Hello, Greenie Beanies,
I recently got an email from another satisfied customer. That is, someone who read and liked my regular column on Urban Homesteading, which runs in every issue of MaryJanesFarm Magazine. Her name is Linda, and she wanted to pick my brain about urban homesteading.
Linda has been living in a rural home in California, and 2 years ago she moved into a city apartment with her adult daughter. Linda is not used to cramped city apartments. Linda does not like to feel cramped.
Oh, we can feel that pain, can’t we, sugar dumplings?
In any case, she’s having a hard time adjusting, and she’s finally looking for some ways to bring out her inner farmgirl. But how to do it in the city?
Oh, sugar pies, YOU JUST KNOW she came to the right place!
Since I get questions like Linda’s fairly often via email or text message or Facebook nudge or secret message (seriously, people, if you have a question, ain’t no shame in postin’ it for all the guacamole-lovin’ world to see! We won’t tease you! And I kick jerks off my comments board, which makes “The Alchemist” the fun-lovin’, free spirited, totally tolerant, non-judgmental, warm and fuzzy, rolicking good time encouragin’, dictatorial palace of blogs. Or something like that.). Okay, I forgot what I was saying.
Oh, right. Since I get questions like Linda’s fairy often, I’m going to print a piece of my response to her here. Benefit from it, add to it, improvise, my sweet pets!
…It sounds like you’ve had to undergo quite the adjustment, you poor dear! I was born and raised in Chicago, but have lived elsewhere–always in major cities, including Honolulu and New York. So the crunch for space and land has always been an issue for me, and boy, do I sympathize. I think one huge perk about city-living and small spaces is that they make you creative. It is, of course, far easier to homestead on forty acres than it is in a 600 square foot apartment. So you get plucky. You get creative. You become less wasteful and more ingenious. You will, too! Embrace it, and give it time, Linda. But maybe I can help you to hurry things along….
Most of what I grow is in containers. People have no. Idea. How. Easy. This. Is. Really, I’m astounded at all the naysayers who will tell you vegetables can’t be grown in pots. [Readers: remember when I showed you how easy it is?] Listen, you can grow colonnade apple trees in pots! Almost any plant, given the proper space, soil, water, and nutrition, can be container-friendly. A great beginner’s book I’d recommend is McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container. I’m not sure what kind of balcony space you have, but I say, load it up, girl! A big part of urban homesteading is seeing what you can get away with. The answer, in my experience:
a whole lot.
Think lettuce in window boxes that hang over your balcony railings. Patio tomatoes in pots. Strawberries in hanging baskets. Peppers and eggplants are extremely container-friendly–mine are very productive in a mere 8-inch pot. Zucchini are notorious for a reason–they are practically reproductive machines. Though I’m a big fan of heirlooms, you might try the Raven Zucchini hybrid–it’s container-friendly and produces loads of fruit very quickly. Tea gardens are a great offshoot of the herb gardening thing, and mint and chamomile do very well in confined spaces. Make use of vertical space, too, with plants that climb. Just be sure that your landlord is okay with all this, and that you’re following the necessary safety precautions for balcony weight limits and such.
The great thing is, I think city neighbors, while they may not know much about what you’re trying to do, are usually pretty receptive and curious. You may have been no big deal to your far-off rural neighbors, but you’ll probably be a sensation when you cut pumpkins from a vine twirling around your fire escape. Try to make friends with your new neighbors, if you haven’t already, and let your garden be the icebreaker if need be. Share your produce, try not to drip water onto your neighbors below (I said “try”…it won’t always be possible), and if you make friends with people who don’t really use their space, go ahead and ask if you can put a box or two on their railing.
Remember, mushrooms are a great edible crop that you can grow indoors in low light–why not try a mushroom kit? Several issues ago, I wrote about the process in my “Urban Homesteading” column in MaryJanesFarm Mag. In another piece titled “Bunnies in ‘da Hood,” I wrote about raising indoor angora rabbits for their knitting fiber (they shed it naturally). My very first article for that column was about community gardens and yard shares. If your ambitions outstrip your land, you might try to find for-rent gardening plots nearby. You’re likely to meet new neighbors who share your farm fantasies. Try to cultivate online relationships, too–I like to do a little seed swapping on the forum at www.gardenweb.com.
Homesteading for me goes beyond gardening. I cook, I bake, I sew, I knit, I ferment, I pickle (I’ll be teaching pickling and fermenting workshops during MaryJanesFarm Day at this event in St. Paul in September–why not attend?!), I bake my own bread, brew beer and wine, make cheese, and am generally engaged in any nonsense I can lay hands upon. Now The Boy and I are getting into roasting coffee. We also subscribe to a local CSA or farm share box, which connects us to great local produce that we can’t or don’t grow ourselves (try www.localharvest.com to find one near you). It helps to make us feel like part of a community. We satisfy this urge by visiting our local farmers markets, too. Perhaps you could start a weekly farmers market habit and hobnob with farmers and foodie neighbors? These little things can help to put you in touch with a local, land-loving community that you didn’t even know existed.
Well, whaddya think, my little custard tarts? Did I just about cover it? Did I give you any fresh inspiration? Can you add anything to help Linda’s transition go a little more smoothly?
Duh, you totally can! Do so in