Wouldn’t it be great if you had a backyard that actually produced for you and your family instead of costing you? If your backyard could provide more value to your family other than just being something nice to look at and maybe have a few backyard BBQs in? Well, this article will introduce to you the idea of the productive backyard; a backyard that can actually work to feed you and your family!
And how are we going to do this? Let us introduce you to what is known as the ‘urban farming’ movement, which is rapidly gaining popularity in America today, and don’t worry it has absolutely nothing to do with ‘doomsday prepping’. No, you can still be an urban farmer and maintain the respect of your neighbors. We promise they won’t think that you are crazy.
Let’s start with something simple: a herb and vegetable garden.
Starting your first herb and vegetable garden can be a milestone of sorts, and will pave the way for deeper investments into the urban farming trend. Here are some useful tips for your first vegetable garden.
- Start slow and small. Start out with a couple raised vegetable beds during the first season and take it from there.
- Use raised beds instead of row arrangements to maximize use of space. Raised beds will also increase yields, help prevent weeds, and allow you to feed and water your crop separate from your landscape.
- While your raised beds can be any length you wish, keep their width under 4 feet so you can reach the center of the bed without stepping in it.
- Mulch frequently and mulch often. Mulch can make the difference between a successful vegetable garden and a failed one. Not only does it improve soil quality, it also fights weeds. Lots of leaves lying around your backyard in the fall? Gather them up and shred all of them into mulch.
- And finally, have fun! If you’re not having fun watching and learning from your vegetable garden, we can guarantee that it won’t succeed.
If you’ve played around with vegetable gardens, maybe had a few very successful runs with great results, it may be time to upgrade your mini urban farm. If you’re no longer content for your backyard to just be providing you with fresh herbs and vegetables, then let’s tackle some meat and eggs as well. We’re talking about of course, backyard chickens! While most often used for eggs, they can be used for meat as well. Anecdotally, we’ve heard that chickens also actually make great pets.
Your chickens will need a chicken coop to live in of course. And while you can certainly purchase one online, if you have the skills, then building your own can be a very rewarding activity. If you’re thinking of building your very own coop, check out these chicken coop designs 2017 which are the latest coop plans receiving fantastic reviews! Regardless of whether you decide to build your own or buy one outright, it is important to make sure that your chicken coop satisfies the following requirements.
- It’s Big Enough – That’s what she said! Your chickens will, depending on breed size, need two to four square feet of indoor coop space for healthy living (remember, you’re not running a factory farm here!) plus and additional five to ten square feet of outdoor run or grazing space. Plan accordingly.
- It Protects Them From Being Eaten – Not from you of course, but from other animals such as dogs, foxes, weasels, and whatever your local predator is. We highly recommend hardware cloth as the primary means of protection as it stronger than chicken wire. Important: Bury the hardware cloth beneath the ground as well as some predators will dig underground to bypass the above ground defenses.
- It Allows Their Smell To Dissipate – We’re talking here about ventilation of course. Our recommendation? Minimum of one ventilation panel per side including the roof. If not, ammonia gas builds up (from you guessed where) and not only will it make maintaining the coop and extra laborious affair, but it is detrimental to the health of your flock as well. And don’t forget to cover the ventilation panels with hardware cloth.
- It Protects Them From The Cold – This is selective because the chickens already have natural protection against the cold, called feathers. You’d be surprised how much insulation their feathers can actually provide and how well they can withstand the cold. That said, some regions have temperatures so extreme that the cold can cause frostbite. Those regions are marked using US Hardiness Zones, in this case Zones 2 and below. If you live in those areas, then external heating and insulation is required.
If you have a well taken care of garden or backyard, then you know just how much work it can be. Lawn trimmings, manicuring, and just basic cleanup can end up taking up a ton of time, and a lot of time it can almost seem like a wasted effort. But what if you could make your garden or backyard work for you instead of you working for it? To put it into business and accounting terms, what if you could reclassify your garden or backyard from ‘expense’ to ‘asset’? Wouldn’t that be great? While maintenance and time expenses would remain (or possibly even increase) you can sleep well in the knowledge that the effort you put into it will repay you in the future.
The most efficient way to turn your garden and backyard into a productive space is by letting it feed your family, literally. In today’s article, we will be discussing two primary methods for achieving this: vegetable gardens and chicken coops with the former providing your family with fresh, organic, pesticide and GMO free herbs and vegetables and the latter doing the same with eggs and even meat.
Let’s take a quick look at how you can set them up.
As a first timer, you want to keep things simple. First, location; you want to place your garden in an area that is sunny and sheltered (think of an area where you would want to sunbathe). Shelter in this case doesn’t mean shade but rather protection from excessive wind which may cause disturbances at the root and poor growth. This is particularly important for plants such as cucumbers and tomatoes. If you have an area of your garden that has particularly good soil quality, then that is also likely the best place for your vegetable garden.
Another tip for vegetable gardens is to use raised beds instead of vegetable rows. While vegetable rows might work on large scale industrial farms, your garden will not have enough space to accommodate too many rows so raised vegetable beds are the more efficient option. Each bed can be 4 x 4 feet or 4 x 8 feet. As for vegetable varieties? Well, that would vary based on your climate and preferences but generally our ‘beginner’ recommendation is as follows: zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and basil.
Chicken coops are often the ‘next step’ after starting your own vegetable garden as it is definitely a step up in terms of time, effort, and investment. And you may even start to get attached to your chickens as well (especially if you don’t plan to eat them) something that will never happen with vegetables. Through our experience, we are sharing with you below the most important things to know when starting your first backyard chicken flock. Check out this link on how to build a chicken coop for more great tips to guide you on your chicken coop building adventure!
- Purpose of chickens – Do you want to raise chickens simply for their eggs or do you want their meat as well? This is important because while all chickens can lay eggs, there are certain breeds that are specifically bred for meat consumption, which are known as ‘broiler chickens’. On the other hand, breeds that are more suited for egg laying are referred to as ‘egg laying chickens’.
- Number of chickens – How many chickens do you want? Our advice is to start small and increase later if necessary. However, in order to take the planned future increase of your flock size into account, we recommend constructing your chicken coop to accommodate more chickens than your initial planned flock size. Here’s a good coop size primer: 2 to 4 square feet of coop space per chicken plus 5 to 10 square feet of run space. This will give you an idea of how to better plan for your flock and chicken coop in relation to the size of your backyard.
- Shelter for chickens – As a chicken owner, you are responsible for protecting your chicken against predators such as raptors, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, minks, and weasels. Chicken wire is the standard prescription for an average chicken coop; make sure you get the ones with only 1-inch spacing and also don’t forget to bury it in the ground to keep digging predators away. If you think chicken wire isn’t strong enough (and in fact more determined predators can chew their way through chicken wire) then opt for the stronger (but costlier) hardware cloth instead.
- Coop Climate – As the chicken coop will be the home of your chickens, climate control may be necessary. If you live in a US Hardiness Zone 3 or below, then you will need external heating and insulation for all other zones, the chickens’ feathers will more than suffice. What is always necessary however, is ventilation; there can be no compromise on this one. Make sure you have ventilation panels on all sides of the coop; excluding the floor of course.