Urban Farming


Whatever you may think of snow (and snow removal!), remember the old saying, “A good winter with snow makes all the plants grow.” If you are a gardener who lives in a winter wonderland, consider the benefits of snow!

I had almost forgotten how pretty the snow can be, hanging in the trees, blanketing the ground, covering up all the outdoor projects left undone. The neighbors will never know you didn’t clean up those old squash vines. Under a covering of snow all gardens become equal.



Snow is mostly air surrounded by a little frozen water, and despite how cold it feels to the skin, it is an excellent insulator of the soil.

I fear for the perennials when the temperatures drop suddenly before we have enough snow cover to protect the roots. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper. In wintry climates, this could lead to damage of root systems of trees and shrubs.  Snow prevents extreme cold temperatures from harming plants.



Snow protects against against wide temperature fluctuations in the soil. Under that cozy comforter of white, the roots of perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and strawberry plants are protected from the freeze-thaw cycle that can heave tender roots right out of the ground. Without snow, milder temperatures and the sun could warm the soil surface, leading to damage from soil heaving, which can break roots and dry out plant parts.


Snow also helps conserve soil moisture over the winter. Plus, did you know that nitrogen attaches to snowflakes as the snow falls through the atmosphere?

That’s why The Old Farmer’s Almanac calls snow a “poor man’s fertilizer.” Nature provides a gentle fertilizer boost to plants!


If you didn’t get around to mulching your garden this past fall, a nice blanket of snow can serve the same purpose! Never remove snow from your yard—it’s Mother Nature at work. Snown cover is valuable winter protection for your expensive trees and shrubs.

If you don’t have a consistent snow cover, of course, do make sure you mulch. In most cases, 2 to 4 inches of mulch, such as straw, pine needles, hay or bark chips, give adequate protection. You can mulch right on top of the snow. It’s better to wait until after temperatures are consistently below freezing to apply the mulch. Applying too early can smother the plant and encourage disease development.


Of course, we can all enjoy the beauty of the tree barks and evergreens contrasting against the white backdrop. Everything looks more visible, from ornamental grasses to that bright red cardinal outside your kitchen window.


Of course, heavy snow can really weigh down branches, especially multi-stemmed shrubs. Otherwise, the weight of the snow can bend branches to the ground, cutting off circulation of food manufactured by the leaves to the roots.

  • If possible, in the fall, bundle stems together using burlap or canvas.
  • In the winter, take a broom and carefully brush heavy snows from branches as soon as possible but don’t try to remove ice. More damage to the bark probably will occur than if the ice is allowed to melt on its own.
  • With young trees, you may also wish to wrap the trunks with a commercial tree wrap to help prevent bark from splitting from temperature extremes. 

It be be worthwhile to gently remove the snow from young trees so their tender bark is not gnawed away by rodents. Just be very very careful with a shovel not to cause even the smallest mechanical injury.

Even though snow removal is a back breaking chore, we need the moisture that each snow crystal provides for our gardens. Next time you are out shoveling, remember the benefits of snow and think of butterflies and apple blossoms!

Urban Farming


Learn how growing your own food can improve your physical and mental health, as well as the health of the  environment.

Growing your own produce is a simple solution to numerous health, environmental, and economic problems. Whether you are growing a single tomato plant or have a large backyard garden, it is beneficial to your health, as well as the environments.

Five reasons to grow your own food include:

1. More Nutritious

When growing your own food, your dietis more diverse and healthy, packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Food in its rawest, freshest form is not only the tastiest way to enjoy it, but also the most nutritional. The majority of produce sold in grocery stores go through a long process of being harvested, shipped and distributed to stores. Once distributed, the produce can end up staying in storage or on the shelf for an extended period of time before being purchased, losing nutritional value.

2. Stay Active

Gardening is a fun way to get outside for some fresh air and physical activity. The physical activity required in gardening has proven to promote physical health. Involvement in gardening helps to improve cardiac health and immune system response, decrease heart rate and stress, improve fine and gross motor skills, flexibility and body strength. Getting regular exercisecan relieve stress, anxiety and depression, while boosting energy.

3. Get Vitamin D

Gardening is a great way to absorb vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is crucial in order to maintain healthy bones and teeth, and it can also protect against certain diseases.

4. Save Money

You can save a lot of moneyby growing your own vegetables and fruits. By spending a few dollars on seeds, plants, and supplies in the spring, you will produce vegetables that will yield pounds of produce in summer.

5. Better for the Environment

Long-distance transportation of produce relies heavily on fossil fuels. Growing your own food would help reduce the reliance on this transportation that is harming the environment. Also, by growing your own food, you are not using chemicals or pesticides that can harm environment.

