What is urban farming? A solution!

What is urban farming and its benefits? Growing enough food in the garden for one, or many families, to survive on. Urban agriculture saved Cuba from going under, and it can save the world from looming food challenges.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, Cuba lost its main food provider and were thrown in the deep end. This was the time of dig-deep and stand together.

Their plan of action however proved successful and the world can now benefit from their lessons learned. Cuba looked at available land and started growing food as fast as possible. Rice, citrus, tomatoes and greens, potatoes and bananas are the crops they focused on (which replaced the once all important sugar cane mono crop).

What is urban farming in terms of effort and planning? We have outlined the basic how-to’s of urban gardening here https://gardeningeden.net/2019/11/26/farming-urban-backyard-homestead/ with very easy to follow guidelines and how to create your own successful allotment.

Due to a lack of synthetic control measures, Cuba had to (fortunately) resort to biological control including compost (https://gardeningeden.net/2019/11/06/diy-compost-easily), companion planting (https://gardeningeden.net/2019/10/28/companion-planting/) and attracting beneficial insects (https://gardeningeden.net/2019/10/30/bee-gardening/).

About 5 years after their food imports came to a halt, Havana itself had 25,000 family-and urban cooperative tended vegetable allotments.

Thanks to constant soil improvement (see these easy tips on improving soil health: https://gardeningeden.net/category/soilhealth/) and regenerative and permacultural gardening (https://gardeningeden.net/2019/11/04/permaculture-abundance/) methods, these allotments soon produced food all year round. Single crop (mono culture) spaces such as sugarcane farms, largely came to an end, to make way for organic food-producing land.

We need to remember that all climates differ and growing according your climate can easily be summarized as follows:
-Grow most leafy (salad) greens and vegetables during a warm summer when sunshine is available.

-Fruit (shrubs, creepers and trees) are best planted in the early spring in a moderate climate. 

-Root vegetables such as beetroot can be planted at the end of summer for maturing during autumn/fall.

-High-yielding winter grains like rye is best grown in cold, wet climates. Corn and rice for example are better suited to warm, moderate climates.

“For other countries vulnerable to sudden loss of food supplies, Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine when imports are restricted, expensive or simply unobtainable.” By Climate News Network, 13 Nov. 2019.

This wonderful video should be titled: what Cuba can teach the world about organic farming

Why Mycorrhizae is Important to plant and soil health

The internet of plants, also known as mycorrhizal fungi

Why Mycorrhizae is Important: the fungi exist in undisturbed soil and plants thrive because nutrients will be shared and distributed equally.

Mycorrhizae (meaning “fungus root” in Greek) should be on your best friends’ list. Why you ask? Micorrhizae are the most successful partnerships of all time. This beneficial fungi are expert miners for water and nutrients, with a focus on phosphorus. At first the miccorhizal fungi spores germinate in the soil and make their way to colonize the nearest plant roots. This is the start of a life-long symbiotic relationship between plant and fungi, called “mycorrhiza”. The fungi connects many vegetables and shrubs, flowers and trees with each other – many 100 times the original root space due to the hyphae that spreads and develops a network of filaments (fine and intricately branched hyphae threads).

In the soil food web, the underground ecosystem is made up of insects, worms, algae and bacteria, microscopic creatures and fungi. Saprophytic fungi decomposes woody material, and mycorrhizal transports food in the soil.

Every plant that serves as host to this fungi, benefits through the receiving of the water, nutrients and phosphorus and then gratefully gives thanks with much-needed glucose to the fungus. After photosynthesis, extra sugars are traded by the plants for protection and food. Fungus can spread much wider and further than root systems – giving trees and plants access to soil food outside of their reach. A win-win situation. Being part of an extended feeding community makes mycorrhizae-connected plants visibly healthier.

The list of benefits and why Mycorrhizae is important to your plants, include:

  • Nutrients are delivered on the plant’s demand and need.
  • The fungi reproduce by means of spores, with or without the presence of a host.
  • Production of more vigorous and healthy plants.
  • Resulting in higher yields and improved crop production.
  • Improved flowering and fruiting.
  • Establishing after transplanting seedlings are more successful.
  • They have a much higher tolerance for soil salinity and need less irrigation and feeding.
  • Soil structure improvement and elimination of erosion.
  • Stronger and much healthier root formation plus fewer soil pest issues.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi respond to inequality of resources by moving phosphorus from richer to poorer areas across networks.
  • Reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions (greenhouse gas).
  • Possible reduction of heavy metal impact in host plants.
  • Increased resistance to soil-borne pathogens (bacterial or fungal).

