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  • Writer's pictureToni Kenyon

Vegetable Gardening in a Small Space

Small garden space with herbs, fruit & vegetables
Herbs, fruit & vegetables sharing the same space

A friend said to me recently, "I read all your posts and I love the photographs of your garden, but I could never do what you're doing because I'm renting."

Now, I want to put the record straight--right now. I haven't always owned my own property and there was a time when I was renting--but that didn't stop me growing my own vegetables, fruit and salad herbs.

In fact, we have a wonderful Feijoa tree in the back of our garden that's affectionately known to us all as "The Tigger Tree." Tigger was my son's eccentric cat. When he headed for the Rainbow Bridge, we were living in a rental property, so we buried Tigger in a large pot and planted a Feijoa tree on top of him.

"Tigger" moved houses with us many times before he came to his final resting place. The Tigger Tree continues to provide us with large amount of juicy feijoa's.

In fact, along with Tigger we moved a mandarin tree, a lemon tree, an assortment of perennial herbs, planter boxes of salad greens and a worm farm many times.

What I'm saying is that renting a property is no barrier to growing your own wonderful salads, herbs, fruit trees and vegetables.

Carrots, chard & broccoli in small garden bed
Tight quarters in small garden beds

I fed the family fresh salads, fruit, root vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, capsicums etc., from half wine barrels, assorted large plastic tubs and pots and planter boxes that we picked up and moved every time we moved on.

All of the principles that I engage in while gardening 'in the ground' (or above the ground if that's how you think of raised beds) I engaged in whilst gardening in small tubs.

I had my worm farm, so the plants were fed copious amounts of worm tea and castings, I didn't have a compost bin, but I cut up large pieces of leaves and simply 'dropped' them on the top of the soil in the pots. Carrot tops and large cabbage leaves all make great 'litter' to put on top of the soil to keep in moisture.

The most difficult part of growing in small spaces in my climate is keeping the moisture in the pots. I found that by putting lots of pots together, I created a small micro-climate and that helped to reduce water loss. It also created a fantastic micro-climate for slugs and snails, which made them easy to find and remove.

What vegetables grow well in small spaces

Many people will tell you that there are lots of things that you can't grow in a small space (tell that to Bonsai lovers!) but I disagree.

You might not get a huge crop, of some root crops (and cabbages!) might not grow to full size, but you'll still get a good crop of just about anything.

I continue to grow asparagus in a large black pot. I started these crowns from seed and they have produce asparagus spears for many summers now. I just feed and mulch them well and allow the crowns to go to ferns at the end of each season.

How to start a small vegetable garden

Like growing herbs in pots--it's pretty much the same principle only you need to make sure that you have good soil/potting mix to start with because most vegetables are hungry. A depleted garden soil will simply compact and form a hard bed that vegetable roots cannot penetrate.

There will likely also likely be deficiencies in garden soil and not enough 'air space' so the soil will hold too much water and your vegetables will 'drown' without good air space in the soil.

Whatever container you use, make sure it has good drainage holes in the bottom, you don't want your plants to drown in heavy rain either.

If you're starting out, a good vegetable/container plant mix does away with the guess work. If you live in a place that has hot, dry summers, then you will also want to look at adding a wetting agent to help hold extra water in the soil.

It's much easier to continue on amending your soil later if you're going to grow for more than one season, as I have previously done. Just amend your soil after each successive crop with a top dressing of good compost and continue to cover the soil with all manner of mulch. If you prefer to buy in your mulch, then pea straw is always a great (and pretty looking) addition to your vegetable pots.

Vegetable & fruit tree growing in a wine barrel

Half wine barrels are large enough to treat as small garden beds.

I have grown citrus in half wine barrels and planted herbs and salad greens around the base of the plants without any problems.

Citrus are grown in terracotta pots in many parts of Europe. I find terracotta difficult where I live (especially for vegetables and salad greens) because the pots dry out far too quickly in summer. Fruit trees can stand a bit of a drought, but salad greens cannot. They will quickly bolt to seed.

Citrus in terracotta pot
Citrus in terracotta pot.

Citrus are gross feeders (need a lot of food to stay productive) so in my half wine barrels, the greens around them grew quickly because of the extra food in the containers.

As long as you continue to feed your fruit trees in containers, they will happily grow for you and will produce an abundance of fruit. If the trees become stressed from lack of nutrients, or lack of water, then they may succumb to insect pests. Keep them well watered and well fed and you won't have any problems.

Cucumber with chard and onions in a small garden bed
Cucumber with chard and onions

Alternatively, you can skip the large fruit tree and simply plant out your barrel with an assortment of vegetables.

Put something tall in the middle, like a sprouting broccoli plant, or a tomato or bean teepee then plant small greens such as lettuce, cut and come again Asian greens or mini cabbages or cauliflower. Use underground soil space by growing carrots or onions and trail a cucumber over the side. Fill in any gaps with fast growing turnips or radish and you'll be amazed how much you can crop out of your tiny space.

Give it a go. Plant what you can, where you can and you'll soon have an abundance of fresh greens and vegetables that can move with you at any stage if you have to move on.

Love & Lettuce,

Toni x

Check out my Gardening in Pots storefront. I prefer to shop locally and sustainably, but I understand that can be a difficult balance in today's world.

Gardening in pots storefront

I'm also keen for you to support your local community and its suppliers, if you simply browse the list for ideas and find something you like that I recommend--that's fantastic. You might like to buy me a coffee instead of purchasing from the store.


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