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The Urban Sanctuary
The Urban Sanctuary
Last updated:
Dobson Rd & Southern Ave, Mesa, AZ, US
Climate zone:
Hot Desert

John Marsing Nathan Dow
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The Urban Sanctuary

Project Type

Urban, Residential, Educational

Project Summary

Goal: Transform a typical suburban backyard into a functional, low-maintenance, aesthetically pleasing, somewhat drought-tolerant, and yielding collection of fruit and vegetable gardens. Once backyard systems stable, front yard will be next phase of project. All gardens are in-ground, not raised bed. Method: Used minimal tillage and labor to amend the hard clay soil, stayed as organic as possible, using fertilizers and pesticides only once per year if natural methods mean risk of crop loss, and utilizing chickens, compost, and crop rotation to add biomass to soil. Herbicides and pesticides were not used while hens in system, and need for at least a natural pesticide on tecoma/non-food occurred once hens removed, about 2x/year.

Project Description

Phase 1: Amend clay soil by breaking it up with deep-rooting plants, scratching chickens, and compost. Start growing desert-adapted flowers, and peas and beans to fix nitrogen in soil. Phase 2: Grow as many food-yielding plants as possible, continuing to rotate for increased soil aeration and fertility. Incorporate compost in beds for increased soil biomass, ph balance and stability. Phase 3: Continue crop rotation and high yields, expand gardening area to west wall of patio, adding grapevines for shade, trellis, and food. Mulched all beds with cocoa shells to encourage beneficial fungal growth. Phase 4: Expanded compost system and use of compost on all backyard plants. Adding rainwater catchment system (110 gallons) on south wall, to include a trellis for more climbing fruit vines (passionfruit). Expanding garden area to front yard as well, using a raised bed system instead. Phase 5: Once all systems stable, utilize The Urban Sanctuary as an educational and community outreach site to advocate awareness of food security and self-sufficient methods of 'growing' it for oneself. Food is Free participant, site for open-source community classes on permaculture, resilience, and wellness topics. Timeline: After 3.5 years of employing 95% natural methods and systems, yields exponentially increased as such: Year 1 Yield: okra, sunflowers (& lots of wildflowers to break up soil!), select herbs, aloes Year 2: more drought-tolerant wildflowers, sunflowers, herbs, peas, beans, tomatoes, squashes, melons, kale, grapevines Year 3: sweet potatoes, carrots, more herbs, peas, broccoli, onions, lettuces, spinach, kale, beans, 3 types of tomato, cabbages, peppers, melons, squash...and of course more flowers to attract those lovely pollinators! Note: Year 1 used chickens as 'tillage' and manure, without using compost, while in Year 2 the compost system was stable and used to amend soil.


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Urban Residential Educational
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