Vegetable gardening is a tremendously rewarding endeavor for multitudes of people. Not only is it very therapeutic, but much satisfaction is derived from planting, cultivating, harvesting, and ultimately consuming vegetables grown with personal labor of love.
It’s a mainstay of rural families and with keeping a kindred spirit with our ancestral pioneers. But gardening isn’t just for those with large parcels beyond the city limits. Gardening, to some extent, can be done almost anywhere and scaled to the available space. Heck, it doesn’t even require having land in which to dig.
There are a lot of options available today, and most everyone can test their green thumbs to some degree. No matter whether one lives in the country with an ample amount of space or in a city apartment with a small patio or just a spare window sill, growing plants is not out of reach.
Even people with no space whatsoever have other options in some communities. The reward of growing and harvesting, even on a small scale, is better than not growing at all.
🌾 Larger-Scale Gardening
The traditional garden is usually what comes to mind when gardening is discussed. The mental image is of a plot of tilled ground of varying size with different plants in neat rows.
The picture that comes to mind is probably different from one person to the next and is formed by the individual’s personal experience or exposure to gardening. Regardless, the traditional garden is by far the most common form, but the size varies greatly.
The size of the garden is not something to be taken lightly. In many situations, size is limited by the amount of available space. In these situations, folks often do not have enough room to garden on as large a scale as desired. The other end of the spectrum presents a situation in which there is ample room, but the gardeners need to take care not to “bite off more than they can chew.”
Gardening requires a lot of time and sweat equity, so it’s very important not to attempt a garden so large as to not be able to properly care for it. The results will be very disappointing and may actually sour future gardening endeavors.
Mini-farm is a term that has become quite popular among those embracing the pioneer spirit and a more self-sufficient lifestyle, but it is a relative term. A mini-farm means many different things to different people.
It may mean growing fruits and vegetables, raising animals, and more on parcels from half an acre to several acres. It is also used to describe backyard gardens, growing wine grapes, raising chickens for meat and eggs, or greenhouse gardening.
🌿 Space-Saving Options
Most of my formative years were spent in the city, living in a house with a rather small yard. In fact, the backyard was little more than a strip some 15 to 20 feet wide between the back of the house and the chain-link fence surrounding our property. Still, my father would not be denied the opportunity to garden.
Each year he hand-tilled a plot alongside the fence some 20 to 25 feet long. In this space, he planted tomatoes, bell peppers, green onions, and occasionally other vegetables. To support the tomatoes as they grew, he “borrowed” some of my mother’s crochet thread and tied them to the fence and to tobacco stakes, the wooden shafts used to haul cut tobacco from the fields to the barn and ultimately to market.
I always helped dad with his garden, but as I aged, I took on more of an interest to expand our efforts. I found two unused out-of-the-way spaces on a side of the house and converted each to small garden plots. I also discovered container gardening and had vegetables growing in small plastic tubs and flower pots.
Now, as an adult, I live in a rural area and have all the space I could want for gardening, but even now, I sometimes supplement my traditional garden with container plants, especially when growing herbs.
Container gardening is very popular for those with limited space. Flower pots and plastic plant containers are not just useful for petunias or marigolds.
Numerous vegetables can be grown in them as well. In fact, an upside-down patio tomato package including plant and container has become quite popular in advertisements in recent years due to the interest in container gardening.
Many stores that sell garden plants now offer tomatoes and other plants in pots with built-in trellises on which for the plants to grow or be supported.
The plants that grow well in containers are numerous, but success varies according to climate and how much care is put into the plants. Containers do not retain moisture as does the actual ground, so adequate water must be provided. Likewise, a container without proper drainage can hold too much water, and the plants may die.
Most container plants require daily monitoring to keep them in peak condition. Containers work well for those with limited or no tillable space on the ground. They may be placed on patios or porches outside, and some plants even work well inside the house or apartment on a window sill.
Many homes have a complete herb garden growing in the kitchen window. Not only do the herbs provide fresh flavor when cooking, but the scent of the growing and fresh-cut herbs provides aromatherapy like no other. Do not be afraid to experiment with container gardening.
One year, I purchased several large plastic tubs, cut holes in them for drainage, and filled them with loose, loamy soil. Next, I planted potatoes and raised them to harvest, which was simple. I simply turned the tubs over, scattered the contents, and picked out my potatoes. The yield was not as good as when planted in the ground, but there was no digging required.
Not everything will work out as planned, but learning and gaining experience is part of the fun and provides ideas for changes next year.
Another option for those who do not desire to till the ground or do not have that as an option is to used raised beds. Most often, raised beds are seen in city and suburban locales where a traditional tilled garden looks out of place.
A raised bed looks more aesthetically pleasing in the neighborhood and blends in with other landscaping. Raised beds are generally constructed by first constructing a square or rectangular wooden frame, but sometimes concrete or rocks are used for the frame. The frame is filled with soil in which to plant the vegetables. Some folks even build or place a trellis in the raised bed for plants that vine or need to be supported by tying
🧑🌾 Community Gardens
So for people stuck in the city with little to no space and limited options, all is not lost in some instances. In many locales, community gardens are starting to appear quite frequently. This may be worth exploring, and if one is not available locally, perhaps it is time to take the lead and lay the groundwork (pun intended) for a new endeavor.
Community gardens vary in size and scope, but most are sponsored by an organization. Sometimes the organization may be a church or club, and the garden spot is only for members. In other areas, a community garden may be just that; a garden for residents of a certain geographic area. In either circumstance, growing vegetables in a communal setting can have both positives and negatives.
The positive is obviously that it allows people without space or opportunity to grow plants; they otherwise would not be able. The downside is gardening together sometimes leads to squabbles over space, robbing harvest from others’ plants, poor care of plantings, or more.
Community gardens may allow gardeners to have their individual areas to do with as they please, or the entire garden may be a joint project with shared responsibilities and harvest allowances, the latter the least desirable due to possible conflicts. My personal recommendation is to steer clear of shared spaces where the entire garden is a joint project.
The old cliché that “10 percent of the people do 90 percent of the work” will most likely come to fruition fairly rapidly, thus leading to dysfunction, resentment, and bickering. And it may not be simply because someone else is lazy or irresponsible.
Oftentimes people do not understand how much time or commitment goes into gardening, health issues can impact the ability to work, or a person’s work or home situation may change, leaving them without the available time. It is much less apt to be a problem if each person or family is responsible only for their own space.
Another term that has been gaining in popularity and its original meaning being adapted to fit the moment similar to mini-farming is permaculture. It is a subject expansive enough that space here will not allow but a brief overview. And like mini-farming, the definition of permaculture to one person is something entirely different to another.
Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, states, “Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction, and integrated water resources management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.”
In simple terms, permaculture is taking any available space, analyzing it for the best possible utilization of resources and irrigation, and then planting in a systematic fashion to mimic natural growing conditions, but also to make use of water runoff, companion plants, and more.
🍅 Time to Garden
Hopefully, by now, reading this has planted a seed (another pun), and everyone is chomping at the bit to get started gardening. Spring will be at the doorstep in no time, so right now is the time to start planning for planting season. Do not let a lack of space be a deterrent.
Whether planting an expansive garden on a large lot, something simple in the backyard, or simply a container or two, gardening brings satisfaction and reward well worth the effort expended.
Useful resources to check out: