Family’s yard houses chickens, bees, veggies, more
Chris Frink and Emily Taylor live in Goodwood Heights in a ’50s-style brick house on a 1.75-acre lot they call Urban Insanity Farm.
They have two daughters, five dogs, a large chicken coop with 14 hens, four bee hives, 17 citrus trees, nine raised beds filled with vegetables, a selection of native plants, several large trees and an expansive lawn.
It actually wasn’t what they were looking for when they purchased the property in 1997.
“We were living in the Garden District in an 1,100-square-foot house,” said Taylor, a practicing veterinarian. “When the second child came along, we decided we needed more room for children and dogs.”
Taylor did a little gardening on their tiny lot in the Garden District. “My idea was mowing the lawn just before dark on Sunday,” Frink said. “I had no interest in that kind of stuff at all.” He is executive director of the Louisiana House Democratic Caucus.
The couple were certain that what they wanted was another wood frame house with a big front porch. “The last thing we wanted was a brick house on a slab,” Taylor said.
They looked at so many houses that their real estate agent “gave up on us,” she said. “She said to take the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) book and figure it out ourselves.”
After seeing a picture of a house advertised as “country living in the city,” Taylor decided to take a look for herself. She laughed out loud when she saw the mid-century modern brick house. It was exactly what they didn’t want.
A neighbor saw her looking at the house and offered to show her the backyard. “She opened the gate, and it was just breathtaking,” Taylor said.
The lot was large. “It was like a park,” Taylor said. “It had some landscaping close to the house. The rest they kept mowed.”
At the time the couple purchased the home, Taylor was interested in native plants. Her idea was to have a natural preserve on the property. “We spent hundreds of dollars buying all kinds of native azaleas that promptly died,” she said.
Then, in 2008, the economy took a nosedive. “We decided we had to grow stuff we could eat,” Taylor said.
Frink began studying vegetable gardening. “I decided that if I was going to dig a hole, it better produce something that we can either eat or sell,” he said.
Using a chain saw, Frink removed a 70-foot water oak, almost killing one of the family dogs in the process. Hurricane Gustav took out some trees. This opened up a once-shady corner of the backyard.
Frink made some raised beds and brought in garden soil. “I worshipped at the altar of Louis Miller and learned about raised gardens,” he said.
He planted a couple of satsuma trees that did so well that he put in 10 more citrus trees. On the recommendation of Taylor’s folks in Houston, they planted fig trees that are loaded with fruit. Last year’s satsuma crop was so plentiful that Frink ended up selling 500 pounds from his office at the State Capitol.
The next big project was raising chickens. Frink researched the subject on the Internet and then built a large chicken coop that he stocked with hens. Nesting boxes are located on the outside, so Frink and Taylor can get to the six or so eggs the hens lay daily without having to go into the coop. The chicken litter is composted for fertilizer.
Several years ago, Elizabeth Holloway, of Bocage Bee & Honey Co., encouraged Taylor and Frink to try their hand at beekeeping. They started going to the Capital Area Beekeepers’ Association and now have four hives. “We are hoping for 10 gallons of honey this year,” Frink said. “We eat a lot of it, give some away as gifts and plan to sell the rest.”
After the garden took up a good part of the backyard, it spread to the front. “There was one patch of dirt that used to have grass on it,” Frink said. “One winter, we decided to put cabbages and cauliflower out there.”
In the summer, they use that spot for watermelons that occasionally disappear. “We watch them getting bigger and bigger, and when they get big and ripe, they sometimes grow legs and walk off,” Frink said with a smile.
Frink spends at least 20 hours a week working in the yard during planting season. Other times of the year, he averages about 10 hours a week. He generally goes out early in the morning to water and fertilize. He uses lots of compost and makes his own fish emulsion for fertilizer. “We’re organic but not zealously organic,” he said.
Even though they have moved away from their idea of the natural preserve, the experiment with native plants was not a total failure, since Taylor and Frink did let a part of the yard “revert to wild.”
The couple met at the University of Texas in Austin. They moved to Baton Rouge in the late 1980s for Taylor to attend the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. “Our original plan was to move east or west when she finished,” he said.
Almost a quarter of a century later, they are still here. “We have grown to love the house,” Taylor said.
“Now we literally have deep roots,” Frink said. “When you start planting trees, you really attach yourself.”