By Dr Jolly Kabirizi
Do you want some creative ideas for what you can do on your small-scale farm besides the obvious farming of fruits and vegetables? It includes some of the most profitable crops for small farms, which can become great income sources if you are looking to generate money from your farm. However, most can also be done on a small scale for your own personal use and enjoyment.
Mushrooms are a crop that most people do not consider when it comes to farming. But there’s a big demand for them, and often a lack of supply depending on where you are located. While growing mushrooms you can make use of vertical space to get high yields in a small area. A single room is enough to grow a full-time income’s worth of mushrooms.
Mushrooms also have a quick growing cycle and you can get many harvests in the same amount of time that it would take to grow one season of wheat or corn. That said, it is good to know that they are more time and labour intensive than traditional crops like tomatoes.
Microgreens are the stage a plant goes through after they are a sprout, but before they become a baby green and start to grow into a full-sized vegetable. They only take a couple of weeks to grow and they’re packed full of nutrition and flavour. Like mushrooms, microgreens are another crop that doesn’t require a big room to get started. You can begin growing microgreens on a small scale with just a couple of trays in your basement or greenhouse. Then your business can scale up as your confidence and demand for your product starts to grow. Check out our own super simple microgreens farm for inspiration. You can sell them at farmers’ markets or direct to customers. Chefs also love using them both as a garnish and as an ingredient in their meals.
A market garden is a small-scale farming operation. Usually all the work is done by hand with very little machinery, and crops are sold directly to restaurants and consumers. A market garden can include fruits, vegetables, livestock and even flowers. Starting a market garden is a great option if you haven’t got hundreds of acres of land. Or if you only want farming to take up part of your time while you have another part-time job. Market gardens typically focus on a wide range of different produce, as opposed to large industrial farms that normally focus on growing a single crop (which is called monoculture). It is a great way for people to return to a lifestyle that focuses more on living off the land without making the switch to being fully reliant on farming for an income. Market gardens have a smaller start-up cost and allow you to focus on filling specific gaps in the market that commercial farms might not be able to fill.
Permaculture farming is a method of agriculture that is based on sustainability. It moves away from harmful commercial agricultural practices like monoculture, annual tilling and other farming methods that lead to soil erosion, and the use of pesticides. Permaculture can be defined as a permanent cultural system that is based on observing nature. It is all about working with nature instead of going against it. Natural principles are integrated into agricultural processes to create self-sufficient, self-abundant systems that benefit both humanity and the Earth. Permaculture is all about whole systems thinking, and understanding how different parts of the agricultural process interact with one another. Permaculture has three main tenets:
- Caring for the earth, because without the earth humans cannot flourish;
- Caring for people;
- Making sure people have the resources they need.
A forest garden (or food forest) is a low-maintenance and sustainable way to produce food in a woodland ecosystem. It incorporates many different types of plants such as nut and fruit trees, herbs, vines, shrubs and perennial vegetables. Forest gardening is how our ancestors would have farmed in prehistoric times before they were able to clear large, flat areas of land and didn’t yet have access to much in the way of tools. It’s a type of agroforestry, which is integrating the benefits of trees and shrubs with livestock and crops. This is argued to produce a more productive, healthy, sustainable, diverse and even more profitable use of land. A seven-layer system is usually at the center of a forest gardening strategy. Forest gardeners use all different layers of the forest. Including:
- A canopy with mature trees
- A low tree layer with fruit trees and nuts
- A shrub layer with berries and currants
- A herbaceous layer with perennial herbs and vegetables
- A rhizosphere layer with roots and tubers
- A ground cover layer with plants that grow horizontally
- And a vertical layer of climbers and vines.