By Marty Ross
Urban farmers have taught me a lot: You don’t need a huge vegetable garden to grow a satisfying harvest. Growing your own food -- on any scale -- is enormously rewarding, and starting small is best.
Small-space vegetable gardens are easy to plant and maintain. All you need is a small plot or even a pot or two and a couple of packages of seeds or a flat of seedlings. You’ll be surprised to discover how much you can grow.
I’m always eager to plant in spring, and I don’t like waiting for lettuce plants to come up from seed -- I buy transplants as soon as they are available and fill the flowerboxes on my front porch with ruffled little lettuce plants. The young plants are usually big enough to supply a few leaves for a delicate salad right away, and then I can pick lettuce for a couple of months. Once the heat sets in, the lettuce starts to taste bitter and I replace it with summer flowers.
Parsley, basil, and other annual herbs are a natural choice for small gardens, and they are especially pretty in pots with summer-flowering nasturtiums or bright little ‘Gem’ marigolds, which are both edible flowers. Tomatoes are gangly specimens in pots: they require a large container (something like 24 inches across the top) and a sturdy tomato cage to support the plants. Cherry tomatoes are my favorites in pots. They bear fruit early, do not mind scorching summer heat, and produce prolifically.
My community garden plot down the street -- a raised bed just 4 x 12 feet -- is big enough for a couple of tomato and pepper plants, a row of beans or spinach, a few herbs, and some zinnias through the summer. In early fall, I replace the summer crops with a fantastic garden of cold-tolerant kale, chard, and collards, which I can harvest for months.
The plot is small enough to plant in an hour, and that’s about all the attention it needs every week during the growing season. I just stop by once a week to pull a few weeds, prop up the tomatoes, compare notes with other gardeners, and pick whatever’s ripe. Even if it’s just a handful of beans, they’re always the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. Why? Because I grew them myself!