Yet, more and more people are beginning to see that there is a real benefit to growing one’s own food and making things at home. There are many reasons for this including the high price of foods and concerns about food quality.
Food costs: The cost of food continues to rise, and families are beginning to demand higher quality options like organic produce which cost even more.
Quality concerns: It is impossible to be sure of the quality of food that one buys at a store.
Even if one has the means and ability to shop somewhere like Whole Foods and purchases only the highest quality items, can one ever be sure what they are really purchasing in terms of how it was grown?
Is an organic carrot from the store really better just because it costs twice as much? Sometimes “organic” means that they dumped certified chemicals onto the crops instead of non-certified varieties.
Neem oil is natural but perhaps not meant to be extracted and dumped in large quantities, onto unnaturally large fields of carrot.
This is not a dig on commercial farmers. They do their very best to supply the products that consumers are asking for. But as consumers, we have another option which is to grow some of our own food and make some of our own products.
What is Backyard Farming?
Backyard Farming or Urban Farming is a movement where regular people who live in typical houses in typical neighborhoods are turning part of their property into mini or micro farms.
Personally, I use the term farming in order to make a distinction between ordinary gardening where one throws up the same tomatoes in the same spot of the yard every year and hopes for the best, as opposed to a smarter, more deliberate approach to maximizing the harvest.
This approach uses a 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.
There are many articles on this site devoted to this concept. Take a look at the “Growing” section of the menu.
The term farming as used here is not to imply that one needs to grow things on a large scale, or to sell their crops to the public, but rather to emphasize the idea of taking an active approach to organic gardening at home in order to dramatically improve the results regardless of however much one wants to produce.
Having said that, using these techniques, the following things are able to be accomplished, if one were so inclined, on a typical suburban property.
- Growing all of the salad ingredients for your family
- Growing 25 pounds of potatoes on a tiny patio
- Raising a couple of chickens for eggs (more and more municipalities are changing laws and city ordinances on this)
- Raising Tilapia fish to eat in small ponds or large aquariums
- Raising rabbits or quail for meat
- Converting lawns into mini farms that can produce fruits, vegetables, and even staple crops like corn and wheat
- Using things like fences, walls, posts and garages to trellis things like grapes, squash, beans, and melons
- Growing 25 pounds of garlic
- Raising bees for honey
- Making Beer, Wine, Mead, Cider, or Brandy
- Making health and beauty products
- producing fresh cut flowers
- making teas, tinctures, and salves
What’s with the name
We use the term backyard farming because it gets closer to the mindset of what our goal is. “Backyard” meaning that we are doing this at home and “farming” because we are applying a more systematic or purposeful approach to growing food.
It is gardening. More specifically, it is organic gardening. We incorporate permaculture and other natural concepts in order to take our organic gardening to the next level.
The Goal of Backyard Farming
The goal with backyard farming for us is to do these the types of things mentioned in the above list on our property without anyone really noticing or caring. Many of the above examples can be incorporated beautifully into a suburban landscape and actually improve the overall aesthetic of one’s property.
Driving through a nice suburban neighborhood, one immediately sees very well maintained, beautiful landscaped properties. Yet none of the plants in these suburban scapes can be used by the families that live there. This does not have to be the case.
Why not replace that ornamental plum tree with an actual plum tree…Kale instead of hosta. Blueberry shrubs… you get the point.
With a well designed backyard farming project up and running, neighbors will compliment how well your property looks as you bring them goodies from the garden all year long.
With Backyard Farming you will potentially reap more benefits than with traditional hobby gardening.
- Lower grocery bills, possibly significantly lower.
- Operate a property that is 100% organic and chemical free
- Make totally awesome, unique and useful Christmas gifts
- Potentially earn income, significant income in some cases
- Less lawn mowing / Less weeding / less watering / less using anything that runs on gas
- It can be very fun and rewarding
My yard is not big enough
You would be surprised how much can be grown in the smallest areas using techniques discussed on this site. I live in a typical Cape Cod house on a quiet street in a medium sized city in North Central Ohio. I have neighbors very close on both sides and in the back. In total I have about 0.3 acres of “land” which consists of a small front yard and a decent sized backyard enclosed with a chain link fence. I have a tiny 1-car garage, a small patio, and typical yard tools.
Begin by reading the articles on this site. Additionally, there are a lot of resources available on the net and in books on the following topics. Our articles provide great links to the resources we think are the best. When I began, I explore topics such as:
- Small space / patio / container gardening
- Permaculture / food forests / organic gardening / backyard farming
- Suburban Homesteading / survivalist / prepper (I’m not a prepper or anything but they have some amazing ideas that we modify for our purposes)
- Micro Aquaponics (using fish to grow plants which in turn benefit the fish)
- urban Farming / urban Homesteading
- Take a look at some YouTube videos of people who have backyard food forests. We recommend lots of valuable resources on this site.
Truth be told, I have spent years researching gardening and permaculture and have learned a great deal. I decided to make this website to share some of the things that I have found because I did not see a lot of folks doing it from my perspective, the suburban setting.
Living in a “nice” neighborhood, I wanted to do these cool things I was reading about but in a way that blended with the environment around me. I did not want to have a junkyard of pallets, weird structures, goats, and random dirt patches. Nor did I desire to have a wild food jungle.
