Perennials Have Their Place

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

Because of its backyard-size scale, SPIN-Farming emphasizes crops with very short growing times that can be grown and harvested very quickly, because that is the way to multiply your production from a small space. But perennial crops, like these sunchokes, can also come into play.

SF photo blog sunchokes

Right now I am growing them in the perimeter area of my SPIN farm. But if you have the space, a segment size planting can be worth a lot of money. A local garden center is always asking if we have any, and they are willing to pay $10 lb. It’s also a pretty easy sell at market, and to chefs.

Once planted, sunchokes are there to stay. Other perennial crops, like horseradish, rhubarb, mint and raspberries can also earn their place in a SPIN crop repertoire. Even if you have limited space, don’t limit your planting to just annuals. Perennials are crops that keep on giving.


Weeding Jujutsu

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK  

Perennial weeds come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more controllable than others. In sub-segment size areas under 500 sq. ft. you can take try the Terminator approach to eradicate them completely to keep the plot in production.

Larger areas take more finesse because it is harder to know what you are dealing with. For instance, I’ve worked plots for years without any sign of weeds, and then one season they just start showing up. Many SPIN farmers are presented with offers for larger size  plots, in the 1/4 to half-acre range, that are too good to refuse. They clean them up so they look like a field of dreams and then bindweed starts sprouting everywhere. In these situations eradication will take time and effort you don’t have, and it might not even be possible.

Instead, fight one aggressive plant with another. If you put in widely spaced crops that grow relatively quickly, such as winter squash, they can duke it out with the weed once they start vining out. In essence they are acting as a weed suppressant in their own right.

SF photo fb weed jujutsu squash

Potatoes are also a good option, since once you hill them, you can easily aggressively weed around them. Green beans and broad beans are other options and are ones I will be using this year in a perennial grass problem area.

SF photo fb weed jujutsu

So when it comes to weeds know there is another approach besides hasta la vista. Instead use appropriate crop selection and technique to win your battle with weeds.


Insta-fame. Insta-millions. Insta-success!

Courtesy of Julianna Tan, owner/operator, Those Girls at Market, Saskatoon, SK

I’m just playing with you. Instagram doesn’t mean any of the above but it should be a tool to help you build a following and keep up with the cool kids.

SF photo guest blog Julianna Instagram logo


In the exponentially fast-paced world of social media, Instagram has changed in many ways since we last had a chat. Just a few months ago, I briefly described what Instagram is and how you can use it as a small business owner.

Today we revisit the concept and update readers on the following questions:
What is instagram? How do I use it? What benefit could this social media platform provide for me as a small business owner?

So let’s get down and dirty with the details. Instagram recently announced they’ve reached 500 million users worldwide. Of those users, over 300 million are using Instagram everyday. So what’s the hype?

Instagram instantly builds communities by bringing people together over common interests, from hip-hoppers to shoe-shoppers; the everyday experience lets people stay connected, share experiences with like-minded individuals, and inspire a sense of wonder.

Instagram is a mobile (smart phone) app that allows users to:
• Upload and edit photos and videos
• Write a caption or message along with each photo or video (altogether, we will refer to a photo/video and caption as a “post”)
• Utilize hashtags (#) to “tag” your posts, which allows other users who are interested to find your post (To learn more about hashtags, read here.
• Like and comment on other users posts
• Send direct messages to a user’s inbox

How would you use it? That’s up to you. Just the way everyone has their own personal clothing style, everybody has their own Instagram style as well. Some will choose to make it an artsy portfolio filled with colourful vegetable photos. For an example, you can see my personal Instagram account here.

Others will use it to showcase behind the scenes production- customers love seeing how an item went from the kitchen (or field) to their hands. One of my favourite examples is a local bakery here. Here’s an example of one of their posts that explains some behind-the-scene action.

Others will use it to keep followers in the community updated on upcoming events or news, like this.
(If you scroll down far enough, you will see that I use to run this page. You can tell by the artsy vegetable photos)

Using your Instagram account is a free way to advertise to people in your area by using hashtags. For example, My business operates in Saskatoon so it is important for me to let people in my area know about my business. Therefore, on my posts I make sure to hashtag: #Saskatoon This let’s users in Saskatoon find my posts. If they visit my Instagram page and like what they see, they can follow me and engage with my posts (like them, comment on them). As a result, my photos will start popping up on their feed (their personal homepage those 300 million users are scrolling across everyday).

This helps us find new customers in the area, keep our customers reminded about our products on a regular basis, create a unique relationship with our customers by letting them see our behind-the-scenes production, showcase our new products, and let our customers know where we are located… all for free!

So what are you waiting for…. I’ll follow you back if you follow me here.

SF photo guest blog Julianna Instagram chocolate page


Owners: Ying and Julianna Tan
Phone: 306 241 9390

Grow Backyard Crops To Fund Home Improvements

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

The advantage to backyard farming is that you can ramp it up or down, depending on your financial needs at any given time. If you  don’t use it to provide your full-time income, you can use it to fund a short term goal.

