How do you make gardening worth your time if you don’t have the space for a large garden?
I get it. I can grow a diverse array of crops because I have a lot of space, but not everyone has the space and frankly, not everyone wants to devote the time it takes for a huge garden. But when managed well, small space gardening can produce heavy yields. Here’s how.
Focus on Fertility
I have a large garden plus six raised beds. Every year the vegetables in my raised beds produce more than several times the amount of the same crops planted in my garden. Why? Because I’m able to control fertility better — and quicker — in a raised bed. (In-ground gardens can be just as productive, but improving native soil to optimum fertility and tilth can take years.)
As mentioned in my post on growing tomatoes, I add a bag of compost and a bag of composted cow manure to one 4’x8′ raised bed. When you spread it out, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but a little goes a long way, especially with organic amendments. Unlike synthetic fertilizer, organic methods slowly release nutrients over the season instead of a short, limited-burst.
When you focus on fertility, your harvests will yield the greatest, allowing more production in less space.
Succession planting is when you time two crops to grow one after the other in the same space. In longer seasons like mine, I’ve found a few ways to succession plant successfully.
Peas then Beans. Peas are cool-weather crops. In my Zone 7 climate in Arkansas, I plant them in March and harvest them in mid-May. After I pull the pea vines up, I plant beans. This is also convenient if you plant climbing varieties of both; then you simply reuse the trellis.
Lettuce then Cucumbers. Lettuce, also a cool-weather crop, will become bitter when temperatures rise. Cucumbers love hot weather and will shoot up after the soil has warmed, which is usually when the lettuce is ready to be pulled out.
Beans then Beans. Bush beans grow and produce quickly, so in the same space you can plant another stand of bush beans in the same season.
Peas then Zucchini. After their harvest in May, the soil has warmed sufficiently for zucchini and squash seeds to spout quickly and yield in just a couple of months.
Potatoes then Beans. In our climate, I start potatoes in late February to early March. After I harvest in June, I can plant bush beans for a late summer harvest.
Cabbage then Peppers. Cabbage can be planted in early March in my area, and when it’s time to plant peppers, I simply place those seedlings between the cabbage heads. By the time the peppers need more space and nutrients, I have already harvested the cabbage (usually in May or June). (Tip: when pulling out crops, cut at soil level instead of pulling up the roots. Not only is this better for the soil but it also keeps you from disturbing root growth of interplanted crops, such as in this example of cabbage and peppers.)
Growing climbing varieties of peas and beans allow you to maximize your garden bed space since they grow up instead of out, leaving room for more crops beside them. Click here for my tips on growing pole beans.
Choose Crops Strategically
Some crops simply take up more space than others, and some are not worth it given the amount of yield they provide.
For example, you don’t want to grow corn if you’re short on space because they not only need a lot of it (and at least 16 for pollination) but they only produce 1-2 ears per stalk. A better use of your space is potatoes, which will yield several pounds in the same space 1 or 2 ears of corn would have produced.
Zucchini and squash, on the other hand, produce so heavily, only one or two plants will be sufficient for a family of four, so they are always a good choice for strategic gardening.
Companion planting is when you plant two different crops close to one another. Carrots, which grow underground, are a great addition to tomatoes. Onions can be interspersed among potatoes. Black-eyed peas or bush beans easily grow alongside the tall, sturdy okra. Squash is also a good neighbor to okra.
Having a rewarding garden and a prolific harvest isn’t only for those with acres of land. With just a few raised beds, you can plant enough vegetables to feed your family all summer and beyond.
Do you have tips for small space gardening? Share them in the comments!
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