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Farming in small backyards vs growing gardens simply for ornamental reasons, which are now as outdated as owning a Prince Albert tea set that may almost never be used.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:

No dig gardening method – love it!

No-dig gardens are excellent for growing vegetables and herbs, and pretty much anything else!

Growing back the Garden of Eden with a no dig gardening method that mother nature loves!

Planting into cardboard boxes or glue-free paper bags or boxes is a great solution for no-dig gardens. The organic containers can be neaten by simply envelope the soil parcel with mulch.

When looking at the no dig gardening method, we need to observe that conventionally, farmers thought tillage help loosen compacted soil which makes it easier to plant into. At first, it will seem that tilling improves fertility in the soil – because the truth is that after tilling, the now dead soil organisms release their nutrients. After this initial nutrient boost, the soil is in fact dead.
Typically, the farmer now have to add chemical fertilizers, which further kills what is left of the original soil. This is all unnecessary to your budget and cruel to a natural system that begs to work with you. In contrast, the no dig gardening method will surprise you no end. Plants literally thrive, the garden looks happy and the results are stable.. season after season.

When leaving the soil undisturbed in the the no dig gardening method we let nature cultivate, loosen and break up the soil (and thus improves air content, nutrient and water transportation and retention. In a nutshell, you add a nice thick blanket (at least 7cm thick) of well rotted wood chips or manure, rich compost or leaf mold, old straw, and other organic matter, to the soil’s surface. This will encourage microbe, worm and insect action which results in soil crumbs glued together by their excrement. This is gold for a grower as it is a much easier system, due to having proven to have less pests and diseases. Therefor it is also budget-friendly. The no dig gardening method is a win-win situation. All that is needed, is to keep topping up every other season or as needed.

The soil is a very complex ecosystem, teeming with a rich diverse life and this ecosystem is killed through tilling because ultraviolet rays of the sun sterilizes the soil. We know this soil ecosystem improves and creates soil naturally – and also a very important (and free) relationship with the plants – which is what modern mono farmers aim to do through synthetic fertilizers at great cost.

Plants need soil bacteria, and trees need soil fungi. This beneficial relationship includes access and cycling of nutrients, movement of water and air through improved soil structures and healthier crops. All you have to do is copy the system of a forest. Don’t touch the soil, add organic matter such as fa fallen leaves, wood chips or green manure and wait for decomposition to kick in with the help of earthworms (nature’s diggers), bacteria, fungi and insects. Finally you are left with rich humus that will act like a water retaining sponge and thriving plants. Easy and free.

Fun facts: 1 table spoon of soil = 50 billion microbes. Human population = 7 billion.
Soil fungi will be found in the top 15cm layer of the soil. It literally forms a communicating skin layer for Mother Nature.
Below is Morag Gamble’s explanation on how to create a no-dig garden.

Please send us your pictures, challenges and success stories so that we can all learn together!