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Small space vegetables
As city gardens become ever smaller, garden space becomes more and more precious. Once the norm, space for growing vegetables may seem just a dream. Yet salads, tomatoes, and other vegetables are so much better straight from the garden. Young, tender vegetables are prized, and so much better when there are only minutes between the garden and the pot or salad bowl. The process, from garden to table, is enjoyable and one of anticipation. There are lots of ways to introduce vegetables into the garden, especially as we can become more innovative in how we grow our veges.
Tips for Small Space Vegetables
Concentrate on growing only those vegetables that benefit the most from being picked fresh and take up a small space. Don’t grow plants that take up lots of space, have a long growing season or you don’t love to eat! Grow vegetables that are hard to find and not usually on the supermarket shelves, and select varieties for superior taste rather than crop size. Small is definitely beautiful in a tiny vegetable garden. The largest tomatoes are not necessarily the best tasting. Vegetables suitable for small spaces are generally harvested when young and tender. Thus the growing season is shorter and plants can be cycled through faster. Baby cauliflower, finger carrots, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, there are loads of suitable seeds on the market today. Grow fewer vegetables of each type. In a large garden we can grow 20 celery plants, in a small space garden you may want to grow only half a dozen, and in a balcony garden two or three plants will provide fresh stalks for cutting. In courtyards and against a warm wall you can often get planting long before the soil in a traditional garden has warmed enough for planting out and seed sowing.
Succession planting – a few at a time, avoids gluts of produce and ensures that three is always something ready to eat in the garden. Instant salads, carrot snacks, anything is possible.
Growing a few seeds in a propagator or on a windowsill means that you can jump-start the season. Also sow successively, a few seeds at a time, to avoid them all coming ready at once. Fold over the top of the seed packet and store in a cool, dry, dark place, the back of a kitchen cabinet is just fine. The seedling plants can then be introduced into the garden when they are a few inches high to grow to maturity.
Vegetables can become part of the decorative garden. Celery has decorative foliage and can grow in a relatively tiny space, ruby chard is tremendously decorative, and there are many, many other vegetables that are great to look at as well as eat.
Lettuces come in a range of colours and have fascinating foliage – there are many varieties that you can ‘cut-and-come-again’ without leaving a gap in the border. ‘Little Gem’ cos (or romaine) and ‘Tom Thumb’ lettuce are great small space plants, The loose leaf ‘Lollo Rosso’ and similar varieties provide salad vegetables over a long period.
Integrating vegetables into your borders is surprisingly easy, there are so many wonderful foliage shapes and colours and the red flowers on beans, and the yellow and purple pods that follow make an interesting addition you a planting plan. You do need to plan to fill gaps when you have harvested crops, however, and you also need to ensure that growing vegetables get enough sunshine to do well. There is nothing decorative about spindly or struggling vegetables.
Potager gardens, an idea drawn from French kitchen gardens, have become remarkably popular in recent years. Planting your vegetables in a pattern edged by brick paths or box hedges is certainly decorative and the framework provides structure when the garden is less than full. However this is a style of gardening that you either enjoy or you don’t. It’s all a matter of taste.
Growing in containers is a great option. Even if you don’t have any soil you can still grow a few choice vegetables. There are many striking plants that make attractive and productive container plants.
Raised beds enable you to increase the fertility in the soil and to crop more intensively. In a small garden, raised beds mean that you can grow a lot of vegetables in a small, dedicated vegetable garden. As you never walk on the soil it is not compacted and an annual mulch with comps keeps fertility levels high. Plant your vegetables in a 30cm grid (‘square foot gardening’) and increase productivity. Use thinings as soon as they are edible, and leave neighbouring plants to grow on and mature.
Intercropping or interplanting is an ideal technique in the small garden. It involves planting two different vegetables, one fast maturing and the other slow maturing, in the same space. Radishes planted with celery can be harvested before the celery takes up space. Lettuce can frequently be placed between a slower crop.
Plant the slow maturing veges first, and then fill between with the fast maturing crop. By the time you have harvested the speedy veges, the slower crop will have begun to fill out the spaces left by the earlier, harvested crop. Feeding the second crop with a liquid fertiliser of mulch with compost gives it a boost after the fast-maturing vegetables have been harvested.
Grow beans and tomatoes vertically, using an attractive trellis, a tripod or a simple pea stick frame. Balcony railings or a wall provides loads of opportunity for vertical gardening. Cucumbers, baby squash and courgettes can be grown over a frame, enhancing ripening and increasing space.
Buying punnets of seedlings rather than growing your own from seed is one way to save space. A wider range of varieties is available as seeds, however, and organic vegetables are rarely for sale as seedlings.
Grow bags have revolutionised tomato growing. Simply cut a hole or holes in the top and plant away. If you are placing the bag on a cold concrete base, then polystyrene foam undeneath will insulate it and raise the soil temperature. Grow bags (suitably disguised, of course) can support cherry tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce or French beans. Remember to water regularly.
Pots of vegetables can be outstanding decorative elements and they make vegetables possible where there is no soil, such as on a balcony or in a paved courtyard. You can even grow your veges at home and then take them, container and all, to the beach to enjoy fresh lettuce or spicy chilli peppers.
Make sure the container is big enough for the plants root development. Adequate drainage is also critical, as vegetables do not like to become water logged. Water regularly as consistent watering will not only improves yields but also results in better tasting vegetables and reduces bolting.
Containers can be made of almost anything. Posh Versailles tubs and terracotta pots or ubiquitous plastic – there are heaps of options for every budget. Remember that terracotta looks great but dries out quickly, pulling moisture from the soil and plant it holds. A plastic liner or a strict watering regime is a must. Recycled corrugated iron makes a striking planter that is both practical and supports a lush and lovely crop of chillies.
Vegetables need plenty of nourishment and container growing places heavy demands on a small amount of soil. Liquid fertilisers are a good way to replenish soils in container. A liquid feed every two to four weeks over the growing season will result in stronger crops.
Strawberries can be grown in the traditional strawberry pot. Cropping in a conventional pot seems to be improved as the pockets can become dry, you can insert a perforated pipe in the centre of the strawberry pot to water more thoroughly.
Window boxes are not only good homes for petunias and herbs but can grow vegetables as well, as long as you can control the pigeons! As window boxes are small choose your vegetables accordingly – this is not the place to grow sweet corn.
A rubbish bag can even be used to grow a crop of early potatoes and harvested as and when you need some sweet new potatoes, ideal for Christmas lunch.
Use innovative containers, pot up your herbs, plant celery amidst the perennials and edge your terrace with oak-leaved lettuce. There are so many ways to find the space for your favourite veges!