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Backyard Farming: 5 Sustainable Practices for the Backyard Farmer in 2024

Climate change is real. Its effects, evidenced by shifts and changes to weather in the long term, affect everyone’s choices now and later. 

If you have a choice to produce food in your backyard, sustainability will be of primary concern to you. Practicing sustainable farming is more of a necessity when you think of the resources it must have taken to produce your food and get it to your table. Not to mention the impact those activities have and their contribution to climate change. 

As a backyard farmer, you want to ensure you have something healthy and filling to eat for a long time at minimal expense to the environment and its inhabitants.

This article builds a strong case for why producing your food is a good choice and how to make this choice green. 

What Makes Producing Your Food a Good Choice 

The best thing about farming for sustenance is you have control over what you eat and how it’ll be produced. 

See the benefits of growing vegetables and raising animals for food in your backyard in the bigger context:

Prevent food waste by cooking and consuming only what you can eat and preserve vegetables and fruits for later. 

 You can also sell extra produce at a local farmers’ market. There’s no need to use plastic packaging, plus it’ll be the most eco-friendly way to deal with ugly fruits often sold at a discount to buyers.  

  • Less emissions. Agriculture accounted for 10% of the US’s total greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector in 2021. Those emissions were attributed to agricultural soils, livestock, and rice production, per the US Environmental Protection Agency.

You may not need to fertilize your soil at all. Or opt to use organic fertilizer appropriately. No fuel is also used in sourcing and transporting food from your farm to the table. That’s a simple yet huge win.  

The use of chemicals in agriculture has its share of controversies. One example is Roundup, a herbicide widely used by gardeners, farmers, and other agricultural workers. Claimants have alleged that their exposure to the weed killer has caused cancer such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Experts like Justice Hero can help those seeking legal assistance regarding the Roundup lawsuit

Imagine having a supply of vegetables and eggs in your backyard instead of buying them from the grocery. And you can be sure they are fresh and of good quality with little to no chemicals. Let’s not forget free protein from your backyard poultry. 

Scale production to keep your costs down. Managing a farm requires time and effort, both costs themselves, so don’t be pressured to go big at once. 

In farming (and anything else), getting your ducks in a row is better. Like chickens, ducks are prized for their eggs and meat. If you want to raise ducklings for your farm to get started, check out Stromberg’s.  

Growing your own food

How to Make it Green: 5 Sustainable Farming Practices

We’ve come to the practical aspects of sustainable farming in your backyard. Let’s dig deeper. 

1. Get to Know Your Soil 

This knowledge can save you money on supposedly soil amendments and partly answer questions about why some plants thrive or wither in your yard.

A soil test will help. The soil test will tell you the nutrients in your soil, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, and their levels. For what the soil lacks in nutrients, a fertilizer can help fill it. 

The soil test will also help you determine the soil’s pH level that influences the availability of nutrients to plants. This you can amend by adding lime or sulfur.  

The key takeaway in performing a soil test is the judicious application of fertilizer. You want to grow healthy vegetables without under or over-fertilizing, which can harm plants, animals, and the environment.

Soil testing is an ongoing assessment and can happen every few years after making changes to the soil.  

2. Maximize Water 

Water is a precious resource that requires even more mindfulness. Here are some water-saving tips for your plants.

Deliver water directly to the roots. Drip irrigation lets you accomplish this. This irrigation system allows water to drip slowly into the soil where the crop’s roots are. This way, water goes where it is needed and is applied uniformly. 

Apply mulch. Mulch enriches the soil and keeps it cool and moist. These reasons alone make mulch an all-around, useful addition to the soil. You can source materials for your mulch in your home and garden, such as dead leaves, pieces of bark, coffee grounds, and wood chips, with their pros and cons

Harvest rainwater for irrigation. Using rainwater for your crops is free except for setting up a rain barrel or more. This practice is particularly useful during the summer when demand for water is higher. You can connect the rain barrel to an irrigation system for efficient and automatic use.  

