Sunday, December 13, 2020

Order Those Seeds!!!


It's time to buy those seeds for the 2021 year.  You are correct, it's only December of 2020, but you really need to buy your seeds for 2021 NOW!  I just placed my order for seeds this week and I was astonished to find that quite a lot had already sold out and the seed company's website kept crashing (eek).  I'm not sure why I was astonished at this, it's still 2020 after all and nothing should surprise any of us at this point.  Even in a non-pandemic year, December is normally when I order my seeds however I've always felt like I was one of the first ones to the game as nothing has ever been out of stock when I've ordered seeds before.  This year I felt like I was one of the last ones to the game.  I did have to adapt and order some non-standard varieties which I'm both excited and terrified for.  I've previously tried growing some "exotic" varieties and those attempts did not go well.  However now I have more experience under my belt and the soil health is increasing so I'm feeling good about it (part of me is still terrified).  But what can you do, that's how the cookie crumbles sometimes.  You really do need to order your seeds ASAP before everything is sold out for 2021.  For suggestions on where to order seeds from, check-out my post:

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Composting: Turn Your Food Scraps into Nutritious Black Gold

 “The ground's generosity takes in our compost and grows beauty! Try to be more like the ground.” - Rumi

Fresh Compost Added to Garlic Patch
Fresh Compost Added to Garlic Patch

Composting is key to a healthy garden, there are absolutely no if's, and's, or but's about it.  If you want a healthy garden, you need to be composting, that is a plain and simple fact.  Composting is the simple act of taking food scraps, letting it break down and be turned back into highly nutritious soil, which you then add to your existing ground.  This allows you to give back to the ground so you are not always taking from it.  I always like to compare this to a bank account, if you do nothing but withdraw from your bank account and you're not contributing to it at all, well one day this bank account will be empty and you will have nothing, absolutely nothing.  If you are growing anything in your soil, you need to be giving back to it so the ground will continue to give to you in the future.  Otherwise you'll be left with a barren wasteland that has given all it has to give and is basically dead due to your greedy ignorance.  So lets avoid this, shall we?!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Gardens and Art Intertwined: From Orchids to Monet

"You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot - it's all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive."
- Maya Angelou
Orchids at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Wwwwaaayyyyy back in January, which seems like ions ago, my Mom came out to visit me for a week (she lives in North Carolina now-a-days).  We had a list of all sorts of fun things we could do with no real agenda or itinerary, just possible ideas of things that we both thought would be fun to do complete with a list of restaurants we wanted to check out.  One of the things we both 100% wanted to do was to go to the Denver Art Museum to check out the limited time and sure to be extraordinary "Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature" exhibit.  The art museum had assembled 120 painting across Monet's entire career focusing on his relationship with nature.  My mom is certainly more artistic then I am (in the traditional sense) and everything she does always has quite an artistic touch to it.  I've never had the patience to learn how to draw, paint, sculpt, or anything of that nature despite the fact that when I actually sit down to do it I actually thoroughly enjoy it.  The one art form that I have put a lot of time and effort into is photography.  My Dad is a professional photographer so I grew up surrounded by it and I've always taken a liking to looking at things from your not so normal perspective, which as it turns out translates very well into photography and you don't even have to know how to draw, just point the camera and press the button!  To follow the tone of one of my previous posts, Tear Down Your Learning Barriers,  I know I could learn these other art forms if I wanted to.  I've just never actually put the time or effort into learning them, maybe one day I will and in my adult life I have slowly been putting more and more time into these sorts of things.  I do however very much enjoy looking at art and seeing what other people have put their time and energy into learning how to do.  My mom and I were equally as excited to check-out this Monet exhibit and we made sure to get tickets a few months ahead of time as it was sure to sell out and a lot of days had already sold out months in advance for this limited time only exhibit.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Tilling & Broadforking - Break that Dirt Up!

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

Freshly Tilled Ground
Freshly tilled and broadforked yard!

To till or not to till?  That is the question.