Micorrhizae thrives in undisturbed soil that is rich in organic matter. Use no-dig gardening methods (https://gardeningeden.net/2019/10/02/the-no-dig-gardening/) and cover your soil with compost and other natural materials such as wood chips that will eventually break down to further feed the soil. Do not work the compost or material into the soil – just leave it on top as a blanket.

While it is possible to buy and use Mycorrhizal fungi inoculants, it may be of a combination of fungi that does not suit your plant needs. Endomycorrhizal fungi (aka arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi) for example is associate with about 90% of plant species, including vegetables, grasses and many ornamental plants. Ectomycorrhizal fungi however is only associated with about 5% of plants, but are very important for conifers, beech, oak, willows and other deciduous trees. You can either mix the powder into the root balls (or seeds) before planting, or adding it to the watering can before irrigation.
The ideal is however to let your green space recover to its natural health balance, which it will if you let it. If you do opt for this method, make sure to test your soil for available phosphorous for example.

Ever wondered why Mycorrhizae is important and beneficial to plants?

Remember the No-No’s:
Tilling and hoeing will make it impossible for the fungus to settle and thrive. Even annual tiling.
Synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, weed-killing plastic solarization and of course fungicides will destroy your precious micorrhizae. Monocultures, specifically cabbage family members slows down the successful spread.

Note: Mycorrhizal fungi may start of as a friend but end up taking over and turning parasitic due to poor light conditions for example where photosynthesis can not happen fast enough or where soil that is chemically fertilised .

Rosemary benefits and uses and requirements

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember”
William Shakespeare

Want to increase your memory by 75%? A series of tests have shown this is possible by smelling the essential oil of rosemary daily. Memory improvement is at the top of the list when we discuss Rosemary benefits and uses.
Mental alertness and long-term memory is boosted by sniffing this herb and it is also nowadays used for migraines and digestive issues. The memory benefits have been mentioned as far back as in Hamlet when Ophelia declares: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance: pray, love, remember”.

Rosemary contains an ingredient called carnosic acid, which can fight off damage by free radicals in the brain and 1,8-cineole a compound that has been linked to memory function. ***Please note: Pregnant women and users of chronic medication should always check with their health practitioners before taking any supplements or natural treatments and epilepsy sufferers should take caution with camphor dosages.

Rosemary benefits and uses include: good sources of iron, calcium, vitamin B-6 and is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which are thought to help boost the immune system and improve blood circulation, alleviate muscle pain, improve memory as mentioned and even promote hair growth.

Growing requirements:
Well-draining, sandy soil and a sunny spot outside, or a brightly lit indoors space, is ideal for this perennial evergreen. Terracotta pots are perfect as it let excess water out and Rosemary’s do prefer drier conditions above constantly moist roots. Your rosemary plant prefers you to always let the soil dry out in-between thorough watering. Wind or drafts are not loved. Trimming the tips regularly (for cooking or finger-crushing for sniffing) will cause your plant to grow bushier. Always cut above a leaf node and never take more than a 1/3 of the stem.
Propagation through cuttings are easier than most plants. Soft stem cuttings, of about 10cm, that are placed to stand in water, will have roots within 2 weeks.

