As we finally seem to be rounding the corner on spring, looking back, I can truly say that it was a long winter! I know this for sure, because on one of our first Minnesota spring mornings, I was awoken to the sound of birds and I literally couldn’t recognize what the sound was! That got me thinking about my vegetable garden. At Curtis Food Recruiters, we are all about the food! On this note, one of my passions over the last few years has been planning and growing my own vegetable garden. Even though I don’t have a lot of space for vegetable gardening, I really do enjoy it. Backyard gardening is a food trend that has been growing in popularity across the nation. Many of us do not have expansive fields in which to plant and grow our own food, however, we do have the means to create some very productive crops using the space that we do have. Whatever you choose to call it: urban gardening, square foot gardening, container gardening, backyard gardening, the concept is all the same; we are trying to do the most with the space that we have.
The following are some of my favorite small space gardening tips:
Use square foot gardening. The concept of square foot gardening was created in the 1970’s by a retired engineer named Mel Bartholomew. He noticed that instead of the traditional way of planting with rows, small gardens would be more efficient if planted in squares. This was because the rows were intended to make space for the equipment in the fields, but were not as efficient as a densely planted garden. Square foot gardening involves laying down 1 foot square guides and then planting the various crops within each 1 foot section. This can be done using wood strips or even string, or in my case “eye-balling” it. With rows eliminated, this type of dense planting also helps reduce weeds, another bonus for the home gardener. Raised gardens also work well. In two 4 x 8 gardens, you could have as many as 64 different types of vegetables.
Think about recycling your crops throughout the summer. Some plants grow quickly from seed and can be replanted throughout the summer. This is one form of succession planting. Vegetables like lettuce, radishes and green beans work well for this. You can replant these crops about every 2-3 weeks, as the plants stop producing. Another great way to re-use garden space is to cut plants like Swiss chard and lettuce about an inch above the ground when harvesting them. This will allow them to re-grow at least one or two more times. By following these tips, you can recycle your garden space all summer long.
Consider dwarf or miniature varieties of plants. These plants can produce as much as the traditional larger sized varieties, but in a much more compact area. More and more types of these plants are being introduced as backyard gardening is becoming more popular. They will often be labeled with words like dwarf, miniature or compact. Also be sure to look for varieties that indicate that they are highly productive.
Consider growing herbs and vegetables among the other plants in your landscape. Herbs and vegetables don’t always need their own private garden space; they can be simply incorporated into your landscape. This also means that the space in your front yard can be just as easily used as the space in your backyard; making more room for planting vegetables and herbs.
Plant what you enjoy. Herbs are very distinct in flavor and smell and can trigger a range of feelings, emotions and memories. Lavender is a great example of this. One of my favorite things to plant among my perennials is Pineapple Sage. Even though I never choose to cook with it, Pineapple Sage is one of my favorite herbs. Full grown at about 2 feet, it is a beautiful lime green plant that smells absolutely wonderful! Every time I walk by it, I grab a small handful of leaves and am immediately taken to the tropics!
Create miniature gardens in your containers. Even planters on a patio or deck can be great containers for a small garden. You can create small themed gardens within the containers. For a spaghetti garden, all you need is a tomato plant, like San Marzano or Roma, and some herbs like oregano and basil. Be sure that the space does get at least 6 hours of sun for best results. Consider other types of miniature gardens as well, such as a salad garden with various types and colors of lettuce, grape tomatoes, chives and radishes. Be creative!
Use all of your space wisely, including vertical space. Planting vining vegetables on a trellis or pole is a great way to get several more feet of vertical space from your garden without using a large footprint. A simple thing I like to do is put 4 or 5 bamboo stakes in the center of my raised garden in a small circle or square and then tie them together at the top with twine. Last summer, I planted pole beans around the stakes. At the height of summer, they were not only a beautiful focal point in my garden, but also produced an abundance of great tasting beans through the later part of the summer. In the landscape, a rung ladder propped next to the sunny side of the house would make a great support for peas or miniature pumpkins; or a trellis would work equally well.
Have fun and be creative with the different types of containers you can use in your space. I have seen some pretty creative uses of containers around the web these days. This includes multi-level containers on the deck, as well as pallets being propped up vertically with plants in pots tacked to the sides. One of my favorites is the re-purposing of an over the door shoe bag. It was made out of a really pretty burlap type fabric and had herbs tucked in the places where the shoes are supposed to go. Adorable! I have also seen multiple layers of gutters hung together with twine and used for planting. I currently have a window box that I am not using for flowers this year, but filled with herbs, it may be a great center piece for my outdoor dining table.
For additional information on the topic, one website that offers some great suggestions and how-to’s, including tutorials, on creating small space edible gardens is Sunset at http://www.sunset.com/garden/fruits-veggies/small-space-vegetable-gardens-00400000044403/. Mel Bartholomew also offers some great tips to getting starting with the Square Foot Gardening method on his blog at http://www.melbartholomew.com/
Now get planting! I would love to hear about your results!