How to plan a vegetable garden even in the smallest space – EcoWatch | Directory Mayhem

You don’t have to settle for that little potted basil plant on your windowsill; Any small outdoor space can be turned into a beautiful, productive vegetable garden or a fire escape into a fresh food oasis. Even on a 10×10 lot, a hundred pounds of produce can grow if you plan ahead and maximize your space.

Industrial agriculture has far-reaching environmental impacts, from water and air pollution to energy use and environmental degradation. In 2019, total greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in the United States accounted for 10% of total national emissions: a 12% increase since 1990. By eliminating the need for transportation, packaging and refrigeration, you can grow your own vegetables – even just a few plants – can significantly reduce your environmental impact. It can also save you money on expensive store-bought products; Spending a few dollars a day on supplies and a few minutes of maintenance a day will see you seed weeks’ worth of produce over time.

However, gardening does require some planning, especially if you are working with a smaller space. During those last cold weeks of winter, getting ready for your new garden is a great reminder that spring is just around the corner. Here’s how to get started.

Choose your plants

FG Trade/E+/Getty Images

Facing that wall of packets of seeds at the garden store can be overwhelming. Rather than reaching indiscriminately, choose plants that will thrive and yield a bountiful harvest in the conditions you can provide.

high producers

Choose plants that produce a high yield even in a small space: runner and pole beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, turnips, peppers, peas, kale, zucchini, lettuce and lettuce leaves produce without much space. Also, choose vegetables that produce all season long—like peppers, squash, and tomatoes—instead of crops that can only be harvested once, like corn and carrots. Peas and beans continue to produce after harvest, as do many leafy greens like spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and arugula.

Grow up, not out

Climbing plants grow vertically, maximizing your space. Stakes, fences, cages, or trellises support vine plants, or tie string to a trellis on one side of a raised bed and stretch it across the property to allow the plants to grow.

Squash and cucumbers usually take up a lot of space, but if you trellis them properly, they’ll shoot up. Peas and beans – such as Kentucky Blue Pole Beans – grow fast and plentifully. Pole bean varieties are better suited than bush beans for vertical cultivation and do not spread as much.

smaller is better

While regular varieties often thrive in smaller spaces, many crops also have compact or dwarf varieties. This way you can enjoy your favorite products without taking up too much space. Look for varieties labeled “tiny,” “compact,” “dwarf,” “baby,” “patio,” or other terms that evoke smaller size.

Think sunlight

Before choosing your plants, consider how much sunlight your garden gets on an average day. Vegetables generally need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day to grow and produce successfully. If you’re unsure of your sun exposure, record a video of your garden or balcony to see the patterns of sunlight and how it’s scattered around the room (remember it changes a bit throughout the season). Observe which sections are light the longest and watch out for shadows cast by trees, fences, buildings, etc. If your entire space gets shade, consider root vegetables (potatoes, carrots) that only need about 4 hours of sunlight, and leafy plants (kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach) that tolerate less sun.

Getting ready

Once you know what plants you want, order seeds or plan where to get transplants when it comes time to plant. Seeds might sell out closer to the start of the growing season, so make sure you have everything you need ahead of time.

Plan it out

TG23/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Creating a sketch of your garden will help you stay focused and realistic about what will fit in your space.


Keep your expectations small for the first year. A 6′ x 6′ plot can yield plenty of vegetables and is a good starting point for a novice gardener; a 20′ x 25′ (500 square foot) bed can provide enough vegetables for a family of four during the productive summer months, so a smaller space is perfectly adequate.

Now that you know how much sunlight you have, choose a spot in your yard to prepare for planting. Sketch the dimensions and consider how many plants you can reasonably grow (5 types of vegetables for a 6′ x 6′ plot is advisable), bearing in mind the spacing required for your chosen plants. If you have room for multiple rows, leave a foot or two of space as a walkway between them.

raised beds

Building raised beds is another option for small spaces, especially if you don’t have healthy soil or any soil at all. The soil in raised beds also heats up faster in the spring, making them a good option for colder climates. You also don’t have to waste space on paths to go through the rows.

