If there was ever a time to grow your own food, this is it. Donning a mask to buy groceries and dodging people in the aisles is wearing me down, so is feeling insecure about our food supply. It's spurred me on to figure out how I can coax more food from my three little raised beds.
I knew I had to make every available inch count - no dead space anywhere. My strategy boils down to three things: careful planning, utilizing vertical space and adding more containers.
One of the reasons I have raised beds is that I'm stuck with sandy, pebbly soil that no respectable plant will put up with. The other is that I can grow more in a small area. Sure, it's labor intensive to build, but I consider it a long term investment that pays off big time. Once the bed is built, you don't have to keep working the soil and weeding it constantly. It's an effective space saving option if you don't have a lot of room.
My friend June convinced me that I could grow more in my own beds. She harvests an enormous amount of veggies in her small Vermont garden.
Inspired by a bed she saw at a local farmers market, June built 4 raised beds from 12' hemlock timbers and had a farmer fill them with compost. Note that they are almost waist high - easy to work in without much bending (dimensions are 12' x 4'x 24").
Plan and plant wisely:
June plants in zig-zag patterns to conserve space. Each bed is carefully planned for early and late crops - lettuces, radishes, kale and spinach. Cucumbers, zucchini and squash grow up supports at the end of the beds. Pole beans twine up supports tucked into each corner of the garden. June protects them with chicken wire to keep rabbits away. Four tomato plants are staggered together in one bed. She chooses determinate varieties because they don't get too tall.
Her harvest is impressive - enough food for the summer, with plenty to can and freeze for the winter months.
If you don't want the expense of buying lumber - here are some other options. This gardener built beds from logs that were laying around and filled them with soil and compost.
Another gardener used the foundation from a shed that was dismantled to make this bed.
Add more containers:
If you want to grow your own food, don't let a little thing like not having a place for a garden stop you. With a large enough container and a sunny spot (5-6hrs) you can grow just about anything. Growing vegetables in pots adds usable space to an existing garden. I use them to grow lettuces,herbs and anything else I don't have room for in the beds.
The key to growing tasty vegetables in containers is nutrient rich soil and regular watering. The soil shouldn't be too heavy (it shouldn't clump into a leaden ball when you squeeze it). I'm fond of a product called Bumper Crop, but you can concoct your own with mushroom compost, or an organic soil mix. Remember to fertilize weekly. I use an organic liquid food - Neptunes Harvest, but there are plenty of other non-chemical fertilizers on the market.
If you've never grown vegetables in containers, start with herbs, lettuces and other greens. They're easy to grow and you don't need large containers. Pack plants in tightly.
You can mix them together to make lovely combinations!
You don't need to get fancy. The ones you see below are reused plastic nursery containers. They're nice and deep too. I grew a terrific crop of potatoes in them last year!
I'm also using grow bags - they're handy, easy to store and inexpensive. The cool thing about them is that you can squeeze them into tight spaces where you can't dig.
I socked mine into an awkward spot between the raised beds and the house - previously a holding bed for plants I didn't know what to do with. Voila, now I have extra growing space! It's a perfect spot for heat loving crops like peppers and eggplants. The bags keep the soil warmer and hurry them along.
If you grow tomatoes in containers, choose determinate varieties that don't get as tall as the intdeterminate ones. Even so, you'll still need to stake them, so use a pot that is big enough to secure it.
When I saw this tunnel of tomatoes, beans, peas and cucumbers growing up trellises at
Cornell Botanic Gardens, I knew I had to try a smaller version of it in my garden.
These are made from 16x4' cattle panels. I got mine from a local farm supply store, watched a youtube video and put it together with my husband in a few hours. It's very sturdy - you can see in the photo below that I grew tomatoes over it. I think this is a perfect solution for growing any vining vegetable that takes up a lot of room. Peas will be climbing on it in early summer, followed by beans.
If you don't want to get that heavy duty, there are other options. A smaller trellis like this is easy to make and supports vining crops like cucumbers.
I think these branch teepees are kind of cool too!
Here's another one made from bamboo.
Or you can just buy one like this rustic looking obelisk.
The sign in the above photo reminds me to mention this.... unless you want deer, rabbits or groundhogs to decimate your garden, you need a fence to deter them. I have a terrible rabbit problem, so I put up a chicken wire fence and buried it 6" beneath the soil to keep them from digging underneath it.
I hate the way it looks, but it's the only thing that will keep them from munching the entire garden. Make sure to read next months post on beautifying fences!
Sign up for my newsletter