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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.


Seductive Musings

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Urban homesteading

So how many of you are urban homesteaders?

I’m not sure how strong the movement is elsewhere, but here in Colorado, the idea of growing as much of your own organic food as possible and even raising your own chickens in your backyard is very popular — and not just with hippies.

Last summer, I decided to see how much food Benjamin and I could get out of re-opening one of our veggie garden beds. We have a very big yard, and the south side of the house, which gets full sun all day, was once entirely devoted to growing veggies. But that was back when my kids were little. Trying to handle a huge flower garden, two kids, a full-time job and the veggie garden was too much for me. I paid someone to put down weed cloth and bark the damned thing.

But Benjamin is all grown up now. So last summer, we ripped up the weed cloth from one of the beds and planted the things we like to eat most. Sadly, we did it sort of late in the planting season, so Benjy didn't really get to enjoy any of the results of his hard work. But I did. I didn't buy vegetables from about the beginning of August through October until the first hard frost.

I got a lot of broccoli, green beans, butternut squash, tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers out of last year's "experimental" garden, so we're going all out this year. We worried for a while that my surgery would make it all too difficult for Benjy, because there will be a time when he will have to handle it himself. But it will be probably a month before I have surgery, and that's a lot of the growing season. We decided to go for it anyway with a hopeful attitude.

We opened all three beds, and I spent March-May nursing seedlings on my kitchen floor. (It made walking around a bit awkward, but that was okay.)

So this year our garden will include: arugula, broccoli, romaine lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, mixed spring greens, green peppers, Anaheim peppers, Navajo corn (what else???), radishes, carrots, tomatoes, acorn squash, zucchini, summer squash, cabbage, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe.... And I think that's all.

It will easily fit into the space we have — which we hope to learn to utilize better so that we can fit even more next year. And the stuff we grow is not only 100-percent organic, it's so natural that you might even call it “neglected.”

I want to plant some fruit trees to get our fruit needs met. Trees are tricky in Colorado. There were none on the plains, apart from cottonwoods near creeks and springs. And the mountains? Mostly evergreens. But there are some kinds of fruit trees that will grow on the Front Range with lots of TLC. I’m not an apple fan, so I won’t plant an apple tree. Boring. Right now I want sweet cherries, pears and plums. We’ll see how that works out.

And I want laying hens for the backyard, as well as a couple of beehives for honey. Fresh eggs every day? Our own honey? Sounds like paradise to me.

Yes, it's a lot of work, but when you grow it yourself you don't have to wonder what's on it or in it. And then you have a real reason to compost, which we already do. You can form your own happy little ecosystem.

There's a big "re-skilling" movement in our town. If you don't know how to can veggies or freeze food or quilt or sew or darn socks or whatever, you can take classes to learn to do these things yourself. It's kind of strange because my grandmothers could do all those things. My grandfather grew most of the food for his wife and six kids out of their backyard. But my generation — I'm a Gen-Xer — comes from parents that didn't do any of that. Have we lost these skills so quickly?

Urban homesteading feels so very Little House on the Prairie (except in the city), and I love it because I like thinking that we can be more self-sustaining. I don't like to shop much, and I do like good food. So it works out well.

I'd love to hear garden stories from any of you who have them.

Tonight I spent the better part of an hour harvesting arugula, swiss chard, spinach, romaine and mixed greens that I planted back when it was still snowing. Then I had to wash them leaf by bloody leaf. It took forever! And the funny thing is that, although we've been eating out of our garden almost every night, there's so much that it never looks like I harvested anything.

Of course, the pride and joy of this household is the rose garden, and it's about to go into high bloom. I can't wait to see it and smell it and share the photos with you all again. The winter was hard on the roses, and most died back to the ground. So the bushes are pretty tiny compared to some years. That's life in the Rockies.

I'm still on Chapter 7 of Breaking Point, but it will move forward quickly on Friday. Tomorrow marks the end of my workweek, and then back to fiction.

Have a good Thursday, everyone!


Luci said...

I have a black finger! Every plant I touch dies. Coming to think of it even electronic devices freeze when i am in the vicinity! I once managed to kill my sister's goldfish - i felt so bad about that one. Guess if i have chickens to raise they would be scared as hell of me!

Hi, Luci — You're probably just very busy. I don't think there's anyone who just naturally kills plants. Once you learn what you're doing, it's much easier. Chickens are hilarious. They are one of the funniest animals on the planet.

I guess I should add to this post that when I say "Navajo corn," what I mean is an ancient varietal of corn that the Navajo use for flour. And that's what we're going to do — grind the dried kernels into flour. That should be new and different and labor intensive. LOL!

Crystal said...

I love gardening and its in my blood as both sets of grandparents were farmers. Alas, my parents - not so much interest. My mother would have starved before she would grow something herself. I love making jams and jellies, there is something so satisfying about hearing those little jar lids *pop* when they seal. My taste buds are happier when veggies are frozen rather than canned.

And having said all of that - I will be moving to the big city in five days and living in an eighth floor apartment. Not likely to be growing anything. But I've never lived in a big city, so I'm looking forward to a new adventure.

Please keep us updated with information on your surgery, and know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Hi, Crystal — Off to the big city! How exciting! You know, the big thing in big cities these days is rooftop gardening (which people can arrange with the building manager if the building isn't already doing it), as well as community gardens in vacant lots. I've read really inspiring stories about people who've gotten groups together to garden in the city, reclaiming trash-filled lots and turning them into places where neighbors mingle.

I lived in a big city once — Copenhagen, pop. 2.5 million — and love love loved it.

Good luck with the move!

