One of the most frustrating aspects of starting an urban farming project for a beginner is the risk of failure when starting out.
Beginners all too often see:
- diseased and spindly plants
- odd tasting crops (if any grow)
Plants that are not great to look at, much less eat...
But there is a solution to many of these problems that most urban farming beginners (or even more experienced veterans) may not know or completely understand.
You see, there are only so many core issues that determine how healthy your crops are:
Before getting into specific tactics like light, water, and ventilation, at the very core, you want to focus on 2 broad areas in cultivating your urban farming project:
1. physical health of the plant (determined by adequate water, light, ventilation, soil, etc)
2. health of the growing medium (determined by nutrient levels, fertilizer, organic matter)
The legendary businessmen and management expert Peter Drucker famously stated "You can't manage what you can't measure".
This logic also applies to crop cultivation, which means there's good news and bad news:
Bad News: if you can't measure the health of your plant and the health of your growing medium, you're in trouble.
Good News: There are 3 basic tools that will significantly increase your chances of success by allowing you to measure your progress while growing (even if you are just starting out growing your crops in the smallest of spaces).
What's more, these tools are relatively affordable.
Ready to dive in? Lets gets started.
Before focusing on perfecting multiple external factors based off of theory or information on best practice, as we have established, it's less complicated to begin with a "measure, than improve" approach with your small urban growing project.
Specific metrics such as soil pH, soil mineral content, and brix level of the crop being grown will provide nearly complete picture of your progress.
With that being said, let's get into the specific tools you will need.
Refractometers measure the refraction of light from the fruit or vegetable being grown. This refraction gives an extremely accurate measure of "plant nutrition" also known as brix. Brix levels in your urban farmed produce will indicate not only nutritional quality but also taste and aroma.
pH strips help measure the balance between acid and base in the soil. pH balance is crucial for growth and is a common pitfall for beginners.
To test soil pH, take your soil, mix with deionized water (1/2 and 1/2), shake in a water bottle for approximately 5 minutes, and place a pH strip to determine pH (by matching color).
The goal for pH should be approximately 6.4 in soil growing cases. Keep in mind there are many similar methods for testing (the image above shows a bowl instead of water bottle).
There will be some variability depending on your crop, see this graph by ecoplexity for reference below:
There are 72 essential component in soil, but the key components are nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium. (Other minerals like calcium or even boron can also effect plant nutrition).
Soil test kits can identify deficiencies in your growing medium, which can be corrected with fertilizer blends.
Before worrying about the perfecting all of the factors exterior to your plant and growing medium like lighting, racks, fans, etc (which usually will be some of the most expensive / time consuming parts of your system), focus on measuring the fundamentals.
These basic building blocks, namely:
1) Plant health
2) Soil / growing medium health
will provide a core foundation for you.
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