5+ Secrets to the Home Mini-Garden

Create a Small Garden Anywhere

Learning these skills now will help you to become more self-sufficient, enjoy great meals later this year, and help your family get ready for anything. This is about more than improving your self-reliance skills. Nothing tastes better than fresh, locally grown vegetables and fruit – especially if you’ve grown them yourself.

Aside from the pride you feel in your accomplishment, it’s great exactly what was used to grow your food; it’s the best way to know what, if any, chemicals have been used. Frankly, enough is known about successful organic gardening methods that no backyard gardener should ever have to resort to pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

What to Plant

Begin by assessing the area you have available and what you’d like to plant. Consider what fresh vegetables and fruit you enjoy most and are expensive to buy in your area. Herbs come to mind – they are easy to start, easy to grow, and work with many meals. And pound for pound, fresh herbs are among the most expensive items in the grocery store.

No need to waste precious planting space on vegetables that are cheap in your local markets – cabbages and potatoes for example. Also, don’t go overboard. This is the hardest thing to control in the beginning. You don’t need six tomato plants, unless you plan on feeding a large number of people or doing some canning. Remember, after planting there’s still work to be done – watering, weeding, and harvesting, so be sure you’ll have the time.

Many plants that are traditionally grown on the ground such as cucumbers, zucchinis, and squash can be grown on a vertical support using less ground space. When trained, these plants will grow vertically by tying the vines to the support. These should be planted on the north side of your garden so they won’t shade the other plants.

Keep Your Planting Start-Up Goals
Modest, Attainable, and Sustainable

When deciding what to grow consider companion planting. Some plants thrive next to other plants or keep away certain bugs. Some good plant pairings are basil, tomatoes, peppers (all easy to grow) and asparagus (a bit more work, especially in the beginning). Basil can help keep flies and mosquitos away, but don’t plant it next to sage.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to start a garden. Look around at what you already have that you could repurpose for your garden. Many old plastic containers can be used by drilling holes in the bottom for drainage. Even dollar stores have a gardening section with planters, garden twine, and vertical supports.

These steps will save you money but may not last as long as more expensive brands. Spring yard sales are another great source of garden starting supplies. If you go to a nursery or garden store to buy small plants you’ll find that many only sell in six packs or larger, so go with a friend and split the cost. You’ll probably only need three of each type of plant, especially for a small family.

Tip: Talk to the people working at the nursery. They’re a wealth of information and will be happy to answer your questions.

Take a Closer Look
at Locally-Owned Garden Centers
Instead of Big Box Stores

If you’re away often, consider using a soil that holds in moisture and use mulch on top of the soil. We love to support locally owned garden centers, but the quality and selection of the plants offered in big home centers has improved greatly in recent years. But if you are looking for special varieties or organically started plants, local garden centers are a better bet.

Choose seeds for their yield per plant, space needed, length of time to maturity, and the growing season or hardiness zone you live in. Planting zone takes into consideration your climate, the highest and lowest temperatures and rainfall. This is especially important for crops that last more than one year such as strawberries, blueberries, fruit trees, and asparagus.

You can start your seeds early indoors or plant directly outside following the instructions on the packet. You don’t need to plant all the seeds, but plant more than you need. When the plants start growing, keep only the strongest plants up to your desired number.

Apartment Gardens
Can Produce More
Than You Might Think

Herbs can fit in small   pots In an apartment without a balcony, put pots on your window sills, hang pots and use plant stands where they will receive the most sunlight. The best windows are those facing south because they get five or six hours more sunlight. For herbs, choose compact varieties and those you cook with most often like rosemary, oregano, thyme, parsley, basil, chives, sage, and tarragon.

At the end of the season you can dig up one of each of your herbs and plant them indoors, in small pots on your window sill, to use during winter. You can also plant small leaf lettuce and mescaline mix “mixed greens” indoors. Remember to keep the plants trimmed (use them!) and water them. You should also consider adding a little compost every couple of months.

If your house has a balcony you have a much larger area for plants. Check with the landlord if you rent regarding their regulations. If allowed, you can buy planters that sit on the balcony railing along with pots layered and stacked. Hanging tomato and vegetable planters can have high yields with no weeding.

Also consider hanging planters at different heights to use the maximum amount of space. You can still have flowers – just plant vegetables and herbs and flowers in the same planter.

Consider making a tiered planter by placing a large planter on the bottom with a smaller planter in the middle or at the back. For deep planters consider a root vegetable such as carrots, beets, or potatoes. You can buy soil already mixed for container gardening or you can use a mixture of soil, compost, peat moss, and vermiculite.

Small Yards:
An Ideal Training Ground
for Maximizing Your Minimums

Terrace your small garden Consider above-ground beds where you can reach every part for weeding and harvesting by walking around them. This also allows you to place plants closer together.

A good bed size is 4’x 4′. You can plant more than one bed but make sure you leave a path to walk between of two to three feet. Put boards around your raised beds or save money by using what you already have – rocks, lawn edging, or just slope the earth.

There’s no shortage of gardening books out there, but Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew is the “bible” of many small-space gardeners. See www.squarefootgardening.com and squarefootgardening.org for more tips.

Build stacked, raised beds like stairs along a retaining wall or fence. Vertical planters, or barrels with holes in the side, can have a plant in each hole and also in the open top area. Consider gutters with drainage holes planted along the wall of a house, basement or shed, or hang gutters. Be careful not to over water or have water seep into the house siding. A canvas shoe organizer, with a different plant in each pocket, attached with pieces of wood on each side and on the back of the organizer, so the planter isn’t in direct contact with the house.

Even a freight pallet can be used. Fill the interior with soil mix and place it upright against a wall or fence, with plants growing out of the spaces between the boards. If you find it hard to bend over or work on the ground, consider a wooden bed with legs that you can access easily. You can build one yourself or you can buy one online such as a “vegetable trug” or a vertical planter.

Look online for catalogs that also give information on hardiness zones and length of time to maturity for a variety of vegetables and fruits. Keep a journal and take pictures to help you remember what worked and what didn’t. It’s fun to read these on cold winter nights and plan next year’s garden!

Nothing is more rewarding than walking out to your garden and picking the ripest, tastiest produce that you grew yourself!