Small gardens can produce a surprising amount of food. Yes, I know I have lots of land. However, I’m getting older, I’m still working full time and while I enjoy gardening, there are only so many hours in the day – eventually you have to do things like housework (darn it). So I’m always on the lookout for ways to get more out of the garden without having to make it bigger. And it should go without saying that a smaller garden usually takes less time.
Soil for Small Gardens
Small gardens will not produce well unless you have good soil. While that’s true of large gardens as well, with a small garden you really must pay attention to soil quality. That’s even more true if you practice succession planting, which is pretty much a necessity when you’re trying to get decent yields from less space. To that end, we use cow, sheep and horse manure, chicken litter and supplements. We bed the sheep and chickens on pine shavings, which adds extra organic material to the soil and balances out the high nitrogen content inherent in fresh manure. The bedding also contains hair and feathers, as well as minerals from the trees that make up the shavings. Typical amendments include Azomite, kelp, Fertrell Poultry Nutribalancer, Celtic sea salt, blood meal, bone meal and activated charcoal.
Watering Small Gardens
As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I have no choice but to hand water my kitchen garden. While a small garden uses less water than a large garden, it may be more susceptible to drying out. Many small gardens are grown in containers, wooden growing beds or the shallow squares Mel Bartholomew advocates in Square Foot Gardening. If you’re growing in deep, fertile soil, it will retain more moisture no matter what its size. However, smaller gardens often do well with drip irrigation, especially for containers, or with soaker hoses. If you have no option but containers, use the following tactic to make better use of available water. Fill your containers clear to the brim with loose, fertile soil (do not pack the soil) and soak them thoroughly. Let them sit for a couple of days. Soak again and plant. The soil will typically pack down to about an inch below the container edge, which makes it easy to apply a gentle spray of water and let it puddle across the surface. It will then soak in instead of running over the edge.
While you can grow anything you want no matter how large or small your garden is, it’s important to use your limited space wisely. If you choose to plant corn you might be lucky to get a dozen ears. Since you might get several months’ worth of lettuce, radishes, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes in the same space, most people opt for the latter strategy. Many people also opt for succession planting – growing different crops one right after another – to maximize yield. The best vegetables for this kind of garden are those that mature quickly (60 days max) and are either harvested all at once or can be harvested repeatedly. Alternatively, choose something that won’t take up much space but keeps pumping out veggies over a long harvest period.
Vegetables for Small Gardens
These are good choices for small gardens:
- Baby Carrots (Little Finger, 60 days)
- Beets (Cylindra, 60 days, is long instead of round, so you get more beet in the same space)
- Lettuce (any variety but the iceberg types, 30-60 days)
- Spinach (Bloomsdale Longstanding, 40-48 days)
- Radishes (any variety but the winter storage types, 21 days)
- Cucumbers (any variety, 50-60 days)
- Summer Squash (I find Cocozelle to be most productive, 45-60 days)
- Bush Beans (any variety, 45-60 days)
- Bok Choi (any variety, (30-45 days for baby types 45-60 for bigger ones)
- Kale (any variety, harvest baby greens at 30-45 days)
- Bush Peas (Snow, Sugar Ann or Snap, (60 days)
- Broccoli (any variety, 60 days)
- Chard (Lucullus or Fordhook Giant, 45-60 days)
- Cherry Tomatoes (Chadwick’s Cherry, 70 days)
Don’t let your garden horizons be limited by a small space. Follow the suggestions above to eat well no matter how big or small your garden is.