FARMING is inherently an optimistic act, a belief that you and your hands can make something happen, even if you couldn't last year. That's a good thing, because nurturing your crops to a fruitful harvest can take some trial and error as you find the right mix of soil, sun and weather exposure. Plants sensitive to cold, for instance, may grow better close to the house, where it may be warmer than in the rest of the yard.
Jules Dervaes suggests starting your micro-farm with just a few plants, hardy ones that will do well even for rookie green thumbs. Start with some herbs, such as basil, and tomatoes. And even the horticulturally challenged can triumph with squash.
You'll want to spend serious time upfront getting the soil right. "If you don't have healthy soil, you don't have healthy plants," he says. Think in terms of feeding the soil as much as the plant, with a regimen that includes mulching and compost.
As you add more plants, you have to be imaginative in maximizing space. Dervaes and his three adult children use trellises along the walls and down the center of the backyard for snow peas and flowers. In one optimizing technique traditionally used by Native American gardeners, they combine several plants in a "three sisters" bed -- black Mexican/Aztec corn, cornfield beans and winter squashes with a cover crop of mustard. The family has a portable corridor of crops grown in pots they can rotate depending on the season.