This interview is unique for a few reasons. One, it features a couple who grows their food and raises animals on 1/8 of an acre in an urban setting. Two, when I originally reached out to Amie for this interview, she wrote back asking for Josh, her husband, to be included as well since he is the “other half” of their urban farm. This interview sheds some light on both of their gardening experiences and will motivate you to grow your own food no matter the size of your growing space. If you have ever wondered about utilizing your front yard, this is the interview for you!
1.Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Amie and my husband is Josh. We own a three family home in a very urban area in Connecticut. Our garden/farm adventure began about 8 years ago. When we purchased our home, it was nothing but pricker bushes and weeds. So we started out with small gardens in our backyard and slowly, over time have converted every bit of grass we could find into plantable area, including our entire front yard. When we ran out of plantable ground, Josh built us some raised beds in our driveway.
One summer, Josh brought home 4 chickens and we were pretty much hooked after that. We now have chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats, two dogs and our gardens.
2. What was your motivation when you started gardening? How have your gardening goals changed along the way?
Amie: At first we were just gardening for a little bit of fresh produce in the summer. Both of our parents had small gardens and we’ve always enjoyed the fresh tomatoes, peppers etc. It was mostly just because we could.
Josh: I think over time, we began to realize the true benefits of having the gardens and the animals. It has been beneficial to us both mentally and physically. It was a way for us to enjoy being outdoors together and to make our yard work for us in a better way. Gardening has become a part of our daily lives. We spend time together in the yard all through the spring, summer and fall. During winter we spend time planning for the following year and starting seeds.
3. If someone was starting an urban farm with limited space, what is the number one resource you would recommend to him/her?
Amie: I believe that Instagram has been surprisingly beneficial to us. We have made some wonderful connections through this platform. If you have a local garden center (I’m not talking about the big box stores), get to know them, they are a wealth of knowledge. We visit often throughout the seasons to see what they are up to. They will usually be selling plants that are known to be good for your planting zones and are able to give excellent suggestions on what to plant and when to plant it. Local garden centers are great for troubleshooting as well, they want your gardens to do as well as you do! Throughout the season our local stores do seminars regarding local flora and fauna and even sell natural pest controlling insects such as ladybugs and praying mantis eggs!
Josh and I have found some great resources in the most peculiar places. I once found a book in a local new age shop about companion planting. It has become one of my go to resources. Of course the good old internet is a prime resource as well. Josh spends a lot of time on YouTube. YouTube gave us the idea to create the raised beds in our driveway. We made the decision to give up parking space in order to do this. This was a fairly large sacrifice since parking in a very urban neighborhood filled with multi-family homes is always a struggle!
Josh: Mother Earth News is an excellent website as well. It was here that we learned carrots grow beautifully in pots. We also learned of an awesome type of companion planting called “The Three Sisters” which we have used several times throughout the years.
As if beautiful pink corn weren’t enough! This one is even more incredible! Ever see the pictures when you buy something and think, i doubt it looks like that, but ill give it a try….. the Glass gem corn reeeeeeaaally looks like that! #urbangardening #urbanfarming #organicgarden #heirloomplants #glassgemcorn #popcorn #rainbow #tastetherainbow #allthecolors #growyourownfood #growfoodnotlawnsbekingsnotpawns
4. When you have an issue in your garden and you aren’t sure of the cause, what do you do to troubleshoot?
Amie: We will usually head to the Internet as a quick reference source. My mom is our other primary resource. She has the most amazing green thumb and a yard that I can only hope to come close to having some day. She has been a huge support for us when it comes to the gardens. When we first bought our home and began our gardening adventures, she would pick out perennials for us that we couldn’t kill.
Our local garden centers are always willing to help, and make suggestions.
5. What has been the most productive crop you have ever grown?
Amie: It seems like every year we have something different that does really well. The past two years our peppers have been incredible! Tomatoes always do well. Sometimes we will have volunteer tomatoes pop up, which is always fun. It’s a game of guess which tomato it is. We have also always had great luck with runner beans, and had beautiful garlic this year!
Blue – Gold tomatoes. We tried them in pots last year and they were not having any of it. Much better this year in the front garden. They have the coolest color. #urbangardening #organicgardening #heirloomtomatoes #frontyardfarming #grassisawasteofspace #knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom #nerdygardenphotos #growfoodnotlawnsbekingsnotpawns
6. It looks like you guys grow a large amount of food in the front yard. Did you have any uncomfortable moments with your neighbors when you transformed your yard?
Amie: When we first began that transformation we would get a lot of questions about what we were doing. Mostly out of curiosity, not out of concern. Our neighborhood is pretty diverse and we think that with this diversity comes a lot of acceptance. In general, we try to keep our front yard efficient, useful and aesthetically pleasing.
There has been surprisingly little negative reaction from anyone. Even when we put down manure!
Josh: We love to share our produce with our neighbors and bartering is always fun. Recently, we traded some fresh duck eggs for a bottle of homemade wine.
Since we started our journey, we have begun to see changes in the neighborhood. More gardens have popped up which is always exciting to see. When we are working in the front yard, people will take the time to stop and tell us about the tomatoes they have planted in their flower bed or how much better something is growing since they moved it to the front of the house or a raised bed. Conversations with neighbors we might otherwise have never spoken with. It’s really a great feeling.
7. What is your strategy for keeping the front yard looking beautiful during transition periods and in between seasons?
Amie: It is definitely a challenge to keep the front yard looking presentable between seasons. We always try to make sure we remove dead/dying plants as they go and once everything is gone we rake the soil out and put down hay. So, it is a little bland in the fall-early spring but still looks neat and clean. We do have some hardy perennials out there toward the house that keep things a bit green between planting seasons.
