Productive Midi, Mini and Backyard Hobby Farms
the City of Pittsburgh Garden and Farm Resources InfoHub
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.pdf of the City of Pittsburgh's Urban Agriculture policy.
This article is about having a dream
for a small "hobby farm", farmstead, or farmette, and one that is not a
business endeavor. Although using it as a small business is very
desirable, if you don't have to deal with a lot of equipment, ordinances
and taxes. It's not about intensive homesteading for total
self-sustainability. That will be another subject to watch for on this
site. And it's not specifically about urban farming
in your apartment, on the terrace, in a courtyard, or under grow lights.
I will cover those in-depth as special design themes. This IS
about designing or running a A Real Farm as a hobby, or a weekend
warrior endeavor, but not a commercial enterprise. It's about fulfilling
your dream of a joyous retreat away from all that irks you. If you live
in a city, have a backyard, or a suburban getaway, these are perfect
candidates for a hobby farm.
The hobby farm I describe is not an essential part of your existence, or
absolutely necessary for your livelihood or physical well-being. Anyone
can do it, and they do it for different reasons. Hobby farmers can be
retirees who finally have the time to pursue an agricultural hobby. It
might be young folks who were gifted a piece of property, and would like
to try their hand at growing food or raising animals. Would-be hobby
farmers could be anyone who has the time to devote to their life-long passion
of gardening food or flowers, would like raising animals, or would love
to experience running a small-scale farm. Whoever you are, and whatever
the passion, mini and backyard farming is a worthwhile endeavor. Since it's
a hobby, your life won't be consumed by investing and depending on it to
produce for market or for your existence. A peaceful farmer's life can
be achieved on a small scale. If it doesn't succeed as a microfarm, it
will always succeed as your garden.
This will all sound like a difficult
endeavor, not worth all the possible trouble and hoops to jump through
to get there.
Trust me.... It's worth it. I'm just laying out the plus and minus list for
you to consider.
I'm talking about hobby farming,
which is effectively
a large, and somtimes ornamental, urban or suburban or rural vegetable, flower or herb farm, accompanied by
a few optional farm animals. As pets, in my case, not necessarily for food. The hobby farm can
contain a fair amount of ornamental objects. Historically, most folks
settling the western U.S., out in the big wild country, lived on the
outskirts of a town, on big plots of land with food and animals on
it. Not all of them sold what they farmed, but many had to, in order to
eat and make a living. Some property owners had a farmhouse, and
homesteaded only to be totally self-sufficient. I see an urban,
productive, less labor-intensive, and much more decorative version of
the working farm on little more than a postage stamp-sized property. A
backyard food farm on steroids.
Homesteaders are often on a tight
budget, have families to feed, and spend as little money as possible on
investing in their self-sustaining farm. Sadly, it's initially quite
expensive to reach a goal of total sustainability. Hobby farmers are
more inclined to spend only if they want or need to, spend on
ornamentals, add to their specialty crops, or to hire a professional or
garden handy-person to help with chores they can't manage themselves. A
hobby farmer is usually not concerned with getting back their initial
investment. Once the design is done, and the plants installed,
decorative items in place, maintenance is done when it needs to be to
keep up the look and function of the mini-farm. Additions are made that
are generally ornamental or subject to an owner's desire, not items
needed for the farm to function. As an example, I would raise chickens.
Either to collect and breed special types as a hobby, or to focus on
particularly pretty and talented egg-laying types, as well as food for
the pantry. That's A Hobby.
It can be a mini food farm for yourself and your family, or even
a cut flower or plant farm. Just for your satisfaction and enjoyment,
whether to study horticulture and botany, or to preserve and share your
crops with friends and neighbors. Maybe sell fresh eggs or herbs in
the neighborhood. If you would like to get into the commercial farming
world, there are thousands of informative articles and books to help
My Wishful Thinking Mini-Farm would
grow tons of vegetables that I use and preserve for winter, utilizing a
lot of old-fashioned methods with old-fashioned utensils and tools. I've
already started a mini-orchard with dwarf fruit trees in big pots, I'd
have lots more flowers and herbs, a few laying hens, a goat to eat the
grass and weeds, a horse if I had room, and lots and lots of companion
dogs. Maybe even a butterfly and pollinator "farm" included
within, that pollinates the plants and looks amazing. I would
consider selling seasonal flowers or crops at farmers markets or wheel
around a Mary's Bloomers Mobile Farm Stand. But as far as the tax code
and zoning commission is concerned, I wouldn't be classified as a
business at all. Of course, that means no tax deductions for running a
one-farmer ornamental farm. I wouldn't raise animals for my own food.
Because there's no way I'd kill and eat a pet farm animal that I
certainly would have
Here's an example of a Hobby Farm layout for a space fhat's less
than 1/4 acre.
