The vegetable garden: get more from less space

Unlike the days gone by when a typical residential lot was huge, most gardeners now have limited space. Perhaps your property is blessed with large trees that leave little in the way of a sunny spot for a garden. Or maybe the lawn and landscape crowds any available space for gardening into a tiny corner of the backyard.

There are several things that you can do to get more production despite these limitations. If you prefer a small garden or just want more out of the space you have, the following tips can help you put more on the table and in the freezer while also helping you to get more enjoyment out of your garden.

Contain Yourself

Containers are great for a wide variety of vegetable crops. If you get a large enough container you can grow a good harvest of almost anything with the possible exception of sweet corn. Gardeners with limited sun may find that sun lovers like tomatoes and other fruiting veggies are possible again when you plant them in containers which can be easily located in that rare sun baked spot out on the patio or along the driveway.

Gardeners in the rocky hill country or swampy southeast Texas may turn a plant-hostile patch of earth into a great garden by building large raised beds which amount to giant containers. The Galveston County Master Gardeners have even turned a parking lot into a garden by this technique! Kinda makes you look at the ol’ driveway in a different light, eh?

Even vining crops can be grown in large containers. Allow them to drape over the sides or provide a wire structure for them to climb onto. Some gardeners will set a container next to a porch post or railing for support. Others line a series of containers up along the edge of the turf against a fence and use the fence to trellis their vining veggies.

Invade the Flowers

Who says flower beds are just for flowers. Hey if you love to grow veggies and need more space, then take a look at the ornamental beds. Some veggies like lettuce, chard, kohlrabi, oriental greens and burgundy mustard are quite ornamental and attractive when interplanted into the landscape.

Even fruiting crops such as peppers, eggplant and tomatoes have a place in the landscape. Sure it is not conventional, but edible landscaping is a great idea and can significantly increase the amount of produce you can grow on the ol’ homeplace.

Oh, Grow Up

Some crops can really sprawl out and become a hog for space in the garden. You can turn these from horizontal to vertical and significantly reduce the space needed. Cucumbers, vining squash, muskmelons, pole beans, Malabar spinach, and even watermelons can go vertical with a strong trellis.

I like to use cattle panels as a trellis support because they are rigid, easy to set up and last forever. Small fruited crops need no support for the fruits, but larger fruited veggies such as most winter squash, muskmelons and watermelons require something to support the heavy fruit. Sections of hosiery, mesh citrus sacks or any strong, porous material can be used to form a sling to support the fruit.

Likewise tomato cages, a porch post or a perimeter fence can serve as a support to turn a horizontal garden patch into a vertical one.


Maximum Speed Limit

Our spring and fall gardening seasons are rather short for some crops. Choosing varieties with short days to harvest intervals can speed up the process and get your garden harvest in before a frost or the heat of summer arrives. By choosing fast maturing varieties you can be done with the harvest sooner and get another planting in that is suited to the upcoming season.

Some species are slow and may not be the best choice for gardens where space is limited. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and winter squash are among the slow pokes. While there are plenty of reasons to plant these crops, they do take up space for a long time, making a fast succession more difficult.

Form Two Lines Please

Take advantage of slow moving plants by interplanting with faster maturing ones. Radish and lettuce are great choices to place in between rows of slow moving traffic. By the time the slow pokes are up and going well those in the passing lane are nearing harvest and ready to move on out.

I use the area at the foot of vertical vines to plant some lower growing veggies. Just make sure and plant on the south side of the towering vines to ensure good light for their short statured companions.

Crops in the Bullpen

A common point in the season at which gardeners lose time and productivity is when one crop is finished and another goes in. You need not wait until the old crop debris is removed and the soil is prepped to plant the next rotation. Start the next crop a few weeks ahead of time.

I start squash, okra, and many other crops not normally grown as transplants this way whenever I am planning a small to medium planting. In the summer months when heat may hamper germination of some seeds you can start them beneath the edge of a tree’s canopy where they get lots of morning sun and good light but are protected from the hot noonday to afternoon sun. When the old crop is taken out, the new transplants are ready to hit the ground running making for a head start on the next rotation. Give this a try this year. I think you will find it a very efficient way to grow.

imageChill Out

Most Texas gardeners have the benefit of a long growing season. Summer poses its challenges and winters can bring some occasional significant cold snaps, but there is something we can be growing in most of the state year-round. With a little cold protection this is even more feasible.

Greenhouses are nice, but they are not the only way to extend the season. PVC hoops down the row covered with clear plastic or even rowcover fabric helps protect cold hardy winter crops from a serious cold snap. Rowcover or shade cloth suspended above the row can keep plants a bit cooler when the sun threatens to shut them down.

So take advantage of our long growing season by rotating each garden spot several times a year. A garden bed need not be limited to just two crops a year. You can enjoy a more productive garden or even minimize the space you need by making it more efficient. A well managed small garden can be very productive.

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