Friday, 27 September 2013

Urban Agriculture Lessons (so far...)

In the beginning of the year I have published a post about Urban Agriculture (you can check it here: Several months have passed and I started to realise that our balcony has influenced some friends to do their own urban agriculture... great-great news!

Today I will give an update on our famous garden, give some lessons that we have learned and provide some information on aphids (those little white/green bugs that sometimes appear on crops).


Since the last Urban Agriculture post many have been asking about the latest status of the famous balcony. Well there are some good and bad news...

The Bad
  • Many of the plants only had one harvest, this means that after the harvest is done there is the need to plant new seeds but this is dependent of the season (last urban agriculture post was done in the middle of the summer in Australia);
  • When we were on vacations in Portugal some of the plants that can take multiple harvests got infested with aphids (see more information on aphids below) and eventually did not survived the disease and the extremely dry winter weeks of August.

The Good
  • We decided to try some different plants for the coming months (beginning of Spring). As you will see below, we now have some lettuces (two different types: lettuce perpetual and mini cos), sweet mama capsicum, red hot chillies, one of our favourites... coriander, oreganos, garlic chives, little fingers carrots, mint (of course!) and spring onions red knob (no photos yet, since the seeds are yet to mature);
  • We also decided to bring a bit of colour to our small balcony with a garnet of delosperma cooperi, flowers that can take full sun, strong winds and that are drought resistant, three important characteristics for us.
  • So far all the plants look happy!

 The Lessons
  • If you have to buy pots, although more expensive, you should buy the ones that are able to have a water reservatory underneath, not only it will provide water to the plants even if you are not present to water them, but it will also provide water-feed in the correct way, i.e. many plants should be watered from the bottom and not from the top;
  • For fertilisers, if you have edible plants, you should always go for the most natural feed possible. For us the best are currently a seaweed concentrate (to use with water) and a tomato feed compost (powder);
  • For insect pests, since we eat what we plant, we use natural spray, non-toxic and with daisy extract(!) Just to be used once every 10 days if needed (pests can become resistant) and you need to restrain yourself of eating something that got sprayed for 1-3 days. But do check the restrictions of your own spray.
  • If you can have someone coming to your place and water the plants at least for two times per week. The other solution can be an automated watering system. Unfortunately in our case, there is no tap neither electricity near to our balcony so the second option is not really an option.

More photos of our current balcony:


Agriculture Pest: Aphids

Aphids are among the most destructive insect pests on cultivated plants in temperate regions. The damage they do to plants has made them enemies of farmers and gardeners the world over, though from a zoological standpoint they are a highly successful group of organisms. Their success is due in part to the asexual reproductive capabilities of some species.

Aphids are soft, pear-shaped, and very tiny. Two short tubes project backward from the tip of their abdomen. Aphids have long antennae. Some types of aphids have wings, which are transparent, longer than their body, and held like a roof over their back. Aphids may be green, pink, yellowish, black, or powdery gray. Nymphs resemble adults but are smaller and wingless.

Aphids feed on most fruit and vegetable plants, flowers, ornamentals, and shade trees. You'll find aphids throughout all over the world.

Their life cycle
Aphids reproduce like there's no tomorrow. Female aphids can reproduce without mating, giving birth continuously to live nymphs. Nymphs mature in 1 to 2 weeks and start producing offspring themselves. When days become shorter in the fall, both males and females are born. They mate, and then females lay eggs on stems or in bark crevices. The eggs overwinter and hatch the following spring. In very mild climates and in greenhouses, aphids may reproduce year-round.

Both adults and nymphs suck plant sap, which usually causes distorted leaves, buds, branch tips, and flowers. Severely infested leaves and flowers may drop. As they feed, aphids excrete a sweet, sticky honeydew onto the leaves below. This allows a sooty mold to grow, which, in addition to being ugly to look at, blocks light from leaves. Also, some aphids spread viruses as they feed.

Organic damage control
  • Drench plants with strong sprays of water from a garden hose to kill aphids. (A hard, driving rainstorm will have the same effect.)
  • Keep your plants as healthy as possible, and spray dormant oil to control overwintering eggs on fruit trees.
  • Control ants that guard aphid colonies in trees from predators by placing sticky bands around the trunks.
  • Spray aphids with insecticidal soap, summer oil (on tolerant plants), and homemade garlic sprays.

As you can see urban agriculture also has its challenges besides the limited space and other balcony constraints, just like having a piece of land, drought and pest can threaten your crops. However, you are getting important lessons in farming and in nature... and at least you are able to influence how the vegetables you eat are grown and treated.


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Blog Editor and Owner: Luis Aparicio Fernandes (or Mikey) is a Business Expert and a Traveler based in Sydney, Australia. He is a member of The International Honor Society Beta Gamma Sigma due to his achievements in business. You can follow Luis on Google+, and LinkedIn.