My greatest inspiration in my own backyard farming adventure has been to hear the experiences of others. I invite you to read along here as Homesteaders share their adventures and experiences from their own farms, backyards, and homes.
Want to be featured as a Homestead Highlight? I would love to hear about your experience. For more information follow the link to the information page and share your own homestead here at the Backyard Farming Connection!
Today I welcome Colleen to this space.
Colleen is a special education teacher (by way of Teach for America) turned stay-at-home mom to three little ones – ages 3, 2, and 1. Her days are filled with laughing and tears, joys and frustrations, chickens and children. Her family of five lives on a .15 acre lot in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. Through this urban homesteading journey, Colleen hopes to lead her family down the path to a more sustainable, intentional, and fulfilled life. Follow their adventures on their blog Five Little Homesteaders or find them on Facebook and Twitter.
How long have you been backyard farming? What got you started?
Having been born into a family of avid gardeners, some might say I’ve been gardening from birth. However, in my adult life, my husband and I started gardening after the purchase of our first home in 2009.
We started our backyard homestead with two humble raised beds. It was the perfect marriage of our interests. He got to use his carpentry skills to plan and build me two beautiful raised beds and I got to fill them with dirt and start our first vegetable garden. Furthermore, as new parents, we knew that we wanted to introduce our children to gardening. It is important to us that our children know where vegetables, fruit, eggs, etc. come from. It is our hope that this knowledge will foster within them a sense of stewardship toward the Earth and its creatures and, hopefully, result in them living healthy, active lives.
What does your backyard farm look like? Where is it?
Our backyard farm is an urban homestead in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. We live approximately 3 miles from the center of downtown on a .15 acre lot in a 1935 bungalow-style, historic home.
Currently, we have 3 large raised beds in the backyard in which we grow vegetables and flowers. We also have two chicken coops in the back that house our six chickens: 2 Rhode Island Reds, 2 Barred Rocks, and 2 Ameraucanas. When we bought the property where we currently live, there was zero landscaping. For people living in different parts of the country this might be hard to imagine but when I say zero landscaping, our house was literally sitting in the middle of a dirt lot. To some, this would be a huge negative, but to us it was a huge positive. We began by installing our raised beds. Then we tilled up the front yard, amended it with compost and the like, and began planting. The transformation of our yard from dirt (that could easily have been turned into grass) to edible landscape has been amazing. We have received many compliments and have doubled our planting space.
What has been your biggest success and biggest mistake?
Our biggest success has been introducing our three children to gardening and chicken raising from an early age. I love that our children know where food comes from and how it is produced. I also love the relationship they have built with our chickens and the respect for animals that it has produced.
Rather than one big mistake, I would say we have made many small ones. For example, before actually owning chickens I had visions of letting them free range around my backyard all the time. Unfortunately, I found that between hawks, neighborhood cats, relatively low fence walls with very close neighbors, and gardens that I don’t want completely destroyed, it is better to keep them enclosed to a coop and run. In addition, my inability to effectively companion garden and attract beneficial insects has also been a challenge. Too many plants (and in the case of last fall, entire gardens) have been lost to aphid and caterpillar infestations. This season I resolve to be more proactive and to follow through with my organic pest solutions.
What plans do you have for the future?
Plans? Oh yes, we have plenty of plans. In the immediate future, we plan to install irrigation and plant a mini-orchard of various fruit trees, primarily citrus. We also plan to add two more raised beds to the backyard and, eventually, we want to keep bees. (I have plans for the low, flat roof over our laundry room, yes I do. Urban, rooftop beekeeping, here I come.) Visions of greenhouses and year round, fresh tomatoes are also dancing around in my head these days.