Experiments in Urban Survival Agriculture
The idea for an urban survival garden came about several years ago, from talking to a friend concerning the differences in our food storage systems. His method was to grow most items and dry them, living in the country. Mine to rely on tinned stores for short term use and bulk dried grains / legumes for longer term, as an urban dweller. The closest I could come to growing and drying would be to purchase cheap bulk vegetables from Gardeners markets, as my available growing spaces arent suitable.
Let me state from the start that my survival garden is crap. I set my garden space up with beauty in mind and wanted something nice to look at rather than four brick walls, being in a small 2 bedroom apartment. The rear garden is covered with a shade cloth covered pergola and a 6mx4m decking with a Bali/fernery shade house design. The front garden space is concrete, covered by a small 20 foot bus, a jeep, twister off road buggy and a small timber shed. All soil is lime stone just under the surface.
The way the direction of the building is situated creates a lot of heat in the early mornings and late afternoons. The light reflection of a mid morning burns every garden Ive tried to grow in the front yard before turning it into storage space. There is now a small Japanese garden, part way finished under shade cloth by the door for added shade during the summer months, which creates a micro-climate. The rear garden was mulch and dead rose bushes when I first moved in. Without the shadecloth/pergola the heat during summer raises the temperature by 15 degrees celcius on the west wall. The rear yard has a three foot high fence that also leeds onto a small reserve, offering no security. Trellace now covers the entire rear fence line to the roof of the pergola and each side fence.
If really wanting to push the limits of urban gardening. I could have opted for a no dig garden, over the lime stone and raised the front fence line with trellace then used vine crops to produce shade from the North East. I know several people into permaculture that grow directly over concrete using this system. The last few years Ive had several health problems that have allowed me to spend the time writing and posting, instead of travelling or working full time.
Ive tried not to let them slow me down in my other pursuits, however gardening is something I can no longer spend time doing. Therefore a bali garden has very little work once set up, unlike vegetables. Spending half a day moving moss rocks places me on two days of morphine, from a back injury. A low immune system and scar tissue in my lungs leaves me open to chest infections. The last time mulch was put down gave me a pseudomonas infection. This bacteria grows on everything but unless having scar tissue or a serious lung infection such as pneumonia at the time, cannot be transmitted. An uncompromised immune system will not let it entire the body. 1500mg of the anthrax medication, cypro per day for two months to kill it off and the side effects of almost rupturing both my ankle tendons, keeps me away from potting soil and bagged mulch as much as possible now.
I had an idea of what I wanted to achieve but wanted to do a little background research and trial runs, so as not to waste time and effort on botched attempts. Before seeding areas that would be of more use as Bug Out Locations. By making small trenches with a hoe and mixing seeds with sand, in a container. Its quite easy to sow seeds with equal spacings, with minimal soil disturbance. Just pour out the sand from a plastic bottle. Then mulch over the top with pea straw.
There are many unused walking trails and small streams in my area that would make great places for foraging plants and fishing, if there were any fish or plants there to forage. The initial idea was to approach the concept systematically and I also didn’t want to spend too much cash but wanted to see if would work at the same time. So firstly went to the cheap shops that sold packets of seedlings that were almost out of date for 50cents each and mix them all together. From here just take the dog for a walk and scatter seeds along walking tracks and see what happens. Essentually guerilla gardening with vegetables in mind.
The second step would be to plant the three sisters to provide all eight essential amino acids required for normal health.The three sisters are a method of companion planting consisting of corn, beans and squash intermingled together. Beans are grown around the base of developing corn stalks and would vine their way up as the stalks grew. The corn stalks would act as a trellis for the beans and the beans would provide nitrogen for the corn.
Squash would be planted in the spaces between the corn stalks to have shelter from the sun and the squash would prevent animals from disturbing the other two crops due to their prickly vines. I didn’t want to get too fussy with this so did the same as with the vegetable crops and mixed the seeds together and took the dog for a walk. If it was good enough for Masanobu Fukuoka in One Straw Revolution, who am I to argue.
The third step was aquaculture. The streams aren’t very deep and can be dry some years. This left only three fish species that would be suitable Tandanus Catfish native to the some of the local streams or Silver Perch living in the larger creeks. The third option is Redfin an introduced species only slightly less destructive than carp but much better to eat. With longer periods of drought each year this may be the only species that will ever be seen in the smaller creek populations within another decade.
I had joined the local trout fly fishing club, who gave me an insight into the states water system. The greenies wanted all streams cleaned out of introduced species and only local fish to that specific area. The fly fishers wanted only trout and all other usefull fish to be removed, but wouldnt even allow a baited hook to be used while fly fishing to catch and eat other edible species.. I soon realized that all parties involved new nothing about aquaculture and had their own agendas as the primary concern. The smaller natives would only grow in certain streams that werent too saline and the trout only liked the colder streams. In between the other small streams were either too salty or too warm for either species.
The creeks I’m going to try this in are urban not rural and not linked to major water networks of any sort. Silver perch are cheaper to purchase as fingerlings than catfish and will be the first trial run. If these don’t mature then the only species that will grow in the urban stream environment would be the redfin.
I would like to introduce trout, being a fly fishing enthusiast. However the creeks surrounding my area don’t have the right water temperature to support brownies let alone a population of rainbows and there isn’t adequate over head space to cast a fly any way. A few of the deeper pools support brownies in the larger creeks but need to be regularly restocked if taking fish and using the not catch and release system.
In terms of vegetation I’m not going to go overboard with a heavy investment in fruit trees etc. Just pick up seedlings that are on sale and stick to anything that will grow from packet seed. Then see what happens over the next few seasons and try some berry crops for fruit.
The fourth step will be to introduce animal species to bug out locations. Mainly hares, as rabbits do too much damage with digging and are suseptable to myxo and calici viruses. Guinea fowl, as these will chase off snakes and foxes where bantam chickens, wouldnt have much chance. The mixure of three protien sources; fish, fowl and fur as a micro livestock should take care of themselve,s to run free range. Not having the land to set up a permanent retreat.
Its been several seasons since starting out and I have learnt a few lessons. Planting too far up a creek bank will either have all the vine crops poisoned or mowed off, in urban areas. Too close to the streams will have them washed away in winter with flooding. In-between suffers when the temperature rises in summer with no irrigation. Seeding using standard hybrid seeds is a waste of time, heirloom seeds are needed to have reliable self seeding crops. I cant say that enough, always use heirlooms. The first season had quite a resonable crop until the drought hit full force. With no irrrigation, there wasnt much chance of success after that. I still see the odd perch that have grown to a resonable size. I wouldnt try eating any out of that particular creek system though, with the ammount of polution present.
The current plan is to use the twister buggy, that will allow me to reach� more remote areas and am working on a small automatic watering system. Based on a small water turbine pump attached to a float for self adjusting to water levels and having to work out pressure vs flow, to feed into a 44 gal drum which will release the contents when full. Similar to a toilet cystern feeding into a soaker hose system. Without irrigation during the summer months, will other wise be a waste of time. By throwing over a leafy cammo net used for a hunting hide from archery shops and growing cover crops, should keep prying eyes away. These areas also have a better water quality for filtering aswell as for stocking with trout.