Backyard Bees, Chickens, and Fruit Trees. How to start Urban Farming.Submitted by RogueBeekeeper on Fri, 08/22/2014 - 23:27
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!