Growing vegetables and herbs at home in small spaces can be easy, fun, rewarding and not expensive. Here are some tips for anyone from first timer to a pro.
Start small with a raised bed, good-sized pots or containers or a small plot of ground. Good soil is the key in all of them, so do not skimp there. If you are a composter, good compost is a great addition to our native soil, which is generally alkaline and low in organic matter. If you are growing in the ground, compost added to the soil is highly recommended. Plant nurseries offer good compost in bags, and you can also purchase in bulk, from a bucket to truckloads, from composting facilities.
When planting in containers, use a potting soil labeled for growing vegetables. Do not use pure compost, topsoil or garden soil in containers. Those are designed for in-ground use. Start your own seeds or purchase plants from a local nursery.
Choose what you grow based on what you love. Most will agree there is nothing like the flavor of a homegrown tomato, but the joy of growing, harvesting, preparing, sharing and eating something you have grown is a rich pleasure in a complicated world. Beans are fast and easy to grow. Since dried beans are inexpensive and readily available and it takes a lot to make a pot of cooked beans, I stick to green beans. I have done Three Sisters (corn, beans, squash) in large pots on my patio using climbing green beans.
Tomatoes will do fine in a five-gallon pot or larger, and peppers of many varieties do great in containers, as do most herbs. Look up books on companion planting. Roses Love Garlic and Carrots Love Tomatoes are books by Louise Riotte that suggest good neighbors in the garden. Lisa Mason’s Vegetables Love Flowers and Companion Planting by Sally Roth also give useful information. I have planted borage with my tomatoes for many years on the advice of an old gardener friend, and I rarely have tomato worms. Borage is both beautiful and edible!
Never leave the surface of the soil exposed. Always use mulch. My preferred mulch is barley straw (not hay!) It is clean and rarely has weeds or other seeds in it. You get an occasional sprig of barley that is simple to pull and lay with the rest of the mulch. Spread the straw three or four inches thick, thinning carefully at the base of plants. It holds moisture, prevents unwanted seedlings from sprouting and can be turned into the soil or added to compost at the end of the season. Water is crucial. Consistent deep watering, whether you use in-line drip tubing, soaker hoses or attentive hand watering, is important. The soil must not dry out or be too wet. Most containers will need water every day or two. Pay attention, ask your gardening friends questions, share stories of failure and success and enjoy the fruits of your labor!