Incredible Crop Yields From Small Urban Spaces

Final Report for FNC07-682

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


We are a small family operation; my 14-year-old son, my 10-year-old daughter, and I. We have approximately one acre of land that we grow edibles on. Within the acre we have six large vegetable gardens and one large blueberry bed. All of the vegetable/blueberry beds measure approximately 90 feet long by 16 to 20 feet wide. On 6 of the beds I grow a mix of red and green Cabbages; a variety of Onions; Leeks; red, white, yellow, and blue Potatoes; red and green Kohlrabi; Kale; Spinach; Malabar Spinach; Summer Spinach; Collards; Rutabagas; red, green, and spotted Romaine, Semi Heading and Heading Lettuces; Garlic; Radish; Rainbow Chard; Endive; green, orange, and white Cauliflower; Mustard; Baby Pak Choy; Bok Choy, Chinese Cabbages; a variety colored Beets; a variety of colored Carrots; Straight and Crookneck Squashes; white and green Patty Pan Squashes; black and Italian Cocozelle Zucchini; Red Noodle Beans and Green Yard Long Beans; Yellow Wax Beans; a variety of Pole Beans; Black-eyed Peas; Purple Bush Beans; Red Popcorn; Artichokes; Jerusalem Artichokes; Red and Green Brussels Sprouts; Turnips; Snap Peas; Snow Peas; Rare Red, Green, and Rare White Variety Cucumbers; Japanese and Armenia Cucumbers; Chinese Edible gourd ( Luffa); Sorghum; Lima Beans; a variety of Watermelon; English Peas; Cataloupe; Tatsoi; Honeydew; Persian and Crenshaw Melons; Black Raspberries; Celery; a variety of Colored Eggplants; red and green Okra; Sweet Potatoes; a variety of colored Sweet Bell Peppers; Cayenne Peppers; Peanuts; Squashes including: Buttercup, Butternut, Acorn,; Hubbard, Spaghetti, and miscellaneous Winter Squashes; Tomatillos; Pumpkins; a wide variety of Tomatoes including Beefsteaks, Cherry, Stuffers, and Paste Tomatoes in a variety of different colors; edible flowers like Calendula, Roses, Peony, Pansies, Daylilies, Nasturtium, Snapdragon, and Marigold; also Herbs such as: Spicy Globe Basil, Cinnamon, Sweet, Pistol, Genovese, Lemon and Lime Basils, Sage, Tarragon, Thyme, Stevia, Borage, Cilantro, Dill, Chervil, Evening Primrose, Chamomile, Chicory, Cumin, Dandelion Greens, Fennel, Hyssop, a variety of Mints, Marjoram, Oregano, Curled and Italian Parsley, Pennyroyal, Rosemary, Savory, Watercress, and Lemon Balm; also a variety of ornamental cut flowers (Zinnias, Strawflowers, Celosia, etc.), and ornamental white, green, and brown Cotton.

In the fields I practice crop rotation. In the fall I till under the sections of the beds that don't have perennials on them and plant rye cover crop on them. I also grow in flats a variety of Micro-Greens and Micro-Herbs (Soil Grown Sprouts) e.g. Broccoli, Sunflower, Collards, Kale, Buckwheat, red and green Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Arugula, Pea Tendrils, Radish, Tendergreen Mustard Spinach, Onion, Basil, Fenugreek, Rutabaga, and Wheat Grass for juicing and salads.

I've been farming organically since 1981. I've been tilling under leaves, straw, hay, compost, and composted manure into my garden beds for 30 years now. I've been practicing crop rotation and using beneficial insects for 30 years. I've been using organic pesticides and organic fertilizers only, for 30 years now. I started practicing cover cropping only several years ago when I visited a local farmer who wrote a book in Kansas on the benefits of cover cropping and read Charles Wilber's World Record Tomato Book in 2001. The farmer in Kansas (Paul Conway) showed us a field that he had not used cover crops in and a field right beside it that he had only been using cover crops on it three years, the difference was amazing! I was sold then and there.

I used this grant to further my research and educate the public about how you can get high yields from smaller areas that you didn't think were possible. (I only have an acre to farm on and I want to be able to get the most from this space. I had studied and used Mel Bartholomew's method (square foot gardening) since 1981 and began growing anything that would grow up on trellises upward. I also planted intentionally instead of broadcasting seeds over the fields and wasting seeds when one plant chokes out another. Then I began doing research on Charles Wilber's growing methods in early 2001 and learned how he got 342 lbs of tomatoes per plant and how his technique would work on other crops as well.
About the same time I began studying and growing micro-greens for their high nutrition level. I learned of the quick turnaround rate and how this crop could be quite lucrative in the right market. I learned how you can grow them from seed to market in 9 to 10 days. I combined all three of these growing methods together to do research on my land. The grant has provided me the funds I needed in order to do more research on a larger scale, and has now convinced me even more that it will work…especially when I was able to test it in an incredibly rainy season.

