Monday, February 15, 2010

Creative Ideas for Small Gardens or Busy Gardeners

Don’t think you have the yard space to grow veggies? Or perhaps you don’t feel like you have the energy. Here are a few creative garden planning ideas to accommodate the smallest yards or balconies and craziest schedules.

1. Where there is soil and sun, there can be veggies. On the south side of my home, I have a strip of garden 1.5 by 30 feet. I’ve planted all kinds of veggies and begun to fill this bed with perennials like grape, kiwi, and oregano. I have dill, coriander and parsley that reseed every year.

I like this bed because a sidewalk contains it. It’s accessible and easy to fill with plants. Also, because it’s set so close to my walkway and water supply, I never forgot (read: too lazy) to water it.   

Assess your space- Do you have a skinny strip of south facing yard against your house? Your fence? Your garage? In your alley? Do you have pots and a balcony? All you need to plant fruit or veggies is sun and a foot wide strip of dirt. To build a fertile bed, either use Lanza’s Lasagna method (see below) or mix lots of organic matter, grass clippings, compost, or leaves into the dirt. Add peat moss if it doesn’t drain well, then plant. Try: vine tomatoes, pole beans, basil, peas, zucchini (though it will overrun a walkway if there is one close), cucumbers, and/or peppers.

2. Convert lawn into veggies with a No - Dig Garden. There are lots of variations of this method, but however you do it, it’ll save you hours of back labour and rototilling. Patricia Lanza’s ‘Lasagna Method’ is a simple option:
o   Lay wet (read: soaking) layers of newspaper on the area you wish to make into a garden. Use entire sections so that the newspaper layer is thick. Overlap the paper so grass/weeds can’t slip through. Then layer:
§  1. Straw or peat moss or compost
§  2. Organic matter like chopped leaves, composted manure, composted kitchen waste
o   Continue to alternate the last two layers until the bed is high enough for the plants you are planting (3 to 12 inches depending on the size of pot or root ball).
o   Plant (don’t cut into the base layer of paper).

I used this method in a particularly weedy part of my yard (its the strip to the left of the sidewalk, in the photo opposite) and thought it miraculous how effectively the newspaper killed the underlying weeds and grass. I scattered seeds over the whole bed but you can plant seedlings or already established plants too. This method can be used in a container, replacing potting soil.

3. Think theme garden.  Lanza has some great ideas for one garden area or large container (read: bathtub size) or multiple pots:
o   Taste of Italy- Plant tomato, basil, garlic, onion, oregano, sweet peppers, zucchini and parsley.
o   Taste of France- Plant peas, beans, baby carrots, rosemary, tarragon, French sorrel and garlic.
o   Taste of Mexico- Plant basil, bell and chili peppers, garlic, onions, oregano, thyme, tomatoes and cilantro.
o   Salad fixings- Plant lettuce, basil, carrots, parsley, chives, spinach or other fave salad fixings in pots. Plant the fixings together in the same pot or plant singles in each pot then set in a sunny spot close to your door.
o   Oregano (or any beloved herb) bed- I’ve a whole bed dedicated to the perennial herb oregano. I love the flavour in my food and there are so many varieties to try!

4. Plant what you eat- Plan to plant only what you’ll actually use. Do you eat lots of onions but never really liked Swiss chard? Then forgot the chard and plant buckets of onions.  Forget the kale and throw in extra bean seeds. You can never eat enough peas? Plant your whole garden in peas, trying some different varieties (and perhaps throw in some parsnips to control the pea aphids). While diversity benefits your garden because of opportunities for crop rotation and companion planting, don’t be paralyzed by the overwhelming number of plant varieties and possibilities. Simplicity is a virtue for the busy gardener or small garden. 

Happy planning and planting!

Remember to RSVP for the ‘Homesteading the Avenue Workshops’- check out for more details. This month, learn how to graft fruit trees on March 14 from 2 to 5pm.  

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