Say you are looking to put in a hot tub in a corner of your yard. You can apply your farming skill to grow a crop that will fund it.

SF photo theme garden squash 500 sf $500

Here’s that corner where the future hot tub will go. It’s about 500 square feet. That’s half a SPIN segment.

If you plant 20 to 30 squash plants in that sub-segment you can sell it to friends and neighbors or to another farmer who can sell it to their customers. A good type to grow in this context is Golden Nugget winter squash, which is a prolific bush type plant that doesn’t vine out like other squash, so it’s good for compact spaces.

SF photo fb Suqash GoldenNugget


Keep the Soil in Your High Tunnel Healthy

Unheated high tunnel, or hoophouse, production is being practiced more widely because it is a profitable way to grow and sell year round. That requires extra attention to, and management of, soil health, as this Backyard Riches member explains.

Courtesy of Adithya Ramachandran, Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens, Dundurn SK

One of the challenges of high tunnel production is that there is no natural rainfall to leach the soil. Although I collect rainwater, it supplies only 20% of my high tunnel irrigation requirements. The other 80% comes from municipal water. So there are three main concerns I deal with.

1. Saskatoon city water, which supplies my farm, contains 142 ppm calcium/magnesium carbonates. Every inch of irrigation adds about 0.75 lb of lime per segment. At the rate of 1? of irrigation per week for 6 months a year, this works out to 20 lbs of added lime per segment, which can raise the soil pH and cause production issues. To neutralize this, I till in 10 lbs of organic sulfur per segment per year.

2. Saskatoon city water contains 13 ppm of chloride and 2 ppm of chlorine. Chlorine reacts with soil organic matter to form chloride. Outdoors, this is leached by rainfall. In a high tunnel, this works out to 2 lbs of added chloride per segment over 6 months of irrigation. To counter this, I try to include beets or chard in the rotation at least once every two years. These crops can ‘mop up’ significant amounts of chloride.

3. Soil organic matter is consumed very rapidly in high tunnels. I add composted manure, compost and alfalfa meal at least twice per year to compensate.

SF photo guest blog Adi hoop house


Customers Don’t Always Know Best

Courtesy of John Greenwood, JNJ Farms, Macomb IL

SPIN farmers know the value of market research, but more than one has found out that people don’t actually buy what they say they will. John Greenwood of JNJ Farms in Macomb IL says, “People will say they want heirloom tomatoes but when they see them in odd shapes and real thinned skinned, they will often buy the hybrid varieties first. I have tried this at market putting mortgage lifters next to big beefs and will sell out of big beefs 1st. I am not saying you can’t sell heirlooms, I am saying grow what your local market wants.”

SF photo fb heirloom tomato

When Marcus Riedner of Happiness By The Acre in Calgary surveyed his customers they said they buy salad greens. He developed a salads-only CSA, but many who said they’d guy it didn’t. The lesson is to not bet the farm on on new product.


Favas: A Bean for the New Millennials

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

I planted a half segment (500 sq. ft.) of broad beans today. It took less than an hour.

SF photo blog fava 3 planting

Once these initial plantings are up, I will wait for development, and then put in more sub-segment plantings right through June. By staggering the timing of plantings this way, I can have continuous production and sales throughout the summer. Then I’ll relay the area to another crop.

Broad beans are easy to plant and grow. The Earthway seeder does not have a plate to accommodate them, so you need to do it by hand. All you have to do is set up the beds, and press the bean into soil.

SF photo blog fava 4 row

Then rake over the bed. Your work rate should be about 10 minutes per bed to seed. Germination is more or less certain.

I’ve grown broad beans for years, and they have always been a good niche crop. But now that there is a new generation that partly defines itself by how adventurous they can be with their eating, there is even more demand. Just don’t call them broad beans. Call them fava beans. They’re a good crop to try to attract a new market, or see if you can inject some new enthusiasm into your existing one.


Breaking New Ground – Across the Street

Courtesy of Jared Regier, Chain Reaction Urban Farm, Saskatoon SK

We are putting a boulevard space into production this season. It happens to be right across the street from our home and has full sun exposure.

SF photo blog Jared breaking new ground  1

It will take a bit of extra work to roll out and clean up a water line each time we irrigate, but we will save a lot of travel time. We are mindful of the risk involved in having our crops out in the open but we will avoid tempting crops like tomatoes and hopefully minimize theft.

Neighbours have told me that they have seen nothing but grass in this boulevard space for as long as they have lived there. In some cases this means up to 60 years. Some of them admitted to mowing it once in a while but that is about as much action as it has seen. The boulevard garden registration process with the city of Saskatoon simply requires approval from adjacent land owners and compliance with a few height restrictions and setback allowances from the curb. Thankfully, the neighbours have all been on board with our efforts so we have been able to march ahead steadily.

