Small Space Gardening
3 Ways To Re-Think Your Space
If I have too much counter space, I find something to clutter it. If my garden is too large, then somewhere around late July I become overburdened with managing it and everything falls apart for me. Sure, I will get a harvest, but I will kick myself for the pithy radishes, and for the limp carrots I forgot to water. The ratio, for me, is not good. I get a higher yield per square foot when I do not even measure my garden in feet but in pots and plants. Can you relate to this? When I focus on gardening in– shall we say smaller bites– I can then learn from my garden instead of rushing through it to complete the next overwhelming garden task.
#1: Making the Most of What You Have
It is easy to get consumed with land-lust. I have had land-lust and then I have had the humiliating defeat of more-than-I-could-handle. Land needs a caretaker to ethically maintain it. Someone needs to cycle goats through when a noxious weed takes root or to mend the fence to keep deer out of the pepper plants.
After moving to a homestead, I quickly came to realize that I did not use my smaller spaces to their fullest potential. I could have learned many more lessons than I did instead of daydreaming about something I did not have. My discontentment led to my inaction; my inaction led to stagnancy. What could I have known about apple trees by having had the fence line conversation with the neighbor about hers? What could I have learned about companion planting in pots, instead of my uninformed monoculture choices?
Tolkien said that his ideal hobby would be to farm exactly three feet square land and to do it perfectly. This man who created intricate mythological maps and languages of faraway lands did not lust for them to be his. Do not wait for a homestead if you have a yard. Do not wait for a yard if you do not have one now. Patios, porches, window boxes, the little strip of raw dirt along the building, and even fire escapes can create life and inspiration.
#2: Gardening in Zones
There is a permaculture principle of dividing your space up into zones. Zone 1 is where you spend your time; this is where you breathe your most air. Radically shift your idea of “the garden plot” to where you are sitting this very moment. Start where you are. Look around, do you have any natural lighting? Or maybe you see a door leading outside.
Zone 1 usually refers the first steps out your door—or maybe even closer—maybe pots in your living room; it can mean your office, your bedroom, sunroom, or kitchen. If indoor pots will be how you garden in a small space, check out the book called Apartment Gardening–a must have! If you are in this space multiple times a day, you will notice yellowing leaves. You will “deadhead” (pluck off the dead bud) without even thinking of it. There is no need to don the gardening clothes, just enjoy the same drab space in a fresh green way. We do incorporate indoor gardening, but we have short days in the winter and not always the best natural light; that is when we employ modern technology for a grow light. Zone 1 will have your immediate attention, so this is the best place to put the produce that is high maintenance in nature.
I do not plant tomatoes out in the “official” garden plot, that’s really my Zone 2, and with the unpredictable Montanan spring and with the abundant tomato-munching wildlife, tomatoes are “high maintenance.” In Ohio, they most certainly were not; I would have tomato plants volunteer from the seeds that fell the previous year. In Ohio, though, I had to baby along some greens that became bitter in the heat. Where you live, your climate, even your love for the thing might determine whether it is planted in Zone 1. Does it seem unconventional to have tomato plants outside my door in pots? Maybe, but it means I get to see more of them and the deer see less.
Herb spirals are big in permaculture circles because they maximize space, typically use found materials for the hardscaping, and provide delicious herbs right outside your kitchen door.
You might be surprised at what you can grow inside; check out this post about growing beans and onions indoors. Zone 1 is the perfect place for a kitchen garden for a quick nip of oregano or parsley for immediate use. You see Zone 1 frequently, will tend to it very routinely, and it will bring immediate joy to your view.
When you have Zone 1 under control, then you move on to Zone 2, which might be where you would keep your chickens, bee balm bush, or something that needs less immediate attention. It might be that unused patch by the driveway or mailbox. You may think you do not have a Zone 2, but could it be at your office, a community garden, or at Grandma’s house when you go check up on her? In a quick neighborly chat, I discovered that a neighbor (and homesteader) with a large garden was going to let it lie fallow that summer due to an upsurge in her business schedule. I only had a Zone 1 in our trailer. Every day, the kids and I would load the wheelbarrow with our tools and water bottles, and head down the dirt road to garden her soil. The potatoes were delicious that year. And the lessons learned about homesteading before I even owned one were delicious, too.
If you would like to learn more about gardening in zones or other classic permaculture techniques, check out this particular blog I wrote, which was a review of Gaia’s Garden, a permaculture classic.
#3: Think Outside the Flowerbox
Growing up in a Midwest Suburb, certain things were just that way. Garden plots were a rarity in my neighborhood in spite of our own in which I had the privilege of pilfering. Even yet, the nasturtiums lined the walkway, but you never ate them. The tomatoes were next to the onions—in the backyard. In the back of the backyard. Surrounded by railroad ties. It was just that way.
You know that I question the rules. The act of asking the question results in a fierce loyalty to the rules that make sense and…well…a disregard for social mores that inhibit my ability to live a fulfilling, loving, and healthy life. Let’s talk about front yard gardening for a moment. Sure, the neighbors will mention how beautiful your nasturtiums are this time of year by the mailbox, but they might be calling the Homeowner’s Association on you if they saw cornstalks. My point is that they may tell you that onions do not belong in the front yard. Cities have ordinances, associations have by-laws. You will have to research them all to ensure you know what the laws and regulations really say (you might get to educate them if they have the misunderstanding). I suppose that if I ever had to get in trouble for something (I’ve been a good girl all my life), it might as well be for making the world a better, healthier, and more beautiful place. You, however, would have to make your own decision on that one.
Before you start burning gardening aprons and occupy the city hall, start with what is reasonable, something beautiful! Entire books have been written on this subject to help us make the most of our land while creating an inviting space that will not create neighborhood angst. Start with this one: Edible Front Yard. It will change the way you see your garden, I promise.
Head over to “Homegrown And Healthy” to see exactly how much food production she pulls out of her very beautiful front yard garden—no one would ever suspect!
Doing a Lot with a Little Space
You will surprise yourself once you put together the plan and look at every space as a possibility. You can do a lot with a little, just as Jessica from Delicious Obsessions suggests. In fact, do not discount an urban space, there is much to learn from articles like this one that show it can be done. We had the joy of briefly living in a part of Germany that had a very urban environment. Every window had a flowerbox, and many Germans had a plot of land outside of town. They have been living out the Zone philosophy of gardening for hundreds of years in Europe–so rennovating your gardening philosophy is in many ways reclaiming what your great grandparents probably did anyway!
Whatever you do, plant something you have never planted before. Plant a space that saw nothing but lifelessness last year, and…
Get your hands dirty,
All pictures with the jar logo are property of Pantry Paratus.. Other photos used with permission are linked to the blogs for which they represent. Other photo credits are as follows:
Into Gardening? Our Roo Gardening Apron has a pocket for everything–even the produce itself, so that you are hands-free!