Gardening, Hobby Farming, Lifestyle
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Saying Good-bye to My Urban Farm

Chickens in coop

We purchased our modest post and beam home almost nine years ago from a sweet elderly couple whose home meant everything to them. They had helped design the house and lived in it from day one. They were only selling because they could no longer look after it and were moving to a care home. We believe our offer was picked because we weren’t builders who would bulldoze the house and build a new one which was the fate of many of the homes in the area. It was so cool to come across the little things they had done like putting a coin from the year they poured cement for the patio. Old banking slips from the 60’s tucked into the rafters of the storage and an old banner from the Pacific National Exhibition that was stapled in the crawl space. I left these jewels hidden in the spots I found them to bring others a smile while they think of the history of the home.

I will never forget the day we moved in… I went down to the crawl space (really a stand up space) and to my horror there stood bottles and bottles of chemicals. Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides all just waiting for me – I’m sure I must have gasped so loud the neighbours across the street heard me. I was horrified, some of these chemicals I had never seen in my 20 years in the horticulture industry so I knew they were bad! I called our real estate agent and he arranged for the former owners niece to pick them up, I couldn’t get them out of there fast enough.

Sadly the chemicals had been used for so many years that the entire balance in the soil was gone, there was not a worm to be had anywhere in the yard. I was devastated with the destruction of soil and all the life that it usually has.

The rebuilding process began no chemical fertilizers, no pesticides- all natural control and bring on the organic soil amendments! It took two years before the worms trusted me enough to venture into the yard, another 3 years to develop a healthy population of them. The garden was overrun with sow bugs aka roly polies or pill bugs. These little beggars are almost impossible to kill and they were wrecking havoc in my garden, especially the vegetable garden. In smaller numbers these guys are just a nuisance but in large numbers they can be damaging. Truth be told nothing kills these guys – they are related to lobsters and crabs and this is one of the reasons they are so hard to kill.

urban-farming-chicken2

This situation brought on my love for chickens! After many attempts of organic control for these bastards and a bit of research I was bringing out the “Big Guns”. Off I went to buy some day old chicks to get these sow bugs under control. I raised these three day old chicks in our house until they were 8 weeks old which was a bit too long… we may have had a wedding shower for my daughter in a house that smelled a bit like a barnyard – nothing like making sure all the in-laws know your true identity! I started the girls (the chickens, not the daughters) on sow bugs at 3 weeks old to make sure they were the favourite treat of the day, I would set traps and harvest them to feed the baby chicks. Once the girls were old enough I sent them outside to work. They did bring some control to the situation, not total control but enough to bring back some balance.

The Front Yard

One of the biggest attractions other than the posts and beams were the amazing front windows. These windows covered the entire front of the house from floor to ceiling. When we moved in I wanted to bring the outdoors in by designing the garden with the view point based inside the house not from the street which is how so many gardens are designed. A landscape designer friend and I sat at our kitchen table looking out the window sipping wine while we planned the garden from that viewpoint. I wanted a stream in my front yard with a pond, bridge and the water had to disappear magically under a patio. A focal point was also necessary to balance the patio as well as quick privacy because of the slopped yard.

The building began with truckloads of rocks to build the stream and pond. I had another friend who is an amazing designer of water features so he helped with the stream and pond. In two days I had a running stream, pond and yes, the water magically disappeared under the patio! It was beautiful, looked very natural and I loved the sound the moving water brought to the landscape. Owen had been careful to design the water falling in a few different places to create more sound and interest. We wanted a bridge to cross the stream but it had to be a special bridge. We always tried to respect the honor and pride the past owners had for their home so we worked at incorporating the old into the new. Previous owners had numerous old fruit trees in the back yard which we removed because of old age, disease and poor production. We saved the best of the large limbs and with the help of my husband’s dad we built a bridge from the limbs. It was nothing short of amazing and added that special feature we needed.

Lotus blooming in the water garden

Then the planting began… it was a good thing I was in the horticulture industry so I could afford all the wonderful and unique plants. Without that discount the rare and unusual would have been more out of reach. It took two years of planting and then another three years of me asking my husband to help me transplant because it wasn’t just right. At one time he stopped and looked at me and said “This is the third time I’ve moved this one plant!” Our deal was I did the weeding and maintenance and he dug the holes. We built a split rail fence along the road and half way down the driveway to grow some vines on it for quick privacy. The fence and vines worked great to give us the framework and privacy. The garden offers year round interest with the mix of shrubs, trees, perennials and bulbs; there is never a dull moment not even in the middle of winter.

The Backyard

This is my other passion, all the edibles! So the question became how much food could you produce on a city lot and still have a lawn for croquet, bocce, a small agility field for the dog and hens for fresh eggs? This is when planning becomes very important to achieve the best use from the square footage you have. We started by creating two separate sections of the yard, one for lawn, one for the vegetable patch. First a new fence in to replace the old wooden fence. We chose black chain link so we could maximize the air circulation which is so important for any edible crop.

Vegetable Garden

Picked garlic in basket

The separately fenced vegetable garden was out of reach by dog and chickens, but also had pebbles instead of grass to keep maintenance low. In the vegetable garden I had five raised vegetable beds in the centre, hedge of blueberries between us and the neighbour (east side), and the back fence was my compost bins and Haskaps. On the grass side of the fence grew a whole hedge of raspberry plants between the vegetable garden and the main yard. Along the back fence (south facing) I had four espaliered fruit trees on a trellis system. Behind the fruit trees in the alley was what I called the community garden which contained squash, watermelon, pumpkins and cantaloupe for all who wanted to pick it. It served as a great way to meet neighbours and the kids loved it. Along the other neighbour (west side) were Gogi berries, Fig tree and a couple of Paw Paws. The chicken area was adjacent to them on the north side of yard, but still south facing and hot. The chickens had a large fenced area with a smaller enclosure inside for safety from racoons as well as their coop for nesting. They did love to wander free through the rest of the yard but could get a little carried away with the berry picking (especially the Gojis)! We had a constant supply of fresh food from spring to late fall and fresh eggs daily.

Picking rasberries

The Good-bye

The house will hold many memories for all of us, family gatherings, Christmas dinners, Halloween parties and so many other celebrations throughout the years! When you walked through the door to our house it just felt like home to everyone. All our friends and family were shocked we were selling but so excited for us to find the perfect farm.

My dream my whole life has been to have a hobby farm. A good friend gave me this little toy goat which sits on my windowsill to remind me daily of my goal, my dream. The real estate market in our area has been very hot. At family dinner one night my brother-in-law, who is a real estate agent, mentioned the price that houses had been selling for in our area. My husband and I discussed the possibilities over the next few days and looked at other houses and properties we could purchase if we sold our house. Much to our surprise we realized we could possibly sell our home and purchase a hobby farm about 30-45 minutes away. The For Sale sign went up shortly after and much to our surprise we sold five days later! Thus began the search for the perfect property. It took time, patience, and faith in our trusty relator, but we found our perfect hobby farm, however, that’s a story for another day.

Blooming lavendar

The good-bye is bitter sweet as we love our home, the yard and our neighbours across the street. We were presented with such a great opportunity, it was too hard to pass up. On Saturday, with a heavy heart we closed the door for the last time, but we look forward to the new adventure of farming on a larger scale!

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