Dear Hettie,
I am an urban farmer, but recently heard about wildcrafting and wonder, is it is compatible with what I’m already doing?
~ Jennifer

Well, says Hettie,

You really should know about a thing called “backyard wildcrafting.” Let me explain:

Urban farming is all the rage.

in our hometown of Portland, Oregon. There are small scale agricultural projects all over the place, in backyards, in restaurant side-yards and vacant lots. It’s exciting, and also a little frustrating. For the most part they look like this:


“That’s pretty,” you say.

Nice and green, lush and ordered. I suppose I even agree ~to a point. You see, there is something nagging me. Why does everyone think that a garden has to be in the shape of a square filled with uniform mono-crop rows of annual vegetables?

Here is the thing, quacks Hettie:

We are we still applying large scale agricultural techniques to our family gardens and backyard farms when we know the pitfalls. Here are some basic dangers of this kind of farming:

  • increased pests
  • increased water needs
  • soil depletion
  • lower yields
  • need for fertilizer
  • need for weed control
  • it’s ugly in between crops or when left fallow for rotation

This is true even if it is organic.

Yes, even organic gardens are inefficient due to waste of space. Rows require far more path space than is necessary unless you are farming with machinery or plowing with horses. Planting in rows encourages pests to multiply where they have a plentiful and continuous food source. Row planting increases the need for soil amendments (and/or crop rotation) to compensate for soil nutrient loss due to mono-crop stress on particular nutrients in a row or area. Annual vegetables planted in rows need a lot of weeding to maintain order. They also have increased water needs.

So urban farmers, here is the solution:

Instead of planting in rows try the keyhole garden ~ a circle with a single path leading from the edge to the center. It is a very space efficient way to design and plant your kitchen garden, vacant lot, or urban farm. If you have a larger space you can plant a series of interconnected keyholes, and it’s beautiful. The idea is that you use as little space as possible for paths and maximize the space for planting without losing your ability to reach your harvest. It looks more like this:


Also, rather than planting and harvesting single crops from particular areas, plant a diversity of perennial and annuals, flowers and edibles all in one place. This allows the larger perennial plants to add mulch to the soil, fix nitrogen, offer habitat for birds (who then fertilize the area) and offer shade.

Smaller plants provide ground cover so weeds don’t have space to take over. Broad Leafy plants shade the soil thereby reducing water evaporation. Root vegetables draw up water and nutrients from deep in the earth and allow you to avoid plowing or digging at all by providing aeration which loosens the soil.

So, instead of planning an ordered harvest, consider this philosopher’s assertion (Hettie is a literary duck don’t you know):

If we we’re to design an architecture according to the human soul,
it would be in the shape of the labyrinth. ~Nietzsche

Using organic and symbolic forms in your garden will not only nurture your soul, it will increase your yield, save water, and increase the efficiency of your whole operation so you have more time for the Lazy-Lady’s Life.


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