A Guest Blogger Describes Her Farming Journey

chickens, garden and h.o.w. tshirt 009I got lucky today and came up with a guest blogger….please welcome Marlene as she tells you why she became an urban farmer.  You can find Marlene’s website, Fresh Food Garden, by following this link.

I Am an Urban Farmer
When I tell people I am an urban farmer they often visualize me being out in the fields, plowing the back forty in old coveralls, cowboy boots, wearing a big floppy hat and sweating like a pig. While that is a fairly just description of the large scale commercial farmer who works the fields for a living, it is a mere shaving of a description for this farmer girl.

Distinctly, I am an urban farmer. Yes, I get dirt under my fingernails when I’m out in the garden, pulling up weeds and digging holes for planting. And, when I work in the garden I don’t have enormous tools like commercial farmers. I work with cute little hand held tools. And while I do wear a hat when I’m out in the sun, it’s a cute little hat with a cute little red and white polka dot sash. I work diligently and hard when I’m tending to the garden, but I also find ways to make it fun.

Why Am I an Urban Farmer?
The rising cost of food spawned my interest in becoming an urban farmer. One day, I calculated the cost of the price I pay for produce in the store. I compared that cost to the price of a pack of seeds. The difference was significant. I saw the value of saving money by growing my own food. Becoming an urban farmer became a strategy I chose to offset the rising cost of fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

Being new to gardening, I must read a lot of gardening books, browse through plenty of gardening magazines, and surf many gardening websites. I take copious notes to use as reference and then plot out a sunny place to plant my seeds. I am successful with most of the fruit trees and vegetables that I plant. Just the same, I am unsuccessful with some. Nevertheless, through it all I find much joy in going out every day, tending to the garden, and seeing the gift the garden presents that day.

Anyone Can Be an Urban Farmer
Anyone can enjoy the benefits of urban farming. Even someone who lives in a small apartment can start a garden indoors by planting vegetables in containers. If you have a small yard, carve out a small 4-foot X 4-foot area of dirt which can actually be sufficient to grow some of the foods you enjoy most. There are plenty of resources available to help the beginning gardener to get started on the path to growing delicious, fresh food at a fraction of the cost of buying it in stores.

Read as much as you can about the item you want to grow. Start with one vegetable and then build from there. I believe you will be glad you did it. I wish you much success in your gardening endeavors.

Marlene Bertrand is an urban farmer who shares home gardening tips through her website called Grow Veggies 101 – a beginner’s guide to growing vegetables.chickens, garden and h.o.w. tshirt 008

THANK YOU, MARLENE!

I hang with the greatest people, don’t I?  I hope Marlene’s account inspired you to give gardening/urban farming a try.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Bill

 

 

Planting Cover Crops this Winter

random backyard pics 002I would love to pretend that winter isn’t approaching, but the days of self-deception are gone for this boy.  Living in western Washington means the rains are hanging out above the Pacific Ocean just waiting for the right moment to unleash on us.  If the weather forecasters are correct about El Nino, this will be one wet winter for us in Olympia, and that means I have winter preparations that need to be completed in the next month.

The tool shed was dismantled, improved and rebuilt in a different location, so that’s out of the way.  The aviaries have a thick layer of straw laid down, and they have been made as waterproof as we are likely to make them.

Another project I need to complete soon is the laying of a winter cover crop.

COVER CROPS

The purpose of a cover crop is to continue to nourish your garden during the winter months.  They protect the soil from damaging winter weather rains that can wash away nutrients.  The cover crop roots will provide habitat for soil microbes and worms, and when chopped up and left to decompose in the spring, they will provide nutrients and organic matter for your spring and summer vegetables.

So I need to get busy.

KINDS OF COVER CROPS

Depending on where you are, consider one or more of the following:  Oats, winter rye, winter wheat, winter peas, or crimson clover.  Check with a local nursery for the best in your area.

HOW TO PLANT A COVER CROP

After the fall harvest, turn your soil over and then sprinkle seeds on your garden area.  Rake them into the ground so the birds can’t steal them.

Then sit back and wait for nature to do its thing.

UPDATE ON RABBITS

I mentioned last week that one of our rabbits escaped from the aviary. Well, I was out last night, checking the backyard to make sure all was well, and another of our rabbits hopped over to me…probably just wanted to wish me good night.  There is nothing I love more than filling in holes, in the dark, late at night….NOT!!!!!town_429

Here’s the bottom line, and it’s one my dad would approve of: if you’re going to do a job, do it well the first damned time.

