Farming in small backyards: Urban homesteading.

Farming in small backyards vs growing gardens simply for ornamental reasons, which are now as outdated as owning a Prince Albert tea set that may almost never be used. Farming in cities and towns, known as urban agriculture, is the future and possibly the planet’s saving grace.

Where to start when considering farming in small backyards?
Combine edible and ornamental plants, insect and animals and micro-climates to create a sustainable ecosystem. The outcome should be a beautifully space to harvest food and also relax in.

Edible and ornamental plants are grown side by side as companions (see ) to attract beneficial, and deter harmful pests. This really works! Your need for pest control will drop dramatically. Always plant successively so that you harvest today, next week and the week after from the same type of plant by sowing plant types 10 days apart.

Container gardens are a great consideration in regards to farming in small backyards: turn a little (possibly rented) outdoor space or window area into a small urban farm. This is an easy and cheap answer to most people.

Most importantly, the focus needs to be on polyculture (a word to describe growing many different plant types together) which will maximize yields. Combining climbing plants on a corn plant (which acts as a trellis) with pumpkins at their feet (to shade out weeds and help with water retention) is a great example. In order to do this successfully, you will need to feed your soil with compost. This is a great opportunity to stay within your own loop and use your own kitchen and garden waste to create soil food (see how to compost easily:

Animal inclusion does not come easier than keeping quails (for smaller gardens) or chickens. Quails can be kept in a mobile upside-down chicken-wire “box” that allows them to move on bare earth but be protected from predators. They can thus be constantly moved to new spaces. Make sure the size of this wire-basket is big enough to allow their bodies to take up only 10% of the entire space and the rest is for moving around. Provide water and top-up food. Chickens and quails provide free pest control, fertilizer and eggs. It’s a win-win situation.

Ornamental plants are grown to attract pollinators or feed your bee hive if you have one. Group larger numbers of flower plants and herbs together because insects need spot these plashes from far away or they will fly to your neighbour’s. Would you like to see a plant list of pollinator attracting plants? Check these out:
Alternatively, keep your own bee hive. It’s never been this easy. Check out the mason jar method:

Mason Jar Bee Hive: the diy method

Beekeeping made easy

Want to keep your own bees? It’s never been this easy.
Mason jar bee hive is an ideal consideration for small spaces. The smallest suburban backyards can be a perfect haven for honey bees to build hives.

Note: Find out from your nearest municipal office what you may do in your given location before setting off to make your mason jar bee hive. Another great idea is to contact a local beekeeping group and ask them for advice regarding the bees that occur naturally in your area. They will most likely be the best people to advise you.

For a mason jar bee hive, you will need:
a) 1 piece thick, unpainted plywood (this is where the honey jars are inserted into where the hive will exist so keep in mind the weight factor when you consider the strength and thickness of this wood);

b) 4 pieces of unpainted wood for the top frame, 2,5cm (1″) in height. The plywood should be a bit smaller than the surface area of the brood box;

  • Screw the 4 pieces of wood around/to the plywood to create a frame.

c) Place and trace around one mason jar lid at the corner of the plywood. Use a hole-cutter and cut out the circle hole inside the lid-tracing otherwise it will be too big when you want the mouth of the mason jar to fit the hole snugly;

  • Once you are happy, cut out all your circles.

d) Beehive bottom board (same size as the top frame);

e) Assemble the hive next. Set the bottom board, followed by the brood box where worker-made cells will house eggs, larvae and pupae to develop. Then place the queen excluder at the top;

  • Tip: Plastic excluders weigh much lighter. (Don’t know what an excluder is? An excluder is a barrier inside the beehive that allows worker bees through, but not a larger queen or drone to get past.)

f) 4 paint-free wooden side-panels for the hive, all of similar heights;

  • Finish construction by attaching and screwing together the wood panels and the frame to create a box-like structure with the plywood and holes on top while the bottom is open.

g) Wide-mouth, sanitized mason jars Fit the jars and ensure they all fit properly around the holes;

h) Starter strips / empty combs;

  • Finally fit the jars with starter strips or empty combs inside to lure bees inside (and keep them happy outside with these plants These starter strips and empty combs are available for sale on the internet and sellers post them to you. Let the bees do what they do best. Get bees from a farm. Like the empty combs/starter strips, you can find one near you online. Once filled with honey, you can close the jars lids for cover again.
  • Note: not all bee spesies are o.k with this type of bee hive.