Some like to till, some like to broadfork, some like to do both, and some like to do none of the above.  I'm going to take a wild guess and say that you likely don't have the slightest idea what that means.  That is perfectly okay and expected, don't even worry about it!  These are just ways of breaking up the ground so the dirt isn't so compact which gives the future plants room to grow.  For now we're going to stay away from the debate of to disturb the ground or not to disturb the ground (it really is the question though).  If you are just starting out and converting a lawn (or very compact ground) into vegetables then tilling is inevitable.  There really aren't any ifs ands or buts about it, regardless of the debates around it.  Tilling is going to take the existing grass, turn it back into the soil, while also mixing up and aerating the dirt.  Then when you go over the same area with the broadfork, you are breaking up this soil even further giving roots of plants more room to grow.  Say you're going to move into a house but when you open the front door the house is jam packed with useless stuff and you can't move in.  Going nuts, clearing and cleaning that house is the same thing as tilling and broadforking.  Once you're done there's room to move-in and be comfortable.  It's out with the old and in with the new.  Tilling and broadforking is basically the first step in restarting and rejuvenating your yard, you're pressing the reset button and starting from scratch.  Once you have your vegetable garden established though do you really need to keep tilling and broadforking the soil?  THAT is exactly where the debate generally starts up and can turn into quite a heated conversation, depending on who you're talking to.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

September of 2020 Update

Sunset Over Mountains

September, pretty much the exact same as August, just more food that keeps growing and cooler weather.  The urban farm continues to challenge my ability to harvest produce at its peak then either eat it, preserve it, or give it away before it goes bad.  I'm getting pretty dang good at that game (and it is a game) but alas there's still a small amount of food that goes bad such as the cucumbers that I couldn't give away to save my life (it's a long story for another time).  The largest single day harvest happened, which was a whopping 205.8 pounds (93.35 kilos) of fresh, beyond organic, hyper local food grown right in my very own backyard.  That was right before a snow storm rolled in so I harvested everything I could find.  That storm did bring snow however the majority of the plants survived and I kept getting food after that storm.  It seemed that since it was so warm before the snow, the ground was able to keep roots warm and emit heat to keep the bases of the plants warm with the weather that just dipped below freezing while spitting snow everywhere.  More composting happened in September, I've really been trying to stay on-top of composting as much as possible.  There's been a lot of black gold (compost) produced this year.  Here's what was harvested in September:

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Plant that Garlic!

“Garlic is divine. Few food items can taste so many distinct ways, handled correctly. Misuse of garlic is a crime…Please, treat your garlic with respect…Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screwtop jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.”
-Anthony Bourdain

Bag O' Garlic
My seed garlic for the 2021 year that I grew in 2020

Now that your urban farm / garden is planned out and your utilities are marked, we need to get rocking by ordering and planting garlic!!

Right now (October) is the time to be planting your garlic for the 2021 season.  The 2020 season just finished (actually still ongoing for me at the moment), it's not even winter yet, but we need to get the garlic in the ground ASAP!  Garlic loves the cooler weather, needs it to grow properly, and is extremely hardy.  Garlic also just so happens to be the easiest thing to grow!  Garlic can be planted in the very early spring if you don't want to plant it just yet.  If your ground is currently grass then it's certainly preferable for it to be tilled / broadforked before planting the garlic.  Right now, time is of the essence and we don't have time for that at the moment.  If you're feeling adventurous though just plant it right in with the grass, it'll grow, but you can't mow the surrounding grass once it starts growing.  You can also wait to plant the garlic until after you've tilled / broadforked or until the early spring, but it's preferable to plant that garlic before winter!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Plan Your Urban Farm / Garden

"Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating."
— Wendell Berry

Here we go people, it's time to get a rough plan together for your Urban Farm / Garden!

Before anything can be done (the garlic does need to be planted ASAP) you need to have a rough idea of where you are going to plant everything.  We just need this to be a very rough idea of where you want to plant / not plant and in which direction the rows are going to go, etc.  At this point you do not need to know exactly what you're going to plant, we can figure that out later.  Just knowing where everything is going to go is key at the moment.

The easiest way to do this is to draw your yard on a piece of paper and mark which areas you want to plant / not plant in, like this:

Rough Map
Map of where to grow food!

Monday, October 5, 2020

How to Urban Farm

 "Hey Urban Farmer Guy, this is all cool and everything but how in the world can I do this myself???  Where do I even start?  What do I do?  How do I Urban Farm?"

That is a fantastic question and it is exactly what I'm going to delve into next on this blog.  Now that you've had a chance to follow me for a season and you have a better idea of what I do.  I'm going to show you how YOU can do this too!  The time to start planning for the 2021 gardening season is NOW!  You can't delay it at all and you certainly can't put it off until the spring, that is wwwwaaaaayyyyyy too late to start thinking about it (although it is precisely what I did in my first season).  The planning needs to commence and the building blocks need to start right NOW.  It's actually already time to plant the garlic so we are even a bit late to the game and behind for the 2021 season but fear not!!!  It'll be okay, we'll get there!

