A Quick Guide to Urban Farming

Urban farming can be a fun way to produce your own nutritious and sustainable food supply for your household while learning about self-sufficiency and gardening. Though urban farming likely won’t replace your household’s entire food intake, it is an environmentally friendly complement that can help lower your reliance upon commercial grocery stores over time.

A Quick Guide to Urban Farming

What is urban farming?

Urban farming or urban agriculture comes in many forms. Whether it’s a backyard or rooftop garden, a community agricultural space, or a small balcony plot, urban farming is the practice of cultivating food by those who live in cities or densely populated areas. Typically using raised garden beds to house produce, urban farming promotes sustainability, health, and a connection to nature. Whether you’re looking to grow a few simple fruits and vegetables or seek to cultivate a flourishing garden, here’s how you can get started.

Plot Out Your Garden

Whether you have a spacious backyard waiting to be tilled into gardening heaven or a smaller, unused section of your flower beds, how much space you’re working with will determine the arrangement of your urban farm. Research the crops you intend to plant and how much space they require, then take measurements in your gardening space before buying materials. Your raised gardening beds should be anywhere from six to thirty-six inches deep. Keeping them less than four feet wide will make it easier to reach across when watering, weeding, and planting.

Planting Your Garden

Once you’ve plotted out your garden space, there are a series of decisions to make about your garden; namely which crops you want to grow, how you’ll pot other plants and flowers, whether you’re going to start from seeds or seedlings, and deciding between manual and automatic watering. If you’re starting from seeds, know that the growing process will take longer, whereas seedlings can help to speed things up. Creating an automatic watering system requires an upfront investment, but you’ll save time, and you won’t have worry about under-watering or dehydrating your garden.

 

Image Source: Getty Images – Image Credit: FatCamera

 

Raising Chickens and Keeping Bees

Keeping animals on your property presents new opportunities for sustenance, but it also introduces new challenges. Two animals urban farmers often choose to raise are chickens and bees, which take up a lot less space that other livestock. Before starting either venture, check your local zoning laws.

If you intend to raise chickens, you’ll need to build a coop first. The size of your chicken coop will depend on whether your chickens are able to forage outside the coop or not. If you have the space to let the chickens out, allow two to three square feet per bird in the coop. If the chickens must stay in the coop, you’ll want to make sure they have plenty of space, so it’s recommended to allow five to ten square feet per bird.

 

A group of chickens in a backyard coop.

Image Source: Getty Images – Image Credit: KseniaShestakova

 

The key features of a chicken coop include roosts, nest boxes, dust baths, lighting, and protection from local predators. Search online or locally for pre-made chicken coops that fit your property’s needs or make it a DIY project. A commercial poultry feed will provide your chickens with the basic nutrients they need, but keep in mind that many foods outside of their normal diet can alter egg flavor and have adverse health effects. So, if you’re thinking about incorporating table scraps into their diet, make sure those foods agree with their systems before doing so.

To keep bees at home, start by reaching out to local beekeeping associations to inquire about purchasing bees and when you can expect your colony to arrive. Once you have a timeline set, you can go about gathering supplies. There are two common hive systems used for keeping bees: a Langstroth hive; which is a system of stacked rectangular boxes with removable frames, and a top-bar hive; which is a series of horizontally connected boxes. Gear up by purchasing protective beekeeping clothing, tools, and feeding supplies. After you introduce your bees to their new hive, continually monitor their behavior and tend to their seasonal needs. Spring is generally the best time of year to start a hive, since it gives bees plenty of time to build up their colony and produce and store honey before winter arrives.

For more information on sustainable gardening practices, read our blog post below:

10 Tips for Sustainable Gardening

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5 Ways to Create a Sustainable Kitchen

In many ways, the kitchen is the heart of a home. All the time spent making delicious food, sharing recipes, and enjoying meals with loved ones gives it a central role in home life. A consequence of the time spent in the kitchen is the creation of waste. But by adopting more sustainable practices in the kitchen, you can reduce waste and make your home more eco-friendly. Here are five ways you can create a sustainable kitchen.

5 Ways to Create a Sustainable Kitchen

1. Cut Down on Food Waste

It’s no secret that a certain portion of food always seems to go to waste, but how can you avoid throwing away perfectly edible food items? It starts with being intentional about your grocery shopping. This helps to prevent overbuying and will give you a better chance of cutting down your food waste. Food preservation is key, as well. Invest in high-quality, reusable containers to prevent food from rotting, wilting, or expiring before you intend to cook it.