Guess what I’m doing Saturday (today)….that’s right….I’m doing the job right.

Bill

Learning the Hard Way on an Urban Farm

town_427Rabbits dig holes!

You can take that truth to the bank and deposit it.

Of course, we had to learn this lesson the hard way.

As I’ve said before, we don’t believe in putting urban farm animals in cages.  We have rabbits, guinea pigs and quail all living together in large aviaries in our backyard, and they all get along smashingly well and we love it.

But rabbits dig holes!

Let me change that…..

Rabbits dig elaborate tunnels!

And if you aren’t careful, rabbits will dig right out of the aviary and set themselves free.

We know!

SOLUTIONS

We actually approached this problem with what we thought was a solution when we were building the aviaries. We were told to sink the hardware cloth at least twelve inches underground to prevent rats from digging in and eating the food, so we did that.

Turns out rabbits can dig deeper than twelve inches.  I was outside one night about a month ago, just doing a final scan of the backyard before I went to bed, and one of our rabbits came hopping over and stood next to me…..on the deck….outside the aviary.

Ummmmmmmmm

So I filled in the hole, and covered it with large rocks, and sunk iron bars into the ground all along the perimeter of the aviary, and a couple weeks later the rabbits tunneled out again.

Ummmmmmmmmtown_429

THE ONLY SOLUTION

We have since figured it out. It took us some time and cost us a bit more money, but we finally reached the intellectual level of “smarter than a rabbit,” and I’m quite proud of us. J

The solution was quite simple for anyone with any common sense. We laid chicken wire along the bottom of the aviary.  Rabbits can’t dig through chicken wire.

Duh!

I hope you got a good laugh out of that story. We did.

GARDENING IN OCTOBER

For those of you who are year-round gardeners, here’s a to-do list for October:

  • Divide perennials
  • Harvest winter squash and pumpkins
  • Mulch garden beds
  • Plant berries and bare-root plants
  • Plant garlic
  • Rake and store leaves
  • Save seeds
  • Set out slug traps
  • Sow cover crop seeds and fava beans
  • Take down trellises and teepees

Happy gardening and farming!

Bill

Critter-Proofing Your Yard or Urban Farm

town_553THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER

Let’s get the ugly truth out of the way immediately: there is no such thing as a perfect system for protecting your yard or urban farm from critters.  Raccoons, possums, weasels, rats, hawks, owls, deer, coyotes, they are all out there looking for a hole in your perimeter defenses, and given enough time they will find it.

That’s the bad news!

Depending on where you live, there may not be any good news.

Sorry about that!

Oh, sure, you could spend thousands of dollars surrounding your property with electric fence, but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that within days one of the aforementioned invaders will find a way through your fencing.  There are times I believe that’s the only reason they exist.

So, the best we can do is the best we can do according to our budgets and vigilance.

Let me tell you a few things we’ve done.  None of it is perfect but it is what it is….a deterrent.

FIRST, WHAT DOESN’T WORK

Chicken fencing is adequate if all you want to stop are birds of prey and deer.  Other than that you are taking your chances and hoping your luck holds out.  A determined raccoon can tear apart chicken wire.  A weasel can go through it.

Poultry netting….don’t bother.  It will keep chickens in and nothing out.

We haven't lost a chicken yet
We haven’t lost a chicken yet

WHAT WORKS WITH DEGREES OF SUCCESS

First up is hardware cloth. I’ve spoken about this before.  Three-foot wide, ½ inch hardware cloth costs about a buck a foot. Four-foot wide cloth costs about $1.50 per foot.  It’s worth the cost.  Raccoons cannot get through it. Weasels can’t get through it.  Possums can’t get through it.  Dogs can’t get through it.  The only way it won’t work is if you don’t secure it to your wooden posts.  Loose staples can be pulled out, and it takes a hole about two inches in diameter for a weasel to get through, so make sure you’ve done your job well if using hardware cloth.

Electric fencing works well for larger animals.  It won’t stop weasels, and if you do a poor job of setting up your fence, it won’t stop anything.  Overhanging branches are an invitation to raccoons to drop into your yard and bypass the electric fence.  Strands of fencing too high off the ground, or spaced too far apart, are also easy to breech.  The other problem with electric fencing is the expense of buying it and constantly running the electricity through it.  We have electric fencing but we don’t use it because of the expense.

