Despite all of these benefits, I know many people who would say that they don’t have the time or the space to do a garden. It is understandable; some of us work long hours or simply live in a small space such as an apartment. If you fall into one, or both, of these categories then I would like to challenge you. It may be easier than you think and I can use myself as an example. My wife and I have a large garden now, but that wasn’t always the case. My first garden goes back to when I was living in an apartment and working 12 to 14 hours a day. I didn’t have a lot of time or space but I found a way to make it work. I was able to do it by taking advantage of the space I did have (a small patio) and seeking low maintenance plans that wouldn’t require a lot of space. I’ll talk about our current big garden next week, but this week I want to talk about doing a smaller garden with limited time and space. I find one of the most important decisions is what plants you are going to grow.
Cherry tomatoes are probably one of the best plants you can have for a small garden. They will easily fit in a planter and will produce in mass and with consistency. One plant will likely provide more tomatoes then you will need. I have also found that they will produce throughout most of the growing season. Cherry tomatoes plants are also pretty low maintenance. You may need to prune them from time to time, but as long as you are harvesting from them regularly they should grow fine on their own. They also have a tendency of coming back the next year. I have actually been using the offspring of the same plant I got some four years ago. So what can you do with cherry tomatoes? Well you can just snack on them for one. Bear in mind that this is coming from someone that usually does not like eating tomatoes straight. Homegrown cherry tomatoes are much sweeter then anything you will get in the store or at a restaurant. You can also use them in salads, pasta, salsa… or whatever else you can think of.
Peppers, particularly jalapeños, are another great low maintenance plant. They are perfect for warm weather and tend to produce in mass once they get going. One thing to keep in mind about peppers is that as you harvest you start getting bigger peppers and in greater quantity. You may even want to pick the early growers before they are finished growing just to get things moving. Other low maintenance plants can include strawberry’s, lettuce (these grow pretty fast), greens (also grow fast), onions, garlic and some peas (some can get out of hand; I wouldn’t do more than one plant if you have limited space/time). You can even create your own herb garden with various herbs such as rosemary, dill, oregano, cilantro and mint (I would grow these in pots inside; you can put them outside to get sun but don’t leave them in the heat or cold).
I would recommend starting off small, even just having a cherry tomato or a jalapeño plant is a good start. If you overdo it then you are going to waste time, money and probably get frustrated. I am also an example of that. In my first garden, I also tried cucumber and squash. I underestimated how much space these needed, they ended up taking over other plants and in the end, and they didn’t produce a thing. I would recommend only trying squash and cucumber if you can plant them in the ground and give them plenty of room to grow. Other plants that need space include watermelon, some kinds of peas (the ones that like to vine like green beans and snap peas) and regular tomatoes. If you keep it simple then you will find that keeping the garden will probably require little time from you. Just keep it watered, watch for weeds (if they are in planters then this will be less of a problem) and make sure to prune off anything that looks dead.
Next, I want to talk about using pots for your garden. This is probably your only option if you live in an apartment or you don’t want to dig up your yard. There are befits to using these; you don’t have to worry about weeds as much and you can move the plants around as you wish. You just need to make sure that your plants are getting the nutrients they need. You may or may not need to add plant food periodically. We use broken up eggshells and old coffee grounds on our plants and it seems to work fine. When buying planters avoid places like Home Depot, they are rip off. However, something I found to work really well was the $5 buckets they have at Lowes and Home Depot. I found places like Big Lots or discount stores offer planters for a more decent price. You can also go to Wal-Mart and get cheap plastic containers, just be careful, as these tend to break down in the sun. With all of these, you will probably want to drill some holes near the bottom so excess water can drain out. Otherwise, it will build up and it can rot the roots or mold will form. The one big problem with planters is that they will likely limit the plants growth, no matter how much you take care of the plant.
Finally, I want to briefly talk about the choice of using seeds or pre-grown plants. It is really up to you, pre grown is nice because you will get the yield faster but seeds are cheaper. You also get a whole pack of seeds that you can use throughout the season (and even into the next). If a plant doesn’t make it, you can try again at no extra cost. We usually use seeds; I think they are more satisfying. On the other hand, if you are limited on time then it may be easier to get the plant already grown.
Below are some resources that go into a bit more detail then I did. There is one down there, which talks about cold weather climates that may be more useful to some not from California or in warm weather climates. My goal here was to encourage some of you to give gardening a go, even if you may think you don’t have enough time. There are other things to consider when starting a garden such as Hybrid seeds versus heirloom seeds; my Wife will address these things in an upcoming post. Next week, I will talk about how we expanded our garden after moving into a house with plenty of room.
- 14 Simple Gardening Tips and Tricks HGTV: http://www.hgtv.com/gardening/14-simple-gardening-tips-and-tricks/index.html
- The National Gardening Association: http://www.garden.org/
- Gardening: Getting Started: http://www.modernalternativemama.com/blog/2011/4/2/gardening-getting-started.html
- Box Gardening How-To: http://www.modernalternativemama.com/blog/2011/5/17/box-gardening-how-to.html#.U9APofldV7s
- Growing a Bountiful Garden in Cold Climates: http://www.modernalternativemama.com/blog/2014/05/06/growing-a-bountiful-garden-in-cold-climates/#.U9APxfldV7s
- Starting a Small-Space Vegetable Garden: http://www.chicagobotanic.org/plantinfo/starting_small_space_vegetable_garden