Not everyone has the luxury of 50 acres to spread out on when planning their home garden. Urban agriculture is a hot topic these days. It takes on many forms; from roof top gardens to patio planters. One of the largest challenges to gardening in an urban environment is working with less than ideal conditions and limited space. Gardening in tight spaces requires a different mindset and often the goals and milestones are measured on a different scale from their rural counterparts.
Probably the most common constraint is the desire to garden while living in an apartment. A south or west facing balcony is a garden waiting to bloom. Container gardening is the preferred method for this situation. Oftentimes, people do not consider 5 gallon buckets to be suitable containers for gardening but they have a sufficient soil volume for growing tomatoes, cabbage, kale and other veggies that would otherwise not be possible in this environment. They also have the added advantage of mobility. It is possible to move them from one place to another as the sun migrates with the changing season. Your garden has the luxury of always being located in full sun. If you do not have a balcony and are limited to countertop space, consider recycling milk jugs or grocery store salad containers into countertop gardens. Salad mix, micro-greens, pea shoots and watercress are a few of the plants that do well in a countertop garden. Although there is some concern about utilizing plastics for planting containers, #1 and #2 plastics have been studied and found to be the least likely to breakdown over time and leach chemicals during use (other plastics tend to be too soft and can degrade or crumble).
Many city lot owners may only have a 4’x 8’ space to garden in. Curbside gardens can still be successful and are an excellent way to become more involved with your neighborhood. Understanding the physical space needs and rate of maturity of the plants you are working with can help you maximize your yield in a tight location. This technique is known as inter-planting. For example, radishes and carrots can be inter-planted within the same row. The radishes can be used to space out the carrots, helping to limit the amount of thinning necessary as the carrots mature. Typically the radishes will mature within a few weeks and will be harvested, leaving space for the carrots to fill in and finish their development.
Utilizing vertical spaces will also help to increase yield per square foot. Runner beans, peas and cucumbers can all be trellised to grow vertically. These plants should be located at the back of the garden so that they do not shade the shorter veggies. Alternatively, when living in a hot environment such as the Wenatchee Valley, salad mix, spinach and cilantro can be planted in the shade created on the backside of a vertical planting. This shady space will help to prevent bolting and should extend the season for these cold loving crops.
Square Foot gardening is another approach to small spaces. In this method, the garden bed is divided into 12”x12” squares. Each square is planted with a different type of vegetable. Larger plants such as broccoli or tomatoes are allocated to a spacing of one plant per square while spinach or lettuce can be planted much denser. This method of planting is great for new gardeners as it encourages experimentation with a wide variety of different plants in a small area.
Whichever method you choose to use for your small space, Happy Gardening!