Backyard farming is a good way to cultivate both crops and livestock within the confinement of a backyard. Although any basic garden or collection of a few chickens is technically farming, there are many ways to reduce the effect, cost, and time it takes to maintain crops and animals. The best two tips are to plan and use preventative, rather than reactive, methods.
Preventative methods in backyard farming deal with common problems before they occur. Typically, this involves planning the actual garden or livestock corral before building. This includes checking with local authorities to ensure that backyard farming is legal in the area and choosing the right crops and animals for the space. With gardening, there are two main problems which can be easily solved with preventative action: weeding and watering.
A backyard farming irrigation system saves time and effort. A drip irrigation system can be connected to a rain barrel, which reduces the cost of watering. Dripper systems can be installed using a kit or by a professional, but purchasing the parts separately and building the system by hand is the least expensive option.
Many backyard farmers choose an alternative style of gardening bed in order to take preventative measures against weeds. Raised beds and containers are two popular choices. A raised bed is a wooden box 6 to 12 inches (about 15 to 30 cm) deep that is filled with dirt and compost. Unless the fill dirt contains seeds and extraneous plants, very little weeding will be required.
Containers work much the same way, except that they are much smaller than raised bed. They can be as simple as a round pot for growing a single plant or as complex as a system of vertical pots hung on a stand. Vertical growing systems are especially good for very small backyard farms, since the footprint of the system is quite small for the number of plants.
Some crops require traditional beds. In order to eliminate weeds, it is best to disc or till the dirt in late winter. This turns the dirt over, scraping up the upper layer of weeds and turning them upside down. Repeating the process again after a few weeks destroys most surviving plants, leaving a clean bed ready for cultivation.
Another method of preventing weeds in backyard farming is to use a gardening fabric, which is a breathable fabric that allows rain to penetrate it, or to use mulch. The fabric or mulch is placed on the ground around the plants to prevent weeds from growing. Some cover plants, like clover and grasses, can also be used to discourage larger weeds.
In raising animals in a backyard farm, some of the greatest difficulties are dealing with excrement and shelter. For chickens, using a deep bed flooring system is a natural way to allow excrement to decompose without regular cleanings. This system uses layers of hay and over coverings, combined with the daily excrement, which creates a small eco-system within the coop. Insects grow in the layers, feeding off the excrement, and the chickens feed off the bugs. This creates a symbiotic environment.
If the space is available, chickens can also be kept in portable outdoor coops. These are wire boxes which cover the chickens, allowing them to peck at the soil and soak up sunshine as needed. Each day, the coop is moved to a new location so that excrement is never concentrated in one area. Much like the deep bed flooring system, the excrement adds nutrients to the soil and feeds insects, while the chickens feed on the insects. Both methods reduce the amount of feed needed to maintain healthy chickens.