ABC’s of Urban Farming

LK |

mC:t    2015.06.17    #mct #yyc #yycbees #chickens


Remember the good old days when you were a kid and had to get up before the sun rose to collect eggs in the chilly morning air? Me either. Small family farms have gone the way of the flip phone, but some people are reviving this lost art.


Agriculture, Bees, and Chickens can be the starting points of urban farming. One young man Jason Melenberg took full advantage of the chicken and beehive pilot projects in Bowness; a NW Calgary community known for it’s eclectic inhabitants. He was kind enough to share with me the highs and woes of urban farming.


What made you decide to get into urban farming?

I have always been fascinated with self-sufficiency. Maybe it’s half my independent nature and part influence from our over-individualistic society, but I always wanted to know if it’s possible to live without relying on anyone or any system. One day after I purchased my home in Bowness I wondered how much food I could produce on an average city lot and since then I put a lot of effort in trying to get encouraging results.


 Were your neighbors supportive?

My one neighbor was definitely… accepting. I don’t know if I’d say supportive. He put up with quite a bit. I couldn’t have asked for a better neighbor really.


Was it a time suck?

This venture definitely took a lot of my time and when I didn’t have time or energy the homestead definitely suffered.



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How many square feet is your back yard?

I have a standard city lot, 50 ft by 120 ft, with a 1000 sq ft home on it. I’m not sure how big the backyard is in total.


You grew wheat along with a variety of vegetables, how much grain did you end up with?

I got 7 cups of flour from about 10’x 10′ area. It took all weekend the harvest, thresh, winnow, grind.


Did you grow anything that helped feed the bees or chickens or yourself? Did the chickens/ bees have a positive influence on your garden?

The bees made the garden way better. The chickens did not. They wanted to eat everything and would often find a way in there. I’d come home to half eaten kale plants.



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How did you learn how to keep bees?

Google! And books, and forums, and YouTube.


How do you get bees?

I got connected with a beekeeper that caught a swarm, which was my first hive. After that I joined a bee-swarming group and would respond to calls by worried homeowners who saw a big ball of bees (a swarm) in one of their trees.


How much honey do you get?

I never harvested a lot of honey because I wanted the bees to be self-sufficient. Many beekeepers that are in it just for honey will feed the bees over the winter and harvest all the honey in the fall. I never did that because I felt it was more natural for them to use their own supply and I would take leftovers in the spring once they started getting their food again. But I lost my bees in the winter sometimes to lack of food and sometimes to mites.


What did you do with the bees in the winter?

I insulated the hives.


How much does a hive cost?

I don’t actually remember. I built some of my own hives and got some other stuff from people I met through the Calgary bee-keeping community. I would say it’s around $300.00 to get into bee keeping.


How much time per day did you spend caring for the bees?

It’s not good to disturb the bees too often even though it’s pretty tempting because checking their hive is the best part of bee keeping. It feels ironically serene amidst the chaos of bees around you. I’d say it’s a couple hours every week tops.




How many chickens did you have at one time?

The most I had at one time was 6 chickens. We had ISA browns, which average 300 eggs per year. Many days in the summer there were half a dozen eggs per day. It was somewhat overwhelming!


How do you get chickens?

That’s a good question. I didn’t know either until my roommate Brandon suggested Kijiji. 15 dollars per egg-laying hen. They came just as they were starting to lay, and they arrived in the mail.


What did you do with the chickens in the winter?

The chickens are actually quite good in the winter as long as you provide shelter and some straw. We also added a heat lamp for really cold windy days.


How much did a coop cost?

My roommate Brandon and I built the coop and I think the materials cost about $300.00 at the end of the day. That included the lamp and water feeders etc.


How much time per day did you spend caring for the chickens?

It probably consumed 15 min per day to take care of them.


What do chickens eat?

We bought laying ration from the farmer’s co-op and then also fed them oyster shells for added calcium. We also fed them stuff from the garden like tomatoes and carrot tops.


What is your take away?

Well besides a lot of delicious organic food and a sense of accomplishment from learning and working my hands, a sense of peace.

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Jason is a mountaineer/nurse/astro-photographer and currently resides on his “homestead” in Calgary.




Next: Coming soon…
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All photos courtesy of Jason Melenberg. Check out his award winning astrophotography on his Instagram account: jason_melenberg.


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  1. mooonunit says:

    I have been planting up my garden all season in order for it to support a beehive by next spring. I never thought of leaving the majority of the honey for the bees so that they can sustain themselves, but I think it is a good point! It makes me really consider why I am so interested in keeping bees, is it just a way of getting copious amounts of my favourite food, honey? Or, is it part of a larger balance that will increase productivity in the garden, community and bee colonies?

    I am somewhat frustrated that the city keeps voting down the backyard chicken pilot projects. If they are worried about disease, smell and noise then regulation seems like the best approach, instead of turning urban gardeners into criminals.

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