Let's face it- the majority of our population lives in the city and the majority of the houses and buildings are there. Not to mention, given all we know about growing, the majority of a person's diet can come from a rather small acreage: Intense rotation, season extensions, etc. etc. My husband and I for various reasons decided to homestead in the city. My goal is to see how sustainable I can make our place while having people say - oh, this is nice. I think I'd like to try this. We of course, like so many here are low on income and time, big on ideas. We chose a property with good south-facing windows. An old brick house. In the Midwest there are an abundance of these. Many have decent sized lots. Ours is 0.22 acres. I thought the most difficult part of growing here would be temperature and light. This is where I put forth my initial efforts, creating heat-capturing microclimates, but I was wrong. The most difficult part of growing in a city is the varmint. No one is killing and eating them-except our dog. Yes, she's partially hired for that. The other things she was hired for include but are not limited to bed warming, ego boosts, alarm, alarm clock, composter, educator, and nanny.
Back on topic- Our first 1/2 season, a back-handed glance in the direction of gardening among the other hundred of move-in tasks, fed the varmint and barely us. As we work toward pest control, or shall I say better population balance among fuzzy herbivores, we faced other issues. The homestead. As much as I would like to live outdoors, reality is we spend a lot of time in the house and the house is old and tired. It needs TLC. Many of these problems can be long-term solved with more sustainable practices. Old houses sink plus the land around them depletes in organic matter, making them the lowest spot. raising the level of earth, with reinforcing cement on/in the old bricks will improve climate control and reduce basement moisture issues. Rain barrels will help with flooding and watering and providing fresh water for house-hold uses, and again-more temperature control. Rain barrels can be used for fresh drinking water. Yes- it will need to be filtered, but it will have only aerial toxins, not ground toxins too. Plants and arbors placed strategically will help with wind issues and temperature fluctuations. Updating the fire place to a high-efficiency wood burner (sorry Paul - it's in a bad place for a rocket mass) while improving the windbreak of trees and chaparral will cut energy costs and decrease the chances of limbs falling where we don't want them to. Growing plants indoors for year-round food and humidity control will also help with energy. Wind turbines will slow the wind and provide renewable energy. I've got a rocket mass planned next to some raised beds that can easily be covered for season extension. And, of course, a food forest of delicious perennials and chickens (yes, the city allows).
I would like to get us off sewage, but since we live in a wetland, water over-abundance is an issue. I think choosing the right plants, having more abundant plants, building soil organic matter, and using both aquaponics and rainbarrels will change the dynamics enough to reduce flooding and general squishiness, but waste water in that environment might be an icky mess. We do pee in the yard occasionally though, when it is drier.
I think, when all is said and done, we will be able to get about 50% of our home-energy renewable on-site. We will be able to get 80% of our diet on-site. 30% of our current water needs. And, the place will be more solid and beautiful too. The only problem is we lack the money and time to do things as fast as we'd like. Everything in the city must be purchased and for a premium when you work during the day. Craig's List ads are answered in about 30 seconds, so 9-5-ers don't stand a chance.
I think most people in these forums are in rural land or suburban land, but perhaps we can do a shout-out to those else are in the urban jungle. Anyone else forging ahead in a similar vein? You got other ideas/same ideas? Pictures? Similar frustrations?
This is a very important topic to me, for the reason you point out - most people live in cities. And for me personally, the urban and suburban examples of permaculture are more relevant. I don't want to be a farmer. Also, if we're using the Zone concept from permaculture, practically everyone's Zone 1 is going to be similar whether they live in the city or the country, it seems to me. We'll all have rainwater harvesting, wastewater treatment, kitchen garden, etc close to the house.
I had some thoughts about wastewater for your wet situation: Permaculture: A designers manual, Mollison shows a diagram of a house in the wet tropics. The garden surrounding the house has several basins for wastewater. These basins are just dug into the soil, they aren't any kind of tank, and they are lushly planted with water loving species which are regularly harvested as mulch and compost ingredients for other parts of the garden. In her book Solviva, Anna Edey writes about a cold-climate variation on these basins, in which she treated wastewater with a large worm bin and had plant beds in which the effluent is filtered, similar to a constructed wetland. http://www.solviva.com/wastewater.htm
Incidentally, what sort of varmints are you having to deal with, and are they edible by humans? Would it be illegal to trap and eat them yourself, or make into dog food?
