If you’re living in the city with minimal outdoor area, growing food successfully on a small scale and with a small budget is not as hard as you think. For a flourishing small garden you need to consider the basics of: garden position, required space, suitable growing medium, ideal plant selection and garden care. Peter Kearney, founder of www.cityfoodgrowers.com.au, shares his small garden tips with Liveability.
Gardening in Small Spaces
1. Position and size
Light – The sun is mostly north of the east/west line, so it’s best to orient your food growing areas to the north and hopefully this is where you have the most unrestricted access to the sun. It is better to have too much sun and then create shade than to have too little sun all year round as this will greatly reduce your potential for a diverse range of vegetable, fruit and flowers. If you don’t have access to direct sunlight, don’t be disheartened, there are plants that love filtered light and shady areas.
Required space – This is mostly a balance between the space you have available with enough sun and the time you are prepared to commit, a bigger garden requires more work but you do get more food.
2. Containers for growing
The ideal container size depends on what you intend to grow.
Here are some top tips:
- The size of the container depends on the size of the root ball of the plant: Fruit trees with a large root mass will need much bigger container than herbs or vegetables. Herbs and small leafy plants with a shallow root mass only require small containers
- Vegetables, especially root vegetables, require a reasonable depth of soil (up to 50cm) and will demand large pots.
- Don’t select pots which are so large that they are too heavy to move, especially if you have a lack of sun at certain times of the year and may need to move them.
- If you live in a very hot dry climate you may like to use self-watering planters.
- Why not use upcycled planters like tins for small seedlings.
3. Managing soil
This is the most important job of a successful organic gardener.
Using containers adds challenges to growing food because it is not connected to the earth. Here are some tips for managing the soil challenge of container gardens.
- Start with a healthy soil mix in the container, not just commercial potting mix. The ideal is for some of the soil mix to be well made compost from your own composting process.
- If using a commercial potting mix it is good to use certified organic. To decrease any inhalation risk when opening a bag of potting mix; make sure you are in a well-ventilated area, wear a mask and direct the bag away from the gardener when opened (see more about the correct handling of potting mix)
- and make sure you wear gloves and wash your hands when you have finished work.
- Plant a green manure crop in your soil to give it life.
- Don’t attempt to grow plants that need high soil fertility (In a vegetable garden, sustainable soil fertility comes from composting, green manure crops, appropriate soil additives, crop rotation, good drainage, absolutely no use of chemicals that destroy life in the soil and an appropriate blend of sand, clay and organic matter in your soil mix.)
- Add organic liquid fertiliser to the soil more regularly than you would a garden bed.
At the end of each year remove the soil from the container and replace with a new soil mix that has compost. Don’t dispose of your old soil; use it in your compost process with plant, vegetable scraps and some animal manure to add life back into the soil.
If you choose to grow fruit trees and perennial herbs in containers, removing the soil each year will be challenging, especially for fruit trees which have a big root mass. Removing soil when your annual vegetable crops are finished each year will be quite easy.
4. Selecting plants
Many plants, like geraniums, succulents, wisteria and citrus trees thrive in pots in full sun, so they’re perfect t for your balcony.
Vegetables and herbs:
- Select plants with a high yield per space, ideally plants that like growing on a climbing frame
- Select plant that are easy to grow and do not require high soil fertility
- Select plants that do not take up too much space
- Always plant in season for your location
- Select plants that are not too hungry for water as soil in containers will always dry out faster than in ground soil.
Top 6 vegetables: peas, beans, cucumber, cherry tomato, lettuce, Asian greens, rainbow chard and bay spinach
Top 6 herbs: basil, mint, coriander, lemon grass, oregano, parsley and rosemary
- Only choose dwarf varieties
- Select the best varieties for your climate
- Citrus such as lemon, lime, mandarin are great to grow
5. Simple garden care
- Do not over water your plants.
- Make sure you mulch your soil.
- Keep a watch on how your plants are going each day. If they are looking weak, check the moisture level; they may also need some liquid fertiliser.
- Last but not least, enjoy the experience of growing food, it has challenges like anything in life but successful gardening in small spaces really is possible. is possible with the right attitude and consistent activity.