The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Finding space to homestead in the city

Driveway gardenSuburbanites can turn their lawns into vegetable gardens, but how do real city-dwellers find space to homestead?  Rachel Kaplan gives you several ideas to choose from, such as...

  • Fill up your own soil first, of course.
  • Then ask your neighbor if you can turn their yard into a garden.  If you share the bounty, they're bound to say yes, and may become a gardening convert.
  • Container gardening works on balconies, roofs, and any other spot with a bit of sun.
  • Tear up unused concrete and asphalt.  The photo above shows how a small driveway can turn into a vibrant garden.  Rachel's book gives tips on the best tools and tricks to use during pavement demolition.
  • Sign up for a plot in the local community garden.
  • Look for abandoned lots, find out who owns then, and see if you can get permission to turn the ground into a garden.  (Or guerrilla garden on the sly.)

Rachel KaplanRachel includes an inspiring map of her personal "walking gardens."  In addition to filling up her own yard, she grows vegetables in another yard with the owner, keeps bees and chickens in a third and fourth yard, and has a plot at the community garden.  Now that's what I call hunting and gathering!

While you're doing your rounds, don't forget to scope out sources of garden fertility.  I'm imagining setting out for my daily walk with the yellow wagon and coming home with a bag of leaves from the curb, some food scraps from a restaurant to go in the worm bin, and of course an armful of produce for dinner.  Almost makes me want to live in the city!

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This post is part of our Urban Homesteading lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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You guys are seriously after my heart. LOVE.
Comment by Cat Thu Apr 7 12:44:39 2011
Those ideas aren't really mine, though --- I can't take credit for the awesomeness of them. :-)
Comment by anna Thu Apr 7 16:11:07 2011
The trouble in the city is to get soil! I compost like crazy but I've only been at it for a year and it takes time to build it up. I don't trust the aerobically composted digestate that my municipality turns out and gives away at environment days. I wonder if there is anyone else whose plans for backyard gardening are seriously constrained by lack of soil? I would compost even more but I've got picky neighbours, and lots of raccoons. I grew up in the north part of Canada but am now living in a major city, and it's so unsettling that EARTH is so hard to come by!
Comment by J Thu Apr 7 22:49:18 2011

The author of this book made the same point. I wonder if you could find a truckload of horse manure somewhere in the surrounding rural area? I imagine that in a city setting, a truckload of good compost would go a long way, and horse manure is the only off-farm compost I've ever been entirely happy with.

Another option would be to go crazy with snagging leaves and lawn clippings this year and use chickens (or coffee grounds?) to turn them into compost. I'll bet neighbors would be less concerned about leaf piles than compost piles since the former seem pretty innocuous.

(This comment reminds me so much of The Secret Garden and Mary's wish: “Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?” I always loved that part of the book. :-) )

Comment by anna Fri Apr 8 08:14:03 2011

In a bizarre twist of fate a friend forwarded a kijiji post to me last night for someone in my neighbourhood who is TEARING UP THEIR GARDEN TO PUT IN A PATIO (wtf!) and they are giving away the soil!!!

J will be there bright and early Sunday morning to be picking up this Earth. Cosmically cool, non? The positive vibes of the Walden Effect travelled slightly north ... :-)

Comment by J Fri Apr 8 19:47:13 2011
Wow! I don't think we can take credit for that --- I think you materialized that all on your own. I'm so impressed! I hope it's awesome dirt. :-)
Comment by anna Sat Apr 9 08:02:01 2011

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