5 Tips for Beginners to Grow More Food in a Small Garden

Just because you have a small garden doesn’t mean you can’t grow a lot of food for your family. Today I’ll share my top 5 tips for beginners who want to grow more food in a small garden.

Grow High Yielding Crops

The first tip is to grow crops that produce high yields in a small amount of space. For example, tomatoes are not only a very popular crop they also produce very high yields relative to the amount of space they take up when they’re grown vertically. We harvest tomatoes from July through our first frost which is usually in late October. It doesn’t take too many plants to grow enough tomatoes for most families to eat fresh from the garden, and to preserve a surplus for the fall and winter. Peppers are another great example. We grow two pepper plants and they give us a continuous harvest from July through October in zone 5. In warmer climates, you can harvest peppers much longer. Lettuce is another very popular crop that produces great yields in a small space. Loose leaf and bib lettuces grow the fastest and you can start harvesting outer leaves well before the plants reach maturity. This can also be harvested using a cut and come again approach just cut the plants about an inch above the soil and the plants will keep growing back. Another thing to consider is to grow crops that not only produce great yields in a small amount of space but also don’t take up space in your garden for very long. For example, radishes not only produce great yields in a small space but they grow to maturity very quickly. So they don’t take up space for very long and we can plant something else after harvesting them. There are too many high yielding crops to discuss in today’s post in detail. So, here’s a list of some of my favorite crops that produce high yields in a relatively small space.

Grow in beds instead of rows

My second tip for growing more food in a small garden is to grow in beds instead of rows, and when I talk about beds I’m not only talking about raised beds. What I mean by a bed is a growing area that’s wider than a traditional row and the full width of the area is planted. When I was a kid helping my father with a family garden. We would plant for example, single rows of corn the full length of the garden with walking paths on each side but when you plant in beds what you do instead is you take some of those rows and you bring them all together into a wider bed and there are no walking paths. In that area, you only have walking paths on the outside. So if you have a 3-foot wide bed and, your space your corn one foot apart, you’d have three rows of corn in a single bed with no walking spaces in between. Now if your bed is four feet wide you’d have four rows of corn in a single bed again with no walking space in between. Only walking paths on the outside. So once again when you bring those three to four rows of corn together with no walking paths between them you increase your growing space, and you decrease the amount of space in your garden dedicated to walking paths, and this increases your yields as a result. The width of the bed is important because you want to be able to reach the center from both sides three to four feet is a good width for most people. The length of the bed is up to you and what works best in your space. Longer beds increase your growing space, but you’ll also have to walk more to get from one side of the bed to the other.

Grow intensively (Plan out your garden)

Tip number three to grow more food in a small garden is to plant intensively now that you’re growing in beds instead of rows. You’ll want to use intensive planting strategies to make the best use of that extra space. Two popular methods are square foot gardening and bio-intensive gardening. With intensive strategies, you can think of planting in two dimensions instead of just one because you’re no longer planting in a single row. You have to fill the length and width of the bed. For example, on square foot gardening, the spacing for carrots is 16 per square foot. The spacing for lettuce is 4 per square foot and onions are planted 12 per square foot. I can’t cover all of the spacing recommendations today, but if you’d like to learn more about intensive planting strategies check out our Growing guides page. It’s filled with useful information about how to grow almost every fruit, vegetable, herb, and flower. 

Grow Vertically

The fourth tip is to grow vertically. Some crops that take up a lot of space if allowed to sprawl around on the ground can be trained to grow vertically. Thereby freeing up space on the ground for other crops. For example, a butternut squash plant will occupy roughly 32 square feet of vertical space when fully grown. If it was on the ground it would take up all of one of our 32 square foot beds, but growing vertically the plant only takes up four square feet of space in the bed.  You can grow vertically on fences, trellises, steaks, and more. By getting all of these very large plants up off the ground you can maximize your use of vertical space freeing up space in the garden beds to grow other plants and dramatically increase your yields. One thing to consider is that your tall vertical crops will cast shade more so, in late summer than in early summer. If you live in the northern hemisphere have all of your vertical structures especially tall ones on the north side of your garden and if you live in the southern hemisphere have them on the south side. This will eliminate all shading issues. 

Use Containers

The fifth and last tip to grow more food in a small garden is to grow in containers like pots and grow bags. Containers are especially helpful if you don’t have a lot of land because they allow you to grow in areas where you couldn’t otherwise. For example, rooftops, front steps, and balconies.

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