Hello. It sounds like your plans are much grander than mine, but I'm another urban dweller. We're at the point that something from our garden forms an important part of at least one meal for the family (five of us) for nearly the whole year. Every year we grow a little more. Eventually I expect to be growing most of our produce as well as raising some small animals. As we are not zoned for chickens we'll have to content ourselves with the clucking rabbits
I'm not sure if it will work as well in your climate, but one of the things that helps us with smaller pests in the garden (insects and small rodents) is a robust population of snakes. I'm pretty sure they're choosing to live in our garden because of the rocks that we line all our beds with.
Something I did notice this year that could be worth exploring, My herb bed is the only bed that I haven't had to weed oaks out of this year. The squirrels planted tons of acorns in every other corner of our yard from lawn to mulch pile. They didn't plant a single tree by the herbs. I'm wondering if the intense smells were a deterrent.
Herbs are also a good 'gateway plant' for introducing other people to urban gardening. It's easy to share fresh herbs with friends and neighbors. When people taste food with fresh herbs, they want to use more in their own cooking. Fresh herbs in the store are prohibitively expensive, but most herbs are extremely easy to grow. Even a small selection gives a small garden great bang for the buck. All of these are great incentives when you encourage someone to try growing something.
This year I planted a huge patch of dill, which I'm purposely leaving in my front yard to encourage swallowtail butterflies. I like to imagine that the small uptick in gardening in my neighborhood is somewhat related to front yard experiments like these.
Good thinking- reptiles. I have not head or seen an amphibian the whole time I've been here. This makes me think something fishy is going on. I am setting up an environment that I'm hoping will be healthy, then if they don't migrate in, I'm going to try buying natives and releasing. Maybe overly ambitious, but that is an awesome point! I also have an owl box that I need to hang up. Interlacing herbs is also on my agenda. Glad to know it worked for you. We shall see how I fair this year. I'd like to get some snap peas, but last year the fabs had no chance. Even the squash leaves were on their agenda.
I live in a urban area- 'land' being a scarce commodity here. I have a garden of 1/10th of an acre, and I rent a further 1/10th a few miles away.
We have a big old brick house too- built in 1905. We've spent the last 3.5 years doing it all up- including putting loads of insulation in and a wood burner. We did use 'plastic' insulation as this saved us the most room space, and enabled us to do all the work ourselves and meet local building codes easily. The insulation is brilliant, the house is way warmer and costs loads less to heat. No south-facing windows unfortunately (or roof, for solar panels) so I will be forever dependant on the grid. Same goes for water- although I collect rainwater for the garden the strange layout of my house and yard means there is no way to get the water to my house (only by going through someone elses house, which I don't think they would appreciate). My garden faces south but is massively overshadowed by huge trees (that I don't own and can't do anything about). This does mean that I can keep chickens without complaint- so I grow veggies in the sunniest bit of the yard and keep chickens in the shadier bits for eggs. I'd like to expand to growing my own meat- but haven't worked out how yet- I don't have the room for many chooks (currently I have 4), I can't have a rooster, and I work full time and have a partner with a chronic illness to look after- so I'm short on time too.
My rented land grows fruit trees, annual stuff that doesn't need a lot of looking after (no need for watering in this climate) and supporting plants- comfrey for compost, willow for canes and basketry materials, herbs, etc.
I don't manage to grow a significant amount of our diet, apart from in the summer. This will change as my perennials and fruit trees mature, hopefully. I need to be better at preserving (I've just finished building a large pantry in our house that should help!). And I don't manage very large harvest (other than of pumpkins)- I'm still trying all the different methods of growing to find one that works for me. My biggest varmint problem is slugs- I'm considering adding some ducks to my poultry-flock to help with this (the chooks eat some slugs, but not the giant ones). I had a greenhouse, but it was a polycarbonate one and has now mostly disintegrated. I'm hoping to build a better and bigger greenhouse this year- in the sunniest bit of the yard. My main aim is to grow more in my space (I grow 100% of our squash and pumpkin needs, and chillis, but not significant quantities of anything else).
