Two years and a few months ago I had an idea. Grabbing my power tools, bashing together semi formed ideas, I created my first vertical garden. Since then I’ve been on a whirlwind journey of discovery. Visiting, researching, chatting with people from all walks of life. As a whole the farming/gardening community is one that is constantly evolving – jammed packed with advice.


From attending a composting workshop at Abalimi’s Moya we Khaya farm in Khayelitsha, going to meetings with the Green Guerilla Urban Farmers at the Makers Station in Woodstock, waking up to go to a permaculture meeting at Erf 81 (AKA the Tamboerskloof Farms), and going to different garden centres across the peninsula on a weekly basis – there is so much to learn and share.

When I originally penned my first article on the garden as a novice, I was excited about what the garden would look like in the future – and I still am. For the last few years I’ve wandered enthusiastically into garden, right after putting on the morning kettle (girlfriend must have coffee), like a little kid waking up on their birthday, to see what’s happened overnight.

The garden has become an extention of my mental wellbeing – dying off when depressed and thriving when I’m happy – I’m pretty sure most avid gardeners would say the same thing.

After my brief time on the urban farming road, I thought I’d share some more tips on How to Be an Urban Farmer in 4m2 – and how to keep growing.



Talk to everyone
The farming/gardening community is one filled with knowledgeable people who’ve been there and done that. It’s not a competitive or secretive environment, people want to help because they like sharing. Next time you’re standing in the middle of a garden centre just ask someone for help.

The environment is changing
South Africa is experiencing a terrible drought. If there isn’t a bucket in your sink, shower or bath, I strongly suggest you get one. Currently I have changed my soaps to organic, created a greywater/filtration tank and pulled down a self made vertical sprinkler system (it was a costly adjustment). After all if you’re not adapting with the environment – you’re doomed.

My hydroponic systems have been incredible waterwise, using between 5 – 10 litres of water a day. And where there was open ground, I’ve placed wood chips to retain moisture – except for the cat “business” patch – they don’t like the scattered bark.

Still failing hard*
No amount of experience can prevent all disasters. Failing is part and parcel of the gardening gig. Being prepared to fail is not an option but a must. Due to a number of planting box failures I had a large amount of bad soil at one stage. To reuse this soil I built a worm farm. Simple enough to build, it works by adding worms and plant cuttings with soil into an aerated box, closing the farm’s lid, and allowing the worms to mix up the soil and inject nutrients back into it.

Worms are your friends and so are a long list of bugs.

Creepers are great in small spaces
While I do love building vertical planting systems, creepers are great. When I originally planted my granadilla I would have never imagined it would be making it’s way towards my neighbours’ neighbour’s backyard – but it is**. Training them is also very relaxing and  a great way for making shade, which in turn saves water as well.

**A sub-tip: make friends with your neighbours, share your crop if you can.

Ask people to collaborate
While the images in this article portray me as a one man team, this simply isn’t true. After all, success can only be achieved when you team up with the right people (this is true with every career). I have a number of friends who are excited to just help out, so that we can share a beer and chat afterwards. Whether it is helping with heavy lifting, discussing where a plant should go, or just clicking ‘like’ on social media, a garden only gets bigger with a lot of help from your friends (yes, yes, and the amazing girlfriend, who provides common sense when the ideas go crazy, and ceramic planters for all my seedlings).

Sounds cliched, but keep dreaming
My backyard has transformed so many times in the last two years, and so have the ideas. Some of the buried ideas I never chased were, in hindsight, “cray-cray”.

From building a plastic, water bottle planting system on the roof that would eventually extend all the down the street (the houses are semi-detached), to creating an orchard on the garage. These experimental ideas never materialised because they were either technically impossible or just too costly to build or maintain.

These dead ends haven’t stopped me though. They’ve just encouraged me to hone my ideas.

Growing up
In the next few months I’m going to prove that urban farming isn’t just an expensive hobby, but can be an additional income for the household. I’ll be vlogging the process and sharing all the tips my extended gardening family have to share, and also the things you need to avoid along the way. The target is small – R1000 a month, but I have a few dedicated friends deeply involved, and more on whom I can call if needed.

If you’re interested in following the journey – we’ve already started, and you can look us up  on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. We’re called Woodstock Mint.

See you there!

*Side note on the failure tip. On the evening before the shoot I miss measured a fungicide spray. Which meant on the morning of the shoot most of the on my tomatoes’ leafs had burnt off. Thus a less green hydroponic unit.


Photographs supplied and taken by Roice Nel


How To Become An Urban Farmer In 4 Square Metres

Andrew MacFarlane © Roice Nel

Our DECO guest writer and knowledgeable, self-taught, green-fingered god, Andrew Macfarlane, has spent the last 5 years as an advertising copywriter at a number of Cape Town agencies. Recently he made the jump to PR and works at Irvine Bartlett. Not professionally trained in landscaping, all the skills he applies when building in his backyard in Woodstock are self-taught, or Googled. 


The 2017 Field Report is not about fleeting trends – its about quality and perfection, about bringing back traditional skills and craftsmanship. We speak to the visionaries, icons and experts who shape their unique, lasting and life-enhancing concepts for us to embrace through their designs, recipes, buildings and explorations. Pick up your copy today and tell us what you think on Twitter @Elle_Deco using #2017FieldReport.