Monthly Archives: April 2014

Can You Really Homestead in the City?

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I have farming in my blood.  My  dad was a farmer.  His father was a farmer.  His grandpa was a farmer.  You get the point.  Yet as an adult, I moved to the city and left the country life behind me… or so I thought.  I had an urge to get my hands in the soil and eat farm-fresh eggs.  That had me wondering, can you really homestead in the city?

While the Homestead Act of 1862 granted land to applicants after five years of living on the land and demonstrating improvements, modern homesteading has no such requirements. Believe it or not, it is taking place right now in backyards across America. Friends and neighbors in urban areas are returning to a lifestyle of self-sufficiency lived by many of our grandparents and great-grandparents.

urban chicken

urban chicken

A good starting point for any want-to-be urban homesteader, is your local municipal code.  The code states what is allowed within city limits.  For instance, if chickens are allowed, code dictates (typically) the maximum number of hens allowed as well as the minimum square footage for the chicken coop.  In some instances, code will list exclusions.  For example, in our city, municipal code prohibits pot belly pigs.  One other item to keep in mind is whether or not you live in an HOA (home owner’s association).  In many communities, HOA policies trump city ordinance.  That means that even if your city allows chickens, your home owner’s association may prohibit them, leaving you hen-less.

Now while I no longer live on 160 rural acres, I am contented on my 1/3 of an urban acre.  This micro homestead changed my perspective.  For instance, I don’t need to raise 50 chickens (nor is that quantity allowed in city limits), but 8 hens is plenty to keep us in fresh eggs and even have extra to sell.  Plus, I don’t have to spend hours cleaning out a large coop, my small one can be spruced up in less than 30 minutes.

honey frame from backyard bee hive

honey frame from backyard bee hive

Another item that an urban homestead can accommodate is backyard bees.  Keep in mind that your backyard is simply the home for the hives.  The foragers fly beyond fences and property lines and into the neighborhood.  They seek out what is in bloom and which plants have a great nectar flow.  You don’t have to shoulder the burden of providing all of the flowers for your bees.  In this respect, living in a city is great.  The vast array of blooming trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals is greater and more varied than if the hives were set up at the edge of an alfalfa field in the country.  This means that the nectar flower typically last longer and that there are more foraging choices in the city.

And what homestead would be complete without gardens?  In a city setting, gardens are scaled down from acreages of their country cousins to perhaps a few hundred square feet or less.  But a scaled down garden doesn’t mean that you have to scale down on flavor.  Imagine growing heirloom vegetables in raised beds or containers?  You have the pleasure of farm-fresh produce, but without the hours of weeding in a field.  Just remember that you don’t have to grow all of your own food.  Simply select what you like and raise that.  Perhaps you prefer tomatoes?  Maybe strawberries?  What about containers of herbs?

pasta sauce ready for pantry

pasta sauce ready for pantry

Homesteading can also speak to skills.  Maybe you yearn to make your own cheese?  How about creating your own wine from fresh fruit?  Perhaps you want to make your own non-toxic cleaning supplies?  Or maybe you want to spin your own yarn?  What about canning?  Don’t worry if your parents did not teach you those skills.  These days, homesteading skills are just a click away through online classes.  If you prefer a hands-on learning, sign up for workshops through various businesses.   Organizations that offer classes include, but are not limited to:  cooperative extension, city recreation department, local nurseries and/or botanic gardens, or individuals.  To find these classes and workshops, pick up schedules at local businesses, read your local publications, or do a web search.  If your community does not have these resources, check with friends, family, or neighbors.  Maybe you have an aunt that would be happy to teach you how to can?  Or perhaps your neighbor can show you how to make fresh cheese?

kale-instagram-crLastly, homesteading is a frame of mind.   You don’t have to do it all in order to be a homesteader. (Don’t get bogged down with the thought of trying to raise rabbits, goats, chickens, bees, hogs, tend to acres of gardens, and make your own clothes… plus try to hold down a 9 – 5 job.  Pick and choose what works for you.)   Do you feel a connection to local food?  Do you want to do more yourself?  Your homestead can be whatever you want it to be (as long as it complies with municipal code).

Take baby steps.  This will make the goal of homesteading attainable.  No homestead is created overnight.  It does take time.  Focus on one item at a time.  If growing food is your main goal, by all means, start with building a garden.  Once that has been developed, then move onto your next homesteading goal.

With clear goals, time, and a review of city ordinances, you too, can create an urban homestead.  Joy and a sense of self-sufficiency can be found in something as simple as biting into a ripe tomato picked from your own garden or gathering eggs from your chickens.  Urban homesteading is one trend that is here to stay.

To help you get started, read, “20 Steps to Create an Urban Homestead”.  With a little time and effort, you too, can homestead in the city.

