INNOVATIVE GARDENING METHODS TO HELP YOU GROW THE MOST FROM LIMITED SPACE
If you think you need a big backyard to start growing your own edible garden, think again. Whether it’s a windowsill, your apartment balcony, your tiny townhouse yard, or your squished backyard, you’ll be surprised how much you can fit with these creative small space solutions.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Growing in Containers
When you’re growing in inches instead of feet, containers are your best friends. Chelsey Fields, Vegetable Product Manager at Burpee, shares tips for small-space container gardening.
CHOOSE YOUR VARIETY WISELY
Fields elaborates, “Varieties that are compact, bush, or dwarf are generally ideal because they’ve been bred or selected to take up less space.”
An easy way to tell if a variety is good for small spaces is to see if the product description/seed packet includes a note about containers. Other signal words include “bush varieties,” which applies to “beans, peas, cucumbers, squash and even melons,” or “determinate” for tomatoes. “Peppers, herbs, and greens,” Fields says, “will do well in containers with enough sunlight and soil to root.”
CONSIDER YOUR CONTAINER
In addition to size, your main considerations for a container are drainage and material. The excess water needs somewhere to go. Otherwise, Fields explains, “Containers without drainage hold excess water around the roots, depriving the necessary air exchange and in effect drowning the plant.”
The material of your container will affect your plant’s watering needs:
“Clay pots keep root systems cool during the hotter days of summer but also tend to wick moisture from the soil, so you may find yourself watering more often. Plastic pots, on the other hand, can really heat up based on day temperatures, but tend to retain more moisture,” says Fields.
While you want to maximize your space, overburdening it is counter-productive.
Overcrowding, Fields explains, “Will lead to root competition, which causes water and nutrient deficiencies. Also, when foliage is crowded and air movement is restricted, there is a greater risk for insect infestation and disease issues to set in.”
Pay attention to the plant spacing requirements, which you can find included with the seed packet or plant, or you can easily track down online.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE RECOMMENDATIONS AND RESOURCES
For small space vegetable varieties, Fields heartily recommends these varieties:
Corn On Deck
Tomatoes: BushSteak and Baby Boomer
Peppers: Big Guy and Candy Apple
Eggplant: Early Midnight
Okra: Baby Bubba
For other container-friendly varieties, visit burpee.com/vegetables/container-vegetables/.
No, this doesn’t mean you can grow the pasta dish from the ground. The lasagna part of the technique refers to the soil/compost layering method. We asked Patricia Lanza, creator of the method and author of the Lasagna Gardening series, how it works:
“Pick a site, cover the site with wet newspaper or cardboard.” Your site could be a section of your yard, a raised bed or even a container. The newspaper or cardboard cuts off the light, preventing weeds from growing and inviting earthworms to come be your natural composters and tillers.
”Cover paper with organic material (compost, grass clippings, chipped leaves, composted manure, old hay or straw, etc.). Layer organic material, like a lasagna, using 1 part nitrogen, or green material, to 4 parts carbon or brown material, until the layers are deep enough to plant in.”
“Water layers until matter is as moist as a squeezed-out sponge.”
“Pull back layers, down to, but not through, the paper or cardboard. Tuck plants into the layers, water and you are done. As plants grow and organic material decomposes, add more material to bed.”
The idea here is to mimic and encourage what nature’s already doing by decomposing and creating nutrients for the plants. The title of the first book in the series, Lasagna Gardening, A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!, gives you an idea of some of the advantages of this method.
On top of that, this technique eliminates the need for what Lanza refers to as “the compost dance: move waste to composter, turn waste, move it to another composter, turn, until you take your small bucket of finished compost to a small garden space.”
Instead, waste goes directly into the layered bed, accelerating the decomposing process, which is easier on you and beneficial for your plants.
When we asked Lanza if there were any additional advantages to the method, she had plenty more to share: It uses “waste material that would end up in the landfill, [is] organic, time and money saving, [requires] no power tools, saves your back and gets those who had given up gardening back outside.”
Square foot gardening
This method is all about maximizing your resources and space. It is characterized by a soil recipe and a raised bed with a grid overlaid on top of it. To explain how it works, we caught up with Victoria Boudman, CEO of the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.
MAKE YOUR OWN SOIL.
Existing soil gets worn down and gives opportunity for weeds. Making your own allows you to make sure your plants get a nutrient-rich, weed-free home. The soil recipe is parced out in thirds:
- 1⁄3 coarse vermiculite
- 1⁄3 blended compost (use 5 different types of compost ie manure, mushroom, worm casting)
- Peat moss or ½ peat moss and ½ coconut coir
Boudman explains the rationale for this, “The more different types of compost, the better chance of a very successful garden you have. Because what we use the soil for is the nutrient base for the plants, and every plant needs different nutrients.”
You can make this mix yourself by gathering the ingredients from local nurseries and mixing them yourself on a tarp, or you can buy a premade mix at Home Depot or Lowes.
Once you have your soil blended, mix in water. The soil will retain water very well.
“Our gardens use only 20 percent of the water used by normal raised beds or single rows,” says Boudman.
MAKE YOUR BED
Boudman encourages a raised bed dimension that is no more than 4 feet wide. “Since most arms are about 2 feet long, you can reach into the whole raised bed.”
The bed can be longer than 4 feet, but Boudman recommends no more than 16 feet long. “We encourage people not to step on the soil at all, because that compacts it.“
Staying off the soil eliminates the need for tilling to loosen it again.
CREATE YOUR GRIDS
Overlay a grid so that your raised bed is divided evenly into squares. In a 4’x4’ box, for example, you’ll get 16 1’x1’ squares. In each of those 16 squares, you pick a crop to grow, so you can grow up to 16 different crops per season with a 4×4 raised bed.
Boudman walks us through how to know how many of a particular crop to plant in each square using the spacing guide (“Thin to x inches”) on the back of a seed packet.`
THINK OF T-SHIRT SIZES
“For your XL plants, tomato, broccoli, anything that needs 12-18 inches will be 1 per square.
For L, these require 6 inches of space, which will be 4 per square
For M, those will be 4 inches apart, so 9 per square
And S is 3 inches apart, meaning 16 per square.”
When you’re ready to plant, dig the appropriate amount of holes per square based on the crop’s spacing needs, and drop in a pinch of seeds.
After harvesting your crop for spring, reuse the grid to plant your summer crops. Boudman also emphasizes spring crops can be planted again in the fall. “You get a better harvest from it [in the fall] because it’s a better time of year to grow because it’s warm in the days and you can grow up until the frost.”
This method requires no gardening tools since you don’t need to weed or till. Since you’re adding your own soil in a contained bed, you can grow on your cement driveway or patio, and you can easily move the bed if it needs more sun or shade.
For more information on the Square Foot Gardening Method, visit squarefootgardening.org.