With many options for inexpensive small space gardening out there, attempts to grow food in an urban environment can be successful . With the possibility of famine looming due to the pandemic, fuel pipeline and meat processing plant hacks and drought, now is the time to seriously consider becoming a producer.
A big problem in urban agriculture is space, specifically horizontal space
House lots in the city tend to be small, and apartments & condos smaller still. Even houses in the suburbs don’t typically have forty acres of land to grow on or even a ten-acre hobby farm-type space.
My lot, for example, is 59 ft2, and my house sits on that. I estimate my yard space to be 1/4 of my lot size, not including setbacks. Since one person needs 4000 feet of garden space to grow enough vegetables for one year, there isn’t enough space on the average urban lot for traditional row gardening.
So what is the solution?
Grow vertical! Since we don’t have the space to grow Out, grow Up
Adding trellises to your garden is an excellent option for small space gardening. And, it will increase your growing space exponentially!
Moreover, just about everything benefits from support; tomatoes, peppers, and everything that vines. Cucurbits such as cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins can vine to 6 feet or more. Tomatoes and beans will grow as tall as the space they have, especially pole beans.
By trellising, you give your plants the vertical space to grow and produce. Benefits of trellising include:
- Increased airflow, which cuts down on disease
- Keeps fruits off of the ground
- Easier to pick produce
- Easier to prune and harvest
- More plants will fit into the smaller space
- Increased exposure to sunlight
There are many kinds of trellises, made from a wide variety of materials. Forms vary from a simple string to teepees to A-frames and cattle panel. And all can be adapted to tight urban spaces.
Whether you use hemp twine, jute, or something else, string is cheap and easy to use for small space gardening. I run some string over my rain gutters and into my containers, and my plants love them. String might be a good option for apartment and condo dwellers who have a lanai or small porch. Always keep the weight of the vines plus the vegetables in mind, because too heavy can bring down a rain gutter. I use string for smaller things, such as beans and peas.
Chicken wire, aka poultry netting
This is a wonderful item to have around the homestead! It might even be one of the things that hold the universe together, along with duct tape. This is more of a raised bed solution; I stapled some 3’ wire to the side of my wooden garage in 2012 and staked it to the ground in a lean-to fashion. It’s still there, stable and solid. This trellis can support heavier items, such as cucumbers, squash, and melons.
This style can be made from various materials, anything from wood to inverted tomato cages. A small one might fit on a porch or lanai. The shape is exactly as named: triangular, like a teepee. Depending upon how wide the base is, this trellis might support some heavier items, but I tend to use it for beans and peas.
Pergolas, arches, and wall hangings
These are great if you have some room! Pergolas and arches allow the vines to grow up and over. They’re great on small urban lots as path decorations and can support a wide variety of vegetables. Wall hangings help turn walls into garden space. And they can be made from a wide variety of materials or easily purchased at any hardware store.
Just like they sound: a trellis formed into a T or A shape. These take advantage of the strength of the triangle to give support to the heavier plants, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons. T-frames especially can be very large and support a roof which can also provide growing space. Typical materials are wood and metal. You can use chicken wire and old pallets to make A-frames.
Chain link fences
Good fences make good neighbors. Right? I also have my deck fenced in with chicken wire to keep my cats from prowling. A good chain link fence can support an edible hedge, such as blackberry or raspberry. I use the thorny varieties for my hedges. My chicken wire fence supports a wide variety of vines. It also helps hold stakes in my containers for staking squash and cucumbers. And yes, you can tie string to it for small vining things to grow on.
A metal lattice-style structure that, in some cases, can be modular. I use a product called a VineSpine, which can be linked together to form lines or arches. Mine wasn’t cheap, but it’s been a very worthwhile investment. *See lessons in gardening below.
Pallets and window boxes
Fill the pallets with soil, lean them against a wall, fill with greens and herbs, or anything with shallow roots. They also make decent A-frames. Vegetables with shallow roots or flowers to attract pollinators grow well in window boxes.
In the article, Kara shares some of her Mom’s tips for gardening when you “can’t.” Some of her creative ideas could be adjusted to use as small space garden options.
Lessons In Gardening: the Contraption
During my early years in gardening, I realized that those cheap tomato cages really aren’t the best support for tomatoes. Something stronger, more sturdy, and stable is what I needed. Using the internet, I researched several possibilities to the point of severe sticker shock. So, I decided to make something suitable much more cheaply.
I went to the hardware store and came back with some wood for crossbars and plastic supports, all about as big around as my thumb. I joined my pieces together and strung some twine for the tomatoes to grow up.
Back to the hardware store!
Surely I’d given enough consideration to weight. I had not.
A few months later, the wooden crossbars were bending down from the weight to the point of forming a huge U. The structure reminded me of a swayback horse, and I knew it would break if I didn’t take action.
