Small gardens can be very productive, however, they need to be carefully planned, because if you messed up in one area there isn’t usually another one available for planting.
I used to flip through seed catalogs for hours, practically drooling. I couldn’t keep myself from ordering seven verities if tomatoes, six verities of cucumbers and four verities of everything else. Then I will convince myself that I can fit everything in my small garden, plant it all, and…. wonder why my garden is’t doing so well.
Here are few things to consider before ordering seeds for a small food garden:
- Start by opening your refrigerator. Don’t start by opening the catalog or visiting the local nursery. First, open your refrigerator and think about your weekly menu. What kind of veggies your family eats the most? What do you like to cook with? Are you eating lots of fresh salads? Do you like a garden kind of salad? With lots of different vegetables, or are you more of a Caesar salad kind of person? The bottom line is, grow what you like to eat. Turnips might be awesome, but if you are not going to eat them, don’t bother growing them.
- Consider the amount of space each plant needs. Your veggies will not grow properly without the right amount of space. Believe me, I’ve tried many tricks, it’s just doesn’t work. Cabbage seeds need to be spaced two feet from each other while carrots only two inches. That means that for every one cabbage, I can grow 12 carrots. If your garden is small, consider growing veggies that don’t need much space like radish, lettuce, carrots, green onions, chard, spinach… and there are many more.
- Don’t do to much experimenting. I know it’s a lot of fun to try different verities and the latest invention in ornamental pumpkins. But if you have a small space and you want to actually produce some food for yourself, you’ll have to give up the excitement. Consider experimenting with one or two plants every year and save the rest of your space for plants you know will produce good crop. If the experiment turns out to be successful you can grow more of the new plant next year.
- How long until harvest? For yellow onion it takes over a hundred days to reach maturity, for spinach, only three weeks. Brussels sprouts take 90 days to reach maturity, radish only 30. You get to point… If you choose a plant that grows fast, you can seed the same spot in your garden a few times through the season. And of course, you’ll eat more.
- Be careful of aggressive plants. As much as I loved my sweet potatoes last year I know there isn’t a chance that I will plant them again in my raised beds. It was a nightmare to clean the vines. Every little piece of vine or root I left in the soil rooted and started spreading like the stomach flu. If you want to grow things like sweet potatoes or strawberries for example, try to find a place in your garden dedicated for them. Away from the other plants so they can’t take over everything else.
- Know your area. Learn what grows best in your area. A good resource is the local Farmer’s Market. What are the local farmers grow. What verities they choose. If all of the farmers sell the same kind of potatoes, there is probably a good reason behind it. Also, some fruits or vegetables are just not right for your area. For example, in NC citrus trees just don’t do good. The cold of the winter kills them. Likewise, I don’t believe you’ll find many pecan trees in Maine.
- How much does it cost at the grocery store? I am going back to cabbage here… in our local grocery store it cost 59 cents a pound. Pretty cheap, and I don’t believe it is much higher at the Farmer’s Market. However…
- A bag of Romaine lettuce cost $4.99! And the other kinds of lettuces are not much cheaper. You can beat me with a stick, I am not spending $4.99 on a bag of lettuce! A pocket of 250 Romaine lettuce seeds cost $4.95, and you can probably find a cheaper deal. If you compare the amount of garden space each veggie takes in the garden and the cost of lettuce vs. cabbage, you can see that it makes more sense to grow lettuce than cabbage if your space is limited.
- Lastly, Don’t buy new seeds every year. If you have a small garden, you probably not going to have enough space for all the cucumber seeds in the pocket. Don’t throw them away! Here is a nice list to help you figure out if your seeds are still good…
Well, I am still flipping through the seed catalogs for hours. And still drooling over the amazing selection. But I now know that those will have to wait until I have a 2 acre garden with nice 100 feet rows, a high fence, tractor, greenhouse, and 4 employees. And this… can take a while 😉
Good luck with your garden this year,