#13 is an optional item - you can use this space
for a pollinator garden a few dwarf fruit trees in pots, or an herb plot
and a farmer's gotta farm.
And after you've
done your landscape and garden, and tend to it daily, it just might
not be enough to satisfy your passion. Especially if you have the
room on your property.
In Pittsburgh, I am
allowed and encouraged to have a honeybee hive placed. legally have
I can also have a
few chickens, if I follow the ordinances and requirements for safely
farming would definitely be done, vertically-growing vining fruits
and veggies, so i'll have more useable farm space than I
My mini-farm must be a feast for the eyes, as well as the tummy.
The Urban Hobby Farm
These are very small hobby farms, usually under a third of an acre,
where backyard space is limited. This hobby farmer will have a big,
successful garden, can create compost, and consider being a parent to
honeybees and chickens. This type of farm is relaxed, and works well
with a busy schedule, and is more relaxed. Almost everyone can find time
for this small hobby garden in their busy schedules. If you are an urban
stay-at-home farmer, you will do well with small livestock that needs
Farming In Suburbia? If
urbanites can do it on a postage stamp, what's stopping you?
You can have an awesomely productive and
ornamental hobby farm, given enough space and time. I've seen some big,
beautiful backyard food and flower gardens in the suburbs that qualify for
designation of Hobby Farm. You Can Do It. If you're not a slave to Housing
Development Covenant Nazis. Some developments are jumping on the
sustainability bandwagon, and they allow, and even encourage, food
gardens. But i doubt there are many forward-thinking associations that
will allow you to have chickens or a big food garden where (gasp!!) they
might be seen. You might want to purchase a little piece of unadulterated
green earth to pursue your dream on weekends.
But, put plainly, if you have no individual
freedom or power because your soul is owned by a housing development's
HOA, which you knowingly agreed to when you purchased your property, there are covenants
with guidelines that would not permit you to so much as hang a picture of
a farm, let alone allow you to work one. Always check with the powers
that be, before following that dream. Unless you're unhampered by such
Much is made of designer
terms used much too often,
e.g.,"farmette" and "gentleman's farm". Farms
don't need dressing up or gentrification. The mini-food or flower farm I
described, is not glorified in the flowery-talking and romantic way it
is described in real estate listings. It's both practical and pretty, feeds you,
pleases your eye, and you farm it yourself. You grow it just as big as
you can handle all by yourself, without necessarily hiring folks and
investing in farm machinery. A pretty, bountiful, small Hobby Farm.
But, for the sake of
showing off my French, I'll use the term "farmette. Not
much difference in hobby farming capabilities, except that you would have
a lot more room and options. And you can speak it in French.
A farmette is really a
full-sized hobby farm of a pretty decent size, but much more petite than a full sized
farm. It's usually 5-50 acres, and a full-sized hobby farm is
popular. It's one that you can comfortably,
and probably legally, add small livestock to, depending upon the amount of
grassland and feeding and housing capabilities. Farmettes are large enough
to grow fruit in orchards with full size trees (i prefer dwarfs no matter
what size the farm is), and you can grow a large field of herbs, and
flowers for cutting, for yourself or for sale, and you can produce plenty
of your own fertilizer courtesy of happy, in-residence livestock.
At first, any hobby
farm is easily planned if you
already have a vegetable garden, by just expanding that plan. A lot.
sometimes you can purchase a farmette that is already organized for the
farm hobbyist. The city
mini-orchard with dwarf fruit trees bearing full-sized fruit, and
berries in pots works on a large scale as well. Growing more vegetables
and fruit vines in pots works great as part of your Mini/Micro Farm design. So do areas like urban and suburban patios and terraces,
and big backyards. It helps if you plan on growing vertically, as
Those Chickens and Roosters...
friends are hardy, easy to take care of, and don't cost much to set up. A
small flock can easily produce enough eggs to meet all of a family's egg
requirements, including eggs for baking and cooking. As an urban dweller, I am
limited by ordinance as to how many chickens I can keep. Chicken coops
have a specific zoning and building regulations that I must adhere to
before chickens are moved in. I would want them to be free-range and
cage-free. So the humans living around me will need to be considered. I
live near someone who obviously has a flock of chickens. The cackling noises
for hours, from
blocks away, drives me to distraction. They won't sound any better in my
own backyard. And don't get me started on roosters.
best things about having chickens?
Hens will eat leftover food scraps and put out great
fertilizer for all of your gardens. All while on the move. Skip that can
under your sink, and the compost pile amendments. You've Got Cackling
-Because eggs. Some people swear that there's no difference in taste
between farm fresh, or white or brown eggs. I beg to differ. Years ago, an
elderly egg farmer came through the neighborhood once a week. He sold his
farmyard fresh large brown andor white eggs for 75 cents per dozen. You
got to choose your own dozen. We swore there was a difference. Maybe not,
but there's no doubt that there's a big difference between farm fresh eggs
that just popped out of Mrs. Chicken, and those lying around on the
for eggs, as composters or companions, they're not a bad addition to your
obvious downside for the city or small-space dweller is keeping your chickens safe from
the family pets, and every nocturnal and roaming predator in your neighborhood.
