Even if you have limited space for a garden, you can experience the wonder of growing your own foods and flowers. Whether planting in containers, a raised bed or a square-foot garden, it’s easy to raise crops bursting with sun-ripened flavors and nutrition.
Try your hand at raising table-worthy vegetables and be delightfully surprised at the delicious results. Fresh-from-the-yard flavors and a lower family food budget are just the beginning of the rewards to be reaped. You’ll also harvest bushels of health-promoting benefits, including stress relief and a stronger immune system. All this can be accomplished in a garden requiring very little space.
When you have limited room for gardening, the best solution is planting in raised beds or containers. Either of these gardening approaches promises an exceptionally high yield of veggies.
Raised beds. These above-ground gardens are usually made with a wood frame, such as the one shown above and sold at Hy-Vee Garden Centers. Keeping these beds no more than 4 feet wide allows you to maintain crops by leaning into the garden. Soil, mulch and fillers to improve drainage fill the box. Square- foot gardening is a popular high-yield method similar to raised beds. Read about it, right.
Container gardening. Anything that can hold soil is a potential garden, such as a large plastic pot or an old wheelbarrow. The advantage here is flexibility. No matter the size a yard is, there are containers that will fit. A well-placed container allows you to position plants to capture sunshine or place veggies and flowers where they become design elements within your yard.
For a successful garden, position plants so they will get plenty of sunshine and water. Use quality soil that allows sufficient drainage. Most fruits and vegetables need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight in the Midwest. Place your garden where it’s convenient for tending and harvesting.
Shapes, sizes and materials for containers are almost endless.
- Add a rustic cedar planting box to a sunny spot on a deck.
- Purchase large, colorful pots of 10 gallons and up. These can be moved from season to season—or even during a season—until you find the perfect position for sun.
- Use half of a wooden barrel to host a gathering of tomato plants.
- Check out water tanks in various sizes at farm stores. They are ideal for planting.
- Create a focal point for your yard by stacking small pots on a bench with larger pots in front on the ground. Keep in mind the heights to which the plants will grow.
- Attach a collection of 1- or 2-gallon- size metal cans to a fence, a shed or other utilitarian surface.
Square-foot gardening makes it easy to plant significantly more vegetables, allowing you to enjoy an abundant harvest from a small area.
Start with wood frame similar to a raised-bed frame. Build a 4×4-foot frame with walls about 12 inches high. Fill it 6 inches deep with soil. Attach a latticelike grid of thin wood strips across the frame top to divide the bed into 12-inch squares. Plants are arranged together as closely as possible.
Here’s what you need to get started:
- A garden frame. The Hy-Vee raised-bed frame, shown above, also works for a square-foot garden. Just add a grid to the top.
- A bottom. This keeps out weeds. Make a bottom from weed cloth or plywood with holes for drainage.
- A grid. Starting at one corner of the frame top, put a mark every 12 inches between frame posts. Using six 4-foot-long narrow strips of wood for a 4×4-foot frame, attach the strips at every mark to crisscross the box.
- Soil. Purchase garden soil, peat moss and vermiculite for a planting medium that supports growth.
Ways To Get Your Kids Involved
Kids and gardens go together like peanut butter and jelly. Children have a natural curiosity about the world around them, and they join in eagerly when invited to explore and experience the magic of seeds and growth. Here’s how to ignite interest in gardening.
- Choose the right plants. Purchase large, easy-to-handle seeds, such as squash, sunflowers, pumpkins or peas. If your child is interested in flowers, moonflower vines and four o’clock plants offer big seeds and time-telling blooms.
- Kids go for names. Look for veggie varieties with fun names like Baby Boo pumpkin, Flying Saucer squash, speckled trout-back lettuce or Thumbelina carrot. Or pique kids’ interest with unusual colors, including purple beans, white carrots, orange cauliflower or even blue potatoes.
- Deliver immediate gratification. Kids love gardens with fast-growing plants, such as radishes that sprout in only 4 days, Alpine Strawberries and green onions.
- Teach patience. On the flip side of instant gratification, you can also instill the idea that rewards don’t come overnight. Plant leaf lettuce, sugar snap peas, tomatoes or corn, and they’ll learn.
- Engage kids with visual displays. Grow a leafy hideout by planting a bamboo-stake tepee with pole beans. In beds or containers, plant a food-themed garden, such as a pizza, stir fry, salsa or salad garden. Then let kids help prepare meals using their homegrown ingredients.
- Create memories. Take pictures throughout the growing and harvesting seasons, and encourage your kids to journal about their garden adventures. Not only will you be growing fresh foods,but also healthy eaters and kids who will be life long gardeners.
KIDS’ GARDEN PICKS
Children should begin gardening early, says Hy-Vee garden expert Jerry Kluver. “By the time they are five, kids should be in the garden touching the dirt and discovering the smells.” A current trend is encouraging kids to grow the same vegetables and flowers that are grown in gardens at the White House. Here’s a list of those popular plants.
|BROCCOLI ||A patch of broccoli resembles a small grove of trees, which amuses kids. Plant in late summer as a fall crop. Grown in partial shade, broccoli thrives as the air cools. Ready to harvest in 80 days. |
|CARROTS ||Smaller carrots are sweet and tender, making them a perfect snack for children. This familiar food is loaded with vitamin A. Plant in loose soil by mid-August and pick in about six weeks. |
|GREEN BEANS ||These require little care except for regular weeding and giving them plenty of water during dry spells. Planted in a sunny spot, they reach maturity in about 45 days. |
|POTATOES ||Plant a chunk of a potato containing two eyes to produce a plant. Most potatoes sold as food are treated so they won’t grow. Instead, purchase starter potatoes at a Hy-Vee Garden Center. Plant in spring. |
|PUMPKINS ||Plant pumpkin seeds soon to have one ready as a jack-o’-lantern by Halloween. Pumpkins take about 100 to 120 days to grow, depending on variety. Once a plant appears, it needs plenty of water. |
|RADISHES ||Radishes provide almost instant gratification for kids. These veggies are fully grown in as little as 25 days. Plant in late summer and you’ll have an abundance of radishes in fall. |
|SUGAR SNAP PEAS ||Because no shelling is required to eat sugar snap peas, they have become a garden favorite. Try a bush variety, which provides an abundance of crisp produce that can be eaten raw or cooked. |
|SPINACH ||With thick, dark green leaves, spinach always looks inviting in a salad. Planted in late summer for a fall harvest, spinach is fully grown in about 45 days. It’s a good source of vision-enhancing vitamin A. |
|SUNFLOWERS ||There’s excitement when bold blooms start popping about 60 days after planting. For variety, plant a sunflower seed mix that offers flowers ranging from 3 to 8 inches in diameter. |
|TOMATOES ||Choose a variety of cherry tomatoes or other smaller types that kids can gobble up easily. Most tomatoes reach maturity about 75 days after they’ve been planted in full sun. |
Sharing gardening time with your children will be as wonderful for you as it is magical for them, says Jerry Kluver of Hy-Vee. “You’ll never feel closer to your children than when you’re down in the dirt working together,” he says.