I've been farming organically 30 years, so when I began research with the grant, I felt I had tried many growing techniques over the years. I was comparing the two years of research (with the grant) to the 28 years that I grew organically, but made my compost the conventional way; open to the elements and air, brought in bags of composted cattle manure, didn't mulch my garden, and didn't use cover crops, I continued to farm one field the same way I had done it for 28 years and the rest of the garden I used for my project. The research I conducted on my project convinced me that it was a better way of growing things than the old way. There was more work up front but when the days got to 90 to 100 degrees in July and August there was less work.

I plan on continuing with my project, (to truly perfect it): Incredible Crop Yields from Small Urban Spaces. I will continue to do more research for this region and will start to radically turn my yard into a truly edible landscape this year; also planting plants that I can use in my soap business, whether for safe coloring or medicinal uses for your skin -- something I have dreamed about 30 years. I also plan on planting some sugar maple trees that I can tap, adding to my project. (I use to tap our sugar maples at our other house – for 19 years). I plan on using my compost and mulching methods on my expanding orchard trees, brambles, berries and throughout the yard, even on ornamentals. My goal is to set a record for the most produce coming out of the smallest yard.

The steps to take to carry out my project are:
1) Make compost just like Charles Wilber did in his book using nitrogen fixing materials, manure, etc. in a sealed drum, not allowing any air to get to it; upon completion set it aside.
2) You'll need a good supply of rain water in stored barrels for this project. So plan ahead.
3) You'll need as many wall of water systems (also called tomato teepees) to match the number of tomato plants you'll be growing.
4) You need to find a good seed source for Better Boy tomato seeds, then hand select the fat seeds out, versus the flat seeds, throwing the flat seeds out.
5) You'll need a good supply of organic straw in square bales set aside.
6) Next you'll need to buy some 4 inch or larger peat pots to plant your fat tomato seeds in
7) You’ll need a good potting soil to use with no fertilizers in it. Plant your fat tomato seeds (one per peat pot), in early Feb. (for Kansas City) in your greenhouse or under grow lights and water with rain water only.
8) Lay out the straw in your field in a tic-tac-toe formation leaving the center open to plant the tomato plant in. Crumble some of the straw into the center open square lightly.
9) A month before the last frost date dig out a third of the earth in the middle of the square where you'll be planting your tomato plants (peat pot and all) and replace the soil with the special compost you've made.
10) Set out your wall of water systems filling them only three quarters full, and let the soil warm up a day before planting your tomato plants in them. Plant the tomatoes in the center of the wall of water at the same soil line as the plant is in the peat pot. Fill the remainder of the wall of water cells up after planting the plants.
11) Get an empty 50 gallon barrel and make manure tea out of rainwater and composted cow manure. Let it brew several days.
12) Water the plants every four days with about a gallon of the solution until the bottom leaf axils reach about 18 inches long, About May 15th remove the wall of water from around the tomato plants.
13) Buy a roll of concrete reinforcing wire and cut tomato cages, counting 18 squares then fastening them together with hog rings. Your cages should measure about five feet tall by four feet around. Now stack two cages together making the cage height ten feet tall. If you’re growing only a few tomato plants and have access to a ladder that won't tip, stack them three tall, making the cages fifteen feet tall. If carefully following my project your tomato plants should reach 15 feet to 18 feet in one season. Tomatoes like more of a dry season (dry leaves), I've observed with irrigation. Place a cage over your plant and secure the cage to the ground with about four cage pins you've made with foot long sections of rebar that have a soldered hook to it at the bottom, or take a piece of cage wire from the reinforcing wire cage and bend it into a foot log U and secure the cage to the ground.
13) For each tomato plant buy several bamboo poles about 5 feet long and insert them through the cage sideways about a foot from the ground where the 18 leads will come out of the cage, to the other side, to support the tomato vines as they grow out of the cage so they don’t break off.
14) Allow 18 leads including suckers to grow out the 18 squares in the cages. After 18 leads come out of the cage, prune off all suckers and tie the leads up the sides of the cages with used panty hose or tomato ties. I continue to give the plant monthly manure tea. Also throughout the season I give my plants some liquid kelp, and fish emulsion monthly.
15) Next buy some 1/2 inch PVC pipe and make an irrigation system drilling small holes about an inch apart. Glue the pipes together -- I make fifty foot sections. Buy proper fittings and hook up the pipes with the rain barrels (you may need a pump if your rain barrels are not up hill from your tomato beds). Place the pipes on the outside of the tomato wire cages; the tomato roots will reach out to the water pipes.
16) Grow a crop of bush beans about 7 feet away from the tomato plants to fix more nitrogen in the soil around the tomatoes.
17) Continue to prune off all suckers from the plant as it grows.

