Grow a Ton of Food Urban Farming in Your Neighborhood

I used to think I needed over an acre of land to have a decent farm, and our retirement ideas included starting a homestead. In the meantime, I began with a small garden on our 1/4 acre plot. A few years later, we also started raising chickens. We now grow more vegetables than we can eat, and get fresh eggs everyday from our little urban farm. It turns out that I didn’t need acres of land, I just needed to sharpen my skills and get creative.

Fresh picked last week

Learning to garden well takes practice

My grandfather made gardening look easy. He grew everything, and always had enough to store away for the winter. My first garden was far from productive. The yard was a dust bowl – there wasn’t a single earthworm to be found. To make things worse, I started with small raised beds and overcrowded everything. Not much came out of that first garden that the bugs didn’t get. Frustrated by my results, I nearly gave up.

A few years later, we got serious about our plans for financial independence and the idea of homesteading. I started doing more research, and picked up the book The Joy of Gardening. This guy gardened like my grandfather. No raised beds, just doing what it takes to grow as much food as you can with as little money and land as possible. Reinvigorated, I tore out my old garden and plowed up a 25′ x 25′ area. That area has been expanding slowly and is now 25′ x 40′.

Our garden has grown to 1000 sq. ft.

I made wide rows, gave my plants more space, put in automated watering, and started mulching with grass clippings to keep the water in and weeds out. Most importantly, I set about improving our soil. It was acidic, so I put down lime and spread ashes from our wood stove to help balance the pH. Throughout the year, I add organic matter like leaves, grass clippings, and compost. I keep getting bigger harvests, and hardly use any fertilizer.

Now plants thrive in our rich soil.

Patience can be more effective than chemicals

I never used any pesticides even when I was losing some crops. Instead, I concentrated on making the plants healthier. It took patience – I almost gave up on growing crops like cabbage and cauliflower because our aphid problem was so bad. But over the years I planted more perennial flowers and bushes in the yard. Things were getting greener all around the yard, making a great habitat for predators.

To help things along, I introduced praying mantises. I also started spacing apart trouble plants like broccoli, kale and cauliflower, so I could remove infested plants before the pests spread.

Then things started to take a turn. I was checking for potato beetles one year, and found nothing but spiders. And this year, I’m finally seeing a lot of praying mantises. These predators took time to establish, but now take care of our pests – including aphids.

Fresh steamed and aphid free 🙂

Of course, not everything is perfect. This year for example, I tried some new varieties of winter squash and a new pest showed up to chomp on their stalks. I was tempted to spray the bases of the plants, but I saw spiders going to town on the flies. Instead of spraying and killing beneficial spiders and bees, we’re letting nature take its course. We probably won’t get much winter squash, but next year I’ll try a different variety, and our predators will be back with reinforcements.

Maybe I could have saved some crops by spraying, but overall, l spend less time and money per crop by refraining. I like being a lazy farmer, and I get to see improvements every year as more friendly critters move in.

Raising chickens in a neighborhood

We really kicked things up to urban farm level when we got our chickens. Having chickens on a quarter acre plot in a neighborhood used to seem ridiculous. Then we stayed on an urban farm during a trip to Asheville, NC. They had bees, chickens, rabbits, and ducks – all on a tenth of an acre. We decided to go for it.

The chickens helped complete our little ecosystem. We saw results right away as they eliminated our grub problem by feasting on the juicy beetles in our yard. We also feed them scraps from the garden and kitchen, and the spent grain from making beer. In turn, they make eggs and poop out excellent fertilizer. The scraps they don’t eat get fed to the compost along with the chicken shit and weeds. The compost feeds the garden which produces our veggies. The circle goes on, and it just gets better as we learn more. I love seeing our little ecosystem evolving and growing.

Chickens finishing off the rest of a cauliflower plant.

A grocery store in our backyard

The garden has become so bountiful that we can eat out of it everyday. The menu changes with seasons, and we’re always learning new ways to make use of our harvests. For example, we were in Spain this summer and found they top basic garden salads with tuna. We thought it was odd, but it turned out to be delicious. We returned home to a glut of salad greens and were lucky to have a new recipe to try.

Salad with tuna, olives and garden goodies

Everything is super fresh, and we don’t have to go anywhere. When it’s time to eat, I just pop into the garden and grab what we need. No need to drive to a store – our food is literally garden to table.

Eating from the urban farm all year

We’ve also been learning to store better. When our lettuce was getting close to bolting, I picked, washed, and stored the final harvest in my ultra efficient fridge. Now the homebrews have some company, and we have fresh salad for a few extra weeks. I can also store cabbages in the fridge for months at a time.

Storing excess lettuce in the keezer

We also get bumper crops of garlic which stores really well.

Garlic harvest

We grew 4 lbs last year, and by taking the time to cure them properly, we had garlic last through the entire year. This year, we harvested and cured 7 lbs.