The only question left is, why have you not done this before now?

Make your own Fungicide with simple ingredients

The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway. “Michael Pollan”

Make your own Fungicide to opt for a safer product that also does not harm insects, animals and birds. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Make your own fungicide and zap the uninvited fungal guest with these easy fungicide recipes with every day ingredients.

1) Bicarbonate of soda spray: Mildew and black spot
This natural fungicide is effective when used to prevent and treat a wide range of fungal diseases.
How? Mix together 1 tablespoon each of bicarbonate soda and vegetable oil, with a couple of drops of all-natural dishwashing liquid and 4 litres of water. Spray when/as needed.

2) Milk Spray: Black Spot and mildew treatment
Make your own fungicide and deal with fungal challenges due to humidity, rain or being planted very close together.
How? Mix one part full-cream (ideally organic) milk with 10 parts water and spray weekly.

3) Bicarbonate soda and vegetable oil spray: Mildew and blackspot
Another effective treatment for affected plants.
How? Mix one tablespoon of bicarbonate soda with one tablespoon of vegetable oil, two drops of all-natural liquid and 4.5 litres of water. Spray plants thoroughly as a disease preventative or as a treatment.

4) Vinegar Spray: General fungicide
An effective treatment for black spot and other fungal diseases – but take caution to only spray this solution during the cool hours of the day.
How? Mix 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (ideally organic) in 2 litres of water. Spray as treatment, when needed.

5) Compost tea: Treat early blight, black spot and fungal diseases
The microorganisms in manure compost tea treat fungal diseases very effectively and the compost tea will also feed your plants and soil with nutrient-rich goodness.
How? Fill a plastic bucket 50/50 full of compost and water. This mixture should rest for 2 weeks after which you can strain the concentration and remove solids. Fill your spray bottle with 50/50 compost tea and water, plus a table spoon of vegetable oil to spray foliage and affected plant parts. Treat any and all trees, perennials, annuals and vegetables.

Always make sure to take caution and protect your skin and eyes. Even if you make your own funngicide all natural, like these sprays, they may be too strong for sensitive areas and cause harm. Test the fungicide on a single plant first, wait for 2 days and see if it is OK to use at that strength.

Make a natural Pesticide from these easy recipes

“We must not forget that chemical warfare will sooner or later bring in its wake bacteriological warfare, pest propagation, typhus and other serious diseases.” Ferdinand Buisson

PMaking your own environment-friendly pesticide is a solution for many gardeners that want to protect ibsect and wildlife. Photo by Abigail Lynn on Unsplash

Make a natural Pesticide from these recipes with ingredients found in every kitchen:
1) . Salt Spray: Deter slugs and beetles
This may come as a surprise, but salt spray is a fantastic, and one of the best and most natural, pesticides and it will also help increase absorption of magnesium, plus vital nutrients like phosphorus and sulphur.
How? Add some salt to hot water and stir the solution well until dissolved. Let it cool and pour into a spray bottle. Spray plants lightly to moderately, repeating weekly.

2) Onion, Chili And Garlic Spray: Control aphids, caterpillars and other insects
One of my favorite sprays, this 3-in-1 spray deter many pests and can be sprayed daily if needed.
How? Make a natural pesticide by adding 1 small handful each of chopped chili, garlic and onion to a liter of boiling water. Turn the heat down and let it stand until cool. Strain once cool and use this concentration to be mixed with 50/50 water in a spray bottle.

3) Include food for Aphids predators
What? Sunflowers, mint, fennel and yarrow, dill and nasturtiums attract ladybirds, praying mantis, lacewings and hover flies. These little hero’s love sorting your aphids out for you.

4) Nasturtium, Chili and Garlic Spray: Wide range of pests
How Mix the chopped and crushed Nasturtium, chili and garlic with vegetable oil and a little bit of molasses or all-natural dishwashing liquid to use as a spray (after standing for 24 hours first).

