Tuesday, February 22, 2011

neighborhood farming

This week we're going to examine a strategy aimed at expanding the area available for growing food in a particular neighborhood. It happens to be the neighborhood where I live. The map above shows my town. My neighborhood is marked by an asterisk. I don't have an abundance of sun in my yard so a few years ago I went looking to see if other people had more sun and were interested in growing food. Here's my neighborhood.

Here's my property in red.

I started by going across the street and asking my elderly neighbor if I could garden in her backyard. Then I recruited Eric who grows food in his backyard and is transitioning into a career as a farmer. Next I was able to start a garden in the backyard of the rental house next door to my property. It was part of a bartering arrangement whereby the landlord agreed to take down a few dying trees and in return I now grow food on her property. All of these active gardens are shown in dark green.

Several other people have expressed interest in helping to grow neighborhood food and/or have offered a sunny spot for a garden. These properties are shown in light green.

The biggest single area under cultivation is the vacant lot down the street. I've had some sort of a garden on that property for four years but this year it has been greatly expanded. It's shown in yellow.

Next we have the people interested in buying food. In years past I have given extra produce to these people, sometimes just leaving it on the backdoor step of neighbors I've never met as a way to start up a conversation. This year some of these people might formalize the relationship by becoming paying customers. These folks are shown in blue.

Other people in the neighborhood have offered compostable material, especially fallen leaves and grass clippings. Most of them have also expressed interest in helping to grow food and/or buying it. In fact most of the property owners represented on this map have overlapping interests in this neighborhood farming effort. These people are shown in orange.

Lastly there's the elementary school right around the corner. They have a great courtyard perfect for growing food and quite a bit of land out back that could be used to grow a great deal of vegetables. Frankly I haven't had the time to seriously address this opportunity... yet.

All of this needs work. Yes we have 462 gallons of rainwater storage capacity at the site across the street from my house and 12 raised beds and a great old apple tree. At the vacant lot however we don't have enough mulch stored for this coming growing season and we'll have to use municipal water unless I can find enough people willing to put in a decent rainwater harvesting system. A formal work schedule has yet to be developed. And the school, a huge opportunity, has not been included as of now. In other words this is, like any collective effort, an ongoing project that I imagine will continue to evolve. But it is the beginnings of model of expanding food production efforts beyond the boundaries of one particular property and out into the surrounding community. I can't wait to see where we go from here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

concord nc proposed backyard chicken regulation

I've been asked for this many times so I'm just going to post it online.

The following is the actual Proposed UDO Text Amendment to allow chickens as pets on residential lots within the city limits of Concord, North Carolina. Number 9 was forced on us by the way.

Incidentally this amendment was voted down by the Concord City Council in 2009. My birds remain at an undisclosed location.

Article 8Article 8. Use Regulations

Section 8.38.3 Supplemental Regulations for Certain Uses

F. Lots that are zoned for and utilized as single family detached residential may be permitted a maximum of (6) domestic female chickens (hens) contingent on the following requirements:

1. Hens are utilized for personal egg production or as pets;

2. Hens shall not be butchered within the City limits.

3. A humane and properly constructed henhouse, with at least two (2) feet of grade level ground clearance shall be provided. The structure must include solid, secure sides, including a solid top, that maintain confinement and prevents entry of predatory animals such as foxes or hawks. Sides should be embedded into the ground no less than one foot unless attached to a frame. Exterior surfaces, not inherently resistant to deterioration, shall be treated with a protective coating, such as paint or other suitable preservative, and maintained with sufficient frequency to prevent deterioration. Enclosure must provide access for proper cleaning and maintenance. It must provide protection from extreme temperatures, including but not limited to insulation, ventilation and drainage; Henhouses must include laying boxes of a minimum surface of fourteen (14) inches by fourteen (14) inches per chicken and must be regularly bedded with sawdust, straw or like material. All enclosures, including but not limited to structures and fencing, shall be constructed or repaired as to prevent rats, mice, or other rodents from being harbored underneath, within, or within the walls of the enclosure. All henhouses must be properly maintained in a safe, clean, sanitary and substantial condition that posses no health threat to the chickens or citizens and does not create a public nuisance. A picture is provide here as a possible example of an acceptable henhouse.

