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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

True Urban Farming

By Allen Johnson

I’m Uncle Dale’s son and Michael’s cousin.  I’ve been reading backyard farming for a couple of years now and I’ve been mentioned in some of my father’s articles (Broiler Apocalypse, Proper Snake Removal).  My father asked me to describe our urban farm on this blog.  I hope that my backyard farm might inspire you to get creative with your situation and start to grow something.

My wife, daughter, and I live in an urban jungle – Arlington, Virginia.  Our house was built in 1945 during the post WWII defense boom as part of Ft. Barnard.  The army built it right into the side of the steepest hill in Arlington to use every square foot possible.  Being on a hill, we have more stairs than anything; 25 to the front door, 15 from there up to the back door and patio, 9 more take you to the highest terrace, and 30 inside that connect each room which is on a different level.  As part of an urban neighborhood, our entire property is barely larger than the US median square footage of new homes - 2,600 sq feet. 

Last summer we started a garden in the only truly flat piece of land, the 7.5’x13’ patch of soil next to our patio.  This year with a toddler we decide that our flat plot needed to be a place for her to play so we had to get creative to grow a garden.  We installed raised beds across the front of the house.  We built shelves into the retaining wall to support flower and herb boxes. On the highest portion of the hill we pulled out the thick underbrush that occupied the space and put in terraces. We use trellises for vertical gardening. Most of the crops are irrigated with soaker hose. Fortunately, our property has a southern exposure so we get plenty of sun. 
We now grow a variety of crops including lettuce, chard, tomatoes, cucumbers, black berries, broccoli, green beans, egg plant, peppers, raspberries, sunflower, squash, and many varieties of flowers and herbs. My father has been jealous of the quantity and quality of our produce. Small gardens produce proportionately more that large gardens because you have to maximize every square foot. My father’s large garden has wide walkways (more room for weeds) and plants that get neglected because of the volume of work to be done. 

I hope that our success with a small property will inspire you to find ways to turn your home into a productive backyard farm. If we can do it, anyone can do it. You don’t need the acres that my father has to have a several nice meals a week from your garden all summer long. Grilling fresh vegetables alongside chicken from my father’s farm is a treat after a long days work. If you haven't started yet, get creative and start today. You still have at least 90 good growing days in most of the US.

 Urban Arlington Virginia

 The hillside challenge

 Blackberries in the front yard.

 Interplanting vegetables and flowers in raised beds  

 Front door surrounded by garden

  Patio, planter boxes for herbs, and upper terrace

 A steep hillside with poor soil, yet the garden is thriving

 The reward


Dani said...

Congratulations - absolutely beautiful :-)

Brian said...

I'm in a similar situation as you just to your north in Baltimore. I have a small garden in by backyard except I have limited sunlight. I too have southern exposure but we have huge maple trees everywhere...too much shade can be a bad thing some times. Good luck!

Mike said...

Awesome garden Allen. Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer said...

This is fantastic! I love what you've done. Can you tell us how you installed the wooden shelves on the retaining wall? Did you bolt them into the cement, or are they suspended from above?

K-Koira said...

Pretty awesome!
Though, I have to say, being from Oregon, it is super bizarre to me that anyone would intentionally grow blackberries. We fight an annual battle with them just to keep them from totally taking over the entire yard (and side of house, and neighbor's yard...).



Allen said...

@ Jenifer - I drilled holes in the concrete with a hammer drill and used galvanized screws and plastic fasteners to secure it to the wall.

@ K-Koria - We haven't fully thought through the blackberries. But we got them on clearance at the end of November last year. These could turn into a Kiwi level of effort at some point http://backyardfarming.blogspot.com/2011/05/projects-that-get-out-of-control.html

Gentleliving7 said...

I just love this. Your daddy sounds like a wonderful man. It is a good thing that he has enough property to raise chickens to share with you. Blessings to you and yours.

Contessa Kris said...

What a wonderful use of the space you have. Love it! Thanks for sharing!

Cate said...

Allen - your urban farm looks great! I live in Arlington as well (in the Penrose neighborhood, near Ft. Myer) and just expanded my square foot garden by three more raised beds. I'd love to come by sometime and check out your place.

If you are interested in chickens, I'm involved with the Arlington Egg Project to bring backyard hens back to Arlington. You can check out my Arlington urban garden on my facebook page:

Take care! Catie Drew

teekaroo said...

Inspiring! I love how the garden wraps around the front door.

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

Those little yellow tomatoes are one of my favorite things on earth - love them roasted in the oven w/ sea salt and olive oil!!

katiegirl said...

You've done a great job maximizing your space!

angela said...

Loving the city garden. Just discovered this blog about a city gardener being taken to court...a good read and they need support! here's the link http://oakparkhatesveggies.wordpress.com/page/2/