Use yardsharing to create an orchard

Courtesy of Ben Klempner, Unity Farm, Moshav Yishi IS

Although I have not been successful in acquiring land through yardshare for the growing of vegetables, I have been very successful in “yard sharing” fruit trees. In others words, knocking on a door with a fruit tree in the yard and asking the owner if I can harvest the fruit from their tree. They are usually more than happy to have me pick that fruit otherwise it just ends up rotting on their lawn. A different type of “yardsharing,” but this type of yardshare has become my “orchard” of sorts.

I have not analyzed the cost/benefit of this type of foraging,but it’s fun. And it seems that there is an excitement around it and that excitement brings with it an economic value. Also, aside from the time harvesting and a few basic pieces of equipment (which are good to have around the house anyway) there seems to be little investment cost. No seeds, no water, no soil amendments, no time, effort, and energy taking care of the trees and soil. Just harvesting from neighborhood trees that would otherwise go unharvested with fruit left to rot. My CSA people like that they’re getting more than just vegetables.They also like the idea of foraged produce in their CSA bags (it makes them feel very avant garde).

SF photo Binyamin foraging

Here is Ben foraging oranges from a neighbor’s yard. He transitioned to full-time farming using the SPIN-Farming system in Spring of 2014, creating Unity Farm in a former industrial zone using 900 Earthboxes. In SPIN’s online forum he has addressed such topics as crowdfunding, dealing with closed-minded extension agents, and how to build a profitable customer base, and has been a guest on SPIN’s semi-monthly Open Houses. 

Follow  Ben and Unity Farm a thumbs up at: and visit his website at

Thumbs up to the first SPIN farmer in Israel!

For SPIN forum membership information, email SPIN co-founder Roxanne Christensen at

Right Size Your Ambitions and Your Plots

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

Now that farmer’s markets are getting in full swing and CSA boxes are piled high at pick up points all over town, those who have been contemplating backyard farming suddenly become motivated to turn their intentions into action. I hear from two extremes – those who are overly ambitious, and those who are too cautious.

Interestingly, those with the least amount of land are the ones who are overly ambitious. They understand SPIN at its very basic level, which is commercial farming on an acre or less. Since that size land base is so dramatically less than a typical farm, they think it must be a cinch to start. So they figure they will start with an acre. Or, if they think they are being conservative, they want to tackle a half acre. But you can burn out on a half-acre just as easily and quickly as you can on 10 or 20 acres.

Start out with a few thousand square feet, say up to 5,000 sf max. It’s a very manageable amount of space for one person to initially prep and keep in top growing shape. For beginners, it’s an optimal size to gain experience with intensive relay cropping, which is the continual planting of different crops in the same plots throughout the season. And the amount of production and post-production can be managed without any outside labor. Once you have mastered relay cropping you can expand confidently and quickly, even in the same season.

The opposite extreme is those who have multi-acre spreads who think they need to prep their land and let it sit over the winter, putting off any production for an entire year. They are right that it takes time to bring a larger land base online. But again,I offer the same advice. Put aside a small plot, prep it, and start growing and selling immediately. The key to earning income from backyard farming is the ability to grow continuously, in significant volume, at commercial grade. And that can be mastered just as well, and in fact more quickly, on a small space. This is the rationale for our new program Seed to Cash in 14 Days or Less. Three new guides provide step-by-step instructions on how to progress through 3 different levels of production, starting with as little as 100 square feet.

It’s been said that farms are started by idealists and run by realists. You just need to last long enough to get from the one phase to the other. That means not being an overachiever or an underachiever. SPIN helps you hit the ground running at just the right pace so that you can go the distance.

Mod 1 landbase 4

Even if you have acres of land, fencing off a plot close to the house will get you growing and selling more quickly and successfully than if you tried to put a larger piece of land into production. This plot is easy to maintain, and can be used for intensive relays, in which 3 or more crops are grown in the same beds throughout the season. In essence, you are cutting by two thirds the amount of land you need for that same amount of production.


Potatoes Are Perfect Peri-Urban Crop

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

I just put in a couple of segments of potatoes this week. Norland and Yukon Gold. I’ll probably plant 10 segments total, or about 10,000 square feet. That should give me  over 600 lbs. of potatoes. My potato cropping strategy is based on extended production throughout the season, so I can sell new potatoes early in the season right through to  storage potatoes in the winter.

SF photo potato planting 2

Peri-urban sites allow you to expand your production to crops you would not otherwise grow in your urban-based plots, like potatoes. These peri-urban plantings of potatoes are easy to maintain, with once a week visits for a couple of hours.

SF photo potato  planting

Using peri-urban sites for low maintenance crops such as potatoes allows you to boost you revenue and diversify your crop repertoire, with little effort or investment. Greens are getting al lot of hype right now, but man does not live by micros alone.

