Contrary to the sprawling and luxurious vegetable gardens often featured in glossy magazines, not everyone is blessed with huge amounts of space to grow food. Sometimes all we have is a tiny backyard, a patio, or even a balcony to devote to our green thumbs.
Don’t lose heart. With a little clever planning, an astonishing amount of food can be grown in very small spaces.
Plan Ahead for Container Gardening
If your gardening ambitions are restricted to a balcony or patio, the very first thing to do is plan everything out in advance before you plant that first seed (I call this “paper gardening”). Measure and sketch your space, and then – on paper – pack it to the brim with whatever fruits, vegetables, and herbs you want to grow. Putting things on paper allows you to make mistakes, scratch things out, research, and re-plan – all before the first seed goes in the ground. Paper gardening vastly increases the likelihood of success.
Your patio or balcony will need adequate amounts of sunshine (at least six hours a day) for best results. Clearly you can’t grow anything on a wood or concrete floor, so you’ll need to use raised containers. As long as it has adequate drainage, almost anything capable of holding soil can grow a plant.
Use Raised Garden Beds
An advantage of growing in raised containers is a reduction in physical stresses. I’m of an age where my knees and back can’t take a lot of squatting and bending, so having the soil elevated to a more comfortable height makes all the difference. Elevated garden beds or a table garden are ideal solutions. Elevated beds can come in all shapes and sizes.
To maximize growing space, pots or even burlap bags filled with soil can be placed underneath the elevated beds for a “stacked” effect. For obvious reasons, anything grown in spaces beneath elevated beds should be low in profile, and make sure these bottom areas still get adequate amounts of sunlight.
Try Vertical Planters and Containers
Utilizing vertical options is possibly the single most important thing to do when space is tight. Hanging pots, strawberry towers, trellises, and vertical “balcony gardens” are all excellent options. Climbing plants such as pole beans or peas can be trellised for a visually stunning and highly productive effect. Sprawling plants such as cucumbers, squash, and even tomatoes can be trellised as well. (Heavy fruits such as cantaloupe or watermelon may need to be supported independently as they mature.) As an added bonus, growing vertically often reduces diseases and pests.
This is why planning a garden in advance is so efficient. Not only can you figure out how best to utilize every inch of available space, but you can set up the containers in your preferred layout before they’re too full (and heavy) to move.
Opt for the most productive versions of your favorite veggies. Don’t hesitate to combine similar species; for example, a large pot or box can hold a selection of different peppers or herbs to offer variety. Additionally, seed producers often have “dwarf” varieties of favorite vegetables that are better suited to small spaces. (It’s best to do your research in advance to make sure the mature plant stays compact in size.)
All this gardening has been done on paper first, right? Good! Now you know what your small space is capable of producing. Happy growing!