What is an ‘Urban Farm’?
I live in a terraced house in the Georgian Quarter of Liverpool. I get tremendous enjoyment from growing my own delicious vegetables and fruit. The only plants in my plot I don’t eat are flowers grown to attract insects to pollinate the crops for the table. My limited space has to be very carefully organised to maximise the growing potential. Not an inch has been wasted. The back garden also has to function as a place for washing, parking a motorbike and as a beautiful social area for myself and others. My next door neighbours both keep very beautiful gardens. Although they both grow food, if my plot was the middle of a style scale their’s would be at opposite extremes.
I would say that an ‘Urban Farm’ needs to have elements of both my neighbours’ gardens. The plot requires the organisation of one and the natural feel of the other to get the bees etc. The resulting combination is a productive garden and a thing of great beauty. I am fortunate that my garden is completely South facing so has the sun in the centre at midday.
Designing & Laying out The Plot
The first task was to design my garden. I garden organically so three decent beds for annually rotating crops was essential. I wanted a herb garden close to the house for convenience. I wanted a compost area as far from the house as possible. I needed a large static area for growing fruit bushes and rhubarb.
The garden needed a social area and a place for the refuse bins. I also needed to create raised borders along the walls and to create separation between my beds by the creation of borders.
The social area, access path from the house to the street and ‘Wheelie Bin’ area would need paving. The beds, borders and paving would need defining with edging stones. I used concrete paving slabs cut to suit and cobbles. Some fencing would need to be made, to screen the bin and compost area and to tie certain crops such as Raspberries and ‘Espalier’ fruit trees to.
Where to start
Aside from playing the trumpet, I have worked on farms and for building companies for many years. I have also ‘grown my own’ for as long as I can remember too. Therefore I had made my major mistakes with ‘Urban Farming’ many years ago. My previous experience was to prove invaluable.
The garden was a mess! No one had tended it for many years. Weeds were out of control and there was rubble everywhere. Broken items and rubbish all over. Nothing was going to be easy. I decided to start from scratch and dig the whole area to one metre down. This may seem a little extreme but each time I puta spade in the ground I struck rubble or the footings of an old out house etc.
That done, I was left with a plot with an enormous pile of rubble at one end and an equally large pile of top soil at the other. It is important to keep the topsoil apart to use on the top of the plot again later. I marked out the areas to be constructed and got rid of the rubble by using it as ‘hardcore’ for the paving. There was enough to bury to one foot under the ground. I covered the rubble with 3 inches of cement and laid the York Stone paving. The edging stones were bedded in sand, cement and stone chippings.
Next came the two horizontal fences. I made posts, coated them with preservative. Once in the ground, with just over a metre showing chicken wire was affixed. I needed to construct a compost bin. The benches and picnic tables from the beer garden of Ye Cracke pub had been given to a friend of mine who had subsequently died of cancer. The wooden slats were perfect. I ‘preserved’ them all and screwed everything together. I made a door to the front and a lid on top, for access and for turning the compost once a week. I then lined the insides and top with wire mesh to prevent rodents nesting in there.
Having pointed the paving, I replaced the topsoil and dug in a large amount of organic matter. The soil was now extremely fertile and I merely had to get on with planting.
Why Do Organic Farmers Employ Crop Rotation
If your vegetables are grown in the same place each year you are asking for trouble. Pests & disease can build up in those areas at an alarming rate. Also, the various plant groups take different nutrients from the soil and put different nutrients back in. Traditionally, the following rotation would be used.
Legumes=Peas & Beans: Root crops=Carrotts etc: Brassicas=Cabbage etc
Year 1: Bed one-Root crops Bed two-Legumes Bed three- Brassicas
Year 2: Bed one-Legumes Bed two-Brassicas Bed three-Root crops. Therefore each bed gets shunted around one, in order
Year 3: Bed one-Brassicas Bed two-Root crops Bed 3-Legumes
Of course there will be many variables. Space can impose limits and what the ‘Urban Farmer’ chooses to grow that year will have a bearing. For instance, he may not grow Brassicas at all. Ideally though, the above system is considered the best.
You should also take the opportunity to improve the soil appropriately for the next crop in the cycle. Before planting Brassicas add manure and lime. Prior to Legumes add good quality compost and also for root crops.
Growing Legumes leaves the soil nitrogen rich for the Brassicas. Growing Brassicas eats up the manure that many root vegetables dislike. Crop rotation is therefore necessary for the organic gardener. In my experience Legumes are the most forgiving if the crop really has to remain static; if this is the case, be more diligent about adding compost.
For more information on Urban Farming take this ‘link’ to Brendan’s Blog