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Urban Farming: getting the most from small space?

                            


Joined: Apr 24, 2009
Posts: 34
Location: West Seattle, WA
Okay… you asked for it!  I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity to ask questions!!  WOOHOO!!  And I do like to ask questions…

We have been doing some urban farming of our own here in West Seattle.  The past two years, we have produced a HUGE amount of food from the back yard (?) of our townhouse.  We used what plantable space we had then enhanced that with pots, hanging baskets, etc…  The result, as I said, has been a great deal of food.

This year, we have branched out and have expanded our Urban Farming Project to the yards and vacant areas of neighbor's properties who have volunteered them up in exchange for some fresh food.  Sharecropping, if you will.  One of the properties is a quarter acre garden/farm that sat dormant for several years and we worked with a team of community neighbors to clean up and rework the soil.  This year, we are doing a big planting with hopes of crop production.

*whew*  Sorry for all the background info but I feel it is necessary for the questions I will ask in this and subsequent posts.

Starting with the very smallest of spaces, the back patios and window sills in our neighborhood, what are some best practices that can/should be employed even on such a small scale?  Basically, where would one start with a small space that, often, doesn't even include soil to plant in other than a pot or a bunch of pots on a patio or windowsill?

Thanks for taking the time to respond to this forum.  This really is a great opportunity to ask question (almost) directly from one of the permaculture greats.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15264
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
About 15 years ago I read a really great book on this topic.  The author(s) were in san francisco.  A tiny plot of land.  Sun was very precious.  And they were bitten by the gardening bug ....    So they had not just window planters, but shelves of planters all over their south wall.  And they then made a network of wooden .... "platforms" all over their ROOF!  They had hundreds of containers loaded with all sorts of plants everywhere.

And, at about the same time I was reading that book, I visited a home in Missoula, Montana where a person had gone crazy with containers to cover nearly every spec of their limited property.  And the south wall of their house was covered with a network of pots - with the dribbles from the bottom of one pot dribbling into the next pot!

AND .... at the workshops a few weeks ago with sepp holzer, "Team Sepp" set up what Sepp refers to as a "felt sausage", where you roll up some landscape fabric, fill it with soil and poke holes in it for your growies.  This is what he recommends for urban stuff.

The first pic here is of Sepp's son Josef.  There is a lot more set up here to demonstrate more than just the sausage - but I think you get the idea.

The second pic shows holes and plants.



[Thumbnail for felt_sausage_1.jpg]

[Thumbnail for felt_sausage_2.jpg]


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Joined: Apr 24, 2009
Posts: 34
Location: West Seattle, WA
I like this idea of rolling the fabric.  Like a big ol' urban farming burrito!  LOL  I'm thinking a GREAT place for potatoes in limited spaces.  We have built Potato Condos in the past and this might be a fun alternative.

One question about the fabric: quite often, bags of soil get a bit moldy in the inside if they don't have enough aeration in them.  How was this dealt with in this design?
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15264
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Mold in soil is a good thing.  That's one of the ways organic matter breaks down.

I suspect that there would be near zero on the outside of this thing.

As for aeration:  if you start with a fair amount of organic matter, it will decompose over time and thus leave more air spaces.  Thus - self aerating!





Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Taking hydroponics to the max is AQUAPONICS.  You have a tub with fish and a grow bed with vegetables.  The fish-poop water is pumped up to the grow bed(s), it feeds the vegetables, the vegetables filter the poopy water, and the clean water is returned to the fish.

For the best explanations, photos of the set-ups, information and forums, go to Joel Malcomb's fantastic site at Backyard Aquaponics at http://www.backyardaquaponics.com. ; He's in Australia, but he's 'roight'!  And he's getting someone set up in the U.S.

Sue
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15264
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
(if you start a new thread on aquaponics, I have some interesting stuff to add that doesn't fit under "urban"

Jeff Mathias


Joined: Feb 19, 2009
Posts: 121
Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
    
    1
I like this idea a lot, though it occurs to me that it would dry out rather fast in triple digit summers. I assume the blue tote is for water; how does that work? Via a wick system or just dump some water in and it slowly releases into the soil via a slow drip?

