urban farm plot

Urban farm plot at 12 months – high yields

Urban farm plot at 12 months has produced great results. I want to share the outcomes and reflections with you after it started as a grassy patch 12 months ago and is now a highly productive space creating healthy bio dynamically grown organic food. It is also a teaching space for our workshops and courses. 

Stats

  • Gross area of urban farm plot space – 200m2

  • Net bed area – 120m2 – 9 beds 15m long and 0.9m wide

  • Net bed area with 1.2m climbing frames on 4 beds- 160m2

  • Production volume of veg and herbs – 1100kg – target was 1000kg

  • Effective value at average of $5 per kg – $5100

  • Yield – gross area – 5.5kg per m2, net bed area 9.1kg per m2

  • The plot feeds two families a good proportion of fresh food per week and we have a number of customers regularly buying produce

  • Workshop and course students 150

  • Total cost of BD soil and plant preps used during the year – $200

Soil management

This started in late Dec 18 when we used a rotary hoe to loosen the compacted base on a gentle north facing slope. It had a very thin soil layer 10cm and some many small rocks mingled through the soil. Bed depth of 15-20cm was created by digging paths and moving excess soil from paths upwards. From this point we have:

  • At commencement:

    • Applied minerals – crushed granite, gypsum (to work on the clay base)

    • Well rotted cow manure

    • Planted a green manure crop of cow pea in 7 of the 9 beds

    • Applied a heavy layer of our biodynamic compost in 2 beds and commenced cropping vegetables in our hot wet season

    • Commenced applying biodynamic soil preparations (BD preps) to stimulate soil life

  • Ongoing

    • Continued fortnightly BD prep application until end of the 3 month green manure process and then monthly application of a rotation of BD preps directed at soil and plant vitality

    • All BD preps applied on the appropriate BD planetary calendar time

Cropping

Worked with a diverse range of herbs, vegetables and flowers in a rotation pattern. Crops included:

  • Root crops – carrots, red onions, spring onions, garlic, beetroot, kohl rabi, leeks and potatoes

  • Leaf crops – range of lettuce varieties, silver beet and rainbow chard, perennial spinach, bok choi pechay, kale varieties, leafing broccoli, french sorrel

  • Flowering crops – broccoli, nasturtiums, begonias, carnations and violas

  • Fruiting crops – snake beans, bush and climbing beans, snow and sugar snap climbing peas, zucchinis, cucumbers, tomatoes, chilli, strawberries

  • Herbs – thyme, oregano, basil, parsley

I raised about 50% of planting stock from seeds using saved seeds and certified organic non hybrid seeds. The other 50% were seedlings sourced from two trusted local supplier who use open pollinated seeds.

Virtually all planting on the appropriate biodynamic planetary calendar days.

Disease and insect management

Our strong focus on building soil life supported with BD preps covered most bases but there were some small issues as follows:

  • Plant disease has been minimal.

    • Basil – Initial basil varieties we used had a fungus which seems to be very common for veg growers at present. I did everything possible to stop this but nothing worked. I have found some varieties that are not subject to the fungus and these are growing well

    • Strawberries – these were a mystery as they leafed and flowered well, fruit set but most fruits did not grow to full size, despite regular water

    • Tomatoes – some issues with fusarium wilt but I did manage to control this and had big crops of large cherry tomatoes

  • Insects

    • Aphids came in a points when crops were finishing off and I left those plants in the space to keep the aphids occupied

    • Cabbage moth – these came in for the brassicas when it was a bit warm for these crops. I picked the caterpillars off as soon as I saw them

Reflections

  • Flavour of the food was exquisite and this is to be expected when soil and plant health is managed organically and enhanced with biodynamic methods.
  • The space design was very functional, easy to work in and beautiful with a diverse range of colour.

  • The urban farm plot slope enabled drainage and nutrient flow work very efficiently

  • The lack of tree roots in the space and our composting area made a big difference in water retention and soil/plant vitality

  • The bird life in and around the garden increased greatly over the year and none of these birds took crops apart from a few days of feasting on tomatoes by some cockatoos

  • I spent a small amount of time each day in my contemplation chair on the upper edge of the space observing and doing a daily meditation. It was great for my well being and enabled insights to be revealed that a busy mind often cannot access.

  • The social nature of the space with regular workshop and course attendees, food basket customers, two families and friends all deepened the urban farm plot cultural connection

  • I watered by hand which took sometime and will likely move to a drip system in 2019. I enjoyed the watering time and used it for observing the plants and soil. Watering was normally every second day when there was no rain.

  • Since October its been tricky with water supply as our water sources are a bit limited at present and its been exceptionally hot. The strong work during the 9 months previous on building soil life has lead to better water retention.

  • Weed management has been interesting. Many varieties coming up during the beginning of green manure process but these progressively thinned out. I mulched paths heavily and beds lightly, both reducing weed pressure. Nut grass came up in many locations and I made and applied biodynamic nut grass peppers. These worked very quickly at stopping the nut grass spreading and when combined with soil improvement have eliminated the nut grass from the urban farm plot. Stinging nettle came up during the year and we moved it to a spot where it will keep propagating when its cooler.

  • The climbing frames used in the urban farm plot have been an important part of increasing the yield in the space. I worked with hardwood posts of 1.5m which are very durable and beautiful. The chicken wire gives a 1.2 height above the beds

  • Shade structures during the hottest times on some of the beds with heat sensitive plants has also been very helpful with plant growth. Important to have good airflow

Conclusions

I am grateful for the outcomes of the urban farm plot and know that every moment I spend in it nurtures my well being but I am always fascinated by the unfolding mystery so this tends to bring up the question. What can I manage better? My guiding light is working with the principles of beauty, goodness and truth.

Let us see what next year holds. Why not come along to one our workshops or courses held in the urban farm plot whether you are a beginner food gardener or aspiring urban farmer, there are many useful insights I can share. Here is a comment from a recent course attendee:

The ‘Enhancing your organic garden with biodynamics’ class was amazing, Peter is truly an inspiration and a wealth of knowledge. I enjoyed the balance of practical (actually working in the patch), theory and general discussion with other participants sharing their experiences and knowledge. While the subject matter is quite complex Peter was very articulate and has also provided follow-up notes and alternate pathways for me (and other participants) to continue to learn more about biodynamics and how to implement the principles in our own patch. If you are interested in a holistic approach to growing vegetables this is well worth your time.

All the best for 2020

Authored by Peter Kearney – www.myfoodgarden.com.au

Posted in biodynamic gardening, Mentoring, urban agriculture, urban farming, vegetable gardening and tagged , , , , , .

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