No Space, No Problem

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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Photo by Unsplash/Annie Spratt

The way folks think of gardens is changing. No longer do they have to fit the norm of being large rectangular plots on the side of the house. This is a good thing because it allows people to be able to garden even if they don’t have large spaces.

Victory gardens are a prime example of that and they are making a comeback. They made their debut back in 1943 when food was scarce during WWII. People were urged to grow whatever they could wherever they could. It is estimated that 20 million victory gardens flourished throughout the United States that year, with New York City producing 200 million pounds of tomatoes, beets, carrots, lettuce and other vegetables.

This year, thanks to the pandemic and folks worrying about the food supply chain, the victory garden has been revived, but not necessarily in traditional garden plots. People are being creative and growing lots in relatively small spaces.

Think rooftops and balconies or even sunny windowsills. One or two tomato plants can produce an abundant amount of produce. Windowsills lined with small pots filled with herbs can add lots of flavor in cooking.

Container gardens have become quite popular, and for good reason. They are portable and can be placed anywhere you have a small amount of space. A nook, a cranny or a corner that isn’t used can be exactly right for a pot which can hold lettuce, tomato plants, flowers, herbs or just about any plant. They can be scattered throughout your space or many pots can be grouped together in one location to form a garden with different crops in each pot.

But, don’t stop at just pots. Containers can be anything that will hold soil. Old washtubs, livestock watering troughs, kids’ wagons, even old shoes become plant containers with a little ingenuity. Raised beds are also popular lately and, here again, you don’t need anything fancy. A few old boards laying around can be nailed to form boxes. The important thing to remember with any vessel that you want to use for plants, is you need drainage holes.

If you want to go one step further, hydroponics (gardening with no soil) has taken the spotlight lately too. If you decide to go this route, you can use old buckets, pails and other plastic containers. These lend themselves well to vertical gardens which also save space.

If you aren’t into containers and you want to still stay the tried and true way and want to dig in the soil, you can still do this without a lot of space. Think outside the box. Around the perimeter of your house is always an excellent choice. All you need to do is dig out about a foot from the foundation and you will have enough space to plant one row of most any vegetable you want.

Ron has a chain link fence around two sides of his yard. This year, I dug up a space about a foot wide on either side of the fence. I have tomato and pepper plants in this space. If the tomato plants need staked, the fence will provide the support. I have also planted cucumbers on the other side of the fence from the tomatoes. They will climb up the fence, saving space from them vining out into the yard. A few annual flower seeds like marigolds or zinnias planted with these vegetables, will give color to the fence as well, all within only about a foot of space on either side.

Along his other fence, there are shrubs like lilac, weigela and rose of Sharon. In between these is just space that he usually sprays to keep the weeds at bay. However, this year I cleared the sod and spaded up the ground. I am putting perennials in there like daisies, iris and bee balm. Until that takes hold, I am scattering annual seeds like marigolds and zinnias in there to add color. On top of that, he will save time and money by not having to spray that area.

When planting victory gardens, regardless of whether they are vegetables, herbs or flowers, the first rule of thumb is to find the light. Most garden plants need around six hours of sunlight each day to do well. So, if your spot is too shaded by larger shrubs or plants, or is facing the wrong direction to get the light, this will be a big consideration where you decide to plant.

The next consideration should be how much space you have. Plants that grow upward take considerably less space than those that spread out. Obviously, if you only have three feet of space, you will not want to plant anything that vines out like squash or melons.

Next, decide on what to plant based on what you like to eat. Though tomatoes grow upward and work well in a container garden, don’t plant them if you don’t like them. The idea here is to grow what works in your space and also something that you will eat.

The basics of growing in small spaces is no different than growing large gardens. You need good soil and you will need to fertilize regularly as well as water enough to keep the soil moist. Remember, you reap what you sow.

It is also good to remember that even scaled-down gardening in a small space needs care. It’s great that folks want to be self-sufficient and plant part of their own food supply. However, putting the seed in the ground is only half of the equation. It still needs tender loving care to produce a harvest.

This year with so many newbie gardeners, seeds and plants have been in short supply. Many seed suppliers have already been sold out early in the season. The saddest thing is to see folks (with good intentions) by up all the seed, fertilizer and other products to plant a garden and then let it go when it gets to be more work than they bargained for.

Gardening can be so fulfilling, both physically and emotionally, but it is a commitment and does demand that you put effort into it in order to reap the rewards. Space is not a detriment. Even if you have a small space, you can be a gardener, you only have to have the will and the commitment.

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