Including cats. After a year, the egg production of hens starts to
slow down, and eventually they’ll stop laying altogether. That means
keeping the hens on as pets (because I won't kill or eat them), or
re-investing in more hens just to supply myself in fresh eggs. Not quite
an economical endeavor, unless on a larger scale, or selling fresh eggs in
the neighborhood. But still worthy of being a great hobby.
are a snap to acquire in Pittsburgh, where you're permitted, and even
encouraged, to keep honeybee hives if you have the required space between
neighbors rules taken care of. I would like to, but don't really
need to, get hive bees. My pollinator gardens draw hundreds of honeybees.
It would look very cool to have one and welcome my neighbor bees, though. And it would help
my neighbors' gardens. Honey is the bonus. The honey from different
neighborhoods might taste different from each other. That's because your
bees dine on pollen from plants that are prevalent in those areas.
just so darned cute. And their milk tastes good. Cheese made with it
can earn you money.
am a huge fan of goats that are kept on farms, not kept as pets. I've seen
what happens when a headstrong goat decides to use the roof of your car
for a dance floor. Or jump from around upon and from shed roofs. I
have also seen the damages they can do if they escape. You would need a
high fence (my, those critters can jump!) or keep them confined to an area
Horned creatures have other considerations, as well. Goats are cute,
hardy, useful animals that can clear land for you, mow the grass, and
munch away weeds. On the other hand, they're not selective, and if
not confined to a particular area, they will eat shrubs, small trees and
valuable landscaping. Dairy goats produce an average of three quarts of
milk per day, and it is quite healthy and tasty. You can learn to make
goat cheese, one of the most popular cheeses for salads and cooking. Billy
would save me a lot of money at the deli counter. But he might cost me
more if I don't keep an eagle eye on his whereabouts and behavior.
studied, grown and eaten my fair share of culinary and healing
herbs, I will have no trouble farming it. I would grow the
common culinary and medicinal herbs, along with specialty international varieties
of herbs that are used in the specialty dishes I enjoy. I would have
special spots for Asian and Mediterranean herbs and veggies. There will
also be a section for the other ingredients used my herbal tea medicinal
and pure pleasure blends, including the flowers. My rose shrubs produce
petals and rosehips go into my concoctions. The kitchen
garden will be showcased on the patio beneath my kitchen,
which is full of everyday fresh culinary herbs and greens.
will admit that I have reached an age whereupon I have no intentions of waiting 5
years to have a bushel of fruit from trees. And i'm not likely to climb
ladders at harvest time. After much study, I have
begun my new adventure in small-space backyard and indoor orchards by
growing some rock star dwarf fruit trees and shrubs in containers and pots.
To me, dwarf is the way to go. So are potted trees. Full size fruit on dwarf tree stock, sometimes
fruiting after one year. I am successful (so far) in growing Meyer
lemon trees and fig trees indoors
and out, and Persian Limes. They can be grown outdoors and indoors, look
and smell beautiful, and are covered in blossoms that will hopefully become
the 5 p.m. cocktail additions and culinary fruits for my jams and pies.
The non-hardy are being grown in big pots through winter. I use grow lights if the
weather is gloomy and natural light is dim from the windows. Check
out the design for a compact backyard orchard to get ideas of how
much fruit you can squeeze out of a teeny backyard.
is no reason not to grow these dwarf fruit trees in the ground, except for
personal preference. I am fickle about where i use my trees, and i want to
be able to move them if they need more space, are being harassed by
critters, or as part of a theme design. I don't want to have to dig them
started with a small collection of 3-4 ft. tree stock, fruiting
size, and fruit shrubs that are at least gallon size, or 2 ft.+ high. We
will see how they do in the garden this year. I would definitely use more
hardy dwarf fruit trees to create a mini-orchard on a future hobby farm.
These trees begin to bear fruit in their second year, depending upon the
initial planting size and health of the tree. Once your trees start to
produce fruit, you’ll have a passive food source of fruits for the life
of the trees, and with a minimum of labor. Basic maintenance, winter care
and harvesting are your only concerns. Tree in pots are the best.... I can
move my non-hardy dwarf trees or baby species indoors for winter easily.
Or re-arrange and redecorate the outdoors with them in summer on a whim.
You just need to do some basic maintenance and harvesting, and Mother
Nature will take care of the rest.
There are many dwarf fruit trees to choose from.
