I shouldn’t complain. For a Berkeley lot, we have it huge. Tons of space.
There is room for not just one club house, but two.
We have a very generous chicken coop and large run.
We’ve also converted the ridiculously large driveway to a “patio,” where we host parties, eat summer dinners, sit around the fire pit and roast marshmallows, do strange science experiments, play sports, and build ever larger chicken structures. There is even space for vegetable gardening. But only a little.
Why only a little gardening in such an abundance of yard?
Well, we have no sun.
Instead, we have a forest in the yard next door.
To be fair, it isn’t just the fault of the trees. I have found that raising chickens, vegetables, and sometimes-forgetful kids in close proximity to each other can sometimes be disastrous.
So we farm our veggies in the front yard, where the sun shines brightly all day long.
Of course there are advantages and disadvantages to farming vegetables in a front yard with no fence.
People do help themselves. And sometimes I worry about pee, both that of dogs and of people. Mostly I try to hold on to a positive opinion of my fellow humans, but I’ve also taken a few precautions:
- We put up a 24″ wire fence around each bed. This keeps out not only peeing dogs, but pooping cats and nut-hiding squirrels.
- We set the beds back from the sidewalk several feet, so you have to walk a fair ways into the yard to take a tomato, pee, or do whatever.
- We planted a “living fence” of grasses as a border between the beds and the sidewalk. This is a surprisingly effective deterrent.
My desk overlooks the front yard, so I have a good sense of what goes on out there. Mostly people walk on by. A few have stopped to help themselves. There is one fellow in particular who loves our cherry tomatoes. We call him the “Tomato Mumbler,” and if that doesn’t tell you why we let him take what he will, then you’ll have to use your imagination. There is usually a plentiful abundance, anyway, and he never takes more than one or two. The dogs only pee on the grasses of the “living fence,” and while they do, the owners admire the veggie beds.
And that leads me to the advantages of front yard farming, which totally outweigh the disadvantages.
- We’ve taken out (most) of the water-sucking lawn. This is good, since we have a southwest-facing lawn, which needs a ton of water to stay green in the summer. Now our yard looks better and uses less water.
- People love to see a garden growing. They just do. Our landlord thought we’d alienate the neighbors by “messing up” the front lawn, but the opposite is true. We get compliments on our veggies every time we work out front. This isn’t because our yard is perfect – far from it. The wood for the boxes is recycled, the wire for the fencing isn’t “just-so,” the nasturtiums often have their way. But so many times I’ve been told, “Your yard is the most beautiful on the block!” On some gut level (pun intended!), I think people just like to see food growing.
- We know more of our neighbors. This is an unexpected advantage of front yard farming, especially here in Berkeley, where the neighborhood kids are sent all over the city for school, both parents work, and everyone is usually too busy for more than a brief wave. But when you garden in your front yard, people always stop to chat. It’s as if the dirt and plants and tools somehow slow time down, and suddenly people feel like they can pause to chew the fat.
- I get free gardening advice and new plants. This is an obvious offshoot of #3. If I were not gardening the front, people wouldn’t stop to chat, and I wouldn’t get the benefit of their ideas and collections.
- There is way less dog poo in my front yard. I’m not even going to interrogate the why of this. It would feel too much like looking a gift horse in the mouth.
- Finally, I love to coming home to my house, driving up and seeing the beds. It makes me happy every day.
So, whether you have enough room in your backyard or not, shade or sun, I encourage you to try a veggie bed out front! If you’ve already converted to front yard farming, I’d love to hear your story!