how to prepare urban lot for farming

This post is dedicated to what we have done to date to prepare the land we hope to farm next spring…we highly encourage you to do your own research, but this is a quick and dirty walk through.

What to do first

  • do an honest assessment of whether farming is really what you want to do
  • work with your partner to determine your goals
  • plan how much you want to do at first
  • get started (as Joel Salatin says in You Can Farm “Just do something!”)

How do I get land?

  • you can scour the neighborhood looking for vacant lots – then talk to the neighbors to find out more about the land
  • check real estate listings if you’re willing to buy
  • talk to your neighbors or church or local school about using some of their land for your venture
  • if you have one, start in your backyard or in containers on your windowsill

I have land….now what?

  • do a soil sample (per recommendation from another farmer, we sent ours to UMASS)
  • map out where you want to plant (we are using rows of 25′ based on the SPIN method – lots of great info in the SPIN guides)
  • start prepping the soil

Soil prep (assuming you are starting with a grass field)

We did a few experiments here:

  1. Clear plastic method: lay some clear plastic on top of the grass and seal with rocks, lumber or dirt (we tucked ours into the dirt and then tamped the dirt down to make it airtight). if the temps are hot enough (80-100 degrees), you can leave the clear plastic on for several days in this weather. we started in spring and left the plastic on for over a month into summer. this method kills the grass, weeds and everything else green underneath the plastic, making it much easier to till the soil.
  2. Rototill and Broadfork: you can rototill and then use a broadfork to further loosen the sod and soil. depending on your soil type, this could be quite time-consuming and difficult (don’t be fooled by the pic of the woman in flip flops in the Johnny’s catalog – it’s not that easy unless you are working pre-tilled soil)
  3. Berta rotary plow: if you have the money and are serious (or crazy enough), you could purchase or rent (we could find no local renters here) a rotary plow. This is a device that attaches to a 2-wheeled tractor and digs into the soil like a giant drill bit. It grinds up the sod, soil, rocks and anything else that’s in its path. This tool is awesome and highly recommended as it really cuts the work down (though you still have to pick out rocks and other unwanted debris).

Ok, now I have the soil cleared and pliable…now what?

We are following the guidance of Eliot Coleman in The New Organic Grower. Our next steps are to add nutrients to the soil. We are adding the following:

  • Green sand – 800 lbs/acre – helps loosen compact soils
  • Rock phosphate – 800 lbs/acre – adds phosphorus to the soil

We purchased both of these from Ohio Earth Food in Hartville.

Once we have tilled that into the soil, we will be planting a cover crop. We’ll be planting alfalfa (we bought it from Johnny’s), which is a nitrogen fixer. It puts down a tap root, which helps break up the soil even further. Once we are at that stage we will post more info about using cover crops.

Once we have done the above steps, we hope to be ready to plant next Spring! We may even try overwintering some items.