Once the plot was registered officially, I got to work. Here are the steps I followed to prepare the soil for vegetable production. These steps should work pretty well for any new ground if you are starting a garden with a similar piece of land.

Step 1: The ground was very compacted so I dug a large part of it by hand with a spade as a first step just to help our
rototiller get a little deeper. I did not remove the grass because it is still valuable as decomposing organic matter in the

Step 2: After spading, I immediately tilled the entire plot thoroughly, just letting the tiller go as deep as it could manage, which which was only 2 to 4 inches at this stage.

Step 3: I waited a couple of weeks to let any surviving grass use up some of its energy to get reestablished. There were a few areas with quack grass that required careful removal of the roots at this point.

Step 4: I broadforked the entire plot to make it possible for my tiller to work a little deeper. This was time consuming but made a big difference.

Step 5: I tilled the plot again thoroughly and was able to get much deeper this time thanks to the broadfork work.

Step 6: I measured and marked the standard sized beds. From this point on, I will never walk on the bed space.

SF photo blog Jared breaking new ground 2

Step 7: Next, I ordered 8 yards of screened compost and top dressed each bed with a layer about 4 inches thick. I simply spread the compost on the surface so it can act as a mulch to suppress new weeds and also still enrich the soil. Worms and water will slowly work for me to distribute the nutrients and organic matter from the compost into the rest of the soil below.

SF photo blog Jared breaking ground 3

There you have it. Now that the soil is prepped for planting, the only setup work left at this plot is the irrigation system. I will be trying a new style of micro sprinkler at this location which I am excited about, but the details will need to wait for another day. I will explain more about this system in the future after I have had some time to use it for a while.
reprinted from Chain Reaction Urban Farm newsletter.

Find out what other unconventional spaces backyard farmers use and how they prep them in the SPIN Online Support group. Receive a free trial membership with the purchase of any SPIN guide.  


Jumpstart an Herb Business on 1,200 Sq. Ft.

Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon SK

A SPIN member just joined the online support group looking to fast track some fresh herb sales. He wrote:

“Hello All. I plan to combine the sale of herbs only at two or three of my local farmers markets along with Pre-Packaged Nuts/ Seeds and Spices. My hope is to promote the sales of the nut and seed business with the fresh herb offerings. I have had success growing basil, chives, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and lavender on a small scale over the past three seasons and am ready to commit approximately x 1200 sq ft of garden space to this effort. Any feedback on what to focus on in order to maximize my effort would be greatly appreciated. I am a one man show, growing in Northeast PA. Zone 6a. Thanks in advance.”

Herbs are a great addition to diversify or compliment a product line,especially for solo operators because they are easy to plant, harvest and prep. Cilantro, dill,and parsley are good bets. You can get 2 -3 cuts of cilantro before it goes to seed. So you will need several staggered plantings to take you through the season. You can get even more cuts from baby/green dill, but again, you need staggered plantings. Parsley is all season, so there is no need for staggered plantings.

SF photo blog herb dill cilantro

Plant cilantro and dill with tight spacings using an Earthway seeder in 4 – 5 row standard beds, using the chard plate. Use transplants for parsley.

You should target units of production on the 100 to 200 bunches in total of the three herbs on a weekly basis. If you have a 20 marketing week period, you’ll produce 2,000 to 4,000 bunches. At $2.00 per bunch, you can target revenue of $4K to $8K.

Herbs are very high value, are always in demand at market and their fragrance adds a sensual dimension to your stand. So if you have some unused space next to the barbie, or can rig up some containers on a patio, you can make profitable use of it by growing the useful plants.

SF photo blog herb parsely in tubs cropped



Early Spring Marketing Using Unheated High Tunnels

Courtesy of Adithya Ramachandran, Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens, Dundurn SK

Most farmers underperform at early spring markets. SPIN-Farming is based on generating strong cash flow by targeting $1,000 weekly sales – in late April or early May – regardless of your growing zone. To do that you need to ignore conventional gardening practices, and get into production early, in volume. Adithya Ramachandran’s Kaleidoscope Vegetable Gardens, is in zone 3. Here is what he went to market with May 7.

SF photo fb early spring market Adi

Adi is using unheated high tunnels..and improving his production strategy all the time. Read below.

This spring has been an interesting learning experience. There are some things I would do different next year, including increasing my staggering time for radishes, and a greater focus on beets, green garlic and kohlrabi to target late spring sales.

Something else that I would like to try out next spring is an early planting of broad beans for bean production. I noticed that the ones I seeded in March were flowering now. However I tilled them all under because they were planted densely for shoot production (I didn’t get around to harvesting them all), and they wouldn’t have done well.

I also plan to diversify my spring sales next year with tulips.

Find out how backyard farmers get off to strong spring production and sales in early spring in the SPIN online support group. Receive free trial membership with the purchase of any SPIN guide.