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Summary - a year on my urban homestead  RSS feed

 
Amit Enventres
Posts: 441
Location: Ohio, USA
28
dog fish food preservation forest garden fungi solar trees urban woodworking
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Once a year I write a summary of what I learned on my urban homestead. This year is early because I had a moment and my brain was getting full. I put it at Permies in case others trying out the ubarn homestead thing want to read and learn, though this year I'd say it's so much it sounds a bit like gibberish. All and all though, we are averaging 3 months coverage from the plants that did take and an overall food bill reduction. The bad news is it's nothing to live off of yet. The other good news is there's still a lot of blank spaces and perennials not yet in production. So, thus far I think 6 months of produce is very reasonable (given the average produce needs) and I have high hopes of achieving more. I still have anomalies like: I have to shop what I think is about 30 nice fires worth of wood, but don't have anywhere efficient or indoors to burn it.

Enjoy.


The season is almost over, so I want to record what I've learned in case anyone would like to follow in my footsteps, if even just a toenail.

Overall, the fence made a HUGE difference in productivity, as a trellis and as an arena for dog-to-rodent combat. The raised beds also probably made things much less inticing, requiring a 3ft jump for sall rodents to access some produce. Still, by the end of the year, the tangled-ness of weeds in the back area garden led it to be an enclave for pests. This was agrevated, I'm sure, by the open compost pile. I'm hoping to hack back most of the weeds this fall with high hopes of maintaining that detangled-ness in spring.Perhaps this is a pipe dream, but my hope is also to have less building to do by then, and therefore allow me to focus on maintenance. The front remained mostly pest-free, except the corn, which I sprinkled with an accidentally overly spicey soup. Apparently all habeneros are good for in my family is as a pesticide. The side yard, despite being next to my neighbor's drive, is the most pest heavy. I think human pests and animals. All the sunflower heads went mysteriously missing one day. The wheat got pummled by something and the grain gone. Harvest wheat early. Plant non-desirable edibles (quinoa, sorghum, etc.)

As for my grain trials, quinoa performed again, and finished fast, even at late plantings. Sorghum the same: it gets tall, gets seed, done fast. Corn will produce, but not as much as it could with an additional 2 months, so this needs to be planted early. Same with sunflowers.  Chia takes too long to grow to produce here. Amaranth is beautiful and seems to produce like quinoa, but one flower stalk went missing this morning- a bad sign. Buckwheat is just proving its self again not fit as a grain for this climate. It falls down in the rain and rots into the soil. I might get some grain out of it, but each stalk only holds about 8 kernels of 2mm-sized grain, so that alone doesn't make it worth it. This is my second year trialing buckwheat and a similar sized was reached last time too. The acorns fell about the same as last year, which is excellent. I intend to try my hand at mash.  So, the best grains for this area (Northern Ohio) seem (thus far) to be sunflower, quinoa, sorghum, corn, potentially wheat and amaranth (if I can eat it before the pests). I have yet to get my hands on millet, but hope that I will be able to trial it with the Quinoa and Sorghum next year.

The tomato row was great. I have a lot of green ones I will be pulling to the basement to turn. The snap peas were so much that I contimplated gathering some for winter storage. However, it was never just enough. Both these species underwent some harsh initial conditions with the fence design allowing the neighbor's weed wacker to slip under the fenceline and wack. Also, the fence, which is airy and I thought would make a good trelis turns out plants like thin ropes to wrap their tendrils around thin string, so I added that later. The starting time of the plants, however, I got just right, so I think that helped make them strong and well-adapted by the time they fruited. I was a little too heavy on the cherry tomato end of things, but that is in part because cherry tomatoes popped up at random in other places and I didn't bother doing anything about it. Also- Amana Orange and Pink did great. Beefsteak, Roma, and Grandpa's Ugly did pretty darn bad, so obviously I will not be growing those varieties next year. Also, the cherries that did grow were okay flavor, but nothing as sweet as I would like, except one volunteer I'm not sure of the seed origin. Therefore, I will be looking to purchase a super-sweet heirloom or OP variety this next year and maybe crossing it with my heirlooms to raise the sugar content quickly and add more gene variety. I'm a little nervous about growing in the same place again next year, however we will have winter cold and several other plants grown there prior to the return of the tomato, so we shall see. The onions grown underneith did better than the last time I did onions, but definately needed improvement. I think that will come with soil improvements and raising them a little taller than the adjacent weeds. Again, maintenance  being neglected.

