How to Grow Food in Small Spaces
Do you want to grow more of your own food? Is your space limited? Maybe you’d like to take control over what chemicals are used to grow the vegetables, herbs, and fruits that you eat or you wish to know how your meat and eggs are raised. We are continually faced with increasing prices at the grocery store and worrisome news about food recalls and toxic pesticides. There are many reasons for wanting to provide fresh food for your table but many people live in urban and suburban areas and have little space for a garden or livestock.
However, there are many ways that you can increase your food security and self-reliance even in small spaces. Over the years I’ve lived and gardened in urban and suburban homes and even kept rabbits for meat. So I know that it is possible and I want to help you find ways to raise food for your family, too.
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If you have a balcony, patio, deck, or rooftop where you can fit some containers, then you can grow vegetables, herbs, and maybe even some fruit. Make sure that you don’t overload the structure with more weight than it can handle. Potted plants can get pretty heavy. Use a lightweight pot and fill it with a potting mixture that contains silica gel to absorb and hold moisture until plants need it. Grow bags are very lightweight and easy to store over winter.
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Try planing some flowers that bloom all season long to attract beneficial insects, along with your favorite herbs and vegetables. Zinnias and lantana are great choices. Strawberries grow very well in containers and some work well in hanging baskets. Try a strawberry tower or strawberry pot to raise some of these delicious berries.
Dwarf blueberry bushes and fruit trees may also be raised in large pots. Use foam pots that are lightweight and help insulate the roots from extreme temperatures. Try growing dwarf citrus trees, such as lemons and limes on your patio and place them inside next to a sunny window for the winter.
Plant Pretty Vegetables and Fruits
Some vegetables have very attractive leaves and work very well in decorative landscaping. Okra has lovely flowers followed by their interesting seed pod, the part that we harvest and eat. Red leafed lettuce, chard, beets, and hot peppers all look very nice mixed into a flower bed in the front yard or your potted plants.
Fruiting shrubs such as currants, gooseberry, and blueberries make a great alternative to foundation plants and decorative landscaping. Espaliered fruit trees are very attractive, especially when they are laden with fruit. Serviceberry trees are great for urban areas because they can handle pollution, drought, and limited room for root growth. They also have lovely white flowers in spring and purple berries that are edible and sought after by birds.
Be creative when planning your bedding plants and use edible flowers, purple basil, chives, sage, and patio tomatoes for their visual interest and food value. Most herbs flower and provide nectar for bees and other insects, in addition to flavoring your food with their leaves.
Some edible flowers that you might enjoy include nasturtiums, violets, roses, purple coneflower, calendula, squash blossoms, and daylilies. These make a lovely addition to a garden and the flowers may be added to a tossed salad or stir fry.
Vertical Gardening – Growing Up
Some plants can be grown up a trellis, string, or netting instead of allowing them to ramble all over your garden. Pole beans, cucumbers, peas, pumpkins, and squash are all examples of vegetables you can grow vertically. For vines with larger fruit, use a sling to support their weight as the season progresses.
Grapevines are a great plant for growing fruit vertically. They naturally grow up a fence or arbor and look quite attractive. As long as they have full sun and proper pruning you can grow delicious grapes in small spaces. Hardy kiwi is another option for raising fruit on a trellis. However, they do take time to mature and bear fruit.
One of my favorite pole beans is the scarlet runner bean. They have pretty red flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds, followed by edible beans. Peas also have white or lavender flowers and delicious pods. Try growing a snow pea variety and pick them regularly to keep them in good production. You can also eat the pea shoots for a very quick harvest and tasty addition to salads and stir-fries.
There are many ideas for increasing your growing space by planting into wall gardens, hanging baskets, and pots secured to walls and railing. These are especially helpful in urban areas where space is at a premium. Herbs and greens are great choices for planting in these alternative spaces. Use your imagination and look for walls that might work as a vertical garden space.
Grow Food in the Shade
Maybe you have space for a garden but it’s shady. There are some plants that do quite well with less sun so you might be able to grow some veggies after all. Some great plants to raise in areas with less sun include lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, collards, and other greens. Peas like a bit of shade when the weather warms up and so do beets, turnips, and rutabagas.
Most vegetable plants like eight hours of sun a day or more, but many of them will produce some food for you with five to seven hours of sun so experiment with different crops to see what works well for your property.
Make the Most of Your Garden Space
When you run out of room to grow, there are a few tips to help you make the most of what you have. Here are some ideas to grow more food in your available space:
- Grow the most productive plants possible
- Use plants that do double duty (flowers and fruit or decorative and tasty, for example)
- Install a raised bed garden
- Use square foot gardening techniques
- Plant in succession for a longer harvest
- Increase soil fertility for better harvests
- Plant the foods you love the most
- Raise food that costs more at the store or is highly sprayed
- Plant heat-loving veggies between pavers
- Interplant herbs, vegetables, flowers, and fruits to use available space to the fullest advantage
- Plant in containers, window boxes, hanging baskets, and wall planters
- Grow vertically on fences, arbors, or a trellis
- Grow sprouts and microgreens indoors
- Raise potted herbs in a sunny window
- Raise food on a sunny rooftop
Grow Food with Livestock
With many urban areas allowing chickens these days, it’s entirely possible that you could keep some laying hens or ‘micro-livestock’ in a small space. Keeping bees for honey, vermicomposting, raising quail or rabbits are all potential projects for urban and suburban homesteaders. In some areas, you may even be able to raise Nigerian Dwarf goats for milk!
Vermicomposting, or worm farming, is a great way to compost your kitchen waste and make worm castings to improve the soil in your garden or container plants. Some people even feed the worms to their chickens. Vermiculture is great for reducing waste and creating your own fertilizer for plants.
Beekeeping increases the pollination and production of your food plants. Plus those busy bees can create plenty of honey to share with your family. Some folks are using Top Bar Hives for a more natural approach and easier maintenance of the hive. Beehives take very little space and some people are even raising bees on balconies and rooftops in the heart of major urban areas.
Backyard chickens are popular and can provide a few eggs for your breakfast. They don’t need a lot of space and their food needs are not great. If you can bring yourself to harvest the hens when they are too old to lay eggs, you’ll have stewing hens too.
For several years I raised and processed meat rabbits on a suburban homestead. This is a great way to provide meat for your table. One doe can produce six to eight litters of kits each year. Some rabbit breeds also produce fiber for spinning yarn or felting. This might not be for everyone and you’ll want to double-check to see what is allowed in your area before you start. If you are vegetarian or vegan, try raising your own protein with beans, peas, or lentils for drying and storing.
For those who wish to raise their own dairy animals, the best option in a small space are Nigerian Dwarf goats. These cute animals may not work out unless you have fewer restriction and some space for a pasture and housing. Don’t try to keep just one because they are herd animals and will be lonely on their own. You’ll need to have space for the offspring or sell them each year. Just be aware that goats need more care than some other livestock and do your research before taking the goat plunge!
You Can Grow Food!
With the uncertain times our world is facing, I feel that raising some of our own food is not only possible but necessary for our food security. I’ve always had an interest in self-reliance and gardening. Even before the term modern homesteading was coined, I was raising food in small urban plots, turning my suburban yard into a huge garden, or growing vegetables in a community garden.
These experiences helped prepare me for difficult times. Other skills that I’ve developed over the years include foraging for free food, processing my own chickens, and preserving food for winter. I hope you will take some time to learn the skills that make sense for you, too!