Not having a big yard may not be a barrier to having a bit of a garden. If you’ve been wondering about all this home grown stuff, but don’t have a yard, you can still have a play. (My theory is that gardeners are mostly people who never grew out of playing with mud pies.)
There are several options available for those who’d like to grow some salad greens and veggies for the table. If you don’t have porch space available, you have the option of old fashioned window boxes or hanging baskets.
Green technology sites love to feature stories about incredible solar powered gardens green walls and upside down plant pods, but humans have been growing green things in small spaces for thousands of years. Grabbing an old bike basket from the local recycle and fitting it under the window sill will give you a frame for a couple of nice size pots that can provide lettuce or other greens for as long as it gets a few hours of sunlight every day.
Wood can be used, though a few years of being damp under plant pots will have it rotting. They can either be replaced or source something more durable for the base of the box. The pots do need to drain or the plants turn yellow and rot.
In addition to window boxes, pots and hanging baskets are another great way to maximise the use of available space in small areas. Some pots come on stands and frames that will fix to walls. Hanging baskets can attach to walls or overhead hooks.
Should you have access to a porch or roof that is in the sun, there’s an enormous array of pots, troughs and hangers available now for those spaces. Should you not wish to spend lots of money on decorative resin trough planters, there are many items that can be repurposed to serve as plant pots. An old garbage can will be a fantastic pot. All it needs is a couple of holes in the base for excess water to drain.
How to choose pots and plants.
A pot for growing veggies needs to be big enough to support the plant’s root system. For small bushy things like lettuce and rocket, you could get away with a trough/pots 6 inches or so deep. For potatoes or tomatoes a much larger pot is necessary. Have a look at the recommendations for each type of vegetable. If broad beans or full size tomatoes want to be planted 30cm (12 inches) or more apart and in rows 2 feet apart, you know you’ll need a medium to large garbage can to grow them in, to get maximum production.
As a basic guide, veggies need a good 8 hours of sunlight to grow well. There are plenty of exceptions to this, though if your porch faces away from the sun and your back wall gets 6 hours of morning light, then grow ivy on the porch and put your lettuce in wall hangers on the back wall.
In the post about starting new veggie beds, there are links to some sites that can help you find your local “heat zone” and “cold zone”. This is useful to know when you’re choosing what to plant in which season. Heat is the major killer of new plants. Choosing plants that will cope with the heat you do or don’t get in summer will add to your chances of success. Likewise, plant things that can tolerate the cold in winter. Planters on a wall or under the eaves will be more protected than garden beds so you can fudge those rules a little in those cases. Do keep in mind that planters on brick walls in full sun will get very hot and dry out very quickly.
Plant options? Best bet is salad greens. Lettuce, spinach, kale and rocket can tolerate some shade and quite like cold. In summer it’s even better to keep them in dappled shade so they don’t bolt straight to seed and you get a chance to eat them. There are quite a few lovely varieties of lettuce around now. Cos, mignonette and oak leaf lettuce come in green, red or bronze. Lettuce and kale are fairly resilient plants so if you haven’t gardened before and would like to add some organic greens to your meals, this is a great place to start.
If you have a space that gets morning sun most of the year, you might want to try growing some kitchen herbs. Many herbs are really robust plants that can tolerate heat and cold. Rosemary, thyme, sage and lemon verbena will grow year round. Parsley and basil will grow every summer and basil particularly likes the heat.
Strawberries and cherry tomatoes can be grown in hanging baskets or pots. Potatoes are a real trend at the moment too. People are experimenting with growing potatoes in sacks of dirt on balconies. I’m not completely convinced of the efficiency of growing root veggies in really small spaces, unless you’re in a position to have many bags and pots of dirt sitting in every available sunny space. Having that much dirt around will help insulate your home and will produce useable organic food for you. The trade off is the cost/weight of the dirt and providing water. If you have rainwater catchment, you’ll be right. If not, keep an eye on it and start off bit by bit to see what works for you.
Another option is to put in a couple of companion plants, like daisies or marigolds, that will draw helpful bugs into your little garden and help keep pests down.
Vegetables can be bought either as seedlings or seeds for a pot garden. Have a look around and see if there’s a “Seed Savers” or seed exchange in your area. If there is, you’ll be able to source good quality organic seeds and a wealth of relevant local information and expertise from the members.
Growing plants in pots is not hard to do and can be very rewarding. Have a look around your home and keep an eye out for things that can be repurposed/recycled as pots… And see where you go from there.