Randoms Thoughts and Updates
Aug 29, 2011
In gardening, there's always something new to learn or some obstacle to work around. Presently, I'm faced with pest problems. The other day I was watering and surveying the garden when I found damage to my corn and tomatoes. It appears some type of rodent (squirrel? rat? I don't know) has been munching down on my corn and low lying green tomatoes. They ate right through the baby corn husks and devoured the kernels before they even had the chance to bulk up. Next to the corn, I had several good size tomatoes developing--now, they're all gone--no trace!
My question to you: How do you discourage rodents and pests from eating your yields away? I'm particular interested in figuring out how I can humanely combat larger pests like raccoon, squirrels and rats from devastating my crops. I'm thinking of wrapping the corn husks and tomatoes with some form of rodent-proof barrier, but... but... this is just really annoying. Why, Nature? Why?
On a completely different note, as I harvest and dry my hops I've recently been considering the prospect of growing my own Barley for use in brewing. I've begun the initial research and it appears doable although few people care to go through the whole process themselves, opting rather to buy commercially malted barley. Most people's objections appear to be with the space requirement for growing the necessary quantity of grain in combination with the complications of the malting process. In reading the history of brewing, I've decided that if peasant families in the Medieval Ages could brew beer from scratch, then this little urban white boy can do it, too. The idea really appeals to my DIY disposition. Think about it: With barley and hops grown on my land, in combination with naturally occurring yeast cultivated from the air (a simple task), I could produce an entirely local beer. A beer derived entirely from my front yard! For me, the issue to address is space requirements. To produce enough grain for 5 gallons of beer, at least 100-200 square feet of barley would need to be planted and harvested; this is assuming the yields of commercial barley operation scaled down accordingly. I certainly have that kind of space... the problem lies in the time to harvest. According to my understanding, winter barley can be sown in October or November, and would begin to mature in late Spring, ready to harvest in early Summer. This would put a large portion of my garden out of commission for that time, something I'm not really ready to accept, given the delicious greens coming out of my spring garden. So I'm left looking for some land to cultivate barley.
Over the weekend, I helped my girlfriend move her grandma's things from one house to another. I perused the property and found a wonderfully large space behind the house just begging to be cultivated. I felt the soil in my hands... not particularly rich...but that shouldn't matter. Evidently, barley isn't very demanding to grow. Again, this is just from an afternoon of reading, but supposedly barley can tolerate lower fertility soil without much irrigation. In fact, watering should really be kept to a minimum. My guess is that natural rainfall around here would be sufficient. The sandy soil might even be of benefit for drainage reasons. My girlfriend said her family probably wouldn't care; the space isn't currently used and there is well over 2,500 square feet that could be used while still having a functional backyard. Barley field found!
Before I even landed this opportunity, though, there was another possibility. Less than a block down my street, there's a vacant lot that has laid fallow for the past 6 years I've known of it. For the past several years, it has tempted me with thousands of square feet just begging to be tilled up. Thinking about a potential barley site, I finally decided to look into the property. After an hour or so of searches on the Inter-Tubes (starting with this excellent website: http://urbanfood.org/research/inventory), I was able to find all of the owner's contact information and relevant property data. There is almost 6000 square feet of open space (with full Southern exposure); the land is entirely undeveloped and currently valued at ~$25k with annual property taxes of $600-900. A rather modest value if you consider similar lots of equivalent size in the surrounding area. All this has the gears turning in my head. All the potential for growth on that lot--nearly 0.14 acres! A vast plane of fields in comparison to my tiny 500-600 square feet. I can hardly stand thinking about it I'm so excited at the possibilities.
I've decided to write the owner a letter. Ideally, I'd like to convince them to let me lease their land for the intensive production of vegetables and other other edibles for my household and the surrounding community. This is just the birth of an idea, and I still have many things to consider. For one, I am particularly concerned as there appears to be no direct access to water on the property itself. I'm consulting many online resources regarding the legalities and precedent for such an operation in my area, but I'd be happy to hear feedback from anyone with experience in urban agriculture. Do people have ideas for the best way to approach the property owner with my proposal? What about the issue of water? Would it be prohibitively expensive for the utility company to install a metered waterline onsite? Or should I consult neighboring resources on adjacent properties? How ought I go about this? I think such a project has a high potential for community outreach and impact, particularly with regards to the neighborhood children who could participate in such a transformation. Imagine the possibilities. Lend your ideas.