Want to try growing some of your own food but don’t have a lot of space? Maybe all you’ve got is a small raised bed or a couple of containers, some hanging baskets or a window box. And what if you live in a place where summertime is glorious but all too short? Luckily, there are more veggie choices than ever before for the aspiring gardener who has virtually no space and a short growing season. Here’s your GUIDE TO NO SPACE, NO TIME VEGGIE GROWING.
YOU’VE GOT MORE TIME THAN YOU THINK
You have a lot of veggie growing options, even if you’ve only got three frost-free months. That’s because some plants actually prefer cool weather and many can happily weather a frost or two. Some you can direct sow into your containers before temps are continuously above freezing.
These kinds of cool weather or frost-hardy crops are also handy if your garden tends to be threatened with frosty weather at the end of the growing season as early as mid-September. In fact, some veggies can tolerate hard frosts and actually taste better when they’ve mature in cold weather. See the Veg Menu Planner below for recommendations according to cool spring, hot summer, and cool fall planting times.
MAKE YOUR GROWING SPACE MULTI-TASK
Whether you’ve got a couple of containers or a small raised bed, you can get more out of it by successive planting. For instance, in early spring, plant a variety of lettuces, radishes and fast-growing peas first. (Remember that you can eat radish greens, too! They’re great in salads.) As these plants mature and start to fade as temperatures rise, replace them with crops like pole beans, carrots, cucumbers or tomatoes. Be sure to pick some varieties that take longer to mature and are OK with fall frosts, too, like cabbages, cauliflower and kale, to extend your mini-farming experience well into September.
CHOOSE VEGGIES LIKE YOU CHOOSE YOUR CAR
Chances are that when you shop for a car, you look for something that gets you from A to B quickly, doesn’t need a lot of maintenance and will fit into your garage or parking space. (Yes, Bluetooth-enabled dashboards and back up video cameras are cool, too, but stick with me here.) When you’re shopping for veg seeds, look for speed, simplicity and compactness. You should find the following information on any seed packet or online description:
- the growth habit of the plant
- care instructions
- the number of days until harvest/days to maturity
- the approximate size of the vegetable
You want to find tasty options that grow quickly (days to harvest), have instructions that make liberal use the word “easy”, and have compact or dwarf habits (meaning the plant doesn’t sprawl or grow very big). Slender climbing vines are great space savers, too. Keep the proportions of your container in mind as you shop, remembering to keep an open mind. If you’ve got a window box that’s only 12 inches deep, you can still grow carrots, for instance. Just choose a stubby carrot like “Short Stuff”, shown in the photo, top left.
YOUR NO SPACE, NO TIME VEG MENU PLANNER
VEGGIES THAT ARE OK WITH SPRING FROSTS or COOL WEATHER
If you’ve got a spare (new and clean) garbage can, you can grow your own potatoes. They’re cold hardy so you can start early in the season. Central Alberta-based Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes have a special selection of fingerling potatoes for small gardens and container plantings and–bonus!–they offer small packages of only 4 potatoes for those gardeners with a real space crunch.
West Coast Seeds West Coast Market Mix includes several mescluns that only require 4 hours of sunlight a day–a great choice for a shady space in your garden or patio. Harvest the tender leaves by cutting them close to the plant’s base and you’ll get at least two more harvests.
Renee’s Garden’s Garden Party Five Color Radish Mix grows from seed (planted in early spring or fall) to crunchy scrumptiousness in under a month.
Peas can have a reputation for taking For. Ev. Er to produce a crop. But West Coast Seeds’ Little Marvel semi-dwarf bush pea matures in just 62 days. Growing only up to 18″ tall, this stocky little bush is a great option for a container or balcony garden.
Asian greens are high on every foodie’s list these days. Luckily, some are excellent choices for container growing and are very cold resistant. Try Purple Mizuna, (only 21 days for baby leaves, 40 days for mature) from Halifax Seed or Komatsuna (mature in 35 days) from Stokes Seeds.
VEGGIES FOR FROST-FREE DAYS
The Spacemaster Cucumber from Burpee Seeds is a compact cucumber you can grow in a container or even a hanging basket and is ready to pick in 56 days.
Baby Beat beets from Stokes seeds are ruby red mini beets that grow to maturity in just 40 days.
Short Stuff Chantenay carrots from Renee’s Garden are stubby jewels perfect for container plantings. They’ll be ready to harvest in 75 days or less.
Vesey’s Patio Star Summer Squash is a compact plant ideal for containers. Although the plant is small, its fruit is full size, reaching maturity in only 50 days.
If I only have time and space for one crop, I grow heirloom cherry tomatoes on the vine. You can grow a healthy 6-foot-plus vine in a large 15″+ container with canes poked into the soil and tied at their tops, teepee fashion. Not only do I love the taste of these tiny treasures, I love the smell of the whole plant as it warms in the sun. Try Sunshine Farm’s Peacevine, Baby Yellow Pear or Lime Green Salad mini toms, all taking about 65 days to maturity.
VEGGIES THAT ARE OK WITH FALL FROSTS
Burpee Seeds Red Russian Kale is a tender kale that actually gets better tasting after frost. And the gorgeous oak shaped leaves turn a lovely purple colour. This isn’t a small plant, though. You may want to plant it by itself if you’re using a container–it can grow up to a yard high and a foot wide. Pop some trailing herbs around the rim of the planter and you’ve got a gorgeous statement patio planter. Or if you don’t have room for a veggie bed but you do have a small flower bed, you could plant this pretty kale in amongst your annuals and perennials. It’s that good looking.
Swiss chard needs a real hard frost before it finally succumbs. Try Urban Harvest’s Rainbow Chard which produces baby leaves in just 30 days, mature leaves in 60 days. This is another veg that’s so pretty, if you don’t have a vegetable garden but do have a flower garden, this plant is happy to multi-task as veg and ornamental.
Vesey’s Avon Spinach is just right for container plantings and has upright leaves for easier harvesting. Matures in 44 days.
Pixie Baby Cabbage from Renee’s Garden can withstand frosty weather and delivers cute 5-6″ heads in just 60 days.
AND IF YOU’RE STILL WANTING MORE…
- For more ideas for what to grow this year when you don’t have a lot of space, check out my guide to easy-to-grow, container-friendly vegetables, all of which you can sow directly into your container’s soil (no need to start the seeds indoors).
- The excellent Joybilee Farm blog has a terrific guide for growing crops in zone 3 as well as a list of 20 recommended vegetables.
- If you’re in a zone with a short growing season but you do have some room for a large vegetable patch, find hard core veg growing information, from pre-germinating seeds to moderating soil temperatures, in the University of Idaho’s Short Season Vegetable Gardening guide.
Still think you have no space or time for veggie growing?