Small Garden Techniques and Ideas

With ever more people taking an interest in growing their own vegetables as part of a drive towards self-sustainability, or at least a growing desire to take more control of what they consume; the interest in how to get more out of the often small spaces available is, unsurprisingly, growing also. Thankfully there are a number of ways to grow veggies in small spaces and some great ideas for a small garden such as Raised Bed Gardening, Square Foot Gardening and Container Gardening – generally referred to as no-dig gardening owing to the lack of effort needed to grow plants in general, and vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, onions, peas, beans etc in particular.

This technique is especially important for the numerous city-dwellers who have taken up the idea, and for whome large garden space – or any garden space at all – is virtually non-existent.

S.F.G. Enter the technique of growing veggies in limited spaces!

Square Foot Gardening BookSquare Foot Gardening as with the Raised garden bed is one of the most popular small garden ideas at the moment, as it allows you to truely maximize your growing abilities, by concentrating a number of different plants within the same small area. In the SFG method this area is measured at 4 x 4 feet square. This in turn gives you 16 foot-square areas in which to grow your plants. Now I’m the first to admit that this does not seem like a large enough growing area to supply the average family; however nothing could be further from the truth, and the fact is that with correct planting this small area is indeed extremely effective at ‘producing the goods.’

Square foot gardening system

Typical layout for a 4 x 4 garden area

A quick scan of this picture shows the typical layout of a SFG. The trick is to plant your veggies in such a way as to take control of the natural benefits that each plant will offer it’s neighbor in relation to pest control and nutritional benefits. This is a technique known as Companion Planting, and is extremely effective for growing plants in such concentrations – something that often leads to all sorts of problems in conventional gardening.

In truth SFG is another form of Raised Bed Growing in many ways, apart from the different dimensions involved the real thing that sets them apart is the fact that SFG tends to concentrate more on plant diversity. This offers a ‘balanced diet’ so to speak when it comes to serving a small family with a good range of selected vegetables.

Get more details on SFG by Clicking This Link

Consider A Raised Bed Vegetable Garden:

Raised Bed GardeningRBG Techniques are similar in many ways to SFG, indeed many would argue that they are both concepts of the same idea; that is they both grow vegetables in a confined area using ‘special’ growing medium.

In fact the main differences between the two is in the area concerned, the hight of the ‘boxes’ and the principles behind the ideas themselves. With regard to the growing areas, the typical Raised Bed system is 9 foot by 3 foot. The SFG system is as mentioned earlier 4 x 4 foot, and the average height of a Raised bed is 12-18 inches compared to 6 inches for a SFG.

As for the principles behind them. The Square foot system is mainly about rotational planting allowing the growing of a diverse range of different vegetables; whereby the RBG really concentrates on producing more of the same species in each bed – usually about 2 or 3 different vegetables.

However…it should be obvious to the reader that both these systems are liable to the interpretation of the gardener. For instance there is nothing to prevent me from growing just one crop in the SFG, and at the same time growing multiple crops in the RBG. Indeed there is nothing preventing me building a SFG in the same way as a Raised Bed – just with higher sides!

In reality the gardener concerned must weigh up the different aspects of the two systems, then just go for it :) It’s not rocket science after all. Provide your plants with the correct amount of nutrients, light and water – and they will grow just fine. Incorporate some Companion Planting ideas  and they will grow even better!

Get More Details On Raised Bed Gardening By Clicking On This Link

How About Container Gardening?

Another aspect of growing vegetables in tiny spaces, is Container Planting, which as small garden ideas go is pretty effective. As the name suggests this is simply taking any available container and planting vegetables suited to the size or make-up of said container. This means that good healthy vegetables can be grown on your patio or window sill! Many books have been written on the subject of growing vegetables in containers of all shapes and sizes, growing tomatoes in containers being off particular interest it seems.

Apart from the obvious advantages of this method for those without any space to consider the other options discussed, the container gardener has the advantage in that the containers can be moved around to take best advantage of the sunlight – an option that is not open to the other systems. (though to be fair the SFG can be portable if built correctly)

Straw Bale Gardening:

straw bale gardeningThis is actually another form of container gardening in as much as the planting area is contained within a container – which in this case is a bale of straw. The advantage with this type of micro-gardening is that it requires very little in the way of compost or fertiliser as it is pretty much self contained.

Simply lay out your bale on a sheet of garden membrane to stop weeds. Make sure your bale is sitting with the cut side up (on its edge), then soak it through with water which has in turn been infused with a suitable fertilizer to give it a boost – preferably use water from a water-butt or pond if you have one handy :)

After about 10 days dig a hole in the straw bale about 6 inches deep and 3-4 inches diameter. Fill with compost and plant your veggies according to their requirements. If support is needed then simply fix a post into the ground at each end and string some wires 6 inches apart to grow climbers.

Over the course of the growing season the bale will rot down to keep your veggies fed and weed free!

This is a growing trend amongst vegetable growers, as it is a definate contender for the no-dig gardening awards!



Be the first to comment

Never Transplant carrots!

If ever there was any doubt as to the wisdom of transplanting carrot seedlings, then the following pictures should put these doubts to rest :)carrots grown in pot

I transplanted some seedlings from a shallow tray that my wife had scattered a packet of seeds in (Yea I would blame the wife!), into a variety of pots and containers – and the results you could say are predictable.

