Productive veg growing for small spaces
An allotment may not be high on the demands of many people for various reasons, family and work commitments for example may not afford the time to enjoy a plot. But having one’s own tiny veg garden at home could be the answer if you want to enjoy a small selection of fresh vegetables and salad crops that’ll taste far better than any comparable product you can buy, even in the smallest of spaces.
In just a few hours we recently created what is generally referred to as a square foot garden to grow individual varieties of vegetables in each 12 inch square space that our bed has been divided into. Using 6 inch wide timber and four corner posts we made a bed that measures 6 foot by 4 foot, though this could be adapted to fit any space you have available. The only main requisites are that it is located in a sunny position and filled with good quality compost.
The bed could be placed over an existing under-used bed, or grassed area. Wherever you decide to locate it, the ground should require little if any preparation. You could even place it over a hard surface, though deep rooted crops such as longer carrots will be restricted. To help overcome this to some extent would be to use 8 inch deep sides on the bed.
Once the bed is built and in position it needs to be filled with compost. Your plants will be hungry and require nutrients to feed them so look for the best your budget allows. All composts you buy will differ in texture and this will vary the amount you need. Fill the bed straight from the bag; in our photo we have used a brown cardboard underlying membrane, this is not absolutely necessary but it will help suppress any weed growth and retain moisture. Once the bed is filled it needs to be compressed, this will help plants to secure their roots. Simply walk on it or place a board on top to gain a more even firmness. This will reduce it considerably and you’ll need to top it up again, maybe twice. As rule of thumb, allow about 20 to 25 litres of compost per square foot. To help reduce the cost of filling the bed, you could use homemade compost or old spent mushroom compost will do equally as well.
We divided our bed into 12 inch squares for each vegetable to grow using string secured with screws at each end; this is our optical guide for growing each vegetable. So here’s the best bit, what can we plant? Let’s start at the back. So that your bed is not in shade for most of the day you could plant a runner bean in one square and a climbing French bean in another, even a single plant of each will provide rich pickings, perhaps add a couple of sweet peas in the next square. These will all need support with canes as they’ll grow up to 6 foot tall adding variety and attracting bees. Baby leeks should do well if placed into another square in the next row then lower growing crops in the rows towards the front so everything gains maximum sunlight. This could include beetroot, spring onions, radish, turnip, swede, single lettuce or try mixed salad leaves each with their own square. Even a courgette could go in one of the front corners, but you’ll need to keep an eye on this as it will spread and need to be trained to fall over the sides and trail away from the bed so it does not invade the other plants.
To prolong your cropping season it could be worth investing in a couple of six or twelve cell trays to pre-sow seeds and transplant as modules when one crop has finished. Use one tray to plant a different crop in each cell. For example, just one cell in a tray could accommodate five beetroot seeds, same with radish, or up to ten spring onions. When these are ready for transplanting, simply lift out of the cell, do not separate but plant as a clump, they’ll grow quite happily together. Many crops can be done this way. In fact, about the only seeds that do not take kindly to pre-sowing and transplanting are parsnips and carrots.
Your mini-veg garden will, with just minimal maintenance and careful watering, provide a fascinating selection of crops over the coming months. Possibly, the only crops not within the scope of your garden would be the larger brassicas, such as cabbages, sprouts etc.
We’ll keep you posted on how our square foot garden develops, and if you decide to have a go, please let us know how you get on. Good luck and have fun!
Bristol East Allotments Association.
Nicholas Lane, St. George, BS5 8TY
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0117-932-5852.