39 votes

Backyard Bees, Chickens, and Fruit Trees. How to start Urban Farming.

People were asking me about it so here it is. About two and a half years ago I bought my first house. I was twenty one and I hadn't the slightest idea of what to do with the 0.2 acres it was on. Over the course of the next two years I figured out how to turn the 1600sqft of land that wasn't covered by concrete into a productive yet very low maintenance farm.

I think most people with land (especially here at the DP) have thought about doing some gardening with it however, it can be a little bit intimidating to get started. Buying soil, picking weeds, and watering plants everyday can be more work than you want.

Instead of gardening I fenced my backyard area in and bought 8 chickens. They are so great! They keep the grass down so I never have to mow, they produce about 4-6 eggs per day, and they only require less than one hour of work from me every week.

To get started I recommend fencing the backyard in and keeping the coop where you can access it easily without getting into the yard. This will keep your feet clean and make it much easier to collect eggs and change the water. People give away coops on craigslist (and hens sometimes) all the time. We built mine in the detached garage. I would actually have the chickens walk up a ramp to the garage window and into their coop. That worked for me. The chickens will eat all of your table scraps and they lay far superior tasting eggs compared to anything at the store. My favorite breed for laying are the Americana (green eggs) and the golden sex link. Both breeds will lay almost daily.

In my small backyard I have a few shade trees on the sides that the chickens will hang out under when the sun is out but in the middle I didn't have much so I planted four dwarf apple trees. I spaced my trees about 12 feet from another in a square and they could probably be a little closer. A 35 x 40 backyard is easily big enough. This year the frost killed most of my blossoms but one tree gave me enough apples for two pies in its second year. Next year my wife and I are hoping for at least 10 pies worth of apples. Fruit trees are great because they only need to be watered a few gallons every two or three weeks. After a few years you don't even need to do that anymore. The chickens aren't able to hurt them much either unless you buy the trees really small (go for the 4ft+ ones). Around this time of year they sell them cheap anywhere you can buy plants.

One of the latest additions to my tiny backyard was the bees. I bought two hives and all of the equipment for about $600. If you are lucky you can get used hives online for much cheaper than I paid. Bees are bought in the spring and run around $50-$80 for a box of 20,000 live workers + the queen. So far my bees have been less work than my trees or chickens. Wearing the suit and doing a 10 minute inspection every three weeks is about all you need to do until it comes time for extraction. The first time I wore the veil I felt like I was in one of those cages watching sharks, don't cheap out on your veil. A good suit runs around $40-$80.

I'm really excited for the honey, local honey is good for allergies and has medicinal properties. It also never expires! They are finding honey that is still good in the pyramids. If it crystallizes then it just needs to be heated up. In the first year the bees need to build the honeycomb and whatnot so you may only get 5-10 pounds but in the second year bees will often produce 40-70 pounds of honey. At eight bucks a pound you can your money back for two hives in the second year if all goes well. It is a really fun hobby.

If you are interested in starting a hive then I would recommend finding a local club that can help you out. It isn't very difficult and it can be very rewarding. Try doing some research before next spring so you can feel more ready if that is something you would like to try.

The chickens don't bother the bees and the bees aren't interested in the birds. They do pollinate by trees though and combined my little farm doesn't require much time from me. If you have any questions or feedback then let me know in the comments!



Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Apple Tree and My Local Nursery's Advice

I went to my local nursery and asked about Apple trees. The guy helping me seemed pretty knowledgeable but said that with Apple trees you'll have to spray them periodically with pesticides to prevent infestations.

Have you had to spray your trees? Is it necessary to do that? If so, all there alternatives to chemicals to use because using chemicals kind of defeats the purpose in growing my own apples. I have a 10 month old and want her to have fresh apples pesticide free.

Thanks ahead of time for any advice.

Great Questions!

If you want to go organic then you aren't likely to keep 100% of what you grow. That is just how it is. The good news is that the pests will only destroy about 25% and even some of my less than pristine apples have been salvageable for pies. Other apples go untouched.

In Japan food with some bug bites on them (think lettuce) actually sells for about 40% more because it means that it isn't sprayed with harmful chemicals. I never spray my trees or my garden but the harvest is still pretty great.

