So You Want to Be a Backyard Farmer?

Who needs a grassy lawn when you can grow your own food? Urban farming is on the rise.

On a summer day in Colorado Springs, you may see backyards abundant with bean-heavy vines, rows of kale, pecking chickens or other small animals typically found in a barnyard. Urban farming, or homesteading, is a growing trend in the city, as more and more people are enthusiastic about planting and harvesting their own food.

For many, the decision comes from the goals to be self-sufficient, save money at the grocery store or contribute to environmental sustainability. “[It has taught me] greater appreciation for the things that seem so easy for us,” says Christine Faith Gleason, an urban farmer and advocate. For her and others, the lifestyle encourages responsibility.
But it does take commitment. That’s why Ed Buckley of Buckley’s Homestead Supply, a Westside homesteading hub, recommends starting small and understanding your personal goals if you want to launch your own agrarian venture. “If you bite off more than you can chew, chances are you’ll have a lot of failure and will burn yourself out,” Buckley says.
Fuzzy chicks may be cute, but do they fit your lifestyle? Gleason advises that you be realistic about your motives and abilities. For example, if you travel a lot, owning animals is not the best idea.

For those willing to commit to urban farming, there are many possibilities. Within the city limits, you can raise bees, chickens, rabbits, goats and pot bellied pigs, in addition to growing vegetables and fruit trees. And the city recently passed an ordinance allowing residents to host a food stand at their homes to sell produce that they raise or produce, such as fresh eggs and honey.

Many crops do well in the area, including kale, hot peppers, tomatoes, onions and beets, to name a few. Cold-tolerant and less water-hungry crops help you avoid losses from frost and drought. Buckley warns that though fruit trees such as apple, pear and peach can grow in the Springs, it is better to grow varieties that bloom later in the season. And for bees, electric bear-proof fencing around the hives is a must.

If you’re ready to dive into urban farming, there are many sources for knowledge and support. Pikes Peak Urban Gardens association offers workshops and educational materials. Stores like Buckley’s Homestead Supply have all the tools you need, plus an educated staff. And the Pikes Peak Beekeepers Association and Rocky Mountain Bee Supply are your go-tos for apiary education and supplies.

Whatever options you choose, expect hard work—but also reward. “[The path of the urban farmer requires] intention and [an] open heart to put good out in the world and bring good back into your life,” Gleason says.

About Those Animals

You want to raise a what? Here’s an overview of the animals city ordinances allow in your backyard farm. Check your neighborhood and city regulations before bringing any animal home.

urban farming chickens
Photo by Bryan Oller

Rabbits and Chickens: Up to 10, with shelters that contain at least 4 square feet for each animal. Roosters, and their crowing, are not allowed.
Beehives: Two per property; more for larger lots. A hive can house 10,000 to 60,000 bees.
Goats: Up to four, all less than 100 pounds each.
Pot-Bellied Pigs: Up to two, registered and less than 100 pounds each.
Horse, Mules, Llamas, Sheep, Cows: Up to four hoofed animals are allowed in residential properties with at least 37,000 square feet; any corral or building must include proper distances between the house and other lots.

The Buzz on Bees

» Know your neighborhood restrictions; covenant community regulations overrule city regulations.
» Expect to pay $275-$350 for startup equipment: hive boxes, protective gear, smokers, and starter bees and queen (roughly $140 of the total cost).
» Purchase bees and equipment from reputable sources to avoid Africanized genetics, which can cause aggression.
» Do your research. The beekeepers school, run by the Pikes Peak Beekeepers Association every March, is a great resource for beginners.
» Pick a sunny location in your yard for your bee hive to increase its chance of surviving over the winter.
» Honey is the obvious benefit, but bees help your neighborhood gardens, pollinating plants within 1 to 3 miles of your home.

urban farming bees
Photo by Bryan Oller

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