4. All feed and other items associated with the keeping of chickens that are likely to attract or to become infested with or infected by rats, mice, or other rodents shall be protected so as to prevent rats, mice, or other rodents from gaining access to or coming into contact with them;

5. Disposal of Chicken Waste/Manure: Waste products (manure) generated from the raising of chickens shall be composted on-site by the owner when possible. If on-site composting is impractical the waste products shall be double bagged in clear plastic bags and placed in the rollout container for disposal along with the regular household trash.

6. All hens shall be contained, at all times, within a wooden fence of at least four (4) feet high. The finished side of the fence shall face outward and each hen shall have a
minimum of four (4) square feet of range area. The range area must be well drained so there is no accumulation of moisture.

7. All henhouses shall be a minimum of ten (10) feet away from any adjoining property line. All structures, fencing, and hens must be located in the rear yard of the dwelling. The range area provided to any chickens must not include the crawl space of any residential structures not built exclusively to house the chickens.

8. Male chickens (roosters) are prohibited.

9. All persons desiring to maintain chickens (hens) in the City of
Concord, on properties less than two (2) acres, shall obtain a Permit from the Development Services Department prior to the construction/installation of any chicken related structure. There shall be no fee for the applicant. There shall be no site inspection necessary to obtain a Permit. A Permit shall be issued only to the legal owner of the property.

design project two part b :: an urban farm

Today we're designing an urban farm. This one will become real if we can get the funding necessary to start the program. The specific location of the farm will have to remain a secret for now but it's in Charlotte, NC near uptown. Todd Serdula did most of the excellent graphic work on this proposal.

To start with we break down the design considerations into 4 categories.

Physical Components
Programing Elements
Transition and Construction
Marketing and Distribution

The Physical Components can best be thought of as the needs of the plants. At a basic level this means sun, soil and water. The Programing Elements are the energy sources for getting work done. Who or what actually does the work on the farm? What tasks are accomplished using hands, machines or animals? And how are decisions made? These are critical questions more important to the success of the farm than the Physical Components.

We also have to consider Transition and Construction. Farm infrastructure and programing takes development. It's a process that doesn't happen overnight. Lastly we have to think about what will happen to the food once it is ready for harvest. How does it get from field to fork? This will affect the farm design.

We start be identifying several vacant urban city lots owned by a willing partner. The partner also owns adjacent infrastructure including a warehouse, a vacant restaurant and parking. We test the soil and find no major problems. We put the land into cover crops to build soil while the design proceeds.

In this first phase we construct a welcome center, potting sheds and some demonstration gardens. This farm will serve educational needs as well as grow food. During the first phase the upper field will be a summer cover crop that reseeds itself, mostly likely buckwheat.

The lower field gets programed with a special cover crop that not only builds soil but also helps provide funding for the farm. A total of 48 squares, 30' X 30' are planted in sunflowers of various varieties. All of them are yellow except for one square selected at random which is a red sunflower variety. Individuals and companies sponsor squares with the hope that their square will be the winning red sunflower square. A website links participants and offers a 24/7 webcam as well as time lapse photography of the project. It's cover cropping meets cow patty bingo.

Phase Two includes a greenhouse with a float bed transplant system(sun), a composting system including vermiculture(soil) and a rainwater harvesting system(water). It also includes and an orchard, annual vegetable production and a post harvest handling facility with refrigeration, located within an existing warehouse.

Phase Three adds a greenhouse for winter vegetable and summer flower production. It also adds a workhouse for indoor projects and a 'living fence' made up of existing and moved structures to serve as housing for interns, agro-tourists and WWOOFers.