My style is to take the traditional, generic dentist office-looking landscape found in suburbia and replace the plants in that type of design with food, medicinal herbs, and flowers.
Just begin, but start small. Incorporate little things one at a time into your landscape, see what works and what doesn’t and then slowly expand.
Things you can accomplish
- Toxin Free: Get 100% away from insecticide, commercial fertilizer and other toxins completely.
- Compost: Create a composting system that produces a literal ton of compost per year.
- Waste Reduction: Generate zero yard waste. Generate 1 bag of garbage per week.
- Rainwater harvesting: Make our Rain Barrels to automatically water portions of the property with the flip of a switch.
- Lawn Reduction: Keep a well maintained organic lawn but reduce it to a manageable size so as not be a slave to it. Convert it to garden in tasteful ways that we outline as well as slowly incorporate useful plants such as food, medicine, and flowers into the already established landscaped portions of the property.
- Hugelkultur: Using this style of raised beds can cut watering down to zero in many cases and dramatically increase the fertility of the soil.
- Less Weeds: Cut weeding time down by using ingenious mulching techniques as well as chop & drop methods. You will learn that weeds are valuable to the home gardener as fertilizer and natural soil tillers.
- No Dig / No till: Give up tilling totally. There are many good reasons to do this.
- Less Mowing: Mow only about 4-6 times a year (due to letting certain “weeds” grow into the lawn such as clover which doesn’t grow very tall and helps the soil). You can even maintain the lawn with a gas-free reel push mower, which becomes much easier to do with a reasonably sized lawn.
- Less Watering: Cut watering in half (because of the rain barrels, well-placed hugelkultur swales on contour to slow down run-off. Hugelkultur mounds soak up water like crazy.
- Perennial Food: Plant long-term plants such as apple and cherry trees, blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry bushes, tons of strawberries, grapevines, and lots of asparagus plants to name a few, that come back year after year with little maintenance.
- Quasi Perennial Food: Tomatoes for example can come back every year from self seeding (ours do). Many other plants do this such as greens, squash, broccoli, etc. The key is to purposely not pick everything. These volunteers can be transplanted to new parts of the property in order to achieve your own form of crop rotation.
- Seed Starting: Starting your own seeds indoors takes practice and patience but can really be rewarding.
- Big Crops: It is possible to plant large amounts of certain crops if desired without much work. We like to plant tons of garlic, potatoes, and asparagus. Large amounts of one food do not have to take up giant rectangle-shaped plots. They can be interplanted throughout the property and landscape.
- Greens and more greens: We also like to plant tons of mustard greens. This is a beautiful plant and if you have never made your own mustard, you are missing out. Lots of other varieties of greens make the property lush, are easy to grow, and are absolutely delicious raw or cooked.
- Medicine: Growing comfrey to be used for medicinal purposes as well as green manure / mulch. Lots of other medicinal herbs can be grown, depending on what one wants to do, such as St. John’s wort, Echinacea, mints, the list goes on and on.
- Cool mini-projects: Things I have made from my backyard include Grape Juice, Vinegar, Tomato juice, Dijon Mustard, Tomato sauce, Roasted Dandelion Root coffee, Echinacea tincture, garlic braids, burn medicine, flower arrangements, and lots of delicious meals.
- Micro Aquaponics seed starter: Check out our article on this. I use a lot of ways to start seeds, but this one is by far the most effective. It is also a terrific cutting propagator.
- Natural fences: I used to hate my chain link fence and was always a little embarrassed that I did not have a privacy fence. Now I love it because it serves as a trellis for a natural fence full of vining flowers, grape, and berries.
Additional things to try
There are so many things in backyard farming that these lists could go on and on. Here are some more:
- Fruit trees are your friend. 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 high calorie foods year after year. And even in cold Ohio, 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.
- Plant a successful cash crop. It is of course possible to sell your extra produce at local farmers markets. Great things to try are arugula, asparagus, radishes, and garlic. Garlic is really one of the easiest and most rewarding “cash crops” for the home gardener. Braid them for a stunning visual effect.
- Get bees. Although probably not for everyone, bees are awesome. There is some cost and some work involved, but you get honey, wax and increased pollination.
- Meat? I’m not allowed to have chickens or any animal like that in my city. Rabbits could work since they are silent and you could raise them somewhere covert and no one would know you had them. But I don’t think I could kill and clean rabbits I raised. I looked into pheasant and quail but same thing there.
- Eggs? I’m not yet to the point where I’m going to defy my local laws and get a couple of chickens for egg productions, but If you are, there is a whole community on the net of covert chicken raisers. The more hip urban cities such as St. Louis have legalized it, so do some research and go for it. Don’t get any roosters unless you want to anger everyone within a 5 mile radius.
- Flowers: Don’t forget about growing tons of beautiful flowers which can be harvested and used in arrangements, or for medicinal purposes depending on the variety.
- Edible Seeds: Also don;t forget about producing edible seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin, yum! Per square foot, sunflowers are one of the most productive foods you can grow, calorie wise (along with garlic).
Take a look around Try Backyard Farming and I hope you will incorporate some of these concepts into your Urban / Suburban lifestyle!