Asperagus is gaining ground in back, which is good because it is standing against a lot of weed pressure. Again, the back area needs to be de-weeded. The Rose of Sharon is all over the freakin' place. This tall grass also snuffs everything out. These thorny bushes with small black berries try to out-compete the fruit trees. So, things need to change. Hopefully this fall and early winter most of what can be chopped and shoveled will be. This includes the removal of some elderberry. I thought it a good idea to plant, but the berries were not very impressive and I think something else might work better there. I have an herbalist friend who will take it. The trees growing in the back are not impressive and some are aborting their grafts (which is just fine with me) I tried to grow fruit trees from seed, but so far only got apple to sprout and non-cold tolerant. So, now I have them in the fridge and will begin to cold stratify  to see if I can get a number of cherries and other stone fruit to germinate as well. Also in the fridge are tree seeds I order. Hopefully next spring I will have a nursery of small bushes and trees. But, all and all, the trees I did plant, the losses are about what one would expect and the fruit was about what one would expect. I also note a high similarity in appearance, and maybe flavor, of goji and night shade, which could be dangerous. I then tried a goji berry fresh. It tasted more poisonous than the night shade berries. I then read further about the fruit and found people reporting shock and other horrendous things from eating them. So, goi is now off the menu.

The vineyard is looking good. I worry a little about cold damage this winter, but it is against a wooden structure painted dark and not far from a windbreak and where are cars are parked, which should shelter it. The maypops are starting slow, but at least 2 are still alive. The artic kiwi is doing very well, looks beautiful, and the female accidentally broke and then rooted, so now I have 2! The malabar spinach was also impressive, though the flavor a bit harsh. I hope the flowers produce so we will have the opportunity to do it again. The hyacinth bean did not produce enough to wow and the flavor was "eh" at best. If it some how survives the winter or upon fall clean-up I discover a bunch of seed, I'll be happy. Otherwise I probably will try some other edible pea. I tried (over the last few years) a late planting of shelling peas and have had them readily eaten by something or look pathetic. I also tried yellow bean. I did get one producer, so I saved some seed. I guess I will keep trying since N-fixers are important to the garden. However, I think that because I have been fertilizing N, it underminds the N-fixers advantage, but since N is less available in spring (because of the cold) I think that's why if I catch it early, I can get good beans then. I think this problem will nutralize as the soil develops and I can see my nutrient balance is where I want it.

My cucumbers were a no go. Pest issues. My zucchini caught the vine borer. I will be switching to Trombocino or other edible gourds to replace zucchini. I will just have to keep trying with the cucs. Oddly, the ones in the front that received neglect did alright. Still, nothing to write-home-about. In fact, the fruit looked like a hybrid between ball and straight eight, which is not good. I might need to just purge my seed and start over.

The gourd did great! I never thought gardening could mean grow containers, but aparently it can! I think this is an interesting garden direction. We must import and pay for unsustainable other things besides food, so growing them  is just as helpful as food. I think, since the bushel gourd did so well this year, I will probably not grow it again for another 2 years. However, as the food and fuel part of the homestead settle, I hope to explore this part and see how it can be more integrated. The butternut did alright, but I saw a lot of abortions and overall production was not impressive. It also diseased and died back about 1/2way through the summer. So, I'm thinking of seeing if I can get new seed from a different genetic stalk, especially one with more mildew resistance. I also want to try pumpkins and watermelon, especially in the front yard, with edible gourd and butternut climbing the house. In the backyard I will probably try some other squash, none from the same species so I don't have to worry about cross-pollination.

Okra did poorly again. I did get some seed from the biggest, I may plant again. We like okra and the pretty flowers, but one piece per plant is unacceptable. Also in the front doing well is calendula. I have high hopes for selling this locally, once I fill my own jar. This can also, supposedly be a dye. I supposedly planted a poppy that I hope is perennial because it didn't grow to flower this year. In fact, neither did my artichoke, but they are supposed to be good to zone 6 and so with a little mulch I am hoping to get some yum next year. The chamomile and lavender look like they will survive until next year, which is all I can ask for in an establishing perennial.

The majority of the other herbs are not impressive. I got plenty of basil grown in other places, but the thyme, oregano, etc. in the official herb garden are all under impressive. I have tried fertilizing and mulching, but maybe it's something in the lava rock that just detours growth, or the degree I harvested last winter. Regardless, I want to keep it there and expand it. I want it to be the Peyah (corner dedicated for the neighborhood to pick, if they want)  since no one touches the tomatoes or cucs there, making it look bad. I also want to research more how to really make these things grow because it should be the perfect herb garden location.