Phase Four rounds out the project with an additional greenhouse for aquaculture, an indoor market and distribution center in the warehouse as well as a value-add restaurant. Additional fruit trees and bushes are also planted. The result is a fully functional urban farm that celebrates community by supporting sustainable agriculture.

design project two part a :: a suburban garden

Alright here's a neighborhood with a typical suburban lot highlighted in the middle.

It's on a one block, one way street. Here's a base map that includes existing features.

I've added some labels.

And some colour to help describe the property.

The lot is very narrow except for the odd side yard. The back yard gets some sun based on orientation and tree cover but the best sunlight falls on the front yard. Here's a picture of the front yard after a recent "snow storm."

You can see where the melt is occurring most rapidly. Incidentally this is a trick you can use to better understand solar access- time lapse photography after a snow storm. Here's a link to a better example.

The goal is not total food self sufficiency but a healthy environment with as many overlapping functions as is possible. Beautiful, edible, useful, playful, self-maintaining, flexible and fun are words I use to describe this space.

Here's a Google image.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Design Project One :: The Deck Garden

Today we're talking about programing small spaces for food production.

Here we have a portion of a hypothetical backyard.

We're going to be focusing exclusively on the deck but I thought labeling the basemap would give you a little context.

We look for spaces that might be less useful for circulation or for outdoor furniture and we add containers for growing food.

The 2' X 12' raised bed could be high enough to provide storage underneath. Perhaps something like this. (Hat tip to Jared)

Next we use some shaded areas near the downspout to collect rain water in barrels. Incidentally it's possible in some climates that you could raise fish in these barrels. Also water is heavy so be sure the deck can handle the weight.

Next we add some more space for growing- a narrow bed on the right hand side for plants like beans that can climb the fence. And we add a place at the southern bottom of the deck for cold frames. They can remain open during the summer and fall and serve as way to extend production during the colder months.

Lastly we go below the deck and create another bed, the idea being that here too vegetables that like to climb could use the deck itself for support.

You'll still want a place to sit and probably to eat so be sure to add that to the design. Here's a combination of bench/planter. And the Hosta are edible!

Don't forget you can hang things on the rails.

You probably won't grow all your food in this manner but you'd be surprised how much food you can grow in a small space.


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

the farm/garden design process

"Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. And the nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being proceeded by a period of worry and depression.” John Harvey-Jones

While it’s certain possible to over intellectualize the process of design, it’s also just as likely that doing without thinking can lead to failure. Brainstorming about garden design is easy enough for most people. Many of us can conjure up images of gardens or at least thumb through online images of chicken tractors and victory gardens and dream about doing that in our own yards. The difficult task seems to be translating these visions into successful projects- taking information and putting it to work; the result of which will be the experience you will need to be successful in the long run.

As a place to start we’re going to discuss the process of design needed to organize the farming/gardening efforts of entire property. The first step is the brainstorming mentioned above. It helps to get an idea of what you want out of your efforts. To that end we used a questionnaire to organize your Needs & Wants. The second step is to take a Site Inventory of your property. The next step is to begin deciding what might go where. Of course this is the part that requires an understanding of how garden and growing food works.

At this point let me put you at ease by suggesting that you are definitely going to make some mistakes. Don’t let a fear of failure paralyze you. Maybe you don’t feel like you have enough knowledge to know where the chicken coop should go or if a particular spot will be sunny enough for your vegetable garden. The best you can do is to read and ask questions of knowledgeable people regarding these issues. At some point though you’re going to have to make a decision and get at it. One thing of which I am certain is that if you do not move forward with your gardening project, you will never eat food from it.

So now is the time, right or wrong, to begin making decisions about what is going where. Bubble in your decisions on a copy of your Base Plan, the plan you came up with as an inventory of your property. All your Needs & Wants should be represented graphically on this Bubble Plan. It is going to change as you share it with people and they offer constructive criticism. It’s going to change as your Needs & Wants change. It’s going o change as your budget dictates and for a whole host of other reasons but at least for now you need to have a starting point from which to begin- a point from which to begin the actual change. This Bubble Plan will offer you something else as well. It will help you organize and further design the individual areas or sites of your property.

