Whenever I look at my backyard I get a bit discouraged. It’s tiny. I’ve never measured it but it’s barely larger than our lounge. And the space of actual dirt is even less. We’ve been trying to make use of that space as much as possible and grow a few things but I feel like we’ve reached our limit.
I recently found a book that encouraged me that maybe we haven’t reached our limit and there is more room than we think. And here is why!
We already have some small trees and bushes growing in our backyard. I recently discovered that one of them produces edible fruit. I want to add to that and have started to grow lemon trees from seed.
Trees are a perfect option for small spaces for a couple of reasons:
1. They don’t require a lot of floor space. When you plant a tree it will (hopefully) grow tall and eventually free up space underneath.
2. Trees are generally okay with poor light. We don’t get the same amount of sunlight in our backyard all year around. The summers are hot with too much sun, the winters are cold with hardly any sun. Trees are said to cope well with those conditions.
3. Fruit trees make nice decorative plants and can enhance any space.
There are some really interesting options with regards to fruit trees as well: fruit salad trees. Those trees produce up to six (!) different kinds of one fruit, for example three varieties of apples. Since these trees come with a hefty price tag, they aren’t an option for us.
Now, even though our backyard doesn’t get much sun in winter, we have more than enough in summer and I do want to attempt to grow some veggies. And I have a couple of options here.
Climbing plants such as beans are ideal for small spaces, especially when you have a wall available. I’ve already put some beans in the ground and I hope they make it.
Tomatoes can also come as climbing plants (some varieties are climbing, some are bushes, some are floor covers; just check) and in my experience they don’t need much more than sun and water. In fact, I’ve had tomato plants popping up more than once in places I didn’t intend for them to grow.
Some vegetables also grow happily in pots. This is particularly useful on balconies and in places where the sun moves a lot. Tomatoes are often happy in pots, the same goes for silver beet, capsicums, chillies, cucumbers, even lettuce. The only requirement for pots is a close monitoring of the soil: it needs to drain properly after rain and needs watering on dry days.
Herbs are perfect for small spaces, as I mentioned elsewhere. In general, they don’t require much space and are happy in almost any condition.
Considering space and yields
One issue to keep in mind when planning a garden in a small space is the actual available space versus the yield of a plant.
For example, silver beet will continue to produce leaves for the entire season. Asian greens such as bok choy grow rapidly, freeing up space after around two months.
Zucchini and pumpkin plants require roughly the same amount of space. However, zucchini plants can produce several kilos of fruit while pumpkin plants produce only one or two fruit per season.
Root vegetable such as carrots, potatoes, or onions could be grown in a pot but they need a lot of space to grow properly.
One limiting factor for us last year was also the fact that our garden didn’t attract any bees. We planted zucchini which grew perfectly but the female blossom didn’t get polinated. We ended up without any fruit because of a lack of bees.
But bees aren’t the only ‘wildlife’ to keep in mind. There are also all sorts of beetles, bugs and insects which can enhance or prohibit successful vegetable gardening. Pests are an issue to keep in mind, particularly in small spaces.
The last wildlife I want to mention are birds. I have had our seeds dug up by birds on multiple occasions. Depending on your location they might also take a closer look at beans, tomatoes, and almost any kind of fruit tree. I have seen nets as the most popular option against them.
Although it seems tough, gardening in a small backyard or on a balcony is possible. Choose vertical plants (climbing plants or trees) over floor covering ones, follow the sun, enrich the soil, and go for variety.
Above all, don’t give up. I know, I won’t and will try again this season.