Farmer Pointing Finger
You can do this too (yes you)!

Monday, September 28, 2020

August of 2020 Update

Man with Vegetables
One of the many bountiful harvests of August 2020

August was a blur as the harvesting and preserving game continued.  When the last day of August rolled around I was in disbelief and it felt like August 1st had just been the day prior.  The weather continued to be hot, the plants kept producing bountiful amounts of delicious food and I attempted to keep up with everything as I harvested like a mad man and preserved what wasn't going to be used right away.  One downside to the landscaping fabric that I use is that the soil health underneath the landscaping fabric appears to be unchanged and is vastly different from the rows I have cut into the landscaping fabric where I plant the vegetables.  I attribute this to not putting any compost or old plants underneath the landscaping fabric, I've always just let it be.  Which really makes total sense, if you're not adding anything to it, why would it change?  I came to the realization that I really need to balance that out and it should result in more productive plants in the long run if I do so.  I started spreading out mulch (that I get for free from the city of Longmont, woohoo) as well as old plant residue UNDERNEATH the landscaping fabric and in-between the rows.  This should put more nutrients and food back into the soil for all of the critters and decomposers living in the soil to enjoy, which will keep them happy and the soil more healthy overall.  The landscaping fabric is permeable, so water gets through it, but it does block out light, but it should still decompose back into the soil just fine as it gets water and air.  Go consistent soil health leading to healthier and more abundant plants!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

July of 2020 Update

Aerial View of Urban Farm
Aerial View of the Urban Farm

It's about time I get around to writing the update for July of 2020!  It's amazing how quickly time flies when there's an endless to-do list for the urban farm.  July is really when the fruits of my labor start showing, I spend so much time picking and preserving food along with trying to keep up with composting and just the general hustle and bustle of all of the plants growing.  There's a noticeable difference in the growth of the plants from morning to evening as well as from when I go to bed and wake up.  The veggies never stop growing, which means I can't stop tending to them.  Between harvests, my time is spent figuring out what I'm going to eat soon and what I need to preserve for the winter and how I'm going to preserve it.  I'm really starting to get this dialed in but it comes down to if something doesn't keep well in the fridge, I either eat it right away or preserve it for the winter.  Minimizing waste is one of my main focal points this year.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Equality: How is This Even a Debate?

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Incense Burning
Incense Burning Individually Yet Together (Malaysia - 2007)

Equality should be an inalienable right granted to all who are born on this planet.  We are all living beings.  We share the same planet, we cultivate and eat the same food, we drink the same water, and we breathe the same air.  At our core we are all the same yet in our society we focus on the differences between us and we ignore the similarities.  We spend so much time arguing about why we're right, we don't bother to hear somebody else's side of the story.  Whereas if we actually took the time to listen to a different perspective, to talk to people who think and believe different things than ourselves, we would grow as individuals as well as a society and a planet as a whole.  We consider ourselves to be an advanced civilization; we've visited the moon, we can put rovers on Mars and probes into deep space.  We can dive into the deepest depths of the ocean, climb the tallest mountains, travel anywhere on the globe with relative speed and ease compared to even just our grandparents, and commercial space travel appears to be just around the corner.  Despite these great feats that would be unimaginable to people even just 100 years ago, we as a society cannot seem to treat each other with the dignity and respect that we all deserve.  We fail to realize that each and every one of us are all trying to achieve the exact same goal of simply living and existing on this planet.  Wars are started over religious differences.  The color of your skin determines the opportunities presented to you and the challenges you encounter from your first breath on this earth until your last.  If you are part of the LGBTQ+ community you are generally thought of as odd, creepy, gross, or someone who is lost and can't find themselves. Your schooling and the job that you hold determines what your level of success is in life as seen through the eyes of your community.  Society judges you based on the home that you live in and the car that you drive.  People are chastised for having different political views.  Sports and activities have so many similarities yet we only focus on the differences, "oh you like hiking, well I only like running so get on out of here, you can't join our club."  For the love of god, don't even dare to listen to the "wrong" type of music for if it falls outside of what is seen as "normal" among your peers then you are labeled as an outcast and discarded into the wind to never be heard from again.  What is the point of all of this?  How is any of that beneficial to anyone?  Why do we let our differences divide us instead of letting our similarities unite us?  These differences should be celebrated and there is absolutely no way we as a species can call ourselves an advanced civilization until we can put our differences aside and treat each and every person on this planet with the dignity and respect they deserve.  I can only imagine what our world would look like to someone born on a different planet visiting our society.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

