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Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces
Square Foot Garden

Tips for using garden space efficiently from MA Center San Ramon

In the wake of today’s plight - namely the confluence of the COVID-19 virus, environmental issues, and widespread poverty - growing healthy organic food has become a critical priority for families and communities around the world. Even in the smallest of spaces there are ways to grow intensively and organically. Doing so, not only directly benefits us and our families - any surplus produce can be shared with those less fortunate in our communities, building a kinder and more compassionate world, a world that prioritizes sharing over hoarding.

There are practicalities and benefits specific to growing food in small spaces. The general rule of thumb is 100 square feet of garden space grows enough fresh food for one person, for one season. However, using the principles of square foot gardening, that can be reduced to 16 square feet per person, or 1.5 square meters! If you only have a little space available and want to expand and intensify your existing growing area, you can look at combining square foot gardening principles, gardening in pots, vertical gardens, arbors and trellises.

Outlined in this article are three main small space gardening techniques: (1) square foot gardening, (2) vertical gardening, and (3) tower gardening.

Square Foot Gardening

Some advantages of square foot gardens (SFGs) include:

  • You can grow as much food as possible within a small space
  • A 4ft x 4ft raised bed provides ease of access
  • Beds can be constructed to grow food on a patio or a small yard
  • SFGs are easy to maintain as the closely planted beds will crowd out weeds, and the raised bed allows for physical ease in gardening
  • SFGs are not damaging to a yard, as they are not permanent structures
  • SFGs are perfect for a beginner gardener, as they are extremely easy to manage

You start by building a 4ft x 4ft raised bed and divide it into 16 even squares (1 square = 1ft x 1ft). You can use string or wooden dowels to divide the squares.

When planting crops, keep in mind the size of the mature plant. Space accordingly using intensive plant spacing principles. Examples of these spacing principles include:

  • 1 tomato plant per square
  • 4 spinach plants per square
  • 8 bean plants per square
  • 16 carrot or radish plants per square

Crop rotation and adding sufficient compost becomes important in SFG, as you plant to ensure the soil is not depleted. Add trellises to grow vining vegetables upwards and increase their growing potential.


Verticle Gardening

Vertical gardening can be a useful standalone method to grow food in particularly small spaces. There are many ways this can be achieved using readily available materials. Some examples of vertical gardens are:

  • Use planters mounted on a wall or shelving structure
  • Use planters on the ground with posts or trellises to encourage upward growth
  • Build a pallet wall garden.

When using planters mounted on a wall, careful attention needs to be taken in regards to the weight of the structure and ensuring it is fully secured.

Pallet gardening

For maximum use of space, you can combine square foot gardening with vertical gardening. You can also try using pots and planters in the same way, expanding their growth upward to increase harvests.


Tower Gardening

An incredibly efficient use of space and resources, tower gardens allow for intensive growth using a very small footprint, and their construction allows for reduced water evaporation. Some advantages of tower gardens include:

  • Tower gardens allow for high density yield per area
  • They are good for small sunny places like balconies, patios and rooftops
  • They facilitate year-round production indoors
  • They often provide more than 90% efficiency in water use

Building a do-it-yourself tower garden can be a creative project, utilizing materials you may already have on hand. These can be erected vertically or horizontally.

Tower gardening


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