Intro: Urban Farming

Asian greens and propagated sugar snap peas - kick starting the challenge

Asian greens and propagated sugar snap peas - kick starting the challenge

My father was a farmer and a very fine one at that. He was planting trees, rehabilitating salt-affected land, and exploring renewable energy decades before it was fashionable, on his substantial acreage in the sheep-wheatbelt of Western Australia. Farmers have a saying about girls who grow up in the country, but end up living in urban areas. They say you can take a girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl. I'm starting to think they might be right.

I've been, over the years, an inconsistent gardener, but I've always grown things. And I've had a particular passion for organically grown food and flowers. I've become increasing committed to this from an ethical perspective in recent years but, alas, my behaviour hasn't always followed suit. Take last year, for example. I persuaded Steve to help me convert much of our back garden to vegetable beds, and I grew a bounty of produce during summer and autumn (heartily sick of home grown zucchini, my children are threatening to club me with any I grow this year). But then I ran out of steam and missed the planting opportunity for a winter crop. This has been the story of my gardening life.

Not this year! As part of the Creative Challenge 52 that's kicking off today, I've committed to an urban farming project. This commitment involves four main things:

  1. To grow organic produce year round to feed my family, even if the harvest is more modest in winter.
  2. To grow all my organic vegetables and annual flowers from seed. I buy organic vegetable seeds from an absolutely fabulous supplier, Greenpatch Seeds, and the seeds are all open pollinated, that is, non-hybrid, non GMO, heritage varieties. The germination rate with these seeds is extraordinary. I reckon I got better than 90% last year and I've had higher than that with my first seed propagation effort this year.
  3. To be able to pick at least a small posy of flowers in my garden every Sunday.
  4. To make full and proper use of what I grow.

That mightn't sound like much, but it's going to require considerable time and effort from me - and Steve and Hannah are going to pitch in too.

My big challenges, given that I'm based in Canberra, are water and frost. Canberra experiences hot, dry summers and a short growing season. Frost is likely between April and October, but is not at all uncommon in March and November.

To keep myself accountable, I'm going to write a weekly blog, documenting my urban farming activities and keeping track of my successes and failures. Borrowing from the methodology Trish Urquhart used in her Food Waste Challenge, I've begun by taking an inventory of my starting point (see below).

Alpine Strawberries - ready to meet the challenge

Alpine Strawberries - ready to meet the challenge

Scarlet's Urban Farming Inventory: Resources at Hand

Acreage (I wish)

  • Orchard: 120 square metres
  • Vegetable beds: 39 square metres with an extra 9 square metres under development
  • Vines: 10 square metres
  • Herbs: 2 square metres

Rainwater storage capacity

  • 1 x 5000L tank
  • 1 x 2200L tank
  • 2 x 1000L tanks
  • 2 x 100L tanks
  • 2 x 100L grey water tanks

Orchard

  • 2 plum trees
  • 1 pear tree (2 varieties on a single tree)
  • 2 apricot trees
  • 1 pomegranate tree
  • 2 quince trees
  • 3 apple trees
  • 2 peach trees
  • 1 fig tree
  • 1 bay tree
  • 1 mulberry tree
  • 2 lemon trees
  • 1 mandarin tree
  • 1 cumquat tree

Potted Fruit Trees

  • 1 lime tree
  • 1 lemon tree
  • 1 orange tree
  • 1 grapefruit tree

Vines and Other Fruit

  • 2 passionfruit vines
  • blackberries
  • raspberries
  • logan berries
  • sylvan berries
  • grape vines (red and white grapes)
  • 12 strawberry plants
  • 8 alpine strawberry plants

Vegetables

  • Rocket
  • Silver beet (Swiss chard)
  • Asian greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Rhubarb

Herbs

  • Self-sown coriander from last year's crop, which I propagated using seeds I bought from Greenpatch Seeds.
  • Parsley
  • Italian parsley
  • Potted mint

Earthy Stuff

  • 5 compost bins
  • The finest collection of horse manure and straw you've ever seen
  • Awesome soil - see the note about horse manure above. With his keen eye for farming economics, my dad thinks my passion for horses is a great way to turn perfectly good money into manure, but this just goes to show that horses are an excellent investment in every respect (the horses are agisted elsewhere, in case you're wondering if we also keep horses in suburbia)

Other

  • A proper farmer on speed dial (thanks, Dad!)

So...that's my starting point. The urban farming challenge is on. Wish me luck with this ambitious venture.

Silver beet (Swiss chard) and potted citrus trees

Silver beet (Swiss chard) and potted citrus trees