2. Choose Energy-Efficient Appliances

Kitchen appliances generate a significant amount of power. By using an energy-efficient refrigerator, freezer, and/or dishwasher, you can reduce the overall energy consumption of your household. When deciding on which appliance to purchase, the most sustainable choice you can make is the one you plan on sticking with for a long time. When deciding on a gas versus an electric range, know the pros and cons of each option before making a final decision.

 

Image Source: Getty Images – Image Credit: Pekic

 

3. Reusable Materials

Getting more uses out of the items in your kitchen will help make your household more environmentally conscious. Reusable kitchen towels are an eco-friendly replacement for paper towels when you’re cooking, wiping down your counters, or doing dishes. Using reusable grocery bags is an effective way to transport groceries sustainably. It will also help keep your kitchen organized by avoiding a plastic or paper bag pile-up under your sink. This line of reusable thinking in the kitchen can even extend to design. If you’re looking to give your kitchen a makeover while keeping sustainability in mind, consider incorporating reclaimed wood, sustainably-sourced countertops, or natural materials like bamboo. 

4. Use Natural or Organic Cleaning Products

Creating a sustainable kitchen isn’t just about reducing food waste and choosing reusable materials. By using organic and/or natural cleaning products, you can ensure that your cleaning practices are sustainable as well. Using natural cleaners, like baking soda and vinegar, can also create less waste when you repurpose jars and bottles to create your preferred solution. Buy ingredients in bulk, then re-purpose old spray bottles and use towels instead of paper products to clean. Certain conventional cleaning products with synthetic chemicals can negatively impact the air quality in your home, which can have harmful effects on your health, especially if you have respiratory sensitivities.

5. Be Mindful About Water Usage

Neglecting to monitor your water usage is a slippery slope. Not only will using too much water increase the overall waste output of your home, but it will also increase your water bill. Be mindful about using only the required amount of water for cooking, do your best to avoid leaving the faucet running, and if there is a drip, fix it as quickly as you can. Using too much water can also strain your home’s water systems, putting your pipes at risk of bursting. Tempering your water usage can help to prevent water damage and the high costs that come with it.

Going zero waste doesn’t have to be expensive. Try first to extend the life of the things you already have like plastic bottles and textiles. For more information on how you can adopt sustainable practices at home, read our guide to going low-to-zero waste:

A Guide to Going Low-to-Zero Waste

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Gas Appliances vs. Electric Appliances

Appliances are broken down into two main categories: gas- and electric-powered. You may be more familiar with one or the other based on personal experience, but when it comes time to choose appliances for your home, you’ll likely be weighing a variety of factors including the conversion costs, operation costs, safety, sustainability, and more. The following breakdown of the differences between gas and electric appliances can help inform your decision about what is ultimately best for your home.

What is the difference between gas and electricity?

Homes with natural gas are powered by a series of pipeline connections. The gas lines flowing from the property lead out to and connect with a larger pipeline farther away. Homes can also be powered by propane gas, which is stored in a tank on the property.

Electric power flows from generators to substations and eventually to individual homes, carried by transmission and distribution lines. In short, gas can power a variety of appliances in your home, but it won’t power your lights or electronics, whereas electricity can do both.

What is the difference between gas appliances and electric appliances?

The costs of gas and electric appliances vary region-to-region, both in upfront and operation costs. Having said that, gas is the more efficient heating fuel, and using gas appliances could save you up to 30 percent on your utility bill (consumeraffairs.com). Keep in mind that gas furnaces tend to be noisier but will usually heat up your home quicker, while electric furnaces are quieter but may take more time to warm your home.

So, what do you do if you want to convert your home from one fuel to the other? To switch from electric to gas, you’ll need to route gas lines, purchase the new appliances, and install them. Switching from gas to electric will require installing an electric line and capping the gas line(s). Each of these conversion methods will require an investment, so be sure to budget for these costs before you switch.

Gas and electric have their own unique safety hazards. With gas, you’ll need to take a couple extra steps to protect your home’s air quality. You’ll want to make sure you have a good ventilation system and that your carbon monoxide alarm is functioning properly to alert you of any potential poisoning from the furnace or the appliances themselves. With electric appliances, you won’t run the risk of a gas leak, but if the appliance’s wiring is faulty or neglectfully maintained, it could start a fire.

