Growing food in small spaces
Downsizing to a small urban plot presents a mixed bag of challenges for gardeners keen to grow their own food. But, as the gardeners at Copper Crest have found, determined gardeners will always find a way and attention to detail can yield fantastic results.
Devote most of your precious sunny ground to growing what you most want to eat, but leave some space to experiment with something new.
Focus on nutrition.
Green leafy vegetables and salad greens are the most nutrient dense. And there is no waste - everything the plant grows above ground is something to eat.
Every sunny wall or fence is a potential place to grow food. Espalier a fruit tree or train a summer crop of tomatoes or climbing beans. Passionfruit is an option for a warm frost free position. As long as they have somewhere to scramble, clambering cucurbits like pumpkins and zucchini need not use up an entire garden bed.
Intercropping is a way of growing two or more different crops in the space that would usually produce one. So with careful timing plus a dash of opportunism, a given area will produce a higher total yield. Early in summer we can fill the spaces between slower crops (such as tomatoes and zucchini) with quick growing salad greens. Examples of intercropping are carrots with radishes, tomatoes with lettuces, corn with salad greens.
Larger vegetables like brassicas need plenty of space at maturity, but the spaces between them when young can be planted with a quick crop. One of the advantages of being an urban gardener is that a garden centre is never too far away to call in and pick up a punnet of seedlings to plug any spaces freed up as veges are harvested. Many vegetables can be eaten at a young stage, making room for the remaining veges to grow larger.
Many plants are both edible and ornamental. Think colourful cabbages and feathery fennel, edible flowers (such as calendula and borage) for salads and fruit trees for shelter and screening.
Mix it up.
When space is short there is no reason why you can’t grow flowers in the vege plot and vice versa.
Grow herbs for flavour.
Even if you decide not to grow veges, herbs are easy to grow and an easy away to add extra interest to the simplest of meals. And they look great in the garden too.
When growing crops close together, nutrients must be replenished constantly. Many of the gardeners at Copper Crest recommend sheep pellets as a way of boosting both soil substance and nutrients. For quick succession, regular feeding with liquid fertiliser is an easy way to keep up with the feeding demands of fast growing vege plants.
Robin Clegg with his espaliered plum tree at Copper Crest