Book review: The Suburban Micro-Farm

The book by Amy Stross, published in 2017, is a treasure trove of useful tips for busy people who would like to grow some of their own food.  With more people moving to the suburbs (about 50% of Americans now live in suburbs), the impact of converting lawns to small micro-farms would have tremendous impact on the environment and our health.   The author  approaches gardening from the perspective of permaculture, which ensures that her tips and advice come from a philosophy that encourages soil health and environmental sustainability.  Not only will converting lawn to small vegetable and fruit gardens shift our perspective from that of a consumer of food to a producer of food, it will also enhance the viability of the soil and reduce dependence on irrigation and fertilizing.

Here are just some of the tips that she shares in the book:

  • Consider planting edible fruit such as blackberries and currants- Currants can tolerate light shade and blackberries are less invasive than raspberries
  • Use living mulch such as nasturtiums and comfrey
  • If you are short on space, consider building raised beds on your driveway
  • Create cloches from plastic bottles
  • When harvesting crops, try to leave the roots in place- roots are a magnet for microorganisms and worms that will enrich your soil
  • Use silica packages (the kind you find in shoe boxes) in seed storage containers to guard against moisture
  • Toss expired seeds into an unused area of the garden and see what comes up
  • Plant spring ephemerals in the garden – they stabilize soil, and add nutrients to the soil as they decompose after blooming

In addition a to a wealth of tips, there are also instructions for the more adventurous, such as 

  • Create a herb spiral
  • Build a rain garden
  • Minimize irrigation by creating small swales
  • Establish tree guilds-plants planted around trees that  are mutually beneficial to each other- by fertilizing, attracting pollinators/beneficial insects, providing natural compost or encouraging root exchanges
  • Plant hedgerows of fruit bearing shrubs and trees
  • Encourage food forests- a layered planting consisting of trees/shrubs/edible herbs and plants

She provides detailed instructions for all of the above, and provides resources for further research. The author is passionate, articulate and practical. There is much to learn from this book, even if you are a seasoned gardener!

Submitted by Sabine Behnk