Say for instance you have designated your front yard as the primary place for your vegetable garden. At this point you have a large bubble encircling the front yard with the words, “Veggies Go Here,” written across that bubble. Once you’ve finished bubbling your entire property you can revisit the front yard bubble and begin to refine its design. Ask yourself, What does that garden space actually look like? Where are the paths? How wide are they? Where does the tall stuff like corn go so as not to shade out the short stuff? Do you need water beyond what rains? If so where will it come from? Will the hose reach? How many tomatoes will you grow? Peppers? Kohlrabi? Do you need a fence? Once you’ve established an over all plan for your property you can drill down into the design of these specific sites without feeling overwhelmed. This strategy breaks the design process into a Master Plan for the overall property and Site Plans for individual sites throughout your property. Your Master Plan is just a refined Bubble Plan. Here, let’s draw it. If you haven’t figured this out I’m more of a visual person.

It’s important to remember that Design is not a noun, not in this context at least. Design is a verb and refers to an ongoing process. A Plan (Bubble or Site or Master) is the noun, the product of the design process. The arrows that loop back to the beginning of this diagram represent the fact that both the needs & wants and the site conditions relevant to a particular farm or garden project will constantly change. It’s alright to stop along the way and consider a Master Plan or a particular Site Plan to be “finished” so that you don’t go crazy with constantly redesigning your property. But recognize that over time your Plans will change while the process of design will continue.

food production questions to get you started

Questions to ask yourself before designing your garden.

What would you like to achieve on your property in terms of the landscaping of your home and its ability to feed you? This is the time to dream big and long term.

What is your timeline- can you make changes quickly or do you plan to make changes over several years?

How much money do you plan to dedicate to initial changes?

How much money can you dedicate on a monthly or annual basis?

How much sun do you get on your property? It helps to think in terms of number of hours of directly sunlight between March and November and think in terms of the different areas of your property.

Are you willing to remove trees to increase the amount of sunlight?

What is your source of water if irrigation becomes necessary? Can you harvest rain from your roof?

What is currently growing in your yard?

How important are the aesthetics of your yard to you? To your neighbors?

Are there neighborhood covenants, rules or regulations that are suppose to keep you from growing food or raising certain types of animals?

Will children be using the yard? If so what age and how many?

Will pets be using the yard? If so how many and what kind?

Do you use your yard for entertaining purposes?

Are there special activities like bonfires or hog racing for which you will need to set aside room?

Would you like to include fruit trees, bushes and edible perennials (plants that come back every year) in your landscape? If so how much room can you devote to these plants? (Remember trees are big and produce lots of shade. Shrubs can get big too.)

Do you plan to grow annual vegetables (plants you start from seed or transplant every year like corn and tomatoes) and if so how much room can you devote to these vegetables. By the way you’ll want at least 6, and better yet 8, hours of direct sunlight for this area.

How much time can you commit to your garden each week?

How much food, on a percentage basis based on your weekly menu, would you like to harvest from your yard?

Do you have physical limitations that would make typical gardening difficult for you?

How much help (significant others, reluctant in-laws, children, household pets pressed into the service of chasing away squirrels) do you have at your disposal?

How much experience do you with growing plants and gardening?

Do you have room to over-winter potted plants in your home?

Do you have sunny windowsill useful for starting seeds or growing sprouts?

What kinds of animals would you be interested in raising: chickens, turkeys, rabbits, goats, cows, pigs, sheep, llamas, bees, fish, or others?

What equipment do you own or could borrow? Think hand tools like shovels and rakes but also mowers and tillers.

Do you have natural sources of mulch available including baled straw, fallen leaves or grass clippings? How about cardboard (any appliance stores near by?)

Do you have room for outdoor containers on patios, decks or porches for growing food?

Do you anticipate a problem with animals such as rabbits or gophers visiting your garden and helping themselves to your produce?

Do you anticipate encountering soil contamination due to exterior lead paint or other chemicals previously used on your property?