Tomatillos were slow to mature,  but they seem to finally be getting there. I accidentally planted a golden berry in the front flower bed thinking it would be small or pretty. I was wrong. It's giant and bushy. HOWEVER, if it does go perennial AND taste good, I will keep it and breed for more. Otherwise, atleast it needs to get out of the flower beds. It seemed like a disease hit the ground cherries, but they still produced and just enough, so I will probably do it again next year. I am thinking of finding a shorter season tomatillo variety though because this one is cutting it too close to frost. Potatoes didn't produce. Too much shade, me thinks.

The black raspberry was alright. I think it needs some TLC for better flavor, but we shall see next year. I am letting the black berry grow in front to see what will happen. The black berries on the side gotten eaten before we could. The commercial-strawberry production is rather pathetic, but the alpine was alright. For a while, almost every two days there was an alpine, but maybe once-a-week there would be a commercial, even though I have more commercial than Alpines. Thus, I plan on changing the strawberry plants slowly to be more alpine, though I am still trying to fill out my strawberry bed. I also plan on adding "heritage" red raspberry to the back corner, probably closer than I should to the black native raspberry, but Heritage produces 2x a year, the black raspberry, once.

The kohl crops all caught aphids, especially when flowering thus ruining my seed production. This may be a nitrogen issue (like the beans). I plan on trying again in the front of the house and seeing if that more depleated soil is better for the kohls. Radishes were more or less a failure too. Small, early flower, no bulb. I guess me and radishes are just not meant to be, which is just fine by me since I don't like eating them anyway.

Lettuce worked well, but could use less neglect. I kept planting it in places that got shaded and then pests would get it. The perennial greens look good, but I need to remember what I planted and what is weed. Green onions had little production, but that could also be shading. A lot of the issue with shading has to do with me planting the kohl crops in the raised beds because the ground wasn't prepped and I thought they would finish in 60 days. But, they have taken atleast all summer and some are just heading out now that it's fall. Lots of leaves, indicating a nitrogen issue. I also need to remember to plant fall lettuce in the heat of summer when the thought of it seems obsurd since now that it is fall, I have no true mild lettuce, only harsh greens.

The pond still leeks profusely, making the fish miserable and small with low winter survivability. Branches from weeds fell in, making it even more shallow. It will have to be properly sealed and water-proofed. Hopefully I can find a semi or better non-toxic sealant. I also need to direct the irrigation to leak profusely into the pond for circulation and re-fills. The shade did help and the fish look healthy, just small. They lived off of mosquitoes and other natural things and all and all, things went better than last year.

I didn't get to getting fowl, but that's because they have always been at the end of the to do list. However, I did collect bottles and ended up setting up an out-door cat house to harbor a stray cat. So far that has been kind of cool, but a little expensive. I think, however, a lot of this has to do with my lack of knowledge of cats. I also think the cat that comes around is a shmoozer more than a hunter.

Some of the winter plans are to complete the front bed and rain barrel set-up, build the green house, cut out unwanted perennial vegetation, start,split, buy and plant perennials I want. For early spring I hope to use the green house to get a nice head-start and also finish stuccoing and painting the raised beds, finish the pond, and purchase and raise some fowl.

As for energy saving part of sustainability, I am pretty sure we have made negligible difference. Much of the progress in this part has to do with education, calculation, and planning. Many projects require work, energy, and $$$. However, by this time next year, I do hope to have many of my energy-related projects done.

All and all, dollars spent on this year's crop: about $50 (starter mix, fertilizers and amenities, and raised bed soil) Amount harvested:
15 butternut x $2 = $30
8 cuttings Lettuce x $2 = $16
16 harvest baskets of tomatoes x $3 = $48
3 months supply garlic = $15
3 months supply onions = $15
8 containers mixed berries x $4 = $32
8 gourds x $5 = $40
Calendula petals (1/2 masson jar) = $5
Chamomile about five teas = $1
28 Basil harvests x$2 = $56
1 jar Grap leaves = $1
16 harvests snap peas x $3 = $48
8 harvests ground cherries x $3 = $24
1 big harvest hot peppers= $3
Total = $284 gain to my pocket book for gardening (this does not include set-up, which is lots of work and probably costs about $220 this year. However, next year it will probably cost less since it is that much more set-up.

On a side note, though tangentally related in some ways, I had hung a small basket with extra seed from the tree lawn tree and today at our side door a bag of produce arrived with a thank you note for some cucumber seed. It warmed my heart, and if growing community is part of permaculture and homesteading in the city (which I think it is), then that's a good sign and I hope to some day make a seed share house and hang it from the tree so that seed sharing can be a little more official than a sign taped to a basket, along with a pumpkin patch for ages 10 and under in our front yard, and the Peyah (based on the biblical corner of the field). I'd say a produce bucket too, but as it turns out, I already have a lot of requests for produce I don't even have much of. It turns out people are generally happy to receive fresh garden produce.

