Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Boring Yard to Urban Farm: How We Did It

5/29/2011 12:30:35 AM

Tags: modern homesteading, urban farm, plan, Liesl and Myles Petersen

 Our Farm Layout 

The layout of our urban farm. 


Do you want to make a homemade pie made from fruit you grew yourself? Gather your own fresh eggs? Grow your own vegetables? These types of questions guided us in planning our urban farm-- and they can help you too!

Last year our 25 ft x 150 ft property was empty space, except for the house.  We saw this as a blank canvas!  We knew there was lots of potential to create an edible landscape, extend the growing season and transform this otherwise boring property into something productive. 

 We sat down and thought about what we'd like to grow and what we'd like to eat over the winter months.  We also considered keeping small livestock, researched the climate for our area, and pondered sunlight patterns in our yard to determine where everything would be placed.


Identifying the layout and creating solid structures was an important first year step.  We began by erecting a six foot perimeter fence- essential if having pets or livestock, such as chickens, rabbits or goats.  The fence also provides security and privacy, not to mention a full range of support to grow vegetables vertically-- key when maximizing growing space in a small area.

 To extend a short growing season we thought it essential to build a greenhouse and cold frame  using recycled windows.  We now reap the benefits of fresh vegetables in early spring long before neighbors on our street have even planted their gardens!


Determining soil deficiencies and making the appropriate amendments will save you time and money.  Our soil turned out to be clay- a very inhospitable environment for growing veg. 

To begin, we immediately set up composting areas at the back of the property.  All organic material such as vegetable and fruit scraps, lint from the dryer, paper towels, leaves, grass clippings, and newspaper went into our two composting bins.  Behind the shed we created a dumping area for sod that was removed to make the beds.  We would hide dog bones in the sod pile and our dog would go to work, digging like crazy.  This helped us to break up all of the grass, roots and dirt-- getting it ready for the composter. 

 The compost we made was added to beds we constructed, along with tons of straw to aerate the soil.  We also applied thick layers of garden soil mix that consisted of compost, manure, peat moss and mulch.  Our vegetables and fruits now thrive in the nutrient-rich soil!  This year we will be adding a number of raised beds to improve drainage and increase crop production.


Fruit and other edible perennial, such as asparagus need to be planted first as they may take years to produce. 

 Begin by selecting plants native to your area.  We discovered that fruit is possible on the prairie!  In our first year we planted apple and plum trees, raspberry, currant, and blueberry bushes, as well as grapes, strawberries, rhubarb and kiwi.  

Another area of consideration is to carefully plan where your vegetables will be placed.  For maximum production, think long term and choose a crop rotation system.  By grouping families of vegetables together and rotating them yearly, you will decrease pests and increase nutrient value. We are in our second season on this system and we have found it easy to follow.

Think ahead and explore the by-laws of your town or city to determine whether or not you are able to keep chickens and other livestock and plan accordingly!   


 Many things we planted died.  Don't be afraid to try again-- it's a learning curve!  What might not grow one season may flourish in the next.  We have found that research has been key-- family, friends and books from the public library have been our greatest sources of knowledge.  There are no rules in planning an urban homestead!  It's fun to see what you can do, to see how far you can take it --and to awe yourself and your family when you harvest an entire dinner out of your backyard!

Diagram: L + M Petersen 

Liesl and Myles are from Alberta, Canada. You can also find them on Nest. 




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