Whatever you do it for, urban farming is a trend that is becoming more and more popular as backyards, rooftops and small apartment balconies are being transformed into fresh food factories generating a steady supply of healthy organic foods, a self-sufficient source and for some, a generous income.
There are people who do it just for the pleasure of being able to grow their own fresh vegetables and fruits, while others find it as a way to become less reliant on food systems in times of supply shortages during disasters or social problems. The fact that you can make your own food and provide your own water means you have just taken some major steps towards self-sufficiency.
What on Earth is city farming and why is it here?
If you haven’t heard of it already, it’s no surprise. The city farming movement is very new, but the concept of growing your own foods definitely isn’t.
By 2050 our global population is expected to hit 9.7 billion, according to the UN. That’s 33% more than what we have on this planet right now. And what’s more shocking is that two-thirds of those people will be living in city areas which means there are a lot of mouths to feed in urban areas.
The interesting part of that is that even though most of the population is in cities, their foods originates far from those areas, often in regional farms hundreds or thousands of miles away. This removes the self-sufficiency of a lot of cities which are instead reliant upon the transport of foods which can easily be affected by disasters and other issues.
City farming introduces the idea of cities and urban areas to develop their own organic fresh foods to feed a local area or community, rather than relying on those far-flung farming areas.
Whether it be in front yards, backyards, abandoned lots, balconies, rooftops or just indoors, new methods of produce gardening have been utilized by various entrepreneurs seeking to make a change to the way we feed our cities.
By definition, according to Maximum Yield, city farming (also known as urban farming or urban agriculture) is:
A combination of different efforts aimed at growing fruits and vegetables in an urban area and then distributing them within that specific area.
Of course, urban gardening is a compromise, as for many of us, the luxury of living in the country is unachievable. So with the moderate inner-town space you have, you can adjust to your urban circumstances and still create fresh produce that others have turned into a complete income. All of this is just by using the empty space you have around you, whether it be the front yard, the rooftop, or even just your apartment balcony.
So let’s look at some of the easiest foods you can cultivate for a maximum amount of food for the most minimum input.
The six easiest urban farming foods you can grow
Beans are a staple for anyone looking for a survival diet or to supplement their fresh foods and are, luckily, one of the easiest things to grow anywhere. One of the best things about beans is that they can be eaten dry, canned or fresh off the bush and because they are generally high in protein they make a great mixer to salads and any other regular meals.
When it comes to gardening, a quote I heard from Reddit stands out very well, which says: “good gardeners grow plants, whereas great gardeners grow soil“. This is especially true of beans as they are a sustainable plant for soil because they don’t take nitrogen from soil unlike a lot of other plants. Beans, instead, take nitrogen from the air and disperse it into the soil, this means they are actually adding nutrients back into the ground.
Because we are talking about urban gardening and urban farming, the primary aim is to have sustainable soil so that we have good, healthy soil, easily producible food and, of course, the ability to save space. While you can grow beans in a bush variety, I recommend growing your beans up poles or a trellis as the beans will grow upward instead of outward, therefore saving space for your other urban farm producers.
For pole beans, all you need is a square two-foot by two-foot space with 4-5 poles or a trellis for whichever height you want. You can use a number of pole beans per square. Most people go for a four to six-foot growing height, but you can cater that to the space that you have.
To get the best production:
- Start your beans off in a small cup
- Have the seeds sit one inch under the surface of the soil
- Water the soil so that only the top 2-3 inches of topsoil is damp
- The seeds should germinate within 8-10 days.
See the video on this urban farmer’s pole beans:
Potatoes are ridiculously easy to grow and require very little attention at all. In fact, I would go so far to say that they are the easiest thing to grow on this list. But of course, they take some time and they take some preparation, but thankfully, you don’t need much space to grow potatoes.
Using the bin method has been shown to produce the strongest yields of potatoes, with some urban farmers getting well over 10 pounds of potatoes in a 30-liter pot. In the video below, this farmer was growing sarpo miras potatoes, but there are a variety of ones you can grow as well as growing sweet potato for a contrast.
Growing these is simple, all you need to do is:
- Get a normal fresh potato (or more depending on how many you want to plant)
- Sit it in an egg carton with the most ‘eyes’ pointing upwards
- After about six weeks these will start to grow little shoots
- Cut the potato into four to divide the clumps of shoots
- Plant 12 inches apart covering with three inches of soil
- When the shoots are about 10 inches, bury the stems halfway with more soil
Potatoes are a great source of carbohydrate and are a great solution to a high-caloric sustainable food source as well as a food that can mix with so many other types of produce. It is also an urban farming favorite just because they are so easy to grow in such little space, the downside is that they take a long time to develop.
Urban farmers have been creative recently with a weird combination of a tomato tree and potato called the Pomato. I definitely recommend checking this one out if you are into experimental urban farming as this could be a very popular food producer in the future pending on its potential risk to disease.
