Diane from Nickle Family Urban Farm
We are excited to announce our March featured farmer, Diane from Nickle Family Urban Farm in Tempe, AZ. She is doing some amazing things on her urban farm and even coaches others in their gardening endeavors. Check out her website, Garden Guru. Also, we have a new feature – check out our first podcast with Diane:
Tell me a little about your urban farm. What is your farm’s name? Size?
Nickle Family Urban Farm, about 1/8 acre. We have a 25’ tangelo shrub on the north east corner of our property that gives us amazing fruit to share every year. We plant directly in the ground, containers, and above ground beds. There are a variety of herbs—some we include in meals and others are used as companion plants to keep unwanted pests away. Some of the herbs we grow include chives, lemon verbena, oregano, cilantro, rue and basil, just to name a few. Vegetables, like herbs, are dependent on the season. This winter we enjoyed yummy broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and lots of celery. The fava beans and peas are just blooming; they were planted a little late. We had an abundance of sweet gypsy red peppers and eggplant until the last multiple-night freeze. The plants did not freeze back completely and are already full of new growth. I have a variety of starts waiting to be planted such as heirloom tomatoes, sweet peppers, zucchini, squash and cucumbers. We grow perennials like bee balm, chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata), an array of salvias, rain lilies and penstemon. I have to mention nasturtium. This time every year our back gardens are invaded with them. Once you plant one it will reseed and can multiply into what seems like thousands the next season! Many of the plants we grow attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and praying mantis, all of which are beneficial to a garden.
What kind of climate are you growing in?
There are many microclimates around our urban farm. Living in the low desert gives many opportunities for gardening year long. Selecting the right location for a particular plant depends on the season, sun exposure, structures that can shade and act as heat sinks, and the secondary vegetation including trees.
What initially got you interested in urban farming?
I grew up in a small town in southeast Missouri where my mother and I gardened together. We canned much of our food and I found it enjoyable as well as very tasty. After that I found myself always digging in the soil no matter where I lived.
Do you use any organic, permaculture, hydroponic, biodynamic, or other methods?
I am an organic gardener incorporating aspects of permaculture. I have learned that a healthy plant wards off being attacked so organic gardening is what our urban farm is all about.
Do you use compost?
Yes, composting is one thing my husband solely takes care of. We use old vegetable garden boxes as our compost bins. Having multiple areas to compost in allows us to rotate as the compost becomes ready for incorporating in our garden beds. I have a small worm factory or vermaculture farm which produces black gold for our plants. It has rotating trays filled with red wigglers that eat our garbage. It takes about 30 days for the worms to transform kitchen scraps into usable compost.
Where do you get it and how does it help your plants grow?
It takes time for all of our kitchen scraps and yard waste to decompose into usable material but it is well worth the wait. I have seen how our gardens thrive and benefit from using the compost we make as a mulch, top dressing. Adding compost creates a soil rich in micronutrients that help plants naturally resist disease and pests.
Do you have any urban livestock? Chickens? Bees?
No, but there is interest in bees and chickens—just no time at this point in our lives.
What do you do with the food you grow?
Mostly my husband and I eat many of the veggies we grow; however, there have been many occasions where we have had such an abundance that I take some of the excess to the Escalante food donation center in Tempe or share with family and neighbors.
What is your greatest challenge in your farming endeavors?
Microclimates, the temperature variations and the intensity of the sun make each area of our property unique. I am always thinking ahead so that I may harvest as long as possible from any given plant. Water needs are also greatly affected by microclimates. It is difficult to have all plants on the same watering system so I make sure plants with the same water needs are on the same drip system.
What do you enjoy the most about farming/growing food?
The satisfaction of knowing where my food comes from is important and of course the tastes and aromas of what I feed my family. I really enjoy being outdoors. I have always loved and respected our mother earth. There is a connection that goes beyond words; for me that is spiritual.
Why do you think urban farming is important?
On a local level there is the satisfaction of eating things you’ve grown yourself, sustainability at a local level, food miles, and seasonal availability of all types of food. Globally, communities and society that learn to feed themselves help social issues of hunger and poverty. Right now only a few countries feed the world. If people have the tools to feed themselves you change that dynamic—feed a man a fish and he eats one day; teach a man to fish and he eats for life.
Do you think this is a growing movement?
It is encouraging to see the thousands of people all over the world sharing their stories on social media. Occasionally you might hear an inspiring story about urban farming on local media. Choices for local and organic options at the grocery stores and restaurants have increased enormously, as well as the number of farmers markets around the country.
Is urban farming the future of agriculture?
Urban farming will definitely play a role in agriculture. People are becoming more aware of what they are eating and as the choices change, the industry will need to evolve as well. Diversifying the sources for food supply increases our ability to rebound from adverse weather and environmental disasters. Think of Victory Gardens during World War II.
Do you have any advice for someone just getting started?
Start small. First, find out what plants grow during which season in the valley of the sun. After determining the season select what you would like to add to your meals from the list. It is important that you feel excited by your first harvest. Find a local grower to get your plants or seed from and be consistent with watering. Don’t let your plants get stressed out with too little or too much watering. You can always call Garden Guru AZ for a consultation.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Once I graduated from Arizona State with a science degree emphasizing in urban horticulture, I decided to start a business to share my knowledge of gardening in the valley. I have lived and gardened here for 27 years and through success and failure I have learned how to eat from my property year round.
Interested in learning more about gardening from Diane? Check out her website at GardenGuruAZ.com.