Cages are adequate but we don’t believe in them. We like our animals to have as much free-range as possible…which means we run the risk of losing some of them.

THE WORD OF EXPERIENCE

We’ve lost our share of quail to critters.  It was our fault that it happened.  We underestimated the determination of a hungry predator. We don’t do that again.  We have never lost a chicken.  Early on we listened to advice and got it right.  My word of advice: spend the extra money when you first set up your urban farm.  It will pay dividends in the long run.

Any questions? You know how to find me.

Bill

Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes

random backyard pics 002Ch-ch-ch-changes!

My thanks to David Bowie for that opening line.

Bev and I are pretty good about our flexibility.  If something isn’t working for us, we don’t lose a lot of sleep over it.  We don’t point the finger of blame and we don’t play the “what if” game.  We just make changes and move forward.

We’ve had our vegetable garden for four years now.  It’s done a pretty good job despite our lack of time to properly care for it, but we know it could do much, much better.

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

In the past we’ve used raised beds for most of our planting.  We’ve done okay.  We knock it out of the park with things like kale, potatoes, beans and peas. We are terribly inconsistent with other veggies, and it’s that inconsistency that is prompting…..

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

WHAT CHANGES YOU ASK?

Out with the old, in with the new.

I’ll be tearing apart the raised beds, probably today.town_672

Later in the month we’ll be moving a 10’x20’ storage structure that is made from PVC pipe to the garden area, and in the early spring we’ll cover that with heavy plastic and make a greenhouse.  We are quite confident our yield will be much better with the greenhouse, and the rest of the area outside the greenhouse can still be planted in potatoes, beans, kale and pea.

The best of both worlds!

THERE WAS A TIME LONG AGO

Back in another era, when I was young, it would have annoyed the hell out of me to make something and then decide it didn’t do the job.  I would have considered that to be a huge mistake on my part and kicked myself in the butt for weeks over it.

Today I consider it a learning experience.

You’ll hear the good and the bad here.  I won’t pretend things are all right if they’re not, and I won’t pretend something works if it doesn’t.  Hopefully you’ll learn as we stumble along on our urban farm.  Maybe we can save you some time and effort.

WHAT ELSE?

Garden Oct 3, 2012 004I’ve barely mentioned the front yard, but there is a ton of work to do out there.  The plan is to make it an edible front yard.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I think lawns are an abomination.  I hope that doesn’t upset anyone out there with a lawn but so be it if it does.  I drive by a green lawn where it is obvious the homeowner has watered it, despite the water shortage, and I’m livid.  I see a green lawn and I then see what it could be, lush, ripe vegetables and fruits that could be feeding people…instead of a green carpet that serves no purpose whatsoever.

But that’s a rant for another day.  Suffice it to say we have a lot of work waiting for us around front.  I’ll keep you posted.

THINGS TO DO IN SEPTEMBER

I’ll try to keep you informed of some chores that can be done each month.  Here we are in September, so here is a short list of chores to consider doing:

  • Divide your perennials
  • Erect a cloche or hoop house for hardy winter greens
  • Harvest summer crops
  • Set out slug traps
  • Sow overwintering squash, arugula and cilantro
  • Sow winter salad greens
  • Transplant lettuce, spinach, chard, kale and other cold-hardy greens

That should give you something to think about.

See you soon!

Bill

Getting Ready for Winter

Replaced old blue tarp with one that actually stops the rain
Replaced old blue tarp with one that actually stops the rain

WINTER IS COMING

Boy, did we ever learn that truth the hard way this past weekend.

The weather had been gorgeous all summer long.  Dry and hot but still, gorgeous.  We were all lured into a false sense of security, a false sense of endless time to prepare for the winter.

Boy, were we wrong.

Two inches of rain on Saturday with fifty mile per hour winds….that was the reality we woke up to.  Just when you think you’ve got Mother Nature figured out, she sharpens her claws and scratches the hell out of you.

OUR PROCRASTINATION BIT US IN THE BUTT

We have two aviaries where the quail and rabbits live.  I’ve been meaning to nail a big tarp over the biggest aviary because last year the quail got soaked during heavy rains, but as of this last weekend I had not done that yet….endless time, right? No hurry, right?