Remember that you will get full-sized fruit from dwarf tree stock. I
started out by choosing the hardy varieties that do not need to be brought
indoors in the winter. So far, my mini orchard consists of the Dwarf Meyer
Lemon, Persian Lime, Dwarf Mulberry trees, apricots, and cold-hardy fig
trees. I learned to adore figs from my experience with Italian gardens.... I stick with
self-fertile trees so that I don't need 2 to Tango. I choose trees that
can also be pruned as short as I want them to be, without damaging the
potential crop. I try to keep mine at about 6-8 ft. tall for ease of
care and harvest.
There aren't many citrus varieties that are
hardy, or that can grow indoors without going into dormancy and losing all
the leaves in my cold region, Zone 6, so I don't attempt to grow them. I
already have established strawberry beds, and raspberry and blackberry
plants. I will add more dwarf fruits plants in pots. New dwarf varieties
are presented each year. You'll have no trouble finding them.
Dwarfs average a maximum height of 8-10
feet, which makes them much easier to care for and to harvest and less is
wasted. Also perfect for indoor gardening. They produce full size fruit,
and do it faster than larger trees. If you plant 2-year-old dwarf fruit
trees, you should begin to get some fruit the very same year, if cared for
properly, and if disease and animals don't get to them.
If you cater to your pollinators
in the garden, they'll help to present you with a bumper crop
every year. Be sure to save money and labor by purchasing your fruit tree
from reputable plant and tree nurseries that grow these themselves. Avoid
buying these at big box stores, home centers, grocery stores, hardware
stores, and flea
markets. I learned the hard way about the costs of poor quality fruit trees when
you don't know who grew them, if they're truly the variety and pedigree
you thought you bought, what they were sprayed with, whether GMO's were
involved, or how they were propagated and taken care of.
Think small at the
beginning of your adventure in full size or hobby farm or farmette.
-Have or set aside as
much space as you can on your property for your hobby. If you're lucky
enough to have another little piece of property to devote solely to your
hobby, congratulations! Put a barn on it and get digging.
-Save and invest as much money as you can to start off your ornnamental
hobby farm with a bang. You can add as you go along, just as you would
when designing a new landscape. Animals, in my case, would be a luxury
last on my list of essentials, if they're included at all. Except for the
dogs.... I must have dogs.
- Know your local
ordinances, especially if the farm is in an urban, or highly populated
If you're just running a
hobby farm that grows food, it's easy to figure out how to best do that.
If you are including animals, there's a whole lot more to consider, such
Be sure to follow the
rules about how you must care for your property (removing weeds or yard
debris and keeping it neat and rodent-free), know which, if any, farm
animals and pets are allowed on a residential property, and how you must
care for those animals. For instance, I know I can keep a few chickens. I
also know that there is a specific guideline for building a proper chicken
coop, and it has to be approved by the city and ready to occupy before
Foghorn Leghorn and Henny, Penny and Jenny move in. I also know that the
noise they make may be an infringement upon my neighbors.
Almost every neighborhood
has ordinances for noise, and that includes noise and disturbances of your
neighbors by animals. There are also city ordinances concerning odors
(from animals and from composting, etc), human health risk, and
controlling those animals. There are consequences for any destruction
caused by any animals you own, and city health rules are in place
concerning diseases, care, protection and well-being of animals, whether
they're called pets or domestic farm animals. It's expensive in many ways
not to be well-versed on those subjects.
Selling dairy products requires that a farm is licensed as a food farm,
and adheres to city and health ordinances. If you are planning to sell anything
from your hobby farm, including produce, herbs and eggs, find out the
requirements for keeping poultry and dealing in nursery or foodstock
before buying and installing them. If you're planning to sell fresh or
preserved foods at markets, etc. many state health departments have strict
rules as to how you handle produce, and the space and methods you use to
prepare, store and offer foods for public consumption. Some municipalities
require that the food you sell has an ingredients label that also states
the point of origin. Some also require that your farm and kitchen are
inspected by your local health department. There are even municipalities
that require you to be insured against the event that your product does
harm to the health of the public. Food poisoning and food allergies are
serious matters, and knowing the rules should be of uppermost concern.
There's a lot to be lost if you don't.
Hobby farms are
truly best for your own personal use as a hobby, and the growth and
consumption of produce and eggs should also be for your personal use and
your family's and friends. Unless you are licensed as a commercial
farm enterprise and food is offered to the public, and you're not
declaring yourself just a hobby farm. Go for it if you'd like to sell your
produce locally, after checking the rules. You'll have a following.
My advice is to keep your
little hobby farm as just that. A rewarding hobby that feeds many of your
passions. Skip all the headaches of running a large commercial enterprise, unless you
want to be a commercial farmer. Enjoy the good health, pride of space, and
harvests reaped as a result of the hard work you've done in the production
of your own food. Your hobby farm also feeds the soul with sunshine,
birdsong, fragrances and flowers. You are much closer to, and more mindful
of Nature. You really don't need much more than that.