1) Get a glass jar and soft screen or cheese cloth to cover it, or you can buy a sprouting jar.
2) Buy about a half pound of bulk untreated radish seed.
3) Buy a plastic flat with tiny holes in the bottom.
4) Measure out about 8 heaping tablespoons full of radish seeds and place in a dry jar.
5) Fill the jar half way with cool tap water, set aside and let soak about four hours.
6) Pour out water from jar and rinse seeds, draining off all the water.
7) Continue to rinse the seeds three to four times a day for about three days or until tiny root tails form on the seeds.
8) Get your flat ready, fill with untreated potting soil, moisten the soil thoroughly and sprinkle seeds over the wet soil making the seeds about 1/16 of an inch apart.
9) Cover the seeds with a piece of very light cardboard or a paper sack and place the flat in a cool area but not a damp area. Every few days check on your flat to make sure it doesn’t dry out, water if needed.
10) In about four days the little plants will raise up the paper bag. Remove the sack from the micro-greens; they'll be a pretty yellow. Place flat on a table in your house in lighted area or outside if it's not really hot. The micro-greens will green up within several hours.
11) To harvest, use scissors to cut them off at the bottom; the radish plants won't grow back. Note: if you’re growing grasses for juicing you can get about three cuttings from them if you give them some liquid organic fertilizer between cuttings, then take the mass of dirt and roots to the compost bin.

I had several volunteer garden apprentices, some worked half a year and some only several times. Garden apprentices were as follows:
* Dick Sims (helped with tilling garden beds under)
* Shara (helped with mulching the garden beds and heavy lifting)
* Andrea Jones (helped with mulching the garden beds and fertilizing)
* Mara Grigsby, children, and friends (helped prepare beds moving plants around to prepare beds)
* Jennifer Hawkins (helped planting in the garden beds, weeding watering, etc.)
* Terri Honn (went to a few garden center to help me buy seeds, potting soil, organic fertilizers, etc.)
* Tabitha Gilson (helped to plant trays of veggies for the garden)
* Nate Gordon (made brochure design for KCCUA Farm and Garden tour, helped with inlaying glass windows to the Greenhouse, bent several tomato cages and also hauled about 20 bags of leaves into garden)
* Kathy Alongi (helped with weeding and planting of the garden beds)
* Matthew Rader and 5 friends from the raw food meetup group (helped with transplanting of garden plants and watering, clearing burning, mulching)
* Beverly Pender (helped with watering of my garden plants in KCCUA rented greenhouse 2008; we shared the space together)
* Erika and friends (came out to weed bed number 3)
* Raytown man who racks leaves (brought in more than 100 bags of leaves over a course of a few years for my garden beds)
* Ring and Yei, two teenage boys, friends of my son, (helped with lifting straw bales to garden)
* Nelson and Noah Gordon (hauled over 300 plus square bales of straw in for the garden, helped with yard around the beds)
* Ben Story (helped with inlaying windows to the Greenhouse and bending tomato cages, watering and planting)
* Dianne Huuf and her three boys David, Noah, and Jonathan Huff (helped with building of Greenhouse with Joe Jennings and overseeing it built)
* Joe Jennings (main person building greenhouse, built footing for greenhouse, hauled in lumber, built frame for greenhouse, framed in windows)
* Rob and wife (helped with roofing the polycarbonate on the Greenhouse)
* Noel Gordon (helped with cutting several tomato cages, starting plants and micro-green trays)
* Natasha Gordon (seeding micro-green flats and other garden plants)
* A volunteer group made up of 14 people (for four hours, bent over 80 tomato cages, and drilled and glued all the PVC pipe irrigation together )
* A chef from The Mansion House in Independence, MO (came out to the KCCUA Farm and Garden Tour 2009 and prepared raw Daylily sandwiches for people while I spoke to people about my grant
* Betty Jo Simon, a world renown accordion player (came to the KCCUA Farm and Garden Tour and played for people while I spoke to people about my grant)