During your quest for happiness don't forget to take a few breaks along the way and just be happy :)

There are socks you can buy to put over the young apples

which is supposed to prevent coddling moths from laying eggs in them. I have not tried them. Other than that I haven't heard of a way to prevent wormy apples short of spraying.

Just a word of warning

If your neighbor sees you have bees, they can become a real pain sometimes. If the bees are out of sight, then there out of mind.

If your neighbor already knows you have bees, then sharing a little honey goes a long way in keeping them friendly to the bees. Most people are aware of the trouble bees are in, and are less hostile these days.

America is just one hard winter away from total collapse of all bees, because we lost over 50% in the last 5 years. These commercial beekeepers are not coming back. We have just over 2 million bee hives nationwide, and in the past, I have seen 60% losses. California requires 2 million bee hives every Febuary, it's just a matter of time when bees won't be available for pollination.

Australia has been filling the dead out hives, but how long can the beekeeper afford paying $150 for 4 lbs of bees and charge only $160 to $200 for pollination. When you put trucking fees in and out of Cali and other expenses, beekeepers can't make it.

We are going to need backyard beekeepers to save the Honeybee from total extinction IMO.

Help stick it to Monsatan become a beekeeper.

Surviving the killing fields of Minnesota

Todays brainwashing: GMO's are safe

Don't Register

Registering your bees with the state is the first step to confiscation though ;)

During your quest for happiness don't forget to take a few breaks along the way and just be happy :)

Looking forward to raising chickens

Great information! I've always wanted to raise chickens. Both sets of my grandparents had chickens in their back yard when I was young. Now that my wife is on board, it looks like it may happen. Thanks!

Make it happen

I added chickens this past spring. It is really a great experience. They have just started laying eggs. I let them roam the property all day. The grass is as green as I've ever seen it (probably from the chicken poop)! Have fun with it.

And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.

I would like to contribute.

For chickens I would suggest for feed you use sprout grains it is better for them more vitamins organic much cheaper also good for goats or rabbits.
Here is a video about it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2haxOZNua7I

Also for chickens if you have predator problems a chicken tractor
is a good way to go.
You can move it the space of the tractor on wheels once or twice a day,that way half the food can come from them eating bugs and also make sure they never have a waste problem.

If you raise chickens for eggs or for meat you need different system
This one works well for meat chickens
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWyfECbXriE

This one looks pretty good for a small amount of laying chickens.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0y93hWnIowU

i went the hydropnic route myself

tyrannical Home owners association won't allow for anything cool in the yard I really don't own (i pay property tax).

When I was gardening outside i could never get a lot of bees. Mostly hornets, which probably killed off the bees.

Big + 1

Posted this on Twitter.
Actually pinned it to the top of my Twitter page so many folks can access this great info.

Thanks!

LL on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LibertyPoet
sometimes LL can suck & sometimes LL rocks!
http://www.dailypaul.com/203008/south-carolina-battle-of-cow...
Love won! Deliverance from Tyranny is on the way! Col. 2:13-15

I highly suggest you put in

I highly suggest you put in blue berries and grapes. These are very low maintaince plants once you get them started well. The one problem with blue berries though is that the birds will go crazy on em so if you plan on eating any, make sure you have a net over them.

To climb the mountain, you must believe you can.

How to do the garden

If you put the fence a bit further back you can plant bushes on your side of it or just find another section of the property that gets plenty of sun. Good idea on the bushes, grape vines are also pretty nice if you plan on living there for more than a few years.

During your quest for happiness don't forget to take a few breaks along the way and just be happy :)

Tree Spacing

Some people say that fruit trees can be clustered together. By putting them close together (I think like within 2-3 feet--do your research), they stay shorter (easier to pick) and are easier to water and find space for.

The spacing advice given for commercial growing is all about the machinery to pick the fruit and manage the orchard (weeding, etc.). For home use, trees can be closer together.

What do you think? http://consequeries.com/

Fruit Tree Tips

That is very true! And amazingly, three bare root fruit trees with the same horticultural requirements can be planted in the same hole. This is a highly preferable approach for small space orchards then the popular (and expensive) 'fruit cocktail' trees, as usually one of the grafted species will go dominant and crowd out the other grafts and you end up with one tree at a very high price. Another good resource for fruit tree info is davewilson.com. Dave Wilson is the world's largest propagator of fruit trees in the US and they have an excellent web site with numerous videos on planting, pruning, etc.

