Click here to see our video tour of our July garden homestead on YouTube.
We raise our own food as best as we can and keep the tradition alive of sustainable local agriculture even as we enjoy city life. There is a public stink by some few that they own this concept and its very words. No person or group can claim the word "urban homestead." It is a common tradition, rich in folk lore, and open source. You cannot trademark freedom. We need our community. We need to create a supportive local food awareness. We need to be self sustainable to give our society the resilience it must have to feed our children nutrient dense foods into the future.
Personally, there are so many lessons for me in this garden. The best wisdom of garden is an old one, "because I have grass, I have learned persistence." Seems I can never quite get rid of grass fast enough. We moved into the house near downtown Little Rock and plastic sheet mulched all the grass for the the whole summer before we brought in composted soil. The whole front yard became our garden. The picket fence is nearly done, but the cucumbers have halted construction for a while. They are trellising their bounty over the tops of the fence that I still need to trim. Patience. I'll finish the fence this fall. The companion bit of wisdom is " because I plant trees, I have learned patience." Nothing teaches you better than trying to survive on a homestead. Nothing rewards your learning better than enjoying one.
The cover crop last fall for the garden was massive amounts of Daikon Radish that till the soil deep with their strong tap roots. They have reseeded and seeded again and are a permanent weed in my garden. That's ok. They are a delicious green and tangy root.
We added kitchen compost with some live seeds of tomatoes, melon and peppers that seem to pop up in strange places. I'm very tolerant of volunteers. They do their work with very little noise.
Most of the additions to the soil were rabbit manure. We produce plenty of that in our backyard warren. To supplement the rest of our nutrients, we spray a foliant spray of concentrated kelp. We didn't start this soon enough, though. The tomatoes showed early signs of blossom end rot from either lack of calcium or lack of regular water to absorb the calcium. I wished we had started the garden beds with broken egg shells. We have so many of those, since we buy from a local pasture-fed chicken ranch. Lesson learned. Check and double check all your nutrients. Perhaps I'll concede that a soil test was warranted and could have saved me the trouble of throwing out the first tomatoes that made. I relied on the sheer volume of organic matter in the soil to balance out the elements and keep everything friable and moist. I credit the organic matter for my problems being so small.
Pests and diseases have not found me yet. When I put in a starter bed last fall of kale, the aphids munched in on me. I did a little pepper/Castile oil on the leaves but then gave up and had the neighbor's chickens finish off the bed. Now that the garden is alive and diverse with flowers and herbs and numerous veggies, I have had less problem with a monoculture attack by pests. Or maybe since this is my first year here, the insects have not found me yet. The best defense is still a watchful garden. I have not seen much of a problem yet. There have been a few incidents of leaf miners and aphids, but I have also seen parasitic wasps, lady bugs, toads, and assassin bugs. Everything seems in balance so far. The parsley, dill and cilantro are blooming their hearts out attracting these beneficial insects.
I was worried for a while that I had not seen honey bees. There is an active bee keeping community around me, so I knew they were there. The bee keepers all said that the bees were active. I saw plenty of wasps and bumble bees so I kept looking. The honey bees had not found our first year garden yet either for a long while. They must remember only grass being here. Before I started worrying about hand pollinating tomatoes, I saw swarms of honey bees on my dozen borage plants. Yeah! Those blue flowers attracted them better than a highway billboard. Hopefully my garden is told far and wide in those knee shaking, complex dances around town, so that bees will continue to come and visit my humble garden for pollen.
I had moved from flat Houston, so had to adapt to a yard that sloped at least five feet across a narrow urban lot. I planned my garden plot with swales along the hills contours. Once the soil was in, I dug paths. You could say that the entire yard is a raised bed, with cuts of paths. The swales were techniques learned from permaculture instructors. They slow the water runoff and force water into the aquifer to keep irrigation needs down. My downhill neighbor may benefit from the irrigation factor more than I, but we all do our part.
The swale paths are curved, because I like curves. It makes a small garden look bigger. It gives an English cottage garden feel. It is more organic and less engineered. It fits my style. It makes devices like hoop structures and trellises more challenging, but I still like it. I don't want to till or keep to a rigid pattern. Plants meander. They blur the edges. They don't like to color within the lines. They change the pattern before you have a chance to exert dominance. It is their ability to find light and water that teaches me. I learn from the plants. What does well and what combinations do better? I keep asking, and politely, the garden answers, given enough time for it to express itself, which might take many seasons.
I just finished putting away a gallon of canned salsa. My wife fights me for time at the dehydrator to dry tomatoes while I try to dry herbs at their most flavorful time. She is starting in on pickling okra and making lacto fermented ketchup. Thank goodness for the ketchup. We haven't had ketchup since we read what was in commercial ketchup last fall. We have been waiting like crazed condiment fiends for rich tomato taste to come from the garden to make some ketchup of our own. We need that to go with the crazy good mayonnaise that she makes. I was hoping that we would have some before hamburgers were grilled on the July Fourth barbeque. Maybe, just maybe.
The local coop has bought some of my Daikon greens, Napa cabbage, kale, chard and a few herbs. We sell what we have in abundance and buy what we cannot grow ourselves. I am eying a Napa cabbage right now for sauerkraut. That one won't go to the market. And none of the tomatoes. There are plenty farmers producing that for the crowd. We plan to use all we produce. The misses has made some of the best tomato soup I have ever tasted. There is gazpacho and tomato steaks with mozzarella and basil. My herb jars are filling up with dried sage, various mints and basils, parsley and dill. My prize is my anise hyssop plant. The package of seed said "easy to grow." Humph. I have never been too successful and this year proved no different. In my cold frame starts I only managed 1 seedling start out of two packages of anise hyssop seeds. That's not a good germination rate in anyone's book. One plant I nurtured and one plant I am now harvesting and thankful. I'll take what I can get and I will learn to do better. I will try propagating it instead of seed starting now. The plants are important to me. Yes, I love fresh herbs, but I plan ahead for winter by drying some of the harvest. I would much prefer knowing how long an herb has been in a jar and how it was treated. I prefer knowing what is in my food pantry and going into the meal we fix for my daughter. Congress can keep its food safety bill. I prefer to buy locally because I know my farmers. I am the best judge of my food, thank you very much.
I am an Urban Homesteader.