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Introduction and a Question About Assessing a Site  RSS feed

 
                        
Posts: 5
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Okay as this is my first post on Permies I think I should introduce myself and say how I ended up here.

For a few months now I've noticed a real change in my attitude towards life, what I thought was important (earning lots of money and spending it) now seems pointless. I realised I was trying to fill my life with things because I didn't have a sense of purpose or direction.

At the same time I found myself looking around and at how wonderful nature was and realising how lucky we all our to have a chance at life. Only to realise what we're doing to it as a specie.

Our whole society seems to be built on buying things, and then buying more things to go with the things we've already bought.

This might not be eye opening to any of you but coming from a technology fanboy and good old walking credit card like myself this is a real out of body experience.

Me and my wife are calling this my early mid-life crisis.

Anyway I've had a real urge to get back to nature and spend time doing something meaningful, something that feels like a real days work rather than sitting behind a desk and I can't think of anything more appealing than getting down and dirty in the soil and growing my own food and maybe even a small farm (although that's a bit of a pipe dream right now).

We have recently moved to give us some outdoor space, it's not much but it's a vast improvement on the nothing we had before. It's a small backyard (concrete floor) about 16ft x 10ft. At the moment it doesn't seem to get much light because we are surrounded by other houses and have tall garden walls so most of it is in shade (something I understand will change as the suns axis alters).

Anyway I want to be able to grow my own food and really reduce what we are purchasing from the supermarket.

My question is this: Will this space be suitable for growing vegtables in the volume that I will need (two adults, two children) and how do I assess it to make sure?







 
pollinator
Posts: 10116
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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it depends on what kind of vegetables you want and how much of them you eat.    Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, and melons require more sun than leaf vegetables.  Leaf vegetables such as lettuce, kale, chard, collards, parsley, etc can grow very well in partial sun or dappled shade.  Some of these are very nutritious and a good supplement to food from the store.  You can easily grow all you need of leaf vegetables in a small space. 

For small-space food production you might also want to look into aquaponics, which is very suitable for a yard with a cement floor because everything is grown in tanks and tubs.

http://www.aquaponics.net.au/aqua1/

You can also increase your space for growing food and take advantage of any available sun by putting trellis up the sun-facing walls to grow peas, beans, squash, melons, and tomatoes.
 
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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Welcome!

If you have a compass and know your latitude, you can get an idea of how much direct sun you will get during the warmer parts of the growing season.  Quite a few plants do just fine with 3 or 4 hours of direct sun a day.

With that size space you can grow a pretty good amount of veggies.  Take a look at Mel Bartholomew's square foot gardening books for some ideas on how much you can grow in a small space.  Their elevated garden beds may work in your scenario.
http://www.squarefootgardening.com/

The books should be available through most library systems.

If you add in a worm bin to provide some compost and fertility you could have a great system going pretty quickly.
 
pollinator
Posts: 4437
Location: North Central Michigan
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recently...moved....could mean you are only affected by wintier sun and that you might have more sun in the summertime..so I guess it is a wait and see for that..but you can grow a lot of salad crops in pots in the shade ..

You also might be able to raise things up higher to get more sun or paint the walls white or put up reflective material to also bring in more sun.

might I suggest reading Gaia's Garden by toby hemenway, good section on urban gardens there..also do some googling of shade gardening.

 
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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Yes, Welcome to Permies!

And do 'search' here (by using the search button in the upper right-hand section of each page) - there are many post, links and videos that will help you regarding to the possibilities for your small bit 'O land, which have already been laid out nicely.

All the best with your new life direction (or mid life crises)!
 
                        
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First of all thank you for all of your response. It's great to see a thriving community like this 

KB - I actually looked at Aquaponics first but ruled it out due to the high number of root vegetables I wanted to grow. I also wanted to try and stick to sustainable ways as much as possible. Essentially if the lights went out tomorrow could I still do it and because of the reliance of Aquaponics and Hydroponics on pumps that just didn't seem like the right choice.

Below is a list of veg I'm looking to grow, all stuff we use at the moment.

I also forgot to mention that I'm based in the North West of England so a greenhouse might be my only option if I need to continue producing beyond the summer months...


Beetroot
Broccoli
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Celeriac
Celery
Cucumber
Leeks
Lettuce (Various)
Onions (Red and White)
Parsnip
Peas
Peppers
Spinach
Squash
Swede
Sweet Corn
Tomato
Turnips
Garlic
Potatoes (Various)
Strawberries
Rhubarb
Blackcurrants
Raspberries
Sage
Coriander
Fennel
Oregano
Rosemary
Thyme
Pasley
Mint
Basil
Chives
Aloe Vera

I'd also love to grow apples and citrus fruit but I really don't have the space or climate.

