I am looking forward to speaking at the Cowichan Valley Garden Club Flower Show & Plant Sale, Saturday May 10, 10 – 2:00 p.m. Duncan United Church, 246 Ingram St.
It’s the little things that make a big difference. Many people are of the belief that in order to grow your own food a large open space of rich fertile soil is required. The advent of many new developments of dwarf fruit trees and shrubs and exciting vegetables are perfectly suited for an unused tub or half barrel. In fact the way to success with the edible landscape is to go small regardless of the size of the garden space.
A small space means something different to every person. Years ago I experimented with changing my method of gardening on the open ground to testing with three raised beds in the vegetable plot. I soon discovered that the raised beds were far more productive and easier to maintain than toiling in the ground. It was at this time where the hot crops such as peppers and tomatoes also found a home in containers tucked in close to a sunny warm sheltered wall that retains heat during the day and, more important, at night. Growing vertical makes use of space that allows for those rambling crops to find the light and conserve valuable surface space. Beans, peas and small squash varieties are more than happy to climb and reward you with clean tasty vegetables.
The biggest concern when planting an edible garden is how to make best use of every inch. We want to fit in our vegetables, herbs, berries and fruits and be able to enjoy viewing them from an important window in the home. The edible garden is meant to be savoured for its visual appeal as well as its practical use.
Small Garden Basics Small spaces present their own unique set of challenges. This means that some creative thinking might need to take place. Fruit and vegetables require sunlight in order to grow, produce flowers and fruit. Generally six to eight hours of direct light is needed. Evaluate the garden space to determine if the area will receive ample light all through the gardening season of the crop you plan to grow. Remember that the light hours start to diminish after June 21 when hot crops necessitate direct light to produce the energy for fruit production. A simple way to retain high light levels is to place your containers on rolling casters in order to move the plants to receive valuable light hours. A moveable garden can also find shelter close to a building wall during inclement weather. Fruit production need not be only for the open garden space. Espaliered fruit trees, deciduous vines and grapes are perfectly content to grow along a south facing wall in a large container.
Look around your home for other opportunities to grow food. All too often the side yard is an unused space that is ideal for small raised beds. A raised bed should always be accessible without having to ever step on the soil inside the raised garden. Compaction is one of the most limiting factors of root growth and healthy plants. Therefore the raised bed should stay within 1.2M (4ft). The length of the raised area is not as important as the width.
Everyone wants to have the best results when growing plants. Some plants seem to be more productive and are better suited for the small garden area:
Plant mesclun salad and stir-fry mixes; they produce plenty in a short time.
Choose plants that produce over a long period of time, such as chard, kale and tomatoes. Indeterminate tomato varieties produce more fruit over a longer period.
Plant pole beans, and vining cucumbers, which are more productive than bush types.
Choose day-neutral strawberries that bear from early summer through fall in smaller batches.
Include plants that are in and out of the garden quickly such as radishes, lettuce, arugula and green onions.
There is always time to start to grow something edible in our mild gardening climate. The joy of watching your plants produce delicious food is only exceeded by harvesting and tasting the results of your care and attention. Big tastes only require a small space.
Jeff de Jong is a horticulturist and landscape designer. He is the host of Gardening 101 on CFAX 1070 AM