Methods of Growing Fruits and Vegetables Efficiently in Small Spaces
In a small garden, it is practical to grow vegetables in raised beds. Normally, this involves building a wood frame to hold the soil up to 10 inches above level ground but it also can involve just mounding the soil. These raised beds need to be narrow enough so that all parts of them can be reached from outside the bed since, once built, they should never be walked on. There are well tested and successful schemes for growing in raised beds such as “No-Till Gardening” and “Square Foot Gardening” which are described next but just using a raised bed with a lot of compost and staying off it goes a long way to success. Here is an article on managing garden soils and another on creating a new garden.
Often, problems with weeds discourages new gardeners. As long as you remember that the soil is full of dormant weed seeds and bringing them to the surface causes them to germinate you will win the battle. Here is some help dealing with weeds.
Sun and Soil
A successful and productive vegetable garden needs a lot of sun (at least 6 hours/day). It also must always remain moist and never dry, and never soggy. Almost all vegetables and fruit prefer neutral or basic soil, so if you have acidic soil you may have to add lime. It is the life in the soil that provides its fertility and tilth. For example, you can read here about 9 Ways to Help the Beneficial Fungi in Your Soil.
Encouraging Pollinators and Wildlife
You would be amazed at how much your production will depend on attracting pollinators to pollinate your crops and birds and other creatures to protect them from insects. For more information, read about 9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators at Home.
It is not necessary or desirable to dig your vegetable garden every year as is the custom of many home gardeners. Tillage destroys the natural layered structure of soil, causes problems with erosion and brings up dormant weed seeds. Once the garden is created in the first place, organic matter and mulch can be regularly added to the surface as it is decomposed and brought into the soil by organisms living there. This feeds the soil which in turn feeds the plants. Techniques for no-till gardening have been described by Ruth Stout and Masanobu Fukuoka. Another practical description of the technique is by Emilia Hazelip and is called Synergistic Gardening. Her gardens were made by taking soil from the paths and building narrow raised beds covered with mulch. Vegetables are planted by pulling away the mulch and replacing it after planting. The soil is never dug or walked on and high productivity is achieved without chemical fertilizers and with a fraction of the work of traditional methods. Once weeds have been removed for the first while, weeding in subsequent years is minimal. Water use is also reduced significantly. Another similar technique is called Lasagna Gardeningdescribed by Patricia Lanza. Her book has a subtitle “No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!” which about says it all.
Square Foot Gardening
Square-foot gardening is a raised bed technique made popular by Mel Bartholomew. It employs an blended growing medium mixed from two 4 cubic-foot bags of course vermiculite, one 3.9 cubic-foot bag of compressed peat moss, and 8 cubic feet of compost of four or five varieties. The mixture is thoroughly dampened before planting. This method essentially ignores the native soil, thereby eliminating many weeds and problems of poor soil quality. Every time there is a harvest a small addition of compost is made to maintain the fertility of the medium. Plants are sown or transplanted into a one foot square grid, marked on the surface of the raised bed with sticks. Plants are added to the squares according to their individual space needs. Mel claims that square foot gardening uses “20 percent of the space, 10 percent of the water, 5 percent of the seeds, and 2 percent of the work”.