Personal Organic Farming Fertilizer and Soil Preparation
Successful urban organic backyard farming depends on both soil and setup. Here is how we prepare rural or urban sustainable soils for personal organic farming.
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If your goal is to grow your own healthy food and become more self sufficient, then right here is a good place to start!
HOW MUCH SPACE WILL YOU NEED?
Start small. Just a few organic vegetables and herbs grown in containers on a balcony can provide a significant boost to your nutrition. The smaller the area, the easier it will be to manage and so the better managed and productive it will be! So even if you have several acres at your disposal, start small.
I suggest starting with 10 to 20 square meters (including paths), planting intensively, and doing what you do do well.
If growing space is limited, grow densely and go vertical! Grow climbers up trellises against walls, lead pumpkin vines to ramble on top of sheds and form a stack of potatoes by adding a tire filled with straw to the plant each time it grows high enough.
CHOOSING THE BEST SITE FOR URBAN ORGANIC BACKYARD FARMING
Choosing the best site gets your oranic sustainable gardening off to a good start. Do a Permaculture design analysis on the available area. Some factors to consider are:
- The site should be well drained. Avoid seasonally waterlogged areas.
- Use the best soil you can get. Ideal soils are loamy, well structured and high in organic matter content. They look dark brown or red and have a crumbly texture rather than being overly coarse (as in pure sand) or fine (as in clay which is hard when dry and sticky when wet.)
However, with time and patience any soil will improve with mulching, a strategic mineral rebalance, and adequate moisture.
If you don’t have much of either you should consider bringing suitable soil in. Avoid cheap potting mixes though as many are actually toxic to plants. Get a superior soil from a reputable source.
- Avoid heavily shaded areas. Most vegetables and fruit trees need sunshine. Also some trees such as eucalypts, pine and walnut create adverse growing conditions around them.
- Shelter the site from strong, drying winds. Plant a fast growing windbreak (e.g. Acacia saligna) and protect plants in the meantime with scavenged shadecloth or Hessian fencing.
- Start at the backdoor. Close to the house means your plants will get more attention… it’s human nature! From growing to harvesting, it makes everything more convenient.
- Incorporate Poultry. If possible incorporate rotating poultry access to your beds and take advantage of the weeding, manuring and tilling work they do. Even in urban organic backyard farming in small suburban yards you can usually accommodate a couple of bantam hens (Chinese Silkies or Buff Pekins are nice and quiet) in a mobile chicken pen.
THE URBAN ORGANIC BACKYARD FARMING PLAN
Your personal organic farming plan will incorporate the following Permaculture elements
- Paths. Paths should provide easy access to all parts of the garden beds for weeding, planting and harvesting. A handy shape is the keyhole branching at regular intervals from main pathways to penetrate the bed areas. Progressively throw weeds and spent plants into pathways and cover with mulch. After a couple of months the material will compost and can be tossed onto the beds for extra nutrient and soil conditioning.
- Swales. Swales are simply level channels dug into the soil to accept rainwater runoff from downpipes or paths. They are heavily mulched so hold water for plantings alongside them.
- Shelter. If there is periodically frost, excessive sun or strong winds affecting your site, you can create a favourable microclimate with the aid of windbreak, shadehouse or greenhouse.
Our Garden Tunnel House for Sheltered Summer Vegetable Growing
- Plan for Biodiversity in Your Garden. Check out our companion planting information to find out what various plants can do to help your garden flourish.
PREPARING SOIL FOR URBAN ORGANIC BACKYARD FARMING
1. Correct Soil Testing for best results.
Whether you are aspiring to rural or urban organic backyard farming, plant growth will be limited by anything lacking or out of balance in your soil. In organic farming soil composition including organic matter, base mineral balance and trace mineral levels are all important garden soil properties.
Be warned – conventional soil testing acidity organic matter, NPK (nitrogen, phosphate and potassium) and such doesn’t provide all the information needed to correctly balance soils.
For example it is not enough to know what ph soil is and simply add lime. A more scientifically correct soil test may show that it is more appropriate to add dolomite (an organic magnesium source), or even potassium.
In short, unless you have your test done by a Brookside approved laboratory (i.e. one that takes soil scientist William Albrecht’s approach), you will be in the dark.
2. Raise beds.
Build up beds to promote good drainage and easier management. About 30cm (12 inches) of depth is adequate.
3. Add Soil Test Prescribed amendments.
4. Other useful organic soil additives.
To improve any garden’s soil properties, after adding any soil test prescribed amendments, I prepare new garden beds for planting by also adding:
- Dynamic Lifter (or chicken manure) at a rate of a large handful/square meter. This is rich in nitrogen and phosphate, and also has good amounts of key minerals such as calcium and potassium in it. Alternatively, heavier applications of sheep or cow manure can be used, supplemented with a light dusting of sulphate of potash to boost potassium levels.
- Good quality compost – about a 2 inch layer of the stuff over the whole bed.
- Blood and Bone (no urea) at a rate of a large handful/square meter. This is rich in nitrogen, phosphate and trace minerals.
- Worm castings are also great if you have them available – as much as you can afford. However, I tend to keep them for seedling propagation.
Fork it all in thoroughly to the top few inches of the soil and water well.
6. Trace elements.
To supply a wide range of trace elements, water in heavily diluted seaweed concentrate. For optimum productivity, give your vegetable crops a repeat dose every few weeks, or substitute with your own liquid fertilizer.
Cover all with at least 2 inches of mulch (pea or Lucerne is best, but straw or even leaves is OK if sufficient nitrogen was added to your soil first).
8. A little time.
Let it all settle for a few weeks before planting into. While you are waiting you could get some open-pollinated seed and propagate your vegetable seedlings yourself.
ORGANIC FARMING FERTILIZERS TO USE IN URBAN ORGANIC BACKYARD FARMING
If you want to get serious about rural or urban organic backyard farming then you need to use soil amendments approved for organic growing. And why shouldn’t you? The health benefits are enormous. This is not an exhaustive list of organic farming fertilizers, just those I have found most useful.
- Organic amendments to acidify soil are any sulfates or elemental sulfur.
- Organic amendments to lower the acidity of soil include natural lime sand (calcium carbonate), natural dolomite (magnesium calcium carbonate) and rock potash or potassium glauconite or sulfate. Which to use and in what quantities is determined by your soil analysis results.
As far as how add calcium soil and other natural rock forms, simply work out how much you need for 10 square meters (e.g. 1 ton per hectare is 1 kg per 10 square meters), sprinkle it onto your beds at the appropriate rate, then lightly fork it in.
- Organic farming fertilizer for adding phosphate are the soft rock phosphates, chicken manure, or blood and bone. Because pigeons are primarily seed eaters, pigeon manure is also excellent, though hard to come by!
- Urban organic backyard farming fertilizer for adding nitrogen is chicken manure (e.g. Dynamic Lifter) (most concentrated), as well as sheep or cattle manure.
HOW TO ENHANCE SUSTAINABILITY OF SOIL NUTRIENTS IN RURAL OR URBAN ORGANIC BACKYARD FARMING
You’ve added all these nutrients, now you’re all set, right? Well, not quite. Over time, as you grow, eat and dispose of your plants those carefully added nutrients will eventually be used up. The only self sufficient way to enhance sustainability of soil nutrient is to return everything you take from the soil back to it.
That means weeds and old plants, as well as leftovers from garden derived meals. As far as garden derived human faeces, these are not so easy to return to the garden (unless you have a composting toilet)!
So add nitrogen rich composts or manures a few times a year to maintain fertility of urban sustainable soils and success of rural or urban organic backyard farming.