With the resurgence of people wanting to contribute to their own food cycle, urban farming is blooming!
We have really persistent and talented micro-farmers popping up in urban environments. So, what can these urban farmers really produce? Is it worth it?
Amazingly, urban farmers can produce enough foods to supplement or almost totally fill their nutritional needs. It really depends on the techniques used, the size of the planting area, and creativity.
The internet, and specifically YouTube, has let urban farmers share their failures and successes. This saves time wasted following the wrong path and helps first-time successes.
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How do I turn my land into a collective garden?
I don’t believe you could have a place small enough not to supplement your food. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment for 3 years. I didn’t have any outdoor space to grow or raise livestock. I think this was the best thing that ever happened to me because I overcame it!
While the thirst built up in me to become more self-sustainable, I searched and searched for what I could do. At the age of 18, I came across sprouting.
My mind was blown! All the years that I had eaten bean sprouts at the Chinese restaurant and I did not know I could make my own sprouts.
Sprouting is done in containers and needs a dark, moist place. This is perfect to grow on a counter or even in a cupboard. All you need is a mason jar and some “sprouting seed.” Sprouting seeds are just seeds that you would eat or grow.
You can also grow delicious mushrooms right under your bed. You could replace your meat source with mushrooms easily and you would become healthier from it!
Mushrooms are easy to grow, and after they grow, you could use that soil in a 5-gallon bucket to grow your own crop of carrots or potatoes. Now that is a step in the right direction for sustainability.
I know of people in the city that also raise bees on rooftops and even pigeons. As a child in New York, my grandmother raised chickens in the basement. Granted, she only raised a few at a time, but it was a few less than we had to buy.
The old days are gone in farming. You can produce much more food in one square foot than any industrial farmer can. You just have to be willing to do it differently. If we talk about carrots again, you can really see what is possible.
One bucket of carrots is about equal to 10 square feet grown in the soil. When you think about this it’s amazing. A few buckets on a balcony can make enough carrots to feed you all year. Potatoes and sweet potatoes can be grown the same way!
Growing vertically is the best way to increase yields. With the ability to go high, you are left with a much larger growing area. Using symbiotic relationships will also help the vertical system, one of the oldest of the three sisters (corn, beans, and squash).
The three sisters conserve space, and using a bush-type squash will also conserve the floor area. One way I love to grow is by incorporating mushrooms into the mix.
I like to grow mushrooms under my squash or cucumbers. Most mushrooms will enjoy the shade of vertical growing plants.
Types of plants to grow vertical
Many crops that grow on vines do well growing vertically. Look for vining varieties of most seeds (tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and squash, to name a few).
These seeds will usually go by the name “indeterminate” (meaning “vine”) varieties. I also always go for either hybrid or open-pollinated seeds (meaning you can save the seeds for next year’s crop).
Companion planting is just what it sounds like. planting different plants that help each other out. Again, the three sisters are a great example because the beans on the corn trellis and the leaves of the squash keep moisture in the soil for all three plants.
Some plants are not good to grow together, so do your research but don’t be afraid to experiment. These are some good examples.
- Tomatoes-Basil-Cayenne (think tomato sauce)-Marigolds
- Corn-spinach-swiss chard
Planting perennials will also increase your yields. A potted fruit tree or well-pruned fruit tree can give you more fruit per area than the full-sized version. You get so much out of small trees.
- Less shade for other plants
- You can reach and not miss fruit that would be ruined on larger trees
- Easier to manage pests
- Plant a companion plant beneath the tree
- Fit a variety of trees in a smaller area
- Healthier fruit
- More airflow
- You won’t have to replant from year to year
One of my favorite ways to manage fruit trees is by espaliering them. This is an ancient way to train trees by pruning them in a flat manner.
Most people do this against a fence or wall, but it can be done anywhere. I won’t get into the specifics of this article, but it’s one of the best ways to make the best use of space.
Save Money by Growing high-value crops
Growing high-value crops is also key when you are trying to make do. Don’t grow onions to pass up growing tomatoes. Don’t plant lettuce instead of planting spinach.
What I mean is if you have a small area and have to choose what to plant, plant the more valuable crop. Not just more monetary value but the more food value crop.
What Can I Expect From an Urban Organic Garden?
I can’t tell you exactly because it depends on how much space, environment (live in the north or south), knowledge, type of soil, type of seed, how often you pick (the more you harvest the more they produce), and probably more that I haven’t considered.
What I do know is that an Amish paste tomato plant will give me over 40 lbs. of tomatoes in 32 weeks but may give up to 80 lbs.
That plant properly pruned will take up a 1’x1’ area grown vertically in the ground. This is very efficient and leaves me room to plant vertically.
I generally grow between 5-7 lbs. of carrots in a 5-gallon bucket and can do this twice a year in the summer. These grow straight and sometimes by the time they are done growing there is almost no soil left in the bucket.
Other things that grow well in 5-gallon buckets are sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, beets, and many more plants. Putting one potato in a bucket will return you at least 5. I wish my money grew that fast! Keep them moist and change the soil out between every crop.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she studied at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. She continued her gardening education by working on organic farms in both rural and urban settings. She started UrbanOrganicYield.com to share gardening tips and tactics. She’s happy to talk about succulents and houseplants or vegetables and herbs – or just about anything in a backyard garden or hydroponics garden.