5) Eucalyptus oil is your friend when considering to make a natural pesticide: Deters insects and bugs
The strong smell of Eucalyptus works effectively and fast.
How? Add enough drops to your spray bottle with water to have that strong Eucalyptus smell. Shake well and use regularly.

Note: Always make sure to be careful by protecting your skin and eyes qhen planning to make a natural pesticide. Also test the spray strength on a plant first, wait for 2 days and see if it is OK to use at that strength.

What are Keyhole Gardens? Pretty and practical

“…we should not confuse order with tidiness. Tidiness separates species and creates work (and may also invite pests), whereas order integrates, reducing work and discouraging insect attack.” (Bill Mollison: “Introduction to Permaculture”)

Every heard of, and wondered what are keyhole gardens? Keyhole designs are ideal for smaller food-gardens.

What are keyhole gardens good for except convenience?

These designs include a composting centre. This clever concept allows the surrounding plants to draw food from compost as it becomes available. Alternatively, the centre can be a tree, insect hotel or other feature.

Mandala is a sacred geometry pattern and in some cultures it represents the universe and the idea that life is never ending while also all-connecting. For some, this may be purely decorative but for others it illustrates a spiritual journey. Mandala gardens should ideally incorporate a keyhole design for easy movement, better usage of planting space due to less pathways and easy accessibility to all the plants.

-As with all our raised, no-dig designs, we start with marking the shape and size out with our frame-material. Recycled bricks, wood, stones or even hay bales can be used. These materials may produce wonderful habitats for insects – make sure to consider this as a good bulk of your pest control and pollination will come through insects.
-Once the shape is in place, we follow with our favorite no-dig, lasagna layering method. To create a sheet mulch bed, one must start with plastic-free cardboard. Water the area first, sprinkle some compost to attract worms, follow with cardboard. Lightly water again.
-Now layer with green mulch, then brown materials, compost and newspaper.
-Repeat this process until you have a 35cm high bed, ending with a 10cm layer of mulch such as straw, bark or wood shavings.
-Water moderately until moist but not sopping wet. Keep the area moist over the next 2 months.
***Do you know what plants are considered green or brown materials? Check out the composting materials for a comprehensive list of nitrogen and carbon examples:

It may take about 2 – 3 months for the layers to decompose and turn into a planting heaven.
This is the perfect time to plan your planting list and layouts. Honor the decorative aspect of Mandala Design and the ecological logic of Permaculture by incorporating:
1)Diversity in your keyhole garden design
Secure a stable ecosystem by planting different species together and inviting a variety of beneficial insects to help with pollination and pest-control. Bio diverse polycultures are resilient due to the number of harmonious relationships between the different species as time passes.
2)Decorative keyhole gardens
While a healthy Eco system is our first and most important priority, we’re going to simultaneously aim for a visually pleasing planting scheme. The idea is to imitate the conversation between many different species.
3)Plant Guild Placement
-Make sure to understand the characteristics and needs of your plants. Consider needs and characteristics. Create for example micro-climates where needed by planting wind-hardy half moons around fragile plants that need protection. Group heavy and light feeders together to avoid soil depletion. Place together companion plants that help protect each other from pests or offer their extras in the form of mineral exchange. Peas and grains swap nitrogen and carbon and literally thrive when planted near each other.
-‘Three Sisters’ Guild is a Native American Indian guild that inter-plants corn, squash and beans together by planting corn in the centre of a mound of soil, surrounded by beans and squash on the outer edge. The corn provides a natural trellis for the beans to climb on. Beans will improve soil fertility by fixing nitrogen and releasing it through Rhizobium bacteria in the roots. Squash plants create a green cover crop that will prevent water loss and weed competition.

Permaculture-friendly plants to keep in mind:

-Regenerating food forests are best, and so perennials are preferred over annuals.
-Natural fertilization is key and legumes will fix nitrogen in your soil for other plants. Grow beans and peas up trellises with perennials around them on ground level.
-Deeper rooted plants will bring nutrients from deeper soil levels upwards while loosening the soil at the same time.
-Fast growing plants can be used for cover crops that can be chopped and dropped for ground covering. We do this to add to soil health, shade out weeds and help retain water.