Air purifying indoor plants: the top 18 list

For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth. (Sanskrit proverb)

Air purifying indoor plants are more than just pretty faces. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)

Add these plants to your next Garden Centre shopping list:

Spider plant (Chlorophytum elatum) – removes Formaldehyde, Xylene . Requirements: adequate light and draining. Transplant baby plants.
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’) – removes Benzene, Carbon Monoxide, Formaldehyde, Trichloroethylene, Xylene . Requirements: Moist, well-draining soil and good light.
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde. Requirements: Low light and humidity (or mist sprays on the leaves).
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene. Requirements: Moist, but well-drained soil. Good light.
Variegated snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene. Requirements: Care should be taken with watering. Less is more. Don’t water more than once a month during winter, and only every 2 weeks during summer. * This is one of the very best air purifying indoor plants for bedrooms as it also produces a lot of oxygen during the night.
Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron cordatum) – removes Formaldehyde. Requirements: Humidity.
Selloum philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum) – removes Formaldehyde. Requirements: Bright, but indirect light.
Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum) – removes Formaldehyde. Requirements: Good light and moist growing conditions with well-draining soil and allowing the soil to dry out between watering sessions.
Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene. Provide enough growing room and light.
Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene. Requirements: Very soft, indirect light and less water than the average house plant.
Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) – removes Formaldehyde, Benzene, Trichloroethylene. Requirements: Provide enough light minus draft or direct sunlight and regular well-draining watering.
Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene. Requirements: Plenty of natural light and keep the soil moist but well-drained.
Florist’s chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene, Amonia. Requirements: Good light and air-flow, water drainage and moist soil.
Aloe vera (Aloe vera) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde. Requirements: Do not over water and place plant in a sunny spot.

Air purifying indoor plants like the Aloe Vera has additional topical health benefits.

Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig”) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene. Requirements: Moderately moist soil, very good drainage and soil that does not receive more than an annual application of fertilizer.
Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis “Warneckei”) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene. Requirements: Moist but well-draining soil. Never over-water.
Banana (Musa oriana) – removes Formaldehyde
(Depending on where you live, some of these plants may not readily available as they are listed as invader species in non-indigenous terms). Requirements: Bright light, rich and moist soil.

English ivy (Hedera helix) – removes Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene. Requirements: Generous watering and a sunny spot.

Pineapple Plants – as revealed by NASA, do not remove toxins from the air, but due to their night-time oxygen production and improvement to air quality, these plants can actually put an end to snoring. Requirements: Very little water and mild to warm temperatures.

Air purifying indoor plants remove what toxins and why?

Removes what? Trichloroethylene from paint, varnish, lacquers and printing inks, glue and paint removers.
Why: Symptoms include headaches and nausea or vomiting followed by drowsiness and in extreme cases coma.

Removes what? Formaldehyde from waxed paper, tissues or paper towels, paper bags, plywood and synthetic fabrics.
Why? Symptoms include nose, mouth and throat irritation, and in severe cases, possible swelling of the larynx and lungs.

Removes what? Benzene from plastics and cleaning products, wax, resins and glue, lubricants, tobacco smoke and drugs.
Why? Symptoms include irritation to eyes, sleepiness or dizziness, confusion, headache, increase in heart rate, and in some severe cases, unconsciousness.

Removes what? Xylene from tobacco smoke, vehicle exhaust pollution, rubber and leather.
Why? Symptoms include irritation to mouth and throat, headaches and confusion, heart challenges, liver and kidney damage or even coma.

Removes what? Ammonia from floor waxes, window cleaners and fertilizers.
Why? Symptoms include: eye and throat irritation and coughing.

Health benefits of turnips and how to grow them

Food should be the medicine, and medicine the food.

Turnip greens are the easiest self-grow super food.

Health benefits of turnips and how to grow them can be summed up as a super food that is super easy to grow. Growing requirements: wait for the last frost to pass and sow seeds 1cm deep in well-draining soil with ideally full sun but tolerant of semi-shade. Harvest the super healthy and nutritious greens as soon as 3 weeks, but take care not to remove all the leaves off one plant. (Roots are harvested after 1,5 months.) The video below shows everything you need to know.

What makes turnip greens a super food?

The ANDI Index (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index which measures mineral, vitamin and phyto-nutrient density in relation to caloric content) rates health benefits of turnips greens among the top foods that earn a possible score of a 1000 points.

A 55-gram cup of raw leaves contains:

-33 mg of vitamin C (a cup of raw leaves provides more than a third of the daily recommended amount)
-105 micrograms (mcg) of folate (this is a very high level)
-318 mcg of vitamin A (a cup of the leaves provides more than a third of the daily recommended amount)
-138 mcg of vitamin K (a cupful of raw turnip greens provides more than one day’s recommended amount)

To boost skin, eyes and hair. Typically the vitamin A and C content is brilliant for your skin and eye health and iron is all important for hair growth and preventing hair loss. Eyes (glaucoma treatment), skin (lessening sun-damage), multiple sclerosis, and migraines are among the benefits topics.

