Introduction to Small Vegetable Gardens:
Smaller vegetable gardens are perfect for people who want to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables, but don’t have the space for a large garden in their back yard. There are many excellent techniques and practices for growing vegetables with limited space. Here in this article we will try to cover some of those techniques to help you get started!
Preparing Your Site: The first thing you will need to do is pick a location that gets plenty of sunlight. Poor lighting is one of the primary reasons home growers end up with fruit or vegetables of poor quality. You are going to need a location that gets a minimum of 6 hours of full sunlight every day. If you do not have a location that has this available, you will need to rethink your plans. The plants grow in partial shade, but you will almost certainly be disappointed with the results. Small vegetable gardens are all about maximizing space and efficiency, so choose the right site.
Site Preparation for Small Vegetable Gardens:
If you have the ability, turn the soil over in the fall before the winter comes or else you will be dealing with very compacted soil by spring. If you aren’t able to do this, it’s ok, it just makes your work a little easier in the spring time. Once spring brings the warmer temperatures, you will need to till your locations as soon as possible. You are going to want to get your smaller vegetable gardens started quickly.
Till the soil roughly 6 to 8 inches deep and remove any grass, sticks, or rocks that you find. This is a great step to mix in some organic compost into the soil so you can blend it all together. You can also spread a light coating of 10-10-10 fertilizer of the area, and then rake it level. Since you are constructing small vegetable gardens, this entire process should be relatively easy.
Planning Your Crops: Before you starting putting anything into the ground, take a piece of paper and come up with a plan. You are dealing with a limited amount of space with smaller vegetable gardens, so planning is key! Decide what fruits or vegetables you must have, and research them to find out how big the mature plants get. This will be critical information to help you plan spacing and make sure you aren’t overcrowding your garden. Don’t be afraid to stake out locations and label them, so that you can step back and get a good big picture look at your garden before you do all the planting.
Conserving Space in Small Vegetable Gardens:
Techniques for Saving Space: Small vegetable gardens require a little more thought than those that have virtually unlimited space to work with. You want to get the most from your garden, and there are different tricks of the trade that can help you maximize every square inch.
Interplanting: Different vegetables grow and mature at different rates. Learn the differences between your crops and figure out how you can blend them together. For instance carrots are a very slow growing vegetable, whereas radishes are very fast. Plant them together at the same time, making sure to alternate them in the row. That way once your radishes are done and harvested, that space can then be freed up for the carrots that are still maturing. Lettuce tends to grow much faster than tomatoes, so plant your lettuce in between the tomato plants to make use of that growing area before the tomatoes need it.
Plant in Succession: Just because you’ve completed a harvest of one type of crop, it doesn’t mean your small vegetable garden can’t use that space again in the same season. When one fast maturing crop is harvested, replace it with another. For instance, if you’ve just harvested peas or lettuce or radishes, replant turnips, beets, or beans in that location for double duty.
Tips for Small Vegetable Gardens:
Go Up Instead of Out: Vertical space in smaller vegetable gardens is critical to success. Don’t be afraid to use fences, trellises, or other supports to take your garden vertical. Tomato plants get very tall and top heavy when they fruit, so plan to stake them or have cages ready to let them grow into. Do not under-utilize this precious commodity in your garden.
Plant Wide Rows: Most smaller vegetable gardens are planted in small, narrow rows that ultimately require constant weeding. If you are growing leafy veggies like lettuce and spinach, consider spreading your seeds out over a 10 inch to 12 inch wide row. The leaves of the veggies will form a canopy that crowds out weeds.
Choose The Variety Carefully: Most vegetables these days come in a wide assortment of varieties that you will have to choose from. For smaller vegetable gardens, the best option is to look for the “bush” varieties of these plants. These types have been bred especially to take up as little space as possible, while still providing great yields.
Techniques for Small Vegetable Gardens:
Square Foot Gardens: Square foot gardening was first pioneered in the early 80’s and it is a form of gardening that lends itself well to small gardens as well. The process involves starting off with a square site, generally 4 foot by 4 foot, and sectioning it off into 16 equal blocks that are 12” square. The plants are then chosen and arranged, one type per block, based on their size at maturity. For instance, a tomato plant gets very large, so that would be one plant, in the center of a 12 inch block.
Radishes on the other hand take up very little space, so you might plant 16 radishes in a 4 by 4 pattern in another block. By following this general process, you maximize the surface area of the garden, and minimize the amount of work that goes into each block.
Small vegetable gardens are a great pastime for the young and old alike. You can implement some or all of the techniques we’ve outlined here in your own garden, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
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