Planting a Small Garden

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I live on a rocky hill of limestone and each patch of earth I chip out of the landscape is a precious patch of heaven. I have learned to plan out each little addition to my garden with the thought of not only beauty but practicality. I am a firm believer in not wasting the little usable ground I have on inedible pretty, but packing it with things that are not only lovely but yummy.

The tall and the short of it. If you have a small garden, and wish to eat well in the summer on what you have grown yourself, plant some pole beans. There are many fine varieties out there and most are hearty in almost any weather. A pole bean will make a beautiful, tall, fast growing vine, so plant with a trellis or next to a fence that gets a little sun, or with a big stick or ‘pole’. The flowers are charming and there will be lots of beans with each plant.

Peas are also beautiful climbers that come in many varieties to satisfy almost any palette. Plant the peas with something to climb on and your yield will be higher. Peas will produce early and if you care for the vines, they will yield more than one crop, though the second will be smaller.

Dill is a good addition to any garden, being hearty and fast growing. It dries easily for storing by simply hanging in bunches, and then putting in jars or baggies when completely dry. Let some go to seed and leave it on the ground and you will have more the next year with little to no work on your part.

The Short of It. I plant shorter plants between my tall plants to save on room, but for best yields they need more sun. I find I can plant them closer together then the taller plants, leaving myself just enough room to harvest and to run some water down the rows. Spinach, lettuce, carrots, all grow well in small areas. Pick a carrot that suits your soil. Mine is a short Nante for the rocky ground and clay filled soil. A longer variety would hit a rock or break when it was pulled.

In between my rows I plant garlic and walking onions that are both directly descended from sets that came from my grandmother, or so I’m told. The exact variety, I can’t tell you, but for between rows, I like nothing better. They repel some critters that would eat my lovelies, and they require less sun. I let about half “set” out each year and end up with more garlic and onion sets to plant in the fall than I can readily put into the ground and I usually give a lot of them away.

A variety of color. For example, plant a purple bush bean and a yellow variety to compliment the green pole beans. Most purple ones have purplish leaves, flowers, and gorgeous, deeply purple beans. Sadly, they turn green when cooked. You can do the same with a variety of peppers and tomatoes also, alternating color in the same row for interest and taste.

Around the edges. My garden is, as already stated, dug from a very rocky piece of ground. The rocks that I have pulled from the earth have gone to edging around the patches to hold the precious soil in during the torrential rains we sometimes get in Kansas. At these edges I plant vining squash or pumpkins and I let the vines hang over the edge of the rocks and fan out into part of the yard. Just be careful what varieties you plant as melons and squash can cross pollinate. While a watermelon/pumpkin cross is a good conversation piece and fairly amusing to look at, it is NOT tasty.

For a large Pot. A porch garden can be just as satisfying as any other. Tomatoes can do quite well in a large pot and there is little more satisfying to a gardener than picking a crop of ripe tomatoes, even if it is off of a single plant. Remember to prop up heavily yielding plants with a tomato cage or you might find it tipped over on your porch! There is also a recent revival in the hanging garden, and there are hanging tomatoes out there now, but I have never used them. I can’t recommend them or sing their praises, but they do look intriguing.

Many herbs will do quite well in a sunny spot on a porch, like rosemary, and can be taken in during the cold months for continued yield. Sage, basil, bee-balm, oregano-they can all go into the same pot, picked and dried over and over again. Look into your local gardening shop and ask what varieties are good for the space you have, and check your growing zones before planting something permanent. Nothing sadder than planting an orange tree that won’t survive the winter! Happy planting and eat what you grow!

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