How to grow more food in less space

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The smallest garden I ever grew was on the patio of my first apartment. I didn’t let space limit me as a gardener. I grew more food than I imagined possible in window boxes, hanging baskets and containers.

Today I have much more space, but I still utilize space-saving gardening techniques because they allow me to produce a large volume of food with reduced maintenance and irrigation. Vertical gardening, container gardening, and growing mini and baby vegetables are three techniques that grow more food in less space.

Vertical gardening

Vine crops sprawl out and take up a lot of ground in the garden. You can reduce vining crops’ footprint by training them to grow vertically.

Vertical gardening is a great way to incorporate edibles into your landscaping. Pole Scarlet Runner Beans and climbing Purple Podded Peas have colorful blooms that look attractive growing on a decorative garden arbor or arch. A teepee trellis is another structural option for growing pole beans and peas.

Heavier vine crops, like cucumbers, summer squash and zucchini, need training to grow vertically. Train vines by securing them to wood, wire or net trellises with clips or ties. As plants gain height they will conform to the structure.

Indeterminate type tomato varieties grow best vertically. Given appropriate plant support, indeterminate vines will continue to grow and produce fruits until frost. Vines typically reach 6-10’ feet height before season’s end.

Container gardening

Gain ground by growing food in containers. You can grow any food crop in containers with a little extra care. Container gardens have unique soil, sun, water and fertilizer requirements.

Do not fill containers with garden soil. Top soil is dense and retains water, creating waterlogged roots and fungal growth in a container environment. Fill containers with potting mix instead. Potting mix allows adequate drainage while maintaining the right amount of moisture to support healthy plants.

Make sure container plants kept indoors or on a protected patio receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. The sunniest spots for container gardens are in the south and west. North and east tend to be cool and shady.

Container plants need more frequent watering. Only water plants when the potting mix feels dry. To test soil moisture level, push a finger 1-2” inches into the soil. Try to not let the potting mix dry out completely or become water-logged.

Plants in the garden absorb nutrients from the earth. Container plants do not have access to natural nutrients, so you must provide them with fertilizer. Purchase one-time application or extended release fertilizer that is specially formulated for container plants.

Miniature and baby vegetables

Mini and baby vegetable varieties may not produce as many pounds of food per plant as standard sizes, but if space is limited and you want to grow several kinds of vegetables, minis and babies allow you to pack more plants in less space. Pickling and gherkin cucumbers, Jack-Be-Little pumpkins, tiny peppers and grape and cherry tomatoes are smaller than standard-size counterparts.

Some standard size vegetable varieties can be planted closer together and harvested as baby versions before they reach full maturity. Immature onion bulbs can be eaten as spring onions. Kale, spinach and lettuce can be harvested at a youthful 25 days. Baby beets are super sweet and the perfect size to pickle.

If you don’t grow vertically, save space by planting compact bush bean and pea plants and determinate type tomatoes. Determinate type tomatoes vines are 2-4’ feet shorter than indeterminate types. Bush beans and peas yield slightly less than pole varieties, but still produce a good crop in less space.

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