Covert Urban Homesteading, Part 1: Plants

Covert - Adjective: Not openly acknowledged or displayed

Homesteading - Noun: an act or instance of establishing a homestead.

     My yard is the nicest place in the neighborhood, the main reason why no one has complained yet about the vegetable garden in the front yard. Of course, it would probably matter more if a person could actually see the vegetables growing in the yard, but since most people do not know what vegetables look like, I haven't heard any complaints about them yet. So I have the vegetables growing in the flower beds that came to me with the house, things like sweet potatoes, cowpeas, sorghum, flax, and sunflowers. Also cannas, which double as a survival food source and more distracting foliage and flower. The vegetables are planted in circles around the bases of trees or in-line with the edges of the circular flower beds, so they don't stick out. Sorghum even looks like an attractive variety of one of those decorative grasses that people are endlessly planting.
     There may come a time where you can grow a garden, but you will have to work within very strict standards for unsightliness. For example, some neighborhoods may not allow rain barrels or compost piles. Both of these can be buried into the ground. It may not be the most desirable thing, but it's better than having no stored water and no compost, right? Also all garden beds should be edged, mulched, and manicured at all times. Covert urban gardening takes more time than regular gardening, and isn't for everyone.
     After the front yard gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Orlando, Florida, made the news, I checked out our county codes to see what they said about front yard gardens, animals, and easements. I won't bother you with the details, but for the most part, pretty lax on gardens but strict on animals, at least for residential areas. It wasn't too much later that a guy in Oregon or somewhere far away got busted for having unlicensed ponds, and just recently a couple in Orlando got busted for a front yard garden. But their front yard garden doesn't look like my front yard garden, which just makes me think they were DOING IT WRONG.

So here are my techniques in five easy steps...

     Step 1: Check your regional municipal codes. Each state, county, city, and suburb probably has its own rules, and don't forget your deed restrictions printed right on your deed! Don't fall into the trap as these unfortunate people have. Know your rights, then use them. Preferably to grow delicious food.

     Step 2: Check out what other people have in their yards. This serves many purposes. For example, you will get a feel for what grows very well in your climate with little care. Is that a persimmon over there, un-pruned and un-watered? Is that a pear tree? Does that neighbor down the street have a lot of edible native plants? Do you? If everyone has front yard gardens, then you are in the clear. If everyone has vegetables growing in buckets, then either you have a lot of renters or the soil won't grow those vegetables well so the neighbor is using store-bought stuff. If the neighbors all have manicured grasses with expensive, nursery-grown landscaping, it would be safe to say that some jerk will probably be unhappy with your rows of corn.

     Step 3: Do it slowly, and do it right the first time. Put in plants with careful thought as to how it will look once it is growing. No one wants to look at potato plants dying down for the season, but maybe the okra or peanuts will be big enough so no one will be able to see the potato plants.  Leave the plants that need trellising, which is considered unsightly, for the back or side yards, or just don't grow them. If you are starting with bare dirt or open grass, then build largish, circular, raised beds around productive trees. Some people call these plant guilds, or three sisters gardens.

     Step 4: Add Flowers. Since most people don't know what vegetables look like, they will think you are doing a lot with annuals every spring. Encourage that. Also put in attractive, edible perennials, like roses. The leaves are fodder for animals and the rose hips are a good food. Even bulbs like tulips or amaryllis can be cultivated and traded or sold, and they will encourage people to not notice all the other plants you are growing on. There are a ton of easy, edible perennials. Some people call this Permaculture.

     Step 5: Maintain. Mulch like crazy, it's good for the soil, and it looks nice. If you have a lot of foot traffic in a spot so the ground cover turns to dirt, then put some pavers there to keep up the place. Keep the remaining grass well-trimmed, and pick up the litter that floats into your yard. Rake fallen leaves into the flower beds as mulch. Or shred and compost as is your preference. Stagger your plantings so that your front yard has a lot of life in every part of the growing season. Some people call this biointensive farming.

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