Take a SPIN at Gardening

SPIN harvest

Just over a year ago, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Roxanne Christensen, co-founder and President of the Institute for Innovations in Local Farming. The Institute promotes Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) farming techniques first codified by Wally Satzewich, a farmer from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The idea behind SPIN farming is to give step-by-step instructions for creating a profitable farm on an acre or less of land in order to promote the development of local, organic food supplies. Through their method, even a 1/8th acre part time hobby farm can generate $10,000 – $20,000 a year with a full 1 acre farm bringing in $50,000 – $65,000 a year.

This year, they have come out with a SPIN gardening guide for the home gardener. It is not just for those with large backyards, either. Like the SPIN farming guide, it can be used to help organize community gardens and neighborhood produce co-ops. The original SPIN farm, run by Wally and his wife, is spread out over 25 neighborhood backyards.

The idea of the SPIN garden is to turn your home garden or neighborhood land into a significant, valued food source. The guide helps you understand how to grow high value crops – those that retail for more than $50 per harvest per short bed – and calculate the value of your harvest, so you know exactly what you are saving by growing your own organic produce. At the same time, it gives you a list of equipment you will need, and estimated costs, so you can garden like a pro. High value crops include heirloom varieties of carrots, tomatoes and potatoes, salad and mesclun mixes, onions, shallots and scallions, fresh herbs and more.

Tips include planting earlier and later than you think you can; some crops can go into the ground well before the last spring frost, extending your growing season. Relay crops to increase your total crop yield by planting fast growing and then longer growing crops in the same bed to make best use of the land. Make small, frequent plantings so that your harvest isn’t ready all at once.

The guide even maps out days of the week and times to harvest. The best tip for apartment dwellers? Use Craigslist to find a plot of land to rent. The guide suggests not paying more than $100 for 1000 square feet. Or better yet, see if you can find a neighbor or landlord to let you plant a garden on their land in exchange for weekly produce.

Planting methods, weeding, irrigation, pest control, harvesting techniques; it’s all in there. There are even tips for setting up a neighborhood bartering system to trade produce and services or to set up a local co-op.

There will be free SPIN gardening workshops in Toronto on Thursday, February 5th and on Sunday, February 22nd at Rooting DC in Washington. The Spin Gardening Guide will run you $19.99, but they have lots of free tools on the site, too, including a Starter Plot Guide and Backyard Cropland Negotiating Points to help you approach your neighbors about using their land. So go ahead, take your garden for a SPIN and see what happens!

Image credit: 2009 SPIN Gardening LLC

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