Growing in raised beds also gives you the option of rounding off the bottom to create more space. For example, if the lot is 6′ wide and you shape the ground into a gentle arc, you can make up to 7′ available for cultivation. While an extra foot may not seem like much, the cumulative extra space can allow you to grow more plants.

container gardening

Pretty much anything can be grown in a container. If the sunniest spot (or the only spot) available to you is the patio, back porch, or a fire escape in town, consider switching to container gardening and growing your veggies in planters.

At least a 5-gallon pot is needed for fruiting plants like peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. A 12-inch diameter pot is also preferable and leaves room for plants, especially bushy ones like tomatoes. Remember, the larger the container, the less often you’ll need to water.

Unlike houseplants, plastic containers are better for container gardening than terracotta/clay pots, which dry much faster. Conversely, metal pots will cook the roots, but if you don’t get ample sunlight, black plastic will help retain some heat.

Draw each plant

Laying out individual plants ahead of time will help you avoid over-buying seeds and help you determine how much fertilizer or soil to buy.

Think about where each seed or starter will go, with sunlight and the depth needed for each crop being the main considerations. To fit more plants in a small space, try staggering the seeds or growing in triangles instead of rows. However, avoid overfilling them; Having more plants squashed together will produce less yield than having fewer plants growing to their full potential.

Many gardeners also have success with companion planning: growing multiple plants in one spot, typically pairing low-growing and taller plants. Basil, for example, thrives under tomatoes that protect them from the afternoon sun. You can also grow vegetables that harvest earlier — like spinach or peas — with slow-growing crops like peppers that take over after the early harvests are complete.

Plan for healthy growth

Diana Van der Sluys/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Before planting seeds in the ground, make sure you can give your veggies everything they need to thrive.

healthy soil

Rich, healthy soil is critical to a successful garden. A dark and crumbly soil is the goal, with a good mix of all three components: sand, silt and clay. Find out the composition of your soil and make sure it’s not too gritty (sand), powdery (silt) or sticky (clay) and incorporate healthy soil if needed.

The nutrient content of the soil is just as important as its composition. Supply more essential nutrients by spreading 2-3 inches of fresh compost over the beds a few weeks before spring planting, then turning it at least 6 inches below the surface (some gardeners spread it in the fall as well). Start by finding compost to use if you don’t make your own at home. Alternatively, mix in worm droppings (AKA worm droppings) — with a bundle if you don’t have worms in the soil — or liquid fish emulsion, available at most garden supply stores

If you’re growing in a raised bed, line the bottom with a few layers of newspaper, then add soil on top so you don’t need it.


Rainy weather aside, the average garden needs a thorough watering every few days. Plan how you’re going to water your plants, as this could change where you plan to grow things (for example, if your hose doesn’t reach the far side of the house, consider choosing a closer location). If you’re carrying water inside, make sure you’re realistic about how far you can carry it. Watering your plants with rainwater is another low-impact option if you have the space.

Prevent pests and diseases

Unfortunately, smaller gardens can be more susceptible to pests and diseases. Crop rotation controls fungi and pests, but this practice is not always possible on small plots. If you have an infestation or a serious fungal problem, it is best not to grow this plant (or similar plants from the same family) for a year.

Water the soil instead of the leaves to prevent fungal problems and water earlier in the day to allow the leaves to dry out again in the sun.

If you have nuisance bugs, remove them by hand or use one of the many natural insect repellent remedies such as diatomaceous earth, aromatic herbs, neem oil, or a dish soap and water spray. To keep other pests out, like rabbits and deer, surround plants with chicken wire or fencing and push them at least 6 inches below the ground to prevent burrowing animals from getting underneath.

Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in English and Environmental Studies and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America and interned at WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.

Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German and volunteering on farms and gardens and environmental justice in her community. In addition to journalism, she is also an essayist and author of creative non-fiction books.

Leave a Comment