Work out a symbiotic companion plants list and place them on your paper design to cover one quarter of the circle. Imagine a pizza slice. Sun needs, wind tolerance and feeding needs should guide you. When you are happy with your composition, repeat the same design on all 4 quarters. Incorporate insect-friendly hotels, for the insects are true gardening experts whom we need more than we give credit to.

“…we should not confuse order with tidiness. Tidiness separates species and creates work (and may also invite pests), whereas order integrates, reducing work and discouraging insect attack. European gardens, often extraordinarily tidy, result in functional disorder and low yield. Creativity is seldom tidy. Perhaps we could say that tidiness is something that happens when compulsive activity replaces thoughtful creativity.” (Bill Mollison: “Introduction to Permaculture”)

Dandelion has health benefits – parts used

Photo by Natalia Luchanko on Unsplash

Dandelions was considered a weed back in the day, but we all now know Dandelion has health benefits and this little plant punches above it’s weight in nutrition and awesomeness. The leaves of this perennial store high amounts of vitamin C, beta carotene, iron and potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamin, riboflavin and fiber. Compared to many edibles Dandelion has mealth benefits that are far more nutritious than many fruits and vegetables and these little plants are super easy to grow too. As far as soil health is considered, this must be the easiest cover crop imaginable!

Dandelion has health benefits that include:
Tonic to the liver and kidneys, blood and digestion.
Treatment for blood pressure and cholesterol.

Common Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale subsp. vulgare) are wide-spread and super easy to grow, but the greens are bitter. Sweeter varieties that are also simple to grow and include the medicinal properties, include:
French Dandelion (Vert de Montmagny Dandelion, Amélioré à Coeur Plein Dandelion and Pissenlit Coeur Plein Ameliore Dandelion).
Improved Broad Leaved Dandelion (Arlington Dandelion).
Improved Thick-Leaved Dandelion (Dandelion Ameliore).

Alternatively, grow dandelions in shade and harvest early mornings to get sweeter leaves (this is true for spekboom leaves too).

Parts used:
– The leaves or whole, mature plant when it starts to flower: used to help digestion.

  • Soak greens in cold water with a little salt for a few minutes and drain before steaming 2 – 3 minutes until tender.
    – The flowers have antioxidant properties: boosts the immune system.
  • Flowers can be dried for making tea, or whole in a salad.
    – The root: powerful liver and gallbladder cleanser.
  • Dandelion root can be dried and used to make a tea but can also be eaten in its whole form.

Note: Dandelions may interfere with other medication and interacts with medicines that treat diabetes or control blood sugar levels. Always seek advice from your medical practitioner first.
Never harvest from plants that grow near a road or treated with chemicals.

Garden by the Moon – tried and tested over centuries

To garden by the moon works and has been a preferred way to plan and grow gardens, for centuries. This age-old practice of planting by the moon’s phases results in a healthier, more productive garden because the moon’s cycles affect moisture levels in plants, humans, soil and as everyone knows – the sea tides. Making the moon your gardening assistant will save you money and effort.

Water levels rise or fall depending on the phase. New Moon for example, will cause seeds to swell and burst, resulting in successful, easy germination and healthy plant growth. To garden by the moon in terms of successful propagation is an effective way to test this method.

It is best to plant certain types of plants during the waning (after full Moon) of the Moon and other types during the waxing (before full Moon) .

Follow the Moon phases 2020 guide below for how to garden by the moon:

How to garden organically: Top 10 hacks

How to garden organically is simple, easy and mostly free. Organic gardening encourage and include nature as its fertilizer, pesticide, fungicide and weed control. The tips discussed here include pantry items like honey when propagating. Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

How to garden organically is 99% logic and 1% patience. Once the garden’s true balance is restored, you will be amazed at the simple genius of the natural ecosystem design.

