I remember a few years ago, when I only had a couple of raised garden beds, how determined I was to grow just about every vegetable there is in the tiny space. I would order way too many seeds, plant everything way too close to each other, and attempt to grow a spring, summer, and fall garden.
If to be honest, it didn’t work. Some seeds didn’t germinate, some seedlings died very young, most plants didn’t reach full size, and yields were very small. Of course, because I am so damn stubborn, I kept trying for a few seasons to make it work. But finally, I had to give up and really start paying attention to the plant spacing that is listed for every plant.
I also realized that I can’t expect to grow it all. I had to choose a few crops and concentrate on them, the rest I had to buy at the market.
But what should I grow in my two and a half beds?
I had to decide what makes more sense. If I wanted to grow tomatoes, four plants will take one full bed, I won’t be able to plant anything else in this bed because I’ll need to plant the tomatoes in April and they will stop producing at the end of September. If I planted a spring garden in that bed, the bed won’t be available for tomatoes in the middle of April, and I won’t be able to plant a fall garden there because the end of September is too late for fall/winter planting. We will enjoy about three months (July, August, September) of fresh, homegrown tomatoes.
However, If I grew loose lettuce, green onions, and carrots in the same bed, we will be eating from the garden in the middle of April, all through the summer, and I’ll be able to plant a fall garden that will last us until the middle of January.
This made more sense, even though I really like homegrown tomatoes.
I also took into consideration the price of vegetables in the market. For example, cabbage is very cheap to buy, but hard to grow. It takes a lot of space, here in NC cabbage has so many pests, it takes a long time to mature (if it ever gets there), and I will have to start seeds indoors or buy transplants.
So obviously, cabbage wasn’t a good crop for my small garden.
Lastly, I looked for crops that I can space very close to each other. In the space of one broccoli, I could plant 100 carrots, in the space of one pumpkin, I could plant 200 seeds of spinach, in the space of one zucchini, I could plant 400 seeds of loose lettuce mix. Those are not exact numbers, but I hope you get my point.
So now that I had a better direction, it was time to make the list. I was looking for crops that I can space 4” apart or less, that we eat on a regular basis, and that will be pricy to buy at the market.
Before we go down the list, let me go over two ways of planting:
- One Row – when planting in one row, you simply dig a furrow, and place your seeds in one row spaced 2” apart (for example), then you cover the seeds and go on to do the same in the next row.
- Band – when planting in a band, you dig a band that is about 3” wide, then you place your seeds in a zigzag along the bend. First seed on the left, the next one on the right two inches from the first one, then the third to the left two inched from the second one and so on. So you have two inches between the first and the second but also between the first and the third.
22 Crops to grow in the Tiniest Garden
Note: for some of these crops, the space between each row is pretty large, I still included them because the space between each seed within the row is very small which mean you can fit many seeds in just one row or band.
Chives – sow 1 to 2 seeds per inch, 1/4” deep. Thin to one plant every inch. You don’t have to sow in rows or bands, choose an area in the garden, remove 1/4” of soil, place seeds an inch apart and cover with the soil you removed.
Chives are a cool weather perennial that is easy to grow. Mild onion or garlic flavor (depending on the verity). Flowers are also edible.
Dill – Sow 1 to 2 seeds per inch, 1/4” deep. You don’t have to thin, but for full plants thin to 4” apart. Just like chives, you don’t have to sow in rows or bands.
Dill is a warm season herb. It is often used in pickling, also great sprinkled on top of many different dishes. I usually dry my dill and add it to soups and homemade salad dressing.
Arat – sow 3 seeds per inch, 1/2” deep in single rows or bands 12-18” apart. Thin to 1-3” apart.
Arat is root parsley. It’s got sweet parsley taste and can be used like you will use leaf parsley. You can add it to soups and stews or salad, or it can be prepared like other root crops roasted or pickled. The advantage of the root parsley vs. the leaf parsley is that it will last much longer in storage. If you plant it in the fall, it can overwinter in the garden.
Cilantro – sow 1-2 seeds per inch 1/2” deep in rows 8” apart.
Cilantro is a cool weather annual that is commonly used in Mexican cuisine, can be added to soups, sauces and pretty much anything else.
Root Crops –
Carrots – sow one seed every inch, 1/4” deep in rows 6” apart.
Carrots might be the king of the small garden. You can plant so many of them in such a small area, they usually don’t have any pests, there are a million verities and many different colors of carrots, and who doesn’t eat carrots?
Radishes – sow 1/2” deep in 2-3” wide bands. Sow 1” apart in bands 1-2” apart.
