BluGill Urban Farm
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Establish an Area for your Garden

May 11, 2013 in Gardening, Urban Farming

Techniques to establish a garden

When deciding to establish a backyard garden, you could simply hire a landscape artist to design the different zones in your backyard for several thousand dollars, bring in a team of professional landscapers for multiple thousands more, consult with a professional gardener for a few additional bucks, and literally overnight: ‘Poof’, you too can have an oasis in the desert or garden sanctuary ‘of your very own’ to show off to all your envious neighbors.

This Post is a continuation of a previous post titled, “Starting your background garden.”  Please feel free to return to that story before reading further.

However, if you are cost conscious, watching your pennies, on a budget, or merely want the genuine satisfaction of a Garden of Eden, consider incorporating your own blood and sweat and saving thousands of dollars by designing and building a garden yourself.  You may agree that would be much more rewarding.  At the end of the day you may earn the envy of your neighbors, and you will certainly feel a sense of pride and accomplishment having created the area yourself.  Follow my trials and tribulations that may provide insight and a bit of inspiration.

We may discover that success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.  I know I have shed much blood and sweat already through my attempts at building an urban farm in my backyard since starting the adventure in March; it is only May!

The Planning Phase

An urban garden can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose.  It may be a good idea to write down some descriptive words to capture your desires or purpose.  Is my purpose to entertain in the backyard, or grow my own vegetables to eat healthier? Will it be a part time hobby or a full time business?   Whatever your decision, it will be the right one for you.

What is the purpose of your Plan?

With your purpose in mind, try sketching the area available to work in.  Start by rough-sketching your backyard or other area in a two-dimensional environment (on paper).   This can be prepared anywhere, on any scrap of paper, such as on a napkin in a restaurant while waiting for a table, or in your home office while waiting for the computer to boot up. I recommend using square grid-lined graph paper. 

In your sketch, identify permanent items such as existing structures including patios, air conditioning units, or other fixed objects.  Layout the remaining area into rough zones such as potential walkways, raised flower bed, ponds, other water features, sitting area, grass, potted plants, trees and vegetable garden areas. I will share my sketches in a later article.

Contemplate your design by sleeping on it overnight, discuss it with friends and other members in your family. Others may provide insight or design elements you didn’t initially consider.  Is there enough room to move between your design elements, do you need a walkway or a barrier between areas, do you need a gate or fence to separate a pet area from the garden or the kid’s area.  The idea is not for accuracy, but for  a general idea where to start, what portion to start first, and will each area interact or fit well within the space available and does it meet the purpose you have pondered?

The sketch doesn’t have to be to scale and can always leave room for change as you implement your plan as you go.  Remember, an urban farm can be as simple as placing small pots with herbs in your window sill (look for a later article about a very simple kitchen window bench).  By putting basic ideas on paper, it may allow you to visualize and contemplate available area roughly, how much of that area to devote to a garden or other features in order to meet your purpose, and what tools, time, and supplies may be needed to begin.

Once you decide the general design fits well with your ideas, or if you want a more precise layout, or think it would just be kewl to see a 3D concept view of you design, consider obtaining an off-the-shelf landscape design software tool such as Punch! Home and Landscape Designer ( or Realtime Landscaping ( to name only a few popular programs at a price tag between $50.00 and $400.00 depending upon the features you need and the version you choose.  The average price you can expect to pay is probably $79.00.

Since the topic of these articles are on gardening an Urban Farm, my goal is to design a yard that is pleasing to the eyes, can be used to entertain guests, to grow herbs, vegetables and fruit organically, incorporates natural stone to maximize longevity, and to do it inexpensively and over a period of months on my own and with the help of my family members.  That may seem a tall order; with my purpose in mind and a few sketches to ponder, let’s see where we go from there.

Weather Update

Arizona is famous for its extreme summer temperatures.  This year in Phoenix, the weather has been very mild compared to previous season.  I just accept that it means the weather is cooperating with my plans and will allow me a good start on the basic foundation for my urban farm, instead of finding hundreds of excuses why not to start… or… well… 100 plus degrees of excuses.  Without 100 degree temperatures the first day of spring, I have been given an opportunity from March to May of this year to explore my gardening passion unencumbered by my lack of experience and uncertain execution.  In fact, March and April were down-right pleasant with temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s, which is lower than normal for this area.  Only this week has it reached 100 degrees.

