It’s occurred to me that over the years I’ve been jabbering away on here, I’ve never really done a post on our urban farm. Better late than never.
Jeff and I bought our tiny East Vancouver house in 2008.
If you’re not familiar with our city, East Vancouver is an urban, working-class neighbourhood with lots of families, colourful inhabitants, our fair share of drugs and crime, lots of culture, great food and and even better sense of community.
We are about 15 minutes away from downtown Vancouver by skytrain. I can see the city skyline and the gorgeous North Shore mountains from my garden.
When we bought the house, the yard was knee-high grass and not much else.
Before we even moved in we put in our first veggie patch. Priorities, people, priorities!
We ripped out most of the lawn, front and back, and have planted heirloom veggies right up to our busy urban sidewalk.
The soil was crap. I mean crap. Every winter we plant cover crops of Fall Rye and Crimson Clover. We turn it in about 6 weeks before we intend to plant in the spring. Every year when the leaves fall, our neighbours watch with confused joy as we madly rake up every leaf within a one block radius. They get chopped in the mower and saved for mulch.
After only one year of caring for this sad bit of dirt, the soil came alive. It is now glorious, rich hummus, riddled with earthworms.
Over the years our goals have changed. Our first garden was two small, chock-a-block plots. We then experimented with edible landscaping, but found it way too messy and not very practical for feeding our family.
Our fifth year in and the garden is finally settling into place. We’ve worked out a farm system / layout that is aesthetically pleasing, productive and livable, after much trial and error.
We are both Organic Master Gardeners and use deep organic methods on our farm. For us that means no pesticides, organic or otherwise. Just lots of compost and manure, patience, observation and a willingness to keep trying new techniques.
And beer. Lots and lots of beer.
Our lot is 33 x 108 feet. Our home takes up about 1000 square feet of that. We also have room for perennials and lawn. I swore I would never be one of those people who didn’t leave room in their garden for living. Leaving space for the farmer is key to making urban farming a sustainable lifestyle (for the farmer, not the environment!)
We grow as many heirloom varieties of veg as possible, and save our own seed.
I have pretty strong feelings about seeds remaining part of the global commons, rather than locked up by a patent, filling the coffers of some hateful corporation rather than the bellies of the world’s hungry. Whoever gave corporations the right to patent the very seeds of life was a moron. (Don’t even get me started on terminator seeds.)
I believe the best way for individuals to fight back is to learn to save seeds, and share those seeds. Learn the pleasure that comes from eating tomatoes that have been selected by generations of farmers to taste divine, rather than to ship long distances and taste like mealy mush.
Sharing really is rebellious.
What we grow
Here’s some of the veggies and fruit we’re growing on our urban farm:
- All kinds of lettuce
- Spinnach & Chard
- Baby cabbages
- Peas & Pole Beans
- Tons of tomatoes
- Lots of hot peppers
- Potatoes (new & storage)
- Beets (for greens & roots)
- Herbs of all sorts
- Blueberries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Huckleberries
- Plums, Peaches & Crab Apples
- Onions (storage, sweet & scallions), Leeks & Garlic
- Sugar Pumpkins, Winter & Summer Squash
- Rabb / Sprouting Broccoli
- Table Grapes
We also have a flock of backyard chickens who keep us in beautiful organic eggs. Our son thinks they’re the best thing since sliced bread. One of his first words was “Bwok Bwok!”
We are on the third prototype of our movable chicken coop. It’s not a chicken tractor as we don’t move it daily or weekly to fresh grass. We move it approximately four times a year over each of our garden beds. This helps us build our soil and also keeps the chickens healthy by breaking the pest cycle.
We also use a deep-litter system – a “carbonaceous diaper” as Joel Salatin would say. Wood chips soak up the extra nitrogen the chickens contribute to the soil.
Extending the harvest
Eliot Coleman’s ideas and techniques are central to our farming practice. His book, Four Season Harvest, was devoured by my hubby this winter.
His other books – Winter Harvest Handbook and The New Organic Grower are also dog-eared staples on our gardening bookshelf.
We do our best to combine Eliot’s methods of intensive, small plot farming and Joel Salatin’s layered approach to raising pastured animals.
For us, the most important permaculture practice is stacking functions. We are constantly experimenting with this, whether we’re interplanting crops, layering our chickens over our garden beds, growing plants to encourage insects, or growing strawberries on our green roof.
The best part about having an urban farm here in East Vancouver is the way it has connected us with our neighbourhood.
Folks stop by on their evening walks to see how the garden is coming along, and the old gal on the corner keeps plastic bags in her pockets to carry loot home come tomato time. My mail lady enjoys snacking on the cherry tomatoes on my front gate and we enjoy regular chats over the fence about recipes, how to grow garlic, our families – all the important things.