Urban Homesteading in Florida

A former MOTHER EARTH NEWS editor has discovered the good life in an unlikely place. Take a peek into her urban-homesteading adventures in Florida.

| March/April 1985

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    Several beehives provide the author's family with honey and some extra cash.
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    Much of the author's vegetarian diet is supported by her garden.
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    The author's modest homestead on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
  • 092-078-01
    The author's modest homestead on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

  • 092-078-01a
  • 092-079-01a
  • 092-079-01
  • 092-078-01

In the spring of 1982, I left the staff of MOTHER EARTH NEWS to move to ... no, not a wilderness home on the outskirts of civilization, but (gasp) the city! I suspect that at the time some of my colleagues thought I'd fall prey to the same old nine-to-five routine that I'd been encouraging MOTHER's readers to leave but happily, that hasn't proved to be the case. Today, my husband, Jim, and I are living the kind of simple life that I had time only to write and dream about as a MOTHER editor. And we're doing it in the unlikely setting of a city of 250,000 people on Florida's densely populated Gulf Coast.

When I first arrived in the land of opulent condos and mushrooming mobile home parks, I was pretty wet behind the ears and loaded with the usual misconceptions about this much-maligned state. Jim, patient fellow that he is, took me under his spousal wing and immediately began my education in urban homesteading, Florida-style. He had moved into his modest urban bungalow eight years earlier and had single-handedly turned the rather plain little spread into a veritable oasis. The backyard, once a sandy, sun-scorched parking area (complete with broken concrete chips and layers of coquina shells), had been transformed into two large organic gardens partially shaded by citrus trees. Jim had replaced the crabgrass "lawn" with heat-resistant St. Augustine turf and softened the stark outlines of the house by planting a colorful landscape of native tropicals.

Inside the bungalow, he had laid new kitchen linoleum; installed ceiling fans; sanded and polished the once-covered wooden floors; repaired or replaced aging windows, screens, ceilings and doors; and even put on a new roof all of which, I like to think, kept him busy until I came along!

Nowadays, here on our tiny urban homestead only a block from Tampa Bay, we come just about as close to self-reliance as is possible in a city. The two original gardens have been joined by an herb plot, grapevines, two wildly productive fig trees and three varieties of Florida apple trees (which are actually imports from Israel). We have a small banana grove in the side yard, and maverick papayas pop up from time to time all over the property.

Gardening, of course, is hardly a "throw in the seeds and watch 'em grow" affair down here. But after all, this is Jim's native turf, so he knows the secrets of coaxing food crops from Florida's "sugar sand" and sometimes hostile climate. To keep our garden soil healthy, we rely on periodic double-digging of our four-foot raised beds; regular treatments with cottonseed meal, colloidal phosphate and liquid seaweed; and year-round composting and manuring (we gather free stable waste at a local horse farm, and Jim brings home a constant supply of nitrogen-rich grass clippings from his lawn service route).

Although our 50-by-110-foot lot is too small for livestock (and even if it weren't, we'd have zoning restrictions to contend with), we do have a few farm "pets": Several beehives provide us with generous harvests of honey, and a homemade worm bed full of thousands of red wigglers yields pound upon pound of nutrient-packed, soil-enriching worm castings for our horticultural efforts.

8/24/2007 9:52:22 PM

Thanks for the article on Urban Homesteading in Florida. I'm trying to do that exact thing. I've been planting different edible crops and trees in my yard for years, but now I'm seriously "going homestead" and your article gave me some great ideas!


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