Urban Farming

Gardening for older people

Benefits of gardening for older people

Gardening is beneficial for older people because it:

  • is an enjoyable form of exercise
  • increases levels of physical activity and helps mobility and flexibility
  • encourages use of all motor skills
  • improves endurance and strength
  • helps prevent diseases like osteoporosis
  • reduces stress levels and promotes relaxation
  • provides stimulation and interest in nature and the outdoors
  • improves wellbeing as a result of social interaction
  • can provide nutritious, home-grown produce.

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Health considerations in the garden

Some physical, mental and age-related conditions must be considered when older people work in the garden, but they should not prevent people from enjoying the garden. These include:

  • skin – fragile, thinning skin makes older people susceptible to bumps, bruises and sunburn
  • vision – changes in the eye lens structure, loss of peripheral vision and generally poorer eyesight can restrict activities
  • mental abilities – mental health, thinking and memory abilities may be affected by dementia and similar conditions
  • body temperature – susceptibility to temperature changes and a tendency to dehydrate or suffer from heat exhaustion, are common concerns with outdoor physical activity for older people
  • skeletal – falls are more common because balance is often not as good. Osteoporosis and arthritis may restrict movement and flexibility.

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Adjustments to equipment and the garden for older people

Garden spaces, tools and equipment can be modified or adapted to help reduce the physical stress associated with gardening for older people. Suggestions include:

  • using vertical planting to make garden beds accessible for planting and harvesting – try using wall and trellis spaces
  • raising beds to enable people with physical restrictions to avoid bending and stooping
  • using retractable hanging baskets, wheelbarrows and containers on castors to make suitable movable and elevated garden beds
  • finding adaptive tools and equipment – these are available from some hardware shops
  • using foam, tape and plastic tubing to modify existing tools for a better grip
  • using lightweight tools that are easier to handle
  • providing shade areas for working in summer months
  • having stable chairs and tables to use for comfortable gardening
  • making sure that there is a tap nearby or consider installing a drip feeder system for easy watering.

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Safety in the garden for older people

Safety tips that older people (and their carers) should follow include:

  • Attend to any cuts, bruises or insect bites immediately.
  • Take care in the use of power tools.
  • Secure gates and fences if memory loss is an issue.
  • Ensure that paths and walkways are flat and non-slip.
  • Warm up before gardening and encourage frequent breaks.
  • Prevent sun exposure by working in the garden early in the morning or late in the day. Wear a hat and apply sunscreen frequently.
  • Drink water or juice, and avoid alcohol.
  • Wear protective shoes, lightweight comfortable clothes that cover exposed skin, a hat and gardening gloves.
  • Store garden equipment safely.

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Gardening activities for older people

There are many activities associated with cultivating a garden that older people may enjoy. These include:

  • digging
  • planting
  • watering
  • harvesting food and flowers
  • sensory enjoyment – smelling, touching, looking, listening, remembering
  • crafts and hobbies associated with plants
  • food preparation.
Urban Farming



To put it simply, whether you purchase a bed kit or build your own, your garden bed is elevated from the ground and housed within a beautifully (or simply) fashioned container.

But beyond just looks, there is a lot more to raised bed gardening than simply meets the eye.

Sure, you beautify and neaten up your growing space – but did you know that these structures also achieve tons for your plant health, soil health, and – drumroll – YOUR health?

Not to mention, you can pinch a few pennies, too.

When you get past just the aesthetic pleasures of these fabulous growing containers (though that’s not to say it’s not an amazing perk in and of itself), then that’s when things really get exciting!

Let’s take a look.


Raised beds don’t require you to break ground straightaway. Simply add your own worked and fertile soil mix to your container without having to till at all.

That way, you can keep the sod in your yard completely pristine – and even keep your tiller in the shed for the season. Heck, with your own container setup, you won’t need to invest in a tiller at all, which will save you money on your garden startup costs!


Building and working your soil will require a lot less effort, since you can start your contained garden with a desired soil mix rather than working with what you’ll find in your backyard.

Newbies to gardening can thus skip dilemmas with the soil types they’re working with in their own backyard, or other grow space.

Earth too clay? Silty? Sandy? It won’t matter with these growing structures, because you can get started with your ideal loam brought from elsewhere – and right away.


These containers give you the option to build higher-level beds, which reduces the back, neck, and shoulder strain that commonly results from typical non-container gardening practices.

There’s nothing more discouraging to both beginning AND long-time gardeners than physical strain. With raised beds, however, you can get over that hump and keep up your excitement about gardening – instead of feeling tired and hurt every time you think about it!


By keeping your garden’s earthy contents separate from the wild surroundings outside its comfortable container, there is less chance for weed seeds to spread through your growing environment, thus reducing weed growth.

Since you’re bringing in your own mix to start as well, this doubles your protection against weed invasion, especially if you ensure that your soil mix is weed free.

