Many of us garden in smallish urban and suburban backyards. This is fine for a typical vegetable garden, but what about those of us who are striving to be more self-sufficient, to produce more of our own food? While it would be great if we could magically obtain acreage nearby, most of us must do what we can to make the most of what we have. This article is full of tips for making the most of your vegetable gardening space, no matter how much (or how little!) you have.
1. Extend the Season
If you can't increase the amount of space you have to garden in, why not consider increasing the amount of growing time you have? While we can't control the weather, there are many things we can do in the garden to lengthen the growing season.
In late winter or early spring, you can pull back any mulch on your soil to give it a chance to warm up and dry out quicker. A layer of black plastic will help the soil warm even faster. If you grow in raised beds, you'll also find that the soil in your garden dries out more quickly in the spring -- so you can plant sooner.
To protect those newly-planted seeds or seedlings, you'll need to construct some kind of cover. A low tunnel or cold frame would work perfectly in this case, and you'll be able to harvest weeks sooner than you would normally be able to.
There are also many methods for keeping your garden growing longer in the fall. You can protect individual plants with boxes or cloches, or construct simple hay bale cold frames. If you have the space to construct a small greenhouse or hoop house, you can even sow cool season crops in the fall. You may get an early winter harvest, or, almost as good, get a jump on the growing season the following spring, since fall-sown veggies in a hoop house will put on a burst of growth once the days get longer and warmer in spring.
2. Intercropping and Companion Planting
Why grow one vegetable in a given space, when you can grow two? The key to intercropping is to select two vegetables that will play well together. For example, sow mesclun seeds around a newly-planted pepper or eggplant transplant. By the time the plants get large enough to really start shading the mesclun too much, you'll have harvested a salad or two. The common practice of planting carrots and radishes together is another example of interplanting.
3. Plant Perennial Vegetables
While perennial vegetables won't necessarily save you any space in the garden, they are appealing because they are an almost automatic source of food. Plant perennial veggies, such as asparagus,, rhubarb, and sunchokes, and within three years you'll have a dependable harvest. A bit of maintenance and fresh compost every year, and you'll be able to enjoy the harvest for years to come.
4. Make Use of Every Square Inch
Getting the most of out of the space we have requires looking at our available space in a new way. Maybe you've written off that somewhat shady corner of your yard, or you have so much concrete that you're sure you'll never be able to grow a decent amount of food. The good news is, we're only really limited by our imaginations. If you have a shady spot, use it! There are several vegetables that will grow in part-shade. Too much concrete, or poor soil? Start looking for containers of all different sizes (the bigger the better, usually) and get planting. If you're running out of space horizontally, look for opportunities to garden vertically by incorporating more trellises or hanging planters into your garden. If you have space, chances are, you can find something to grow there!
5. Succession Planting
Succession planting is another way to make sure you're making the most of your gardening space. It takes a bit of planning, but it can be done. Put simply, the idea behind succession planting is this: when you harvest something, have something ready to plant in that spot. So, for example, if your spring-planted spinach is ready to harvest, it would be an excellent idea to have seeds to sow or transplants that can be planted into that spot right away, so that you keep production going steadily. Some more examples of succession planting include sowing beans when the peas are about finished, planting a second crop of bush beans when the first ones finish, or sowing a crop of carrots or radishes every two weeks to have a continual harvest. If you want good production in your garden, then you want as few empty spots in the garden as possible.
6. Grow Indoors
While we've been focusing a lot on what you can do in your outdoor garden to maximize your harvests, don't forget that you can also do some indoor gardening. A few herbs on the windowsill, or a tray of microgreens growing under the lights are excellent ways to increase your growing space. Consider growing sprouts. If you have a dark spot in your house, why not grow some mushrooms?
Whether you have a lot of garden space or a little, chances are that you can figure out ways to use it more efficiently. Consider trying a few of these ideas in your own garden!