When I was starting out with painting, I didn't make a 4x6 foot canvas.  I made a 4x6 inch canvas and figured out how paint works.  I didn't make a rocking chair when I started woodworking.  I made a simple toolbox.  Doing the simple toolbox taught me how to use the drill and the saw and glue and clamps.  So when I have to make a rocking chair, I'm doing it with some skills in place.

So in this scenario, I think the moment you have planted one seed in the ground and watched it grow, you've gained a skill.  The moment you think about the growing seasons and plant different plants, another skill.  I've recently learned about rooting plants in my windowsill.  Next I'm gonna learn about air pruning.

What I've learned about urban homesteading is the principle of least surprise.  I have three 8' x 4' raised beds in my yard.  They look like normal raised beds, maybe a little higher than average.  In reality they're 5 foot by 4 foot hugel beds only with a sheath of wood around them to make them look like raised beds. I use gazebo corner posts as trellises, like any ponds with pretty rocks and flowers, cover my Dakota fire hole with a pretty (and shallow) fire bowl to give the illusion of shallowness, cover the intake hole with a decorative pot, etc. Basically try to make it so anyone coming by will not see a bunch of holes in the yard, but instead see some order and what they expect to see.

This isn't out of fear but I do live in a city.  Kids, police, petty criminals, homeless people, census takers, canvassers, fiber optic construction people, UPS drivers, contractors all could be walking around my yard at any given moment.  

20200330_181210.jpg
Here is one of my raised beds filled halfway up.
Here is one of my raised beds filled halfway up.
 
gardener
Posts: 1608
Location: South of Capricorn
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I'm in the city too. In the front yard, everything is in containers and looks "normal", in the back yard as long as nothing is too smelly nobody cares too much (or maybe I just don't care what they think) since I have high walls and there is no access or view. My lot is tiny- maybe 20 or max 22 meters by 7ish, and that includes the house.
I have major clay and a pretty steep slope. Over time that's been dealt with. This tropical clay soil essentially eats organic matter at a crazy speed, so I am constantly bringing in mulch material (in a place with minimal deciduous trees, it's not always easy. Especially since access to the garden is through my kitchen.).
It has been key for me to optimize my space and seek alternatives at a scale that works for me. I can't afford to waste a few square meters on compost piles, so I use bokashi buckets instead. I don't do square foot gardening but that is probably what my garden looks the most like- small zones with many, many things squeezed in together. This isn't companion gardening, it's promiscuity gardening, or maybe packed-into-a-rush-hour-train gardening.
Other challenges are pests. I may be urban but the bugs are here in the city, and they're brutal. Mice and rats, even worse. I'm exploring what can be grown in containers, and what can be grown out of season to avoid pests, and each year things seem to get a bit better.
 
pollinator
Posts: 88
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I would also say that I am building homesteading skills on an urban plot. I start the year with grand plans, and as the year progresses, I learn grand lessons.

My biggest issue starting out was getting organic matter. It's still a bottleneck, but it's improving. A huge limitation in this space is there are many buried lines and hanging ones that limit digging and planting options. We're also renters so I don't want to do things that would be problematic. That said, I can do anything reasonable.

My whole yard is visible from the street. I try to keep it neat, but this year was a failure for neatness. No one complains though, and I still get compliments. I guess people appreciate effort. And it's not a total failure. There's lots of food and flowers and the soil is definitely improving. Most importantly, I'm learning.

This year, there have been so many interruptions that I've had to come to terms with the fact that outside forces are a part of life too. The disruptions may keep me from my goals, but the circumstances required reprioritizing.
The smoke will clear and the gardens will grow.
 
gardener
Posts: 2957
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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Although I grew up in the city, my father had grown up in England during WWII. They had a veggie garden, chickens and rabbits and it made a big difference in him getting healthy food during his teenage years. He didn't know anything about permaculture but he was an environmentalist and got concerned with the way things were going with artificial fertilizers, pesticides etc. When he got the opportunity to grow veggies in a friend's back yard when we were teenagers, he took it and I can remember going to pick beans and help weed.

I'm now on acreage, but am over 60, so making a point of having veggies near at hand and in raised beds where they're easy to reach is important. I've done exactly as described above - I built a 4'x4' raised bed this spring and half-filled it with punky wood using aged compost to fill in the holes. It needs to be watered as it isn't large enough to be a true hugel, but I can usually water it only once/week, whereas most people here, water their veggies daily. I've got two more in the planning stage, and they will be taller.

I definitely agree that there are many things that can be learned about growing plants on an urban-sized plot and many ways to disguise it to look deceptively normal. Companion planting of "edible landscaping" plants can provide a polyculture that looks like regular landscaping.
 
Posts: 24
Location: New Braunfels, TX, Zone 8b, multi-generational suburban household
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I'm borrowing my parent's suburban .2 acre lot for my newfound love: gardening turned to permaculture obsession.

My raised beds were built before I found permaculture, which is a pitty! Otherwise I'd maybe try making taller raised beds and do the modified hugelkultur like the posters above.

One neighbor has always been a gardener, though now she's in her 90s and it just gets bare minimum maintenance from her sons. But I sure do appreciate her pond ever since I started growing my own food, her toads love it over here! That and the dragonflies I believe has really helped prevent myself from having a lot of problems other first time gardeners have. Though I'm still a bit confused as to what to do about the vine borers, which have been my only pest problem thus far.

We do happen to have a morning glory infestation which I personally contribute to the fact that we are in a typical neighborhood since it's not a typical weed to have around here. I can only imagine someone bought one from the nursery for fun and then later came to regret it! And now I get the fruits of that regret, lol!

I haven't gotten to the front yard yet, but my mom really wants me to pretty much rip everything out of the garden beds and redo it. I definitely want to do some more learning so I can pick good plants that are functional and decent enough for the front yard (as well satisfying her few requests.) Much of it of course is and probably will remain grass.

Aside from gardening I'm focusing on other things I can do inside to amp up my homesteading skills: baking bread, preserving goods, cooking seasonally (I signed up for a CSA to help with this in addition to my garden), and just plain figuring out how to organize and store everything... I'm not used to having a fridge full of fermented pickles and a pantry full of preserves!

I'd love to see what everyone else is doing in their urban/suburban homesteads since I'm just getting started!
 
pollinator
Posts: 295
Location: Southern Germany
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Rebecca Blake wrote:
I'd love to see what everyone else is doing in their urban/suburban homesteads since I'm just getting started!


Hi Rebecca,
we have a picture thread dedicated to Urban homesteading:
https://permies.com/t/108608/urban-suburban-permie-picture-thread

Check it out, and I might upload some more recent pictures (I am living in a small German town with a total plot surface of roughly 0.14 acres (a bit under 590 m²), although we bought an additional garden plot this summer).
 
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