Growing Food in Small Spaces

Growing Food in Small Spaces
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Growing Food in Small Spaces

If You're Growing in a Limited Space, Look for Varieties that Naturally Grow Smaller

One of the best aspects of gardening is having the ability to grow food for your family. But what if you want to grow vegetables at home, but you don’t really have the space for an entire vegetable garden? You can grow food in small spaces. 

Many gardeners grow fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers at home.  Vegetable plants are remarkably easy to grow.  If you have developed a green thumb while growing flowering plants, then you will find vegetable gardening to be a simple task.

Determine Where You Can Grow

How much space do you really have to grow vegetables in?  You may be surprised at what all you can grow in a limited space. Do you have a patio or balcony to grow on?  What about a large deck?  Do you have some empty space in flower beds?  What about room for a small, raised bed or mini greenhouse?  Is your outdoor space too limited? Will you be growing indoors?  The first step to gardening in a small space is to figure out how much room you really must grow in.  You can strategically put plants together to maximize the number of plants that you can fit into a small growing space.

Growing on a Patio

When I was getting my bachelor’s degree, I lived in an apartment in the middle of town.  I did not have space for a large vegetable garden.  I did have a patio that I could use to grow vegetables on.  I was able to turn that small space into a productive little vegetable patch.  You can do the same thing.

Use flowerpots to grow vegetables in.  Large tomato plants will need the most soil and space.  Plan on about 5 gallons of soil for a tomato plant.  You can grow them in a 5-gallon bucket, a large flowerpot or even a special tomato grow bag. The upside-down tomato grow bags work well and will free up ground space on your patio.

Cucumbers and squash plants will also need a large container to grow in.  Peppers can be grown in smaller containers.  Leafy greens, root vegetables and herbs can be packed into window boxes and grown in containers on the wall.

Growing on a Large Deck

If you have a little more space, you can fit more plants. Feeling handy?  DIY grow boxes that attach to the outside of your deck railing.  This frees up floorspace on your deck while making the vegetable plants easily accessible.  It also helps to keep some herbivores out of your vegetables.  Deer and rabbits will find it harder to reach your tasty plants if they are hanging off of your deck railing.

You can also place decorative flowerpots filled with vegetables on your deck.  If you’re trying to make the space look inviting, add flowering plants to the containers with your vegetables.  Many vegetable plants will benefit from having flowering plants in the containers with them.  Just make sure that the plants do not crowd one another out.  Companion plants, like nasturtiums and marigolds can perform double duty.  These will keep pests away, attract beneficial insects and can jazz up the appearance of a vegetable growing container.

Growing Food Indoors

If you find that your outdoor space is nonexistent, you can still grow vegetables.  There are many ways that you can grow vegetable plants indoors.  The best place to grow indoors is in a south-facing window.  This will allow the maximum amount of natural sunlight to hit your plants.  A large, southern facing window may get several hours of direct sunlight each day.  Most vegetable plants need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day to grow.

A southern facing window is not needed to grow food, though.  Place containers with plants in any window to get as much natural sunlight as possible.  If your natural sunlight is not enough, you can easily add supplemental lighting to your plants. 

Plants that are getting at least some natural sunlight will continue to grow under normal lighting.  When plants do not get much natural light, you will need to provide some supplemental light that mimics the sun’s light.

The sun’s light contains distinct types of light.  Several types of light are used in the plant, so it is important to provide the different types of light.  If you are growing indoors and your plants are not getting natural light, use a supplemental light source that contains different types of light.  Grow lights that provide different types of light are more expensive, but they are well worth the additional cost.

Another under looked aspect of growing plants indoors is where to place your plants.  You want them to get plenty of natural light, but it is just as important to consider where traffic is in your home.  Do not place plants in spaces where they will be in the way.  You may think that your family will walk around the plants but, if they are placed in the way, they will get knocked over.  Avoid placing plants in front of doors or in walkways.  It does not do your plants any good if they are constantly knocked over, soil is spilled, and the roots are disturbed. 

Using Space-Saving Growing Equipment

When you picture a vegetable garden, you probably imagine a large, flat plot in the ground.  That is not the only way to grow vegetables.  There are many pieces of equipment that will expand your growing space.  For home gardeners, I recommend using raised beds, shelves, or mini greenhouses to increase their growing space.

A raised bed is a wonderful way to add growing space to your backyard.  A raised bed is a garden bed that is elevated off the ground.  Soil is brought into the bed from an outside source.  This can be a great option if you do not have soil to work with.  The raised bed can be filled with soil, providing a small bed for gardening.

Shelves are another way to create additional growing space.  Do not forget that you can always add vertical space!  Wire shelving from a hardware store can be an inexpensive option to increase gardening space.  Use the shelves to hold vegetable flats or shallow containers.  Narrow shelves will ensure that each level gets ample sunshine. 

If your shelves are deep, you may want to space your plants out to allow sunlight to get to the plants in the middle of the shelves.

A mini greenhouse is another useful tool to create additional growing space.  Miniature greenhouses are surprisingly cheap.  You can purchase a small greenhouse with shelves for less than $100.  The clear plastic sides will also help to extend your growing season if you live in a cooler climate.  The sides will allow sunlight to penetrate and heat up the inside of the greenhouse. 

Mini greenhouses are small enough that they can be tucked into a corner of a balcony, patio, or deck without taking up much space.  Fill the shelves with growing flats or containers to create a small vegetable garden.

Best Vegetable Plants for Small Spaces

Just because you have limited space for vegetable plants does not mean that you cannot grow big yields of vegetables.  There are a ton of vegetables that are well suited for small spaces.  Some vegetable plants are naturally smaller, have shallower root systems and can be packed into small growing spaces. 

But the rise in home vegetable gardening has increased dramatically over the past decade, leading to the creation of many ‘patio-friendly’ varieties of crops that are usually too big for a patio garden.  These dwarf plants produce the same full-sized vegetables as their larger cousins but take up a fraction of the space.

Leafy greens are a perfect choice if you are trying to grow vegetables in a small space.  Lettuce, spinach, turnips, and greens can all be grown in a shallow window box.  Root vegetables like carrots, radishes, or beets will need to be grown in containers deep enough for the root to grow.  Some carrots require deeper containers to allow the carrots to stretch out.  If your containers are small, look for shorter varieties of carrots like the Little Finger or Mini Adelaide varieties.

Look for these varieties to grow in small spaces:

Cucumbers: Patio Snacker or Saladmore Bush Hybrid

Tomatoes: Patio Choice Yellow Hybrid Cherry Tomato or San Marzano

Peppers: Kitchen Minis™ Pepper

Potatoes: Fingerling Potatoes

Radishes: Park’s Beauty Blend Radishes

Eggplant: Fingerling

Cabbage: Katarina Hybrid

Leafy greens: Li Ren Choy Hybrid Pak Choy, Little Gem Lettuce or Mini Romaine Blend