One advantage of being a backyardsman over a backwoodsman – it’s easier to grow vegetables in your back yard than it is in the back woods. Even if your yards is small you probably have room to grow some. Growing vegetables in small spaces is easy if you know how. It also doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here are some tips I’ve learned on growing vegetables in small spaces.
Planning a small space vegetable garden
I do lots of reading on urban gardening and small space gardening, and all I can say is most people’s idea of a small garden is huge compared to the space I have. Either that, or they’re talking about a garden that’s mostly ornamental and doesn’t produce a lot of vegetables. That’s not what I want. Gardening is relaxing, but I want more out of it than “just” relaxation. To me, that means fresh produce.
The first thing is to figure out how to get the most production out of your available space. This was hard for me since I don’t want my back yard to be all vegetables. I want to keep my brush pile. I’m planning on putting in a pond, a fire pit, and a shed. I want to have room to pitch a tent or set up a poncho hootch. It needs to keep enough of a natural look to attract wildlife (mainly rabbits and quail). Oh, and it all needs to fit in a yard that’s only 40′ x 60′, with a good chunk of that taken up by a concrete patio.
Raised beds and container gardening
After my experience last year, I’m convinced raised beds and containers are best for growing vegetables in small spaces. The squash plants we had in raised beds out-produced the ones in the ground by at least 3 times. In fact, the winter squash we planted directly in the ground didn’t produce at all. The plants we had in raised beds also took less water, and we didn’t have any problems with weeds. The only downsides to raised beds are that they’re not portable and they can be expensive. We paid $50 each for ours, which was cheaper than I could have bought the lumber and built them myself for.
Not all vegetables need the space of a raised bed though, and container gardening works great for those. The nice thing about container gardening is it’s easy to move your garden around if you need to rearrange your space. Also, containers can be cheap or even free. We grew our pole beans, snap peas, and tomatoes in containers last year. Most of the containers were gotten free from local landscaping companies doing work around the neighborhood (tip – landscaping companies can also be a good source for free grass clippings).
If you’re looking for ideas for containers or beds, check out the Urban Gardening section at Gardener’s Supply. Don’t buy their stuff – it’s too expensive – just check it out for ideas. Then build your own…
Pick the right plants
My dad was an avid gardener. He and my mom had a 1 acre lot that was devoted mostly to a big garden. There was no shady fence surrounding it, so the entire garden got full sun all day. There was s stream for irrigation. With no space constraints, no shade to worry about, and free water, they could pretty much plant whatever they wanted. Well, at least as long as it was suitable for the high desert climate we lived in.
If you’re growing vegetables in small spaces, like an urban garden, you won’t have that luxury. Pick you plants wisely. It’s easy to say just get dwarf varieties but doing that won’t automatically give you big crops from small spaces. When choosing your vegetables, look at how prolific each variety is and not just size of the grown plants. Sometimes the seed sellers will label varieties that do well in containers. The morning and afternoon shade you probably have in your yard seems to have the same effect as a shorter growing season, so favor varieties that have a shorter required growing season. I’m a seed saver, so I try to only use open pollinated seed. If all you care about is production, hybrid seed should be OK.
Finding more space to grow vegetables
Another trend that seems to be popular is Square Foot Gardening. I had the book, read the book, and it’s very interesting. If I had even less space than I do, I would definitely try it. Other ideas to try are vertical gardening, hanging pots, indoor gardening, or guerrilla gardening. Get out and explore your Area of Operation (AO). Unless you live in a very urban environment, chances are good you’ll find at least a couple places to do a little “stealth gardening”.
I plan on writing about this a lot on The Backyardsman, so check back often. I have lots of ideas to try and hopefully lots more tips to pass on. Until next time…