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

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