June of 2020 Update

Man with Head of Lettuce
June is when things really start rocking in the garden!  Everything is planted and now the goal is to keep the weeds at bay, water the plants, watch them grow, spread compost around on the plants as soon and as often as possible and to start reaping the rewards.  Composting is key to growing healthy plants.  The soil health needs to be built up in order for the plants to have all the nutrients they need to survive, ward of pests, and produce healthy food.  Without soil health you have nothing and without compost you don't have any soil health.  In short, keeping the circle of life moving is key to having a great urban farm or garden!  This is something that the vast majority of gardeners, urban farmers, and even a lot of farmers don't realize and don't focus on.  Probably because it's the part of the process that you can't see, but soil health is without a doubt the most important part of growing your own food, hands down!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Urban Farmers Gin & Tonic

"You'd learn more about the world by lying on the couch and drinking gin out of a bottle than by watching the news." -Garrison Keillor

Pink Gin & Tonic
The Urban Farmers Gin & Tonic

We can't let Margaritas be the only drink recipe on here so here's another one of my favorite drinks.  If Margaritas aren't your jam then I'm sure a pink / purple Gin & Tonic will be right up your alley!  Just give it a shot, you'll probably love it, it's amazing!  Plus, it's what real men drink anyways!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

May of 2020 Update (Even Though it's Almost July)

"Hey, Urban Farmer guy, it's almost July and you haven't told us what happened in May yet.  What's the big idea and what in the world is going on in the urban farm?!"

Man with Squash
James with the last Blue Hubbard Squash's from 2019

You are most certainly correct and thank you for calling me out on that!  It turns out that it's very challenging to juggle a normal, Monday thru Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job, being a landlord, and taking care of the urban farm while writing a blog and social media posts!!  It's pretty fun though and I wouldn't change anything about it!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Tear Down Your Learning Barriers!

Man on Summit of Mountain
James on the Summit of Cerro Soray (5,446 m / 17,867 ft) in Peru in 2013.  First "Real" Mountaineering Summit.  A Second Mountain (Salkantay) was Summited a Few Days Later!  Talk About a Steep Learning Curve!

There are a lot of different people in this world all of whom have their own strengths and weaknesses.  You can't possibly be good at everything as there just aren't enough hours in the day to master and maintain those skills for all of the activities that you enjoy.  I'm a strong believer in that anyone can be good at anything.  You just need the willpower to put the time and energy into learning that skill, realize it's likely not going to be an easy road and tear down the wall in your mind that you can't learn this skill and/or you won't be good at it.  Of course you're not going to be good at it when you first start learning a particular skill, that's part of the learning process.  In your mind you have to realize and accept that you currently suck at this skill but you can only improve and the sky is the limit.  Sure, certain people are likely innately better at certain activities than others and different people likely have different beginning baselines when they're starting to learn a new skill.  One thing that gets overlooked a lot is each persons past experiences and how those experiences can play a big role in learning a new skill.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

April of 2020 Summary

Triump Tulip
Triumph Tulip

April is when things start getting really hectic.  The weather is unpredictable, you don't know if it's going to be 80 degrees, snowing, hailing, raining, or all of the above in the same day.  The cold weather plants need to go in the ground as soon as possible to take advantage of the nice days as long as there aren't any big snowstorms on the horizon.  Some of the plants are getting too big for their pots and want to go in the ground ASAP.  In preparation for weening the plants to be outside, I did 19 trips up and down the stairs, twice a day, every day.  One trip to get the plants outside to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, then another to get them back inside so they don't freeze.  It's just hectic, I never quite know what I'll end up doing in the urban farm in April and when I do have a set plan the weather usually has other plans.  I was able to start buying some early season produce from my favorite local farm, Ollin Farms.  For the first two weeks I bought a 2 pound (.91 kilos) bag of spinach each week, and I went through each bag in its entirety!  I was so happy to taste fresh food again.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Summertime is Margarita Time!

"If life gives you limes, make margaritas."  -Jimmy Buffett

Margarita on Patio
Enjoying a Homemade Margarita on the Patio

Okay, okay, it's not officially summer until June 20th BUT it has felt quite a lot like summer lately ssssoooo why not just make some margaritas and enjoy it?!  Margaritas can be enjoyed any day and any time, while gardening, after gardening, while bowling, playing croquet, throwing darts, juggling fire, you name it, it's margarita time no-matter the day / time / occasion!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Seeds, Where it all Begins!

"Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed.  Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."
- Henry David Thoreau

Seeds in Palm of Hand
Mongolian Giant Sunflower Seeds
Seeds, where it all begins!  You can't grow any vegetables or flowers without these babies and thus they are a very important part of any farm or garden.  There are vast amounts of roads we could go down with this one and endless topics that can be discussed when it comes to the black hole that is seed politics.  We're not going to get too deep in the weeds with this post (half of you are probably sighing with relief and the other half are angrily shaking fists at me), but we'll still skirt some weeds, it's inevitable.  This early on in the blog I'm just going to focus on where I get my seeds from with a light touch on why I buy my seeds from these very specific sources.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Hopes, Dreams, and Goals for 2020

"Agriculture is our wisest pursuit because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness." 
- Thomas Jefferson

Urban Farm with Sunset

Who knows what the fourth year of the urban farm will bring.  My overall goal is fairly simple:

Try and get the farm to be as productive, if not more productive, than last year while simultaneously expanding my general, overall, knowledge and doing a better job of preserving food for the winter along with focusing more on composting and soil health.

That should be a fairly easy and attainable goal however the reality is that each year you have no idea what challenges mother nature is going to throw at you.  Hail from a storm could annihilate the urban farm within a five minute time span.  There could be a late frost after transplanting the seedlings (last year there was snow in the last week of May).  Pests that I haven't encountered before could decide that they love my urban farm and want to reside here.  There are so many unknowns but you just have to trust what you already know to get you through whatever challenges you may encounter during the growing season.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Top Ten Things I've Learned (So Far)

"The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world." 
- Michael Pollan

1. Weeds suck.  Landscaping fabric helps a lot to keep the weeds manageable.  Some weeds even emit chemicals from their roots to kill off surrounding plants to help the weed thrive.  Pull them as soon as possible.

2. Drip irrigation is the way to go for watering your plants.  It's easy, efficient, and fairly easy to build initially.

3. Rotate those crops!!!  Don't grow the same thing in the same spot year after year, rotate everything around.  Different plants use different nutrients, if you grow the same thing in the same spot you're going to use up the nutrients in the ground that the particular type of plant uses.  Rotate the plants to keep the nutrients in the ground balanced to help keep the soil healthy.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

It's Not All Unicorns and Rainbows

"A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself."
-May Sarton

As you look at the mass amounts of photos in the recaps of the last three years it's easy to look at those and say, "Man, this James the urban farmer guy has this whole thing figured out, look at him go!"  While I know more than I did when I started doing this, the reality is I still know very little compared to a lot of other people who farm for a living.  There's so much to know and a lot of it can be very specific to the area that you live in.  One of these days when I feel like my farming knowledge is more up to snuff it would be really fun to travel to a different part of the country (or a different country completely) and try and do the same thing just to see if I can do it and if it's just like starting from square zero again.  Behind those great looking photos that you saw in my previous posts is a lot of hard work along with quite a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.  It's way too easy to only focus on the positive aspects of the urban farm and to spin it as a complete walk in the park.  I'm trying fairly hard to put a realistic view on everything that goes into trying to gain independence from the major food system that's in place in the U.S.  As I was putting together those previous posts I realized one major thing was lacking in my photos and also from the recaps:  failures.  Each year there are so many things that go wrong and I generally don't want to remember them but for the purposes of this blog I do want to put extra effort into trying to highlight those as best as I can just to show everyone who may somehow stumble across this blog that it takes a lot more than just throwing seeds in the ground (although that has worked for me in the past).  Going forward I'll be making an extra effort to take photos of things that fail or go horribly wrong (this makes me cringe just thinking about it).  You also probably noticed some out of place photos in those recaps, such as the San Francisco and Panama photos.  You would most certainly be correct in calling me out and telling me that those photos don't have a place in this urban farming blog.  If that is what you're thinking though the thing you're failing to realize and the reason that statement is completely and utterly wrong is that this is James the urban farmer's blog and I'm just going to go ahead and put whatever I want in here and write about whatever the hell I feel like.  If you don't like that then go ahead and find yourself a different blog to entertain yourself, the world will keep on spinning and I'll keep on writing.  As a result, there are probably going to be some posts and photos that seem out of place from time to time.  Deal with it (or don't, I don't care).

