The Do's and Don'ts of Urban Farming - Modern Farmer

The Do’s and Don’ts of Urban Farming

Ready to dig into that city garden of your dreams? Here's our advice.


DO: Start small. Herbs and veggies, then chickens and bees, recommends the Oakland-based Novella Carpenter, author of urban farming memoir, “Farm City.” Take things slow and see if you can keep them alive long enough to move on to the next level.

DO: Share the bounty. Here – have some eggs! It’s a good way to get neighbors on your side.

DO: Learn the laws of the land. Many municipalities have their own quirky rules about what you can and can’t farm in the city. Find out now, before you get slapped with a fine. (And if you’ve got squawking animals, you will get slapped.)

DO: Get a soil test. If it’s in your soil, it’s in your food. Go to a local home and garden center and grab a test: They’re fairly accurate if you follow the directions. Then, you can work to figure out how to adjust the pH in your soil if there’s a problem.

DO: Smell clean for the bees. They don’t like anything scented or perfumed. And you don’t want to piss them off.

DO: Clean up the poop. This should be the #1 rule, so find a way to compost it. Just remember: There will always be poop. Lots of it.


DON’T: Leave your chicken feed out. Rats love chicken food. Not so surprising – because rats love any food – but chicken feed is extra tasty to them. Store chicken (and all bird food) in a tin or plastic container with a secure lid, and don’t give your chickens more food at one time than they can finish.

DON’T: Get too fancy. Work with what you have. For example, a simple painter’s suit can make a workable beekeeper’s suit. “You don’t really have to gear up,” explains Carpenter. “I can even wear my flip flops for most things.”

DON’T: Get particularly noisy animals. Roosters, chickens and geese are noisemakers. It is not a fun way to wake’up. These animals are alarm clocks without a snooze button.

DON’T: Touch plants after smoking cigarettes. Tobacco mosaic virus can ruin your crop. You can tell it’s happened by the discoloration on the leaves of tomatoes, peppers and ornamentals, all of which are the most susceptible.

DON’T: Get backyard animals if you are always on vacation. They need a lot of your attention, so two-week jaunts to Europe and weekends in the Hamptons or upstate aren’t going to make them happy – even if you’ve rigged a system to keep them well fed. Human interaction is as important as food and water.

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