Radish is a fast maturing cool-weather crop. It’s great to start the season with it. I usually use radish in salads or pickled, or as a quick snack.
Turnips – sow 3 seeds per inch, 1/4” deep in rows or bands spaced 12” apart. Thin to 1 plant every 3”.
Turnip can be used like a potato (even mashed), or eaten fresh or roasted.
Parsnips – sow a group of 3 seeds 1/2” deep every 3” in bands or rows spaced 18” apart.
Parsnip is great in stews, soups, stir-fried, mashed, or roasted.
Beets – sow one seed 1/2” deep every 3” in rows spaced 12” apart.
We use beets fresh in salads, pickled, or roasted.
Asian Greens –
The next four Asian greens are considered a specialty crop. They can be used in soups, salads, and stir-fry.
Mizuna – for full size, sow in 2” wide bands, 1/4” deep 1” apart. Bands should be spaced 18” apart. For baby leaves, sprinkle seeds in a 2” wide band, 1/4” deep.
Red Rain – same as mizuna.
Shungiku – same as mizuna.
Carlton – same as mizuna.
Onions – sow in rows or bands, 2 seeds every 4”, 1/2” deep, rows or bands spaced 12-18” apart. Thin to one onion every 4” for full-size onions.
There are many verities of onions that can be used in the kitchen in a million different ways. Onions will last a long time in storage, especially if you can find a cool place for them. Last year I had so many onions that I ended up freezing some. I am still using my frozen onions. Hopefully, they will last us until spring.
Green Onions – also called bunching onions. Sow in rows or 2-3” bands, 1/2” apart, 1/4” deep. Space between rows should be 12”.
These onions can be added to anything from soups, salads, stir-fries, and many other dishes. I have green onions in my garden year round. Here in the South, they last in the garden most of the winter.
Shallots – sow in 2-4” bands, 3/4” apart, 1/2” deep. Space rows or bands 10” apart.
You can use shallots just as you will use regular onion but you don’t need to slice them. Just add them whole (but peeled) to stews, vegetable soups, place them in your roasted chicken pan, or grill them.
Salad Greens –
Lettuce Mesclun – Sow 1/2” apart, 1/8” deep, in rows 6” apart.
This is another must in the small garden. Where regular head lettuce will have to be spaced 8-10” apart, loose lettuce leaves can be sprinkled very close to each other. Not only that, but you can come back and cut the leaves 3 times before you have to plant new seeds. This is a regular in my garden.
Mache – sow 1” apart, 1/2” deep in rows 8” apart.
Mache is the perfect green for the Northern climates. It grows best in cold weather, in fact, seeds will go dormant at 70F or greater. Leaves are thick and have a nutty flavor. Great in salads or sandwiches. You can see my mache growing in snow here.
Mustard – sow one seed 1/4” deep every 2” in rows 12” apart. Thin to one mustard every 4”.
Mustard is a spicy green. It adds a nice spice to salads and can be added to stir-fries or sandwiches.
Baby Spinach – sow in 2-4” wide bands, sprinkle seeds 3/4” apart, 1/2” deep. Bands spaced 10” apart.
Baby spinach is great in salads, soups, or sandwiches.
Chard – for full size, sow 1 seed, 1/2” deep every two inches in rows 18” apart. Thin to one plant every 4”. For baby chard, sow in 2-4” bands, 1” apart 1/2” deep. Don’t thin.
Chard is an easy green to grow. You can use chard in the same way you will use spinach. My favorite recipe with chard or spinach is my mother-in-law’s vegetarian patties, you can find this recipe here.
Last But Not Least –
Peas – sow in a 3” wide band, 1.5” apart, 1” deep. Space bands 12” apart.
Make sure you choose the right verity of peas for the small garden. Some verities will need trellis, but if you choose a verify that is under 3′ tall you don’t need to trellis it. Our favorite way of eating peas is fresh, right of the vine. To be honest, I am having a hard time growing peas because my kids don’t give them a chance to grow much before they eat them.
Until we move to live on our farm, I will keep growing in our small urban garden. I keep adding a couple of beds every season, but it is still a small garden. I sometimes plant the larger plants that you don’t want to do without, like tomatoes for example, in containers. This way they don’t take any room in the raised beds. I also tried potatoes in bins before and it worked great.
But my raised beds are usually saved for the crops above, this way I can make sure I produce as much as I can in the small space. So, if all you have is a small garden, or if a small garden is all you can care for, there are still many vegetables you can grow. You might still choose to purchase some of your vegetables at the market, but you will also have a nice supply straight from the garden.
Till next time…