Urban agriculture


IMG_6810_ed_lJune begins my summer harvesting season, with berries and stone fruit in abundance. This was my harvest one day about a week ago–mostly blackberries, some raspberries and a few apriums. The blackberries and raspberries are slowing down now, but the apriums and apricots are in full harvest. I started harvesting my blueberries about a week ago and they are just starting to produce in quantity. In about a week my plums will be coming in. My figs, grapes and apples are other perennials well on their way, too.

My annual crops are already starting to come in. I picked a cucumber a few days ago, and I’ve got two kinds of summer squash that I’ll start to pick in a few days. This is the best part of the year, with all these fresh fruits and vegetables to eat, preserve and share. Life is good as an urban farmer.

Every year at least one local jurisdiction decides that growing tomatoes in your front yard violates someone’s sensibilities.¬† The year has just started and we already have a new contender in the My Lawn is Prettier than Your Tomatoes nonsense. Mark Bittman of the New York Times has a column discussing some of the bigger issues, highlighting a town in Florida that is harassing gardeners for growing food in their front yard. I’m so glad I live in Oakland where so many people have taken out lawns and replaced them with drought tolerant and food producing plants.

I’m fortunate I don’t have too much of a problem with the larger pests–racoons and deer–that many people in my area must contend with. However, something around here has been thirsty and has discovered my rainwater barrels. I’m guessing it is racoons. (more…)

aprium harvestI’m struggling with language here, so any advice is appreciated. An aprium is a new fruit variety, created by Zaiger Genetics. It’s 3/4 apricot and 1/4 plum, just the reverse of a pluot, also developed by Zaiger Genetics. (Before rambling on about my garden, I should mention that the SF Chronicle had a nice article on the Zaiger family a few days ago. I visited their farm a few years ago while on a tasting tour and met them. They’re good people, and (more…)

Last year I had a pretty primitive system of rainwater collection and storage, just four garbage cans and five-gallon buckets for collecting rainwater. This year I’ve advanced considerably, with three rainwater catchment barrels in place and a fourth ready to be chained into the system. For more on this year’s new setup, see my earlier post, My rainwater catchment system. Now that I’m collecting more water, and collecting it on the lowest part of my property, I’ve been wanting to figure out a better system for using the water and moving it to where it is needed.

A friend came by a few weeks ago to see my setup and told me how he moves around his laundry grey water. He has a small pump, a Simer M40, that I liked because it has two hose bibs, making both input and output easy to use in the garden. I found one used on eBay and it arrived today. With warm weather the past week and wind on top of that, I needed to irrigate. Plus, we have a storm coming in next week and I want my catchment barrels to be empty and ready to collect more rainwater with the next storm.

So, I tested out the pump, both for irrigation and to empty out the barrels. The pump is small, so it doesn’t put out a lot of pressure. But, there is enough pressure to hook up my hose and water my plants. The real test came when I moved over two catchment barrels of water to garbage cans elsewhere in my yard. The pump was slow, taking 12 minutes to fill each garbage can and drain half of a catchment barrel. But, it worked and I was able to do other yard work while the transfer took place. I now have 130 gallons of water stored in garbage cans and will have capacity to collect another 260 gallons of water with the coming spring storms. I like this setup! I’m thinking I might even get another container, a 200 gallon surplus food container, to put under my front window, then I can store water to irrigate my front yard once or twice during the summer. The pump could be used to move rainwater from a collection site to that tank.

For anyone who has been paying attention the past few years, it’s clear that growing your own food is becoming popular again. Seed companies have seen sharp demands for their seed stocks and beekeeping and chicken husbandry classes are being offered in virtually every urban area. There are many reasons for this. Some people are concerned about food security. Some people want the better taste and variety of homegrown food. Whatever the reason, the trend is clear.

The New York Times has chronicled this change for the past several years and yesterday reported that the trend has even hit botanical gardens. Apparently, attendance is down and previous event sponsors are no longer supporting traditional events. So, the gardens are getting more creative on a variety of fronts. But, the primary change is captured in this single sentence, buried in the middle of the article:

Edible gardens are the fastest-growing trend at botanical gardens, consistently increasing attendance, experts say, along with cooking classes.

This is not only unsurprising, but good news. Edible gardening is also the primary trend in home gardens, resulting in higher food security and higher quality food.

Here are a few shots of the planters themselves, to show how they are constructed. The green planters were made following my friend’s instructions, by cutting out a section of the plastic tub’s lid the size and shape of the tub’s interior about five inches off the bottom (the height of the pond baskets that drop into the water reservoir). While this results in a large tub, it is very time-consuming to do this.

Me second approach (more…)

Last winter I took a series of gardening classes and one in particular intrigued me. The instructor, another Master Gardener in my county (in fact, she was the one that told me about the training program) taught one class on how to make self-irrigating planters. I love the acronym–SIPs–although I have to say these planters don’t really SIP. They use at least as much water as a regular planter, but more of that water is going into production because losses from soil evaporation are virtually nil.

In any case, a friend and I built a couple planters each one day. As I readied to plant them I realized (more…)

What would urban agriculture look like if it were industrialized? Everything on this site approaches urban agriculture from an ecological perspective. As urban agriculture becomes more popular, we find entrepreneurs looking at opportunities in the field. Some of those entrepreneurs will follow the current trends towards local, sustainable agriculture. But, others will see the opportunities and approach urban agriculture from the industrial approach. What will their agriculture look like?

(more…)

ag1_fourPeoplePisgahView_lKevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams improbably plows up his corn field to build a baseball diamond when he hears a voice say “Build it and he will come.” Robert White’s story is just the opposite and equally improbable — but true. When Robert¬† became possessed with the idea of growing food, he’d never done it before. But he went ahead anyway, starting with taking over an existing baseball diamond in Asheville NC and turning it into an urban farm. When I visited there in April, (more…)

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