Urban farming: Checking in with the chickens

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You can grow a lot in a relatively small space. 

The Hoviuses are proving that to be true. Having gone beyond basic gardening, they are into the realm of urban agriculture. 

Strawberries in pots, row upon row of perfectly aligned vegetables, fruit vines cover the lawn and porch, not to mention pumpkinland. 

Over the years the Creemore couple has expanded the gardens and housed chickens.

The lot-and-a-half property thrives in its own micro system. The plants are fertilized with compost and manure from the chicken coop and the chickens feed off scraps from the garden.

The growing season is two-three weeks behind this year but early varieties of onions, potatoes, lettuce and peas are getting a head start. Six gardens in total produce cauliflauer, broccoli, beets, carrots, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, blackberries, raspberries and currants, 

There is a division of labour. As a rule, Ed tends to the gardens and Erika does the preserving and looks after the chickens. The children, Derk and Margaret, help by collecting the eggs every day and feeding the chickens. They also do some gardening of their own.

Both Erika and Ed studied agriculture at University of Guelph, Ed took horticulture and Erika specialized in livestock. 

They both work outside of the field of agriculture now and it wasn’t until Ed stopped working on the family farm eight years ago that he started growing vegetables at home. 

He applies the knowledge he gained as a commercial grower to his home garden, using specific seed and maintaining strict spacing. 

Ed grew up farming with his family in Holland Marsh so it is no wonder that son Derk has the gift for growing. He has his own little plot of onions grown from bulbs he gets from his Opa. Three generations worth of effort paid off for Derk, whose Spanish onions won top prize at last year’s GNE.

Erika says chickens are really quite easy to care for. 

“If you can look after a cat, you can take care of a chicken,” she said. “They are only as complicated as you make it.”

Sure, she was a little intimidated to get started but she did some reading and studied up on the basics. 

She had the option of ordering chickens at various stages of growth and decided to go for hens that were already of age to lay eggs. Erika set up delivery through Stayner Town and Country. She said she was a little nervous while waiting for that first batch to arrive on the set delivery date but recommends anyone wanting to get backyard chickens for the first time will have to do it with a bit of fear in their hearts. 

Their needs are very basic, said Erika, they need shelter, food, air and water. The reward is happy hens laying lots of fresh eggs.

Ed whipped together a coop in the backyard in time for the hens to arrive and current residents Henny Penny, Copper, Jelly Bean and Snowball, are right at home. 

As the vegetable garden expanded, Erika said she took the same approach to preserving. She went to the library and borrowed a book about canning, called in some back-up and went for it. 

“All you really need is a stock pot to get started,” she said. 

Now she pickles what she can, has perfected a tomato sauce and freezes the rest. She is gearing up to make sauerkraut this summer, ambitious even for the most accomplished canner. 


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