If you are like me and have little space to garden, but really want to try your hand at it, I may have some solutions.
I have virtually no space to garden at home because my postage stamp yard is surrounded by shade trees. I am, thus, left with a partially sunny 3’x30′ strip (5-6 hours of sun) next to my driveway, not ideal. While this makes for a good starting patch, it is not enough space. After doing some research, I decided to go up and out!
Vertical gardening and container gardening can maximize space or provide space where there is none, normally with little to no weeding. This is especially helpful if you live in an apartment, condo or any place offering limited space, such as balcony or patio. Growing up also makes harvesting easier because you do not have to stoop. What is the best part about going vertical? Getting creative and having fun with it. You may be surprised where you can find space, and how economical it can be to send your garden upward. Vertical gardens and container gardens can be made from virtually anything! There may be items lying around the house, or locally sourced you can up cycle. Feel free to repurpose things like: plastic jugs, containers, old pallets or that old toilet. Really, anything you can put soil in will work.
I remedied my space constraints by using two 55-gallon plastic drums I obtained at no cost through my wife’s work. I stuffed fifty plus plants in each barrel, and they only took up five to six feet of space, depending on what was planted. I added a composting tube in the middle of the barrels so I could compost in my limited space as well! The barrels were propped up on cinder blocks and with a catch tray underneath, reclaiming container runoff so as to not waste any water. I can also access my compost clean out (Made from 4″ PVC), since the barrels are off the ground.
There are numerous variations to this design, some with and without composters and also some that use a wicking self-watering system. With a quick Google search or some YouTube wandering, you can find a plethora of Do-It-Yourself vertical gardening designs with detailed instructions. Many YouTube sources are not based in science, but the results speak for themselves.
The planted barrels were great space maximizers. However, I learned my barrel set up did not work for everything I wanted to grow, and I wanted to grow lots of different crops. I hear a lot of people say, “I want to garden, but I have a brown thumb.” Nonsense! There is no such thing as a brown thumb.
When planting anything, I learned, you just need a little preplanning. I needed to think about the plant’s future needs. How much root zone do they demand? What was the mature dimension above ground for a plant? Was I growing a big bulky plant needing additional artificial support? For example, I used 5 gallon buckets, drilled with drainage holes, to grow tomatoes and peppers on my driveway. I could easily move the buckets, temporarily or permanently, to maximize sun exposure. I could also put tomato cages in them with no issue. I learned to not place a tomato plant in a small container, expecting it to produce many tomatoes. I would not use a container smaller than 5-10 gallons. If you give the plant it’s space and do not over water or over fertilize, you will be surprised at the shade of green upon your thumb!
Before you set off on your garden quest, I highly recommend and encourage organic gardening techniques. I avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides at all costs! While they seem to perform well, just remember that you will likely be putting this in your or someone else’s body. I do strongly encourage you to do the research on anything you feed or put on your plants.
Gardening is wonderful for the soul and gives us a lot more respect for our food and the work that goes into it. Remember to have fun and get creative! Ready, set, grow!
Patrick Weaver, Wellfield Botanic Gardens Lead Horticulturist