 

Image Source: Getty Images – Image Source: SolStock

 

Gas vs. Electric Range

The range tends to be the focal point of the gas-versus-electric debate for many homeowners. While some prefer the quick-heating power of an open-flame gas stove, others view an electric stove as safer for their household and therefore better. While some enjoy the even-heating quality of an electric oven, others prefer gas ovens with traditional coil burners. Electric stoves are usually easier to maintain; especially glass tops since you only have to clean one smooth surface.

Gas vs. Electric – Dryer & Fireplace

In general, gas dryers can heat up faster than electric dryers, which means they are more efficient and can save you money on your energy bills. However, gas dryers tend to be more expensive than their electric counterparts.

Electric fireplaces are usually cheaper to install but may not be as effective as gas fireplaces for heating larger spaces. And apart from all the financials, some people simply enjoy the feeling of a natural flame (gas) coming from the hearth, while the electric heating element appeals to others.

At the end of the day, choosing between gas and electric appliances depends on your situation. Saving on energy bills may be your number one priority, or perhaps you can’t stand the idea of not cooking on an open flame. Whatever your choice, it’s helpful to know the pros and cons of each option.

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8 Tips for a More Energy Efficient Home

Whether they are motivated by rising energy costs or a desire to cultivate a more sustainable home, homeowners are constantly searching for ways they can go green, reduce their home’s energy waste, and save money in the process. Here are some simple methods for a more energy-efficient home.

 

1. Determine Your Energy Output

A natural first step in your energy-efficient journey is to get a gauge of how much energy your home is currently using and where it is being used. Analyze your recent bills to get a picture of your home’s energy consumption and the habits that are tied to that level of usage. From there, you can determine what kinds of cutbacks can be made to save energy. You might also consider hiring a professional energy auditor to fully inspect your home’s energy practices and identify where there’s room for improvement.

 

2. Laundry Room Best Practices

Adjusting your methods in the laundry room is an easy way to make an impact on your home’s energy output. When it’s sunny, air-dry your clothes to save energy. Most of the energy consumption generated by doing laundry comes from the heating of the water, so use cold water when possible. Wait until you have a full load before running the washer to maximize your laundry room’s efficiency.

 

3. Install Energy-Efficient Lighting

Replacing incandescent lights with newer, more energy-efficient options is a productive step towards reducing your home’s energy waste. A change of lightbulbs is a relatively cheap solution compared to more expensive energy-saving methods like replacing appliances. Because energy-efficient lightbulbs use less energy than standard bulbs, they commonly last much longer as well.

 

4. Check Your Windows

Excessive air conditioning and heating are often the culprits behind wasteful energy practices. Weatherstripping and caulking your windows help to regulate the flow of air, keeping your home warmer in the colder months and cooler in the hotter months. Old, drafty windows let in air that can increase your home’s energy usage, regardless of the season. The upfront investment in purchasing new windows will pay off in the long run and will help to reduce energy waste.

 

5. Check Your HVAC Unit

A fine-tuned HVAC system is critical to making your home as energy efficient as it can be. Maintenance of your HVAC unit periodically to make sure it’s running in tip–top shape and to avoid replacements, which can be quite expensive. The cleaner your HVAC filters, the more efficiently they can run. The filters should be swapped out a maximum of every three months, more often if you use it year-round or if you have pets at home.

 

6. Insulate Your Home

A well-insulated home can deliver significant savings on heating and cooling costs. Walls and windows are common areas where air can escape, but so are pipes and ducts. Wrapping all these areas in insulation will pave the way for saving energy throughout the house.

 

7. Turn Down Your Thermostat

Turning down your thermostat is an effective method of reducing energy consumption. Even lowering it by one degree will lower your furnace’s energy output and can make a difference in your home’s overall energy efficiency. Remember to clean your furnace filter often. A clean filter will allow your home’s heating system to run more efficiently and cost-effectively.

 

8. Set Energy Efficiency Goals

Once you’ve begun to implement some of these strategies to make your home more energy-efficient, you’ll discover new ways to reduce your home’s energy waste while saving money. Set goals for your home’s overall energy output in a given month or set a target number you’d like to see on your next energy bill. Track your home’s progress in energy efficiency and the savings you’ve generated over time to see the difference you’ve made.

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