Urban and residential gardening can be intimidating, due to the lack of space available in which to plant. I have run into the same problem where I live in Michigan. I have planted only a few garden vegetables in the past because of lack of space, not realizing how many planting options exist to harvest plenty from a single square foot. Space saving concepts such as succession planting, intercropping, and vertical gardening are just a few of the options I’ve learned about while working at Wellfield.
Vegetable gardening has gone into full swing here at Wellfield, where we just sowed our first vegetable seeds indoors. If you are familiar with the Gardens, you know we don’t have unlimited space in which to plant our vegetables (like the picture above shows, with our Sensory Garden in full bloom), so knowing about these space saving alternatives has been key to our success.
Succession planting is a useful way to get more daily use out of your garden. A lot of gardeners plant all of their vegetables at one time, which results in one massive harvest. For a farmer, this is ideal, but for a family, it can be a burden. The sudden influx of produce either has to be used, preserved, given away, or wasted. With succession planting, a steady, usable amount of food is produced throughout the growing season. It ends up being less waste, and the labor of planting and harvesting is spread out.
Wellfield staff utilize intercropping, which is the idea that it is possible to plant different types of crops close together. With careful planning, plants can be planted in non-competitive, and often mutually beneficial, ways. Plants with differing root depths share the same soil locations, allowing everyone to play nicely, and using one plant to benefit another one. An example of intercropping is planting a large, sun loving plant next to a shorter, shade loving plant. Different crops planted together save space and also tend to have lower pest and disease issues.
Using shelves, climbing plants, and espalier are great ways to save room in smaller yards. Shelves or steps can hold potted herbs or vegetables in an area that has no soil to even plant in. This is a great way to grow a small garden, even if all you have is an apartment balcony. Vines and other climbing plants are another space saver, as long as vertical space is available. A convenient solution is to plant them on already existing fences, netting, or lattices. Espalier, and its variants, are more complicated, but rewarding space savers. Fruit trees are pruned and trained into a flat shape against a fence or a wall. Growing fruit trees in this way will give them a two dimensional shape and take up far less space.
Wellfield staff utilize all these practices in some capacity, and I think you can see the results work! The Children’s Garden vegetable patch is an example of square foot gardening, as well as some of the concepts discussed above. There are also apples and pears being grown as a fence in the Sensory Garden. All of these design/growing techniques save space and grow more food with smaller space. I will definitely be trying these out this coming spring, and I hope you do too!
Cody Hoff, Lead Horticulturist
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