How to Make the Most Out of a Small Garden

Many people assume that it takes a large, sprawling space to accommodate a garden. However, if you only have a small space to devote to gardening, such as a tiny side yard, you can easily make things work. It just calls for a bit of planning and creativity. With the right forethought, design, and plant selection, a little garden can be a mighty producer of delicious produce as well as a space that adds considerable appeal, both as a source of beauty and of relaxation, to your home. Here are a few tips for maximizing the growing potential of a small garden.

Planning and Scheduling

Take the time to think through the design and layout of your garden before doing anything else. This is standard practice, actually, for cultivating space of any size, but is particularly essential when you need to make the most of every inch. The first step is a fun one: What do you want in your garden? What do you want to be eating throughout the seasons? Make a list of potential candidates—carrots, zucchini, potatoes, lettuce, garlic, herbs—and research their respective cultivation requirements. Square these hopes against the environmental realities of your area. For example, what is the sun-to-shade ratio like and what is its spatial pattern?

It always helps to make a table or spreadsheet of sorts and work up a schedule for the growing season. You can use the same bed for multiple crops if you configure it right. If you planted garlic, say, the previous autumn—the standard practice in all but the most frigid locations—you can harvest it in mid-summer, then plant some fall crops, like carrots.

It’s important to keep in mind that some crops don’t do well occupying the same ground as other crops. Members of the allium genus, for example—onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, and chives—shouldn’t be planted successively in a single bed. This is because, with continuous allium occupation, there’s the potential for a buildup of pests that can diminish the productivity or survival of the plants. This is where rotating comes into play. Put an unrelated vegetable in the ground, and plant the next allium elsewhere. Given several years, you can rotate alliums back into the original bed.

Keeping all that straight underlines the importance of maintaining good, clear records on where and when you’ve planted things; don’t rely on your all-too-fallible memory.

Simplicity

Especially if you’re just installing a new small-sized garden, it’s best to keep things simple. Focus on a few crops, and see how your inaugural growing and harvesting season proceeds. Trying to do too much is stressful and confusing, and it often negatively affects your yield. Plants crowded together generally don’t do well so give yourself a little flexibility. Identify those desired crops you won’t be planting in your garden this year and get them from a good source like a farmers market.

Test and Amend Soil

Shell out the modest sum to have your soil tested, which tells you its nutrient profile. If there are deficiencies, balance them out by adding amendments so that you have a nice, fertile blend of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential nutrients. Again, this is advice that applies equally to large spaces, but the small-scale gardener who relies heavily on a limited, hard-working patch of ground wants it as fortified and productive as it can be.

Vertical-growing Plants

An excellent way of maximizing your garden space is to choose plants that can be staked or trellised. In other words, choose plants that will happily grow upwards rather than sprawling out on all sides. Common examples are cucumbers, peas, pole beans, and squash. The supporting structures are easy to purchase or build, as well as free up room for other crops that need to grow in a horizontal pattern.

Reliable Producers

Consider focusing on plants that will produce regularly and continuously—given proper growing conditions—so that you’re getting multiple harvests off the same crop. Lettuce and many herbs are great examples.

Container Planting

You always have the option of planting in containers. A container garden makes growing produce possible for urbanites who don’t have yards at all. They can also be wonderful supplements to in-the-ground vegetable beds. Herbs are an obvious choice—they can even be grown indoors, where they beautify windowsills—but you can also grow plenty of other crops in containers. Examples are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beets, and broccoli.

In short, a small space—a little yard or even a front-door stairway and windowsill—can become a perfectly respectable and productive garden. Not only can you grow healthy and delicious-tasting food in such a space, but you’ll also be reaping some of the associated benefits enjoyed by farmers and large-scale gardeners the world over. These benefits include an intimate relationship with the earth’s seasonal cycles, plenty of doses of fresh air, and good, old-fashioned, getting-your-hands-dirty physical work.
This is a guest post by Elli who writes for InGoodMeasure.net and YourLocalSecurity.com. When she’s not writing and blogging about home security, family life, childsafety tips, and home improvement topics, she enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, and reading.

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