Small Space Gardening in a First-Year Garden

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(Last year in 2021) I had quite a bit of potential land to convert to a garden. Given this is my first year and the soil is decent though not built up, I’m opting to expand slowly and start with a small space strategy at first. Truly no matter how you are living, there is always some way to squeeze in a bit of gardening.

As you can tell my garden is currently small. The 3 plants you may notice planted are rescues someone else grew and I felt sorry for the plants as they didn’t do very well. I kept them alive over winter to try to give them another chance this year.

Overwintering peppers is a common procedure for me though as they are functionally perennial as long as they don’t die in winter. The pretty mulch was free as a couple of trees in the yard were cut and run through a woodchipper.

I also bought some seeds for things meant to suit well for small spaces with the exception of a tomato variety I might plant out in a large container alone.

So very humble beginnings, though I have a lot of expansion that I can work on as I go. More plants will be going in the ground soon.

Growing Herbs Indoors or in Small Pots Outside

My mother’s way of growing herbs was to throw a couple of dirt-filled pots with some herbs in a sunny window. She liked fresh basil, thyme, oregano, though the rosemary always did better outside as she never could seem to keep those alive indoors. If she was attentive, she could keep them going all around the year and even had a couple of plant lights if she felt the winter month light wasn’t sufficient.

Right now my herbs are in pots and hung up in planters. Having herbs in hanging planters also allows for gardening in a small space.

When you don’t have a good ground place to plant it is perfectly fine to plant suitable vegetables in large containers. You generally want to do tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumber, or eggplant with only 1 plant per container. I used to use free 5 gallon buckets as I had a lot of them, it wasn’t very pretty though it worked well. If you plant vegetables like carrots, lettuce and the like you can fit many plants in one container.

Vegetables usually do best in a good sunny spot in the yard, though some crops are alright with partial shade.

Use of Vertical Space

Another neat trick is to take your plants UP. You might have limited horizontal space, but there is plenty of vertical space. Many plants can be trained to grow up a wire cage or post like tomatoes and other plants can grow very well in garden towers, like strawberries.

You can see in my picture above I have a post down to train the very sad looking rescue tomato. This is part of why I have a yard to work as the owner desires a yard garden yet has trouble in the whole plant department.

Another quirk of my starter garden is more or less a throwback to the square foot gardening method. The general idea of that method is to consider each square foot of planting space suitable for one big plant or an appropriate number of packable plants. I don’t overly like this planting style as I usually space according to plant growth habits and a 5-year-old pepper needs a bit more space than a 1-year-old pepper. However, things are workable this first year.

Compact Vegetables

When picking out what plants to use you want to go with for any small space gardening you want plants that would do okay in containers. Either in the ground or in a container the resulting plant will be easier to manage and work in the small space. Most seed packets and plant descriptions will specify if the plant is good for containers.

Another note is to try to pick vegetable you think will perform well for your growing zone. When I was gardening in 7b my biggest problem was my cherry toms all seemed to do well but often my slicer tomatoes would make maybe 1 tomato and the rest would just be dropped blossoms. It took some experimenting to find a couple varieties that were more heat tolerant so the years the temperatures became crazy they were the best performing tomatoes for the slicer category.

Now in Minnesota, I’m trying to find varieties specifically grown in much more frigid conditions to help work with this short growing window better.

Frugal Notes

Again I want to stress that when I first got into gardening I was broke as a joke and hadn’t started homesteading yet. I did my gardening more in a no or low cost kind of way. Before you start thinking you need to invest a ton to get going you need to seriously scan around for what is available.

This is just one example. By checking such places as Facebook free, Nextdoor, Craigslist, or even Freecycle you can usually find a lot of your gardening needs for free. It always helps to check anyway.