What kinds of "varmints" are you getting? We have rabbits here (I still mourn the parsley, taken before its time...). An owl box sounds like a great idea. Is there any way to encourage other raptors (hawks, eagles, etc.)?
So, rabbits the general philosophy is that they only dig so far and jump so high, so a 3ft raised bed/fence that is lightly buried in the ground is supposed to keep them out. Even given that, rabbits are not our worst (as far as I can tell). The dog at one baby who played too close to our yard. Some members of the family had mixed feelings about this. It's the ground hog whom we invaded his/her territory that's been my biggest combatant in the way back. I suspect intentional sabotage. The squirrels I think were responsible for some raised bed damage, same with the chipmunks. Though, that chipmunk culprit was also killed via claws and jowls too. The squirrels still live. There are also raccoons and skunks. One skunk bit the dust and all holes in our yard are subject to dog breadth. The ripe tomatoes disappeared whole last year. I'm not sure who got that. They will be in a more visible, highly trafficked place this year. Those plants that I like and survived year one will be planted in more a plethora in year 2. I am also using the good-ole cut plastic bottle mini-green houses to give some seedlings a start and I am trying covering a row of beans with some dense tree branches to act as a deterrent. The deer avoid dog-infested yards, so we have been okay with them. I know there's a rat in the back who eats some compost. And, I'm sure some mice here and there. Chickens will help with this, and so will the coop. I will just have to be careful during the population crash for any desperate varmints attempting a home invasion. As the season closes, the raised beds are to be covered, so that will keep them safe from everything but the chipmunks.
We've been making slow, but steady progress on our similar-sized lot and '39 home here in Portland, OR for about 5 years. We're also raising two little ones under 5 (we actually closed on the house the same day kid #1 was born!), so i know all too well about being short on time! For our first 3 years, we had a couple rent-paying housemates, which helped immensely to finance many of our projects like new, efficient windows, woodstove insert, insulation, purchasing fruiting shrubs and plants with reckless abandon, and several large tanks for holding rainwater. These days we've been seeking out a longish-term (like 2-3 months) WWOOF style helper for assistance with the summer season and a greenhouse building project, but have yet to find our perfect match.
As for urban wildlife and their challenges...slugs are our biggest challenge! As for the furry ones, I cursed the neighborhood cats utilizing my garden beds as a litter box for a couple seasons, until developing some deterrent strategies, and acknowledging the fact that we've never have any rat or mouse problems with our compost, chicken feed, or home. We have knee-high fences in our backyard food forest to keep the free-ranging chickens out and have noticed that the squirrels still get in to cause mischief, but thankfully no major damage thus far...
I did have few thoughts regarding your water (both use and recycling) plans and speculations. My (admittedly, not super exhaustive) research has suggested that the things needed to treat rainwater and make it potable are kinda expensive. Of course, this is a good investment if your town has Flint-style problems, but otherwise it would seem cost prohibitive. If you're planning to stick with a conventional flush toilet, why not consider diverting nonpotable rainwater to this use? When our rainwater/greywater guys helped install our two 330gal storage totes last year, it was suggested that it could (at least the way our home is set up) easily be plumbed (for about $800) to divert rainwater to use to fill the toilet talk. Alas, we need every drop of our collected rain water to keep the garden happy in the dry months here, and since we already had switched to a dual-flush low water use toilet that had taken a chunk out of our sewer bill, it seemed to me that the cost vs. savings would take a while to break even. And speaking of toilets and such. How about your basic Jenkins-style humanure compost? Being waterless, you wouldn't have to worry about flooding issues. We're getting pretty close to having everything set up to transition in that direction, and the biggest challenge of this method in a city setting that I've encountered is having to sacrifice precious space for compost that needs to rest for a long time. (And the fear that if something goes awry, your neighbors will likely not be happy about the smell)
Anyway, viva la urban homestead! Its one of my favorite topics of conversation . Hopefully I can share some pics this week during nap time!
