By Glenn DiNella
If you’re starting a vegetable bed, keep in mind most veggies require at least six hours of sun per day. A former neighbor simply purchased several large bags of growing mix each spring, threw them down in the middle of his sunny front lawn, cut them open, and planted his tomatoes in the bags. Not an attractive look, but he basically had the right idea.
Raised beds are a good solution for establishing small growing plots wherever your property receives the most sun, and they can be attractive enough for a patio or the front yard. There are kits that include boards and metal corners to anchor them together, so no nails or tools are required for assembly. You can fill them with bags of growing mix, compost, etc., which are ideal for veggie growth.
To start a bed, first kill off the grass or weeds where you plan to locate your bed. Then till the existing soil and remove grass, rocks, etc. Next, till in compost, peat moss, manure, and growing mix. If you have clay soil, add lots of coarse sand. Using small amounts of sand seems to form a soil mix akin to concrete. Don’t use fine play sand, potting soil, or topsoil, which compact and harden quickly.
In addition to selecting veggies you and your family will actually eat, consider what types of plants will fit in a small space. For raised beds, try radishes or miniature carrots, which only grow a few inches long and don’t require deeply tilled soil. Lettuce and even turnips also produce well in raised beds. I like to grow parsley, because it’s one of those fresh herbs I occasionally need in small amounts for a recipe. When I purchase a large bunch at the grocery store, I inevitably end up throwing the rotted remains on the compost pile a month later.
Try planting broccoli in the fall or early spring. Harvest the main heads a few months later, but don’t pull up the plants. You can harvest smaller heads in another month.
Pick up a small, inexpensive bundle of young onion sets in early spring and plant them in your garden. A typical bundle contains more onions than I need for my little veggie plot, so I pass them on to fellow gardeners.
For gardening in a small space, look for bush tomatoes rather than indeterminate tomato plants that form unruly vines. It you want beans or sugar snap peas, you can make or purchase a small, 4- to 6-foot obelisk and let the vines climb. Going vertical is an ideal way to gain growing space in a tight spot.
One friend of mine loves to grow veggies and herbs, but she lives in a small patio home on a tight lot. Her front yard receives the most sun exposure, so she purchased attractive containers -- including a strawberry jar -- and planted vegetables in those.
‘Rainbow’ Swiss chard makes an attractive and tasty plant. My friend’s containers are nice enough to dress up her front walkway -- much better than a plastic bag of growing mix with a tomato plant stuck in it.