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Urban Farming & Backyard Garden: A spring phenomenon!

Posted April 08, 2020 by Dr. Wei Z

It is so often that someone would start a backyard garden or large scale urban farming in the spring, enthusiastically. But as the weather warms up, the enthusiasm quickly dissipates. The heat, the sweat and those mosquitoes will keep people from working in the garden. Drought may stress the crops while weeds prevail. In the unattended garden, vegetables and crops would suffer while weeds and pests take over. The following pictures were a screen shot from a google map street view images off North 17th street in Richmond Va. You can check this site by yourself: Open Google Map

So it is like just a spring phenomenon! For some people, they would come back the following year thinking they can do better. For some others, they would give up completely. Most people, the produce never offsets the costs of setting up a garden. Next picture is a picture from August 2016 (when weeds were in total control) and April 2018 (when they were given up).

How can you avoid the same fate of many urban farming projects? What are the problems? More importantly, are there solutions to these problems? Let's talking about the problems.

  1. 1. Watering: Too much or too little water is not good for plants. For most vegetables and garden plants, watering two to threes times a week is recommended. Because of the water is present, mosquito population is typically higher around garden area.
  2. 2. Weeds: the destructive power of weeds are often underestimated. It can easily reduce your produce by 50%. Sometimes, 100%. They compete with your crops for water, nutrients and sunlight. Most of the time, weeds win. So you need to get rid of them when they are still small. That means you need to do weeding once a week.
  3. 3. Pests and Diseases:  Mammals like rabbits and deer, insects like slugs and aphids, and many bacteria and fungi can cause a complete failure to your garden. You need to pay attention and check daily for damages.

After all, successful gardening is very labor intensive and time consuming. In order to be able to harvest something, you have to constantly put time and labor into it.

You may want to ask, why don't farmers seem to have these issues? The truth is that they have the same issues, just that they have to solve them or tolerate them to make a living. City people may not be used to the working conditions farmers have to endure. Before I went to college, I was a farm boy and worked with my parents whenever possible. I still remember those days when we worked with my parents on our farm. In contrast, backyard gardens or urban farming projects are more for fun or leisure, not for making a living. 

Are there solutions to these problems? Yes. But do not expect that they will make it less labor intensive or time consuming. 

Watering too much or too little is not good for your plants. In cities, more often watering may be necessary due to the heat island effect. It may also need less watering if buildings are blocking the sun from your garden for a long period of the day time. My recommendation is to use the soil moisture as the indicator whether water is needed and how much to water. TreeDiaper® technology is also known as soil moisture stabilizer. It helps to mitigate the problems with too much and too little watering. It recharges whenever there is rainfall. For some of our testing gardens, we can go for a whole growing season without watering. For the ones that we harvest from, we the garden water once a month. And we provide soil moisture probes as free gifts for our customers. 

Weed Control can be easy with TreeDiaper® garden mat products. The black top cover blocks the sunlight and help to prevent weed seeds from germinating. The weight of the water in the garden mat keeps it close to the surface.

Pest Control in agricultural industry heavily relies on pesticides (except some organic farms). If it is your own backyard garden, you may not want pesticides. So hand picking the pests is one way or, using some pesticides that are not harmful for human beings is another. Either way, it can consume a lot of your time.

The same containers shown in the failed urban farm project in Richmond Va were put in a trial with TreeDiaper® garden mat products. In 2017, the garden bed was in not bad shape during a drought: Below is a picture from 2019. Not much weeds, not much watering need.

"We live in a very dry area. We are also old and disabled so we can't get out and water every day. It is great that the TreeDiaper® can essentially do the watering for us when we can't do it ourselves. We fill them up when we can and they do the rest. They are wonderful!"

- Doris S, Happy Customer