With a little creativity and ingenuity, small spaces can be maximized to get a bigger crop of food from your garden, and it will look great doing it!
Many of us look forward to the unmistakable flavor of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, especially those that come from our own soil. For those of you who want to grow food at home but have limited space, don't despair. Your home cooking dream is still within your grasp.
You might be wondering how to grow vegetables if you have little or no space with full sun exposure, but many vegetables will tolerate partial shade, and some might even be considered 'shade vegetables' as they will not tolerate full sun exposure.
Maybe you live in an apartment with little more than a balcony, but you love fresh vegetables and would still like to grow your own, no problem! Here are some top tips to help make your urban garden a tasty success.
If you have limited outdoor space, be it a small patio, shared patio or balcony, a container garden with vegetables and fruits may be ideal for you.
One of the best things about container gardening is the ability to grow almost any vegetable and many varieties of fruit, given the right conditions and enough space for a properly sized container.
With the right amount of sun exposure and irrigation system, it is even possible to successfully grow small fruit trees or shrubs this way. In my day, I've seen both lemon trees and blueberry bushes thrive in above-ground pots - what a tasty way to fill your container garden with color!
Container gardens are also extremely space efficient, as every ounce of soil in your container will count towards fruit and vegetable production - no growing space will be wasted under your feet as you care for and harvest your plants.
The container garden also has the added benefit of being a great back protector, or they can be set up for people with reduced mobility, ensuring that growing fresh fruits and vegetables at home is accessible to everyone.
Another unique thing about container gardening is your ability as a gardener to chase the sun if you need to, as the containers can be moved throughout the day. If you don't have time to move containers while life goes on around you, no problem, plant the amount of sun you have.
While it is true that many plants will require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day, there are several 'shade vegetables' that will tolerate or thrive in partial shade and dappled sunlight.
Some things to keep in mind when doing container gardening:
- 'Recycling' can lead to some very cool containers - steel pasta strainers are great for kitchen herbs, reclaimed vintage boxes will add flair to your plant styles, and even recycled plastic bags can make great planters if he is more concerned with utility than style.
- You are limited only by your imagination and preferences. You will need to remember to allow for drainage, so if necessary drill holes or punch the bottom of your chosen containers.
- Almost any plant will grow in a container if the container is large enough. Straw bales can be used as containers for gardening, even if they can be a bit messy and spoil relatively quickly, they are a viable option.
- We've been enjoying squash and zucchini straight from the top of straw bales this season, and it couldn't be easier (see how this is done here).
- Make sure to provide enough water and food when gardening in containers, as the soil in containers will dry out faster and nutrients tend to flow through them faster than their counterparts in soil. Evaluate your sun exposure and plant accordingly.
Ah, vertical gardening. There are many ways to grow upwards, let's face it, most vegetable and fruit plants grow upwards, when setting up food production in a smaller space, consider using a traditional trellis on a recycled pallet planter in a garden of hanging hydroponic windows.
The options for vertical gardening are vast and require just a little creativity - making the wasted space productive space the key to maximum productivity in the small urban garden.
What edibles lend themselves to vertical gardening? well I'm happy to report that the list is long. Here are a few to get you started:
- Tomatoes - Cherry tomatoes in particular (but most varieties will) are very happy to grow upward when given the right amount of support. Old strip cut nylons are great for tying your plants to their upstream structures as they are flexible and will put the least amount of stress on the plant where they are attached. Maybe you don't wear nylon stockings or your stockings are too valuable to wear in your urban garden, don't worry, pick up some at the thrift store, they will cost next to nothing. Alternatively, plant on top of a wall to a basement and watch the branches fill with cherry tomatoes as the summer progresses.
- Winter Squash and Melons - These plants naturally tangle and will happily grow skyward. Again, they will need adequate support, especially when they start to bear fruit, but they react well to being trained in the room where you have the room.
- The peas and beans will happily grow with something strong enough to hold them
- Cucumbers - this afternoon tea, spa, or spritzer favorite on hot summer days - are relatively easy to grow in the smallest spaces.
- Asian greens, salads, strawberries, and kitchen herbs will happily grow up on nothing more than a recycled pallet next to you. Instructions for that can be found here.
- Greens, strawberries, or kitchen herbs will also happily grow in rain gutter sections that can be hung or pinned to the side of just about any south-facing structure or on a net of hanging bottles in a south-facing window as seen here. Hanging rain gutter garden instructions are here.
- Potatoes. Yes, even potatoes will grow vertically if they are provided with the right container to do so. Imagine you are using a clean garbage can with all kinds of holes punched in the bottom. Toss out a few inches of soil and compost, add your cut and cured pieces of potato seed and cover with 6 more inches of soil. Water. When the aerial parts of the plant have reached about 6 to 8 inches, add more soil leaving only a few inches of green exposed. This cycle can be repeated several times throughout the season. When the plants turn brown and die, it's time to harvest. The potatoes on the top will be smaller and more delicate than the ones on the bottom, as will the “new” gourmet potatoes available at the store at a high price. I've heard of vertical potatoes growing in a container filled with straw (rather than soil) that allow for easier harvesting and I plan to give it a try this year. Stop Press: This totally worked for us, and it seems that potatoes grow easier and lead to a heavier harvest. I kept stuffing the straw with the slow-disintegrating straw bales that our squash and zucchini grow on.
- Try hanging pots - strawberries will thrive in hanging baskets, even tomatoes will happily grow upside down from the bottom of a hanging bucket. Our ground cover strawberries do little more than make fat, happy squirrels, hanging them means you can eat some too. DIY Upside Down Tomato Planter Instructions Here.
Noteworthy: We've had great success using sunflowers as a support structure for beans, peas, and cucumbers when planting shade-tolerant salad greens in the shade of the vertical pool.
Edible Landscape, Forest Gardens, and Permascaping
The art of edible permascaping involves planting perennials with food in areas where ornamentals would traditionally occupy space. In fact, many popular ornamentals are edible, so turning your landscape into a food paradise is easier than it sounds.
By looking at your entire property as a possible land to grow food, your potential to increase your yield increases accordingly. Lawn, for example, can easily be transformed into garden plots, flowering perennial gardens can often accommodate plants that are beautiful and edible, even wooded areas on your property can produce food (and in some cases may already have some wild that is worth harvesting).
No sun-facing window, balcony, or patio? Consider a community garden, it is a great way to grow food while strengthening relationships with neighbors. If there isn't a community garden in your neighborhood yet, could there be a vacant lot to start one?
One thing is for sure, learning to grow vegetables with others in your community while sharing information and resources will do more than just put food on the table. Collective gardening or even just sharing the garden space will help build and strengthen relationships within your community.
A community garden is also a great way to expose children to food production that they might not otherwise be able to get. In the future, we will face many challenges around the problems of natural resources and food production, so the ability to produce food in one form or another is a skill that can be very valuable for future generations.
After deciding to grow your own vegetables, choosing the right plant for your space may be the most important decision you make. Many plants will require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day and other vegetables will prefer partial shade during the hottest days of summer. Evaluate your space, choose wisely, and good luck! As always, if you have any tips or experiences to share, we hope you'll share your knowledge in the comments below.