The Suburban Micro-Farm
When Amy moved to a house with a typical suburban sized yard, she didn’t have any background in gardening, let alone suburban farming. She joined a CSA because she wanted local and fresh food. That particular CSA encouraged their members to help on the farm. This got her hands in the dirt and was her first introduction to growing food. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she really liked raising her own vegetables.
Remember that Amy started her garden experience on a farm? She, as do many others, had the idea that one needs lots of land to be able to grow food – even for a family of two. That brought her to participate in a land share program since she thought that her property was too small. She basically rented a piece of land, cultivated, planted and nurtured the crop and gave the property owner part of the harvest as payment.
The Start of the Suburban Farming Experiment
Amy had to travel an hour by car each way to tend to her garden. After one growing season, Amy decided that there had to be a better way. She looked at the land around her house and made the decision to try to grow fresh veggies right at home. That was the start of her true suburban farming experiment.
But like most people when buying a house they did not base their decision on how suited the property was for gardening. Good thing that Amy likes a challenge. She was interested in finding out how to overcome difficulties such as too much shade (three big trees that pretty much shade the whole back yard) or as a sloping yard.
Since the backyard was so very shady, she decided to start gardening in her front yard. However, Amy wanted her yard to look similar to the rest of the neighborhood even though she wanted to produce food. She and her husband were newcomers in this area and didn’t want to look or be perceived as too different.
That influenced the planning of their new front yard design. They planted a variety of fruiting shrubs such as strawberries and black berries. Even small cherry trees made it on the list.
Would you Rather Eat a Strawberry or a Turnip?
Amy’s goal was to share her bounty with her neighbors. So, she asked herself:
“Would you rather eat a Strawberry or a Turnip?”
Not only did Amy share the bounty of the garden with the neighbors, she even made strawberry jam to give away. That makes me want to be Amy’s neighbor!
It didn’t take long for neighbors to view Amy’s Garden as a great asset to the community. Even a dedicated lawn lover who watched the strange (in his eyes) transformation from a perfectly nice lawn to this wondrous food landscape became a believer. After taking a tour of Amy’s garden, he offered a piece of his garden to Amy to grow food on. The suburban farming operation was growing!
She jumped on this opportunity and involved the neighborhood kids with building and tending the new garden. Well, Amy did most of the work but the kids enjoyed the harvest. Again, I want to be her neighbor.
Amy planted cherry trees on the grass strip between the sidewalk and the street. That semi public space can be a great asset to the suburban farming enthusiast. Let’s face it, once you start falling in love with plants, there is always another one that just wants to become part of your garden.
- Why not – it was an empty space with access to sun light.
- Cherry trees can withstand being frequently “watered” by dogs.
- Cherry blooms are so pretty.
- It is easy to keep the trees neighbor friendly with the right pruning.
- Cherries don’t create a big mess like some other trees do.
The Permaculture term fruit tree guild explained.
- A tree in the center.
- Under the tree different herbs are planted which fulfill a variety of functions like attracting beneficial insects, deterring others, being used as living mulch and more.
- Bulbs such as daffodils planted around the perimeter might distract digging animals like gophers and even deer.
- Comfrey is a Permaculture favorite to plant around trees – and everywhere else.
- Chives repel pests and have flowers which bring in beneficial insects.
Other Topics, Not a Complete List – You Have to Listen to the Podcast.
Other topics we touched on during the interview:
What to do when there are pests? Become a detective. Amy explains how she found the problem involving her cherry trees and solved it without using any pesticides whatsoever.
Nitrogen fixers are an important element of the plant guild.
Permaculture and her garden experiments inspired her to start blogging about her suburban farming experience. Her blog is called The Tenth Acre Farm and I highly recommend it.
Our conversation led us to one of my favorite topics- soil. And of course the importance of compost in the soil. Amy dedicates quite a bit of her book to these topics and you will find lots of good information.
Another of Amy’s experiments which spoke to me was the idea of a color garden. One year, everything is red, another year, everything is yellow or even purple and blue. That sounds like such a fun idea.
If you are interested in buying Amy’s book, you can do so directly from the book’s website, at your favorite book store or through the ever present standby, Amazon (affiliate). The Suburban Micro-Farm by Amy Stross
Photos by Amy Stross
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