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Compact Vegetables For a Small Garden

Updated on October 13, 2011

With gas prices rising and more farms dedicating themselves to cash crops like corn and soy, vegetable budgets are getting stretched thinner and thinner. The produce is often of suspect quality and grown hundreds of miles away- who wants to eat a bright orange tomato from three states over? The solution is easy and practically free; grow your own! But if you don't have much room for a garden, it can be hard to pick the plants that will fit into whatever space you have. Below are a few tips and tricks to maximizing your garden's potential, along with some plants that naturally lend themselves to the cramped gardener.

Prioritize and Plan

The most important consideration when choosing what to grow is what you and your family would like to eat. Make a list of the veggies you want in order of how much you enjoy them, and then begin planning from there.

You should measure out the garden space you have and make a scale diagram either on the computer or on a piece of paper. Learn the spatial requirements of each plant on your list and decide how many plants you will need.

Grow vertically

This is a big one, and the key to growing as much as possible. Trellises are a compact gardener's best friend, and you'd be surprised what can be grown on them. Beans tend to be the first things to come to mind. A few hanging trellises against the wall of a house take up almost no space at all and can provide enough green beans and peas to last a family for a year. If you're feeling a little more ambitious, you can go for something a little...bigger. Did you know you can also grow pumpkins and watermelons on a trellis? The vines climb quite happily, and a sturdy cloth acts as a sling to support the growing fruit. What would normally be a very space-consuming plant is thus rendered extremely efficient.

This rule does not only apply to trellises. Tall plants such as tomatoes use the same principal, generating lots of fruit per sq ft of ground covered. This ratio of produce : square feet should be on every compact gardener's mind.

Grow Multiple Vegetables in the Same Bed

Native American tribes recognized the value of efficient farming. Playing off of different plant's strengths and needs, you can grow a powerhouse garden bed with several different plants growing harmoniously. The most famous of these is a 'Three Sisters Garden,' used for centuries before the arrival of European settlers in America.

A Three Sisters Garden contains squash, beans, and corn all growing together. The squash provides a ground cover to keep down weeds, while the beans climb up the corn. The beans not only benefit from climbing, but strengthen the corn stalks in the process. The beans also release nitrogen into the soil, which feeds the other two plants. In this way, you wind up with three different vegetables thriving in one plot of land.

Along the same lines, consider lettuce. Lettuce begins to die back once the hot summer sun starts to really kick in. Plant your lettuce in the shade of a taller plant to harvest year round. You can also plant Spring crops such as spinach mixed in with slower maturing plants. By the time the Summer and Fall harvest plants have grown big enough to matter, the Spring veggies will be finished and out of the way.

Choose Prolific Producers

If you want to maximize the vegetables you harvest, don't plant something that takes months to mature and only gives you a few vegetables for the trouble. Asparagus comes to mind as a big no-no for those lacking space. Pick plants that, when ripe and picked, begin growing new produce immediately. Lettuce, for example, matures extremely quickly and can be ready for another harvest in a few weeks. Tomatoes and peppers are also good examples of this.

Use Containers

Got a patio? Use some of that real estate to grow more vegetables! Potted herbs are very popular, but you can grow almost anything in a container. Hanging planters are becoming a big trend for small-space gardening- If you don't have enough ground-space, use up some of that airspace! Whether you choose an upside down planter or a more traditional grounded container, they are vital to any intrepid urban gardener.

Recommended Plants

  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Beans and other vines
  • Peppers
  • Beets, carrots, onions, parsnips, and turnips
  • Herbs
  • Cabbage

Of course, anything else you want can be made to work in the space you have. Considering the practical aspects of gardening is only useful when the results make you happy. Everyone's garden is unique, and you'd be surprised what can be accomplished in even the smallest of spaces. So get out there, start planning, and get planting!


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    • nancynurse profile image

      Nancy McClintock 5 years ago from Southeast USA

      Well written . I liked your photos. Thanks for the input

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      As a fellow gardener, I appreciate information like this. I voted you UP. Good photo, too.

    • Gofygure profile image

      Gofygure 5 years ago from Kutztown, PA

      Thanks! Nowadays I have more space than I know what to do with, but growing up my mother and I were constantly finding new ways to squeeze more plants onto our half-acre lot. There is definitely an art to it.

    • Esmeowl12 profile image

      Cindy A. Johnson 5 years ago from Sevierville, TN

      These are great ideas. I have very limited space to garden. I really like the idea of having the beans grow up the corn stalks. I'll have to try that.

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