1) Epsom salt is first on the top 10 list. Use it to boost plant growth in general and when planting seedlings or new plants as they help with transplant shock (1 tablespoon of Epsom salt in the bottom of the hole followed with a thin layer of sand before planting as usual). Epsom salt consists of hydrated magnesium sulfate (magnesium and sulfur) which serves as a tonic booster for flower blooming and enhances a plant’s green color.
2) Keep the cooled water that was used in boiling vegetables or eggs. This water is a great nutrient-rich tea for your plants and depending on what was cooked in it, will be full of specific benefits such as a calcium left over from cooking eggs.
3) The enzymes in honey promote root growth. Dip your cuttings in honey to use it as a rooting hormone while also benefiting from its anti-fungal properties.
4) Hydrogen peroxide can help your seeds sprout, save your plants from fungal diseases and even prevent root rot (1 part hydrogen peroxide to 32 parts water in a spray bottle). It also helps grow healthy roots because of extra oxygen molecules and additionally aid the plant roots in absorbing nutrients from the soil. Make sure to use food grade hydrogen peroxide.
5) Sprinkle Cinnamon over your seedlings, plants and soil as it provides fungus and disease protection. When you make a cutting, dip the stem of almost any plant variety into cinnamon as it will stimulate root growth.
6) Keep pests like snails and slugs, ants and caterpillars away with used coffee grounds and instead attract earthworms. Bonus! This recycling idea for coffee is popular when pondering how to garden organically. An added benefit is that the plants will receive nitrogen from the grounds at the same time and microorganisms love coffee grounds, which is great for soil health.
7) Plant a hole-free terracotta pot near your plants, fill with water and close the top with its own tray. The clay lets water through slowly and as needed.
8) Use coffee filters when dealing with sandy or clay soil. Plant the filter as a container in position and fill with good soil before planting your seedling or seed. The filter will eventually decompose and provide the plant with carbon. Another great idea is to plant small boxes, paper bags or more filters near plants, filled with kitchen waste and topped with soil. These will turn into mini-compost bombs and the plant roots will go mad with joy when they grow upon them.
9) Vinegar kills young, soft-stemmed weeds and ants.
10) Use plastic-free cardboard around your fruit trees to keep weeds down long-term, sprinkle green foliage or soft-stemmed weeds over and add a layer of thick mulch to hide the lot. This combination of mulch, green waste and cardboard will decompose over time and feed your fruit trees for a long time to come.

Got any more tips we did not mention here? Leave them for us in the comment box below.

D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide – all you need to know

What is it?
A keyhole garden is a 2m-in-diameter circular garden bed with a compost tube in the middle – an absolutely brilliant method. See further down where we provide your D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide.

This concept was developed in Lesotho by the Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE), originally and specifically, for individuals that find it challenging to garden traditionally. A solution to food security. The garden has a opening in the front, so that the composting pile can be turned easily. It includes a drainage layer, a growing-soil layer, and the planting area which, together, combines in a perfect all-in-one growing space. (Taller permaculture keyhole gardens are known as banana circles.)

Why do I want one?
This raised garden is constructed for an easier gardening method due to its easy plants access. The constant compost run-off and nutrient-availability makes for thriving plants and because they hold water it is also an obvious solution for drought-stricken areas.

Want to build one? Follow these 7 steps on you D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide:
1) Build a 2m in diameter and 1m high round wall with materials such as stones, wood or bricks. In the case of using wood (and thus incorporating a bit of Hugulkultur), please keep in mind, it is less permanent than stone or brick for example.
2) Create the composting bin in the centre (30cm in diameter and 30cm taller than the outer circle) with chicken wire which can be bought at a builder’s warehouse.
3) Open the outer wall by removing a length of about 45cm materials. Build a connecting wall on each side, to tie together the open points and the central composting bin. (Tip: The shape to aim for is a round pizza with one slice removed).
4) Using plastic and chemical-free cardboard or newspaper, line out the walls and ground inside the outer walls. Follow with a layer of green (nitrogen) materials, such as leaves and soft stemmed twigs, grass clippings or chicken manure. Sprinkle a little soil over this layer. Next, add wood chips or straw, also with a little soil and moisten. Repeat the layering (including the paper layer) and end off with good potting soil and compost (deep enough for planting).
5) Build these layers to form a hill with the highest points at the compost tube so that it slopes down to the outer walls. In time, this surface will have to be topped up with a soil/compost combination as you can expect the level to drop.
6) Fill the compost bin with green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) materials. (For the easiest composting-how-to, see
7) Place your fruits and vegetables according to their sun requirements and height differences (highest at the back, medium heights in the middle and low-growing plants in front of the sun angle.