Plant drought-resistant crops to conserve water. Beans are one example of vegetables that require less water, and certain bean varieties have been found to withstand increasing temperatures brought by climate change. 

Go local. Relatedly, choose crops that are ideally suitable to conditions present in your location, so they have higher chances to thrive with just the right amount of resources. 

Use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to select crops to grow on your land. Also, look into the microclimate of your area, and best of all, talk with local gardeners.  

irrigation system

3. & 4. Choose Natural Alternatives to Chemicals and Compost  

Going organic means lessening, if not eliminating, using fertilizers and pesticides to grow your vegetables and fruits. Crops have varying fertilizer needs. Where possible and feasible, consider natural alternatives. 

Organic fertilizer offers a slow release of nutrients. This is not the case with synthetic fertilizer, designed to act fast and can thus damage the plant if applied incorrectly. 

You can create your organic fertilizer from manure. Source this from your chickens, ducks, and other animals on your farm. For example, chicken manure is rich in nitrogen, a key nutrient for plant growth and development. The nutrient is a primary component of standard fertilizers together with phosphorus and potassium. You need to age or compost chicken manure first. 

Composting can enhance soil health by recycling nutrients like food and yard trimmings from organic waste. The resulting compost is a natural, inexpensive, invaluable soil amendment. 

Chickens also take on the role of natural pest controllers. Take it from this farm that enlisted chickens in their war against insects and weeds.

Natural weed control is also the role of mulch. It saves you water by retaining moisture, and mulch, which can include compost, also keeps weeds away. The Roundup matter is an eye-opener that conventional chemicals used in agriculture may adversely affect human health.   

5. Feed Your Poultry Sustainably 

Feed will cost you a lot of money, but it’s all for ensuring the health of your chickens. Organic feed easily comes to mind as an alternative to conventional feed: its grains are grown organically and are free of GMOs

You may be able to supplement your chickens’ diet with food available at home. (Feed supposedly makes up 90% of their diet, and treats comprise 10%.)  This reduces food waste, with feeding food scraps to animals a third priority on EPA’s Wasted Food Scale. 

Be cautious: check your laws on feeding your chickens with leftover food. You can start with this legal guide to feeding leftovers for livestock.

Research what is safe (and not) for your chickens to eat. Vegetables, fruits, bread, and rice can be given as treats in moderation, according to an expert. When in doubt, don’t feed it to them. Throw food scraps in the compost pit. 

Chicken

Green Farming for Your Family 

It’s admittedly less pressure to grow and produce food for your consumption. Still, the  responsibility of efficiently and sustainably using resources comes with it. Your backyard farm’s relatively small size makes implementing sustainable practices more doable.

Whether knowing your soil and improving its health, maximizing water, climate-based crops, choosing natural over chemical, composting, and feeding your chickens sustainably, they all aim for the same thing. That is doing your part in cultivating the land and preserving the environment while maximizing the resources. 

References and Useful Resources

EPA: Climate Change Indicators: Weather and Climate

EPA: Composting

Forbes: The Time Is Ripe For Ugly Fruits And Vegetables

Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Food Recovery Project at the University of Arkansas School of Law: LEFTOVERS FOR LIVESTOCK: A Legal Guide for Using Food Scraps as Animal Feed

NPR: Farmers Enlist Chickens And Bugs To Battle Against Pests

Scientific American: 30 Heat-Tolerant Strains of Beans Identified

Successful Farming: Feeding poultry garden scraps

UC ANR Small Farms Network: Fertilizing Vegetables

UGA Extension: Mulching Vegetables

UNR Extension: Using Chicken Manure Safely in Home Gardens and Landscapes

USDA: 2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

USDA: Organic 101: Can GMOs Be Used in Organic Products?

USDA ERS: Summary Findings Food Price Outlook, 2023 and 2024

USDA: The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States

USGS: Irrigation: Drip or Microirrigation

WVU Extension: Soil Testing for Beginning Gardeners

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