When you want to grow your own food, but don’t have the luxury of a large garden it comes down to getting the most from the space you have.
Make permanent garden beds no more than one metre wide and separated by paths so that the entire garden is easily reached without stepping on the soil. Whether your garden beds are raised for easier access or at ground level, the important thing is that they are located in sun.
Take a cue from permaculture and plant intensively. There is no need to plant
in straight rows. Seedlings can be grown in small informal groups, blocks or hexagon patterns. Grow quick crops like lettuces in between slower growing crops like carrots and broccoli. Have seedlings ready to plant in gaps as you harvest. Combo seedling packs from the garden centre are a great way to grow a wider variety in a small space.
Ideally, soil will be covered with crops for most of the year. Between times, any bare soil should be hidden under a protective layer of straw or other
organic mulch. This keeps moisture in and space-robbing weeds out while building the soil for future crops.
To avoid waste, plant or sow a small number of each kind of vegetable at a time. Why have a whole garden full of lettuces all ready at once when you could plant a variety of tasty greens in the same space? Stagger your harvest by planting a punnet of seedlings every few weeks or get into a regular seed sowing routine.
The fresher the seed, the more vigorously it will grow, giving your garden with the most productive plants that are ready to eat in a shorter space of time. Most seed loses vigour quickly as it ages, so don’t waste precious space on seed that has reached its use by date. Even if old seed germinates the resulting seedlings are weaker, slower growing plants.
Plant what your family most wants to eat. For example, if its hard work to get the kids to eat broad beans, maybe use the space for peas instead. Involve the family in prioritising which vegetables or which fruit tree to plant.
Carrots and onions will keep until you next go shopping but salad greens will always be freshest (and healthiest) when picked straight from your garden.
Trying to grow crops that fail to thrive in your soil or climate is a waste of space. Seek advice to plant the right crops for the right season. For fruit trees, climate is important. For example, winter chilling is needed for most stone fruit varieties but some varieties will set fruit with less chill than others. Citrus trees grow best in warmer climates, but some citrus varieties are more cold hardy than others.
Go for vegetable and fruit varieties that give the highest yields. It’s a gamble to devote precious space to that wildling pumpkin or tomato plant that grew from your compost heap. Grow the plants that give the most food for the space they take to grow. With lettuces we can eat the entire plant except the roots. Sweet corn on the other hand, takes a lot of space for the amount of food it produces, even if it is energy dense and delicious.
Space-saving dwarf fruit trees also produce a very high volume of fruit that belies their compact size. Plant dwarf fruit tree varieties and those grown on dwarfing rootstocks. The column shaped Ballerina apples are fanatics for small gardens and they grow well in containers too.
When the disease status of a tree means its fruit is no longer of a high standard and its yield is low, it’s time to say goodbye and make space for something more productive.
Make the most of every sunny wall or fence to grow climbing edibles such as beans, passionfruit or grapes. Grow peas and cucumbers on teepees or trellis and train fruit trees along wires. Espaliers are highly decorative and an efficient way to grow more fruit less space.
The more food we harvest from our soil, the more we need to give back. Use compost to replenish and build your soil and achieve high yields. Plants grow faster with the right kind of feeding. Ply the soil with extra compost before replanting and feed vege plants as recommended at planting time and during the growing season to support rapid growth. Apply seaweed solution to strengthen young root growth and improve nutrient uptake.
Maximise the productivity of fruit trees and summer vegetables like zucchini by making sure their flowers get pollinated. Grow plants that attract bees and other pollinating insects. Check if your chosen fruit tree variety needs a pollinator variety for peak productivity. If there is no room for the pollinator tree in your garden, maybe you can collaborate with neighbours. Alternatively, plant a self-fertile variety.
If a balcony or patio is all the space you have, plant in bags, pots and plater boxes. Choose containers that are a manageable size but hold plenty of soil and won’t dry out too quickly. A depth of 30-40cm depth is plenty for most vegetable plants.
Potatoes are a high-energy food with high yields that can be achieved in limited space. They are easily grown in a sack or a bucket. Choose a high yielding varieties like ‘Listea’, ‘Summer Delight’ and ‘Rocket’.
Make reusable frames that support frost cloth, bird net or insect mesh as protection against crop losses. They will save time and money in the long run.
An effective watering system that is easy to use can save water and ensure crops get all the moisture they need for unchecked growth, maximising productivity in a small space.
The right kind of pruning helps keep trees to a manageable size with fruit that’s in easy reach. It also allows more sunlight into a tree which means tastier fruit and more of it.
Edible landscaping is about creating an attractive garden that substitutes purely ornamental plants with those that produce something edible. Fruiting plants can double as screen trees, sun shades, hedges, and wall decoration. Perennial herbs make attractive ground cover plants and can fill a garden with colour when they flower. If there is room for only one lawn tree, consider a grafted tree to give you different varieties ready for picking at different times. Or create a ‘family tree’ with three or four different fruit varieties (read more on page 18).
Focus on fresh
Choose high yielding plants
Big crops on small trees