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Third Full Season Recap (2019) - Part III

"Gardeners, I think, dream bigger dreams than emperors." 
– Mary Cantwell

Part Three of Three

The never ending harvest continues... (September 2019):

Bags of produce on patio table

I was ecstatic that the onions and dill worked out well, I hadn't had much luck with onions in the previous years and I hadn't tried dill before (September 2019):

Harvest on a table

Eggplant is another item that hasn't worked out for me in previous years (September 2019):
Lots of eggplant this year though!

Prolific Eggplant Plant

Thursday, April 16, 2020

March - Pandemic 2020: When the World Started to Almost End (Again)

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered: "Man.  Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.  Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.  And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” - Dalai Lama

Honey Bee on Purple Crocus
Honey bee going to gather pollen from a purple crocus in the wildflower yard!

March of 2020 was really just when the U.S. started catching up to the rest of the world with the Coronavirus Pandemic and in true American fashion we took it upon ourselves to show the rest of the world up and be #1 with this pandemic by having more cases than any other country.  America is always trying to be #1, except for things that really matter such as education and healthcare.  We went from seeing Coronavirus as being a far off threat, to watching it slowly creep across the globe, to it hammering normal lives everywhere and bringing the economy to a screeching halt.  By the end of March schools were closed, unemployment skyrocketed to record high levels seemingly overnight, small business owners are left wondering how they're going to keep their businesses afloat, non-essential businesses were ordered to close, states were starting to impose "Stay at Home Orders", meaning you are not to leave home aside from "essential" services or needs, sports were cancelled, churches closed, grocery store shelves were empty, you felt like you won the powerball if you were able to snag any toilet paper or cleaning supplies, hospitals were starting to fill up, shortages of masks and gowns, doctors and nurses were and still are working around the clock and don't have the supplies they need to treat people, morgues are running out of space, panic buying ensues, roads were more or less empty, Tiger King was the talk of the town.  Basically people were freaking out and not sure how to respond to something like this.  It's way too easy to focus on all the negative aspects of what has happened and what is continuing to happen in the world currently, but it's more important than ever to point out all of the good that is happening.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Third Full Season Recap (2019) - Part II

"When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden."
– Minnie Aumonier

Part Two of Three

Everything's looking pretty good (July 2019):

Urban farm overview photo

How tall will the sunflowers grow (July 2019):
Seriously, how tall are these suckers going to get, I thought they were only supposed to be knee-high sunflowers?!?!

6 foot tall trellises with sunflowers behind them almost as tall

I will take all of the broccoli please (July 2019):
Have I mentioned yet that I really, really love broccoli?!

large head of brocolli still growing with large leaves

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Third Full Season Recap (2019) - Part I

"My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece." 
– Claude Monet

Part One of Three

After the second season the main thing on my mind was how in the world do I keep the weeds under control so I don't have to spend all of my free time weeding (even then the weeds were still sprouting up everywhere)?  A friend of mine owns and runs Micro Farms Colorado where he turns peoples yards into urban farms then gives each house a share of the food and he sells the rest at local markets and to restaurants.  I was down at his place and while we were cleaning up some of his produce we got to talking about weeds and about different ways of managing them and he brought up landscaping fabric and he showed me how he uses it and how it's worked out well so far for him.  It looked like a fantastic idea and fairly easy to set-up and once it's setup you shouldn't have to replace it for at least 5 years (if you get the good kind of landscaping fabric).  It's permeable so water goes through it when it rains, it blocks out the light to keep the weeds from growing and it also traps the moisture in the ground a bit better, so if you live in an extremely dry climate such as in Colorado it keeps moisture in the ground and keeps you from having to water quite so much, which is always a plus!  Once the landscaping fabric is down though you can't really till anymore unless you pull up the landscaping fabric.  Tilling has been something that I've been wanting to experiment with getting away from since it disturbs the soil and disrupts the environment that the organisms, worms, etc. have going on in the soil.  Tilling also puts weed seeds back into the soil, if you till year after year, you'll likely get a lot more weeds than someone who doesn't till (if they stay on-top of the weeds that is).  After two years of tilling and growing vegetables the ground is a lot looser so I wasn't worried about trying not tilling as an experiment to see what happens.  I bought some landscaping fabric of my own, tilled one more time, rolled it out and planted the seeds.  Here's what happened:

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Second Full Season (2018) Recap

"There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments." 
– Janet Kilburn Phillips

During the first year I learned what grows well where I live, what does not grow well, what all the different seedlings look like and how to differentiate them from weeds, weeds suck and will crowd out anything / everything if you give them a chance to, the drip irrigation system rocks, and tilling isn't terribly fun when the soil is as hard as cement (it is a good arm workout) but it does break up the soil which makes it easier for the plants to grow in.  I'm sure I learned lots of other things but those are the things that stand out in my mind as I look back on the photos and re-live what happened that year.

For my second year (Summer of 2018) of the urban farm, I took what I learned during the first year, applied it, and tried out some new ideas that I had no idea if they would work or not.  Here's what happened during the second year:

Winter Vegetable Experiment (February 2018):
I attempted to grow some plants inside to try and get some fresh produce during the winter.  They grew but it took a lot of energy (even with LED grow lights).  Not the best option but it works.

Countertop in basement with six plants and a grow light

Saturday, March 21, 2020

First Full Season (2017) Recap

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Lao Tzu

The summer of 2017 was my first full season of attempting to grow my own food.  It was one giant experiment as I had never tried growing more than 10 plants at once before nor had I ever had this much space.  I tilled the ground, built my own drip irrigation system, threw a bunch of seeds in the ground, and tried to keep the weeds at bay while the vegetables grew.  Here's what happened:

Before doing anything, this is what the yard looked like (2016):

Splotchy grass yard with playset

Utilities marked and tilling underway (2017):
 I bought a small, electric tiller that works surprisingly well and since it's electric there isn't much maintenance to do on it.

Freshly tilled dirt

Drip irrigation system being built and seeds being planted (April 2017):

Drip irrigation system being installed

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

February of 2020 Overview

Crazy Ass Icicles
Crazy Ass Icicles

The month of February are when things start ramping up for the urban farm.  I usually try and start the first seedlings of the year during the first few weeks of February depending on what else I have going on in my life.  The peppers need to get started first since they take the longest to grow but as a result of laziness combined with striving to be as efficient as possible this year I started as many seedlings as I could along with the peppers.  I definitely try and limit it to the things that take a while to grow (peppers take ffffooorrrrreevvvveeeerrrr to grow) since my laundry room only has so much space for seedlings.  In years past I've started seeds in the small 1x1 seed blocks that you commonly see at garden stores.  I've grown to dislike using these as you have to transplant the seedlings to a bigger pot fairly fast or else the plant growth gets stunted and that seems to happen anyways when you transplant them.  Last year I started using 3x3 containers (also found at garden stores) and I loved them so this year I'm only using 3x3 containers to start seeds in and I might not need to transplant any of the plants until they're ready to go outside which saves me time and the plants will be happier.  I use normal potting soil (natural as possible and with added microbes) to start my seeds, I don't see the point in using seed starting specific soil as such a thing doesn't exist outside in nature and I've never had any trouble just using normal soil to start seeds in.  As far as I can tell seed starting soil is just a ploy by the gardening industry to get you to buy more product so they can make more money off of you which boosts consumerism.  Whether that's actually the case I don't have the slightest idea, I'm sure I'll find out as I read more and more about soil health and everything soil related this year.  If you use seed starting soil you have to transplant the seedlings fairly quickly to more nutritious soil so the plants continue to grow properly, so why not just them start off in normal soil and bigger pots?

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Flowers are Fun Too!

“It is easier to tell a person what life is not, rather than to tell them what it is. A child understands weeds that grow from lack of attention, in a garden. However, it is hard to explain the wild flowers that one gardener calls weeds, and another considers beautiful ground cover.”
― Shannon L. Alder

Colorful wild flowers
Wildflowers in the front of the house

Vegetables are great, provide a lot of sustenance and allow you to lower your dependence on the typical food system.  They do tend to be pretty plain looking though, it's usually a sea of green with some small color variations here and there as the plants mature and fruit start to ripen.  If you're like me and you like lots of variation and you want some scattered color here and there, you'll also want to grow wildflowers.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Got Land?

Sssssoooooo I don't have any land, how in the world am I supposed to grow my own food?

This is a fantastic question and point, it's pretty dang hard to grow your own food if you don't have anywhere to grow it.  However what you can do is look at this situation from a different perspective and take this as an opportunity instead of seeing it as a disadvantage.  You can utilize the space you currently have and experiment with small scale growing in pots or planters.  If you live in an apartment or condo try growing a few things on your patio / balcony or in a place inside that gets some direct sunlight.  This is a fantastic opportunity to fail on a small scale, learn from your mistakes, improve your knowledge, try again and repeat.  Work on building up your knowledge base while saving up money for a house and / or land then when you do stumble upon a situation where you have land available for you to grow on you'll be ready for it and you can take what you've already learned, apply it to a larger scale, and you'll likely be more successful, even if you have yet to be successful with small scale growing (which is exactly what happened with me).

The Balcony of my Previous Apartment:
Twenty pots with plants on balcony
Attempting to grow a variety of vegetables

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Options For Where You Can Get Your Food From

You mentioned that you try and buy your food locally if you can't grow it yourself.  The grocery store is local, it's just down the street, isn't that the same thing?

Another great question by you loud and loyal readers!  Maybe, maybe not, it depends on the store.  Just because your grocery store is in your neighborhood and the actual building is local that doesn't mean that the food contained within that building is local.  Here's a quick rundown of what I know and what I've learned about the different options for where to get your food from:

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Why Grow Vegetables?

Well that's all fine and dandy but why do you grow your own vegetables?  Why not just buy them from the grocery store?  My local grocery store has plenty of green stuff that I'm told are those fancy "vegetables" you speak of, isn't it the same thing?

Wow, you guys and gals are all pretty loud as you read this blog, I can hear you way over here.  That is a great question though so thank you for asking!  Yes, your local grocery store likely has plenty of vegetables that are probably pretty reasonably priced.  If you take one of these vegetables and put it directly next to the exact same vegetable that I've grown they will probably look identical, the one that I've grown might even look worse than the store bought vegetable!  Don't let this scare you and don't judge a book by it's cover.  The true test is in the taste, if you do a taste comparison of these vegetables the difference is going to be starkly different despite the fact that it's the same vegetable!  Home or locally grown produce is going to have an enjoyable flavor explosion whereas your typical grocery store produce usually tastes like cardboard.  The proof is in the pudding as they say.

The general reasoning for this is really quite simple, your store bought produce is from all across the country as well as the world.  In order for this produce to be sold from the store before it spoils it's normally picked before it's ripe, boxed up, put in trucks where this food continues to ripen, then sits on the store shelf for a few days or longer before it's bought.  The picking before it's ripe keeps precious nutrients out of the vegetable (or fruit) that it needs to keep on developing and ripen properly.  Have you ever noticed how vine ripened tomatoes taste quite a bit different and better from other tomatoes that were picked prematurely?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Who Am I Anyways?

I can already hear you talking to yourself saying:

It looks and sounds like this guy has had luck growing his own food, who is he anyways?  Surely he has lots of agriculture experience to be able to pull this off?

My name is James, I'm 32 years old, I'm from Colorado, I live in Longmont, Colorado and I'm a plant-a-holic (or veggienaut?).  I have absolutely zero formal agriculture experience nor did I grow up in an environment where we grew a lot of plants.  Before I owned a house I lived in various apartments for quite a while, I would occasionally get house plants or try and grow plants / vegetables on the porch.  Any plant I touched would promptly die fairly fast, even the so-called "impossible to kill" houseplants would perish time and time again despite my best efforts to keep them alive.

Quite a lot has changed since then:
Man's face next to yellow Dahlia
Kelvin Floodlight Dinner Plate Dahlia

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Hello, I Grow My Own Food!

Stranger:  Your backyard is only vegetables?!  Seriously?

Me:  Well there is a shed back there, the borders are mostly sunflowers, there’s a strawberry patch, two compost piles, and a fire pit but yeah, everything else is all vegetables.

Stranger:  Ssssoooo, you live out in the country then with lots of land?

Me:  Nope, I live in the city, the property itself is just shy of a quarter acre (9,000 sq. ft) but my house is on that property.  The front yard is all wildflowers with the backyard being the main urban farm full of vegetables.  I’m able to grow more than enough food to last year round*.

Stranger:  You’ve got to be kidding.

I pull out my phone and show them the most recent photo(s).

Stranger:  Holy Cow, that’s incredible, you weren’t kidding! 

That’s a pretty typical, initial exchange that I have with people as they find out what I’ve been doing with my urban farm experiment over the past three years.  My name is James, I live in Longmont, Colorado, I don’t have any sort of formal agriculture experience or training and yet I’m able to grow the vast majority of the food that I eat, all grown at a typical house in the U.S.

This is me:

Urban Farmer Among Plants