Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tiny Gardening, Part I: Making Your Yard Work

Now THAT’S a rooftop garden • Photo courtesy: Bacsac

The irony of small homes is that they often have large yards. Lots of folks drawn to tiny houses are also drawn to rural settings. The outdoors becomes an extension of the house: a shady grove becomes a living room; the woods become a playroom; a field becomes a kitchen. And gardens abound. Growing your own food and flowers is one of the joys of lots of outdoor space.

But since downsizing in retirement often means smaller yards, Ive been thinking about tiny gardening. Tiny yards, or even urban dwellings, can offer a chance to get dirt under your nails.

Top: Close-up of a tiny 4' x 4' garden
Bottom: An intensive deck garden  
Photos courtesy: Square Foot Gardening
When I lived in New Hampshire, where the soil was a rich, black loam, our house had a good-sized yard. But we shared it with another family, so garden space was limited. I read up on intensive gardening, which relies on close spacing, companion planting and deep, rich soil. In an eight foot by five foot raised bed, I grew enough tomatoes, zucchini, Swiss chard and green beans to last all year. And that’s in a three-month growing season. One year we canned 50 jars of tomatoes and, boy, did they taste good in the middle of winter.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, while I was planting my first New Hampshire garden in 1981, Mel Bartholomew was introducing a creative version of intensive gardening in his book, Square Foot Gardening. The method fits more produce in less space by avoiding rows and planting in four foot squares. It’s hard to get an original copy now, but you can order All New Square Foot Gardening (2006) here or find it on eBay.   

Lizzie Wilson waters her trailer garden
in this 
1959 Saturday Evening Post
by Stephen Dohanos
Available here
If you don’t have any yard space at all, container gardening on a patio, balcony or porch, including hanging baskets, will supplement veggies you buy. In a warm climate, succession planning will give you different harvests all year long.

And you don’t have to be in a house or stay in one place to garden. See here for a fun Facebook page devoted to trailer park gardening. That’s where I learned about Bacsac, a French company that came up with a weightless, portable bag for tiny, mobile gardening. To do the same on the cheap, use some ubiquitous cloth grocery bags set in a galvanized hog pan ($4 at hardware or feed stores). 
Nourishmat is a 4' x 6' all-in-one roll out garden • Photo courtesy: Nourishmat
Tiny gardening was in the news earlier this month when NPR did a story called Why Micro-Gardening Could Go Big. It is a great read on city gardening, helping people in urban areas with limited resources to grow their own food and the Kickstarter campaign for the new Nourishmat. It also has links to stories on window farming and indoor gardening. Read it here

What are your ideas for tiny gardening?
Stay tuned for Tiny Gardening, Part 2, when I’ll visit community gardens and farmers markets in cities big and small. Here is something to feast on in the meantime: 
UN Food and Agriculture Organization research shows that a well-tended micro-garden of 11 square feet can produce as much as 200 tomatoes a year, 36 heads of lettuce every 60 days, 10 cabbages every 90 days and 100 onions every 120 days.   - NPR

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Living Small in the Big Apple

Making Room exhibit
Museum of the City of New York

Sometimes it takes a big city to remind us how small we can live.

Life has been hectic here the last month, with the end of school, a busy workload and a trip to New York City. My daughter headed there for a week at a pre-college program, I had three days on my own to visit family and friends, and my husband arrived for five days of non-stop activity. We are home now, and our 1,800 sq ft house seems huge after my 10 glorious days in a small city apartment.

The borough of Manhattan, with more than 1.6 million people in just under 23 square miles, is a testament to tiny living. The challenges are met head-on in an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. Called Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers, it features a 325 sq ft studio apartment, a size prohibited in most areas of the city. 

Exterior and interior of the Making Room micro-unit
at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) •
the cube in the foreground coverts 
to four stools and a table
The comfortable and beautiful micro-unit, as the apartment is billed, takes advantage of innovative, space-saving design and appliances that can morph throughout the day. People wandered in and out continuously as a museum staff member showed how each item did double, and sometimes triple, duty. What looked like a footrest turned into four chairs and a table. The TV slid to reveal storage and display space. A step-stool converted to a beautiful chair.

The show presents architectural solutions from a look at New York City’s emerging housing needs by research organization Citizens Housing & Planning Council. Creative displays illustrate a myriad of data about trends in demographics that call for new ways of living. The issues are the same as the ones faced in smaller cities and towns all over the country: “how zoning and policy inhibits the development of some new housing options.”

Much like the tiny house movement, the ideas include new ways of thinking about what we need in a dwelling. From mini-studios for singles of all ages to add-on units for extended families, it is all about making room without taking up more room.

My cozy rental apartment in Manhattan
I’m a native New Yorker, and the Museum of the City of New York was just one reminder last week of why I love the Big Apple so much. I would love to reserve a retirement micro-unit in Manhattan, hoping by then the zoning laws have changed to fit the times. 

“The rules and laws that govern the size, shape and occupancy 
of our housing have not kept pace with the changing needs of our population.”
Making Room, Citizens Housing & Planning Council

For more pictures of the exhibit, see below. For info on the museum, see here. And for more on the Making Room initiative, see here and here.

325 sq ft apartment at MCNY, clockwise from top left: storage and wall bed behind couch; chair that coverts to step-stool; visitors seen through the entrance; TV slid over to reveal glass shelving; kitchen sink and prep area; kitchen storage, including rolling table; TV and storage