I am totally convinced of the success of my project because of the way my garden performed. I am convinced that mulching the garden helps produce higher crop yields overall, watering with rain water versus tap water, and using compost made in a sealed drum Charles Wilber's way is the best. During very heavy rains bed number 3 struggled severely -- almost every tomato plant died (over 50 plants), located very closely to bed number 2. The difference between the two beds was, number 2 had cover crop on it the last few years, number 3 never did, number 2 was mulched, even though I got heavy rain and number 3 wasn't, number 2 was fertilized with my homemade fertilizer, number 3 got store bought composted manure, number 2 tomatoes grew in five foot cages that allowed more air flow while they grew, number 3 tomatoes grew about 24 inches apart in rows and were tied up. Again it was an incredibly rainy season for both rows, both years but number 2 bed always fared better than number 3. A large part of bed number 2 tomatoes not only sat in water a while but also came out of it as the rains dried up to grow over five feet tall and produce heavily.

The one thing I'd do differently though is either raise my beds number 2, and number 3 higher or change the location. Ideally tomatoes like bottom watering and dry leaves. Five of my beds sit on springs presently to my knowledge. They do well during a drought, but in rain it can be a marsh sometimes. The tomatoes not only had too much water from the rain these two years, but they also sat in water longer than most of my farmer friends’ crops did. They reported dry fields when mine was still wet.

I'm convinced that this growing technique will work on higher ground (I have to raise five of my beds for better results). In a dry year I believe this project on my present beds will do incredibly well. In a dry year several years ago, I was able to achieve over a three cage stacked tomato that I nicknamed Goliath (over fifteen feet tall). I didn't stake it right and during a very heavy windstorm it toppled over. Also in other dry years, I've achieved at least 40 tomato plants two stacked cages high that toppled over the sides (ten feet tall).

My project is good for the environment because it's earth friendly. I'm building up my soil instead of tearing it down and depleting it, the beneficial insects decrease the bad insects, the natural fertilizers and pesticides break down naturally not leaving harmful substances to poison the environment, and the cover cropping fixes nitrogen naturally into the soil and is cheaper to use than hauling in tons of manure or other nitrogen fertilizers. I've watched over the last three years my soil be transformed from my project.

I showed my gardens during the KCCUA Farm and Garden Tour 2009. I had an attendance of over 100 people. The farm and garden tour was advertized in thousands of brochures and booklets and on the internet. I also talked about my project as I sold my soaps and produce at KC Organics at Minor Park and Mission Farms Market weekly between May and Sept. of 2009, and KC Organics at Minor Park and Parkplace between May 2010 and Sept 2010. I wrote a brief description of my gardens asking for apprentices in 2009 advertizing that I won a sustainable agriculture grant and I needed volunteer apprentices. I advertized through word of mouth to a lot of people. I spoke of my project at a few raw food markets. I also spoke of my project to friends, even store cashiers and telephone operators when Iwas buying things for the grant.
I'll be on the KCCUA Farm and Garden Tour 2011 again this year, Right now their already making plans to publish catalogs and brochures. My new page will read:
Pearly Gates Organic Soapery and Homestead
7000 Sycamore
Kansas City, MO 64133
(816) 353-3602
[email protected]
Nancy Gordon is a true homesteader and teaches those skills. She heads this small family business that has been growing organically since 1981, and making soaps and bath care products since 1986. This year the business is expanded to include pottery containing herbs and other edibles and more nursery-grown plants. The gardens focus on the Raw Food Diet and Lifestyle although many of the crops can be eaten cooked as well. Research continues on the project titled, Incredible Crop Yields From Small Urban Spaces, using world record holder
Charles Wilber's methods on all crops including specialty and rare fruit, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, micro-greens and nutritional grasses for juicing.

Saturday and Sunday
* Live music
* Cooking demonstrations and sampling
* Children’s storytelling and crafts
* Raw foods speaker
* Water

Drive and Park Directions:
From I-435 on east side of KCMO
Take exit number 67/Gregory Blvd. – go 2/10 mi.
Turn left on E. Gregory Blvd. – go 1/2 mi.
Bear left on Sycamore Ave. – go 2/10 mi.
Park on street on west side of Lenington Day Lily Farm lot

I was very pleased with the program. I want to thank you for the grant I received. I'll be able to further my project this year and I'm hoping and praying for a dryer season.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.