Gardening in Small Spaces — Update

Here’s a little photo update of our small space, light-challenged garden. As promised, I will continue to post occasional reviews of techniques I find effective, as well as experiments I’m trying. This is only my second year gardening, and we rent rather than own our house. Thus, we need to work within certain confines, including that the surrounding houses have huge trees and that we’re supposed to leave the front yard essentially untouched except by flowers. I do enjoy a challenge, though, and I’m determined to get a much better yield for all my hard work this year. Actually, I’m intending to put in much less work and still maintain a productive garden. These posts here and here show the original set-up, and today’s post is kind of like a progress report:

Garden view from our side steps

As you can see, the Garden Soxx are working well. I have found that they would probably love a leaf or straw mulch, as the black bags can get hot in the sun; however, most of my tiny transplants made it. The plants I started from seed outside seem to do better than ones replanted and then needing to adjust to the scorching bags. My chard starters lost a few leaves, but they did survive, as did my Oak Leaf Lettuce and Romaine, both of which I have shaded by the recycling bin during the heat of the day. We planted some leftover onion and garlic from the store, so we now have fresh garlic greens and green onions whenever we like. We do have the occasional grass blade come through the Garden Soxx, and I also noticed some purslane, which makes me happy. I can’t really call that one a weed since I literally begged purslane to show up in my garden. Two days later, it started growing out of the Garden Soxx, right by my garlic.

My only complaint is that the bugs are devouring my lacinato kale! Until I get some kind of natural bug spray that won’t ruin the taste of my greens, I’m using the lacinato as an unintentional trap crop for bugs in general. They seem to go right for the lacinato and leave my curly kale and other greens alone so far. Between the kale, the nasturtiums, marigolds and some herbs to attract predator insects, we’re doing pretty well in the pest department. I would like some lacinato for myself, though!

Herbs in Pots

I will post soon about last weekend’s trip to Four Elements, an herbal tea farm in North Freedom, WI. We spent over four hours there, touring a Chakra Herb Garden, learning about growing medicinal herbs, and spending some quality time in the woods. I was happy to acquire some of the Eastern herbs that I’d only seen in capsule or tea form like gotu kola and Holy Basil. We also got some delightful pineapple sage, mullein, rose geranium, fennel, and lemon verbena. Lovely! I repotted my sage officinalus, which wintered indoors, and that seems to love the outside. I may need to bring my indoor basil and rosemary outside to join the party!

In addition to the Early Chalk tomatoes I grew from seed and transplanted next to some basil into our “tomato fort” of foot-deep compost, we also decided to try the Topsy Turvy’s again. I didn’t get a good yield from them last year, but I think that’s because I only fertilized them once. Apparently, you’re supposed to water them every day and fertilize once per week. This year, we planted them mostly in compost and worm castings, and yesterday I brought back a bucket of used organic coffee grounds from our co-op. Tomatoes love coffee grounds! Who knew? I guess they fix nitrogen in the soil, so now our heirlooms will be mighty happy.

Topsy Turvy’s

I also learned from last year that you really do need to fence or otherwise support tomato plants growing in the ground. Otherwise, they can get a yucky spotted disease called Early or Late Blight. The leaves don’t want to sit on moist ground, or they succumb to this fungus. The coffee should also make them more disease resistant. Last year, our Topsy Turvy tomato plants were the only ones that didn’t get blight, but the fruit kept rotting before it ripened. We learned too late that tomatoes are “heavy feeders.” Once I put some organic fertilizer on them, they perked right up.

This concludes the front side tour. Below the steps we have some cucumbers growing, but they’re so small right now, I opted not to include a photo. They’re there, though! I also experimented with planting two Double Yield Cucumber seedlings near our garbage/recycling. That’s a total experiment, but we had volunteer pumpkins there last year, and they grew well along the fence. I figure, if they grow, great, and who cares if they shade the bins? If they don’t grow, no worries, the ones under the steps will for sure. Past the back steps we have this apple mint:

Apple mint is flourishing!

We cut from this apple mint several times per week, and, like a good old weed, it just keeps replenishing itself. Speaking of weeds, I am extremely pleased with the behavior of our nettles. While everyone else already has tough, adult nettles, we still have the tender spring variety. I harvest them several times a week, and they keep coming up young and soft (well, except for the stingers!) I do wish our peppermint grew as fast as the apple mint, but at least we have some.

Peppermint, Nettles, Onions and Chives

On the advice of a commenter, I did end up adding an old mirror to increase the light in our partial sun (read: mostly shade) back garden bed. It seems to be doing the trick for some of the plants, although the kale and collards remain extremely small. We do have asparagus, parsley and bok choy growing well now, and our tat soi (another Asian green) has just begun to sprout. I have planted that in a recycling bin sheltered spot on the sunny side of the house, as well as in the back, because it supposedly grows well in low light conditions.

Adding a mirror increases light in shady spots

It’s all an experiment, and as David reminds me, “This is supposed to be fun, Lovey!” Most of the time, it really is, but sometimes I do get overly concerned with “the kids.” That’s why I like growing weeds. If people have such a hard time killing them, then surely I won’t have much trouble growing them. I love how gardening combines so many of my passions: the freshest organic food, freedom on many levels, herbalism, tuning into the Earth and Earth Elementals, and finding ways to work with Nature. I love our rain barrel, and I love feeding our garden nutrient-rich smoothie or kefir rinse water that I’d otherwise throw down the drain. Plus, pouring some of those sweet treats on the garden has lured two ant colonies away from our kitchen. Score!

Just for the record, we really don’t have much usable garden space here, and what we do have wasn’t really meant for vegetable gardening. We’ve just maximized every sunny inch we have. All winter long, I grew fresh herbs inside, and anyone can grow sprouts even in the smallest kitchen. It’s amazing how creative we can be and how much the Universe supports us when we set our intentions and take little baby steps in that direction. Happy Almost-Summer!

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by DeAnn on June 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    This has been delightfully informational! I love your small garden/small spaces concepts, very inspiring. And I love the mirror for extra light… wonder if the plants feel as if there are more of them with that reflection? 😉

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    • Posted by laurabruno on June 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks, DeAnn! Yes, I wondered that, too, especially since the indoor plants have complained to me that they want to join the party outside. LOL, I’m funny when I water them. I telepathically remind them to look at how gorgeous they are. 🙂

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  2. Fabulous post Laura. You might find this list of shade tolerant plants helpful too, given all those beautiful trees in your yard…

    http://www.motherearthnews.com/shade-tolerant-vegetables-zm0z11zsto.aspx

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  3. Posted by laurabruno on June 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Thanks, Sarah! Yes, I’ve got the tat soi growing in multiple spots, and I think we have some arugula in the back from last year, too. 🙂

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  4. Posted by laurabruno on June 25, 2012 at 4:56 am

    Wow, I’m glad I have this photo reference. I was thinking my garden’s not growing that fast, but compared to this photo from 10 days ago, it’s rockin’! My tomato plants have at least doubled and now have blossoms, along with the tomatillo plant. Everything looks way better, and I repotted most of my herbs into larger pots because they already started outgrowing their smaller ones. I do love my garden.

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