Growing Big In Small Spaces
With such stressors as climatic shifts, economic instability, and now Covid-19, a world wide pandemic, people are looking for more ways than ever to augment their food supplies, control what’s in their food, contribute something worthy to their family unit, and even just partake in something calming to take a step way from the barrage of daily life for a few moments a day. What if I could tell you that whether you have an open palette of land or just a windowsill or few feet of deck space, you could do all of those things?
Someone in a smaller space may not be able to provide all their family’s food needs, but you can still feel good about making a worthwhile contribution while reaping some of those other benefits I talked about. You just need a bit of planning and to know yourself and perhaps your family a little more. Start by:
- Making a list of all the food plants you and your family like to eat (no sense in growing peas if you hate them!).
- Looking at the space you have to grow. Does it have to be indoors, outdoors or a combination? Do you have an area for a soil bed or raised garden or does it have to be strictly in containers? If you don’t have much square footage can you grow up (vertical gardening)?
- Determine how much time you have to set aside for this new venture. Some crops take less effort while others are more time consuming (though they can be just as rewarding), and obviously sheer volume will equate to more time as well.
- Looking at the plant growth timelines to harvest. If you are growing indoors this may not matter as long as you have enough lighting but outdoors, if it takes 110 days to grow a crop and you live in Alberta, it would be unlikely that you would ever see the fruits of your labours unless you started your outdoor plants from bedding outs.
Now begin comparing. Does that corn you love make sense to grow indoors? Probably not, but this is how you can fine tune your list to enable you to begin by concentrating on food plants that are more likely to be successful. Seeing the smiles on your family’s faces as they enjoy amazing salad or tomatoes will drive you on in your new venture while an empty plate or eggplants that never fruited will be far more likely to have you throw in the towel.
Now look at your list – and further narrow it down to your top 3. Why? Firstly, because you want to be successful. If you can’t nail down 3 types of plant, how could you ever manage 10 or more? Secondly, you are dealing with a smaller space than a farm and fewer types means what space you do have will enable you to grow more of those fewer types. You may be surprised to find that you can provide all the basil your family needs without outsourcing any of it! What a nice feeling to find that out or at least make a big dent in the amount of something you have to purchase elsewhere. Once you have a few types down pat you can start to explore others, or change your seasonal offerings by rotating crops. Just take baby steps to get there and you will get there!
Here are some suggestions for tried and true food plants that can do well in small spaces:
Peas (Provence is a variety that works well for container gardening. All peas are great for vertical gardening and they prefer cooler conditions for earlier starts)
Tomatoes (Big or small with tons of flavours and colours to choose from including unique heirloom varieties. Determinate bush types and indeterminate vining types)
Radishes (Fast maturing varieties and they prefer cooler conditions. My personal fav is French Breakfast)
Carrots (Container gardening can be a plus to keep out carrot flies more easily. Shallow rooted and coreless varieties available)
Lettuce (So many kinds and they grow quickly. Looseleaf types are cut and come again for multiple harvests)
Herbs (Thyme, Sage, Basil and many others. Frost tender ones like Rosemary can be grown indoors year round or pots put out during warmer months and brought indoors for the winter)
The mention of herbs brings me to make you aware of other reasons to grow plants as well. Condiment crops for flavouring, teas, medicinals and pollinators are all well worth growing.
There are native plants that can overwinter outdoors as long as they have enough soil around their roots and are low maintenance once established. Try out:
Yarrow (Tea plant, pollinator and medicinal)
Rough Bugleweed (Small tubers are great raw or in stir fries)
Wild Mint (Condiment crop, tea plant and medicinal)
Wild Bergamot (Condiment crop, tea plant, pollinator and medicinal)
Spike or Mountain Goldenrod (Small enough for container gardening, tea plant, pollinator and medicinal)
Giant Hyssop (Condiment crop, tea plant, pollinator and medicinal)
Try your hand at growing from seed or if time and patience aren’t your thing, you can always purchase already started bedding outs from growers like us or one in your area. Many are adapting their businesses to accommodate reduced numbers at a time on site, online ordering and parking lot or doorstep delivery during the Covid-19 outbreak so that you can still get your gardening supplies and food sources safely (Medieval Manor Gardens is offering online ordering and doorstep delivery to Parkland County and the Edmonton areas at this time).
Don’t despair and know that no matter your situation, anyone can grow big things in small spaces !