 

 

Of Mice and Hen

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Hatching eggs.  Chicks. Or perhaps four-month old pullets.  You spend time researching which stage of chicken-hood works best for you as a starting point.  Maybe you are looking forward to hatching out eggs in your home-built incubator?  What about your local farm & ranch or feed store that carries chicks?  You can simply pick out the ones you want.  Or if you are in a hurry, maybe you opt for something older and closer to laying age?  However you start your flock, feeding them is an important part of their care.

hen hiding her prey from the flock

hen hiding her prey from the flock

You want them to thrive.  Nutrition is important, starting with the finely ground chick starter (whether that is a supplement to their outdoor foraging with their mother or their sole source of food).  Once they reach the point of laying eggs, you make the switch to layer mash and perhaps some scratch grains.  Maybe you add in  fresh greens or bits of squash, grapes, or melons?  All chickens need grit, calcium, vitamin A and D, salt, grains (such as oats, wheat, and even corn), and protein.  But for all the grains, mash, greens, or free-range foraging, do you think of you chickens as being an omnivore?  Or better stated, do you realize they are omnivores?

Given the chance and/or access to small animals, a chicken can become a predator.  For example, on my urban homestead, mice don’t worry about the cats… it’s the chickens that control the rodent population!

My hens are capable of more than just pecking at a mouse.  With their keen eyesight, they can track one and catch it.  Once caught, the neck is broken so death comes quickly. The rest … not so much.  The hen who has the mouse, runs about showing off what she has.  This results in the rest of the flock trying to get the deceased rodent.  It is a morbid game of ‘catch me if you can’ and usually results in the mouse changing hens several times.  But at last, one lucky hen eats the mouse whole.

hen with mouse

hen with mouse

For those of you who eat your eggs, don’t worry.  The eggs from the rodent-eating hens taste just the same.  In fact, if you allow your flock to free-range, your chickens may be snacking on other small animals such as worms, little snakes, and even tiny lizards.  These creatures are great protein sources for your flock.

If the idea of your flock eating other animals is too much for you, don’t worry.  Commercially made chicken feed is a balanced source of nutrition including protein so you can keep your chickens in their coop and run.

So folks, go ahead and continue to feed your chickens as you always have.  They will enjoy scratch grains, layer mash, and fresh greens.  But just be aware that your chickens are omnivores and mice have a habit of showing up on a homestead (and even with hardware cloth, a mouse can usually squeeze through an opening and end up in your chicken run).  Your hens have many talents.  In addition to providing eggs, add ‘mouse control’ to their resume.

Trellising Hops in the Backyard Garden

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eyelet screw and 24 gauge wire

eyelet screw and 24 gauge wire

One plant that is vital to the craft beer industry has made a successful transition from commercial fields to backyard gardens.  It is the humble hop vine.  Not only do they enhance the landscape with their distinctive appearance, but their sought after cones wind up in the kettles of home-brewers.

Hop vines need plenty of room to grow.  They grow much higher (longer) than most other vining/climbing garden residents, such as grapes, climbing roses, and clematis.  Depending on the variety, mature hops can reach a length of 25′ or more, far higher than trellises found at local nurseries and garden centers.  If not trellised, these vines could overtake sections of a garden.

A simple solution to trellising hops, is to allow them to grow on a structure.  For example, in my backyard, hops are planted along the wood and hardware cloth chicken run.  No chicken run?  A garden shed will work just fine.  But in order to get the hop shoots to grow up on the structure, you will need to provide some trellising assistance.

Trellis Materials

  • 2 1/2″ eyelet screws
  • garden twine/jute
  • 24 gauge wire (optional)
  • existing structure, such as garage, garden shed, chicken run, pergola, etc…

NOTE: we use wire initially due to our neighborhood fox.  He bites through jute and/or garden twine, destroying our trellis.  However, if we use wire, he leaves it in tact.  After initial trellising with wire (but before the vines grow significantly, we then wrap garden twine around the wire.  The garden twine provides a rough surface that is easier for the vines to cling to and wrap around.  If you do not have a pesky fox, please feel free to use garden twine and save the wire for other projects.

Pre-drill holes into the structure about 2′ apart (vertically) from each other, starting at one foot above the soil line.  For this example, the wooden frame of the chicken run.   Continue drilling holes until the roof line is reached.  If the angle of structure’s wall changes (if it slants up to the roof), add eyelets to continue the trellis system.  Once the roof is reached, add an eyelet  above the roof line (above the point where the angle changes from the wall to the roof).

eyelets as trellis base

eyelets as trellis base

Space the eyelets (horizontally) about 3′ – 4′ apart (same as the spacing for backyard hop plants) so that a row of eyelets is centered over each hop.

Thread the wire (or garden twine) vertically as well as horizontally through the eyelets.  Pull the wire tight so it does not sag.

NOTE: since hardware cloth is the primary material of the chicken run, eyelets also keep the hop vines from growing into the interior of the chicken run in addition to providing a basis for a trellis system of wire (or twine).  (While the chickens wouldn’t mind stray shoots in the run, my goal is to maximize my hops harvest.)

Thin the hops shoots (also known as bines) to 4 per plant.  Select the healthiest and most vigorous looking bines to trellis.  Cut off the remaining shoots.

Gently wrap the shoots around the wire (or twine).

training hops onto wire

training hops onto wire

After training the hops on your trellis structure, you can now sit back and watch your hops take off.

Hops are a wonderful addition to your backyard garden or homestead.  The vines are attractive and the cones can be used in beer.  Get creative with trellising.  Take advantage of existing structures, but some trellising support is needed to get the hops growing upwards through the use of eyelets and garden twine.   With a little time and a few materials, you can create a unique hops trellis for your backyard garden.