Our Urban Farm, Spring 2014

It’s been a wonderfully busy, but very tiring start to the spring growing season. I have too many friends and family who are professional farmers to be surprised. And it has been quite rewarding to see a winter’s (and more) research coming into being on our yard!

Over the winter, I did quite a bit of reading on Permaculture (in order, Gaia’s Garden: A guide to home-scale permaculture, Permaculture: Principles & Pathways beyond sustainability, and The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture: Creating an edible ecosystem), as well as listening to the podcast Sustainable World Radio: Permaculture & Ecology Podcasts. I also spent some time refining my understanding of companion planting.

2014-04-21 09.58.53The result was the 2014 version of our garden plan. I began putting some of it in place last fall, but the lion’s share was done this spring. Our house is at the bottom of the graph. The circles for the fruit trees represent expected mature size — as of this past week they are planted but mostly look as skinny as the stakes holding them up. Not shown on this map is the corner garden which would be just off to the upper right which will be our free-pick zone of tomatoes and peppers, or the new strawberry patch in front of the chicken coop.

The corner free-pick garden, soon to be planted with tomatoes and peppers in addition to the mint plants, flowering bulbs, and grasses already in place.

The corner free-pick garden, soon to be planted with tomatoes and peppers in addition to the mint plants, flowering bulbs, and grasses already in place.

A free-pick strawberry "keyhole" garden is in front of four raised beds for the homestead. The bed under the a-frame (used as a chicken tractor) will have alfalfa and buckwheat to nourish the soil while producing livestock food).

A free-pick strawberry “keyhole” garden is in front of four raised beds for the homestead. The bed under the a-frame (used as a chicken tractor) will have alfalfa and buckwheat to nourish the soil while producing livestock food). I’ve already made a major change to the plan and put all tomatoes and peppers in the far right bed. The second bed under hoop will then become the squash bed, while the far left bed will be for the broccoli, brussel sprouts, turnips, and maybe some kale, since I ran out of room in the east beds.

New tomato, pepper, basil, and oregano transplants join the radishes (most of which will go to seed) enjoy the warmth and lack of wind under the low hoop tunnels covered with Agribon 19. Basil, oregano, and radishes to seed are all good companions for tomatoes.

New tomato, pepper, basil, and oregano transplants join the radishes (most of which will go to seed) enjoy the warmth and lack of wind under the low hoop tunnels covered with Agribon 19. Basil, oregano, and radishes to seed are all good companions for tomatoes.

The two east beds are for greens, carrots, radishes, leeks, garlic, onions, beets, etc. I was going to put the Asian broccoli and brussel sprouts there, too, but ran out of space. The left bed had seeds planted last fall and then were covered with plastic. But it was too cool a winter to have much but a few plants survive. Still, it gave a small jump on the slow start to the summer. We'll eat a salad from here tomorrow!!

The two east beds are for greens, carrots, radishes, leeks, garlic, onions, beets, etc. I was going to put the Asian broccoli and brussel sprouts there, too, but ran out of space. The left bed had seeds planted last fall and then were covered with plastic. But it was too cool a winter to have much but a few plants survive. Still, it gave a small jump on the slow start to the summer. We’ll eat a salad from here tomorrow!!

Our three new grapevines. These are at the north side of our asparagus row. I'll under sow with sweet potatoes to try to keep down the weeds while giving us another delicious crop!

Our three new grapevines. These are at the north side of our asparagus row. I’ll under sow with sweet potatoes to try to keep down the weeds while giving us another delicious crop!

The two west beds will have this season's crop of potatoes joined by nitrogen fixing legumes like snow & snap peas and bush beans this year. Last week I planted 48' of potatoes (4 different varieties total) interplanted with the peas. I'll wait another week or so to get beans planted in the remaining spaces. Then as peas and early potatoes finish, I'll add more beans. With luck, early- to mid-June we'll have our first new potatoes on the grill!

The two west beds will have this season’s crop of potatoes joined by nitrogen fixing legumes like snow & snap peas and bush beans this year. Last week I planted 48′ of potatoes (4 different varieties total) interplanted with the peas. I’ll wait another week or so to get beans planted in the remaining spaces. Then as peas and early potatoes finish, I’ll add more beans. With luck, early- to mid-June we’ll have our first new potatoes on the grill!

