ather your own succulent salad, feel the crispness of young bush beans, and taste the summer sun in every cherry tomato: A world full of rewards can be yours in a small-space vegetable garden. In addition to providing exercise and fresh air, this doable project nourishes the body with fresh food and the soul with success.
With a little planning, you can stretch your bounty from spring through fall. Even if you're new to the world of gardening, try your hand at this satisfying adventure.
photo: Caring for vegetables offers a chance to learn about environmental responsibility, togetherness, and sharing.
A small raised bed--we used a 4- x 4-foot kit--offers a plentiful yield without an overwhelming amount of effort. Put together your own planting box, or purchase a kit such as this one from Gardener's Supply Company (www.gardeners.com, #36-487, $189). The assembly gives you a good workout and has you ready to grow in about an hour.
Location is key. Vegetables require at least four hours of direct sunlight, with summer veggies benefiting from more. For easy watering access, place your bed where a hose can easily reach it; better still, buy a rain barrel and use collected water. Remember, a garden close to the house gets tended more readily than one behind the garage.
If you have an odd-shaped area, build your own growing box to suit your space. Be aware, though, that a container wider than 4 feet makes harvesting the middle of the garden difficult. This is especially true for small children. Tip: Put landscape fabric--available at garden centers--under the bed prior to filling it with soil. This porous material prevents weeds and grass from pushing up through the garden but allows moisture to pass through.
A garden is only as good as its soil, and a raised bed provides the chance to make the best dirt in town. Fill it with bagged topsoil, leaf compost (or purchased mushroom compost), and dehydrated cow manure. Mix it all together, filling the bed to 1 inch from the top. Tip: After planting and seeds have sprouted, cover the soil with shredded bark mulch to help retain valuable moisture.
photo: Make gardening a family affair. Kids and grown-ups can reap the benefits of pride and success.
After a year, you will want more raised beds. An added benefit is that they're portable. If you like, move them around, rebuild them, and add more to your garden. Transfer the soil, and you're ready to grow again. Tip: Next year, enrich the soil with new leaf compost and dehydrated cow manure. Change the garden's plant placement annually to encourage optimum growing conditions.
A neat, well-planned garden maximizes a small space. For example, when you plant multiple rows of lettuce, leave several inches between them. When your area is clear from frost, plant a row of bush bean seeds in this vacant area. As the lettuce is harvested or comes out due to heat, the beans will happily take over the area.
Cluster like plants together. One or two pepper plants can occupy a corner, while several eggplants might linger in the middle, and a small squash selection such as 'Prolific Straightneck' will eagerly consume one side. For climbers add a bamboo tepee; snap peas and tomatoes go vertical and take up little surface space.