For fertilizer, I use Dr. Earth Fruit Tree Fertilizer (on my stone fruit trees and apples, pears )every other month during the growing season (March, May, July, Sept.)On my Avocados 2x per year and my citrus every 3 months.

More quick tips: when planting bare root or young trees, do not encourage fruit the first year - first, grow a healthy tree! In in subsequent years remember to cull fruit in the Spring - leave small fruit to remain and mature a hand width apart - this is usually good fruit spacing for most fruiting trees. Trust me on this - you will be glad you culled, when you see the results! Careful pruning during the dormant season the first three years will shape the tree and, in some species, reduce the pruning you need to do in the future. And yes! Summer prune too! You can reduce the canopy of your trees by +/- 2-3' after your have harvested the fruit. This will help to maintain and manage the size of your trees.

Peace, Belle

If my need to be RIGHT is greater than my desire for TRUTH, then I will not recognize it when it arrives ~ Libertybelle

Fruit Tree Tips

I needed to see this, Thanks! It's good to see you commenting here lately.

I'm off to see what Dave Wilson can tell me about Tangelo trees, how close I can plant them, etc..

By this time next month I hope to have my Moringa Trees going too

"It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere".
--Voltaire

It's hard not to be a menace to society when half the population is happy on their knees. - unknown

hey IRA! Good to hear from

hey IRA! Good to hear from you. How's the aquaculture going? Did you decide to do it? Seen Mike B. Lately?...if you do say "Hi" for me. I moved outta the area onto a farm and haven't been hanging out with him and the other Libertarians since 2012. Hope all is well at your end!

Peace, Belle

If my need to be RIGHT is greater than my desire for TRUTH, then I will not recognize it when it arrives ~ Libertybelle

Good to hear from you too, Libertybelle

Yes, I started my aquaponics set-up about 5 months ago. Not in CA. but in AZ. I've got about 1000 fish and more work than I care to think about. It's not that the fish take up so much time, it's the setting up of the system to work on this new property I'm on.

I watched some of the video's from the nursery guy you mentioned, thanks! It's really helped me a lot. I was planning on spacing trees like a commercial operation, boy would that would have been a mistake!!!! I was thinking I could get 100 trees on this property, now I'm thinking closer to 200, maybe more!

I hear from Mike every now and then. He's who turned me onto Moringa. Do you have any experience with this amazing tree? I'll be sure to tell him "Hi" for you.

Take care. Good to see you around these parts again. I really appreciate your nursery info. If you are ever passing through my area, make sure you look me up!

Peace to you too Belle!

"It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere".
--Voltaire

It's hard not to be a menace to society when half the population is happy on their knees. - unknown

Thank you.

I will contact my local oppressor general and ask for permission.

Go rogue

or you could go rogue ;)

During your quest for happiness don't forget to take a few breaks along the way and just be happy :)

Our backyard chickens

Sorry this post was supposed to go down below in response to one of the others...

Anyways, we have four (2 Buff Orpington's and 2 Barred Rocks) egg laying hens. Since they are hens they are not too noisy... they only squawk when a hawk or some other perceived danger gets them excited.

They are very sweet and tame since we've handled them a lot ever since getting them as tiny chicks. Our son can pick them up and carry them around like babies and they don't care.

Chicken suppliers can usually sex the chicks with 95% accuracy, so you can buy just hens if you want.

We get 3-4 eggs per day from our hens and the eggs are much better than store bought eggs.

We're looking at getting a couple of Delawares next since they are an endangered breed that is good for both meat and eggs. Since the Delawares are a heritage breed, they are completely self-sustainable... no cross-breeding required.

We have a small chicken tractor style coop for our backyard and the area around our garden is fenced in to keep the chickens in one area. This allows our dog to have the rest of the yard for herself. The chickens mostly hang out under our blackberry bushes during the day. They eat bugs and all the table scraps you can feed them. They are piglets! We do supplement them with a little chicken feed each day.

Make yourself a waterer using a 5 gallon bucket, some hose, PVC pipe, and some chicken nipple waterers (can buy them on Amazon or some of the online chicken stores). Then you only have to refill the water maybe once every week or two if you just have a few chickens.

