Small-Scale Gardening

Reader Contribution by Kim Roman
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How will my blog, Small Footprint Gardening, mesh with GRIT Magazine and the rural lifestyle? After all, you’re more than likely on a few acres and don’t really need small-scale gardening methods. I hear you, but hear my out. Even though you may have extra space, do you have a lot of extra time? Probably not! So why not give yourself a well-deserved break and take advantage of an easy small-space gardening method for your personal garden? 

My 2-by-23-foot Square Foot Garden in the spring. 

Here’s a photo of my main edible garden from a couple years ago. It is 2-by-23-foot and runs along a fence. As you can see, those modest 43 square feet are jam packed with a variety of veggies for my husband and I. Plus I use many of those squares two to three times per season.

Since 2010, I have been a Certified Square Foot Gardening Instructor, trained by the creator of the method, Mel Bartholomew. Although Square Foot Gardening is my main passion, I love adapting other normally large-scale methods, such as Hügelkultur and Back to Eden gardening on a smaller scale. The main advantage of these last two methods is that they use some things you’re always trying to get rid of as you clear land – logs and wood chips. Another bonus is that these methods require little, if any, supplemental water!

Another small-space idea would be container gardening that can provide a tremendous amount of food in a very small space. Think about how great it would be to grab a carrot out of a large terra cotta pot. So put away the tractor or rototiller and walk just a few steps from your kitchen door to pick your dinner salad, supper veggies, herbs and small fruits. Here are some reasons why you should think small:

1. Time is on your side. Small-space gardening methods will take mere minutes to care for. Even if you have several Square Foot Garden beds, it will usually take less than 15 minutes every day or two to water by hand, harvest and check for trouble – even less if you choose to use drip irrigation.

2. In addition to saving time, you’ll be able to more easily protect your small garden from critters – wild ones, or even your own marauding goats or chickens. In my case, my chief “pest” is my 13-year-old Beagle, Sophie, who loves tomatoes. There is a rabbit living under my shed, just a couple steps (or hops?) from my garden. She’s pretty well-behaved and doesn’t usually bother the garden until fall hits when there aren’t many food choices available. This photo shows a metal frame called Garden Commander that I use to keep my garden animal-free when the plants are small. As they grow I generally switch out the Garden Commander for a 12-inch high fence around the raised bed.

Garden Commanders keep critters out of the garden.

3. Another advantage is that you’ll be able to spot problems, whether critter, pest or disease, faster so you’ll be able to address them more quickly. Smaller gardens can be put closer to your house and that means you can usually spot a problem from the nearest window. Because of the small size, it’s a pleasure to care for, and you’ll want to be out there frequently because it just looks so nice. Larger gardens are usually set back farther from the house and can become an unkempt mess as the season progresses.

4. Also, because it’s so small, you’ll be able to protect your garden from the weather. I live in Maryland, USDA Hardiness Zone 7b, and I was still harvesting beet greens, turnips and spinach for Thanksgiving in my University of Maryland Salad Table. If I had planned better I could have had even more things growing. The Garden Commander I mentioned above makes a great support to throw plastic or a blanket over when we experience a cold snap. This allows me to start earlier in the spring and extend my season well into the fall and even into the winter.

University of Maryland Salad Table

As you can see a smaller garden can be of great benefit to your already busy life.

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