Garden, chickens and more: an urban homesteading update


Written by Danny.

I‘ve just come off of 2 week vacation and have thoroughly enjoyed the time with my family – including the silly water boy above.  We feel like we are still taking baby steps towards our ideal urban homesteader lifestyle – but we’re doing it at our own pace and loving it.

I’ve chronicled some of our homesteading efforts here on Simple Bites before, but thought it would be good to update you on how we’re keeping up.  Or not.  So here goes.

Raised Beds/garden:

As Aimee posted in her garden update, the raised beds are doing well – but in my view, not producing fantastically aside from the greens.  When we visited my dad this past weekend, I was surprised to see how small his tomato plants were compared to our giant ones – yet he had plenty of red tomatoes and even a cucumber.

We have lots of fruit out on the vine, but it is all still green.  Is this due to too much shade?  Is it because we planted too late?  Going forward, I’m going to have to keep a better track of what’s happening out there, like inches of rain, hours of sunlight, etc.  Would we be able to live on what our garden produces?  No way.

Water Barrel:

Not much to update on the water barrel.  We haven’t been getting that much rain, but when we do, we use it 2-3 days later, and empty it out.  I’ll update later in the fall/winter to let you know about any problems with leaves or ice and stuff.

Other than that, we finally got our front garden built/framed in with more of the leftover wood from the raised bed project.  And there’s still lots more wood to go.  If anyone has any wood projects (or lives close by and wants to pick some up to be just like us Joneses) feel free to give us a call and I’ll make you a deal.

Chickens:

As some of you may know, earlier in the season we “harvested” 6 chickens (or as we told the kids – turned the chickens into meat), and acquired 6 more.  Our first batch were some older hens, and although we’re keeping them “for fun”, it is no fun to do the work and get no eggs.  Seriously.  6 hens and only 1 egg per day?  Something had to be done.

So one day I get a surprise call from my co-worker telling me that he had 6 new pullets available, but I had to get them by 5PM.  So I left work early, caught and killed our old 6 (which the kids had named stuff like, “Floppy-Comb”, and “Half-Flop” (her comb was not as floppy as the other one), as well as “No-Tail” and “Bare-Wing” (due to some competitive pecking, no doubt).

Anyways, the new batch are prolific layers.  We collect 6 fantastic brown eggs each morning.  The only other comment is that the shells are really hard compared to store eggs.  I don’t have an explanation for this other than they are younger hens, or that instead of a bucket of feed each morning, we’ve been advised to feed them “as much as they can eat”, and so purchased one of those feeder bucket things that we fill about once a week.  We’ve also had them for longer than our hens from last year (6 weeks until the predator got them) as I’ve beefed up the security of the coop.

Freakily, there are multiple scratch marks on the outside of the coop in several places.  Hopefully we’ll still have 6 chickens when we provide the next update…

All photos by the amazing Tim Chin. Don’t worry – we washed the eggs before Mateo spontaneously sucked them!

Next Steps:

So what’s next on the list for the homestead?  I dunno…  I’d like to think that we could manage the addition of a hive of honey bees or a goat, but there is no family consensus on the bees, and a VERY STRONG opposition to the goat idea from Aimee.  I’m not sure why.  I mean, sure, I’ve been told that goats are the wildest animal that you would NOT want to have in your backyard (especially if you have a garden), and that they will stand on or eat anything from your shed to your car(!), but how hard can it really be?  After all, I’ve got 2 strong boys to take care of the goat during the day.

{Editor’s note: Who has experience raising goats? Aimee = 1. Danny = 0. End of story}

I guess the more reasonable, non-food projects are a deck reno (ours is sagging in places and although large, not terribly functional).  Of course, if we started a deck reno, we’d try to include plans for an outdoor Pizza Oven.  Delicious!  Our fire pit could use a small upgrade to accommodate a grate for grilling.

Or I could build a bigger shed/garage.  According to the city, I could build a detached garage of up to 600 sqft!!!  That’s about the size of the apartment that Aimee and I lived in when we were first married.  Our tiny 50 sqft shed is certainly crowded, but do we really need that much space?  Um – no.

Does a tree fort count as urban homesteading, anyone?

What urban homesteading projects do you have planned? Any other input on the goats?

About Danny

Danny Bourque is a mechanical engineer who is known at both home and work as either “the geek” or “the numbers guy”. He is very methodical and genuinely loves to analyze almost anything that piques his interest – including food.

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Comments

  1. Jeremy Austin says:

    Depending on the scale, a tree fort can certainly count! At our last house, I built a three-level fort in a cluster of trees; the lowest platform fairly high (…you must be THIS high to go on this ride…), a full set of stairs to the second platform, and then a couple steps to the side to a roofed area. The kids loved it; the perfect place to sit, swaying gently in the breeze, and spit cherry pits down to the squirrels below. Versatile, if homely in profile. I’ve avoided disgracing our skyline at our current home, but did add a greenhouse this year, an addition I highly recommend.

