Permaculture in the SuburbsMarch 5, 2015 by Melanie Swick | Be the first to comment »
You might think you can’t take self-reliance to the next level in the suburbs. I know, it can be a pain in the ass sometimes with houses stacked up on top of each other, nosy neighbors, and ridiculous HOA rules, but the good news is that you don’t need acreage and a cabin in the woods to grow most of your own food.
That’s a great thing because for most of us, heading to the hills just isn’t an option. Maybe you have kids in school, nearby family who relies on you, or a job you depend on that keeps you pinned down in the suburbs. Not to worry—you can still accomplish a Hell of a lot right where you are. I know this because I’ve done it myself.
Except for my time in the Marine Corps, I have always lived in the suburbs, and as much as I’d love to move out to the country, it’s just not in the cards. Still, I’ve managed to grow a shocking amount of fruits and vegetables, collect rain water, and even raise livestock. You can too, you just have to be creative.
Make the most of your space
Unless you like to piss off your neighbors and waste time in legal battles with the HOA, you’ll probably limit your gardening to your backyard. Would you believe me if I told you that you could get just as much use out of your front yard?
Grow recognizable food, like zucchini, squash, and tomatoes in the backyard away from prying eyes, but you can grow plenty of less-obvious food in plain view in your front yard, too since most people today are so far removed from the natural state of food, they wouldn’t even recognize it. Some examples are:
- berries (strawberries, blue berries, black berries, or raspberries)
- root vegetables (carrots, onions, potatoes, beets, etc.)
- leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, arugula, etc.)
- small varieties of peppers (habanaro, Cayenne, cherry, Fresno, etc.)
While you need to space out food-producing plants so their roots and leaves can spread out, you can usually plant smaller herbs or edible flowering plants (such as marigolds) between them. This helps to attract beneficial predators like bees and wasps while maximizing the space you have available because they aren’t large enough to compete with your primary plants.
Let plants pull double duty
We aren’t living in a post-apocalypse world yet, so I assume you have windows, right? You might as well make it tough for intruders to access them by planting thorny bushes underneath. While roses would certainly do the trick, it makes more sense to use plant that produces food, such as a raspberry or blackberry bush.
The same concept applies when it comes to herbs. Garlic and chives can really make a meal pop, but when planted among your other vegetables, they help repel pests. This helps you to produce more food with less effort without using pesticides.
And remember that many plants that have multiple purposes. Turmeric is an excellent spice, but it can also be used as a pain reliever and powerful anti-inflammatory. Peppermint can be used as a spice or to ease an upset stomach—and it repels pests.
Don’t rely on your faucet
During an emergency, your water may be cut off or become tainted so you need another source of potable drinking water.
I don’t advise drinking from any ponds you might find in the suburbs because they are likely tainted with fertilizer and pesticide runoff that your water filter may not remove, but there are plenty of ways to discretely store water in even the most densely packed neighborhood.
You also have quite a large rain collecting device you probably aren’t even using yet—your roof. A small investment in gutters and a few plastic 55-gallon barrels will give you a water supply capable of supporting a large family for a period of weeks or more.
Flora and fauna for balance
Contrary to popular belief, it’s relatively easy to raise small livestock in most suburban neighborhoods. Granted, you probably can’t raise a pig in your shed, but rabbits are an option that are very quiet and take up little space. Raising livestock gives you a sustainable supply of protein-rich meat (free of hormones and antibiotics) as well as manure to enrich your vegetables and fruits.
Some great options are:
The key here is to stay within the local laws and HOA rules, even if that means creatively bending them. You don’t want to draw unnecessary attention because it gives them an excuse to enter your property.
Complete the circle
You’re producing plenty of vegetables and fruits, so you probably have plenty of scraps, and your livestock is flourishing, so there is plenty of manure. I hope you’re not letting that go to waste!
You can compost any plant materials, manure, egg shells, coffee grinds, and even bread. Add this back into your soil for strong, healthy vegetables and fruit loaded with nutrients.