Few things in life are as satisfying as preparing meals from your own homegrown produce. Yet many urban gardeners feel discouraged from growing vegetables because of a lack of garden space. Although you may not be able to provide all your family’s produce needs, you can grow a substantial amount of food in even the tiniest space. And as interest in small-plot gardening grows, more companies are offering creative solutions to your small garden dilemmas.
One of the oldest small-garden strategies is that of vertical planting. Build trellises from metal wire or wood to train plants on. Don’t limit your vertical garden to the usual peas and green beans. You can train cucumbers, small melons, and summer squash to a trellis. Pruned and trellised, tomatoes take up half the room of caged tomatoes or those left to sprawl on the ground. Additionally, vertical planting keeps ripening vegetables off the ground. They ripen more quickly with fewer disease problems. Some crops, such as cucumbers, produce straighter, more uniform fruit when grown vertically. Harvesting vertical plantings is much simpler too and reduces back strain. If you’d like to grow a vertical garden, keep the following points in mind:
- Build a trellis strong enough to hold your plants. Lightweight crops such as peas grow well on bamboo cane trellises, but a heavy load of tomatoes requires a stronger structure. Use metal fencing posts or heavy wooden stakes.
- Choose small varieties of melons and squash to trellis or harvest them when they’re young. Large fruits will rip from the vine. Another option is to make slings for the fruit from strips of cloth. Attach the cloths to the trellis to support the fruit.
- Choose plants suitable for trellising. For example, choose climbing beans instead of bush beans. Opt for trailing cucumber varieties rather than compact ones.
If you’re interested in vertical planting, take a look at The Garden Tower Project, started by a small company in Bloomington, Indiana. The company’s innovative Garden Tower is a vertical cylinder with forty-five openings for plants. In the middle of the cylinder is a chamber for vermiculture composting. You simply add earthworms and kitchen scraps. The worms break down the kitchen scraps into compost. Nutrients from the compost are delivered to the growing plants through small holes in the chamber. At the bottom of the tower is a drawer that holds the finished compost. Slide it out and add the compost to your garden.
Raised beds are an excellent strategy for small-space gardeners. Beds made from cedar, rocks, or wood composite products are elevated from the surrounding ground. The soil is substantially improved with compost and manure. Raised beds have several advantages:
- They warm up earlier in the spring so you can start gardening sooner.
- The soil is rich and loose so you get larger harvests and can grow plants more intensely.
- Raised beds stay neat and tidy. They tend to have fewer weed problems than a regular garden.
- You can easily add hoop tunnels to a raised bed, which lengthens the growing season by several months.
If you’d like to try raised beds, use materials that will last for several years. Cedar is inexpensive, attractive, and naturally rot-resistant. Composite wood is more costly, but it will last almost indefinitely. Avoid pine, which breaks down quickly, or treated wood, which may leach chemicals into the soil. Rocks make casual, charming raised beds.
How big should you make your raised bed? Raised beds can be made in a variety of sizes and shapes, depending on your building materials. Make a raised bed as long as you like, depending on your space. As far as width goes, though, keep the raised bed around three feet wide so you can reach into it, rather than stepping into it. By limiting foot traffic, you’ll minimize plant diseases and keep the soil soft and workable.
Square foot gardening has become popular in recent years. This technique starts with a small raised garden. In square foot gardening, you’ll use an intensely modified gardening soil to grow abundant vegetables in a small space.
In succession planting, you get more out of a small space by planting crops continuously throughout the growing season. For example, in the spring, you might plant fast-growing spring crops, such as radishes, lettuce, or peas. As those crops grow and mature, plant summer crops like green beans, melons, and cucumbers. When you harvest the spring crops, the summer plants will be emerging. In late summer, plant a fall crop of winter radishes, lettuce, broccoli, or cabbage. These crops tolerate cool temperatures and will continue to grow after the heat-loving summer crops have faded.
Pots And Containers
Don’t discount pots and containers for growing vegetables. Almost any vegetable, and even small fruit trees, can be grown in pots on a sunny patio or porch. Just keep a few points in mind for container gardening:
- Choose small plant varieties.
- Provide a large enough pot. For most vegetables, you’ll need a five-to-ten-gallon pot. For fruit trees, select a twenty-to-thirty-gallon pot.
- Use a lightweight potting soil amended with perlite or vermiculite. Do not use ordinary garden soil, which is too heavy and may harbor diseases.
- Water containers more frequently since they tend to dry out. Fertilize every two weeks with a balanced fertilizer.
- Trellis or stake climbing plants, such as tomatoes and green beans.
Whether you opt for containers, raised beds, trellised gardens, or a combination of approaches, small plant varieties are a smart strategy. Most of these plants will allow you to reap an abundant harvest in a small amount of space. Below are just a few of the options:
- Tomatoes: Grow determinate plants rather than indeterminate varieties. Determinate types grow to a specific height and then stop growing. Indeterminate varieties, on the other hand, grow on long, sprawling vines and take up more room. Some tomato varieties are specifically bred for compact growth. These varieties are well suited to the small garden or even containers.
- Lettuce: Lettuce varieties, in general, are fairly compact. Additionally, you can cut leaf lettuce one inch above the soil surface and allow it to regrow for multiple harvest with fewer plants.
- Peppers: Peppers are related to tomatoes, and have similar growing conditions. Most varieties are compact.
For more inspiration, visit an urban community garden or your local botanical garden. Several urban garden bloggers have developed exceptional urban gardening blogs where you can go for advice.