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Per city regulations, I could build a greenhouse of up to 1500 sqft. I don’t know of regulations on the allowed size of the tree house. I wonder if I would need a building permit for that?

  2. Regarding the tomatoes, pruning may help. I have read many reputable sources that state the same thing, but for the ease of posting I used this link. My own experience is that if left without pruning, the plant becomes really big with lots of foliage, but not necessarily tomatoes. Because the nutrient is divided amongst all the foliage in addition to future tomatoes. You may gain more tomatoes in the long run, but only if you have an extra long summer season. Or else it’s a lot of foliage and not enough tomatoes. (also, more tomatoes for cherry tomatoes, but not the big ones, due to the enormous nutrients required and time it takes to mature)
    http://www.tomatogardeningguru.com/care-feeding.html
    “Pruning
    Pruning involves removing suckers, the volunteer sprouts that develop right where a leaf stem meets the main plant stem, at what’s known as the axial. Left to themselves, suckers will produce leaves, blossoms, fruit — and more suckers. A popular but somewhat old-fashioned school of thought holds that these secondary (and tertiary) sprouts “suck” the life from the plant, and that all should be removed. Actually, allowing some suckers to remain will increase your overall yield. If, however, you’re going for sheer size of individual fruit, then removing all suckers will help.
    Remember, only indeterminate varieties should be pruned, as determinates already have a built-in growth check. Pruning determinates decreases their overall yield, not just the size of individual tomatoes.”

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Hi Mary,
      We did remove some of the suckers as it got bigger, but I still have tomato-envy of my Dad’s plants. We’ll be sure to prune those guys more aggressively next year.

  3. No thoughts on goats…but six fresh eggs every morning sounds awesome.

  4. Hmmm…..I’ve always thought of goats as being pretty easy, but maybe I’m just glossing over childhood memories. 🙂 We never let ours roam free, though. They were always contained.
    My gardening skills are not so great, so I’m contemplating giving up on it and planting blueberries there instead. We’ll certainly use every last blueberry I grow. Becoming a better gardener is high on my urban homesteading list of things I need to do.

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Hi Kristin,
      We need to have an intervention session with Aimee. I’ve always thought of them as pretty easy too – and pretty cool as well. I’m sure Aimee is glossing over the GOOD memories that goats provide.

  5. Anne Marie says:

    We have bees (two hives) and got 3 chickens this year. Bees are pretty easy, (so my husband says) so I would recommend them. We lost the war on woodchucks and the garden was lost this year 🙁 , but luckily my dad has had enough to keep us all supplied! The greenhouse sounds great, and a deck reno, and though i always say I want goats, the more i hear about the destruction, the more nervous i get….though it would be nice to get something in there to kill the poison ivy (that won’t kill the bees!)

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Hi Anne Marie,
      I’ve been scooting the coop over our back forest, and the chickens have been eating the poison ivy. So far so good! I’m sorry to hear that the woodchucks won this year.

  6. Too much compost will cause you to have lots of growth but little fruit.
    I’m a BIG fan of goats – since we have 30 of them. It’s wonderful to have fresh milk everyday and there are so many uses – from cheese, ice cream to Fudge! With proper fencing – roaming is not a problem! BUT it is a large commitment and you’ll never get a vacation! Good Luck — farming has brought a lot of wonderful experiences to our family!

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Hi Rebecca,
      This is really our first year of having a garden, and if you read my raised bed post, we have about 18 inches of good gardening soil in there to fill them up. Too much, and too expensive, and from what you say, probably counter-productive as well. (but the soil is so soft and squishy!)

  7. You can’t really compare your tomatoes to someone else’s unless you know the variety. Each variety takes it’s own time to mature 🙂 That said, look into how much sunlight it’s getting (it should get at least 6 a day), and make sure you fertilizer it with tomato fertilizer at least every two weeks.

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Will the fertilizer help them ripen? There’s nothing we can do this year to improve the sunlight situation, unless we cut down our neighbor’s tree.

  8. Love all that you’re doing! I wish we could have chickens, but I’m pretty sure we’re not allowed as per city codes and all that. I buy eggs from farms I know at the farmers markets though, and there’s really no comparison to grocery store eggs. Good luck with everything you plan for the future!

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Hi Tracy,
      It might be worth going to your city hall and asking. I was told that so long as there were no complaints from my neighbors (smell or sounds), that there was nothing against it. No roosters for us!

  9. You all are living out my dream! I took a food writing course in the spring and did a piece on urban homesteading and was hooked! Unfortunately, I just have a tiny patio in the city, so there’s no room for bees or chickens. I had a similar problem with my tomatoes–they’re huge [like 6 feet tall huge], have plenty of flowers, but I can’t get tomatoes to grow for the life of me! I talked to a farmer at the largest urban farm here in Philly, and he said that when the temps get above 90, the yellow flowers will fall right off as a habit of nature. In support of you getting a beehive, I had the opportunity to hang with a beekeeper for a couple days [coolest experience of my life] and he said that you can increase your produce yield by up to 25% just by hiving a hive nearby 🙂 Anyway, thanks for the update–I need to go back and check out all of your other posts about urban homesteading so I can live vicariously through y’all!

