Sustainable Urban Living

People can’t believe how much food we grow in our backyard. Lots of people have heard of sustainable living, self-sufficiency, growing your own, and so on. But I guess most people think that if you want to do that, you need at least 5 acres out in the country.

But we have been doing a pretty good job right here in  in Ottawa. We have one car that we don’t use all that much. It is a 10 km cycle ride into the city centre, mostly on bike paths through parkland (including the Rideau Canal). A bus goes right past the house, and transitway buses pass at the end of the road. Frequent, reasonably quick transit service. We can cycle or walk to both small, locally-owned food shops, the Parkdale Market, and big supermarkets.

We prefer to support small locally-owned stores and markets. And to grow a lot of what we eat. Our back yard has a brick patio and about 400 sq. ft. of vegetable garden. The garden is laid out in raised beds, which we plant intensively. We improve the soil with our own compost, and purchased manure (spent mushroom compost, and sheep manure from a local farm). Two rain barrels collect enough water for the garden.


In addition to vegetables, we have an apple tree. And strawberries. And a blackcurrant bush and a gooseberry bush. And lots of rhubarb.  This year we planted a hedge of blackcurrant, redcurrant, and gooseberry out front on the boundary between our yard and the neighbours. In a couple of years, that will produce a lot of fruit. And look good.

We are a family of three and we produce all the vegetables we need for the summer months (except potatoes and onions) and freeze or store some for winter. During strawberry season, we have strawberries on our cereal every morning and at the peak of the season we are picking a cereal bowl a day. In 2008 we picked 5 kg of gooseberries from our one bush.

The front yard is being gradually converted away from lawn to more sustainable flower beds. Lawns are not well suited to this climate. Going pesticide-free and chemical-free is much easier if you shift the aesthetic. In our neighbourhood, there are several good examples of pesticide-free yards to copy from and set the tone for the whole area.

Of course, green living isn’t all about the outdoors. We have a smallish house. This bit of  Ottawa was considered the suburbs in the 1950s when it was built but now … practically downtown. Small bedrooms but what do you do in a bedroom that needs lots of space? Two upstairs, and one of the main floor. Big common spaces: 16′ x 21′ kitchen! 23′ x 12′ living room. Big finished room under the kitchen (similar size) that we currently rent out but could be a family room. Or a teenager’s bedroom (there is a bathroom down there with a shower). The kitchen is an amazing space for cooking, entertaining and living.


We’ve installed a high-efficiency gas furnace and insulated the basement, the two items with the biggest returns in our energy audit. Instead of central air-conditioning, we use a combination of window fans and ceiling fans to circulate the air. The south facing living room window provides some passive solar gain in winter but is well shaded by the tree in the front yard during the summer.

Our plans for 2009 involve moving out of the city. We want chickens and sheep. We want to be outdoors more. We are even thinking of growing vegetables on a larger scale for market. Our plans have outgrown this urban location.

But we know that lots of people are wanting to do more while still living in the city. Who love the idea of growing their own fruit and veg and cooking it and preserving it in a big kitchen with huge windows facing onto that garden. Who maybe work downtown 5 days a week.  Or at the Civic Hospital. Or Carleton University (which are even closer).

Not all landlords want you to rip up their lawn to plant vegetables, though. And if gardening is new to you, establishing a vegetable garden might seem like a daunting task. We’ve been here for 5 years. The garden is well established. And we can support you in learning how if you need support. The local chapter of the Canadian Organic Growers also have classes and support available.

If this sounds like you, get in touch. If you can’t afford to buy or don’t want to, that’s okay. We could rent this place to you. Send me an e-mail at tricotomaniac at rogers dot com (replace the things that need replacing; you know how this works).

And tell your friends. The snow melts in April. And some things can be planted almost as soon as that happens.


7 thoughts on “Sustainable Urban Living

  1. I’m sure it won’t surprise to hear that there are PLENTY of people with 5 acres, 50 acres, 500 acres out in the country who don’t make any attempt whatsoever at any kind of self-sufficiency.

    No matter where you are the self-sufficient lifestyle is not terribly popular in practice, although it’s popular to say you’re into it.

    I get such a great feeling from reading your posts on the subject. Too often, I hear people (city and country folks alike) bemoan anything that might involve actual physical work or effort.

    I’m starting to get on a soapbox here. LOL. So, I’ll just say keep going. The sense of satisfaction more than compensates for “garden knees.”

    It’s a wonderful thing that you want to find a good steward for the land you’ve tended there. I hope the right person finds you, and I hope you find the right place in the countryside for yourselves.


  2. What an exciting post! You are really planning to make changes, and starting the ball rolling to make it happen. Good luck. Maybe one day we’ll be able to visit and see your new place.


  3. I dunno, way out east here, in the country, a large number of people have their own gardens and are “into” self-sufficiency because it’s more of a way of life out here. Not a trend. 🙂

    or, they do it because they can’t afford not to.


  4. what a fantastic garden you have. but congratulations on moving to the country! yay! :^D)

    i have to agree with andrea, at least with regard to our area. a garden is just a way of life. so many things that have become “trendy” the last few years on the internet — knitting, baking, gardening, etc. — are pretty old hat to us rural types. ;^)


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