Keyhole kitchen gardens provide an ideal growing space because of its constant (compost) nutrient supply and producing nutrient-dense food. Crops can be planted in succession for all year food production and spaced intensively (when plants are planted together closely to maximize production) – but avoid tomatoes and other plants with bigger/wider root systems. Lastly and importantly, don’t restrict yourself to just one. And of course, share this D.I.Y Keyhole Garden Guide with friends- it’s a step in the right direction for many reasons! Happy gardening.

Compost step by step – boost your garden easily

Photo by Florian GIORGIO on Unsplash

What is the single most important boost you can give your garden? The answer is a compost diet that fuels plant growth and vitality to soil. Follow this recipe to compost step by step make your own nutrient-rich humus:
1) Create your pile on bare earth to allow worms and beneficial organisms to help.
2) Lay thicker sticks, twigs and straw down to aid with aeration.
3) Build layers of carbon and nitrogen materials (see YES list below).
4) Keep moist to the point that it’s not dripping but a handful can hold a shape when squeezed together.
5) Cover with wood or other sheeting to build up heat and retain moisture.
6)Turn quickly every 10 days with a shovel
7)Repeat steps 1 – 6 until the pile is a meter high. After that, start a new one.

An important step in compost step by step is to aim to have equal amounts of the following YES materials:
-Shredded cardboard, news- and other paper (gives carbon): only use non-glossy, ink-free paper (unless environment-friendly).
-Shrub prunings (gives carbon): the thicker sticks may take long to break down.
-Wood chips / pellets (gives a lot of carbon): use sparingly.
-Wood ash (gives carbon): use sparingly,only from clean materials.
-Hay or straw (gives carbon): straw is best as hay comes with seeds.
-Pine needles (gives carbon): can activate the compost pile and best used sparingly.
-Brown leaves (gives carbon): this makes a good much too.
-Corn cobs (gives carbon) slower to decompose when whole.
-Tea leaves (gives nitrogen): teabags or leaves can be used in any amount and they are great for activation of compost heaps.
-Food Scraps (fives nitrogen): follow dry carbon items with nitrogen items).
-Seaweed and kelp (gives nitrogen): great when added in thing layers.
-Green leaves, garden weeds and lawn clippings (gives nitrogen): lawn clippings should be un-clumped and thinly spread.
-Green comfrey leaves (gives nitrogen): an excellent activator for compost heaps and general food source.
-Flowers and stems (gives nitrogen): shredding up stems will speed up the process.
-Eggshells (gives calcium): best when crushed.
-Coffee grounds (gives nitrogen): an excellent garden booster, but don’t go wild.
-Chicken manure (gives nitrogen): another excellent activator.

Have none of the following NO materials:
-Sawdust should be used cautiously (sawdust is sometimes contaminated with oil and chemicals): mix properly in to avoid clumping.
-Meat, bones, or fish scraps (they attract pests): unless using a special composter designed for this purpose.
-Perennial weeds or diseased plants (they spread through seeds and infect through disease): de-weed before seed.
-Pet waste (in the case of using compost on food plants): for obvious reasons.

Compost step by step TIPS:
-Garden soil mixed in too, will help mask odors and microorganisms in the soil will accelerate the composting process.
-Activate your compost heap. use leaves wrapped in burlap and soaked in a large bucket of water. After three days, remove the “tea bag” and throw onto the compost. Pour the enriched tea onto your plants and shrubs. Comfrey leaves, grass clippings, young weeds, and well-rotted chicken manure all make excellent teas to activate.
-Avoid sogginess by maintaining a perfect nitrogen/carbon ratio.

Charles Dowding is a firm believe in the no-dig gardening method. I love him!

In short: add balance (nitrogen/carbon), add moisture, turn, repeat.