Farms in East Palo Alto?

Indeed! Long-time LEAF volunteer and master gardener Guy Duran has created microfarms in the large backyards of two homeowners in East Palo Alto. At one he’s row cropping corn and tomatoes, while the other is a cornucopia of experimental techniques and a riot of flowers.

Guy tends his raised beds. (Photo by Mia Mora)

Guy is practicing regenerative agriculture, building the soil and using minimal added fertilizers and no toxic chemicals. After harvesting corn from his rows, he tosses most of the stalk into the compost pile, but leaves the roots and base in the ground to mulch in place. When he’s ready to plant seedlings for the next crop, he just digs through the decaying leafy parts and by the time the new plants have matured, the mulch has become compost. Clever!

At this site Guy is row cropping corn and tomatoes, leaving the roots and bases of corn stalks in the ground after harvest to serve as mulch. (Photo by Mia Mora)

At the experimental site, he’s installed a chicken coop – not unusual, but I’ve never seen anyone raising black sawfly larvae to feed them. He told me the flies have no mouth parts, so the only function of adult flies is to breed and lay eggs. He transfers larvae into an open tub where they feed on discarded vegetables. As the larvae mature, they crawl away from the food source and fall through a hole where they’re collected and fed to the chickens. 

Guy’s chickens feast on homegrown sawfly larvae. (Photo by Mia Mora)
Raising black sawflies (Photo by Mia Mora)

Guy has also built an elaborate koi pond for aquaponics, where planters circle the pond in a medium of clay marbles and pond water. Theoretically, the koi add fertilizer to the water, which provides nutrients to the plants. The little koi he’s raised from eggs will need to get larger before the system works to full advantage.

In this aquaponics pond, koi add fertilizer to the water, providing nutrients for surrounding plants. (Photo by Mia Mora)

I was intrigued with the almond-sized mouse melons Guy is growing. They look like dollhouse-size watermelons, but are actually cucumbers. I’d never heard of them, but understand they’re trending with heirloom gardeners. They must make amusing little gerkins when pickled.

These tiny “mouse melons” are actually cucumbers! (Photo by Mia Mora)

Every August Guy hosts a tomato event at LEAF, so if you missed him this year, watch for next year’s event.

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