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Southern California Gardening: Small Space, Big Harvest

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

A small space shouldn’t prevent you from growing fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruits for your family.

Lettuces and herbs planted in galvanized buckets

By Nan Sterman

If you don’t have a large garden, you still can grow a bountiful crop. Not all edibles require a lot of space. Pumpkins, yes. Watermelon, yes. Beyond that, however, you can grow most annual fruits, herbs, and vegetables in a small outdoor area, as long as they have enough water and sunlight.

The challenge for most people is matching the container size to the plant. It’s hard to imagine how much room roots need to develop and support the plant to the point of producing.

Potatoes in half whiskey barrel

Lettuce, for example, is very shallow-rooted, so it doesn’t need a very deep container. You can grow a couple of salads’ worth of lettuce in a plastic dishpan, as long as you drill drainage holes in the bottom.

A bucket also is a suitable container for greens and herbs such as parsley, perennial basil, and thyme. Just remember those drainage holes!

A half whiskey barrel easily accommodates potatoes. Fill the barrel halfway with potting soil. Plant potato “eyes” early in the year, then add soil as the stems lengthen. Keep the soil moist, and fertilize occasionally. Harvest when the leaves die back. Leave a few of the smallest potatoes to “seed” next year’s crop.

plants being grown in hydroponic system

Many people are surprised to learn that tomatoes need a lot of room for their roots. Plant each in its own 15-gallon container. You might be tempted to tuck in another plant, especially if you start with small seedlings. Resist that urge. Crowded plants never do very well and are difficult to care for.

Hydroponics is a new trend in growing edibles in small spaces. These systems recirculate a nutrient solution over the roots of lettuce, kale, and other plants as they sit inside long tubes. It can be very efficient and a lot of fun.

beets in galvanized metal tubs

But before you go to the expense and effort of putting together a somewhat technical hydroponic system, there’s a much lower-tech option: galvanized metal outdoor tubs and cans. These cans are strong, weatherproof, and deep enough for everything from tomatoes to beets.

pole trellis in trash can

Add a pole in the center of a small metal trashcan, string twine to the top and you have the perfect support for climbing beans and peas. Be sure to drill plenty of drain holes in the bottom of metal cans and tubs.

raised beds with tomatoes

Raised beds are another great way to fit a vegetable garden into a small space. Whether you build them of lumber or use a pre-fabricated kit, they are concentrated garden spaces where your harvest can exceed your wildest dreams.

The biggest challenge in our climate is keeping the soil inside damp, so it’s best to use a heavier potting mix than you would in a plastic or ceramic pot. Water with in-line drip irrigation -- hand-watering is likely to splash the soil out of the bag. Overhead spray never saturates the soil completely, but a slow, consistent drip works perfectly!