I bought my first house just over a year ago. It’s a new-build – one of those tiny houses that is seemingly made out of paper and came with a small square of mud at the back of it. Most of March last year was spent trying to grow a lawn and landscape it in some way so that it didn’t resemble a mud pit.
Having limited outdoor space means you need to be imaginative and careful with how you choose to use it – particularly if you want to grow your own vegetables.
Having a small vegetable garden of your own is a great way to life a more sustainable lifestyle. You’ll be eating fresh produce that’s travelled just a few metres from your garden instead of halfway across the world you’ll be cutting back on unnecessary pesticides and plastic food packaging. Plus, growing your own vegetables is cheaper than buying them and is great for your mental wellbeing too!
Even if you’ve only got a patio or terrace, it’s still possible to grow a range of vegetables without having a lawn to dig up.
If you do have a lawn, building raised beds is the number one way to save space in your small vegetable garden. Instead of simply digging up a patch of your lawn, build raised beds, which apparently save up to four times the amount of space you have available for growing veggies.
The major perk of a raised bed is that it keeps all the good, nutrient-rich compost contained, rather than becoming mixed with the natural soil in your garden which is often too clay-like or lacking in nutrients.
Raised beds will save lots of time and pretty much guarantee a good crop – a must if you have a small vegetable garden as you won’t want to waste any space. They are less prone to weeds, have better water retention in sandy soil and better drainage in clay soil, plus they won’t be at risk of anyone accidentally standing on them (or even the soil around them becoming too compact).
If your space and budget allows, building a raised bed is a great idea.
Whilst it’s true that most vegetables want to be positioned in a sheltered spot in full sun, a number of veggies will grow well in the shade or unsheltered areas too. This is great to know in order to help you plan where to plant things best!
If you have a particularly shaded area of your garden, consider positioning spinach, cress, parsley and mint here, as these do well without full sun.
If you’ve a particularly windy area in your outdoor space, things like rosemary, thyme, chard, beetroot and carrots will be able to withstand the breeze. You can use rosemary to shield the wind from other more delicate veggies too.
Some plants will do brilliantly on your windowsills inside in the sun, for example chilli plants, herbs like basil, dill, rosemary, sage, coriander (all of them, really), salad varieties like lettuce, spinach and rocket, and even tomatoes (dwarf varieties are best). Just make sure your pot is big enough to accommodate their roots.
It’s also a good idea to start your vegetables as seedlings indoors on the windowsill instead of planting them straight outside. This is because seeds germinate quicker inside, which in turn means you can plant your seedlings outdoors sooner and will have fruits growing sooner. It’s also a good idea if you hope to get more than one harvest; you can be growing your second batch of seedlings while harvesting your first, and plant your second batch when your first has finished (for example when switching from summer to autumnal vegetables).
One of the best ways to save space if you have a small vegetable garden is to grow upwards instead of across! Any climbing plant will take up minimal space outdoors so long as you put the right trellis, fence or stake in place to help support it.
Growers are also less prone to disease because of the great air circulation around them. This also works well if you have shaded area at the base and sun higher up as the plants will grow towards the light.
Choose tomatoes, cucumbers, runner beans, peas, squashes or melons.
If you don’t have a proper vegetable patch, you can still grow heaps of vegetables on your terrace or balcony. Choose deep pots, around 25cm for salad leaves, a couple of bean plants, or a few carrots. A 15cm pot will suit a basil plant or other herbs. Courgettes need a big pot – around 30cm. For a guide on how to grow your own courgettes read this post.
If you have space, buying a raised planter is worth the investment. You can get decent plastic pots fairly cheap, but if you’re on a budget, a simple bag of compost or a grow bag opened at one end and stood vertically will do the job!
This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but if you really love a certain vegetable, growing it is the best option! What I mean by this is understanding how you are going to get the best bang for your buck. Whilst growing your own courgettes means you’ll have to sacrifice on a bit of space, one plant will feed a family all summer.
Vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and beetroot won’t keep coming back – once you’ve picked them, that’s it – but if you plant things like salad, beans, peas, and tomatoes, the plants will replenish themselves.
Brighten up ugly spots by being a bit imaginative. You can fix pots to brick walls and grow tomatoes in them, or buy some pipe clips to attach pots to your drainpipes – a space saver and it makes them look much prettier too! I recently came across these cool pocket planters that you can fix to a wall – aren’t they cute! Likewise, you can attach brackets to a wall and put a hanging planter there, or simply use any hooks or railings that might already be present on your property.
If you plant seeds in triangles rather than rows, you’ll maximise the space you have available – just remember not to cram too much in or you will have a weak crop.
A small growhouse takes up less than a metre squared of space, and gives you numerous ‘shelves’ to work with. You can get them on Amazon for as little as £10 and you can remove the shelves, so you can grow small and large plants.
Growhouses are a great addition to a small vegetable garden. They aren’t as durable as proper greenhouses but are much cheaper and they’re portable too. The warm air will keep your seedlings toasty warm before you transplant them, and you can grow things like peppers and cucumbers in them too. Be careful that it doesn’t get too hot for your plants to handle though!
Many vegetables are really lovely to look at, and won’t look out of place scattered amongst a flowerbed if you are hesitant to have a proper vegetable patch.
Climbers like peas and beans could grow up an obelisk or trellis as a clematis would; fennel, thyme and marjoram are all very attractive and bring insects along with them. Carrots can grow up to a meter and have lovely white flowers. Radishes are easily hidden amongst taller blooms.
Make sure you maximise the season by keeping your veggies warm as the temperature drops in autumn. You can get another few weeks out of the season by using cloches, cold frames and polytunnels.
These few weeks are enough to get another batch of lettuse, kale or turnips out, or even end-of-season tomatoes.
Adding a few weeks to each end of the growing season can buy you enough time to grow yet another succession crop — say a planting of leaf lettuce, kale, or turnips — or to harvest more end-of-the-season tomatoes.
Even after you’ve figured out where the sunny spots and windy spots are, remember to plan when to plant each seed carefully. Interplanting is a term that’s new to me this year, and it’s something I’m trying. It’s best in raised beds and doesn’t work too well in containers.
Basically, you can maximise how much veg you can grow by cleverly planting seeds at specific times in specific places. Some crops are good companions, meaning you can grow them at the same time as they will bloom at different rates.
Sugar snap peas and runner beans can be planted together, as the beans will grow after the peas have finished. Corn, beans and squash is a good combination, as the corn’s stalks support the runner beans whilst the squash grows on the ground.
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