An Urban Homestead in Los Angeles

One-tenth of an acre in Los Angeles may not sound like enough space for an urban homestead, but vertical garden design and intensive planting make for surprising yields.

Urban chicken coop

Grow vining crops with long runners, such as spaghetti squash and watermelon, vertically to make the best use of a small urban homestead. A cute chicken coop can become the focal point of the garden.

Illustration by Elayne Sears

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Sustainability meets inventiveness in Groundbreaking Food Gardens (Storey Publishing, 2014) by Niki Jabbour. Rich and varied garden plans from a range of professional gardeners offer ideas for everything from a whimsical children’s discovery garden to incredibly productive urban homestead plots. Some integrate gardening with chickens or bees to take advantage of the work they do for the garden as well as the foods they produce; others are designed to keep hungry wildlife like deer and moose out of the garden. With 73 different plans, there is sure to be something for everyone, whether formal or informal, yearlong or seasonal. The following excerpt is on Theresa Loe’s urban homestead.

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Theresa Loe takes pride in her homestead, where she produces a bounty of homegrown food for her family of four and gathers fresh eggs from her chickens — all in the middle of busy Los Angeles on a property just one-tenth of an acre in size. How does she do it? She combines good design, vertical gardening, and sustainable practices to create a productive urban homestead.

Notable Features

• Grows a copious amount of veggies and fruits on just one-tenth of an acre!
• Includes chickens, worm composting, and traditional composting
• Edibles are planted in drifts for ornamental appeal

The Urban Homestead

Theresa Loe fits the typical definition of an urban homesteader: a city or town dweller who wants to regain some control over her personal food security, as well as reduce her environmental footprint by growing a portion of her own food and keeping some type of livestock such as chickens. Although her property may be small, Theresa is able to grow a wide selection of edibles. Her family also has a flock of backyard chickens and a worm bin to produce vermicompost, as well as a traditional composting area for recycling kitchen and garden waste. “This garden demonstrates how you can be more sustainable and garden organically even in a tiny urban lot,” she says.

Her plan for an urban homestead is loosely based on Theresa’s own property and measures 45 by 36 feet. “I laid it out as a full-sun garden with raised beds,” she says, “but it could easily be done in all pots and containers if someone had cement in the backyard.”

Keeping Chickens in the Garden

The chicken coop and run are an essential part of Theresa’s homestead. “The chickens are really wonderful family pets,” she says, but adds that one should look into local city ordinances before bringing hens home. “Most cities only allow five or less hens, so I designed a coop and run area that would accommodate up to four hens, which will give you four eggs a day—a comfortable amount for a family of four,” she explains. She advises allowing 3 to 4 square feet per chicken for the coop and about 8 square feet per chicken for the run. She also encourages people to let the chickens out of their pens as much as possible, so that they can “get exercise, look for bugs, do some weeding, scratch up the soil, and add a little fertilizer.” If you’re worried about them eating your plants, Theresa suggests that you let them out only when you are in the garden.

Drifting plants

For an ornamental look, Theresa generally prefers to grow her edibles in drifts, rather than typical long rows. The three 4- by 20-foot raised beds located in the center of the garden are intensively planted with popular edibles like tomatoes, carrots, spinach, peppers, and Swiss chard. Theresa’s carrot bed is a great example of intensive planting and growing more in less space: The 10-foot bed is planted in three rows, so she has 30 feet of carrots in that one section.

Espaliered trees

To garner the most from her space, Theresa also grows vertically. In her plan, two espaliered apple trees have been planted along the west wall of the homestead for both their decorative and production values. Unless you choose self-pollinating apples, she advises planting two different cultivars that bloom at the same time to ensure pollination. On the north side, vining beans and squash climb the wall, taking up little space in the garden but still offering high yields. She avoids varieties with long runners, such as spaghetti squash and watermelons, unless they are grown vertically. Bush types are grown on the ground to save space.

To take advantage of open garden space near the chicken run, Theresa has clustered together several containers of potatoes, lemon balm, and various mint plants. She opts to grow her potatoes in pots because she finds that they thrive in large containers and she is able to avoid bug problems.

Theresa’s Garden Plan

45 feet deep x 36 feet wide

Theresa has chosen plants for a summer garden. After these have been harvested, she recommends following them with fall and winter vegetables. Certain plants, like the kale and Swiss chard, can be left in place for the cold season.

Center Beds

1. Tomatoes: ‘Brandywine’, ‘Green Zebra’, and ‘Amish Paste’
2. Kale
3. Swiss chard
4. Carrots: ‘Cosmic Purple’, ‘Purple Dragon’, and ‘Romeo’
5. Hot peppers: ‘Sweet Heat’ and ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’
6. Spinach
7. Eggplants: ‘Rosa Bianca’ and ‘Black Beauty’
8. Sweet peppers: ‘Purple Beauty’ and ‘Sweet Chocolate’
9. Potatoes: ‘Butterfinger’ and ‘(Swedish) Peanut Fingerling’ (in containers)
10. Mints, salad burnet, and lemon balm (in containers)

Perimeter Beds

11. Strawberry patch
12. Kohlrabi
13. Celery
14. Chives, thyme, and cilantro: Ordinary chives and garlic chives; ‘French’, common (English), lemon, and silver (‘Argenteus’) thyme
15. Stevia
16. Basil: Thai basil or African blue perennial basil, ‘Cinnamon’ basil, and lemon basil (Ocimum x citriodorum)
17. Sage and marjoram
18. Artichokes
19. Greek oregano and tarragon
20. Parsley and basil: Flat-leaved and curly parsley; ‘Spicy Globe’ bush basil
21. Zucchini
22. Various onions, leeks, and garlic
23. Squash: ‘Golden Scallop’ and ‘Early White Bush Scallop’
24. Squash: ‘Yellow Crookneck’
25. Zucchini: ‘Golden’
26. Various lettuces
27. Various salad greens
28. Bush beans
29. Rosemary and dill
30. Sweet corn patch with trailing nasturtiums (edible flowers) under corn

Plants Along Fence

31. Grapes: ‘Concord’
32. Grapes: ‘Flame Seedless’
33. Apple: ‘Anna’ (espaliered)
34. Squash: ‘Trombetta’ (climbing)
35. Various bean plants (against back wall)
36. Miniature pumpkin
37. Salad cucumbers (trained up the wall)

More from Groundbreaking Food Gardens:

Edible Gardening with Chickens


Excerpted from Groundbreaking Food Gardens © Niki Jabbour, illustrations © Anne Smith and Elayne Sears. Used with permission from Storey Publishing. Buy this book from our store: Groundbreaking Food Gardens.