Good luck on your chicken adventures!

Our family's journey from the Rocket City to the Redoubt: www.suburbiatosimplicity.com

Thanks for the post!

I want to put a hive on my property maybe this fall. I'm going to move one my brother has.
I have a five acre plot of ground that is 80% wet meadow and has numerous wild flowering species of plants and bushes. Swamp rose, Joe pye weed, Apple trees, wild clover, Black Locust to name a few.

The large butterflies, Tiger swallow tail and monarch are everywhere right now on the many plants.

I plan on getting a few chickens when I'm better set up for it.
I have a creek running through the property so I have lots of predators to battle with. Weasel, mink, fox, coyote and coon.
Some day,,,

NOSHEEPLE

Predators

In the city I have been really lucky with predators. The only loss I have taken was one of my baby chicks from a stray cat. When I lived in the country we had to have a 8 foot chickenwire fence with no trees above it and stakes driven on the bottom to keep out diggers. My friend up the hill had a fortress of a coop and a more open yard that the chickens would wander around in during the day but he had to bring them in every night and lock them up. He didn't have attacks more than a couple of times during the day in ten years and an occasional hawk attack.

During your quest for happiness don't forget to take a few breaks along the way and just be happy :)

Can you point us to some

Can you point us to some resources on keeping an urban chicken coop or tell us everything you know? The primary concerns I would think are noise and smell. Lots of neighbors that are all about organic everything--as long as it is packaged in a grocery store marked organic.

Your needs are unique to you

For starters you need to decide if you want to get chicken permits or not. Some cities will charge you for owning the birds or there may be local limits on the amount of fowl and other requirements regarding where the chicken coop is. I think Salt Lake City wanted $10 per chicken per year but I ignored this because tyranny blah blah blah. If your neighbors don't seem the type to call animal control out of sheer spite then you have nothing to worry about. Otherwise you can get a permit. It is up to you, some places require them and some don't. Check your cities website.
Hens are pretty quiet if they have food and water. Roosters are illegal to have in most cities because they are very loud. Smell is not that big of problem either if you use wood chips (about a half inch dusting is all you need). My coop was pretty big so I only cleaned it for about a half hour every other week. If the chickens are outside most of the time their waste will just fertilize the grass. Speaking of grass, chickens, ducks, geese, and other fowl will eat your grass as it grows thus saving you money on feed.
Unless you have more than 40 chickens your neighbors won't smell a thing ever. It is when you start pushing the space to chicken ratio that you get that issue. I would recommend no more than one hen per 200sqft if you want to free range them. Otherwise you they may tear up the land faster than it can regenerate.
As far as the coop goes you can be very creative. I built mine out of a desk and a bunch of scrap wood but it was also in the corner of my garage. Bigger coops need to be cleaned less often while smaller ones take up less space. If you only plan on six birds then a smaller one might be nice if you don't mind cleaning it once a week for a half hour. You can find coops on craigslist. People will try an sell them to you new for $200-$1,000 but if you know how to build things it is a fun project or you can try an find a free one. People move or need to get out of chickens more often than you would guess.
I feed my chickens store chicken feed. It costs about $17 for a 50 pound bag and it lasted 8 chickens about a month and a half. They laid about 6 eggs per day so it was still worth it. Most of the diet is bugs, grass, plants, and scraps. You can buy organic for about $25-$30 bucks.
There is a lot of information to be found on chickens but most of it you can learn yourself. They are a very easy thing to take care of. Don't let them freeze in the winter, make sure they have a safe place to lay, keep predators away, keep the water full, never put antifreeze in it. If you don't scare them on purpose they will come when they see you. My chickens still come running over when I call because I only call when I have food. It is the sweetest thing in the world. Having that relationship is pretty neat.

During your quest for happiness don't forget to take a few breaks along the way and just be happy :)

Very cool, thanks. Nice

Very cool, thanks. Nice thorough response. I would say, enough chickens for a half a dozen eggs per day, so it looks like, depending on their productivity, 7-10 chickens, meaning, by your calculations 1,400-2,000 sq ft--far in excess of the 2-300 square feet I can give to the project. Guess it will have to wait until I own considerable land somewhere.