I'm sure I will continue to learn more through harvest, as this year isn't done, but since I had a moment and a lot to write, I figured I'd go with it.
 
Jason Padvorac
Posts: 103
Location: Northeast of Seattle, zone 8: temperate with rainy winters and dry summers.
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I had a similar experience with wheat -- I had a patch of about 25 plants (growing out some rare seed), and a bunch of heads got eaten. I think growing grains in small quantities makes them more exposed to rodent predation. There is a small patch ripe at any given time, so the local population can consume a large portion of the total in one go. Whereas if you had a quarter acre of wheat, say, for most of the year that isn't providing much or any nutrition for the local rodents, then all of a sudden they would have a ton of it to eat, and wouldn't be able to dent it as hard before it was harvested.

The gourd did great! I never thought gardening could mean grow containers, but aparently it can! I think this is an interesting garden direction. We must import and pay for unsustainable other things besides food, so growing them  is just as helpful as food. I think, since the bushel gourd did so well this year, I will probably not grow it again for another 2 years.


What are you using the gourds as containers for? And are you not growing for 2 years because it made enough containers for you, or for some other reason?

On a side note, though tangentally related in some ways, I had hung a small basket with extra seed from the tree lawn tree and today at our side door a bag of produce arrived with a thank you note for some cucumber seed. It warmed my heart, and if growing community is part of permaculture and homesteading in the city (which I think it is), then that's a good sign and I hope to some day make a seed share house and hang it from the tree so that seed sharing can be a little more official than a sign taped to a basket, along with a pumpkin patch for ages 10 and under in our front yard, and the Peyah (based on the biblical corner of the field).


That is wonderful!
 
Amit Enventres
Posts: 441
Location: Ohio, USA
28
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Jason Padvorac wrote:I had a similar experience with wheat -- I had a patch of about 25 plants (growing out some rare seed), and a bunch of heads got eaten. I think growing grains in small quantities makes them more exposed to rodent predation. There is a small patch ripe at any given time, so the local population can consume a large portion of the total in one go. Whereas if you had a quarter acre of wheat, say, for most of the year that isn't providing much or any nutrition for the local rodents, then all of a sudden they would have a ton of it to eat, and wouldn't be able to dent it as hard before it was harvested.


What are you using the gourds as containers for? And are you not growing for 2 years because it made enough containers for you, or for some other reason?


That is wonderful!


Yeah- I agree with you re: small grain harvests. It's pretty annoying, but if I'm going to grow things here, it's the battle I'm going to have to fight. I'm curious about those rare seeds your growing. Having your harvest taken has got to be much more frustrating with rare seed than just a single lost crop!

The gourds are bushel gourds, which get pretty huge. I wanted a few more serving bowls/mixing bowls, maybe another picking basket, a roof to a seed-exchange hanging box, and have a few friends who have interest in experimenting, but all and all they are too big to make regular-sized bowls, and far as I know they are not edible. There are other gourds which are smaller and at certain stages (or all stages in some cases) are edible. So I want to try these other varieties to make up for the bowls we accidentally break every year. The bushel gourd has a wide enough bottom to make a nice plate, but we typically don't break enough plates to justify a planting every year. I plan on cleaning and then putting a good waterproof food safe finish on them. It will be my first try. My one and only gourd I accidentally cured then cleaned before was used for garlic storage this past year. In the future I could use the gourds as grain storage of even lidded containers for food storage. But, I plan on working my way down the price ladder from most expensive thing to purchase to least.

Thanks for the encouragement!
 
Jason Padvorac
Posts: 103
Location: Northeast of Seattle, zone 8: temperate with rainy winters and dry summers.
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Wow, I just googled bushel gourds. Those look amazing!

Fortunately, the rare seeds I was growing out are for a variety of perennial wheat, so I should get another chance next year. And I did manage to harvest some of the seeds before the critters got them, I just hope they were mature enough to be viable. I'll have to see!
 
Amit Enventres
Posts: 441
Location: Ohio, USA
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Jason- now I'm REALLY interested. If the seed end up being worth while and can handle zone 5, I would be really excited. Good luck!
 
Jason Padvorac
Posts: 103
Location: Northeast of Seattle, zone 8: temperate with rainy winters and dry summers.
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They might! It came from Caleb Warnock in Alpine, Utah, which is I think zone 6 or 7, and in any case gets pretty cold in the winter.

PM me you email address and I'll put you on my waitlist for it.
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