Yes, it’s cold outside, and yes, gardening season is weeks away. But isn’t it fun to plan? I’ve been reducing the size of my garden for the last few years and it’s quite a relief not to have the huge vegetable garden awaiting hours of work. So, let’s dream about gardening and think of ways to make the garden smaller but just as productive.

The great thing about vegetable gardening is that it doesn’t require expansive spaces. A small kitchen garden is cozy, inviting and can actually be quite productive, not to mention being a beautiful space to be in. A garden may be small in size, but it can be huge in impact and personal expression. The best part is that there is less maintenance in the way of weeding, mulching, fertilizing and watering so you spend less time working and more time enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Think vertically! Arbors and trellises allow you to grow plants upward, where they take up very little space. Adding height in a small space creates the illusion that the area is larger because the eye travels to take in the various levels. Grow vines on a trellis mounted on a wall or fence or in a container, use hanging baskets on a fence, or place an antique urn on a tall pedestal to give you a whole new level of garden.

Containers filled with vegetables are versatile elements of the small space garden, particularly because they can be moved around. This allows you to put together a great collection of vegetable plants and change them out according to season. When the lettuce is finished you can have a pot of tomatoes ready to take the spot in the sun.

The most effective small space gardening is done in raised beds. This allows you to control your soil as well as weeding and watering. The soil is also prepared deeply beneath the raised bed as well. The key with whichever methods you use is to loosen the soil one time and add plenty of compost. It takes some work to prepare the planting beds, but after that, there is no need to turn over or disturb the soil except to plant in it.

The beds can be simply mounded or they can be physically boxed, whatever your particular style dictates. Plants are spaced very closely, and even before one crop is finished, another is started in between the existing plants. Putting trellises either in the middle of beds or on the north ends will give you plenty of space to grow beans or cucumbers.

When choosing plants for the small-space garden, you need to remember to pick those that will give you the most for your effort. Try to select plants that will give you long-season production and that are fairly care-free. Starting place? Green beans, eggplant, tomatoes and bush cucumbers!

Kate Jerome, a Kenosha writer and teacher, holds a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and is the former Urban Farm director at Gateway Technical College. She is the owner of the consulting business Kate Jerome’s Garden to Kitchen. Her website is www.kjerome.com.

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