This Isn’t Our First Rodeo

The JAZ Farm homestead isn’t our first trip to the homesteading trough.  Coming from a family that was gardening before Urban Farming was even a term, and having roots in the world of Iowa cornfields  back when farms were still farms, not the mono-culture, CAFO, ethanol producing factories they are now, it was inevitable that this kind of life blossom.  One of my very best friends, who I hadn’t spoken with in a decade, mentioned when we got caught up, “you know this isn’t too much of a surprise, if I remember right your mother had something of an organic operation going in her backyard while we were growing up”.  I was surprised that he remembered that but yes its true.  Other than her teaching music lessons, one of my vivid memories of my mother was seeing her bent over in her garden.  Zina’s father was an Italian farmer in Sicily and he too has always had a garden in his backyard.  In fact, one of his first jobs in America was working for a grocer.

So with that background, and as I (Jon) learned more about Peak issues, the disastrous state of our food supply, and the deteriorating water conditions in Colorado because of climate change, we began the transformation to a more sustainable way of life.

When we bought our suburban home, it had the world’s ugliest front yard.  It was poorly cared for and pavement quality clay made up most of the available yard.  We didn’t want to add anything like traditional Kentucky Bluegrass seed (grass in an arid climate is the height of stupidity) so we delved into the world of Xeric landscaping.  The front yard was transformed into paths of flagstone, granite lined water efficient plant beds, Russian Sage, and a growing bed made of landscaping stones.  We hauled in thousands of pounds of stone, gravel, rocks, topsoil, and plants we had never used before…. we jumped in head first.

Here is the end result:


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This has been Zina’s playground for several years and she has become the resident expert on Xeric growing.

Now that the front yard required very little water, the next evolution was working to find a way to start growing food in an urban setting.  I experimented with outdoor hydroponics with less than stellar results, so I moved it indoors.  I built a grow room in a spare room in our basement.  Of course, when one looks for information about this type of production, the internet gives you every manner of how to grow marijuana!  I really do grow lettuce and tomatoes down there!  In a 9×12 room I was able to grow all of our greens year round.  I also grew tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and cucumbers throughout the winter.   Here is a sample:

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There were 3 drawbacks:

1.  It is very limited quarters and the tomatoes, as you can see, get HUGE!

2.  If you get insects it can be very difficult to get rid of them.  We had a serious issue with Whiteflies.  While they stayed confined to the grow room they were an infuriating nuisance.

3.  As it requires supplemental lighting, it is NOT energy efficient.  I have 3000 watts of lights on timers.  The big Halide lamps use enormous amounts of electricity.

To get around the energy issue and in keeping with a desire to be more sustainable we contracted with Solar City to put solar panels on the house.  As we didn’t have room in the backyard for a greenhouse of sufficient size, this was a way to take the sun, turn it into electricity and use it to power the grow lamps.  To date we have had almost no electric bill.

In the late winter, the hydroponic system would get shut down and converted into a room to start seedlings for the urban farm.  After getting a taste of the produce just from a small hydroponic operation, I had a burning desire to have it on a grander scale.  We wanted to see just how much our yard could produce.

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Enter JAZ Urban Farm:

The back yard had no access to vehicles so everything needed to be brought in and built by hand.  30 yards of topsoil and all of the materials for the hoop covers were all brought in by wagon.  My pick-up got quite a workout … and so did I.

JAZ Urban Farm:

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This has been an amazing success.  The hoop covers add close to a month on each end of the grow season.  By starting the tomatoes and peppers, indoors the first week of March, they can be set out in the covered hoops, usually, the first week of May.  We have harvested hundreds of pounds of produce and by learning to freeze, can, and dehydrate much of what we produce lasts just about through the winter.  We have guessed that we grow all of our produce in the summer, and have most of our dinner ingredients available in the pantry.  We have canned, frozen, and dehydrated onions, tomatoes, beans, peppers, Kale, celery, eggplant, Zucchini, and cucumbers (pickles) and we grow all of the garlic and most of the herbs we need.  Not bad for a 70 X 25 foot plot.  We have 25 raised beds.  Even with the work out at the JAZ Farm homestead we currently have the grow room filled with plants once again and are waiting for the snow to stop for the season (it is May 1st and snowing).  Perhaps when Grandma comes out at the end of the month she’ll want to get her hands dirty and help plant (hint!)

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The JAZ Farm homestead evolved out of all of this.  Evidently we have the gardening and sustainability bug.  It is all wonderful therapy – Especially in a country that seems to think that food comes from a drive through or is wrapped in cellophane.