  10. Love Aimee’s two cents.

  11. I love the editor’s note. Also, our next homestead project is a shed dug into the backyard hill. Plans forthcoming.

  12. I am enjoying the urban homesteading posts. Oh how I wish we could have chickens! Unfortunately our yard is too small according to our city codes. Actually, it probably is too small according to any city codes 😛 We did build raised garden beds this year and planted lettuce, onions and tomatoes. The lettuce did well. The onions probably would have done well except that our tomatoes went completely nuts and have taken over both beds! Like you we have a ton of fruit on the plants but it is not ripening. I am going to look into pruning them as suggested by Mary above.

    I think keeping bees would be an interesting project, although I have no idea how involved it would be 🙂

  13. Hello, I live in St-Jean. My family is interested in have chickens in our backyard as well. I was curious in terms of city by-laws. Did you contact the City before getting the chickens?
    I look foward to hearing from you!

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Yes I did contact the city. Their only concern seemed to be complaints from neighbors. If you make sure that they don’t smell and don’t get a rooster (too loud), you might be ok. I’d suggest giving your neighbors a few eggs now and then. Can’t hurt.

    • I am taking care of small chicks at home and I love what I am doing. They are so cute and they looks so good.

  14. Love the stuff you’ve accomplished so far! I thought about getting a goat here, I think a beehive might bee easier 😉

    I had a goat and some sheep growing up, they weren’t that much effort, but we treated it as a pet more than an actual farm animal. The dogs taught it to bark.

  15. While I cannot offer a solution, I can commiserate with the tomato frustration. We are about an hourwest of you, and two of our four tomato plants are doing the same thing. The other two are producing tiny fruit, but they are being ravaged by insects. According to the veggie stand owner who lives down the street, it’s just been a really bad summer for tomatoes in eastern Ontario/western Quebec. Partially it is the drought, partially the bugs. So it may not be your fault.

  16. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says:

    I have to say, when I opened my email yesterday morning and saw Mateo grinning at me, it set me up for smiles all day. He is such an adorable guy!
    Our raised beds have become an act in futility, as we didn’t get our stuff together well enough to build a fence as well, and the resident groundhog has laid waste to everything. First to go? All the lettuces.

    We talk about chickens, especially after seeing yours, but I think until we move to Texas, we’re saying no. I do love living vicariously through y’all though!

  17. There are a number of reasons why your pullets are laying eggs with thicker shells. Younger chickens do lay thicker shelled eggs, and it’s one reason why farmers don’t keep old hens because there’s too much breakage. Diet is also a component. It’s not enough just to offer oyster shell. Too many treats and carbs leads to thinner eggs. Stress also affects egg shell thickness. If the eggs are rushed through the reproductive tract while the shell is being laid on, then the shells thin (predators nearby can affect this.) Sometimes it’s simply the individual hen. I have one that lays thin-shelled eggs, day in and day out. I’ve more of these sort of chicken-obsessed facts at my website. http://www.HenCam.com
    (BTW, I do have goats, but they’re wethers, just for fun and keeping the poison ivy at bay.)

  18. My mom has me cutting the tops off my tomato plants to limit any more upward/outward growth, so the energy can go into turning the tomatoes red. Sounds like your plants are getting enough light to GROW – just that their energy is going into green foliage instead of red tomatoes.

    Love hearing about all your work projects! If you need another idea… My husband turned salvage wood into an awesome kid-sized picnic table and benches.

    • Laura Parker says:

      I don’t know about this tomato growing so thanks for this information. My mom has tomatoes on her garden. I will do this one so that her tomatoes will be growing well.

  19. I would strongly encourage you to get bees! My husband and I got our first 2 hives this year and they are surprisingly easy to manage. The Beekeeper’s Bible is a great resource for beginners. Many apiaries check on their bees regularly and manage the queens. For us and other more experience beekeeping friends of our’s, this hasn’t proved necessary. Our hives only needed a little sugar water at first since we got them in late and not early spring.

    Glad to read about your homesteading adventures! Thanks for sharing.

  20. Thanks for this fun glimpse into the work you’re doing on the homestead! I would love to someday raise both chickens and bees, once my husband and I have found a more permanent place to land…I just attended a local beekeeping organization’s meeting and learned a ton! Just curious, do you do the entire chicken-harvesting process yourself, at home? What sort of special equipment do you need to do that?

  21. For the tomatoes, a lot has been said in the comments about pruning. But I do prune my tomato plants, and they still get leggy with lots of foliage and few fruits. I am quite sure this has to do with too much shade! I also am frustrated at my dad’s tomato plants! He just plants any baby plant, in whatever condition, and they end up in great shape…. jealously….

    As for the goats, I recently read “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” and there is a hilarious account of the arrival of their goats in their family. I learned that you don’t get only one goat! Or at least, be careful of the type of goat! 😉
    (Info on the book: http://www.tipsybaker.com/p/make-bread-buy-butter.html

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