5 Steps to Become an Urban Farmer
Store-bought vegetables and fruits often come with unseen pesticides used during the farming process. How do busy Singaporeans get healthy, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables that aren’t expensive (like organic crops tend to be)? Luckily, growing our own greens has become a hobby that’s relatively east to pick up, thanks to the growing popularity of urban farming.
What is urban farming?
“Urban Farming is, very simply, growing edible plants in an urban environment,” Cynthea from Super Farmers tells us. A local enterprise that supports the movement to grow our own greens, Super Farmers retails urban farming supplies and conducts workshops to help like-minded individuals set up their own garden.
“Singapore as a city-state is entirely urban, so you are practising urban farming just by growing anything in Singapore. These days, people relate urban farming to growing edible plants in space-scarce homes or vertically.”
Because people see urban farming as bringing a piece of nature (which can be smelly, dirty and messy) into the house, there is a general inertia towards urban farming. But this same group of people also belongs to the general population that want to eat healthily and have more control over the use of pesticides in their food. Starting out can be difficult due to this misconception, so here are five baby steps you can take to grow healthier greens for your family!
Step 1: My home isn’t very big. How much space do I need?
“You can have an urban garden even in a small home!” Cynthea reassures us. Depending on the plants you want to grow, the amount of space you need will vary. But if space is a concern, start with smaller pots of herbs. “Herbs are hardier than vegetables and don’t need big pots to thrive. In addition, we don’t usually eat large quantities of herbs. So a herb garden can actually be very manageable.”
Step 2: Where would be a good place for it?
Plants require quite a bit of sunlight. “The best spaces are large balconies or corridor spaces. But if you have limited space, you can also try growing your vegetables on shelves,” shares Cynthea. IKEA is a good place to source for affordable plant racks.
You can also grow your plants away from the sun. With indoor growth lights, which are LED strip lights that emit light onto plants, you can practically grow greens anywhere in your home.
Step 3: What plants can I start with?
“Start with herbs and once you’ve gained confidence in growing, move on to vegetables. Then for the health-conscious, definitely consider growing microgreens! Microgreens are baby vegetables, about 14 days old, and packed with so many nutrients and vitamins that you can almost replace your daily supplements if you eat enough of these.”
For herbs, Cynthea recommends mint and basil as they are very tropical and hence easier to grow. Chinese Kale (kailan) and Bak Choy are good choices for vegetables too.
Step 4: How much maintenance is needed?
Herbs are surprisingly low-maintenance. “You can easily grow herbs on your windowsill. They won’t need any special fertilisers if you use good soil right from the beginning, and all you need to do is water once a day. My home receives the morning sun for 2 hours and I’ve had much success growing mint, basil, and even rosemary on my windowsill!” shares Cynthea.
“Vegetables need sun and water on a daily basis. Some vegetables need more water and sunlight than others, so pay attention to the kind you have and tailor accordingly.”
To avoid over-watering, house your plants in the Self-Watering Glass Planter from Super Farmers. Using a sub-irrigation systems, the plant absorbs only the amount of water it needs, so first-timers can rest assured that their plant is sufficiently watered. Its compact size also makes it great for saving space.
Step 5: Will the plants attract insects? If so, what can I do to prevent them from coming?
“Yes, most edible plants especially sweet smelling ones would attract insects and pests. Some insects like bees pollinate flowers, so they’re good insects. But butterflies are not, as they lay eggs that turn into caterpillars that will in turn eat up the entire plant if not caught in time! I’ve had entire crops eaten up by caterpillars, so I’m very wary of them.”
Pests can be a real headache. Thankfully, there are easy ways to get rid of them. For example, you can try pushing a clove of garlic into the soil. Sprinkling coffee grounds over the soil is effective too.
All images credited to Super Farmers, except otherwise stated.