Thursday, August 26, 2010

snyder farm: a backyard put to work

Snyder Farm is what I call it. It's a small hidden place behind a sidewalk along a road in a small town. You might think when you pass by that it's just another suburban house but then you might find yourself making a double take as you notice the landscaping is all...well, edible. My friends Zach and Shellee live on an 1/8th of an acre in the small town of Bowmanstown, Pennsylvania.Their house takes up much of that space, but what backyard is left has been transformed into a farm. This is the Snyder's first year gardening outside of the occasional container adventure, and it has certainly paid off. Now what was once a lawn and above ground pool (Zach ripped out the pool for gardening space) is a cornucopia of production. They grow salad greens, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbage. They've pulled turnips, scallions, beans and beats. They have corn rows and pumpkin patches. All of it on land that once hosted flip flops and swim towels. I consider this a vast improvement. So do they.

The Snyder's are an average American family. Shellee is a stay at home mom, Zach works as an antique dealer in a home office and holds a part-time night job as well. They have a little girl named Madeline, a pair of dogs, and a cat named Mojo. They pay their taxes, go to church on Sunday, vote and love Netflix. There is nothing all that different about them from you and I. They simply made a choice to grow what they could and step back a little from a culture obsessed with consumerism. They both agree the work has been worth it.

They added some angora rabbits to the mix this year and use them for wool and tea compost, both of which help other aspects of the homestead. They plan on chickens eventually if they can butter up the idea to the town council woman who lives across the street... big plans on Snyder Farm, that is for sure.

here is a list of what they Snyders have grown from 200 square feet of town backlot:

Kidney Beans: 2.5 quarts dried ~ 5 quarts soaked
Pumpkins: 1 dozen jack-o-lantern size
Pickling Cukes: 25lbs
Horseradish: 2 large plants/roots
Eggplants: 1 dozen
Bell Peppers: 20lbs
Basil: 5 full mature plants
Peas: 1-2lbs
Corn: 60-70 stalks with 2-3 cobs/stalk - we lost most to rot because of the weird weather we had this year. These will make good compost though
Broccoli: 10 full heads
Cabbage: 10 green, 6 red
Garlic: 15-20 bulbs
Onions: 10-15lbs
Scallions: 4 large freezer bags
Turnips: 3lbs
Carrots: unknown - they were a bust
Potatoes: 15lbs
Tomatoes: I have no clue. I'm pulling a plastic shopping bag worth every day or two and have been for a while now. We've pulled easily 40-50lbs with no signs of letting up. We planted Better Boy, Beefsteak, and Romas (25 plants in all) and have cherry tomatoes in the compost pile :)
Strawberries: all 20 plants died

Zach says this about their year of food so far:

We were able to grow quite a bit, because our last frost date was earlier this year. We were able to grow turnips, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and onions, and then pull them to put in our summer plants. I pulled some of our summer plants and put down cabbage and broccoli. The cabbage got eaten, but we have about 6 heads of broccoli still kickin'.

We built all of our beds from recycled deck wood from the pool we took down. Any fencing we used was acquired from estate sales or yard sales. We said very early on that our garden needs to be practical. The whole point is to be more self-reliant, not to see whose beds look the prettiest.

We did not spray anything or use anything unnatural. We used our own homemade compost and compost tea. We started our compost pile last August after we moved in, in order to have rich compost for this year. The rabbits are really helping build our supply. We fenced anything that the wild rabbits would bother. Other than that we did things like plant basil in between tomato plants to cut down on pests (it really works well). Also, we let the dogs pee around our raised beds of kidney beans. I read about this in See You In a Hundred Years. They emptied their camber pot around their corn to keep rodents away. We let the dogs go around 3 of our 4 raised beds. Sure enough, the rabbits/squirrels/etc only ate out of the bed we didn't let the dogs near. We were told by a neighbor to brush our dogs and put their hair around our beds to keep rabbits away, but we haven't tried it yet.

We started with 4 small 8x4' beds and grew from there. I read You Can Farm, per your recommendation, and he says if you can't make it in your backyard, you won't make it on 20 acres. We took that to heart and had at it. We still have to be careful, because we're in the middle of town and it can't look too wild, but by letting passersby take a walk around and look, giving neighbors fresh peppers and tomatoes, and talking garden with the Bowmanstown Lifers, you'd be surprised what they'll tolerate.

The difference this garden has made on our grocery bill has been and continues to be amazing. To be able to cut an onion from the braid, pull peppers from the freezer, and snag a tomato off of the plants really adds up.

Next year, it's on like Donkey Kong.


Blogger Sara said...

Definitely on like Donkey Kong! Love the post! I've tried to convince my husband to do our town yard in a garden, but he says no. Instead we have a huge garden at Grandpa's 7 miles away. It has made a huge difference in our grocery bill, too.

August 26, 2010 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Its always inspiring and heartening to see gardens like this. I can't wait until I have my own. I have the will and I will find a way.

August 26, 2010 at 2:53 PM  
Blogger Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

We do the same and have for about 12 years now. We live in a city just outside of Vancouver, BC and whatever we don't grow, we purchase from other (larger) farmers at our local weekly Farmer's market. I do my own canning. (I was raised on the Canadian prairies.)

I feel better about eating stuff that I've grown myself, organically and I really prefer to put any money I do spend on fruits & veggies in the pocket of our farmers, rather than that of a big box store whose produce is imported from god know where.

We aren't big time, but we're happy doing what's do-able. My husband gets great pleasure out of sharing our overruns with friends and neighbours. We don't just feed ourselves. Sometimes our extras go to our local food bank as well.

Our food gardening started at a local community graden where you could rent a plot for your own food growing for $25/yr. It's a wonderful community of people and lots of us barter veggies back and forth, according to whose is ready when. It's how it should be-everyone sharing because there's more than enough to go around and that's what neighbours do!

