Minigardens: Vegetable Gardening in Small Spaces

Don’t let frequent moves, or lack of a garden plot, prevent you from growing your own food. You can still have a wealth of herbs and vegetables while gardening in small spaces.

| May/June 1983

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    You can build a simple cold frame that takes up little space.
  • Small Garden Optimized
    Grow a patchwork garden: Put a small patch of herbs and flowers here, a few tomato plants there, and a potato patch over yonder!
  • gardenplan
    Diversify even a tiny plot of growing space.

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  • Small Garden Optimized
  • gardenplan

Do you want to start an organic garden but fear that you may be moving by midsummer? Do you pine for a farm but find yourself stuck on a quarter-acre suburban lot? Do the requirements of your current job make living in the city a necessity? Don't fear! There are plenty of strategies to help you get the most out of gardening in small spaces.

If any of these problems sound all too familiar to you, don’t despair, because city folks and modern nomads don’t have to forgo the joys of growing fresh produce. In fact, even if the empty moving van has just pulled out of the driveway of your new home, it’s not too soon to make a start toward food self-sufficiency, because my gardening method requires only as much effort as you want to put into it. The workload can then expand in small, manageable chunks as more time and energy become available or as you decide you’re likely to stay put long enough to justify added effort.

Many Minigardens

Of course, many homes seem to have too little yard space for a garden. Well, we faced that problem three years ago, when we were transferred from our suburban home to a house in a metropolis. The new abode was located on a city-bound lot only 34 feet wide, and the backyard was almost completely shaded by 50-year-old trees (there was a sunny strip right next to the house, though). The site was, nevertheless, just perfect for a “patchwork” garden.

Like a patchwork quilt, you see, this type of plot is made up of a number of separate minigardens. And — like the components of a homemade quilt — each little growing space would likely seem nearly worthless by itself. What good, for example, is a 2-foot-by-4-foot patch of land ... or a strip of sunlit soil in a shady back yard?

Well, the truth is, a patchwork garden — made up of such small available plots — can be immensely productive. In ours, for example, a sunny spot bordering the street provides all the fresh kitchen herbs we can use, plus dried ones for gift giving at Christmas. The small, sunny backyard strip I mentioned produces peas in the spring ... a summer full of tomatoes ... a seemingly endless trickle of broccoli (which we accumulate in meal-sized portions and freeze) ... and even a pumpkin or two for Halloween! A semishady patch in the same area yields all the green onions, lettuce and spinach we can eat ... and each of these little microenvironments allows us to experiment with seed varieties, plant growth requirements and companion plantings.

Manageability is another advantage offered by patchwork gardens. On several occasions in the past, our family has endured midsummer transfers from one state to another, and — during those times — we believed it was impractical to try to start a garden at our new home. July, we thought, was too late to plant much of anything, and — busy with getting settled — we lacked time to cultivate a large plot, anyway. I've since learned, though, that a small garden patch can be started almost anytime. It takes little time, for instance, to improve heavy clay soil when the plot in question is only 3-foot-by-3-foot. (Just remove 8 to 10 inches of the dirt and lighten it by mixing one part of soil with one part of sand and one part of mulch, such as leaves, straw, or dry grass clippings ... then fill the patch with the mixture.)

Furthermore, tomato seedlings planted in July can produce ripe fruit before frost in most places, while greens, green onions, fall vegetables (such as Chinese cabbage), and herbs (for repotting indoors for the winter) can often be planted as late as August.
11/23/2016 5:42:21 AM

Organic gardening emphasizes soil improvement through the regular addition of organic matter, and biological and genetic diversity to manage insect and disease problems. great fun, good exercise and a sure way to more nutritious eating. Kids, people with physical limitations, college students, renters, novice gardeners, and anyone can enjoy gardening. Nara

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