Last but not least: if your kit or construction comes with bottom protection that shields against the earth underneath it, it becomes all the harder for plants and weeds growing outside of the container to find their way in!


Low-set containers that have contact with the ground – and/or which hold a finer-textured growing mix – allow for quicker root development than if plants were planted in backyard sod or hard-pan alone.

Such soils are tougher on root development, and impact plant appearance, health, and harvest times. Not so if you introduce your own mix, and particularly one that’s better designed for nurturing sensitive plant growth.

The University of Missouri Extension points out the obvious: better root growth equals healthier plants, which ultimately equals higher yields!


Soil in containers never gets compacted by being walked on, making it excellent for both plant and soil health. Sheltered kits can further reduce compaction by providing protection from heavy rain.

As many of my farmer mentors have told me: “the bane of all growers is compacted soil!” An elevated container is pretty much a guarantee that this wily obstacle will never be your enemy again.

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension highlights the same benefits, saying that it’s a wise enhancement to your garden especially if there is high foot traffic (and the presence of less careful, rambunctious children) nearby.


For gardeners intent on growing their own food, the appeal of increasing vegetable and produce yields through intensive plantings is a real plus.

Raised beds are the perfect setups for much closer-clustered plantings, as in the styles of square foot gardening, biointensive planting, and more.

Instead of having a traditional garden where much of the space is dedicated to paths or spaces for conventional row planting, you use up ALL your space in a much smaller container garden, and can thus grow a whole lot more in only a fraction of the space.


Since soil has nowhere to go when held within a planter (unless it has no bottom – in that case, runoff leaches downward), you don’t lose nutrients or structure after hard rains like you would in a typical garden!

If you are also dedicated to improving your soil microbiome and encouraging the liveliest, healthiest, and most diverse growing environment possible, containers will further ensure that the microbes you’ve lovingly tended for so long don’t go anywhere, either.


Weed reduction calls for less chemical herbicides. There’s no better way to start some quick, convenient organic gardening in your own backyard, than by getting your own raised bed!

Again, this calls for another celebration for the money you’ll keep in your pocket. Chemical herbicides are a financial investment on top of your garden startup, and you can thus effortlessly skip over those costs, and ensure that the food you do grow is 100% safe, healthy, and chemical-free.


As you can see, building your own raised bed or getting a kit can save you tons of the effort that typically goes into traditional gardening.

It can also save you money, physical strain, and even protect your health in other marginal ways as well!

Cutting out all that extra toil makes starting a garden from scratch, as well as fitting gardening into your busy schedule, much easier in many ways.

For those of you out there who have found the idea of gardening daunting, in spite of its many health and financial benefits: wait no more. Get yourself a raised bed garden!

Raised Bed Construction |

It’s plain and simple: these setups are the smoothest way to go, and it’s especially important to choose a design that will last a good, long while.

Urban Farming

Growing your own food at home can be rewarding, but is it cost-effective?

Tomatoes, beans, carrots, corn.

When my husband and I lived in regional Victoria, we grew it all.

The soil was nutrient-rich and the sun was plentiful. The hardest part was keeping the water up on those hot blustery days.

But since moving to suburban Melbourne, the veggie patch just hasn’t taken off. After carefully watering and fertilising our tomato plants, it was so disappointing to pick just a handful last year.How to drought-proof your gardenGardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis shares his tips on how to help your garden cope with drought.Read more

We’ve recently moved again, and this time around, the garden needs a total rethink.

As we stood on the lawn with a cup of tea, staring at what could become our dream veggie patch, my husband asked what many of us have surely asked before — is it really worth trying to grow food, or are we better off just buying it all from the store?

So, I asked for help from the experts, including kitchen garden extraordinaire Stephanie Alexander, celebrity gardening guru Costa Georgiadis and Australia’s largest gardening gang, The Diggers Club, to find out once whether growing your own veggies is ever financially worth it.

But Emily. It’s not all about the money

I know, I know.

For me, nothing beats the taste of a fresh tomato picked off the bush. In fact, many of the benefits of home gardening are hard to put a value on.

Harry checks the tomatoes growing in the vegetable garden.
Tomatoes are a favourite for Emily (plus they’re easy to grow).(612 ABC Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe)

So before we dive into the economics of it all, it’s worth laying out exactly what they are.

As Costa says, you can’t really compare the price of home-grown to supermarket-bought.

“I think that’s where people sometimes lose the true value,” he says.

“A supermarket price has been grown generally in broad scale, with massive inputs, massive transport – a whole lot of hidden costs that are consumed within that overall volume that’s produced.

“I try and stay away from that direct comparison because I say what else did it provide?

It provided the therapy, it provided the relaxation, it provided those health benefits of being outside.”

For the Diggers Club’s Marcelle Swanson, who lives on a 20-acre self-sufficient property, the benefits are all about nutrition.

