Hey, urbanites – do you grow your own food? As cities move into this century where the international basis of our food becomes less certain, people are working to relocalize our food sources. Peak oil? Reducing your carbon footprint? Sustainable food? With saving seeds and growing in urban and community gardens, no problem, right? Well, for many the reality is a lot more challenging. Yes, it is possible to grow food in a community garden, and it is possible to grow food on a deck. But the reality is that for most of the urban population, this is a small supplement to grocery store food. How can we shift from dabbling to urban and suburban food production that can make a significant contribution to our daily meals?
Like any up and coming urban activity, there are the early adopters, the superstars of urban farming. These superstars grow bushels of produce on a corner of an urban lot, or help feed the neighborhood with their abundant produce. While it takes over an acre of land to feed the average American, many people do well with much less, a fraction of an acre. These produce-growing stars include Jim Kovaleski in New Port Richey, who has covered his back and front yards (and sides too) with produce. He sells the greens he produces in his suburban yard. While the rest of us grow a few heads of drooping lettuce, how do these urban and suburban superstars do it?
You don’t need to tell an urbanite that space is at a premium in a small urban garden. This is where space-saving gardening comes in. The food forest idea comes from a permaculture background and focuses on developing a self-sustaining garden that integrates vertical layers, like fruit trees with greens growing underneath and kiwi fruit growing up the tree. Square foot gardening is an intensive rotation system that encourages people to grow just what they need, with the right quantity of plants in a single square. Trellising of larger plants like zucchini is also a feature of the square foot garden. When you’re gardening in an urban setting, viewing every space as a potential growing space is one of the keys to high yields and sustainable yields.
Intensive cultivation requires a strong garden ecology, especially if you want to sustain this cultivation for a long period of time. Encourage bees, butterflies, birds and all sorts of bugs to come and visit the garden. Beneficial, pollinating and predator insects are important to the health of a garden. So is the garden soil. Amending the soil with kelp, compost, and other natural products will help keep it growing. Soil is the basis of the food that sustains us, and without healthy soil our gardens do not thrive.
Experimentation is also key to a sustainable urban farm. When you plant, do it in the right places and experiment to find out where those places might be. If lettuce fails in one location, pull it and begin again in another location. Instead of forcing a plant to be happy with artificial fertilizers and pesticides, allow each plant to find its niche and thrive there. Gardening will be much, much easier.
Have you gotten high yields of produce from an urban or suburban farm? How have you done it?