You can learn more about Wally’s cropping strategies for not only potatoes, but also 39 more classic SPIN crops in SPIN’s Crop Profiles guide

So much about SPIN-Farming is counterintuitive, and the multi-locational urban/peri-urban farming model is a prime example. What at first seems obvious is that a land base comprised of many scattered plots, some a 20 minute drive from your home base, would be difficult to assemble and a nightmare to operate. But not only can such a farm be easily created and efficiently managed, it has big advantages. Find out why in SPIN’s 
The Multi-Locational Urban/Peri-urban Farm guide. 

Newbie SOS: Don’t obsess over soil amendments

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

Soil is the number one hang-up I try to get new farmers to ease up a bit on. Sure soil is important, but you don’t need to turn it into a religion. It needs to be understood at a basic gardening level,  respected and treated well. And because you’ll be doing a lot of growing of a lot of different crops throughout the season,  you’ll have lots of chances to learn what works and what doesn’t as you go along.

What do you use to amend soil? I have access to some 8 yr old regularly turned cattle manure probably free if I go get it. I’m getting coffee grounds from local coffee shop, and have been saving eggshells for my compost. But it’s not much volume. What about kelp?

The manure sounds good. Liquid organic fertilizers like kelp, are good to use. My soil amendments are dictated by whatever is locally available for free or at reasonable cost. Contrary to what all the soil doctors tell you, there is no magic potion. Most people over-fertilize. Using SPIN’s bed setup is an advantage because you can spot fertilize throughout the season. At most I spend a few hundred per season on soil amendments.

SPIN photo Wally fertilizing


Here Wally spot fertilizes an area where spinach has just been harvested. The pail contains a mixture of alfalfa pellets, soybean meal, dried molasses, wood ash, bone meal, and blood meal – all ingredients purchased from a local feed store. The soil gets a light dusting, and then this area will be replanted to a different crop.

Mod 2 Soil 1


SPIN farmers compost where they can. Here Gail turns the pile in her own backyard. If you’re using neighbor’s plots, composting may not be possible there. No worries. If you don’t always compost, it is not a sin.  

A Multi-locational Farm is a Realistic Ideal


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

Whenever I see farming conference programs at this time of year I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. The hot topics are always the same. Land access. Farm succession. Risk management. I just don’t relate because years ago I left these issues behind me. I became an urban farmer long before it was trendy. I have been supporting myself growing on multiple scattered plots for 13 years. The number of plots that comprise my farm have ranged from 25 to 11, with a land base that never totals more than 2/3 of an acre, or around 30,000 square feet. Plots have come and gone, depending on various circumstances.

Urbanized areas offer all sorts of farming possibilities, much more than is even now realized. In most cities, residential backyard plots are abundant, just waiting to be used for your farm. The multi-locational farm is a SPIN-Farming concept that has not yet been widely implemented, but it’s ripe for the picking. It is, simply, a farm that is located on many garden plots. These plots can be located throughout a single neighborhood, or in multiple neighborhoods, or they can even be a mix of urban and peri-urban plots. It allows aspiring and practicing farmers to continue to live in the city, using their homes as their farm base, and add new plots as their business becomes more successful. These new plots can be rented, or often used for free.

“What?”, you say. “A land base comprised of many scattered plots, some a 20 minute drive from my home, will be difficult to assemble and a nightmare to operate.” Not really. Not only can such a farm be easily created and efficiently managed, it has big advantages. It offers the growing potential of the traditional rural farm coupled with the city-based benefits of micro climate and proximity to markets. Peri-urban sites produce the larger volume, lower maintenance crops that are always in demand at market, while the urban sites provide early and late production of the high-value relay crops. Together they afford diversification and protection against catastrophic crop losses or extreme weather events. If one or more plots get flooded out, your other plots can keep you producing and selling.

Here is my “home base” plot in the city behind my house.

DDG2 photo 2

Here is one of my peri-urban plots about a 25 minute drive from my house.

DDG2 photo 26

Family farmsteads passed down from generation to generation. A lone tractor silhouetted against the horizon. Rolling hills of corn and grain. These idyllic images of farming are rooted deep in our consciousness. But in the first urbanized century, food production is beginning to occur wherever it makes the most sense. And for SPIN farmers what makes sense is in the middle of urban jungles and on the suburban fringe. They are turning to their gardens and neighborhood lots, not with the romantic notion of “returning to the land”, but to make a buck growing food. The point is that SPIN farmers make cropland wherever they happen to be and leave the traditional farm challenges far behind.

Find out how a multi-locational urban/peri-urban farm is equipped and operated in Dig Deeper Guide # 2.


Expand Your Land Base Without Acquiring More Land With Intensification

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

This time of year farmers begin to think about how they can ramp up production, and that  leads most to think of expanding their land base. Sometimes it makes sense to do this, but many times it is cheaper and easier to make better use of the land you already have. SPIN-Farming calls this intensification.

How  do you intensify your land base? You might tighten up your spacings, if they are too loose. That way you can plant more crops in that area. Or you might intensify by doing more relay cropping. Many times you will have land that isn’t replanted, after it has just been harvested of a crop. If you plant another crop there, and get two crops instead of one, on the same piece of land, that in essence doubles the area of that area replanted.