Brain protection is an added health benefits of turnips and it may also protect brain tissue in stroke survivors and dementia cases.

Digestive issues and constipation is prevented and treated due to the high fiber / water content.

Fertility is improved in women wishing to fall pregnant when consuming iron-rich foods such as turnip greens, spinach and green beans. Turnip greens are high in folic acid which is also very important for fertility and pregnancy health.

Energy is regulated by iron and a cup of daily leafs will provide your body with a boost.

Mood and sleep patterns is improved by Choline. This nutrient in turnip greens benefits memory, muscle movement and sleep. Also high in folates, a diet rich in turnip greens, will help with depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine which blocks the feel-good hormones from reaching the brain.

Diabetes diets will all benefit from turnips. Turnip greens should be present in diabetes menus due to their extremely high vitamins, minerals and 5g fiber / cup content (daily fiber recommendation for women is 21 – 25g and for men 30 – 38g). Intake of the present alpha-lipoic adic, a powerful antioxidant that lowers glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity, while also protecting against oxidation stress-changes further makes this a diabetes-friendly option.

Health benefits of turnips in osteoporosis and oxygenating treatments. This leafy green is extremely high in dietary nitrate which helps pump oxygen to muscles during exercise. Bone health is boosted because of the exceptionally high calcium content and turnip greens also provide great amounts of vitamin A, phosphorus, and magnesium for further promotion of bone health, and these too are present in turnip greens.

Studies suggest that consumers of turnip greens and other similar plant foods lower their risk of obesity and diabetes, cancer and heart disease, eye diseases, dementia and osteoporosis.

Please note: Cardiovascular-caution individuals should check with their physician about high-nitrate diets. Users of Warfarin or other blood-thinners, should not suddenly eat greater or smaller amounts of foods containing vitamin K as it affects your body’s blood clotting capabilities and thus the drug’s action. Additionally, keep in mind that a cup of greens are quite high in sodium, so adding salt should be avoided. Lastly, make sure to store nitrate-rich vegetable juices such as turnip leaf juice, properly in order to avoid accumulated bacteria due to nitrate converting to the harmful version of nitrite.

Grow potatoes in containers to save space

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. – African proverb

Don’t have enough space for potato growing? You’re probably right. Unless you grow potatoes in containers. I have learned from a bunch of great gardeners about their tried and tested methods to growing potatoes and sweet potatoes above soil. These clever ideas all revolved around containers made from either firm materials such as wood or also other surprising materials such as feeder bags. All surprisingly do-able, smart ideas aimed for growing potatoes with least effort and best yield. Note: these “containers” are mostly recycled, cheap or free.

My favorite grow potatoes in containers examples are:

A wooden box container made from 4 x small doors: When all the doors are locked together, they form a square planter. The planter can either have a bottom or be open to drain into the soil it stands on.

  • Pro’s: If made from a hard wood, or wood that is for example scorch-treated, this container will last forever. You can move it around and harvesting is made easy by unlocking the doors when the time is right.
  • Cons: to grow potatoes in cobtainers this way, can be a pricey process, especially if you build them big enough to carry a descent amount of spuds.
  • How To: Fill a third high and plant. Keep filling to hill as the potatoes grow. Once the potato stems have browned, open the doors and let the potatoes roll out.

Did you know? The scorching method has been used for centuries in Japan and is known as shou sugi ban. The fire-charring method on the wood surface is followed by a coating of natural oil which effectively preserves the wood as it is also followed with a coating of natural oil.  

Rolled hessian or feeder bags: Allowing you to always at the right height.

  • Pro’s: The depth can easily be adjusted by simply unrolling the sides. These bags can be used as a recycling alternative and will most likely be free. Watch out for over-watering though!
  • Con’s: Finding a descent hessian bag may not be as easy as plastic options and nobody wants to grow in plastic. Fabric bags may not last longer than a season.
  • How To: Roll the bag low so that your first planting depth is correct. Unroll and fill with soil as you need to hill around the ever-taller plants. At harvesting time, simply empty the bag out.