I woke up Sunday feeling like a horrible failure to my animals.  Again the quail were soaked and it was a muddy mess in their aviary.  So Sunday was not a day of rest for Bev and I. We spent the day winterizing our little farm.  Lesson learned.

ONE IMPORTANT TRUTH ABOUT HAVING AN URBAN FARM

New grape arbor needed
New grape arbor needed

Here it is….jot it down….the work never ends!

We are close to the end of the harvest. We picked fifteen quarts of green beans yesterday and grabbed up some zucchini.   The kale still needs to be harvested.  After the last of the harvesting is done, we’ll turn over the soil and plant cover crops for winter.  We have several we’ll be laying down to help provide nutrients to the soil during the winter months.  Clover is probably going to be our favorite because the rabbits and quail seem to love clover, so we’ll get several benefits from that.

Let’s see, what else do we need to do?  The woodpile needs to be consolidated and re-stacked, and I need to get busy splitting some of it.  I also want to tear down the current tool shed and build a new one.  We have to move the frame for next year’s greenhouse fifty feet to its new location.  I also need a new storage area for hay and straw, and that means building a structure for that.  Happily I have some spare wooden pallets for the job.

MORE TO DO

More work waiting for me
More work waiting for me

Then we need to turn our attention to the front yard.  Our goal is to have an edible garden in the front filled with berries, grapes and fruit trees.  That means preparation and planning.  I want to dig out the walking path this fall, and I need to dig some planting beds and an build an arbor for the grapes.  I should be able to get that done by the end of September.

After all that is done I’ll take one more walk around the property and make sure everything is ready for winter.  Can it stay dry in the rains? Can it withstand the weight of a heavy snow?  Is everything going to drain properly?  Are all the animals protected should things get really nasty?  Do I have access to electricity in all areas in case heat lamps have to be hung in brutally cold weather?

We have about one month to get it all done.

No more procrastinating!

Wooden Pallets and Urban Farming

pallets 005WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF PALLETS

I’m not cheap!

I just wanted to get that out of the way immediately.

I’m frugal, not cheap.

Thus my love affair with wooden pallets.

Let me also state that I am not a gifted carpenter.  I know very little about carpentry.  Most of my life I’ve been sorely lacking in any carpentry skills.  I mention that so you’ll know that if I can build things with wooden pallets then so can you.

Most people who dabble in farming, urban or otherwise, must learn to be frugal and must learn to do things with their own two hands and not hire out odd jobs.  Financially, farmers can’t afford to waste money.  We learn to do it ourselves. It may not be a perfect job.  It may not look like a professional job….but if it is functional then we’ve done what we set out to do.

Thus my love affair with wooden pallets.

They ain’t pretty but they get the job done.

WHERE DO YOU FIND THEM?

I’ve actually talked to people who say they can’t find wooden pallets in their community.  Here in Olympia, business owners who receive shipments on wooden pallets are more than anxious to have someone haul them away. They literally give them away for free, and I’m right there with my pickup, making us all happy.

Go check with your local supermarket or some other retail place.  Drive around the back where the shipping docks are and most likely you’ll see a stack of pallets.  Ask the manager if you can haul a few off. If he says yes then you just received an early Christmas present.

WHY PALLETS ARE SO HANDYchicken coop March 31 2013 002

First of all, they are sturdy.  Think about it: thousands of pounds are shipped on pallets. They have to be made of quality wood to bear up under those loads.

Secondly, every structure you build needs to be framed, whether it’s a chicken coop or a garden shed.  Framing gives a structure strength.  Studs are normally used in traditional building, and pallets basically do the same job as studs. They are instant framing.  All you have to do is screw the pallets together, cover them with plywood and you have an instant structure.

How cool is that?

WHAT CAN THEY BE USED FOR?

Well, gosh, where do I begin?

Chicken coop…..quail enclosure…garden tool shed….goat house….duck-coop….fence….worktable….woodshed….compost bins…..vertical gardening…..outdoor table…..greenhouse…..

I could go on but you get the picture.

Think about this: if I have the materials available, I can build a four-sided structure, 40”x48”, in an hour.

An hour!

WHAT COULD YOU MAKE WITH FOUR PALLETS?town_653

That’s the question I’ll leave you with today.  At the very least, I hope I’ve given you something to think about over the winter as you plan next year’s gardening activities.

One final note.  A blog called “World Organic News” has been kind enough to share some of my urban farming blog posts, so I want to give a shout out to them.  You can find that blog by following this link.

Bill