5 easy tips for planning edible gardens in small outdoor spaces
This is the first of a three-part series. Tips here assume you’re planting directly into the ground. We’ll explore container gardening, raised beds, straw and hay bale planting and other unusual options in later posts.
- Prepare your beds. The more time you spend before you plant, the more time you’ll save controlling weeds. If you’re planting seeds directly to ground, most don’t grow well with competition. It’s important eliminate unwanted plant roots before you start. Rototillers don’t go deep enough. A potato fork works well while giving you a workout. Healthy soil is important. If your ground has robust grass and lots of worms, you probably won’t have to do much to amend.
- Give yourself room to work. One thing most new gardeners fail to plan for (guilty here) is foot traffic for tending to and harvesting crops. As you map out your garden design, consider where you want to walk. The easiest way to do this is with bed sections (not only does it give you obvious paths to travel but saves digging time too). You can either mow these areas or place a weed barrier fabric down (these generally come in 3-foot wide rolls) to keep what’s underneath from growing.
- Start small. The temptation is to plant all the seeds you get in a packet. If you must, do so with crops like lettuce, radishes, turnips, peas, spinach and carrots over time. As you harvest one crop you can reseed another to enjoy continual edibles (until the heat kicks in – but this can be repeated in the fall). Planting too much will result in plants too close together or too much work for you to maintain – or both. What works for me is digging a row, then filling that space with seeds. This way, I can stay on top of all prior started crops with weeding and watering while enjoying harvesting while I’m still digging for new seed starts. If you try to plant everything at once, you won’t be able to keep up with it (unless your space is very tiny).
- Familiarize yourself with space needs. Some edible plants need little room. Others spread out a lot. If you’re working in a small space, pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupe and some squashes probably won’t be a good fit. You can save yourself a lot of ground space with either trellis (or fence) planting for climbers or companion planting. If you plant cucumbers or beans or other compatible climbers early enough to get established with corn before stalk height results in shade, you’ll delight in the reduced space needs, ease of harvesting and weed free areas in your garden. Think about sunlight needs, reseeding possibilities after early crops have been harvested and root depth (digging up potatoes or garlic with shallow or sensitive roots nearby won’t work well).
- Get the right tools. You can save yourself a ton of time while improving your harvest yield with smart tools for bed preparation, planting and weed maintenance. Find my favorite gardening tools with time saving tips in prior posts.
Come back next Tuesday for five more tips on smart space saving and increased yield ideas with companion planting, aversion awareness and creative climber strategies.