Let’s do the math like a SPIN farmer. If you have one acre of production, and just plant one crop per year on that land, then you are getting one acre of production. To expand production without buying more land, you can figure out a cropping strategy where you are getting two crops per year on the land you have. That now means you are getting two acres of production from one acre. Three crops per year means you are getting the equivalent of three acres of production. You don’t have to find or buy more land, you just ” intensified ” your production. So in essence, when planting more than one crop per year, which SPIN-Farming calls relay cropping, you are multiplying the size of your land base, without acquiring more land.

SPIN photo intensification spinach
Short season crops, such as spinach, which can be harvested in late spring are perfect crops for intensification. If you are going to plant a segment (1,000 square feet in SPIN-Farming)  to tomatoes on June 15, why not plant that area to spinach first, say around April 1? This will boost your revenue in that segment by possibly several thousand dollars. You can boost the revenue with short season crops in areas that will see long season summer crops.

SPIN photo intensification field
Areas like this, which will have potatoes and onions planted, have plenty of possibilities for intensification. Once some early new potatoes are harvested, say in mid-summer, start thinking of crops you can plant for late summer/fall harvest. This plot is shown in early spring, so start thinking of  the relay potential. You should never have bare areas in mid- summer. As soon as something has been harvested, start setting up those areas for new plantings.

Once you do math the SPIN-way, you can get more from less, and you also can see why  SPIN stands for s-mall p-lot in-tensive. For a quick 5 minute primer on all of SPIN’s core concepts including relay cropping, check out the video series Let’s Talk SPIN on youtube.

Expanding Your Land Base

Courtesy of John S.,Blue Ribbon Eggs,  Franklin NC
So you’ve got access to an acre that is 1 hour and 15 minutes away? You don’t mention what type of vehicle you would be driving, but a two and one half hours round trip drive,  two to four times a month, is going to burn a lot of fuel. Assuming a vehicle sufficient to haul a worthwhile amount of produce once you harvest, it would add up. My SUV would cost $25 a trip (2 to 4 times monthly). Plus non-productive hours commuting, not to mention the cost of 43,560 sq feet of green house plastic and your drip system. And the best crops for a remote plot are low value ones.

And an acre is a BIG hunk of land to work with hand tools. Are you going be hauling -or have access to- large equipment? Once you make that drive (even two times a month) you are going to have a lot of work to do, and that will take quite a bit of time. Labor (time plus sweat) is money.

I would do the math on this one really closely before I committed. The conditions you describe are the whole reason that Wally started SPIN-Farming in the first place. Near at hand, small, manageable and profitable. My favorite picture in the SPIN books is a photo of Wally driving his tiller through his OWN neighborhood to till a back yard. What can you see from your window? There’s your expansion opportunity.


Growing on Concrete

Courtesy of James K., Virtually Green, San Francisco, CA

If you’re planning to bring in topsoil and do raised beds I suggest you consider putting down a layer of heavy duty woven weed cloth over the entire 20K sq. ft. site.

First do a thorough weed wacking of the existing weeds over the entire site. Rake up the wacked weeds. Scour the site looking for sharp objects, such as concrete chunks, glass, etc, that might pierce the cloth. Then lay down the weed cloth. Some people lay down a few inches of coarse sand before laying the weed cloth down to help prevent piercing it, especially where there’s foot or wheel traffic.

Next frame up your raised beds on top of the layer of weed cloth.

For added insurance, lay down another layer of weed cloth on the bottom of your raised beds. Then put down the topsoil in your raised beds. I recommend at least 18″ of topsoil if possible, and 24″ is
better: deeper of course if you’re going for root crops, like potatoes. It’s wise to lay something down over the weed cloth visible between your raised beds, to protect the cloth from puncture from feet or wheels as well as from sunlight UV damage. A soft bark mulch is good.

Protected from sunlight UV and gardening punctures the weed cloth approach described above could last 20 years with little or no problems. You might have to do minor occasional repairs to pathways but that should be all.

Here’s a couple websites that discuss weed cloth installation:

Keep in mind that not all weed cloths are not created equal.  Many of the 3 oz or less weed cloths on the market are understrength for handling dock or ailanthus.  You’d need a heavy duty cloth.  Check out Dewitt Weed Barrier Pro.  It’s a multi-layer cloth with some great industrial strength specs.

It’s from a company that’s been around for a while.  You’ll no doubt enjoy hearing they have a 100% No Weeds guarantee on their weed cloth.  You might buy a small roll of Dewitt Weed Barrier Pro and test it on a few spots around your property.

Finding Land

Courtesy of Dan B., Portland OR
I have had great luck finding small backyard plots to farm.  Could be that people here in Portland are just more open to the idea…If this is your first year, try to find maybe a few thousand square feet within walking distance of where you live.  Choose to grow the classic high  value SPIN crops that are fast maturing and lend themselves well to smaller spaces.  Less space to potatoes, squash and broccoli.  More space to salad greens, carrots, radishes, beets, trellised crops. Do it well, keep it extra tidy, show it off, get some press.  Next year you’ll have people calling and emailing asking if you want to use their yard.