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Gardening in small spaces: live in town? Elizabeth Ur's small gardening tips will keep you in fresh veggies all year long.

Don't think you have the space for a garden? Many seed catalogs feature varieties that are bred for small size plots--and organic too!

My first garden was the three-foot by six-foot space under my living room window at a ground floor apartment. There in front of the ever-present conifer shrubbery, I worked a bag of composted cow manure into the ground. I put a cheap edging along the sidewalk to keep my now precious soil in the bed and planted starts of lettuce, radish, nasturtiums and later six corn plants, bush beans, chives and bunching onions. I was given some climbing beans and trained them up the side of my small covered porch. The apartment manager came over one day while I was digging around in my little garden. "What are you doing?" she asked. "I thought I'd try my hand at a few fresh veggies," I said. "You can't do that here," she said. I smiled. "Want a head of really fresh lettuce?" She went away with that, parsley, nasturtiums, and some chives. I planted more to keep her `bought'. Now, I have my own farm, with more room, more plants, and more work. Small gardens are good!

A fine example of the small garden is at Lee Barnes' home. A permaculture teacher and environmental horticulture consultant, he is also an avid seed saver. I stopped by to look at his place when I was thinking of doing this article. He figures he has about 200 square feet, which includes a small grassed area with a dying dogwood tree in the middle and raised beds around it and the edge of his lawn--on cement. That's right! He rakes the leaves from the nearby maples into a pile and tucks his finely chopped compost under them. The veggie remains break down very quickly this way. I use my food processor to do this. He has Virginia Creeper and native clematis going up his small porch, which he says give small birds shelter for nesting and helping out with insects. In front of the porch is a bed also covered in leaves and further covered for the winter with the cut up Christmas tree. Lee demonstrates all of the intensive methods--from a purchased bag of compost with holes slashed in it and plants set directly into this, to a rectangle of crisscrossed twigs that have soil, leaves and veggie clippings poured over it. This all sinks down, creating a fluffy bed for more plants--veggies and flowers mixed together for beauty and, once again, insect control. The dogwood tree is surrounded with large plastic pots that have their bottoms removed, making them more permanent and holes in their sides, creating more planting spaces. He is not totally happy with the amount of sun his beds receive and changes this by moving some of his pots around, following the sun. One of his goals is to shift from annual plantings to perennial species and more self-seeding annuals.

I also like the idea of perennial gardening. Parsley has a life cycle of two years and can be harvested all the time once you have two plantings. In the Asheville area, many veggies will overwinter given a little cover. On February 26th,, I had several different lettuces that had overwintered, beets (the roots were tough, but I ate the ever-sprouting leaves), chard, and parsley. I kept planting kale seed throughout the winter, and harvested very small ones to use as salad and then let some get a bit bigger for stir-fry.

Another small garden trick is to grow up--using plants that climb, you can pack more into a small space. Snow peas love cool weather and can be seeded into the ground at the last frost date. They don't like their roots to get hot, so closely planting spinach or kale in front of them can take care of that challenge. As the weather warms up, soak regular peas or pole beans for a few minutes and plant these between the snow peas. They will be up and going and the snow peas can be pulled out as they stop producing. There are purple colored beans that are edible and very beautiful, and the leaves and flowers of nasturtiums are glorious to behold and a treat for the taste buds to boot. Marigolds, pansies, violets and roses are all edible flowers when grown organically. Sweet peas are also edible and are another plant that uses that vertical space. Carrots are great eaten small but take a long time to germinate and come up. Plant radishes with them. These come up quickly, mark the row for you, and are ready to eat much sooner. Fennel comes in two colors, green and bronze. It has a wonderful smell, lacey foliage, and is a favorite of beneficial insects. Even if you don't eat it, it is beautiful in flower arrangements.

Try these books to get you started in a small space. Happy planting and eating and remember to plant enough for those admiring neighbors and friends.

Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman, Chelsea Green Publishing. High Yield Gardening by Margorie Hunt and Brenda Bortz, Rodale Press

Successful Small Food Gardens by Louise Riotte

Elizabeth UR, with her husband Richard Whittaker, owns Birch Springs Farm in Waynesville, NC. You can contact her at 828-456-1793. Elizabeth is the volunteer coordinator for the upcoming WNC farm tour, so please call her for more information.
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Author:Ur, Elizabeth
Publication:New Life Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Words:903
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