Gabe- I like the diverted toilet thing, but now I'm wondering if I can't actually just divert the rainwater to the hot water. There it should get hot enough to kill anything....right? I need to investigate, if I have water left after the garden. Yes, that supposed refuse rainwater seems to get lapped up pretty quickly with the garden! You have quite the sizeable barrels too! I just diverted the garage to a pond (aquaponics) and am not sure that will be enough to keep it filled when the weather dries out for a month. Do you get heavy frost/ice? That is something we must factor in plumbing.
Composting toilets...I'm not sure I would have enough space for the refuse use. That is my biggest quandary with those. This robust ecosystem drops cubic feet of compost on it's self every fall (which I use thoroughly), but this is without me increasing the abundance and using N-fixers, but maybe I don't know enough.
Amit Enventres wrote: I'm wondering if I can't actually just divert the rainwater to the hot water. There it should get hot enough to kill anything....right?
I think if the water heater is set hot enough to kill pathogens (minimum 160F I think) it is dangerously hot for use in washing, bathing, etc, especially if there are very young or very old people in the house. Also, one is not supposed to introduce rainwater into the house system which is connected to the municipal system, because of worries about contamination of the municipal water supply (unlikely as that is).
I have a Berkey filter for drinking water, but I've never used it, it's just in case of emergency. When we did have an actual emergency - frozen pipes - and had to use rainwater, we just boiled it for drinking, cooking, and washing. I think some people set up solar water heaters, which can get hot enough to kill pathogens. Again, this should be separate from the municipal water supply, only connected to the rainwater supply.
I am in much the same boat. We live on a small lot, pretty much exactly the same size as yours. It was never purchased with the idea of being self-sustainable. In fact, when we purchased it I had little thought about even growing anything in the 10' x 10' garden in the back yard. But I did plant a few things and it snowballed from there. Time and money will always be constraints with both my husband I working full time, but we have made amazing progress the last couple years since we decided that we wanted to become more self-sufficient than just hunting for our own meat.
The majority of the front lawn has been removed and is being converted to forest garden. The remainder of it will probably be converted in the next year or two. That 10' x 10' annual vegetable garden that came with the house is now 30' x 45', although I am partially relocating it this year. It will have roughly the same squarefootage but will run down the side of the property being about 20 x 70. Future plans are to convert a large section of the remaining back yard to forest garden also.
We raise meat rabbits (great for manure too!) on our property and will be adding chickens in the coming weeks.
We used to have issues with raccoon, and I have my trapping license to trap them if need be / for food for us and/or our dog. Although since we do now have a dog, we no longer seem to have issues with raccoon or any other furry pests.
There are definitely a lot of challenges working with a small urban lot in a small city (pop 20,000). City bylaws are a big challenge. I would love to have a goat, or more than 3 chickens, or to build a greenhouse bigger than 100sqft, but so long as I am in the city I have to forego those dreams.
Space is the other challenge. It is such a valuable resource. I am always shuffling plans, managing down to the tiniest details where to place trees and shrubs. Whether I plant trees 12' apart or 10' is the difference between whether or not I get mulberries, jujubes, or persimmons at all on the property. There is always the dilemma. How much do I REALLY need walnuts, because they are such a large tree. Where can I fit them? I am going to do the "two trees in one hole" method and put a pair of walnuts on the property for pollination and better production than a single tree, but it was a hard choice. I had to give up the possibility of putting some other trees in because there just isn't space to grow everything I want. A small pond is another thing I would really, really like, but have yet to be able to figure out where it could fit in. I would love a BIG pond that could house fish, but that I wont be able to do here. Alternately I am thinking of growing tilapia in tanks, but even that might be tough. I wish I had more room to just experiment and try things and didn't have to think everything through so carefully to maximize my use of space.
We are going to add rainbarrels, and I have thought about diverting our own grey water away from the city system for us to use. I would love to be able to add solar panels, but that is a $16,000.00 investment that we just don't have money for right now, and probably will not any time soon.
