Creative ideas abound in SLC’s urban backyards.
You don’t have to travel far to discover that creative ideas can be found in Salt Lake’s very own backyard spaces. Practicing a hobby or starting a business venture, there are a growing number of locals who are actively participating in some form of urban homesteading. Maybe one of these ideas is on your “someday” to-do list. Let’s find out how small urban backyard spaces are being utilized, and are producing some truly industrious, creative and delicious results.
The Buzz with Urban Beekeepers
Urban beekeepers are growing in number for many practical and ecological reasons, such as creating honest-to-goodness raw honey, beeswax and pollinators for your garden, trees and neighborhood. That being said, taking on beekeeping is a bit more complicated than simply keeping bugs in a jar. When you choose to keep bees, you are taking on a colony, a highly specialized Apis metropolis, which needs your ongoing and knowledgeable support. Building or buying a hive with its queen, registering and learning the basics are the first steps in a long chain of responsibilities in maintaining—but never guaranteeing—a healthy and prosperous bee colony. Keeping bees requires vigilant observation and work, so if you aren’t into putting on protective clothing, getting hot, sticky and stung a few times, beekeeping probably isn’t in the cards for you.
Let’s introduce some backyard Avenues beekeepers, Jeff Lachowski and Rachelle Tuten from Catchin’ a Buzz Honey and find out what’s a-buzz with their growing business:
What got you started with beekeeping?
Lachowski: “We love honey! I had learned a few things from a local beekeeper and thought I’d give it a try in our yard. Bees are fascinating creatures and the colony dynamics are amazing to learn about. The more you discover about how bees work together in their queen-lead ‘society,’ the more there is to learn. I could talk all day about the intricacies of how a colony works together to survive and thrive. Did you know the colony can turn any egg into a queen? This occurs in part by feeding the larvae what is known as royal jelly. Just one of many fascinating tidbits of bee culture.
“We currently keep eight hives. We provide raw honey to Avenues Bistro on Third, and house a few beehives in their garden behind the restaurant. This is the local aspect we are after: neighborhood restaurants and local food production. In addition, we sell honey at Java Jo’s and Tea Zaanti. The raw honey provided to the Avenues Proper was utilized in brewing the award-winning Stumble Bee Viennese Honey Lager, which we consider the best use of our honey to date!”
Why is this work so important to you?
“Honey is an amazing natural food. Along with many health benefits and unlimited culinary uses, it’s just plain delicious. We value eating local and love to trade our honey for local food. The hives in our yard help pollinate the fruit trees and gardens in the area. Our apple tree has kicked up production ever since we had bees in the yard.
“It is fascinating to tend to beehives. I enjoy seeing them do their work, collecting pollen and nectar to build a hive and store honey for the winter. Really, they know what to do, we just help out should a problem arise. As Henry David Thoreau said, ‘The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.’”
Urban Farming, Growing the Change!
Catchin’ a Buzz Honey
Green thumb or not, a modest raised bed in your yard or a small hoop house to extend your growing season are ways you can participate in urban gardening. Rethink conventional landscaping: Instead of a pristine lawn of Kentucky Bluegrass, how about growing some edibles? Envision yourself cutting off a sprig of thyme or basil from a planter box, or picking a handful of ripe and warm Indigo cherry tomatoes just moments before mealtime rather than buying them imported, radiated and triple-wrap packaged from Costco.
Gardens take resources, know-how and time. Because we live in a desert, Utahns have to be fastidious with monitoring the ever-fluctuating climate conditions. If you like to travel or are not too thrilled about getting your hands dirty, any type of garden might be more than you can take on. Fortunately for us, there are many local urban farmers who are currently growing in yard spaces willing to embrace that commitment.
Going into its second season, Stagl Organics is one of the newest CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) on the SLC backyard block. Leasing four urban backyards in surrounding neighborhoods, urban farmers Shad Stagl and Jahnava Hill are incorporating sustainable and organic methods to supply its members with 26 weeks of fresh, local produce.
What are some of the challenges you face when growing food in an urban backyard?
Hill: “Farming is a lot of hard work; time management is a big challenge with four different garden spaces—there are always more things on the to-do list than are possible to do! We invest a lot of our time researching other urban market gardeners to maximize our yields as well as to conserve time, resources and energy. We have also invested in some small-farm technology. As an example, this season we invested in a greens harvester, and it has already proved to be an invaluable, time-saving tool. It has a dangerously sharp, scalloped blade, which is operated by a power drill and is manually led through the garden bed and greens are collected into a harvesting basket. We used this small farm tool last week with great results, and were able to collect 20 pounds of spinach in minutes, which would have easily taken an hour if picked by hand.”
Why it this work so important to you?
“Eating good, high-quality and organic food is very important to us, and growing it ourselves is how we wish to live. Through our CSA efforts, we hope to share that accessibility of fresh produce with our community, and our CSA family, garden tours and volunteer days all help keep us going.”
Messy backyard apricot tree? GULB can help!
From the Great Depression blossomed a generation of self-sustaining Utah citizens who valued thrift as well as the incredible flavor that comes from fruit picked during the peak of ripeness. All summer and into the fall, a vast variety of fruit trees—peach, apple, pear, apricot, cherry, plum, as well as succulent grapes cascading from their vines—can be found in many SLC backyards. It just so happens that the foothills of the Wasatch Front have the ideal soil and drainage conditions for many types of cold-resistant fruit crops, and they grow incredibly well here. Over time and with new development, many urban backyard fruit trees have disappeared. However, some remain and new ones are being planted and cherished with revered acclaim.
“What we owe the future is not a new start, for we can only begin with what has happened. We owe the future the past, the long knowledge that is the potency of time to come.” —Wendell Berry
The question is, after you harvest a bushel or more of fruit, left bags on your neighbor’s front steps and brought a box or two to work, you’ve pretty much hit everyone’s fresh-fruit limit. What do you do with all those leftovers? Do you need assistance harvesting? Beyond heaping piles of overripe and rotting fruit into your compost bin, or getting out the pressure canner and preparing the Mason jars, another sustainable option is to register your fruit trees with local nonprofit The Green Urban Lunch Box. GULB is a fabulous way to make sure everything gets harvested in time and that you fully utilize your surplus.
“This valley is full of thousands of unique trees that provide millions of pounds of fruit,” GULB’s Founder and Director Shawn Peterson says. “I would love to live in a city where all the food is appreciated and eaten by hungry people. I hate waste and no one should go hungry or not have fresh food when so much is being thrown away. We need to be better stewards of the resources we have.”
In addition, GULB can assist you with tree care services all year long, including pruning, fertilizing, watering, thinning, disease and pest control. When picked, the fruit harvest is then divided into thirds, and equally distributed among volunteers and hunger relief organizations, with the final third portion coming right back to you.
“Make sure you let us know when your tree is ready to harvest by going online to schedule a harvest,” Peterson adds. “The fruit is donated to free markets at senior centers, Meals on Wheels, SLC’s food bank and rescue mission.”
The Green Urban Lunch Box