August 26, 2010 at 2:58 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Just fantastic!!!!

August 26, 2010 at 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was good to read-- encouraging. My plan is to do much the same next year. I'm brewing the compost this year, hoping to build a couple cold frames to help out with our short growing season and start a few things inside and harden them off for next season. The book "You Grow Girl" was helpful and inspiring too. Thanks for sharing another backyard garden warrior's story!

August 26, 2010 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Sense of Home Kitchen said...

Very impressive! I have a 350 square foot garden, but I'm not sure I harvested as much produce as they did. That cabbage is amazing, mine were smaller and they are not sauerkraut.

It is so good to see young people take an interest in gardening and farming. Boy, does that make me sound old!


August 26, 2010 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger Sparkless said...

Just a comment about using old wood, make sure that it is not treated with anything or that will leach into your gardens. Also if the wood has been painted you should check it for lead paint as that was commonly used until 1970 (around there).

We tuck our veggie plants right in next to our flowers and didn't even have to dig any special vegetable gardens. Next year we'll be taking out some of our lawn to make room for more vegetable gardens though.

August 26, 2010 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger damnyankee said...


August 26, 2010 at 6:43 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Very cool! Being able to grow your own food and know exactly where it comes from and what it's been exposed to is the best feeling in the world ... I live in the midwest in the inner city on a corner lot. I started out last year with 2-4x8 beds - this past spring I put in a strawberry and asparagus bed and added 8 more raised beds and several containers - and 5 chickens (one turned out to be a rooster - debating turning him into rotisserie)! My neighbors look at me crazy sometimes but being in the urban core few people slow down long enough to care about what I'm doing on our half acre. It's sad - there are so many people around me with ample space to plant a garden and no one does. Believe it or not I'm alone in this in my immediate two block radius. I say if you have the space, no matter the size, use it!! I applaud the Snyder Farm!! :)

August 26, 2010 at 7:24 PM  
Blogger Tami said...

Yah! for your friends! I decided to start claiming our front yard for food this last year too. My husband has been supportive and although there is still room for plenty more, this year has seen the addition of raspberries, thornless blackberries, 2 super sweet plum trees and 4 12'x4' raised beds. Already looking forward to next spring with it's promise (my promise) of more fruit trees, blueberries, more raspberries, new and improved strawberry beds, a new herb bed and a little pumpkin patch nestled up alongside the sunflower bed.
At first I had concerns that all of our "well manicured lawn" neighbors might not be thrilled but the acceptance has been inspiring. People stop when walking or riding their bikes to take a look. In the 2 1/2 yrs we've been here no one has talked with us. Since having the garden beds in the front yard, people stop and talk all the time. Older people driving by give me thumbs up. In a way, I feel like it's beginning to build the sense of community that you mentioned in your book.

August 26, 2010 at 7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good work! Love reading about small yard gardens that work.

It got soooo hot here this summer that I couldn't weed and my peas didn't do well, but otherwise, I was pleased.

August 26, 2010 at 7:26 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Very nice! Kind of "Path To Freedom"ish.

You mentioned "plant basil in between tomato plants to cut down on pests (it really works well)."

I would also suggest a dill plant or two. Keeps away caterpillars and you can make pickles with the cukes later.

August 26, 2010 at 8:33 PM  
Blogger Cheryl at The Cottage Times said...

I've been following their blog and was worried because it hasn't been updated in a while. I am really glad to see the terrific work they have put into their homestead.

August 26, 2010 at 9:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well done Jenna!! You really captured how we feel. It was an eye opener about how much we grew when we st down and thought about it. We truly have been blessed and are very thankful for all that has been given to us.

Although sad we will not be growing corn next year (that was my project), I am excited about the upcoming growing season. Being pregnant has put a damper on harvesting( the dirt smell makes me sick to my stomach),but next year, with an even bigger garden, it will really be an adventure.
Our advice would be to plan, reasearch, and have faith....oh and get in good with your neighbors :)

August 26, 2010 at 9:17 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

For those of you following our blog, please forgive me. I have been so busy with some health issues with our daughter, a new pregnancy, and sometime life gets crazy!!! I will update our blog hopefully this weekend to give more pictures and tips for gardening!!!

August 26, 2010 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger kmishek said...

Thanks for the post and your friend's comments. So glad to see others are planting away too. I've owned four houses, and four gardens, and each has its own opportunity for growing. I'm in a Minnesota garden now, with more room to stretch. Planted the veggies, fruit trees, strawberries and raspberries to boot. Some years they give me a harvest; others year no go. BUT each year its like I'm a kid again, waiting for the garden "presents." Everyone's comments echo mine - build a garden, a plot or a pot; do it, start now, start small or big, but do it. You'll enjoy the rewards.

August 26, 2010 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

Gosh- they make me feel bad for not getting as much as they did on a lot more land!

maybe it was the rabbits. I need manure inputs!

August 26, 2010 at 11:19 PM  
Blogger daisy g said...

How cool are they? Wouldn't mind having them for neighbors!

August 27, 2010 at 5:58 AM  
Blogger From the Country Farm said...

VERY impressive! I too have read You Can Farm (by Joel Salatin) and consider it a must read for anyone interested in food. Farming or not, a damn good read! Inspired by that book and these friends of yours! Keep up the great work!

August 27, 2010 at 10:03 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Inspirational! We are still in winter but this morning have planned our spring and summer crops for our backyard. And it's good to be honest about what works and what doesn't. Carrots don't work here for us, but I'm giving potatoes, which were a bomb a couple of years ago, another shot.

August 29, 2010 at 4:07 AM  

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