8. What does a typical week of urban farm chores look like for you guys?
Amie: We tend to rotate through cleaning animal pens. Rabbits one week, goats the next. We are constantly sweeping out the garage which we converted a few years back into our “barn” holding our animal stalls. Raking out the animal yard to keep “fertilizer” from building up and causing an odor problem. We also need to keep up on cleaning and clipping the goat hooves, and the bird wings throughout the summer. This summer, our rabbits blew out their coats several times leaving fluffy fur everywhere. We needed to brush them out to keep them cool and their pens clean.
Cleaning up the gardens is a daily routine. Watering regularly, of course. Josh installed a soaker hose in the front yard this spring which helped out a lot since we’ve had a pretty dry summer.
Josh: My parents and sister help out with the chores, and take some of the pressure off of us. Thanks, guys!
PSA: Maybe you are toying with the idea of an urban farm. After all they are all so very serene and peaceful and green and beautiful. And they all have adorable farm animals running around! At least acording to all of our instagram accounts. Well let me just remind you of one very large very stinky thing to consider… POOP. Yes POOP. All of those adorable farm animals do this. Alot. If you truly are an Urban farmer than your neighbors are going to share in the lovely odors wafting from your yard so upkeep is incredibly important. When considering the urban farm and all of the wonders that come with it, please also consider all of the time and effort as well. You will get dirty. Think about where you plan to put all of the POOP. Much of it may go into the garden but there’s a good chance that not all of it can go in at once. And you don’t exactly want to put fresh chicken poop onto your beautiful plants. We keep the chicken manuer in a trash pail with a lid for a few months to letnit settle and I am lucky to have many friends to share my animal poop with but if you don’t you may have some issues. I love our #urbanfarm and all of the fun and beauty that comes with it, but i have accepted that I need to spend time and energy to keep it clean and our animals happy. #shovelingshit #urbangardening #permaculture #sustainability #poop #allthepoop #manuer #photobombedbyagoat #pilesofpoop #fertilizer
9. Living on ⅛ of an acre, you must have to be strategic about your garden planning. Can you walk us through that process?
Amie: It’s been a whole lot of trial and error. Every year we say ok, this did not work, let’s not do that again. Or, wow, that plant did fantastic in that spot! This year one of our biggest learnings was that the soil in our front yard is incredibly loose and full of earthworms. Which is a great problem to have unless you are planting corn. We had a windstorm early on in the season and it knocked the majority of our corn stalks over. We are thinking that the loose soil may have had a part in this. Some of the stalks did manage to right themselves, unfortunately not all of them did.
Josh: Next year, we talked about trying some corn in our raised beds where we can tie them to the wire fencing to keep them up right. We can also plant beans and cucumbers with them which will grow up the stalks. This year we intend to start a planting journal to refer back to.
Hi guys! It’s amazing what you can do with a teeny tiny space! Here is our back yard set up. Every thing is planted within a couple hundred square feet. Between these gardens and the front yard garden @hobbamok and I are able to grow most of the veggies we eat in the summer and some extra for #canning. #urbangardening #urbanfarming #gardenlove #permaculture #sustainablegardening #homegrown #newthingseveryday #smallspacefarming #smallspaces #growyourownfood #vegetablegarden #organicgardening #organic #herbs #knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom #mothernature #proud #gardenbox ##nofilter #green #begreen #beindependent #happygarden #respectmothernature #growfoodnotlawnsbekingsnotpawns P.s. When I said left I meant right ? the herbs are to the right! #iknowmyrightfromleft
10. How do you all plan your crop rotation for each season? Do you have a specific strategy considering the size of your space?
Amie: I think that most of our crop rotations happen through the different strategies and changes we make each year. One thing we have not done in the past is take soil samples to be tested. We can figure out some of the soil conditions through observation of perennials that we have. For instance, we had blueberry bushes in our back yard for several years, but they just never did well. I know that blueberries like acidic soil. We have an azalea in our front yard that does wonderfully. Azalea like acidic soil as well so we moved our blueberries to the front near the azalea last year and as a result, we actually got some leaves to grow! Who knows, next year, maybe we’ll get berries!
Josh: We move our crops around every year, although there is no real plan to our rotation. This was a good question and is making me think more about the placement of our crops. I think this is a good topic to read up on this winter.
11. Amie, I love that your Instagram bio says, “with a little nerding.” What do you geek out about the most? If we caught you “nerding”, what would we see you doing?
Amie: Both Josh and I enjoy playing board games with friends. We recently went to a convention called Templecon and spent a lot of time trying out new games, kickstarters and such. If you look hard, you will probably find a picture or two of a cosplay I may have done…..
When he can, Josh plays an incredible tabletop game called Warmachine. It’s a strategy game where small pieces are used on a landscaped surface. Each game piece is an incredibly detailed creature made from molded pewter or plastic. He plays and I paint the tiny figures.
I do enjoy the TV show Supernatural a bit more than the average fan. Josh loves to tease me about this. He calls me a nerd for this very reason.
@miss_stacelee and I won best novice costumes for our #kommandersorscha and #captainvictoriahaley cos-plays! It was very gratifying to know people appreciated the work that went into creating them. Couldn’t have done it without you Stace! Thanks for an awesome weekend! #templecon #templecon2016 #cosplay #warmachines #warmahordes #sorschakratikoff #khador #gamingconvention ingconvention #games #tabletopgames #privateerpress #nerds #geeks