It is possible to grow a great number of wonderful vegetables in a very small amount of space. The secret is to grow up and up. Some sort of support is required such as a teepee or trellis or strings up a fence. Not too many bush beans can be grown in a little plot 40 by 40 inches, but a wonderful supply of pole beans can be grown in that much space and picked for a month or so. Yellow, green and purple beans in a number of types can be planted and you can enjoy the flowers as well.
Peas are another popular vegetable that can grown in a tiny bit of space. The vines can be quite tall and will produce the most peas when planted early in the season as they prefer cool feet. Peas will germinate in March or April, so plant as soon as the soil can be worked. When your plants are a few inches tall, mulch over the ground if the weather turns hot. Ignore the spacing info on the envelope and plant them about 3 inches apart. There is a type of pea to suit every taste from the tall regular garden peas called Tall Telephone (5 feet) snow peas for stir fries (5 feet) and my favourite Sugar Snap peas which grow 6 feet tall. I have been growing sugar snaps for over 20 years, but if you are not familiar with these fantastic peas, they are now imported by the supermarkets.. Of course they won’t taste as good as those you grow yourself. You will be amazed at the number of peas that can be yours to snack on. Many of mine never get cooked.
You can skimp on space but you cannot skimp on soil quality. When growing intensively in a small space, your soil must be amended every year and be really fertile. Vegetables do not do well over tree roots so if you suspect you may have some greedy trees (and they are often quite a distance away) dig the area and dispose of the roots. They will grow back, but by then you will have reaped your crop.
Another vegetable that can be trained to grow up is cucumber. You will have to supply more support than for peas or beans, as cucumbers are heavier. They can be picked when small and tasty or if left on the vine, they need to be helped along in panty hose type bags tied to the support.
Tomatoes are everyone’s favourite veggie? fruit?…No matter…almost everyone can squeeze in a tomato plant somewhere. To maximize space, grow the indeterminate types as they will grow up in a cage or on a support, never stopping production or growth until frost. If you catch them just before frost, long branches can be chopped off and brought inside to ripen. This is especially easy with those sweet tasting little grape types. Pretty nifty to be eating your own tomatoes in December. Indeterminate tomatoes are sometimes called vining or staking tomatoes as opposed to bush tomatoes.
Peas, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers need all the sun they can get so don’t overlook containers which can be placed on brick or cement surfaces to maximize the available sun. A friend in an apartment has only one sunny corner on her balcony but every year she proudly shows off Sweet 100 tomatoes.
Would you like to pick your own zucchinis even if you do not have much sun? Well take heart. Zukes are such prolific producers in full sun that when they are grown in a little sun and a good bit of light, you will get a usable crop rather than a glut. For several years, I have grown two plants producing 8 to 10 zucchinis on top of a compost bin in quite a bit of shade. Start the seeds early and don’t promise any to relatives.
Of course plants grow best in full sunlight. However, some leafy crops such as lettuce, parsley, radishes, cabbage, mescaline salad mixtures, Chinese greens, onions and multipliers can tolerate more shade. Do consider growing one parsley in a container to bring inside. Winter lower light levels will slow it down some, but you can have fresh parsley all winter. When put outside in the spring, it will eventually send up a seed stalk as it a biennial. Put it on the compost heap and start again. Leafy plants are great in containers as they are then mobile and when the July heat comes, they can be moved into a more shaded area.
Consider ways you can grow your own fresh organic produce. If you don’t have a trellis or other support, make a bamboo stake teepee and wrap some cord around it. Wooden stakes or those steel rods they use for reinforcing concrete work really well. They come in 20 foot lengths but the supplier will cut them in half or thirds for you. They are great for tomatoes and with a roll of that green garden velcro as tie-ups you can have 6 foot tomato plants to show off to your friends and neighbours.
Don’t forget to go to the garden show this weekend at the Evinrude www.fortheloveofgardening.ca .