“You obviously know exactly how you’ve grown things and what’s gone into them. So, then you’re back in control of what you consume,” she says.

A woman with dark hair crouches in a large vegetable garden, smiling at the camera.
Marcelle Swanson is part of Australia’s biggest gardening group, The Diggers Club.(Supplied: Marcelle Swanson)

Marcelle hasn’t bought any meat or veggies for over eight years.

“My husband and I regularly don’t really know what things cost. When someone comes over for dinner and we give people a roast, we actually don’t understand that at most people’s homes, that roast is probably a $100 dinner that you’re putting on for someone. At our house, it’s just food,” she says.

For Stephanie Alexander – chef, author and the creator of the Kitchen Garden Foundation – growing your own is about enjoyment and educating young children.

“Accountants may not value these things, but for food gardeners they have significant value,” she says.

“Perhaps the biggest cost is your time, but for most gardeners they would laugh and say gardening is not work – it’s my release.”

Ok, the broader benefits are clear. But again, what about the costs?

Do we really need fancy wicking beds or raised garden beds to get started?

The experts say no.Tree change advice from people who’ve done itKey aspects of your life can shift dramatically when you leave the city for the country — here’s how to adjust.Read more

‘If you’ve already got a little bit of space in full sun in your backyard, then realistically, the costs could be down to one bag of good compost and some manure,” Marcelle says.

“Don’t be afraid to grow in containers,” Costa adds.

Even better if you can pick them up second-hand or in hard rubbish.

“If you do that, not only will you get to know your yard and the sun, but you don’t have to do the back-breaking work initially by building the soil in a garden bed and maybe removing grass and so on,” he says.

I want bang for my buck. Which veggies do I choose?

Most home gardens tend to be small, so Stephanie suggests choosing plants that are compact.

“Yes to tomatoes and eggplant and capsicums (all crop heavily and are compact plants), but no to onions or parsnips as they take up lots of space for long periods of time,” she says.

“Yes to silverbeet because it is pickable 12 months of the year, yes to soft tender lettuces that grow fast and need a ready supply of new seedlings to keep up the salad supply.”

Costa Georgiadis kneels with Coniston Public School students Jovan Uzelac-Stojadinovic and Molly Smeaton.
Gardening guru Costa Georgiadis wants us to consider more than just economics when growing your own food.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

Marcelle agrees.

“Tomatoes are definitely one of the most cost-effective,” she says.

“They are a high-yield crop for minimal input, so they really are a great one to save money and to fill your pantry.”

And the costs are pretty low.

“You’ve got the sun, you’ve got water, you might have improved the soil at some stage, you might want to give them an application of seaweed solution or something like that,” Marcelle says.

They work out to be in the cents per kilo.

A packet of cherry tomato seeds will set you back about $4-5, or about $3 for a seedling.

“Your average tomato plant will give you anywhere between eight and 10 kilos for something like a cherry tomato,” says Costa.

Do the maths for me. I want to know how much I’ll save!

In the capital cities, it costs at least $8-17.50 per kilogram (or more if you are buying organic or live remotely).

That’s surprising – home grown tomatoes will still be cheaper per kilo for most.How to compost your dog’s pooRather than wrap it in plastic, why not use your pet’s poo as a sustainable fertiliser?Read more

If you’re a summer salad lover like me, lettuce is a good crop to grow.

“It’s a quick crop, you can be harvesting lettuce in six weeks,” Marcella says.

“If you normally go through three lettuces a week, you’d only plant six seeds a week so you stagger your harvest – that’s the trick.”

Costa wants us to think smart, by going for repeat harvests.

“You want to grow things you can multiple harvest, not just once at the end of 150 days,” says Costa.

“That’s where things like salad greens are really valuable. You can repeat pick.”

The seeds for mini cos lettuce cost about $4-$5 for a packet of 250. And again, the input costs are minimal.

At the supermarkets – it costs about $2-$3 for two (again, it’s more if you’re buying organic or live remotely).

But I’ve got nowhere to grow stuff

We hear you. Not everyone has a backyard. Not even a small one.

“If you’ve only got a balcony or something small where you can only have a few pots, you’ve got to get a little more creative. But one square metre can grow a fair amount of food for a family,” said Marcelle.

Indira's blacony
You can get bang for your buck with a small balcony garden.

She used to live in a unit with tiny balcony and says the best plants for tiny spaces are herbs.

But which ones?

Perennials like thyme or sage will keep growing year-round.

“You can harvest those all year for about three to four years before you even see any loss in the plant,” Marcelle says.

It costs about $5 per potted plant.

“You’d never have to buy dried [herbs] again. Often you’d spend about $4 at the supermarket on one small bunch,” she adds.

Herbs are a favourite for Stephanie, too.