However for early starting or fall/winter production or the right micro climate this makes a lot of sense for a backyard neighborhood garden or even an apartment with limited space. I think it would be useful for rooting out cuttings also.



"Study books and observe nature. When the two don't agree, throw out the books" -William A Albrecht
"You cannot reason a man out of a position he has not reasoned himself into." - Benjamin Franklin
                            


Joined: Apr 24, 2009
Posts: 34
Location: West Seattle, WA
So, specifically regarding best practices in permaculture, what are some pointers that could be given to beginning gardeners with little or no space.  How do they best work their space while employing permaculture best practices?
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
i can't remember which of my hundreds of gardening books i read things in but the do get stuck in my mind.

one lady, every single day of her urban life..took a flat shovel and a wheelborrow or cart of somekind..bucket would do..and she would go out to the street and gather the "soil" that would wash out of people's driveways and yards after the rain ..and take it home to her property..she built up beautiful gardens..

now you might not go so far..but always  be on the lookout for free soil, free soil additives..pine needles, leaves, compost..etc..

some people also use soiless mixtures in the bottoms of their pots..such as leaves..

haveing never been really urban..i can't be of much help on Seattle urban..i grew up 2 blocks from center of down town, but we had about a 5 acre garden between my family, and 2 grandparents that lived behind us and about 20 plus acres of creek and woods..

gather..always gather..


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
Dave Boehnlein


Joined: Jun 10, 2007
Posts: 291
Location: Orcas Island, WA
    
    2
Lazylocavores,

Good question. Everyone living in an urban area has a different situation regarding available space in which to garden, so there are no hard, fast rules. People also have different situations regarding how much time/attention they can give to a garden. However, when I think about growing in limited space a few different ideas come to mind:

-Container gardening - There are a ton of books out there on container gardening. If people have room for a container (anywhere from a window box to a half barrel) they can grow something. Containers often dry out faster than gardens planted in the ground, so this can be an issue for folks who work long hours. In that case either a small drip irrigation system with a timer or choosing to grow drought tolerant plants are both good ideas. In fact, I like to use containers for a lot of Mediterranean herbs that are fairly drought tolerant (rosemary, sage, oregano, etc.). This keeps them close to the kitchen when I need them and they are a bit more forgiving when you work late and can't water them as often. Container gardening and indoor worm composting can make a great combo in terms of a fertility regime.

-Community gardening - Many places (including West Seattle) have community gardens where enthusiastic gardeners can get a plot. These programs are wonderful and they provide space for people to make a lot of food. It is important to make sure your community garden plot is close enough to your home to receive proper attention (too far and we know we won't be as attentive as we should). A big challenge for basement apartment dwelling folks is doing starts to transplant into their garden plots later. Recently, this problem was tackled by some folks in the Seattle area who started a 'Plant Start CSA'. For the price of a subscription you will get plant starts appropriate to the season delivered throughout the year. Pretty spiffy!

-Guerilla gardening - Lots of folks are getting into the idea of planting food on the sly. If you ever notice a squash plant growing amongst the pieris and arbor vitae at your bank, a guerilla gardener has probably been at work. The principle here is that there is land available all over the place. It is often just filled with ornamentals and not used terribly efficiently. The guerilla gardener will throw seed balls, plant veggie starts, and plug in cuttings in places where they will (hopefully) go unnoticed until they come back for a harvest. There can be a lot of heartbreak when you go this route when all your kales get consumed by a lawn mower instead of you, so if you choose to guerilla garden my advice is to make it look official. The folks that tend landscapes will often assume that a planting that looks like the other plantings is supposed to be there. In other words if you plant your kales in an aesthetically appealing way out of the mow zone, they will be more likely to survive.