Though I must say that as they grew, they looked to be in ‘rude health’ with great foliage showing no signs of the disaster unraveling beneath the soil. Strong green leaves, with no signs of the dreaded carrot fly (which causes the leaves to droop as the plant expires). The containers were kept moist yet free-draining, a condition that suits carrots just fine – as you might see from the picture.

Read the remainder of this entry »

Be the first to comment

Constructing A Pallet Composting Area:

pallet composting bins

Composting to be sure is perhaps not the most exciting or romantic aspect of growing your own vegetables – but without a good understanding of compost and the ability to produce your own then you are most certainly missing out.
Creating your own compost means several things to the gardener.

  1. You are saving money by not having to buy store-bought compost.
  2. You are reducing waste by recycling all your vegetable ‘left overs’ from the garden and kitchen.
  3. You are helping the environment by reducing the produce sent to land fill areas. This reduces your overall ‘carbon footprint’ and creates a ‘feel good’ aspect :)
  4. Disposing of Grass clippings and leaf molt is no longer a problem!
  5. You can really grow fantastic veggies with quality compost.

And just in case I forget to mention it – It’s incredibly satisfying to witness a load of ‘useless’ waste matter being transformed into good incredibly useful composting material!

Read the remainder of this entry »

Be the first to comment

Dryad’s Saddle Shelf Mushroom

OK,  just a quick post on this fantastic mushroom I found while out walking the other day. Commonly known as Dryad’s Saddle (or Polyporus squamosus to the latin boffins  ) this is an edible mushroom that grows on the side of decideous trees such as oak, sycamore walnut or beech.

The mushroom appears July-August and has a thick meaty flesh. It is very short-lived and maggots soon turn the mushroom into a sticky mess within a few weeks of appearing.

I must admit I’m very wary off consuming wild mushrooms – so I will not be trying it out :)

I have to admit though that it is an excellent specemen which allegedly tastes and smells a bit like water melon! Best picked for eating before it gets to this size though as the flesh becomes a bit tough and woody.

No doubt the younger fungus would make an excellent mushroom soup either dried or fresh picked.

Just a final note of caution sure that you know your fungi before eating any specimens from the wild – they do have a tendancy to kill you if you get the species wrong!

dryads saddle mushroom

Bracket mushroom ‘Dryads Saddle’ on beech tree

Polyporus squamosus

You can easily see why it is called a ‘saddle’ Ideal for a wood nymph!


Be the first to comment

The Giant Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar

I saw this beauty crawling across my path the other day, and could hardly believe it!

hawkmoth caterpillarMeasuring at just about 3.5 inches fully stretched out, it is the largest Caterpillar I have ever seen in the garden – I immediately feared for my poor veggies :)

“This beggar could eat a cabbage in one sitting” say’s I  (I’m prone to a bit exaggeration). However there was no need to be alarmed. As big as it is, it is not regarded as a garden pest – unless you have some prize Rosebay Willowherb or fuschias that you are trying to protect (good luck with that one!) both of which are included in their preferred diet.

The cabbages and Tomato plants can breath a sigh of relief!

What is it?

elephants trunk hawkmoth caterpillar

rosebay willowherb

This highly invasive willowherb is the favourite food for ‘Trunky’ here so I’m quite happy for him to snack away!

It is of course the larvae of the Elephant Hawkmoth, which incidently loves to feed in the evening on the nectar of the honeysuckle plant.

I presume the name comes from the elephants trunk-like look that it has going on there.

Overall a fascinating creature, it has 4 ‘eyes’ that are actually just designs that enlarge when it feels threatened – which look pretty effective I must say – I know many people who would run a mile from this baby :)

elephants trunk caterpillar


Ormiston Grows Green – Raised Bed Community Gardening Project

Whilst out for a walk on a rare warm summers night in Ormiston, East Lothian recently; I had the chance to visit a local community gardening project with my wife. Based around the concept of reducing carbon footprint by growing vegetables locally, it is a classic example of the kind of benefits that growing vegetables in Raised Beds can produce, as they are easier to operate and more productive than the traditional system of growing vegetables in rows.

growing pumpkins

Pumpkins growing well in a raised bed

This means in turn that it is a perfect way to introduce vegetable growing practices to the youth, who perhaps do not have the patience or the experience that the ‘oldies’ may have. Indeed the Raised Bed system is in fact perfectly suited to all ages, as there is not the same back-breaking labour involved with spades and forks – Oldies take note :)

Keeping the weeds at bay is easier as is pest control, and if enough space is provided for wheelchair access then the less-abled in the community can actively participate in growing their own veggies, owing to the accessability afforded by Raised Beds.

Cluster of tomatoesAfter talking with project leader Andrew Smith or ‘moogie’ as he is called by his friends, we were both impressed by his enthusiasm for the project (he was still working away after 7.30 in the evening!), as well as the fact that the Raised Beds had been built by volunteers.

As for advice on growing vegetables for anyone considering getting involved, the community chips in with all the advice and expertise necessary even to the point of growing Pumpkins and Sweetcorn!

Read the remainder of this entry »

Be the first to comment