“Think of how much one pays at the supermarket for a bunch of parsley when you really only wanted 1 tablespoon of chopped for your recipe tonight,” she says.

“The purchased parsley will smell bad and not keep well for more than 3 days in the refrigerator.”

Are there any plants that are just not worth it?

Plants that take up a lot of valuable growing space may not be worth it for the home gardener.

Stephanie suggests not bothering with onions or parsnips.Supplier supermarket boycottSeveral large packaged food manufacturers have flexed their muscle by withholding popular brands to demand price hikes.Read more

“They take up lots of space for long periods of time,” she says.

For Marcelle, cabbage is a no-no.

“Cabbage is one of those things where it takes so long to grow in the garden. They can be taking up valuable space in your garden for 22 weeks.”

So with all that in mind, there’s really only one more piece of advice to keep in mind.

And it’s perhaps one of the most important things to consider.

“Just because you’re in a bit of a lean patch, doesn’t mean you give up the game. Get back into the nets,” implores Costa.

You probably won’t kill everything you touch. Give it a good crack.

Urban Farming

Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean

The twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda ranks among the world’s “high income non-OECD” countries. But a study in 2007 found that 28 percent of the country’s population was indigent, poor or at risk of falling into poverty in the event of an economic shock or natural disaster. Both happened in 2008. Global food price inflation led to steep increases in the local cost of food, which accounts for almost half of spending among the poorest households. In October, Hurricane Omar brought floods that and caused heavy crop losses. Both events prompted the government to accelerate its plans for boosting the country’s food production, including action to promote traditional home gardening. Six years later, the National Backyard Gardening Programme produces 280 tonnes of vegetables annually and is seen as key to achieving “zero hunger” in Antigua and Barbuda.

Antigua and Barbuda has a long tradition of backyard (or “kitchen”) gardens, used to grow food for the family and a little extra for sharing with friends and neighbours. But that tradition was in steady decline, as people shifted away from fruits and vegetables to processed foods and diets rich in fat, sugar and salt. At the same time, farming areas have been depopulated as rural residents drifted to the capital city, Saint John’s. Almost 60 percent of the population now resides in the districts of Saint John’s City and Saint John’s Rural, and most of that “rural” population is likely to be engaged in urban pursuits.

Along with urbanization and the closing of the sugar industry, agriculture’s contribution to the national GDP has slipped to just 2 percent, dwarfed by the tourism and banking sectors. Less than 3 percent of the labour force works in agriculture. Farming suffers from intense competition for land from housing and tourism development, a lack of year-round production and processing technologies, and adverse environmental conditions, including chronic water shortages and widespread deforestation.

Although horticulture is now the dominant agricultural activity, in 2008 it was meeting barely more than a quarter of local demand. The country’s bill for imported fruit and vegetables rose from US$4 million in 2000 to US$12.8 million in 2008, when the volume of imported vegetables reached more than 5 200 tonnes. That year, local vegetable production was just 2 000 tonnes.

The impact of food price inflation and Hurricane Omar in 2008 underscored the vulnerability of Antigua and Barbuda’s food system to external shocks. To strengthen the country’s food producing capacity, the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Housing and the Environment launched in 2009, with assistance from FAO, a National Food Production Plan. As well as providing for the rehabilitation and upgrading of agricultural infrastructure – such as agricultural stations, laboratories, farm roads, dams and wells – the plan called for action to boost the contribution of traditional home gardens to national food security.

That initiative has grown into the National Backyard Gardening Programme, which is managed by the Ministry’s Agricultural Extension Division. The programme is now active in all districts of the country, including rural areas, with 2 500 registered households participating. Including members of those households, the programme currently benefits directly an estimated 7 500 people.

Backyard farmers are encouraged to register with the Ministry of Agriculture so they can access support services on request. Support includes the advice of eight technical officers and six community facilitators, as well as the supply of vegetable seeds, seedlings, fruit trees and inputs, free of charge or at minimal cost.

In 2011, the programme distributed fertilizer and 250 000 assorted vegetable seedlings to backyard farmers. It has also introduced modern, productivity-enhancing technologies, such as drip irrigation, vermicomposting, shade houses, and microgardening in cut drums and on table pallets.

The number of backyard gardeners has grown along with the effects of the global economic recession, which has reduced local employment opportunities and incomes. The participant base now includes religious organizations, community groups, schools, para-military services and prisons. There is no class distinction among participants, who include lawyers, doctors, pilots, accountants, nurses, civil servants and businessmen. But there is a clear gender dimension: home gardening is dominated by women, who outnumber male gardeners by more than 3 to 1. As regards family size, 55 percent of registrants have from one to three family members, and 43 percent from four to six. Only 2 percent of the registrations came from families of more than six persons.

