I had a few cats growing up (whom I loved dearly), but nowadays the objects of my affection are my gardens. I’ll leave it at that so I don’t get a bunch of cat people all over me! Don’t worry, I still like cats, but the give and take is just different, and I’ve got kids and a hubby for companionship.
So, it’s almost spring, and while the soil in my garden looks like nothing will ever grow in it again, I’m encouraged by the little buds popping up everywhere and the idea of starting to plan what my babies will grow this year!
Don’t be turned away now, thinking I have acres of land to work with. Nope. My two gardens (one in the front, and the one tucked up against the side of the garage in the back) make up a grand total of a lousy 44 square feet. I calculated this by taking the width and length dimensions of each and just adding them together. Back Garden #1 is skinny at less than 2′ wide x 11′ long, and front Garden #2 is 3′ x 7.5′.
But I experienced a small bounty from these very spaces last year, so I try to be grateful for the space I do have.
When we first viewed the house, it was the beginning of October, and the previous owners had a successful tomato garden growing here (I swear it was half the reason I fell in love with the house). So guess what I planted there that year? Yup, tomatoes! I’ve learned almost everything I know by trial and error or from anyone who’s been willing to impart their knowledge on me, and that space has indeed turned into an amazing tomato garden. I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit greedy when it comes to yield, so of course I started experimenting with other veggies there as well to see just how much I could get out of this space. Below is the configuration I’ve settled on for this year. Three tomato plants plus a row each of lettuce and spinach, spaced about a foot apart each.
The tomatoes were an obvious choice because I knew they’d been successful here already, but over two years, I learned more about why they do so well (and how you can copy this success without experimenting like I did for years!).
Tomatoes are actually the most finicky thing I grow. They require ALOT of warmth. And they hate getting wet (the leaves that is). So the best place to grow tomatoes is up against a building that gets lots of direct sunlight in a day, and has an overhang so most of the water the tomatoes get is from you watering the soil, not the leaves!
If you have such a space (balconies will work for this too), the next most important thing is giving the tomatoes as much space as you can possibly allow. Open dirt is the best for yield, but failing that, give those babies the biggest planter you can stomach having on your balcony (as long as it can be protected somehow!).
Funny that these principles go against my usual motto of “small space, high yield”, but damn it, fresh tomatoes for your summer salads are just too good to pass up and worth the effort!
As for the lettuce and spinach I’ve added to this garden, I experimented with numbers of rows and different types of veggies in this spot. After determining that 3 tomato plants would actually yield me enough tomatoes every few days for the duration of the harvest, I decided to make use of roughly half the rest of this skinny space by squeezing in two rows of greens because they
a) don’t take up as much space as other veggies (aka they won’t take over) and
b) are short (aka they won’t shade your tomatoes!)
Most seed packets say your rows should be 18″ apart, but I just didn’t have that much space, and because that side of the yard is pelted with plenty of afternoon sun (it faces west and the sun heats up the side of the building the veggies are growing against), the relatively short lettuce and spinach leaves don’t shade each other.
And I’ve got tomatoes and greens beside each other in the garden closest to my kitchen. Which means what? Yes, at least half the fixings for fresh salads! Or if we’re calculating in food terms ….half a regular meal!
So what if you don’t have a pre-made space with obvious choices of what to plant? This was my scenario when I started experimenting with the other half of Garden #1 above and then branched out to build pet, I mean Garden, #2. Stay tuned!