Looking down orchard row. The apple trees are in their third year and should have the first major production this year. Then, with white wrap to protect from rabbits, are two different peach varieties, followed by an Asian pear double grafted with two varieties, and finally a European pear double grafted with two varieties. Between the rain barrels and the fruit trees is a swale - a one foot deep by one foot wide by 25 foot long ditch filled in with rock, straw, and wood chips. The rain barrels overflow into the swale which then slowly leeches the water downhill and under the fruit trees providing a deeper, sustained water source. Between the house and the swale is planted many insect attracting plants, while under the trees are many beneficials including borage, comfrey, clover, rye grass, nasturtiums, and marigolds.

Looking down orchard row. The apple trees are in their third year and should have the first major production this year. Then, with white wrap to protect from rabbits, are two different peach varieties, followed by an Asian pear double grafted with two varieties, and finally a European pear double grafted with two varieties. Between the rain barrels and the fruit trees is a swale – a one foot deep by one foot wide by 25 foot long ditch filled in with rock, straw, and wood chips. The rain barrels overflow into the swale which then slowly leeches the water downhill and under the fruit trees providing a deeper, sustained water source. Between the house and the swale is planted many insect attracting plants, while under the trees are many beneficials including borage, comfrey, clover, rye grass, nasturtiums, and marigolds.

Entering our backyard is our patio with grill and 6-person table, a porch couch inherited from our dear friends, Curt and Paula, a deck with two more tables (one also from Curt and Paula), a patio seating area, a fire pit and water garden, and finally the livestock area.

Entering our backyard is our patio with grill and 6-person table, a porch couch we got from our dear friends Curt and Paula when they sold their cabin, a deck with two more tables (one also from Curt and Paula), a patio seating area, a fire pit and water garden, and finally the livestock area.

In front of the deck is a new herb garden with parsley, sage, rosemary, oregano, basil, chives, and anise hyssop. As they daffodils finish up, the herbs will be taking their place.

In front of the deck is a new herb garden with parsley, sage, rosemary, oregano, basil, chives, and anise hyssop. As they daffodils finish up, the herbs will be taking their place.

The livestock area provides an 8' x 16' run (half covered) for the chickens and rabbits, and another 5' x 16' run next to the property line where chickens are not to trod according to ordinance. In front of the run is a new strawberry patch edged on the run side with clematis and borage, and on the other with thyme. Borage and thyme are good beneficials for strawberries. To the right is one of our first hutches, which is currently open to all rabbits. Just before our doe rabbit delivers, the buck will go into daddy time-out so that he doesn't immediately breed the doe after delivery.

The livestock area provides an 8′ x 16′ run (half covered) for the chickens and rabbits, and another 5′ x 16′ run next to the property line where chickens are not to trod according to ordinance. In front of the run is a new strawberry patch edged on the run side with clematis and borage, and on the other with thyme. Borage and thyme are good beneficials for strawberries. To the right is one of our first hutches, which is currently open to all rabbits. Just before our doe rabbit delivers, the buck will go into daddy time-out so that he doesn’t immediately breed the doe after delivery.

We're slowly starting a compost pile in the corner of the chicken run. They'll prepare the items by removing weed seed heads and predigesting the food. After scratching through and mixing for a while, it will move into our finishing compost bin. One hen is wondering if I have anything else delicious to add at this time.

We’re slowly starting a compost pile in the corner of the chicken run. They’ll prepare the items by removing weed seed heads and predigesting the food. After scratching through and mixing for a while, it will move into our finishing compost bin. One hen is wondering if I have anything else delicious to add at this time.

Looking back towards the deck and patio. I added two windows to our old shed to provide more ventilation on hot summer days, a nest box for the chickens, and also re-roofed it.

Looking back towards the deck and patio. I added two windows to our old shed to provide more ventilation on hot summer days, a nest box for the chickens, and also re-roofed it.

2014-04-21 09.06.49

The old shed has been cleaned out and is now a livestock home. I need to finish the proper gate to enter into the rabbit hutch. The morning was already a bit warm and the rabbits seem to like coming in after their morning breakfast to sit on top of their nest boxes to sleep away the warm days before coming out in the evening to begin a new day of playing. They’ve also been digging trenches to lay in the dirt outside.

2014-04-21 09.04.38

The chickens get the right side of the old shed, including a nook with their roost.

The chickens get the right side of the old shed, including a nook with their roost.

 

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About mwolske

I'm a Senior Research Scientist in Community Informatics at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois.
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