Wire fencing loop containers: Double loops of recycled wire fencing works a charm and any size is achievable.

  • Pro’s: Finding damaged fencing is easy and usually free, making this a fantastic recycling option. The material is light and easy to work with allowing an easy set-up and harvesting. The material can also be used again and again.
  • Con’s: If you are using damaged wired fencing, make sure there’s no rust or sharp points.
  • How To: Double loop the fence into a barrel and secure. Fill to the right starter height and add soil as the plant grows. Once at brown stem, harvest-stage, un-fasten the fence and let it roll open to release the soil and spuds.

Stacked tire towers: A re-using idea well known by any and all that has ever likes recycling tires in the garden. It is another easy-to-dismantle idea to grow potatoes in containers.

  • Pro’s: Used tires are available to any and all, mostly always free of charge. The material itself helps retain water very well and will last probably forever.
  • Con’s: Is the material used in making a tire safe for eating? Although nobody suggest you eat the tire itself (smirk), the rubber/tire particles can leech into the soil. An alternative to planting straight into the tires, is to line them out with un-printed and plastic-free cardboard, followed by the soil so that there is no direct contact between tire and soil. Don’t let the soil get too wet.
  • How To: Lay tire 1 down, fill with soil and plant. Once the plant needs to be supported, stack the second tire on top and fill with soil to hill around the plant. A final, 3rd, tire will be needed for height. When the harvesting time comes, these tires can simply be removed.

Buried under a mount of old wood chips is a method used by some successfully, although it is not planted a container.

  • Pro’s: This is the lowest-effort option of all and your soil is fed while the wood chips break down.
  • Con’s: wood chips can lack in nutrients and rob your soil and plants of nitrogen while it breaks down. Make sure to read and understand the How To below.
  • How to: Never use new but at least 1 year old wood chips. Grow a legume, such as peas or peanuts, nearby to provide further nitrogen. Lay your potatoes or sweet potatoes on the ground and dump a mound of wood chips over these. As the stalks grow through the chips, keep adding more wood in order to ‘hill’.

My favorite option for sweet potatoes is a wired fencing loop that can act as container and also trellis for the edible greens that we harvest. For potatoes, I will probably daydream about becoming a good bag lady (hessian or other cotton) .


Growing Vegetables in Shade – a list of shady plants

Did you know? Green leafy veg that is grown in shade, is less bitter.

Does your garden site receive as few as two hours of direct sunlight a day or only get dappled sunlight? Growing vegetables in shade is possible! – but make sure you select plants that will tolerate and grow in these conditions. You can not force or convince a fruit bearing vegetable like tomatoes, to thrive in shade.

Partially shaded: A garden that has light shade or dappled shade all day, or gardens that receive 2 – 6 hours of direct sun per day, either in the morning or the afternoon with light or full shade otherwise.

Lightly shaded gardens receive a few hours of sun plus plenty of indirect or reflected light for many hours each day.

Deep shade refers to almost no sunlight at all. Only root crops will tolerate these growing conditions.

Growing vegetables in shade will be successful with these vegetables that will grow in partial shade:

  • Beets (will tolerate a lot of shade)
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots (will tolerate a lot of shade)
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chinese Cabbage
  • Endive Greens
  • Garlic
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Leeks
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Potatoes (will tolerate a lot of shade)
  • Radishes
  • Sorrel
  • Spinach
  • Summer Squash
  • Turnips
  • Watercress

Examples of herbs that will grow in partial shade include:

  • Angelica
  • Basil
  • Catnip
  • Chives
  • Garden Cress
  • Horseradish
  • Lemon Balm
  • Loveage
  • Mint
  • Parlsey
  • Rosemary
  • Sweet Flag
  • Valerian
  • Woodruff

Keep in mind:

  • Growing vegetables in shade means maturing will take longer.
  • Planting near walls will reflect more light on your plants.
  • Planting in containers will allow you to move your plants around as needs arise.
  • Yields will be smaller when griwing vegetables in shade.
  • Seed germination will be more successful if done indoors.
Just over 4 minutes of great advice!