By Michael Russell, recent Arizona State University Nutrition Communications Student
I have long dreamed of a chance to own a plot of land and yield from it foods that I can use to feed myself and my family. The first problem that many of us living in urban areas run into is a lack of available land to do all the growing we want to do. The backyard farm has been a growing trend for the past several years, and may be the solution for many of us.
I was immediately interested and wanted to learn more. Here are some basic points to consider.
The Size of your land:
- First, know what your city’s ordinances are. Know what you can grow and raise in your backyard, and what you can’t. If you live farther from a city, find out about your county’s requirements and/or restrictions.
- In the event that you have less than a quarter acre of land, it is best to limit the amount of livestock in your backyard garden and focus more on fruits and vegetables. A herb garden works great in a small amount of space. So does a chicken coop. These can be an easy first start.
- If you have more than a quarter acre but less than a half-acre you cannot only have fruits, vegetables, herbs, and a chicken coop but also introduce a goat pasture with pens for the goats. It would be wise to invest in a chicken tractor. A chicken tractor is an A-framed floorless structure that allows free ranging capabilities for your chickens.
- When you have a half acre or full acre you can have all of what I mentioned above but also add a composting pile, sheep pens, a rabbit tractor and a nut tree. For many, an acre can allow for some ambitious efforts on your part as the up-and-coming backyard farmer.
- If you’re fortunate enough to have two to three acres of land, then the world is your oyster. You can introduce a pig pen, a barn, a greenhouse or steers, and cows. What is also great about owning this much property and having your own backyard farm (and at this point, it might be a hobby farm, one step up from a backyard farm) is you can start a rotating pasture for your steers and cows, as well as introduce bees to collect honey.
- When introducing livestock to your backyard farm it’s important to understand which animals get along with one another.
- Chickens are very chummy with most other livestock and enjoy the luxury of open spaces.
- It is best to keep pigs with their own kind and if you have the space to rotate your pastures then allow them to move from one area to the next on your farm.
- If you are restricted to a small plot of land a great way to grow your vegetables is with containers. Container gardens are a great option because you can even grow them indoors. Just be careful they do not dry out too quickly.
- Raised garden beds are also a great way to get your vegetables growing in a small space. There are several advantages to raised garden beds, they include:
- Better soil conditions
- Better use of space
- Less weeding
- Extended growing season due to the warmth of a raised bed
- Drain water more effectively
- Easier to water, mulch, fertilize and compost
- By creating a composting pile, you can really work on building your own organic matter for your soil.
- If you are able to have fruit trees on your backyard farm and they grow to full maturity, then you can allow your goats and sheep to “trim” the trees for you. The goats and sheep will eat the low hanging leaves and fallen fruit underneath your trees which help to avoid rotting fruit.
- Plant what you like to eat. It is a better decision to plant the things that you and your family enjoy eating. Unless you choose to supply your harvest to a local food bank or farmers market, growing something you will not eat is a waste of space and time. If you do decide to take your produce to a farmers market, you should consider employing the Arizona Department of Agriculture’s volunteer Food Safety handling practices known as Good Handling Practices and Good Agricultural Practices (GHP/GAP). Food safety should be a priority and of one’s utmost commitment, especially if you decide to sell your produce to others.
- Be creative with your design. Plan it out. Draw it up several different ways to maximize your space and growing potential. Look at other people’s ideas on how they created their own farms for inspiration. If you have the chance, try to visit a local backyard farm to see how it works.
- Be diverse. Having a large number of several different crops is better than having a small number of a few crops. This is a best practice for not just yourself but for your wildlife as well. Plus, having several different pollinating crops helps reduce pests within your backyard farm.
- Timing is everything. Do your research and find out what to plant during specific seasons so that you can enjoy the literal fruits of your labor at a given time. For example, you would want to plant spinach in March so that by June you can eat it.
- Be overly protective. This is most important in the winter months due to the wind and frost. Using burlap to cover plants before nightfall adds a layer of insulation need to allow the plants to survive the night.
- Learn to adapt. Knowing what is working best for your backyard farm is key but it is also important to know what is not working. If you notice that one crop is not doing well it may not be your lack of skill but the conditions the crop is in. Move on.
Backyard farming is a great way to learn to be self-reliant and sufficient from what you own. It will give you a sense of pride knowing that you were able to quite literally provide that food that is on the dinner table. As I mentioned before if you have enough space and are able to grow quite a bit of crop then it is always best to donate to a local food bank or farmers market.
Remember, there is a financial investment to starting a backyard farm. This should be planned and penciled out just as diligently as planning the layout of your backyard farm.
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