-Not-so-guerilla gardening - There is also the idea of just asking. With the idea of edible landscaping on the rise, it seems that one without access to land could simply ask neighbors if they would mind having a garden on the sunny side of their lawn. You could do the work and provide them with some fresh food. Everyone wins. Not everyone will say yes, but it only takes one. Besides, you'll get to meet a bunch of your neighbors and work on building community, which benefits everyone in the end.

Other folks will probably mention rooftop gardening & vertical gardening. However, I believe that there is land available in most places that is easier (and less energy intensive) to garden than rooftops and concrete walls. Often times the challenge isn't available land, but gaining access to available land. Vacant lots, neighbor's lawns, public parks, etc. all provide potential access to land. I imagine that with enough gumption, one could find a patch of dirt just about anywhere. I'd still keep my rosemary in a pot outside my kitchen window, though. After all, that's where I'd use it.

On the urban farming front, there is an organization called Growing Power (http://www.growingpower.org/) based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that I think enthusiastic urban growers should check out. I visited their operation this winter and I was quite impressed. On 2 acres in the inner city, the founder, Will Allen, grows enough food to run a CSA and market. He has chickens, goats, ducks, & turkeys. He has six greenhouses and produces greens for local sale all winter. They are raising tilapia and lake perch in greenhouse aquaculture systems. On top of all that they offer workshops on a variety of topics from commercial urban ag (in other words earning a living farming in the city) to urban food security. Will Allen was a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Award this year. The first photo below is of a greenhouse where they were growing salad greens in January. The space was heated only by the compost piles you see in the corners. The second picture is of one of their aquaculture pools. Check them out if you ever have a chance.

Either way, you can do a lot with a little. Often times it just takes a bit more creativity.

Cheers!

Dave


[Thumbnail for gp_compost_greenhouse.jpg]

[Thumbnail for gp_aquaculture.jpg]



Principal - Terra Phoenix Design
http://TerraPhoenixDesign.com
Dave Boehnlein


Joined: Jun 10, 2007
Posts: 291
Location: Orcas Island, WA
    
    2
One other thought I had for those with the desire to grow food in urban & sub-urban areas is the SPIN farming program (http://www.spinfarming.com/). I just heard about it this winter, but it seems to take a lot of the guess work out of growing food and provides recommendations for people with different commitment levels, finances, time, space, and knowledge. It contains a lot of information particularly pertinent to those in urban and suburban areas.  I haven't read the materials myself, but friends who have checked it out say it's kind of like an instruction book for market gardening in the city.

Dave
                            


Joined: Apr 24, 2009
Posts: 34
Location: West Seattle, WA
Thanks for the great answer Dave!  With all the different definitions folks put to permaculture, it is difficult to know exactly when to acknowledge one is following best practices for the discipline or not.  Your examples are uncomplicated and easy to attain.  Thank you for the answer and for giving us a clearer definition (by overview) of urban permaculture practices.

We'll be back for more questions later… you aren't getting rid of us that quickly!  LOL
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
i've been kinda having this daydream about a planting idea i had for my greenhouse..haven't put it into effect but it is a daydream.

making a structure of some sort ..likely out of wood and fencing..that would have soil on two sides and be tall..with a place to put water in the top with a soaker hose..that would trickle down the thing and water the plant roots..the plants would be on both sides of the thing and stuck in with roots into the soil and plants covering the sides...kiinda like the sausage..only more like a panel? or a thinnish box..

my greenhouse is TINY..6x8..and i figured that would expand the growing space in it..it is not strong enough to hang anything from so it would have to stand on the ground..

[/img]
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15264
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
With any container gardening, you will have a lot of work.  You have effectively removed a bit of soil and at least one plant from an ecosystem.  So what everything else used to provide, you are now taking on that job. 

Since the soil is so tiny, you now have a huge job of providing water. 

In the picture I provided, the "sausage" is far large than you would probably set up. 

The blue bucket is an example of a drip irrigation.  Note that Sepp is normally against all forms of irrigation, but in this case, there is no way around it. 

