Whatever you choose to call it, Backyard Farming or Urban Farming, you don’t need acres of land to start growing your own food. Even if you live in an urban neighborhood, you can turn part of your property into a mini or micro farm. The one thing that the current situation is teaching us is that nature is thriving and that we can thrive too. The same power of nature is available to us to grow, heal and feed ourselves.
There is something so nurturing and powerful in growing your own food. I grew up in a small town in Kent, England. Kent was known as “The Garden of England” because of its many small family farms, everything from fruit orchards, and dairy cows to seasonal vegetables and pig farms—all in one small county. Basically, everything you needed, except grains, grew close to our own backyard, even hops for the local breweries! In the summertime, I just had to walk a half mile and I was right in the middle of apple orchards and strawberry fields. At my grandparent’s home, which was a very modest council house, half of the back garden was turned over to growing vegetables. My grandfather kept us in potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbages and runner beans for most of the year while my grandmother (Nan as I called her), tended to the lawn, and flower beds. There was also an “allotment”—a piece of land with its own small garden shed that you could rent from the local farmer. My grandfather had an allotment for many years to provide extra fresh food. I know I never realized how lucky I was to have such an abundance of seasonal food straight from the garden to our table. Looking back, I’m sure it all began after World War II when food was scarce, and everyone dug up their flowerbeds to grow their own food.
Fast forward, to 2020, people are beginning to see that there’s a real benefit to growing our own food and making things at home. Maybe before the pandemic many were considering the cost of food as well as the quality, but now it goes deeper. There’s a real need to feel connected to the earth and what better way to do that than growing things. I live in a New York City apartment and the best I can do is grow some herbs in planter pots! Even at my house in the Catskills, where I do have land, I’ve never really entertained the notion of “farming”. Some OK attempts with tomatoes and fresh herbs are about as far as I’ve gotten—for many reasons—time (not there on a regular basis), keeping the critters from devouring everything, and the local farmers markets are wonderful, so why grow my own?
Well, it just feels like the right time. So, now in self-isolation in NYC, I’m learning about what it will take to embark on backyard farming! Apparently, I need to be taking an approach which uses the concept known as permaculture. Permaculture is a style of organic gardening which uses “nature” as a tool to encourage the growth of fruits, flowers, and vegetables as opposed to always fighting against nature. OK, I get that. I did learn early on when we first got the house that trying to grow flowers that were not meant for the “zone” would only lead to disappointment and very sad looking flower beds. Over the years I have planted all kinds of perennials that not only do well in the zone, but, are not the favorite food of the deer and other four-legged critters that love to torment me. I’ve also learned what attracts bees, butterflies and other essential pollinators. So, I’m thinking that if I start small by replacing some poison shrubs with blueberry shrubs, mixing a few veggies into my flower beds, and grow some salad greens and herbs, I can work up to asparagus, artichokes, multi-colored carrots and cauliflower and maybe a couple of fruit trees—see what works and expand from there.
I have to admit, I do love walking out on the deck and snipping fresh herbs for whatever I’m cooking so my goal in growing more of my own food is very appealing. My flowers are very pretty to look at, but it would be nice to actually have a good portion of a meal home grown! I read recently that “the ultimate goal of the permaculture—food forest—is, basically to have tons of food growing everywhere on your property that requires little to no maintenance and produce large quantities of nutritional foods year after year. And that, using Backyard Farming techniques, we can grow so many different kinds of fruit like cherry, apple, peach, plum, apricot and lots of berry and nut trees.” That sounds like something to aim for!
From flowers, to herbs and tomatoes….what next?