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At MOTHER EARTH LIVING and MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we have been educating folks about the benefits of self-reliance for 50 years. That includes researching and sourcing the best books and products to help individuals master the skills they need in times like these and beyond. Our online store is open and we are here to answer any questions you might have. Our customer service staff is available Monday through Friday from 8a.m.-5p.m. CDT. We can be reached at 1-800-456-6018 or by email. Stay safe!

Start Your Own Simple, Super-Productive Backyard Farm

Save money, increase your garden’s yield and maximize your home’s resources with this roundup of ideas to transform your yard from wasted space to hyper-productive backyard farm.

| May/June 2015

  • Backyard bees are low-maintenance and provide honey and pollination. Learn more at
    Photo by iStock
  • On Community Chickens (, one of our sister magazine’s satellite sites, bloggers share their chicken-rearing tips.
    Photo courtesy Picasa
  • Find inspiration from real-life urban farmers on a variety of blogs.
    Photo courtesy
  • Farm Swiftwind near Shelby, Nebraska, raises and sells purebred Nigerian Dwarf goats for home dairies (
    Photo courtesy Farm Swiftwind
  • Intersperse edibles with flowers for a beautiful, useful yard.
    Photo by Raya Carlisle
  • When fruit trees are at peak production, transform the harvest into jam, jelly or fruit leather.
    Photo by iStock
  • Consider your family’s dietary habits and your average grocery store prices to determine the most cost-effective crops to grow.
    Photo by Veer
  • Run small appliances and lights, dry clothing and even cook with solar power.
    Photo by Greta Rybus
  • Benefit from your yard's natural assets with a productive backyard microfarm.
    Photo by Raya Carlisle
  • Most gardeners find tomatoes to be among their most rewarding crops.
    Photo by ThinkStock

Yearning for a more self-sufficient lifestyle? The solution might be as close as your own backyard. Whether you have an acre outside of town or a tiny city lot, you can benefit from making the most of your yard’s natural assets. The key is to treat your yard like a microfarm that needs investment, enrichment, harvesting and replenishment—and manage it accordingly.

Reduce lawn area. The typical swath of sod requires regular feeding, watering, weeding and mowing. With many communities mandating outdoor watering restrictions, not to mention environmental concerns about chemical fertilizers and emissions from gas-powered mowers, eliminating some or all of your lawn can be a positive step in creating a more earth-friendly, sustainable yard. One alternative is to simply tear out the turf and plant low-maintenance native, water-wise grasses, xeriscape plants or drought-resistant ground covers; you’ll reduce water use and have more time to enjoy your yard.

Converting lawn space to a vegetable garden goes one step further because land that previously sucked up resources can now generate abundant food. Growing your own produce still requires time and attention, but your investment is paid back in delicious edibles rather than do-nothing grass. A home compost pile can provide natural fertilizer to enrich soil while proper mulching can reduce the amount of water and weeding needed.

For step-by-step instructions about how to eliminate grass in preparation for a garden, read “Turning Sod Into Garden Soil.”

Landscape with edible plants. Many plants can do double-duty in the garden, providing color, foliage and visual interest while also producing food for you and your family. Fruit trees, many of which flower in the spring, can provide shade that cools the house in summer months. Dwarf varieties are a good choice for smaller yards, and fruit-bearing bushes such as raspberry, currant and blackberry can add structure to the garden and bear sweet berries for many years.

Produce plants can also be colorful, practical alternatives to flowering annuals. For example, scarlet runner beans are fast growers with showy red flowers and edible pods. Rhubarb’s giant ruffled leaves and vivid red-to-green stalks make unusual garden accent plants, and red and yellow cherry tomatoes provide bright pops of color. Edible flowers such as pansies and nasturtiums make pretty additions to salads, and nothing beats the sunflower for charm and height in the back of a sunny garden. Grapevines can be trained up a trellis or over a pergola, and colorful Swiss chard can be planted in hanging baskets. Ground covers such as strawberries, oregano and creeping thyme can fill in spaces under taller plants.

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