Posted by sustainable_hort on February 2, 2011 | No Comments
Urban gardening continues to be an expanding trend. We are seeing more and more turf areas being replaced by some type of landscape, often food oriented. This does not break my heart. I feel most small yards (turf) are useless and a waste of space. Now, I have no problem with a larger yard, one that is used by children, pets and families for outdoor activities. Play on!
But many urban yards are just small patches of grass that need to be mowed, watered and fertilized. Some homeowners have moved to “more natural” landscapes that often incorporate native shrubs and trees to draw the local birds and insects, while many also save water. These choices are a vast improvement over un-used turf space.
Meanwhile, vegetable gardening remains hot trend, one that is seeing increasing sales. All part of the “urban homesteading movement.” The more dedicated homesteaders have also added a “perennial food system” with fruit trees, berries, grapes, and herbs. Why? Mainly because people are becoming more aware of what real food is, and this is one way to change what they eat. More and more families are realizing that food gardens don’t take much more water and fertilizer than a yard, and can be good exercise, and might even be close to fun. Good way to teach biology too!
But, the first challenge with many of today’s suburban lots is space. The empty lots and surrounding open areas of my childhood have disappeared. Today’s homes (many McMansions) have very limited outdoor space available to grow foods. So, intensive, raised-bed plantings, and careful use of sun exposed walls, fences, etc., still allow families to raise a significant amount of food. It just takes careful planning and consistent care. Add container gardening to the mix, and almost any popular vegetable can be grown successfully.
So, how? Let’s start with classic Square Food Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew, written 30 years ago (his revised book is readily available). Then, I will follow up with several other-related books that cover similar territory. They are all aimed at helping get you started changing your yard into a small farm.
In the original Square Food Gardening, Bartholomew produced a basic gardening book that also happened to cover his engineer-based, grid-growing system. The recent book explains the system well. But, according to several review comments on Google, much of the earlier basic gardening information has disappeared. I guess most of that information is available in many forms, from many sources, so the current edition is based on more photographs and less text to cover the same ground (no pun intended). The basic idea is still very useful.
One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein is, in some ways, almost a direct copy of Bartholomew’s work, except that the author bases her plans on 3-foot squares. She comes from Australia, so she may not even be aware of his history in small space gardening in the U.S. Still, the idea is the same. Still, it definitely serves the same propose as the earlier work, and she supplies 30 different designs for squares that meet different crop desires. These are very helpful to those getting started with gardening, who’s limited horticultural knowledge make planning difficult, especially in the first few years.
Sugar Snaps and Strawberries (Timber Press) by Andrea Bellamy does not instruct gardeners to plant in grids, but to use the smaller spaces around any home to grow food. Her food production is a community gardening plot and her third story balcony. Bellamy runs the blog, www.heavypetal.com., which supports organic gardening, and her experience with limited space makes her information particularly useful to those urban/suburban homes with vey limited space. She manages to cover most of the basic growing information efficiently, with useful suggestions on the best varieties and planting schedules for nearly year-around growing. She also includes details on container gardening, which is “gardening” to more and more people. Bellamy’s work creates integrated, food landscapes that blend in more naturally while maximizing growing space.
If you are looking at gardening more from the chef viewpoint, check out another Timber Press book, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook, by Jennifer R. Bartley. This book provides similar growing information and designs, but the real focus is the end products…the many recipes that use seasonal vegetables and fruits. As more cooks learn to use new vegetables and desire fresh ingredients, a home kitchen garden will probably be the focus of any landscape that replaces turf.
Finally, books with ambitious plans and growing information are useful to those getting started. But, does it really work? Can our neighbor’s yards become small farms? Edible Estates…Attack on the Front Lawn (Metropolis Books) edited by Fritz Haeg, with essays by food writers such as Michael Polland and Rosalind Creasy, take the issue head on. This is not a gardening guide, but an inspirational showcase of actual front lawns that have made the transition to “farm” successfully. Eight yards are examined, with design plans and step-by-step photos of the actual landscaping process.
Once you start this process, my advice is to take it slow and have a sense of humor. To keep you going, read Manny Howard’s My Empire of Dirt (Scribner), subtitled “A Cautionary Tale,” He seemed to run into an inordinate set of problems (it would discourage many beginners), but takes it all with a slightly dark sense of humor. There are a number of these autobiographical records of “becoming a farmer or urban homesteader” on the market today, but few work at this level of humor.
This whole trend is morphing, especially for young adults and young families, into a new homesteading movement…a reclaiming of the urban environment. It moves well beyond just having a small, kitchen garden to creating landscapes that more mimic the natural surroundings. It includes shrubs and trees that provide food, added diversity to draw beneficial insects and birds, trap and re-use rain water, adding chickens, rabbits and other small animals, composting, etc., etc. A visually strong introduction to this concept comes from the wonderful DK Press. Titled Self Sufficiency for the 21st Century, this larger format book runs through all the main activities that fall under this general heading. Written by Dick and James Strawbridge (co-hosts of UK television series It’s Not Easy Being Green), it is packed with how-to sections on building a home, energy and waste, growing food, animal husbandry, and many traditional home kitchen, natural medicine and craft skills, all aimed at living as far off the grid as a family might get in the urban environment. Most readers will probably only start with a few of the book’s actions, but it will give anyone a solid, visual introduction to this topic. I just love DK’s approach to making their books so visual and clear. When I travel, I use their city books because they, again, are visual. So, if you are dreaming of urban homesteading, study this book and read Howard’s view of the reality, and you might be ready to start.
COMING NEXT: The New Lawn, Part II: But, not all homeowners are interested or willing to make their lawn into a farm. No problem. There are many other options to the traditional lawns. The high maintenance turf can be replaced by more natural landscape spaces that mirror the surrounding environment. The post will cover some more recent releases that look at alternative landscapes.
Tags:composting, environmental benefits of trees, gardening, green practices, healthy landscapes, home food production, landscaping, native plants, natural landscaping, organic gardening, rain barrels, rain gardens, Sustainable landscape, Urban agriculture
Filed Under: Benefits of Plants, Books to Read, Home Food Production, Info, Organic agriculture, Sustainable Horticulture, Sustainable Landscapes