Takeaway: Unbelievable many small urban gardeners are produces food more efficiently than million-dollar industrial farms. These urban farmers use creative growing techniques that give new meaning to efficiency!
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, size of planting area, and creativity. The internet and specifically YouTube has let urban farmers share on the failures and successes. This saves on time wasted following the wrong path and helps in first time successes.
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!
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 need 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 seed is 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 sustainability direction.
I know of people in the city that also raise bees on roof tops 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 vertical is the best way to increase yields. With the ability to go high you are left with much more growing area. Using symbiotic relationships will also help the vertical system. One of the oldest is the 3 sisters (corn, beans, and squash). The 3 sister’s conserves on space and using a bush type squash will also conserve on the floor area. One way I love to grow, is to implement 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 vine do well growing vertical. Look for vining varieties of most seeds (tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, to name a few). These seeds will usually go by the name indeterminate (meaning vining) varieties. I also always go for either Hybrid or Open Pollinated (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 3 sisters is a great example because the beans trellis on the corn and the leaves of the squash keep moisture in the soil for all 3 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.
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.
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 can be done anywhere. I won’t get into the specifics on this article but is one of the best ways to make 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
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.
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Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.