Gardeners with limited space can use methods such as this intensively-planted, 4-foot-by-4-foot raised bed. Photo by Bob Cain

Gardeners with limited space can use methods such as this intensively-planted, 4-foot-by-4-foot raised bed. Photo by Bob Cain

Get It Growing: Growing food in limited spaces

Do you think you need a big yard to grow a lot of vegetables? No, you don’t! You don’t even need a garden to grow vegetables!

Spaces as small as 4-feet-by-4-feet, or even smaller, can grow a substantial amount of fresh produce and help to reduce your grocery bill. Many gardeners in this area have to resort to raised beds for growing vegetables, due to soil conditions, rocks and other issues.

Raised beds actually make high density gardening much easier and are ideally suited to this approach, a concept made popular in the book “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew.

Available garden space is divided into separate units of approximately 1 square foot.

Vegetables are planted in numbers based on their final size, the larger the vegetable, the smaller the number per square foot. Where plants need large spaces between them, consider sowing a fast growing inter-crop such as radishes or baby salad mix in these spaces. These can be harvested before the larger plants shade out those areas.

Similarly, sowing a quick maturing crop such as radish, chard or mixed greens immediately after harvesting a longer maturing crop will increase your production and extend your season. Final spacing details are found on the back of the seed packet but a rough guide to planting by the square foot is shown in the side bar.

No garden? No problem

Carrots, zucchini, lettuce, tomatoes and most vegetables can be grown in pots or tubs on the sunniest part of your patio (usually south facing). You can even plant directly into a bag of potting soil.

Cut drainage slits in the bottom of a bag of potting soil then remove a rectangle from the top and plant starts or seeds right into the bag of soil.

Potatoes can be grown in permeable sacks 12-18 inches in diameter and 18 inches high. Six fingerling potatoes should yield about 6-9 pounds of tasty new potatoes.

If space is really limited, go vertical! Pole beans, cucumbers, squash, peas, tomatoes and other crops grow extremely well on vertical supports while taking up only a small footprint of soil.

Vertical growing is a valuable tool in any square-foot garden.

Use all four seasons

Intensive vegetable growing can be utilized in all four seasons. As the weather cools, vegetables may need to be sheltered from the adverse weather.

Cold frames made from wood, bricks or straw bales with a cover such as an old window or clear plastic sheet to allow in light and help keep the temperature up will allow you to produce vegetables year round.

Row covers or plastic covered tunnels will also extend your growing season.

The growth may be slower than in the summer and may slow or even stop from November to February but will start again in the spring. Many vegetables actually can become sweeter by overwintering.

Best practices

It’s critical to remember that intensive cultivation can quickly deplete nutrients in your soil. Whenever possible add some compost or organic fertilizer immediately after harvesting a crop to maintain soil fertility.

Other important vegetable cultivation practices, like using crop rotation techniques to reduce disease problems, are also essential. An excellent resource about vegetable gardening, “Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington,” can be downloaded free at pubs.extension.wsu.edu , enter SKU: EM057E in search.

Intensive cultivation of vegetables is not difficult, does not even need a garden and is a whole lot of fun. Give it a try!

Bob Cain is a veteran Clallam County Master Gardener.

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