The gardens are used to grow traditional local vegetables, such as eggplant, cucumbers, okra, thyme and chives, as well as tropical crops that are also imported, such as tomatoes, carrots, sweet peppers, onions and cabbage. Most vegetables are consumed fresh, with little or no processing, although hot peppers are often sundried or refrigerated, okra and spinach are blanched, and fruit is processed into drinks.

The amount of land being used for backyard gardening cannot be easily quantified. Most gardens are very small, ranging from 1 to 10 sq m, and many producers grow vegetables in recycled containers of various shapes and sizes. However, using an average productivity coefficient, the Extension Division calculates that urban and peri-urban gardening occupies a land area equivalent to about 20 ha.

Of the 2 500 households engaged in backyard gardening, more than two-thirds consume most of what they grow, and give some away to friends, colleagues and neighbours. The main benefits are savings on food purchases, and improved household nutritional status. Around 650 also use their gardens as a source of income, by selling produce at local markets and shops. Home production has also created jobs in the processing of produce into sauces, jams and jellies, the production of seedlings, and grafting trees. As well as promoting vegetable gardening, the Extension Division encourages poultry keeping in schools and apiculture in backyards.

The National Food Production Plan and the Backyard Gardening Programme have considerably improved Antigua and Barbuda’s food security. Vegetable production in rural areas reached 3 200 tonnes in 2012, an increase of more than 60 percent since 2008. Over that period, urban and peri-urban production grew even more rapidly, from 500 to 900 tonnes.

Backyard gardens accounted for about 280 tonnes, or 7 percent of the country’s vegetable production. Another 620 tonnes came from peri-urban vegetable growers who have expanded their acreages and, thanks to the use of improved seed, integrated pest management and packaging, are supplying lettuce, spinach and other high-value crops to hotels and supermarkets, and making high-volume sales in public markets.

Home vegetable production is also seen as a food security bulwark in case of extreme weather events. When Hurricane Earl struck Antigua in August 2010, flooding “drowned” large fields of vegetables in rural areas and caused crop losses of around 20 percent. However, backyard production was not significantly affected, since home gardens are smaller in size, more intensively managed and quick to regenerate.

Backyard gardening is now so popular that the government has designated 21 April the official National Backyard Garden Day. Government support to urban and peri-urban agriculture is included in the National Food and Nutrition Security Policy, the National Poverty Reduction Strategy, the National Economic and Social Transformation Plan and, most recently, the Zero Hunger Challenge Plan of Action. The national Medical Benefit Scheme, with the assistance of the Ministry of Agriculture, has launched “Grow what you eat”, a school gardening programme that is now active in four primary schools.

The government has set a target of producing at least 1 800 tonnes of vegetables annually in citizens’ backyards. In order to do so, the programme will need to be considerably expanded and to draw on the lessons learned so far.

Continued government support is crucial. Backyard agriculture needs to be factored into the national budget so that it is included in allocations made for the provision of services to agriculture as a whole. Funds are needed to increase the supply of material inputs, such as seed and irrigation systems, and to introduce improved production and postharvest technologies. The country’s Bendal agricultural station needs upgrading in order to increase the mass production of seedlings for distribution. A supply of small tractors would also help larger-scale, peri-urban horticulture.

One of the major challenges to the programme’s sustainability is access to resources, especially for vulnerable families. While there are credit institutions that lend to farmers, borrowers need collateral, which low-income families have very little of.

There is also a need for community education in the use of greywater on vegetables, which is not a common practice. Since water is a scarce and expensive resource in Antigua and Barbuda, it is important to reduce growers’ dependency on the domestic supply through small-scale greywater recycling.

Because most of the crops grown in backyards are consumed fresh, training is also needed in food safety and in integrated pest management, to eliminate the use of synthetic pesticide. In addition, there are problems in post-harvest management and storage, which lead to high food losses.

Finally, creating networks of gardeners would help them to share experiences, technology and information, and to organize group visits to see what others are doing and how to make home-level innovations more sustainable. Among priorities for future development, therefore, is the formation of a backyard producers’ association, which would assist them in sourcing inputs and marketing output cooperatively.

Zero hunger by 2015

Antigua and Barbuda’s backyard gardens play a key role in an ambitious plan to achieve “zero hunger” in the country by 2015. Launched in February 2013, the plan takes up UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge, which calls for action to ensure, worldwide, 100 percent access to adequate food all year round, zero stunting among children of less than two years, 100 percent growth in small farmer productivity and income, the sustainability of all food systems, and zero loss or waste of food.

The plan, which was prepared jointly by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, FAO and four other UN and intergovernmental organizations, aims at eliminating hunger and extreme poverty in the island state within two years. Its strategy is to strengthen and diversify the agriculture sector, improve the nutrition and health status of the population, expand social protection, create employment and income generating opportunities for the poor, and ensure good governance of hunger and poverty programmes.