Thanks for the heads-up Tyler. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get there. at this point I'm not expecting a whole lot of extra water, but we shall see. We do have a hot water urn for tea/coffee, so that's probably hot enough, but then, we would have to ensure everyone knows not to drink it until it gets up to temp. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get there.
Kalin - That's quite a sizeable garden! I know how you feel when it comes to choices. I couldn't make decisions so I decided I'm pruning everything like crazy and getting everything, and that's that - lol. Not sooo permie maybe, but then - I'll get lots of sticks for other things so maybe it is. I also decided to grow stuff indoors, or am at least trying. I'm happy with my success on lemons, rosemary, ball basil, pineapple, potatoes, and oregano. I need more training on peppers, fig, and aloe. I am basically the crazy plant lady.
What about fish in the rain barrels? Not as pretty as a pond, but you get fertigation too! I might do this, once I get the rain barrel thing going.
As for the goat. Yes! - I'd love a sheep. I joke that some day I will get one, give it a poodle hair-cut, and teach it to bark. Then no one will be the wiser.
It doesn't look like much, but I just thinned this first peach tree so that all the forming peaches are at least six inches apart. I have more than thirty on this tree. There are three other peach trees, all with different bloom times planted in a row twenty feet long. On top of that, I use the same trellis to grow beans during the summer. Behind them (or on the house side) I rotate the edible plants. Right now it's dill, but there are melon and squash seedlings already growing on the edges for this summer. Last summer I had sweet potatoes there. I've a few perennial flowers interspersed (echinacea, shasta daisies, false indigo) to keep living roots in the ground, fix nitrogen, support beneficial insects, and (not incidentally) keep the front yard garden looking like landscaped suburbia.
The technique is called espalier. If you haven't found it yet, there's a lot of different styles of pruning. This one is a belgian fence, but there's a lot of other options. Personally, I'd love to try a stepover cordon for garden borders, but I haven't found the right spot to put one yet.
You also might look into grafting related trees onto a common root stock. I think those are sold as 'fruit cocktail' trees. I've seen it with apples, pears, stone fruit, and citrus. I haven't tried this myself.
I've got something similar going on in my yard! aesthetics is definitely an important factor when that many other eyes are constantly looking at your "project." My front yard focuses on perennial flowering plants with edible or tea value - though nothing too obvious in case some two-legged mammal gets any ideas - or at least- not in the part I don't intend for eating.
So the main portion: violetta artichokes (only arties I've seen zone 6), hardneck garlic, roses, blue berries, cherry, decorative corn (for flour), seed poppies, lavender, chamomile (the perennial ground-cover type), chives, oregano, creeping and regular thyme, sage, echanacea, some existing landscape for rocket mass fuel, and a certain amount of lawn dreaming of that poodle-cut sheep. I saw a brilliant idea where someone interspersed bulbs in their lawn that finished their life cycle before the lawn needed mowing. I am considering doing this with a peace sign. Right now I think I might fill in some gaps with purple cauliflower, cillantro, and other pretty annuals (in hopes they might self-seed).
Now for promoting my own philosophies of gardening and sharing to the rest of the worl: I am also including one corner of pallette garden for the community to harvest, highlighting the biblical concept of a "peyah." I am also planning on turning the tree lawn into an edible pollinator garden with pumpkins and other things that would incentivize others in the neighborhood to garden. From the tree in the tree lawn, I plan on hanging a fruit basket and putting anything extra I have in there with a sign saying "free" or some equivalent.
The side yard - again - neighbors can see. In fact, they have a tendency to knock things down and trample. So, there is some wheat planted over the lawn, with string-and-stake fence. I found this actually works alright because the majority of lawn grass is warm season and the wheat is cold season so it will out-compete and really weaken the grass's hold on the lawn, especially if you cut the grass short first (during the cold season) and cover the wheat seeds (and thereby grass) with straw or something else that provides the darkness necessary for the seed, but makes it that much more difficult on the lawn. This must be done REALLY early in the season. My biggest gardening trick is probably starting early to out compete. There is a saying about that. Warning: you have to fence it off or people wonder what you're doing and you may receive notes from the city. The wheat will be followed by many ginormous sunflowers (which will hopefully appease the neighbors for the wheat and keep them from mashing the garden again). The cycle, if successful, will repeat. I may include some beans in with the sunflowers, if all goes well. I guess that will be left up to the ground hogs and bunnies.