Thanks for all the suggestions I'm going to take them onboard as I continue to work on my plans.
 
            
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I recommend using self-watering containers.  The ones I use are from www.earthbox.com.  With these, you can eveen grow a garden on a skyscraper balcony or roof.
 
Posts: 505
Location: Eastern Kansas
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The space hogs on your list are sweet corn and peas. The vining plants like cucumbers and possibly squash can be trellised up along a fence to prevent them from being space hogs.

Excellent plants for a small plot include the salad greens and carrots and beets: you get a high production from a small area. Lettuce turns bitter when it gets hot out but cabbage does not: that means that mid summer you might be buying lettuce but cutting cabbage and carrots into the salad from your own yard.

Lastly, the expense. Every gardening catalog will be delighted to sell you rototillers and everything that it is possible to use in a garden: DON'T! With a garden your size you need a shovel and a hoe for sure, but the other things you can work around. But them if you want them but you do not HAVE to!

You can water your yard with a watering can or a hose or a fancy irrigation set up with a timer: your decision! You can buy seeds from the dollar store for 33 cents or you can buy  organic heirloom seeds for a few dollars a packet: again your call!

I cannot tell you how many hours of sun your vegetables will need, as I garden in mostly sun.

Have fun! Spring sun on your back, birdsong, those lovely white butterlies that lay eggs on your cabbages which you will pick off: very relaxing, and I go back in feeling exhilarated!
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 10116
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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UrbanGrower wrote:

KB - I actually looked at Aquaponics first but ruled it out due to the high number of root vegetables I wanted to grow. I also wanted to try and stick to sustainable ways as much as possible. Essentially if the lights went out tomorrow could I still do it and because of the reliance of Aquaponics and Hydroponics on pumps that just didn't seem like the right choice..



The pumps don't use that much energy, but if you're  interested in growing only in ways that won't use any energy then never mind. 

(PS, I'm not KB)
 
                        
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Thanks Terri.

Ludi, sorry about that I must have scrolled a bit too quickly, lol

It's not so much the energy usage but the complex components required. For example if the pump failed and I couldn't actually go and buy a replacement would there be a natural way to replace this. It's a bit survivalist but having recently read a fair bit about peek oil I have to wonder what kind of goods might be available in future.

However I really am compelled by the faster growth rates in Hydro and Aqua. I bought Bill Murray's DVDs - interesting stuff.

On that note have you heard of anyone successfully growing root veg using Aquaponics?
 
Posts: 107
Location: West Seattle, WA
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UrbanGrower wrote:
It's not so much the energy usage but the complex components required. For example if the pump failed and I couldn't actually go and buy a replacement would there be a natural way to replace this. It's a bit survivalist but having recently read a fair bit about peek oil I have to wonder what kind of goods might be available in future.

However I really am compelled by the faster growth rates in Hydro and Aqua. I bought Bill Murray's DVDs - interesting stuff.

On that note have you heard of anyone successfully growing root veg using Aquaponics?



IMO, regardless of ability to grow them well, growing root vegetables isn't really an effective use of the aquaponics space.  You can grow a substantial amount of potatoes and onions in the summer months that will store through the winter, and carrots can be frozen or stored in the ground.  Not sure how to save beets, maybe they store well?  What other major root veggies am I missing? Ginger stores well I think...

Particularly if you're growing tilapia, you're going to be keeping a relatively warm greenhouse to help insulate the 85 degree water.  To me the best use of the growing space would be dedicated to vegetables that don't can or store well through the winter like lettuce & leafy greens (with plenty more of those overwintering outside for the spring).  Another advantage to lettuce and leafy greens is they can handle less light that you'd have in the winter. Then in the early spring you could use the aquaponics beds to get a head start on warmer weather plants like peppers or tomatoes.  That's how I'd approach it in my climate, at least.  I've heard second hand that the British Isles have a climate roughly similar to the Pacific Northwest (cool & wet winters, short summers, etc.)

As far as pumps failing, it's possible to install backup pumps and backup battery systems, but you're correct that if the power's out, you won't keep going too long.  If you lived on a property with access to year-round solar or microhydro or something that was not grid dependent this would be less of a concern.  I think the primary concern in aquaponics is to be certain the water is still being aerated for the fish to breathe.

