I have been gardening for about six years and, up until a few months ago, I was living in a small one-bedroom apartment with my fiancé and our small dog. I’d like to think I’ve become a bit of an expert on growing food in small spaces during that time. My motto is and continues to be “no matter where you live, everyone can grow something.” Growing my own food has not only helped me reduce my carbon footprint, but it’s also helped me reduce my grocery bills. I also love feeling a little more self-sufficient and not having to be dependent on the grocery store. Every day, at least once a day, I eat something that I have grown and there is no better feeling than that.
Most people I know do not have land or even a backyard. My friends live in apartments and I’m a bona fide city dweller, with no plans to leave. But, I’m also passionate about growing as much food as I can, maximizing production, and showing others that there is so much potential for gardening no matter where you live. Small patios, balconies, or just a window that gets a lot of sun – these are all amazing opportunities to grow food. While this may not seem like a lot of space, there’s actually a surprising amount of food you can grow in a small space.
As someone who grows a lot of food in a small space on my apartment patio, I’ve been trying to sum up just how I make that happen. Here are my top 5 tips for growing food in small spaces.
Pots, Planters, and Grow Bags
Container gardening may seem like an obvious choice but many people assume pots and planters are meant only for flowers or think that pots are too small for vegetables. I’m here to tell you to think outside the box. I grow herbs in window boxes, lettuces in pots, and large plants like tomatoes in twenty-gallon cloth bags right outside my door. I’m a huge fan of fabric pots and I still use mine to grow large tomatoes every summer even though I have room for a raised bed. This year I’m also growing eggplant in a window planter and it is thriving.
Take advantage of vertical space. Going vertical immediately increases the amount of potential growing space. Trellises, cages, and bamboo sticks are great ways to increase vertical space. These help support large vining plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, runner beans, and even squash. I already mentioned that I have window boxes. They have allowed me to increase my vertical space by growing not just in the ground but above ground as well. I have grown lettuces, strawberries, onions, and herbs in these boxes. You could even grow plants as large as chilis and bush beans. Stacking-pot planters are another great option for growing food in small spaces.
Whenever someone asks me what’s the one thing they should grow, I always tell them to grow herbs. Not only were herbs the first thing I grew, but they were also the gateway plants that got me obsessed with gardening. Once I started growing them, I found that I actually used so many more fresh herbs in my cooking. Herbs are also the best bang for your buck. Buying fresh herbs can get expensive. Whenever I would go to the store to buy fresh herbs, some of them always went to waste because I would never be able to use all of them at one time. Now that they grow outside my front door, I can use a little here, and a little there. Fresh herbs are also high in polyphenols, antioxidants that are amazing for your immune system. Not only are homegrown herbs great for your wallet, but they are also great for your health. I also grow a large variety of herbs I can’t get in the store such as purple basil, Thai basil, lemon balm, and different varieties of mint.
One Seed, Many Harvests
Maximize food production with plants that will give you multiple harvests. For example, I grow tomatoes, chilis, and lettuces because one plant gives me a ton of produce (one seed, many harvests). I mostly avoid growing things like radishes, carrots, and beets because one seed only gives me one harvest. This way I am getting as much food as I can out of a small space. One squash plant, such as zucchini, will give you pounds and pounds of fresh summer squash all summer. One sun gold tomato plant will put out tons of delicious cherry tomatoes.
Grow Dwarf Varieties
This is probably my favorite tip because it opens the door to so many possibilities. I used to think I wouldn’t have room for things like beans and tomatoes until I discovered that were varieties called “dwarf” plants, a.k.a. varieties that stay small. Dwarf plants were bred to not get massive. For example, I am growing a tomato variety called “patio”. This cute little guy can grow in a small pot and not take up much space at all and will only grow to be two feet tall rather than eight feet tall. It also won’t need any trellising. I’ve also grown a delicious pea called Tom Thumb. This pea variety is highly productive and can be grown in a terracotta pot. Other crops that come in small varieties are beans, cucumbers, eggplant, and squash.
I hope you’ll try these tips for growing food in small spaces. Whether you have a small balcony or just a place for a couple of pots, everyone can grow something.