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.
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Rob has a small 1/3 acre homestead in Waterford, Connecticut where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He is attempting to organically grow as much of their own food as possible while learning all he can about biointensive growing methods, micro eco-farming, and natural farming so he can purchase a larger piece of property and run a small organic farm. He is an architectural designer, furniture maker, amateur photographer, and nature lover. He blogs about his growing experiences at Bepas Garden (http://bepasgarden.blogspot.com).
How long have you been backyard farming?
I have been backyard farming at my current location for about 8 years now. We bought our house 12 years ago with a backyard completely overgrown with large trees that needed to be cleared before we could even think of putting in a garden. Over the years we slowly removed most trees and began planning our gardens.
What got you started?
I grew up living next to my grandparents helping my grandfather work in the gardens & greenhouse and helping my grandmother prepare the food we grew. I learned a lot from them and those were some of the best memories of my childhood.
My grandfather had a very large raspberry patch and gave me a section to tend. I would pick daily then ride my bike down to the local grocery store to sell my raspberries. I would haggle with the owner over price (at age 10!) and manage my own sales. I guess that was my start in both backyard farming and as an entrepreneur! After my grandparents passed away and their home was sold, I lost the desire to garden. It wasn’t until later in life when I got married and bought my first home that the desire and memories started flooding back. It wasn’t long before I started digging up the yard to put in gardens, built my own greenhouse and put in a raspberry patch. I also started becoming more aware of the impact healthy food has on our bodies and how bad GMO and processed food are for us. After we were married my wife had developed psoriatic arthritis at the age of 30 with pain so severe she couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. She was put on a whole list of medications that were expensive and caused bad side effects. We did some research and ended up switching to a vegetarian diet. Within weeks of her symptoms started to disappear. We started going to a natural practitioner who helped us with the transformation and within a month my wife was pain free and off all her medications. Going vegetarian and eating whole healthy foods has literally changed our lives and ignited a fire in me that has turned into a passion for farming.
What does your backyard farm look like? Where is it?
My backyard farm is small at the moment, but produces quite a bit. I have about 1000 sq. ft. of gardens which include a greenhouse for starting seedlings and cold frames that I built for winter growing. I use the Biointensive Growing Methods, where you can naturally grow four times the amount in one-quarter the area. We are in a typical New England neighborhood in Waterford, CT. on a 1/3 acre lot.
What has been your biggest success and biggest mistake?
I have a couple big successes and quite a few big mistakes. I guess if you truly learn from your mistakes I have learned an awful lot! My first big success is starting seedlings. It took several attempts and methods to get the process down, but I now end up with seedlings that are strong and healthy. I tried every commercial product out there for starting seeds then looked back at how they used to start seeds before everything was commercialized. I came across the method of using soil blocks instead of pots. The soil blocks are made with a hand held tool and you plant the seeds directly in them. The seeds germinate faster and you get stronger and healthier roots because they are exposed to air on all side. I get seeds to germinate within days and almost 100% germination rates. The other big success has been growing through the winter. I built a couple cold-frames (mini greenhouses) that I use to grow lettuce, kale and other greens all winter long. It is so nice to have fresh salads in December and January!
My biggest mistake was trying to grow too much at once. At one time I had a couple thousand seedlings in my small greenhouse. It became a logistical nightmare trying to move water and just keep track of everything. Never mind not having enough garden space to plant everything! I learned to start small and add crops as I learned more. Two important sayings that have stuck in my head are “Do Less Better” and “Work in Harmony with Nature”.
What plans do you have for the future?
We are currently working on starting a school community garden at the elementary school where my wife works as the librarian. Teaching children where their food comes from and showing them how to grow it themselves is important. Hopefully we can break ground next year!
Other future plans include purchasing another piece of property with more land. I would like to start a small organic farm to grow food for ourselves and others, and also teach people how to grow and cook food themselves. Right now organic food prices are out of control and it seems wrong to have to pay more to eat healthy. I completely support our local organic farms, but the grocery stores and larger farms are taking advantage of the rising popularity of organic foods. I know people who want to eat healthy and organically, but just can’t afford it and that just isn’t right. I would like to do something to change that and help people become more self-sufficient while teaching the importance of whole healthy food!