We hear from readers all the time who say they’d love to grow some of their own food, but they don’t have a big yard to work with. Fear not, readers! You can grow some of your own food on a patio, balcony, fire escape or in pots on your rooftop. The trick is to plan well, using the proper plants and tools for the job. Here are a few of my favorite tips for the small-space gardener:
1. Up and Away: When you’re working with a small space, it’s important to utilize your vertical space. Certain varieties of squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and beans love growing upward on trellises or stakes, which can hover above other plants. Ask your local garden center for the best vining varieties for your area. You can also buy or build layered or hanging planters.
2. Food and Water: Remember that plants in containers and with limited soil use up available nutrients more quickly, and shallower soil can’t hold as much water as the ground can. Make sure to regularly supplement your soil with organic compost, kelp meal, bone meal or organic cottonseed meal to give plants the nutrients they need to thrive. Also keep an eye on water. It’s important that plants receive the water they need, and also that containers drain well so plant roots don’t drown. Over- and underwatering have similar symptoms. The best way to make sure you’re providing proper water is to put your finger about 1 inch into the soil. If soil is moist, don’t water. If it’s dry, do.
3. Pick Proper Plants: I know this sounds obvious, but it’s crucial that you choose plants suited to your small space. Tomatoes and peppers simply won’t produce fruit if they don’t get at LEAST six hours of DIRECT sunshine every single day — not ideal for your shaded balcony! On the other hand, greens that like cooler temperatures and shades are never going to be happy on a completely unsheltered patio in full sun. Also be sure to choose compact or “dwarf” varieties that will produce a lot in a little space. Herbs are among the easiest categories of food plants to grow. And because fresh herbs can be rather expensive, these easy growers are cost-effective in a small-space garden. For individual advice, watch your gardening area for a full day and calculate how many hours of direct sunlight it gets, then read seed catalogs or visit a local garden center and ask for advice for your climate.