Vegetables for Small Gardens

A small garden can still be a very productive place.

While you may not have room for sprawlers like squash or melons (or - maybe you could grow a couple plants, by trellising them vertically!), you’ll have room for many crops that thrive in small areas.

Even if you have a larger garden, these tips can be useful. One part of your garden can be planted intensively, and then grow crops that require more space in another section.

5 ways to maximize the use of a small space:

  1. Grow crops that have a small “footprint”

  2. Grow crops that take a relatively short time to mature

  3. Minimize or eliminate pathways

  4. make full use of the “edge” spaces

  5. Use vertical growing space - trellising

Here are a few ideas, to expand on the above points:

1. Grow crops that have a small footprint

This includes:

  • Salad greens, such as lettuces, arugula, spinach

  • Leafy greens, such as kale, swiss chard, bok choy

  • Green onions, radishes, salad turnips

  • Herbs, such as cilantro, dill, parsley, thyme, oregno; slightly bigger herbs (medium footprint): basil, rosemary, sage

These do not take a lot of space, and can be planted fairly close together… they do fine planted closely together with just the space they need, touching the shoulders of their neighbours when they reach full size.

2. Grow crops that take a relatively short time to mature

The crops that are listed above are also crops that mature relatively quickly, which means that when you harvest them (eg lettuce), you can re-plant right away with new seedlings.

Therefore, once your system is up and running, you can replant new seedlings every week or two, filling in the gaps where' you’ve harvested something else.

The only exceptions to this from the above list are kale and chard, and maybe a couple herbs (eg, parsley, rosemary, basil, sage, etc) as they will produce continual harvests over a couple months. Everything else is a one-cut harvest.

3. Minimize or eliminate pathways

Pathways can take a lot of space. If you have a small space for gardening - use it for your plants, and not pathways.

Two ways to accomplish this:

  • Instead of having a traditional setup with a pathway between every row of crops, plant several rows together between pathways. The area with the rows of crops (which can be mixed crops) can be 30 - 36" inches wide… you can pack a lot into that space!

  • Set up raised beds, or some other system where you have a permanent pathway around a permanent planting space. This way, you’re never walking on the planting space, and can access all of the planting space from the edges. Keep the planting space at a maximum width of 4 feet, for practicality.

4. Make full use of “edge” spaces

This is particularly helpful if you have raised beds or well-defined edges of your garden. Take advantage of this space, by planting crops that will spill over the edge. The roots will be in the rich garden soil, but the plants have the room they need to spread out without taking garden space from other crops.

For example, this works well for cucumbers, zucchini, melons, sweet potatoes, beans, or even kale, peppers or basil, which can be rooted at the edge of the garden, but the leaves extend into the “pathway” space.

5. Use vertical growing space (aka trellising)

Several crops can be trellised, which gives them a smaller footprint, and is better for the health of the plants too.

Commonly trellised crops are tomatoes and cucumbers. Each plant could easily take up 20 square feet or more, if allowed to grow on the ground. Or, trellis them, and they take up 1 square foot of garden space per plant!

Other crops can easily be trellised: cantaloupe, watermelon, vining squashes, and pole beans. They simply need some guidance when they’re young, so that they find the trellis - and then they will happily climb vertically throughout the growing season.

More details to come on trellising, but this gives you something to take into consideration when you’re planning how to fit more plants into your garden.