Fresh garlic next to our stored garlic from last year.

The garden is so fertile that we even get some bonus crops coming up on their own. Last year, we had a ton of Frankensquash which we ate well into January. This year I got a bunch of fancy fingerling potatoes that came up on their own. I harvested a bucket of potatoes that I never even planted. Kept in a cool, dark place, they will keep well into winter.

Rogue potatoes

One final task – eat it all!

Of course we try to eat as much as we can now. Dinner usually includes two or thee sides of garden veggies. My latest favorite has been BBQ pork ribs with potatoes, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, and a fresh garden salad.

Garden veggies with a side of ribs

While I love to travel and have a hoard of other hobbies, I can spend 90% of my time at home during the growing season. There are always new crops to plant, harvest, or process. Weeding is even fun now that it feeds both the chickens and the compost pile.

Lettuce, basil, cilantro and broccoli

Anyone can find a way to grow their own food

We grow enough food for ourselves on a small section of our yard. Some people even make a living by changing entire backyards to urban farms and growing in neighbors’ backyards. I’m excited to see this spreading and empowering more people to get into growing delicious, healthy food in a hyper local and sustainable fashion.

If you’ve been thinking about growing your own food, just get started now. I’ve talked to people who grow successfully in tiny yards, on apartment balconies, indoors, and even using other people’s yards. Maybe you won’t have a ton of crops right away, but it’s a learning process, and the longer you do it, the more successful you’ll be. It doesn’t take much land to grow serious amounts of food, and there’s nothing like pulling lunch out of your own yard.

27 thoughts on “Grow a Ton of Food Urban Farming in Your Neighborhood

  1. Looks like your next project might be a root cellar to store all of those wonderful garden goodies. I’m getting a lot of squash right now which I’m processing for pumpkin bread this winter. Enjoy!

    • Yep, a good root cellar is key for storing certain veggies long term. Luckily our attached garage serves as an excellent root cellar. We stored winter squash in there that lasted until February, and the garlic stored in there lasted until this summer 🙂

  2. Great post! I am so jealous! Where we live now people pay top-dollars for organic food. You can’t get much more organic than what you do! Once we’re retired and we move away from the big city we might try to replicate some of this in our own garden. One more thing to look forward to in FIRE. 🙂

    • Yeah, if you compare prices we’d pay for the same local organic veggies, there are some significant cost savings. An added bonus if you love gardening which makes for an excellent FIRE hobby 🙂

  3. Amazing 😀 We have a tiny 3 x 5m (10foot x 15foot) garden space that houses two chickens, a useless apple tree and endless rogue tomato plants. Everything else has to live in pots because of the tiny space, but it just goes to show that no matter how small the space you can grow food in it 🙂

    • Nice work! You’re definitely making good use of that space, and it’s awesome you have a few chickens. It’s nice having them to take care of kitchen scraps and provide eggs 🙂

      • Tis wonderful, we waste so little.

        Except I only have two hens, so sometimes I need to withhold scraps for the next day. Otherwise their little bellies get full, and they just end up grinding things into the dirt. Great for the dirt, but a waste of edibles.

  4. Nice garden Mr. CK!

    Right now, I’m knee deep in more lettuce than I can eat … and loving every minute of it. We eat a green salad out of the garden almost every day!

    This year’s “salsa season” is going to be pretty fantastic too — My pepper plants are doing extremely well this year, and our garlic crop did very well too!

    I’ve mentioned it on my blog in the past, but I have to say it again: Garlic might just be one of the best plants *ever* for lazy gardeners. We plant ours in the fall and then pretty much ignore it until next summer.

  5. Totally loving all the vegetables harvesting out of your urban homestead. I have been working on mine for a number of years and can attest bigger is not always better. I have had a huge garden for a few years (0.45 acre lot) and I have downsized quite a bit by replacing some of the cultivated area with fruit trees and am still leaving more than half of the garden area unplanted. It is growing few perennial fruits and weeds which the chickens are loving. Thanks for a bit of inspiration as it is soon time for a decent growing season to start here. Definitely looking to plant a smaller area.

  6. That is an awesome garden. Mrs. RB40 has been practicing with our community garden and she is getting good. It’d be great to have a little more land. Our garden has a big aphid problem too. I hate them so much. It’s hard to establish a balance eco system because we’re downtown.

    • That’s awesome, I really like the community gardens 🙂

      Aside from waiting for predators to establish, I’ve also been having better luck by separating trouble plants and then pulling anything that gets infested. There were a few years early on where I just skipped things like broccoli altogether to avoid aphids.

  7. Praying Mantis – so smart!! And they are so cool looking. Seeing your plentiful garden makes me long for my old one even more! I practiced square foot gardening and was amazed every time something grew. Nature is so awesome!!! With a garden that big and lovely you will soon need to take on some woofing volunteers. I’m throwing my hat in the ring. 😉

  8. My grandfather (and father) gardened the same way. We always had tons of produce around and I can remember clearly that the blueberries, raspberries and strawberries grew too plentiful to eat. I remember how we were always giving stuff away to neighbors and friends because we had too much.

    Very cool to see you putting this together on 1/4 of an acre. Thanks for the photos!

      • We caught 30+ chipmunks one year – using water and a bucket from Home Depot.
        Do not think I am being cruel, these critters can become ruthless and damaging to your home. They tunnel in the soil and shift the pavers – one of my neighbors twisted his ankle because the paver he stepped on flipped over when we had an entire neighborhood infested with these cute-looking rat-like creatures.

        • We have a rock wall that makes for a perfect chipmunk habitat. We’re cool so long as they stay out of the garden. When they start getting at our berries or tomatoes, I’ll trap them with a have-a-heart trap and relocate them. Usually once I take out 3-4 perpetrators the pressure drops for the season.

  9. Love this post!! I have always loved gardening because the healthy things you can put in your tummy = less health problems.
    I own a 1/3 acre land and for years, I planted several different fruit trees and vegetables. I live in the park system so deer are always part of uninvited meal guests. One year we had a terrible aphis attack but later that summer we had a flock of ladybugs came into the garden – so that solved the aphis issue. My cherry trees didn’t survive the harsh winter and my gold peach trees grew some odd slimy fluid around the trunk, I cut them down and used them for winter heating and outdoor fire pit. I also planted grapes and this is our 3rd season – they are everywhere and I can tell you they look small but they are so flavorful you wonder what happened to the ones you see at the market!!
    Every year I plant lavender, mints, lemon balm, various types of basils, rosemary and sage, I freeze them for winter use – we love our winter lavender/mint/lemon balm tea; basils and rosemary are great for Thanksgiving and other cold weather cooking.
    I am very drawn to having my own chicken but my dog will make a crazy game out of chasing them so I probably have to wait a few years. With regarding to compost, I asked one of the bridge contractors for the crate they use and have been very happy with the result. If you do this right, you actually smell fresh and very enticing aroma from the compost bins. Sometimes I add a lot of coffee grounds in the compost and the soil we gather is by far the best and most ph-balanced one.
    I agree you can really grow food in your own backyard – many years ago I read about an article talking about New Yorkers raising chicken in the apartment for fresh eggs – this was actually articles about chicken diapers…so as you can see, nothing is impossible. Happy Farming!!

    • Very cool, sounds like you’re making good use of that land! That herb tea you’ve been making sounds awesome. We’ve kept mint for tea, and have been freezing a lot of basil for making pizzas in the winter 🙂

      Nice score on the free compost bin! I have been upping our compost game, and just made a few new bins with scrap wood I pulled out of a dumpster. I actually just started a little experiment with starting seeds in compost vs potting soil. The compost is winning 🙂

      Thanks for sharing, and Happy Farming!!

  10. This is so beautiful and joyful. I envy every veggie. But how exactly does a rogue potato grow??? I have no yard but I have taken to turning my fire escape into a little garden. Somehow, I planted tomatoes and they were growing beautifully. But alas, a squirrel has stolen all but one. If I get to eat this last tomato, it will be cause for a very big celebration. Next year I will take squirrel precautions. Gardening is all about learning.

    • Thanks! While I try and harvest all the potatoes, a few inevitably escape, survive the winter in the ground, and then come up the next year. I haven’t tried planting potatoes the last 2 years, but I still keep ending up with a decent crop 🙂

      That’s too bad about the squirrel! I have some nibbling on our tomatoes right now too. Usually I setup our have-a-heart trap and relocate a few each season. It takes the pressure off for a little while.

  11. This is the dream. I’m living in LA in a townhouse and don’t have access to a real garden plot, but that doesn’t stop me from recycling produce stems and regrowing them on my balcony. I’m hoping one day, I’ll have space for a chicken coop and a bee hive, and a big plot for larger produce. For now, it’s just nice to have the staples.

    You’d be surprised at what can grow in limited space. I currently have green onions, tomatoes, herbs, jalapeños, and citrus fruits, all of which are grown from the kitchen scraps I used to toss out.

    Speaking of, any suggestions for an urban-friendly compost system?

    • You can get a few 4×6 plastics boxes that can stack vertically. Then get screenmash that can filter the “worm poop” through. I used to have 3 or 4 stacker plastic bins that collected veggie parts, egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags, even old newspapers shredded in the mix on the top bin, then I will get a few earthworms in the blend, they eat whats brokendown from the veggie mixture and produce most ph balanced soil for use. Make sure the bins are deep enough though.

    • Very cool, thats a good selection of crops!

      As far as composting, if you have some space outside, you could try cutting some holes in a trash can. Then fill it with layers of brown and green compost materials. It shouldn’t smell bad so long as you turn it on a regular basis. I also like Tiffany’s suggestion on a worm bin 🙂

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