For many of us living in small spaces, a vegetable garden is a dream. We make our weekly pilgrimages to the co-op and the farmers market in anticipation of the day when we can enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of our labor from our very own plot of land.
Regardless of your space constraints, you can start a garden. A few hours of work and a small investment will let you eat better all summer—no need to wait until you have a bigger yard or more time. In fact, after a few years of experience with both large and small urban gardens, I’m inclined to say that small space gardening is more ideal, as you get all of the benefits and a lot less work!
To get started, here are five things to keep in mind:
Seek the Sun
We tend to think a lot of space is needed to grow a garden, but really all that is needed is a sunny area, as most plants require 6-8 hours of sun each day. Find a sun-lit corner indoors, a window box or a sunny patch of land (a general rule is one-square-foot of space per plant). If outdoor space is available, you can dig a garden plot; however, you can maximize space and sunlight by planting in individual containers.
Choose the Right Tools
Next, stock up on a few essentials, such as a watering can, organic fertilizer and pots for planting that are sized correctly and have appropriate drainage holes in the bottom. (Your pot should be twice the size of the plant roots to allow room for growth. If in doubt, buy bigger.) Consider adding casters to the bottom of your container (with a drip plate placed underneath), which allows you to move the pots around more easily and to bring them indoors should inclement weather arise.
When planting your own fruits and vegetables, there is no reason not to go organic; the increased start-up costs are minimal and the benefits are undeniable in both taste and nutrition. Die-hard gardeners will scoff at the idea of purchasing vegetables that are already planted, but I’ve found that the likelihood of success is much higher when doing so and I’m absolutely willing to let the experts take on the beginning (and hardest) part of the process.
Want Not, Waste Not
A reality check: Everyone would love to eat solely from a garden, but that is unrealistic, regardless of how much space you may have. Gardens are an easy way to generate food waste, and planting too much can quickly turn a hobby into a burden. Remember, you can always grow more later in the season or next year. Think about your eating habits and plan accordingly: Do you really want to eat fresh zucchini every day for a month? How many cucumber spritzers can one person actually consumer? If you have squirrels, bunnies or other critters roaming freely in the vicinity, greens are unlikely to survive. However, neighbors and friends always seem excited to receive excess tomatoes (not so with cucumbers; if you don’t know what to do with them, your friends probably don’t either). To give a sense of quantity, my two-person home welcomes many a guest during summer weekends, and we’ve found that planting two or three different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, two types of peppers and a few boxes of herbs and greens is manageable. Remember, you can always grow more later in the season or next year.
Grow Inside the Box
For those with smaller spaces, window boxes are perfect for greens and herbs, and you can also look for dwarf seeds that will grow smaller vegetables within the confines of your box. My favorite vegetables to grow in the Midwest:
– Chili and Jalapeno Peppers Make healthier jalapeno poppers or dehydrate and grind into chili pepper flakes to enjoy in the cooler months
– Heirloom Tomatoes Serve simply with olive oil and salt or make gazpacho with Burrata
– Raspberries If you have a yard, raspberry bushes take up little space and require minimal upkeep
– Basil Top pizzas, make pesto, add to a gin cocktail, or dehydrate and shred for use throughout the year
– Butter Lettuce Perfect for simple summer salads
Perhaps most importantly, your garden sends you outdoors—and working in nature with your hands will enrich both soil and self.