Episode 027: Gardening, Micro-Farming, and the Australian Fires with Marty WareMar 10, 2020
Gardening, Micro-Farming, and the Australian Fires
This week on the podcast we have our first Aussie guest, Marty Ware. In the interview he brings up the importance of and strategies for gardening and micro-farming, as well as the state of the Australian fires recovery. For this week’s post, we wanted to dive deeper into micro-farming and how that fits into a sustainable or permaculture-aligned lifestyle.
What is Micro-Farming?
A micro-farm is any agricultural infrastructure that is on 5 acres or less. So yes, your 1 acre food forest would technically be considered a micro-farm. But these micro-farms come in many shapes and sizes. Micro-farms typically focus on fewer kinds of crops to produce those select few in bulk and then sell, things like garlic, tomatoes, herbs, micro greens, or lettuce.
For many people venturing into micro-farming, they do so for economic reasons in order to sell the produce for a profit to local restaurants, specialty markets or CSA's, though this isn’t a requirement. You could totally micro-farm to feed your family, and not be super niche in your harvest (here’s looking at you, plant guilds!)
Though I have to tell you. I ran across some REALLY profitable setups. Some people posted their YouTube videos about making a couple thousands of dollars a month just from their microgreens setup in their basement.
Here’s Marty’s video
Inside or Outside?
You can take your micro-farm indoors, or build it up outside. Let’s compare the two.
Indoor micro-farming is great for many situations. This is especially great for those without a ton of land, and/or who are living in locations with really long, cold winters. Here are some traditional and not-so-traditional places to plant indoors, just make sure to add grow lights where necessary!
- Vertically on walls
- Unused corners
- Unfinished basement
- Unused Shelf
- Middle of coffee table
- On a shelf attached below dining table
- Mantle of fireplace
- Fire Escapes
- And almost everywhere else
When looking at micro-farming outside, it’s really all about density. You are able to get more food in a smaller amount of space if you plant densely, in the different growing layers. Like in the following image that outlines the layers.
By planting closely together with the different layers, you are able to plant much more food in much less space compared to the traditional row planting approach.
Integration in a Micro-Farming Environment
As with all of the permaculture principles, Integration Rather than Segregation is a great principle to apply to the micro-farm. Integration is key when it comes to deciding on what plants to involve. Definitely build your plant guilds where it’s possible, and identify external factors you can integrate.
Can you integrate an existing downspout to irrigate that section of the farm with rainwater?
Can you integrate the old wheelbarrow and use it as a planter?
Can you take advantage of the local wildlife in the ecosystems you are building?
Animals on the Micro-farm
Depending on where you live, incorporating animals or livestock into your micro-farm may be a great option. First off, it’s important to be aware of any regulations in your city or county. If it’s a suburban area, oftentimes chickens are fine as long as there is no rooster, and there are no more than 6. However if you think outside of the box, there is livestock that isn’t necessarily against regulation.
- Chickens are great for the beginner micro-farmer who has land at least the size of a backyard. You can keep them in a small enclosure, and let them free range on the plants as long as you keep them away from new sprouts, and monitor their feeding to make sure they aren’t damaging your crops.
- A true “micro-fowl,” the quail is less common, but has many of the same benefits as owning a chicken. Their eggs can be used like chicken eggs, you just need a few more when you cook them. Their enclosure can be smaller for those looking to make every square inch count. You can also eat the quail if you’re raising them for meat, and if you are looking to use your livestock to create an income, quail eggs are great for local specialty shops and buyers fetching a pretty penny.
- Rabbit are totally overlooked as livestock when it comes to local regulations, and they are a great source of meat in a very small area. They are the most efficient meat producing animal comparing the amount of feed necessary to produce the resulting meat.
- If there is enough space for a shelter, and some type of aquaculture (pond, kid pool etc.) ducks are a great option for small areas. They are great foragers, specializing in snail and slug elimination, and much gentler on crops than chickens. Their eggs are also larger than chicken eggs and those with allergies to chicken eggs are often fine eating duck eggs.
- We have all heard about the crisis the bees are going though, and all over the world people are watching the bees. Getting bees is a great option, but it doesn’t just have to be honeybees. Sure, if you have the space for a hive box you can definitely go the honeybee direction, but if space is really limited, consider getting a bee hotel. Solitary bees like masons and leaf-cutters are SO much better at pollinating than honeybees, they are completely hands off, and they each have their particular season they are active. You can put a small bee hotel on any exterior wall or fence, and either get some solitary bees to start, or patiently wait for local solitary bees to make their home in your hotel.
- Pygmy Goats
- If you have a bit of land, even a large backyard, Pygmy or Nigerian Dwarf Goats may make a great option for small-scale dairy production. They are super fun and playful, but you don’t want to just let them loose on the garden. You can make all sorts of delicacies out of their milk, and at the end of the season, let them loose to chop and drop for you, while fertilizing for the next planting season.
- Last but not certainly not least come the worms. Worm farming, or vermiculture, should definitely be part of every garden setup no matter the size. You can keep them in a compact worm bin indoors or outdoors (as long as they don’t freeze) and they produce worm castings, which is an amazing fertilizer. You can put fruit and vegetable scraps right in the top tray and let the worms turn it into amazing fertilizer.
Well there you have it. No matter your scale, there are plenty of options to get your micro-farm on! Definitely go over to Marty’s YouTube channel and learn more about him and the things he teaches.