“Urban farming” in the United States used to be having a small garden in the back yard to feed yourself or growing a couple of pots of vegetables on a balcony, but in the last decade, it has grown into something much larger, more efficient, and profitable. Rooftop gardens are now feeding buildings full of people, vertical, closet gardens are providing fresh greens all year long, greenhouses are being built in all shapes and sizes, and aqua/hydroponic setups are appearing all across the country. Farming no longer means huge ploughed up fields with row crops; farming now comes in many different forms. Here we will cover the basics of some of the most popular urban farming methods.
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Urban Farming Practices in the U.S
“Container gardening” is a very versatile style of urban gardening (Urban farming). Vegetables are planted in containers rather than directly in the ground, so they can virtually be placed anywhere with enough light and the right temperature. Containers can be great because they can easily be moved. That means you can grow veggies on your balcony, but you can also move them inside to avoid freezing temperatures in the shoulder seasons. Containers are also used for rooftop gardening. These containers have the possibility of being much larger, so almost any crop can be grown. Small containers can grow lettuce and most other vegetables and larger containers can be used for things like berry bushes and fruit trees.
“Vertical farming” is the process of growing food in indoor, controlled environments year-round. This is one of the most space-efficient types of urban farming as the plants are usually stacked from floor to ceiling on a shelving system. Each shelf has a light directly above it, fans circulating fresh air, and sometimes added CO2, which provides a perfect growing environment. All types of growing methods can be used on a vertical farm. Many farmers use a vertical set up to make more space for their hydroponic or aquaponic crops, while others use the most traditional medium; soil.
Advantage of Vertical Gardens
A big advantage of vertical gardens is that the food is usually grown close to where it is being consumed. This means that you could be buying berries and herbs from a supermarket that was harvested that very morning. This means a tastier, healthier food since it didn’t have to be picked before maturity and shipped thousands of miles.
One of the most common and profitable vertical crops seen today are microgreens. Microgreens are very small greens that are grown for only 7-10 days. You can use a variety of veggies ranging from arugula to radish to carrots. They all have their own unique flavour and are very nutritious. You can set up a small, vertical garden in a small corner or closet with a five-shelf, wire rack, some organic soil, a few grow lights and some 1020 seed trays. This simple setup only costs a couple of hundred dollars and can grow enough to pay itself back in about a month.
What is Precision farming?
“Precision farming” or “precision agriculture” is a combination of rigid farming techniques that are used together to create very specific and precise farming practices. An advanced vertical garden can be a great example of precision farming. The grow space can be kept at very specific conditions to ensure maximum growth potential for each plant. The temperature and humidity can be kept very exact, watering and fertilizing can be dialled in so that there is little to no waste, and the distance between food producers and consumers can be reduced. According to Berkley Lab, precision farming techniques can reduce water consumption by 90%, fertilizer by 50%, and there is the potential for no herbicide or pesticide use, which is great for organic growers!
“Smart farming” provides more tools to really dial in the precision of your farm. Sensors can be placed to help regulate the environment, the software can be utilized to keep track of every part of your farm and with wifi, you can check in on your farm without actually being there. There are many farms using robotics as well. This includes GPS driven tractors for large fields, but also robots that can harvest and process crops. Data analytics are also beginning to play a huge role. You can input all types of data from your farm to help maximize plant growth, water, and fertilizer usage, light usage, CO2 usage, customer sales, and so much more.
Greenhouses are another piece of technology that has advanced over the years. Greenhouses can help extend your season by several months or even allow you to grow year-round, depending on your climate and type of greenhouse.
Many urban farmers are now utilizing passive solar greenhouses. These types of greenhouses use a variety of technologies to help keep a more stable growing environment than a traditional greenhouse. The north wall is a solid, insulated wall. A thermal mass, such as barrels of water can be placed along the north wall to help regulate temperature. During the day, the barrels of water warm with the sun, then at night the barrels release their heat into the greenhouse. The cool water helps the greenhouse from overheating in the daytime, and the warm water helps keep it from freezing at night. Double-wall plastic is another great temperature regulating trick. A fan is used to blow air between two layers of greenhouse plastic. A four-inch gap between the plastic can create enough insulation to add about ten degrees in the greenhouse on a cold day.
Hoop houses are a cheaper, less-efficient style of greenhouse, but they are much more affordable and easier to erect. Hoop houses are great for season extensions. They can easily add two months to your season in the spring and fall. They don’t have to be big either. You can make small versions, which are often referred to as low tunnels. Low tunnels can be made with PVC and be just big enough to go over a couple of rows of crops. This is great for someone without a lot of space that wants to get early start veggies or extend their leafy green season.
What is Hydroponic farming?
“Hydroponic farming” is basically just growing plants without soil. You can use expanded clay pellets, gravel, Rockwool, or a variety of other mediums instead. Since the plants don’t have soil to get their nutrients from, you have to feed them liquid nutrients. Contrary to popular belief, this can easily be done with organic fertilizers. There is an array of companies that are fully OMRI certified organic. Hydroponic gardening is very popular due to rapid plant growth and higher yields in smaller areas.
“Aquaponics” is very similar to hydroponic farming, except that instead of using liquid fertilizers to give your plants nutrients, you use fish to fertilize them. All types of fish can be used from trout to tilapia and even goldfish. Most aquaponic gardeners use an edible fish so that they can not only harvest their crops that are being fertilized by this fish, but they can eat the fish also. These types of systems can be very sensitive, but once fully dialled in they can produce a symbiotic environment that yields high volumes of food, and the only inputs necessary are water and fish food.
With ever-growing urban populations and technological advancements, it is no wonder that more people are growing food in urban environments. It doesn’t make sense to grow the majority of the food so far away from urban centres when it is now so easy to grow it right next to the people that need it. There is no doubt that technology is only going to get better and more food is going to be grown in smaller and smaller areas.
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