Backyard gardening is seen as a “critical element” in increasing food availability at the household level. The plan is expanding the scale of the programme, with special focus on women and youth. Community facilitators are working with extension officers in six backyard gardening demonstration centres, where vulnerable households are trained in establishing backyard plots and the use of technologies such as drip irrigation and microgardening. The plan also calls for starting vegetable gardens in Antigua and Barbuda’s 33 schools, and including produce from backyard and school gardens in the national school meals programme, which provides meals daily for 3 000 students.

Urban Farming

The Rise of Urban Farming

More people than ever are growing food in cities, which happen to be where most of the world’s people now live. In windowsills, on rooftops and in community gardens, they’re burying seeds in Havana, Kinshasa and Hanoi—and in Chicago, Milwaukee and Atlanta. Novella Carpenter’s 2009 memoir, Farm City, trumpets the value of raising chickens, pigs and bees—in Oakland.

Urban farming is a response to a variety of pressures. Large parts of the developing world are facing shortages of water and arable land, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says. Governments and other sponsors have supported urban food-growing projects in Cuba, Colombia, Botswana and Egypt. In the developed world, small-scale urban farms are seen as an antidote to industrialized agriculture’s excesses, including chemical fertilizers that pollute waterways and the high costs, both monetary and environmental, of transporting food to urban markets.

Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, has proposed “vertical farming”: growing food—including fish and poultry—in urban buildings as tall as 30 stories and covering a city block. In his vision, you could eliminate the need for soil by growing plants hydroponically (in a liquid) or aeroponically (in the air). You’d reduce water use and end runoff by recycling water in a closed irrigation system. Transportation costs would be next to nil.

Such a high-rise farm has not yet been built. But in Devon, England, the Paignton Zoo has maintained a hydroponic, controlled-irrigation garden for several months. The yield from its 11,000-odd leafy vegetable plants—lettuce, spinach, herbs—is fed to the animals. The garden takes up 1,000 square feet in a greenhouse, about one-twentieth of what it would require in a field. Kevin Frediani, the zoo’s curator of plants, says its key technology, a system of mobile nine-foot-high racks that help ensure the plants are properly fed and exposed to light and air, could be scaled up.

The maker of those racks, Britain-based Valcent Products Inc., says it is speaking to potential customers in more than 30 countries. “Agriculture has many problems, and it needs to have different methods as part of its armory of solutions,” says Valcent spokesman Tom Bentley. “Vertical farming will be part of that.”

Urban Farming

Urban Organic Backyard Farming

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.A comprehensive beginner’s guide to growing your own vegetables and fruit organically.
Get this eBook instantly for only $7.95AUD!
Click here for more info about this eBook.We show how to use organic farming fertilizer to enhance sustainability of soil nutrient and organic farming soil composition.

If your goal is to grow your own healthy food and become more self sufficient, then right here is a good place to start!


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 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.


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.
Garden tunnel house shade house

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.


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.

5. Mix.

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.

7. Mulch.

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.


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.


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.

Urban Farming

Five Benefits of Farm Fresh Eggs

Eggs are one of nature’s most perfect protein sources.

That’s why the average American eats more than 260 eggs each year.1 How can we take this essential food to the next level? Families across the country have found the answer with farm fresh eggs.

image of 5 benefits of farm fresh eggs

At just 70 calories, you can enjoy the health benefits of eggs guilt-free. Each large two-ounce (57 gram) egg provides six grams of digestible protein. With 18 of the 20 amino acids and all 10 essential amino acids in abundance, eggs have an excellent amino acid profile.2

But not all eggs are created equally. Egg quality, taste and nutrition are connected to the production system behind the eggs.

It all starts with the feed given to the hen who lays the eggs. People enjoy raising chickens because it gives them the power to decide how the hens are raised. Then, the payoff is fresh eggs with added nutrition and undeniable flavor.

Following are five key benefits of farm fresh eggs.

1. The power to choose
Many chicken raisers have joined the farm fresh egg movement because they are able to choose everything for the birds, from housing to healthcare and from feed to entertainment. These choices impact the eggs the hens produce.

This mentality was clear when polling chicken enthusiasts on the Purina Poultry Facebook page. Chicken raisers said: “My chickens are a part of my family. I love choosing everything for them, and my family enjoys the eggs and entertainment they give us.” And, “It’s amazing what animals can do for us simply by being themselves.”

2. Local support
Farm fresh eggs benefit others in your local economy and ecosystem, starting in the backyard and connecting to the community. To begin, backyard chickens can benefit the backyard by naturally fertilizing, managing insects and controlling weeds. Their impact then connects to the community with the purchase of local supplies and shared camaraderie.

Backyard chickens have the power to build a sense of community and local pride. From chicken meet-up groups and coop tours to inclusion in community gardens and school curriculum, these wonderful birds quickly become a part of the communities they live in.

