Some of you may remember that last summer I planted cherry tomatoes in a large container in my new backyard (you will remember because I am constantly bragging about and taking pictures of said tomatoes). It might even sound silly for someone to get so excited about tomatoes – but I did! It was ONE less thing I had to buy at the store and not only that, these tomatoes were growing in MY backyard – I could pick them in my pajamas if I wanted, in the nude if I wanted (or tall boots because of the snakes). The tomatoes weren’t just tomatoes, they were proof of my gradual movement to living with intention, purpose and planning (this involves list-making, which I adore).
Cut to today and I have grown herbs and peppers along with my tomatoes but I am ready for more! I need a great guide, a thorough and detailed resource. And maybe right about now you are thinking you need that resource too. Well, voila! Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) will break down everything you need to know to live off your own land – even if that land, is land you are renting, or if it’s a small space. Author Angela England, who also just so happens to be a mother of five, founder of The Untrained Housewife, and editor-in-chief at Blissfully Domestic lives on a farm that’s less than a 1/2-acre in Oklahoma where along with her family, she grows an abundance of fruits and vegetables and raises dairy and meat goats – in other words, she’s the expert, the guide, the ultimate resource you must turn to when contemplating backyard farming.
This is a comprehensive guide to assessing your current “yard” situation, developing a plan for beginning a backyard farm – on any scale, and the tools you will need to do this. I particularly loved Chapter 5 – Tools and Skills for the Backyard Farmer, as I was operating with basically a beach shovel and a semi-functional garden hose for most of the summer. You will find helpful tips highlighted throughout and you will really feel empowered to take on this project for your family after reading this book.
I picked the lovely author’s brain for a few more tidbits to share with you:
My children and I are renting a home and we have a small patio and backyard – do you think we could still give Backyard Farming a try?
Oh absolutely! If you have access to sunshine, you can grow a garden. Even a small space will provide a bounty of fresh veggies and delicious herbs for you and your kids to enjoy. Intensive gardens can produce more per square foot in fact because the easy-to-manage size means you can easily stay on top of things.
How should the gardening novice get started when planning a backyard farm?
Soil testing at the county extension office is one of the first things to do. You’ll get a good idea about the foundation of the soil and what you’re starting with. This way you don’t have to waste money on soil amendments that you don’t really need.
The other thing to do is to take a good look at what you are eating. If you despise a certain herb, then obviously don’t waste time, money, energy, and garden space growing that herb just because it was a “must-grow” list somewhere. Choose the plants you absolutely adore and start with those!
What resources are there for planning a garden appropriate to the region you live in?
Your county extension office should be a first-stop for you on your journey to gardening. You will be able to get your soil tested and also learn some of the regional specifics about your particular area. Certain regions have common pests, soil deficiencies, or other things you will want to know about.
Also connecting with other gardeners in your area can be a great resource. You’ll learn about the varieties of plants that are especially suited to your region, be able to trade seeds, or barter excess plants.
What inspired you to write this book? How long have you been Backyard Farming?
I began journeying towards self-sufficiency when I married my husband. He grew up on the country and was raised with some of these things that seemed like such new experiences to me.
The book was a natural extension of the website, Untrained Housewife, and it’s focus on intentional and self-sufficient living. While Untrained Housewife certainly takes a broader view of that precept, Backyard Farming philosophies fall in place nicely. I am feeling now more than ever that Backyard Farming can provide a way for people who are feeling a pinch with rising food prices, etc to create some breathing room in their pocket books.
What are the essential tools every backyard farmer needs before beginning?
I think creating a plan, vision board or layout of what you want to achieve can be so helpful. It’s one of the reasons I really pushed to get the Garden Journal Pages included in the book and also offer them as a free resource on Backyard Farming Guide. Once you have a reasonable and achievable plan, the task doesn’t seem nearly as overwhelming.
What are the greatest successes and failures you’ve had in farming on your own property?
Oh goodness – so many things pop into my mind. I would say the drought of 2011 was a huge success because it really opened my eyes to the possibilities of intensive and small-space gardening. During a watering ban we were able to keep our garden not only growing, but out-producing the garden at my in-laws which was several acres! That’s so amazing but proof that the concepts I discuss in the book WILL work!
As for failures – every year brings a new learning experience to the backyard farmer. You never stop trying new things, testing the limits of what you can produce, or bringing in an additional element. The most costly mistake, both financially and emotionally, was probably when a group of raccoons came in and slaughtered our chicken flock. They had just reached laying age so all the feed, time and money had gone in but no harvest had been realized. And I was so attached to them, having raised them all from day-old babies. Raccoons are smart and will send one to rush the far side of the fence, while the others snag the chickens through the fencing on the other side….they can open latches, they can dig and climb. I hate that the chickens weren’t protected enough from the raccoons and were killed as a result.
How do you get your entire family involved in the process of backyard farming?
As with anything around the house your children can always be involved. Whether it’s holding the basket as you gather eggs, or helping to plant seeds in the garden. It’s one of the few things we do that is truly a FAMILY activity involving all ages. That’s one reason why I was so excited to be able to create the Homeschool Companion Study Guide and make it available as a free bonus with purchase of the book!
Most importantly, how did you find time to write this book while raising 5 kids and tending to your farm? (You are my hero!)
The book was tough. But it was worth the short-term sacrifice to produce…the knowledge in the book can help people transform their lives in a profound and meaningful way. It can improve their health. It can bring families together again around a common and tangible goal. And that is a powerful thing….well worth a few sleepless, caffeine-buzzed nights.
Wow! Even more great information! Thank you so much for sharing all of that Angela. And true story – I didn’t know there was such a thing as the County Extension Office, but I will be headed there to get my soil tested (probably will cut down on my guess work in the yard).
If this book doesn’t make you want to grab a shovel and start digging up your yard, then I don’t know what will! (Well… a treasure map with an X located specifically in your yard… but other than that…). Check out the gorgeous blueberries and basil (below) grown in England’s backyard – inspiring!
To celebrate the release of Backyard Farming, Angela is hosting a Party of Prizes through December 18th – enter to win fabulous prizes – all of which will help you on your journey to becoming a Backyard Farmer!
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