Just some thoughts, I have not yet installed a system myself, however I've been studying them quite a bit lately and toured a facility 2 weeks ago that had extensive backup systems.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 10116
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I would grow root veg in bins or raised beds on the concrete before considering them for the aquaponics system, personally. 

I'm looking at different ideas for more sustainable aquaponics systems, not using pumps.  I was going to try to set up a tank this spring but have been too busy with other projects and repairs to do so.  My idea is to have dense edible and useful aquatic plants on one side of a tank and fish on the other, and circulate the water with a small wind-powered fountain.
 
                        
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Ludi from my limited knowledge I believe that would be similar to a 'floating raft' system. The only problem I can see is that the plant root systems may have problems with clogging. As I understand it this can reduce oxygen take-up to plants and restrict growth. Most floating raft systems have extensive filtration setups.

However with regular cleaning it might be okay.

I preferred the floating raft system to the flood and drain grow beds because the large water reservoirs would help to stabilise the temperature. However the space required for the fish tank, then the water tank and finally the filtration stages was beyond the room I had.
 
Kane Jamison
Posts: 107
Location: West Seattle, WA
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Ludi wrote:
I'm looking at different ideas for more sustainable aquaponics systems, not using pumps.  I was going to try to set up a tank this spring but have been too busy with other projects and repairs to do so.  My idea is to have dense edible and useful aquatic plants on one side of a tank and fish on the other, and circulate the water with a small wind-powered fountain.



I think the 'sustainable' way to do aquaponics would be to use a sustainable (and reliable) energy source, rather than ditch the pumps.

The system I toured 2 weeks ago is located in Seattle.  The owner had set up excellent redundancies throughout the system in regards to backup pumps and backup battery systems, however they had ignored a number of "easy wins" during the design process.  The primary design point they missed was to elevate all grow beds above the tank, so there is only one active pump required (plus a backup), and all other movement of water is gravity-based.  Built in to this idea is to have all water flowing back into the tank in a water fall style, which naturally aerates the water.

This system that I toured had 3 to 5 pumps (though it should have only had 2: primary + backup), water heaters to maintain 85 degrees, and four 200-watt grow lights for supplemental winter lighting.  Their monthly cost through summer was $20, and winter was about $50, with fall and spring falling somewhere in between.  I think that could be more like $10-30 with a better pump set-up and slightly better insulation than what they were using.

I believe UrbanGrower is correct that without pumps, you're looking at a floating raft system, but then you're losing a primary reason for doing aquaponics, which is to pump out the waste product.  Unless I'm mistaken, the fish waste product won't float on top of the water, so it still will need to be removed on a frequent basis - at which point you might as well pump everything up.

If you're looking for an electricity-free method you'd probably be headed in an aquaculture direction, but that's not typically a good use of limited urban space.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 10116
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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UrbanGrower wrote:
Ludi from my limited knowledge I believe that would be similar to a 'floating raft' system.



Not actually, because I'm talking about aquatic plants, not floating rafts.

 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 10116
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Kane Jamison wrote:

This system that I toured had 3 to 5 pumps (though it should have only had 2: primary + backup), water heaters to maintain 85 degrees, and four 200-watt grow lights for supplemental winter lighting.  Their monthly cost through summer was $20, and winter was about $50, with fall and spring falling somewhere in between.  I think that could be more like $10-30 with a better pump set-up and slightly better insulation than what they were using.



I guess I'm not able to see how those costs were figured if they are using PV and batteries.  Sorry, just confused....

Anyway, sorry for being sort of off-topic here....

 
Kane Jamison
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Ludi wrote:
I guess I'm not able to see how those costs were figured if they are using PV and batteries.  Sorry, just confused....

Anyway, sorry for being sort of off-topic here....



The one I toured was not on a solar system, it was tied into the home's electrical system and had a submeter that was only applicable to energy being used by the greenhouse.  The only thing inside the greenhouse was the aquaponics system, so that's how they calculated those figures.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 10116
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Ok, thanks for clarifying, I guess I got confused by your mention of a sustainable and reliable power supply...
 
Kane Jamison
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Location: West Seattle, WA
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Ludi wrote:
Ok, thanks for clarifying, I guess I got confused by your mention of a sustainable and reliable power supply...



Ahh gotcha.

Anyways, back to the original topic of assessing the site...  (Sorry to hijack your thread with our Aquaponics talk, UrbanGrower).
 
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