3. Undeniable freshness
Farm fresh eggs can be collected within minutes, providing convenient, homegrown food. Backyard chicken raisers enjoy visits to the backyard each morning to greet their pets and gather freshly laid eggs. 

You can enjoy the health benefits of farm fresh eggs through added fresh flavor each day or you can store them refrigerated for up to 30 days. Having a source of fresh eggs right in the backyard allows families to experiment with new recipes and enjoy eggs whenever they like.

4. Enhanced flavor and color
The more tangible benefits of farm fresh eggs are flavor and color. Farm fresh eggs are known for having rich, vibrant yolks and firm, clear whites. This is because specific feed ingredients are responsible for taste and appearance. For example, marigold extract impacts yolk color while added calcium promotes stronger shells.

Color and consistency of the yolk and egg are largely due to the chicken’s feed. When you raise backyard hens, you can choose to feed a high-quality complete feed that impacts the taste and quality of the egg.

5. Added nutrition
Perhaps the top feel-good reason about farm fresh eggs is their potential nutritional benefits, including added omega-3.

In Purina’s research trials, hens fed Purina® Layena®  Plus Omega-3 laid eggs with 250 milligrams of omega-3.Conventional, store-bought eggs only have 50 milligrams. This makes farm fresh eggs a nutritious decision that everyone can feel good about.

Urban Farming

5 benefits of flower gardening

Are you thinking about starting a flower garden but aren’t sure if it’s right for you? Let me tell you why YOU SHOULD! In this article, I will outline several benefits of starting your own flower garden.

One of my favorite features of Thistle Downs Farm is the beautiful flower gardens that we maintain each year. A large amount of the credit goes to my Grandpa Phil, who meticulously manages these plots down to the last pebble. The hard work definitely pays though, and we are rewarded with a wonderful oasis right outside our front door!

Starting a flower garden has several benefits. In this article, I have outlined five important reasons why you should start a flower garden today, so let’s get into it!


Butterflies in the flower garden

Honey bees and butterflies LOVE flower gardens. Flowers are a main source of nectar, which these wonderful insects use as their food source. In the process of retrieving the nectar, they inadvertently collect pollen from the stamen(the male reproductive organ of the plant). Then, when they move on to another flower of the same type, they deposit the pollen into the pistil, where the female reproductive organs (called ovules) are contained. This process of pollination is crucial to agriculture and food production because it allows plants to bear fruit and produce seeds. Without pollination, we wouldn’t be able to grow produce and the world would be in deep trouble. So PLEASE be nice to the honeybees!


One of the flower gardens at Thistle Downs

One of the great parts about starting a flower garden is how inexpensive it can be to get going. Gardening is one of those hobbies where you can spend money on fancy equipment and pre-started flowers, but you don’t have to. You can save your money by getting a little thrifty.

Use tools and equipment you have laying around in your workshop or garage. Your equipment won’t have a big impact on how your garden turns out. When you are just getting started, an old trowel will work just as well a fancy new one with a molded grip that you saw in a magazine.

Also, get creative with your planters. I actually prefer to use repurposed items for planting instead of the generic plastic garden center varieties. I love the way flowers look when planted in an old tractor tire or barrel. It adds wonderful character to the farm.

Finally, save money by spending time. Seeds are way cheaper than starter plants. You will have to work a little harder to get them started and transplanted, but if you are willing to put in the work before it’s actually time to plant outside, you can save a bunch of money and grow exactly what you want!


A bird bath makes a beautiful centerpiece in our flower garden

This one is easy. A well-manicured flower garden is a wonderful way to beautify your home and create a warmer, more welcoming vibe. It let’s people know that you take pride in your home and your community


Flower gardens at Thistle Downs Farm

Planting a flower garden is great for the environment for multiple reasons. The first reason being, flowers undergo the process of photosynthesis to produce chlorophyll. During photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen. This helps to reduce CO2 emissions and provide cleaner, oxygen-rich air (however small the impact may be).

The other way flower gardens help the environment, is by using their roots to stabilize the soil. This reduces soil erosion because the roots act like a framework to provide structure underground. This is an important consideration in sustainability and land preservation.


There are several health benefits to planting a flower garden as well. First, gardening is a great means of exercise, especially for the middle aged and elderly. Gardening aids in strength and flexibility due to the bending, lifting, and stretching required. Digging, weeding, watering, and edging amount to a great workout!

Second, gardening can actually boost your immunity. By working in and around the soil, you are exposing yourself to common bacteria and microbes. This allows your body to build up its immune system by creating antibodies. So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty!

Finally, gardening can do wonders for your cognitive and emotional health. The beautiful colors and sweet smells of a flower garden can help improve your mood and help you to relax.