Personally, one of the most interesting forms of irrigation I have seen is where a clay pot is buried in the soil.  As time passes, the pot exudes water.  But not the sort of pot you might normally think of.  This one is called an "olla".  Here are some pics:



More info here.



                            


Joined: Apr 24, 2009
Posts: 34
Location: West Seattle, WA
You state that container gardening is removing a plant from the ecosystem.  Wouldn't it actually be adding a plant were none was before?
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
that is an interesting statement..seeing as how it would be true in my greenhouse that if i had stacked plants i could probably grow 3 to 4 or more times as many plants in the same area if i was to make the "plant wall" type of container..?? it woud possibly dry out quicker but as the tube above it could be lined with landscape fabric..only be a rectangle rather than a tube
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15264
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
My new podcast on urban permaculture is up.
            


Joined: Dec 04, 2010
Posts: 79
I rent a house on a fair sized lot in a city.  Since I am reluctant to tear up the yard and the installed sprinkler system to put in a garden, I do my gardening in containers, specificly earthboxes.  Here are some photos of my garden last year.




Note: The wire mesh in this photo is 6"X6" squares.

Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
i like the part in Gaia's garden where he and his neighbors planted different kinds of fruit trees, one would have plums, one apples, one peaches, one something else..and also nut trees, and they would share..

there would always be more than enough for one household, so they would split the harvests and each one would have fresh produce from someone elses' property as well as their own.

that would work with berry bushes, vines, and in ground plants too..

best way would to be figure which soil would best support which plants, and which microclimates, etc..and then share in the cost, planting and harvest..

here our neighbors are planting similar plants to what we have, which will also help in cross pollination between ours and theirs to get a better harvest for each of us..they put in 3 dwarf apples and 2 dwarf hazelnuts, and I have y6 dwarf hazelnuts and dozens of apples here..

so theirs will help ours, ours help theirs..

Marcella Rose


Joined: Nov 09, 2011
Posts: 95
Location: Central Texas, it is dry here.
Excellent information. The "sausage" idea is completely new to me and I like the idea for my adorable little strawberry seedlings that are sprouting now. The earthbox idea is excellent too and I need to look more into that clay pot in the ground watering system.

Since this thread is a couple of years old, what is some more information that people have learned along the way in regards to Urban Farming? We are renters and some of the information I personally am looking for is:

a) which trees have you planted in pots (permanently) that have thrived?
1. have you tried the bonsai method with larger trees to keep them contained to a small space (not tiny bonsai...just small enough to live in a wine barrel size pot)
2. have you tried to add a plant guild within the pot and how has that worked for you?
b) would rabbits make good composters (in addition to a worm farm) as they tend to be much quieter than chickens?
c) since ducks and chickens are not allowed where we live, would having bird feeders and bat houses in several places be enough to help keep the bugs down?
d) does anyone have photos of completed projects from the last couple of years to share with the group?


No land yet, but growing what I can with what I have!
Cassie Langstraat
volunteer

Joined: May 05, 2014
Posts: 863
Location: Zone 9b
    
  39
Thought I'd bump this thread with the recent re-release of Paul's Urban Permaculture podcast. It is back online to lsiten to for free. And also I just love talking about urban gardening.


"Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem."
- Walt Whitman
Angelika Maier


Joined: Jan 16, 2013
Posts: 495
Location: cool climate
    
    2
I think you must take care with urban gardening that your footprint is not bigger than the vegetables you harvest. I mean bought soil here or custom made plastic containers or bags to grow stuff.
The other thing is that cities offer things the country are does not have: incredible amounts of cardboard, coffee grounds greengrocer leftovers....
I think one strategy to save space is to plant seeds in containers and transplant seedlings. I don't usually do that with most of the things I grow but it does safe space.
cities are usually warmer and you can grow stuff you cannot grow outside. YOu have a lot of protection from winds but most city gardens have more shade, which then can be used for mushrooms. For the animals: bees, quail, rabbits, chicken.
 
 
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