With 100 degree days, progress definitely slows, but I will share my efforts all the same. Stay tuned, and happy gardening.


Starting your backyard garden

May 3, 2013 in Gardening, Urban Farming

The Soil

Cactus sunset taken in Goodyear, Arizona

The arid desert earth appears to be filled with hard, unusable uninviting soil, but upon closer reflection it can be far from the truth.  The amount of sun Arizona receives can make for a much longer growing season, and multiple growing seasons in a single year.  While it is true, the soil is extremely alkaline (high salt content), it can also contains beneficial minerals, especially in areas that have not been cultivated extensively. Be aware of the potential for the high degree of clay or caliche in the soil and its high salt content that may cause salt burn in new vegetation growth, which appears as a yellowing effect on grass and leaves, and avoid potential plant failures.

Caliche causes a cement like barrier (typically several feet below the soil surface) making penetration of the roots in the soil difficult and water buildup due to lack of water drainage. This can cause root rot and fungal diseases in your plants.  If your garden area is prepared properly such as irrigating the intended area well over a period of several days before planting, digging out native soil, mixing with mulch and other soils, and creating ‘raised’ vegetation areas, a would-be farmer or gardener can succeed.

More established neighborhoods of a couple decades old would have less issues than newer developed areas.  If you find yourself in a newer developed area with ‘native’ soils, the first best practice is to be patient and prepare your garden area.  Irrigating the soil to push the alkaline content below your plants’ root system is essential. Also consider digging several inches of your planting area down, supplement with soil mixes, compost and top soils ideal for your particular plants.  Make friendly conversation with your local nursery, and they will certainly share their recommendation how to treat your particular soil.  Finally, consider increasing the height of your garden area above the native soil by using various raised garden bed techniques, which will be discussed in a later post.

Happy gardening.


A warm and sunny welcome

May 1, 2013 in Urban Farming

Contrary to popular belief, the Arizona Sonoran Desert grows amazing fruits, vegetables and other plants, with its year round sun, irrigation systems and hundreds of years of history in agriculture know-how. Aside from the ancientnnatives of this region that took up residence from centuries past, the first modern settlers used the area’s natural flooding cycles to reap the benefits of the irrigation and rich mineral desposits left behind. In fact, during a visit to the Sonoran desert in the mid 1800’s, Jack Swilling, later to become known as the founder of the modern town of Phoenix (a town born from the ashes of an ancient civilization), saw this region as a perfect place to grow citrus and other agriculture, utilizing the Ho Ho Kam long gone ancient canal system. Settlement flourished near the nexus of the Gila and Sal River.

Today, with area rivers dammed to control the annual flooding, irrigation systems, the Central Arizona Project (CAP) Canal, and Hayden-Rhodes Aqueduct bring the lifeblood of farming (and life itself) to the Valley of the Sun.

cornfields in Arizona

Arizona cornfields

The Ho Ho Kam (translated, “all used up” or the “vanished”) and now widely interpreted to mean, “those who have vanished” date back more than 2,000 years, occupied the region that would become Phoenix, now the State Capital of Arizona. They, and their ancestors, used early irrigation systems to grow their crops.

As suburbs flourish around the modern ciy, most citrus, agriculture and farms vanish at an alarming rate, we as a society rely on non-local farms. A resurgence and need to return to our ‘roots’ has begun. We ought not be dependent upon others for our survival. We ought not lose the knowledge and practice of local agriculture, farming, carpentry, masonry, and other necessities rooted in past cultures.

Urban Farming is catching on as the economy suffers, the weather patterns change, government turmoil throughout the world, and people fight to hang on to their way of life. We must still eat and provide shelter for ourselves and loved ones.

Anyone can start Urban Farming: in a suburban backyard, a patio, balcony, courtyard, or even an apartment window. Our goal at BluGill Urban Farming is to share our stories, photos, and not-so-know-how to inspire others to try to do what we, and so many other like minded people all over the country are trying to do, to bring a sense of community, togetherness, and pride in returning to our roots.

We have no special skills, we don’t have any background, training, or experience farming, gardening, carpentry or masonry, we only have a desire to improve our land, become more self-sustaining, and learn techniques that we can hopefully pass on to our family members, future generations, and people that are willing to listen, such as you who have taken the time to read this post.

Happy Gardening,


The BluGill Urban Farmer