Compost, part 1

Compost may be one of the least used assets in many urban gardens. I love the smell of my working compost pile, that rich aroma of decomposing yard waste and kitchen scraps. It costs me nothing more than the time it takes to collect and turn the pile, and it has converted my clay filled soil into dark, rich loveliness.

One of my first yard projects was replacing the 6 foot privacy fence with 4 foot slated fencing. My brother-in-law made quick work of the project, and he used some of the old fencing to make a compost bin. It fit perfectly to one side of my shed, giving me easy access to turn the pile and move it to the wheelbarrow for spreading on my garden beds. I prefer the open top – water is a key part of the chemical breakdown so the naturally falling snow, rain, etc. are more freebies.

0830_Compost01bI take a simple approach with my compost. I’m not overly fussy about the ratio of browns to greens – the average household should naturally be balanced. Sometimes I clip branches and vines into smaller pieces, sometimes I don’t. I turn on my pile on an irregular basis, leaving the worms and insects to do the majority of the work. I’m always fascinated to find the lovely, rich compost at the bottom of the pile.

With fall quickly approaching you’ll soon have an abundance of leaves in your yard. Now is the perfect time to select a location and set up a bin for the free yard waste that will enrich your garden soil next spring.

Farm Dog

july2016When I adopted my sweet pup nearly 8 years ago, I had no idea exactly how much joy and laughter she would add to my life. A delightful mix of cocker spaniel and dachshund, she gained the best traits of both breeds. She has proven herself to be a wonderful stalker of the urban wildlife that abounds in our neighborhood, chasing squirrels and bunnies with equal ferocity.

When I began to seriously consider adding chickens to my family, I wasn’t overly concerned by the pup’s reaction. After all, she’s cool watching birds from the back porch. I knew there would be a few training challenges, and its been rather hilarious to help her adjust.

I’ll never forget the first evening. The brooder box sat on the kitchen table, red light from the heat lamp filled my small home, and the incessant cheeping of four 3-day old chicks nearly drove my sweet girl mad. She woke me with her whining and hopped into bed throughout the night – something she never does!

The move to the coop helped tremendously. The first few days my pup would run straight to the coop, running circles around it, barking, and attempting to bite through the fencing. The squawking and wing flapping was nerve racking until the chicks figured out they just needed to run upstairs and hush.

It didn’t take long for my sweet girl to morph into chicken protectress. She gives the coop a passing glance as we walk to the vegetable garden, making sure all is well. Her favorite perch is in the middle of the yard – a full 360 degree view to guard our perimeter. She’s the perfect farm dog for my urban space, fully capable of doing the work of a dog much larger. That makes the occasional DQ pup cup a well earned snack in my book!

Chicks invade

13266933_1028520747231577_409266901_nThe addition of chicks to my urban farm required much thought and planning. I take the responsibility of caring for animal life quite seriously, and I wanted to be sure I was prepared. I spent more than a year researching coops, breeds, feed, treats, bedding, etc. through lots of sources. I talked with family and friends that have kept chickens – even talked with my local vet to see if I should have concerns for my dog’s health if I added feathered siblings.

This week my chicks turn 14 weeks old. Well, technically they are “pullets” – the equivalent of teenagers – they’ll gain the title “hens” once they start laying eggs. They look wildly different from the balls of yellow fluff I picked up at a local feed store. It’s been a blast watching them grow, helping my sweet pup adjust to her siblings, and I’m looking forward to egg harvesting soon.

I’m putting together a photo timeline of my girls growth…but for now here’s a short video of their free range time today. Cicadas are a treat they hunt for and are highly unwilling to share. Enjoy!

Cicada Snack

Where do I start?

When it comes to moving any dream into reality, the biggest question may well be “Where do I start?”

The first step to any garden project – no matter what you are growing – is getting a feel for your land. How much sunlight does it get throughout the day? Is it early sun (east facing), shaded, full sun? Does water drain quickly after run or is the land a bit boggy? Does snow melt quickly or linger? Can you view the garden from inside your home?

To say my property was overgrown when I purchased it would be a massive understatement. The back third was completely overgrown with vines and starter trees (you know, those start-ups from spring seeds that no one bothered to remove). Poison ivy was so thick it looked like branches. Fence collapsed under brush and access to the small shed was difficult.

dayliliesAs I cleared brush, removed weeds, and leveled soil I got to see what plants were already in place. I found a huge mass of day lilies and a small patch of peonies – both of which are easy to transplant. What a great money saver! Watching them bloom each year gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction.

Clearing the land can be backbreaking work, but the satisfaction of a job well-done and the sound sleep that comes with it make it well worth your time. Watching your land before investing in plants and landscaping will save money and heartache if you choose incorrectly. Observing is the must-have tool in the urban farmer arsenal.

Dream Big

This time last year I sat in a windowless office, editing audio files and correcting text. I dreamed of days filled with sunshine, dirt, warm scented air, and growing things.

A few months later I stopped dreaming and started living. I left behind a secure job to see whether the life I dreamed of could become my reality. Would I really enjoy the hard physical labor of working the earth? Would the planning give way to a different type (but no less real) stress?

I thrived.

I awake to sunrise rather than an alarm clock. I fall asleep with ease after a hard day’s work. My self-sufficiency grows, my passion for sustainable living flourishes, and I’ve found a new love for life.

These are the adventures of an urban farmer. Proof that you don’t need a huge plot of land to make a positive environmental impact. Small steps over years got me to this place – a place where dreams grow big enough for a life of their own.