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Friday, May 2, 2014

Short on Space and Time? These Gardening Tips Are For You

Jessica Walliser
Hobby Farms Contributor

Short on Space and Time? These Gardening Strategies Are For You - Photo by Jessica Walliser (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo by Jessica Walliser

Sometimes small-space gardeners wanting to diversify what they grow need to looking for novel ways to expand their growing opportunities. I’ve gone through my own periods of trial-and-error over the years when it comes to gardening in my own backyard, and here are some space, time and money-saving tips you may be able to put to use.

1. Grow Lettuce To Go
One of the easiest crops to grow, lettuce is a cool-season crop that thrives in most parts of the country from the end of March until early July, when the long days and warm weather cause it to bolt (go to flower). Everyone can grow their own salad greens by simply filling a pot with decent potting soil and tossing in a few lettuce seeds from the local nursery.

I know people who grow lettuce in old plastic baby pools with drainage holes cut into the bottom. I’ve seen lettuce growing in upturned umbrellas, old bureau drawers, 5-gallon buckets and all sorts of other containers. As long as there is a drainage hole in the bottom, the container will work.

Lettuce will grow in full sun or full shade (though it prefers a few hours of sun each day), making it a good crop for everywhere from apartment balconies to window boxes. Water the pot when necessary, and harvest the greens by cutting them off with a scissors when needed. If you let the roots and the lowest inch or so of the plant remain intact, the plant will re-sprout and provide you with several harvests.

2. Potato Stacker
One of the easiest ways to grow lots of delicious spuds also happens to be one of the best. Cut the bottom out of a big plastic "beer" tub (the ones with the rope handles). Situate the tub on the soil in a place that gets at least six hours of full sun per day, and then fill the bottom 6 inches with a mixture of garden soil and compost. Place pieces of seed potatoes purchased from a local nursery on top of the soil, spaced about 6 inches apart. Be sure that each potato section has at least one "eye," the growing points that will sprout the new shoots. Cover the potato pieces with 6 more inches of the soil mixture.

As the plants grow, keep adding more and more soil on top of them until the whole tub is filled and the plants are growing out the top. Water the tub often throughout the summer. Eventually the plants will brown and die off. Two weeks after they do, lift the tub up by its handles and the soil and potatoes will come tumbling out.

3. Bagged Veggies
If you’re not only space-starved but also energy-starved, or if you can no longer manage the physical nature of gardening, try this trick. Purchase big, plastic bags of potting soil. But rather than dumping the soil into containers to grow your veggies, plant them right in the bag. Lay the bag out flat and cut two or three small circles on the top surface. Place the circles a good 8 to 12 inches apart, depending on the size of the bag and the eventual size of the veggies.  Then plant your veggies right into the holes.

If you’re growing heat-loving crops, like peppers, eggplants or beans, place the bags in full sun. If you're growing greens, like lettuce, kale, chard or spinach, keeping the bags on a partially shaded porch or patio works, too.  For large plants, like zucchini and cucumbers, plant only one or two per cubic foot bag of potting soil. Be sure to punch a few small holes on the bottom of the bag, too, to allow for drainage. To water your bag garden, insert the hose into a planting hole and allow it to run on a trickle for several minutes until the soil has been moistened.

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Short on Space and Time? These Gardening Tips Are For You

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Reader Comments
There are better tricks.

Potatoes need only 4 inches of soil and you don't need to start with soil. Buy a bag and leave it in the sun or even a cool, dry cabinet and wait for the potatoes to sprout.

Similar to potatoes are strawberry towers. Anything tall with holes in it can be used to grow strawberries; even large pipes or traffic signs poles.

Bagging veggies actually causes quite a mess as animals, wind, water, and even the plants displace soil. Plus, roots are strong enough to smash their way through plastic in 4-6 months, depending on the plant. If you're growing peppers or tomatoes int he bags, they'll want compost, not potting soil.

Lastly, vertical garden and companion plant. They're a great way to reduce both space and time, especially together. Many plants are beneficial when grown with other plants (most like onions and herbs, tomatoes and asparagus, lettuce and carrots, corn and beans, etc), so you'll get two crops of better and healthier plants. Vertical gardening saves space and it is easier to water or weed downward (most weeds don't grow up while many veggies do).
Jennifer, Berkeley, CA
Posted: 5/5/2014 9:19:00 AM
Thank you! Your suggestion on the potato just came in time. I started potatoes (cut out from sprouts) & they seem to be doing well in the 4" pot. But, the growth is now about two feet long. I think I'll stick them in my two spare whiskey barrels for the summer.

I'm indeed short on space in my backyard. Not area wise but sunny spot wise. Too many big oak trees (four) shading just about 80% of the area. Great during the heat of summer but leave me short on planting space.
Dante, Hyde Park, MA
Posted: 5/5/2014 9:04:57 AM
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