The back yard- more neighbors! The fences will be lined with edibles so that the neighbors can get any produce on their side (how's that for inclusive?) and I will get the stuff on my side or anything they miss. The pergola - more plants to hide the structure. I'll be using hardy kiwi. I'm going to try to give the outside of the house an elven village feel for my own enjoyment and for the 7 sets of neighbors who can peer in to see. After all, who doesn't think that's beautiful? It even includes some lawn for play.
Please let me know if you have any tricks I'm missing. Good luck gardening!
I have done the bulbs in the grass myself. Muscari unfortunately looks like rather unkempt grass during the winter months, but is a beautiful and fragrant early spring flower.
There's also a wild bulb (rain lily) which I let grow throughout the grass and wherever it sprouts in my beds. It blends well with the grass and doesn't mind being mowed. When it blooms in fall I mow around them until the seeds are mature. The population is slowly increasing.
If my saffron crocus survive in their current location, I may transplant some of them into the lawn in the future. I planted them for the first time this fall, and only one bloomed. All of the plants (50 bulbs) have had healthy grassy leaves all winter, so I have great hopes for this fall.
Honestly, it seems like you have more tricks and more challenges than myself. I am blessed with great neighbors. I can't imagine having to guard my garden from any of them. Even the more distant neighbors who are walking the block smile and wave if they see me working in the garden.
On top of being theoretically edible, they're extraordinarily beautiful. And it was very easy to harvest the one that did bloom without sacrificing the flower. Saffron is supposed to have tons of health benefits but only a few studies have been done. Saffron is notorious for being one of (if not) the most expensive spices.
I'm actually at the very hottest edge of it's climate range. If they survive, but don't flower next year, I'll transplant them into a different microclimate until I've found success or ran out of locations. If they don't survive, I'll buy more to keep trying with.
These are some really good ideas. I'm still trying to figure out how to make grow in abundance in a small space. I'm mainly using pots, so I end up with one plant per pot, which gives me some food but not a lot. I did build a planter to grow out a variety of lettuces and leafy greens, but I end up with the problem of having a lot of leafy greens all at one time and I can't eat them all, then none, so this year I want to try a more staged rotation so I get a perpetual supply of salad greens! I have had the most success with leafy greens grown off the ground, so snails and other creatures cant get to them. They also seem to do well in partial sun, low sun conditions, which is what I end up with in the back. In the front I get full sun and I'm trying to do strawberries in hanging baskets this year. What else does good in planter boxes and full sun?
Finally found my people! We live in suburban neighborhood on .75 of acre backed up to a creek. At this point our landscaping is mostly large pine and fir trees. I stated ripping out the landscape of roses and over sized evergreens to create a dwarf orchard in our front yard. We have twins who are only two so I’m limited to the work I can actually get done during daylight hours. I’ve decide to go more with a permanent food forest along the edges of the property where the pine and for trees are established. Our city just passed an ordinance for chickens but only as a trial for 20 properties at this point. We choose to support local CSA and purchase our meat and dairy as local as we can. Once the kids are older we are planning to have producing trees and bushes. I think supporting the local food producers is as important as producing as much as you can. In turn we will share our harvest when we are able. I think in urban areas it all about sharing the wealth and creating a community of productive land and partnerships with your neighbors.
I know this is an old post, but i just had to give a hearty 'hell yes' to the city varmit issue. I have two working cats which handle the rat, rabbit, and vole issues. Literally nothing gets rid of the city bears, so you just learn to build really strong chicken coops, and finally the ground hogs. Oh lord the groundhogs... We have resorted to unmentionable means to rid the neighborhood of these pests. Some neighbors have noted their gardens are getting attacked less. We just smile and nod.
She still doesn't approve of my superhero lifestyle. Or this shameless plug: