City folk give urban farming a try
April 13, 2010
By Dan Catchpole
Where did your breakfast this morning come from?
If you dig into the rising trend of urban farming, it could come from your own backyard.
Urban farming has become increasingly popular in recent years, and people are pushing its boundaries beyond a few tomato plants. Year-round vegetable, fruit and herb gardens, and chickens, goats and even bees are now being raised in people’s yards.
“The last couple years, we’ve seen a huge upsurge in people’s interest in growing food in the city,” said Liza Burke, communications director of Seattle Tilth, a nonprofit education group with classes in Seattle and Issaquah.
Such people come from all walks of life.
The demand for chickens has “become insane” at The Grange Supply in Issaquah, said Susan Saadati, who orders things including baby chicks for the company.
“Most of our customers are new to chickens,” she said.
Many people might be intimidated at the idea of raising livestock or even just lima beans in their backyard, but anyone can be an urban farmer, experts said.
For the cluck of it
For all their clucking and pecking, chickens are low maintenance.
“They’re so easy, and then they give you back presents for your time and energy,” Saadati said.
The big time investment comes in building a coop, but one can easily be purchased from the Grange and other suppliers in the area.
Some guidelines need to be followed when raising chicks, which need to be kept warm in a brooder, a small space like a rabbit cage or even a cardboard box lined with wood shavings.
Clean water and food has to be available, and the wood shavings should be changed every few days.
When they are older and have their feathers, then can be moved into a coop, which should be confined to protect them from predators and sometimes the family dog or cat.
Aside from food and water, little else is needed.
“They just do their chicken thing, which is scratching at the dirt and putting themselves to sleep” at night, Saadati said.
All you have to do, she said, is open the hen house in the morning, close the door at night, give them food and water every few days, and collect the eggs.
And fresh laid eggs are “much richer,” she said.
There is a multitude of chicken breeds, which rise and fall in popularity over the years. The fad last year at the Grange, Saadati said, was for marans.
Others, like Rhode Island reds, are popular every year.
But the breed doesn’t really matter when it comes to laying eggs.
“They all lay really good eggs,” she said.
While all eggs taste the same, they certainly don’t look the same.
Marans lay dark brown eggs, while araucanas lay bluish-green eggs.
Colored eggs can be a great way to interest children in chickens.
“If you come up with different color eggs, that is like Easter,” Saadati said.
Having children involved in raising chickens teaches them responsibility for another living animal and where their food comes from, she said.
For economy or hobby
Knowing where food comes from is one reason many people have taken up urban farming, Burke said.
But there are other reasons, too.
She’s heard a wide variety of reasons from customers at Seattle Tilth. Some do it to save money. For others, it is a hobby. Some say food tastes better when they grow it. Increasingly, people tell her they are interested in eating locally.
“People are concerned about where their food comes from,” said Laura Matter, a volunteer with Seattle Tilth who helps tend to the group’s garden at Pickering Barn.
Matter also answers the group’s garden question hotline, and said in the past two years she’s spoken to an increasing number of people in their 20s who are starting gardens.
Breaking ground on a garden can be intimidating.
“It can be pretty bewildering, because there’s so much to know,” she said.
First-time gardeners need to start small and first focus on building healthy soil. A soil analysis can be done through the King County Conservation District for a nominal fee.
Based on the results, the soil should be supplemented, if needed, to ensure it is the right mix of mineral content (nonchemical fertilizer), organic matter (compost), air and water. The right combination supports a healthy community of microorganisms, which help plants grow.
Deciding what to grow
After that, Matter said, a gardener should sit down and think about what he or she eats, and plant that.
“You don’t want to end up with a ton of cherry tomatoes if you don’t really like tomatoes,” she said.
Once the garden is going, it is like having a fresh produce stand outside.
“As you get into the (peak) season, you’re basically picking dinner,” Matter said, adding, “You could have essentially a whole salad growing outside your house.”
One nice perk of a garden is you can pick only what you need, meaning no more uneaten vegetables going bad in your refrigerator.
A garden doesn’t require much space either. Matter’s yard is mostly shaded, so she grows a few plants in containers and also tends a P-Patch.
While gardening does require some small time commitment, you don’t need a lot of time or a green thumb to do it.
It is also something that can be done year round in the Pacific Northwest.
“When you pull something out, you put something back in,” Matter said.
Gardening never grows old, either.
“There’s always something new to learn, and that’s what keeps it fun,” Burke said.
It can also be fun for the whole family.
“For kids, it can be lots of fun playing in the dirt outside and with critters,” she said.
Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.
- Seattle Tilth www.seattletilth.org
- Seattle Tilth’s garden hotline 206-633-0224
- Seattle Urban Farm Co. www.seattleurbanfarmco.com
- King County Conservation District: www.kingcd.org
- City of Issaquah Resource Conservation Office www.ci.issaquah.wa.us (find the office under the “departments” heading)
- The Grange Supply www.grangesupplyinc.com
- Backyard chicken forum
Seattle Tilth’s A Day in the Garden at Issaquah
10 a.m. – 3 p.m. April 17, Pickering Barn’s community learning garden
1730 10th Ave. N.W.
Seattle Tilth’s Issaquah
Edible Plant Sale
9 a.m. – 2 p.m. May 22
City of Issaquah’s Comprehensive Organic Gardener Program
7-9 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturdays
May 6 – May 27
Popular crops by season
Kale, cabbages, collards, leeks, carrots
Lettuce, arugula, spinach, chard, green onions, radishes
Greens and root crops, potatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, garlic
Tomatoes, winter squash, pumpkins, parsnips, bok choy, radishes, lettuce