A Farm in the Yard: A Fresh Take on Suburban Living

A Young Family Enjoys the Organic Bounty Grown in their Own Backyard.

Growing food holds a lot of nostalgia for me because I grew up helping tend our family food garden. I remember the joy of snapping ripe green beans off the vine with my mom. I felt such pride canning vegetables in late summer when the garden was exploding with goodness. My husband, Seth, and I wanted to bring that experience into our kids’ lives to instill a connection to where their food comes from.

Sparkles, as her name suggests, poses for a cameo while ranging in front of the backyard chicken coop.
Our first hugel-mound, layered with organic material. This method has produced an abundance of vegetables.

Our kids have been involved in growing fruits and vegetables in our yard since they were babies. The garden has opened up an amazing world of discovery for them. There’s nothing better than watching their excitement after they pick a pint of sweet raspberries or how they beam with pride at how big the corn, snap peas, and pole beans have grown under their care. And, they love finding bugs in the soil to feed our chickens—everyone wins!

“On a larger scale, being responsible stewards of the environment and connecting to our natural surroundings is important to us. A healthy environment is a big part of what allows us to live a healthy life. Sourcing most of our vegetables from right outside our back doorstep is a way for us to actively walk the talk on sustainability.”

We work hard to produce “clean” produce without the use of harmful chemicals. We try to manage the garden in harmony with nature. Companion planting, hugelkultur, chickens, and growing native plants for pollinators all contribute to this. (See the end of the article for more information on each.

The Tuppers stand between two of their hugelkultur mounds with some fresh pickings and two of the chickens, Wrestler and Sparkles.


In recent years we’ve added hugelkultur and chickens to our “farming operation.” As soon as our city started allowing homeowners to raise chickens for eggs (no, there are no crowing roosters allowed), we added Wrestler, Sparkles, Snuggles, and Midnight to the mix (yes, our kids named them!). In addition to enjoying their delicious eggs, they add to our ability to manage a low-impact/low-input process. They free range in the yard and eat bugs that could be a nuisance to plants. We compost their manure and bedding into new, rich soil for the garden.

Growing food using hugelkultur has been amazing. Plants grown in the hugelkultur mound are noticeably bigger than those grown in traditional row plantings. We added another mound last summer and were stunned by how much we could pack into the space and how much we harvested.

Fresh pints of raspberries. We harvest daily when they’re in season.

This past year, some friends gave us a “backyard farmer” sign that made us laugh. We’ve thrown a few fall “harvest parties” to bring friends and neighbors together to connect over good food. People have donated apples so we can use Seth’s apple press for fresh apple cider. It’s a really great time.

“I always thought growing produce, composting, and raising chickens was a no-brainer because it is so rewarding. But it’s not the typical scene in suburban America—yet.”

We hope our yard inspires others to participate in the food system and convert turfgrass into a thriving backyard farm. The process has been particularly rewarding because the kids are so proud of what they grow. Checking in on the growth of their plants is part of their daily routine during growing season. They are totally comfortable feeding the chickens worms they have dug up from the yard. The knowledge and experience of growing fresh food is something they will carry with them the rest of their lives.

What’s Growing in the Backyard Garden?

Raspberries and kale freeze up nicely for smoothies. We preserve or freeze salsa, pickles, relish, pasta sauce, tomato sauce, and sauerkraut to enjoy all year long. Our onions and garlic last in storage until spring. Each year we try to add another vegetable. Each plant comes with its own learning curve, whether it’s figuring out the “perfect” way to grow it or how to best preserve it. Much to our kids’ disappointment, we have yet to nail down the best approach to growing pumpkins and watermelons—they’re always so small. We’ll figure it out. Creative problem solving is part of the adventure.Fresh garden produce is packed with flavor that you can’t get from store-bought food. We are blown away by the taste of the produce that comes from our backyard.

Monarch love the liatris.

Food the Tuppers Grow

Apples, Asparagus, Beets: purple, red, and yellow, Blueberries, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Bush beans, Butternut squash, Cabbage, Carrots: orange and purple, Cauliflower, Corn, Cucumbers, Garlic Herbs (such as chives, basil, thyme, mint),Hot peppers, Kale, Lettuces, Onions, Parsnips, Pole beans, Potatoes, , Pumpkins, Raspberries, Rhubarb, Snap peas, Strawberries, Sweet peppers, Tomatoes, Turnips, Yellow Zucchini, Watermelon.

Fresh-canned pickles while still enjoying zucchini and tomatoes.

Advice from the Tuppers

Small beginnings: “Start with what is manageable. Don’t rush the process. For us, that was a few small raised beds and purchased seedlings. From there, try a few new things each year (the challenge to learn something new is part of the fun). Think through how your planting area should be laid out, and then space things accordingly.”

Square foot gardening: “This technique is fantastic for beginners because you can start with a small space. The technique removes a lot of guesswork out of the process and allows you to pack in as many vegetables as possible while allowing room for annual crop rotation for soil rejuvenation. A good book on this technique is Square Foot Gardening. Squarefootgardening.org is also helpful.”

Favorite seed source: Seed Savers Exchange. “This is a non-profit that collects and distributes heirloom as well as open-pollinated varieties of seed to help protect the biodiversity of our food system. I trust their seeds, and we like to support an organization that provides stewardship of our land and resources.”

Companion planting: “We try to companion plant in our garden. Companion planting focuses on pairing certain plants together in the garden to improve one another’s health and yield. For example, we plant basil among our tomato plants because basil acts as a natural insect repellant for tomatoes. Compani

Potato planters with the thriving hugel mounds in the back: strawberry, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, bush beans.

on planting also guides what plants should not be planted in proximity to each other. We keep our garlic and beans away from each other because beans can stunt garlic growth. Many resources are available on companion planting. But my favorite references are the planting charts, like this one.”

Seeds to seedlings: “We’ve slowly transitioned from purchasing most of our seedlings to starting seedlings on our own. This has been quite the learning curve. The first few years that we started seedlings indoors, we were a little disappointed because they were so small and fragile. But we’ve been learning. By tweaking different combinations of light, location, and water, we are now growing sizeable seedlings thattransplant into the garden without problems. In fact, we gave away many seedlings this past season because we had so many.”