I remember making jelly with my mom when I was little. We picked chokecherries up in the mountains back in the days when you could sort of hunt/gather at will here in Colorado. We'd come home with buckets of these berries and make chokecherry jelly, which is absolutely scrumptious. Wish I could do that! Maybe I'll plant a chokecherry bush. LOL!

And thank you! I won't know anything more till June 24, but I'll let you all know what's going on. It's so wonderful to have everyone's support and prayers.

Your garden sounds wonderful, Pamela. I come from gardening stock as well - my mother's family were florists and Dad's mother loved her garden. Hubby and I have a good-sized mixed flower garden - roses, dahlias, foxgloves and others - and things are jus starting to really get in gear for the summer. We've got a good crop of tomatoes in as well - can't wait! Take care of yourself and let Benjy do the hard labor.

Debbie H said...

Your garden sounds wonderful! My parents had a huge garden every year and we kids worked it right beside them. The rule was, if you eat it, you work it. We also had peach, apricot and nectarine trees along with almond. This was all grown in the SE corner of NM where it is all desert like west TX. My father had the greenest thumb I ever saw. My mother did a lot of canning and freezing. There was nothing like a December peach pie from the peaches we had frozen from earlier in the summer.

My grandparents here in OK had the garden and chickens. I loved coming to see them.

I would love to have a garden but have a DH that makes things complicated, so I go to the organic farmer's market to keep from killing him. LOL

JennJ said...

Hi Pamela I think that's a great idea and I wish we could do it here but honestly I have a totally black thumb! Girl I killed aloe vera lol didn't think that was possible but I did! A gardener I am not at all. And honestly I would be the only one here eating any of the veggies the hubby and my son don't like many veggies tho I have tried my best to change that. So I just buy what eat at the store. I do wish there were more organic options the thoughts of all those chemicals some growers use scares the crap out of me.

I love broccoli and green beans and tomatoes and so on. I hope your garden does well!

BIG HUGS and I hope you are doing some better hon you are in my prayers and thoughts daily.

Rachel said...

I love gardening so, so much. I would absolutely love to get into urban homesteading, but the lovely HOA won't let us have a garden that's bigger than 3 feet by 8 feet, so that's what I have. I have canning supplies but I haven't had the chance to use them yet, hopefully this will be the year I can make my own jams and pickles.

As soon as my fiance can sell this house in Ohio, we're moving to the west coast and with any luck find a place that we can convert the whole backyard into a giant garden! I still haven't convinced him of the need for chickens, but I'm still chipping away. :)

Hi, Jennie — Those are great gardening genes that you have. Do you have to plant the dahlias and foxglove every year? They don't grow as perennials here. Yes, poor Benjy has to handle the physical stuff. I managed to get a few hours of sleep last night thanks to narcotics. LOL! Now it's time to guzzle coffee and write.

Hi, Debbie — I think it's great that your parents got all the kids involved. Sounds like a fair rule to me. Peach pies in December — how scrumptious! I love farmers markets, too, but don't often go. There's a company nearby that makes THE most delicious dill pickles — for $9 a jar!

Hi, Jenn — Yes, the chemicals scare me, too. Plus, when you import veggies and fruit, you never really know what you're getting. We don't buy any kind of prepacked food at all -- I don't even think of stuff that comes in boxes as food. And it scares me to think what some factory in some faraway place might accidentally put in those boxes. Yikes!

Those boys of yours need to learn to eat some green stuff. LOL!

Thanks, Jenn. I'm coping. It may sound strange, but in a way I'm looking forward to the surgery. If I felt better, it would be so amazing.

Hi, Rachel — Oh, those evil HOAs! I want to paint my house multiple colors and put art outside and have bees and chickens, so I had to make sure to avoid an HOA. They're getting hard to avoid! I hope you're able to find a buyer for your Ohio house when the time comes and find the perfect little homestead somewhere. And when you do, send photos!

Ronlyn said...

I'm chiming in late, but I want to plant more. Next year I plan to do a whole host of veeggies since the neighbor finally chopped a lot of his trees so my garden will get more light.
Right now I have tons of herbs: cilantro, parsley, mint, chives, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano...I'm forgetting something. And I've got some lettuce, but it doesn't seem to be doing well. And some jalepenos that the possums have eatten. BOO!
We have a large strawberry patch that the boys tend and I've got many tomato plants this year. Hopefully I'll be successful.

Foxgloves survive the winter here, but we have to dig the dahlias every fall and bring them in. They're so worth it.

Diane W. said...

We are urban much as I can be. LOL We have a huge veggie garden, a few fruit trees, raspberries and strawberries.

I can and freeze everything, as well as make jam and other such yummies, from August through October here.

In fact, we have so much fun doing all that great stuff, we volunteer at a living history museum/town (think Willamsburg meets Little House). I've learned all kinds of fabulous pioneer skills and so have my children. My 9 year old son is not afraid to climb right into the stall with the oxen (RV's that breathe) and lead them out of the barn. We can make soap, candles, and other pioneer staples and we've learned how dang hard (and smelly) it is to take care of farm animals. I've had a chicken under my bed, weasels in the house, and lambs that wouldn't leave my hand irrigated pioneer garden alone. It's been a great experience though!

As far as fruit trees in CO, my in-laws have had a cherry tree in their yard in Arvada for years. It yields a ton of fruit....but you have to fight the birds for it. And they usually win...unless you net the tree before the fruit appears.

Have fun with your garden! I say gardening is the best therapy there is!

Diane :)

Jackie P said...

I was a city girl until I married my husband and moved to the country. I was all excited and planted a huge garden in one of our fields and bought and raised farm animals. Anywhere from a turkey, duck, chickens of all kinds, goats and various other animals. I loved it. And then everything started coming in and the animals had babies. I go for starting small projects now adays. LOL

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