One of my personal favorites is carrots, not only because they are an easy food to grow but because they are a delicious. When it comes to carrots, you can grow them similar to potatoes by getting the shoots from the top of a carrot. However, it is much easier to use the seeds and work with them in that manner. It’s up to you on how you want to run your own urban patch.
As far as germination goes, one popular urban farmer, Curtis Stone, who published the book Urban Farmer, shares his secret in the video below which is to add a layer of compost and then bury the carrot seeds directly into that. For the types of carrots, morke is a type that grows very well in winter climates, whereas the nelson carrot grows well in a hot summer climate, so there’s a diversity to the all-year-round harvest times for different carrot growths.
For the sizing of the carrot, you can harvest anything bigger than your thumb. For baby carrots, they take about 50-60 days to grow, whereas mature carrots will take between 70-80 days.
Another interesting point for carrots, from a survivalist aspect, is that they can stay well in the ground for quite some time. In fact, you can store carrots in the ground quite a few weeks which means you only need to pick them when you actually want to use them, rather than harvesting everything and having some of your produce spoil.
For an in-depth view on how to best work with urban farming and carrots, check out this video from Curtis Stone
4. Squash and zucchini
Growing squash vertically is quite easy. When I first gave it a go I thought the things would fall off, but the root that they connect to is very strong so don’t be surprised if your vertical garden has a record-winning heavy squash just hanging in the air. Zucchinis also come in a ground bush form which can be planted in close proximity by using a wire tomato cage to keep the space of the plant small.
Squash is essentially a vine vegetable, which is why it can bear such a strong weight on its produce. That also means that rather than watering the plant, you should be watering the base of the vine as it will draw up the water quite easily. It is also a very diverse plant, with crops for both summer and winter. In summer, most squashes are ripe to pick 60-70 days after planting, whereas most winter ones will take longer from 80 – 100 days.
There are various creative lattice or trellis setups available for squash, most of which you can find on Pinterest. One way that I have done is to use old fencing that can be found in rubbish tips to use as a support for the vine. Sometimes the squash vines need extra encouragement to work their way up the fencing but as you can see from this image, it helps with identifying the squash that might be ready for picking.
Underneath this would be a good place for potato bins, just make sure to keep an eye on both as both are susceptible to diseases that can ultimately kill the whole crop.
Tomatoes are one of my strongest growers as I have always experimented with growing them in different methods. For small cherry tomato vines, growing them upwards can save you space, however, you need to make sure you have a wide enough pot to sustain the massive root system that tomato vines develop.
I managed to grow a 4ft tomato vine recently on my kitchen bench from a 30cm diameter pot which was able to produce an abundance of cherry tomatoes. To support the family however you would obviously need to cultivate more than just one plant.
If you are new to urban gardening and don’t have a garden at all, I would suggest trying with tomatoes as they are easy to grow but also have a quick produce, much like beans. If you are growing indoors, make sure they get plenty of sunlight as it was a lesson I had failed a number of times.
To grow tomatoes:
- Get some seeds (either packet or fresh from a tomato)
- Use toilet roll holders or small pots with a few inches of soil
- Place two to three seeds per pot or roll
- Cover with a very thin layer of soil and dampen the soil (I suggest using a sprayer)
- The seeds will germinate within a week
- Keep watering and gradually increase the watering
- Move to a larger pot when necessary
Using this method, you can also get a great headstart on the summer crop by growing them indoors and them either locating them in a greenhouse or replanting them outside to get a full production during the summer.
Radish is one of those plants that are made for impatient gardeners. They pop up very quickly and take no time at all to start sprouting. Some radishes are able to be harvested three weeks after planting them, so if you’re needing a quick turnaround crop, radish is the way to go.
Okay, so the radish isn’t that great to eat, but it is definitely an essential crop just because they take very little space, they grow almost all year, they mix into a lot of salads and other meals and they have that quick availability as mentioned. The other thing that is great about these is that they draw very little nutrients from the soil, so you can reuse them without having to use a soil nutrient crop.
To grow these, all you need to do is:
- Plant four weeks before last frost
- Put seeds into half an inch of soil and one inch apart
- After sprouting, thin to two inches apart
- Leave in the full sun
- Keep consistently moistured
Here’s some great points on radishes from the urban farmer:
Final thoughts on urban farming and growing your own food
To be honest, urban farming is one of my most favorite subjects when it comes to preparedness. Not only is it satisfying to grow your own organic products, but it is also a much cheaper and self-sufficient option to do than relying on the food produced by markets.
There are a number of reasons on why urban farming is a great step forward for culture, and it works in sync with what a lot of what prepping’s principles do which is to take an active approach to limiting waste and encouraging a sustainable culture.
The most attractive side, however, and why the urban farming movement is expanding so rapidly, is because if it is done right, it can become a money maker as you are turning wasted backyard, front yard and rooftop urban space into an area that can create an income when onsold to markets, restaurants, and households.
If you are interested in urban farming, take a look at The Urban Farmer: Growing Food for Profit on Leased and Borrowed Land