This time I brought back some good 2×6 to insert for support. The Contraption did get me through the season, surprisingly enough! The following year I coughed up quietly for a much better option, one I’ve been using ever since. Garden and learn.
Here are a few books to help you in your small space gardening adventures:
Vertical Gardening by Dane Alexander
Container Gardening for Beginners by Tammy Wylie
Small Space Vegetable Gardens Andrew Bellamy
Small space gardening requires some skills and a little imagination
Trellises can help the urban gardener increase growing space exponentially by use of the vertical plane. There are a wide variety of styles and materials, limited only by your skills and imagination. Good luck and happy gardening!
Do you garden in a small space? Do you have any tips and tricks to add here? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
The wife found the pallet grow walls over the winter and we are trying them.
I have noted that with those, in hot weather, they need watering twice a day.
Otherwise the seem to be doing pretty good.
I planted in one section a type of runner beans and will do as Jayne suggests and run a length of cord/string and train the beans out along the fence as they grow.
You’re trying those grow walls? I’ve wanted to try them too! I’d love to hear how they work out for you. And yes, I’ve found that smaller containers especially need more watering. They also go through their nutrients more quickly so if you harvest and want to grow something else, you’ll likely need new soil.
Container gardening of any sort is going to require more frequent watering and fertilizing. I often start a season with a nitrogen fixer like snap peas in the spring and then use that same bucket for tomatoes in the summer, peas in the fall again. I then dump that soil in my raised bed and start with fresh potting soil in the spring.
Absolutely! And the smaller the container, the faster it’ll dry out. I also dump the old soil into my raised beds in fall, but I haven’t had as much luck using the same soil more than once in a container. Of course, the stuff I grow takes all of my short growing season to mature too, so I don’t really have the option. So, I prefer to grow tomatoes in my raised beds and snap peas in containers, along with different kinds of beans. When it comes to quick-maturing things like greens and radishes, I find that I have to replace the soil in the container or it simply won’t grow well.
I´m trying to convince my mother to do a little change in our front garden: the soil is so well maintained, drained and fertilized after years of composting that it could be a great place for potatoes and carrots. I brought some seeds from abroad, and we´re in a couple of weeks using the first batch. Unfortunately I was so tight on the money that couldn´t afford spending a little bit more. Travelling is expensive.
Just do the best you can! You’ll be much further ahead than doing nothing. Good luck!
When I moved back to my property a few years ago I found a squatter had made two 20 ft long chainlink fences. I hated them. They were in my way but this year as I enlarge my garden I find one in a perfect area to let cucumbers and other vines climb. I’m also adding short scraps of fencing to support tomatoes, squash, and some morning glories. Tree branches are becoming trellises for peas, sweet peas, scarlet runner beans, and a Vining nasturtium. Corn will carry other runner beans. Not a hugh garden but the ability to grow upward really increases the productivity of the space. A tall pool lader and two shorter ones are trellis for mellons. Under them grow lettuces, radishes, beets et. An old handmade chair is covered in Vining flowers. Medium washtub style containers hold mints, lemon balm and plants i don’t want taking over. They are scattered through the garden along with clumps of taller flowers. Short flowers border along the cardboard lined pathways.
Old sheets become light airy sunshades to protect tomatoes from an early heatwave. I live in high mountain desert. Days are suddenly in the 90s.
I have the usual quarter acre lot with a 2300 sqft home. I use the corners of the lot to create vegetable gardens. Little spots take nice plants but they may not be type together. Teragon is next to squash, etc.
I also use “intensive” gardening methods. Planting too close together, lots of fertilizer/compost, lots of water, light and EVERY DAY inspection, trim and care. So far, I’ve had great veggies this season already. Peas, squash, tomatoes, string beans, lettuce, kale, plus the herbs.
A soaker hose intertwined into the plants, on a timer, can save a garden and make it thrive.
I do live in North Florida though and I started seeds under a grow light.
Lot’s more stuff planned BUT.
I am sitting in a hospital bed at the moment, post ankle surgery, and realize that I won’t be able to garden like I want to for several (10?) weeks. Hopefully my wife will help. I miss every day I can’t work in the garden.
Let’s be thankful for our gardens.
Sam, the farmer man. (According to my wife!)
Ankle surgery? Ouch! In more ways that one.
Indeed, intensive methods are great if you have the inputs. Glad to hear you’re having success with them! Keep up the good work, when you can.
Take a 5 gallon pail,come up 2 ” from the bottom and drill a 1/2 inch hole every 4 inches around the pail for drainage. This will give you a 2″ reservoir so you don’t have to water as much. Fill it with potting soil to the top ( I use happy frog but miracle grow works for veggies) and plant your plant in the middle. Put the pail in the sun and water when needed. I get 4′ tomatoes and more cucumbers than I can eat. i HAVE A ROPE TRELLIS OVER 3 pails for them. If you don’t like looking at pails just wrap some cloth around them. Works awesome and simple. About a cubic ft per pail.