These small vegetable garden ideas will help you get the most bang for your gardening buck! You can harvest fresh produce even if you’re limited in space in your urban garden.
You can even grow small fruit trees when you’re limited on space.
Does your homeowners association prevent you from growing food in the front yard? What if they never even KNEW? My ebook, The Edible Front Yard Garden will show you how!
Small Vegetable Garden Ideas
Small spaces can make a backyard vegetable garden a challenge. That’s not to say growing vegetables in limited space is impossible, though! With a little thought and some techniques for expanding the harvest, you can harvest fresh foods right from your backyard.
Consider Container Gardening
Planting in containers allows you to turn a condominium patio or apartment terrace into a producing small space garden. You can tuck a container full of pretty vegetables on a porch, hang some from an arbor or pergola, or line them up in a side yard if it’s sunny enough.
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Container gardens offer a bit of instant gratification, too. Fill them with good soil, plant your seeds or seedlings, water, and you’ve got a small vegetable garden! Container gardening also allows you to extend the season. You can move pots around as the seasons change to catch the most sun. And you can bring pots inside if frost is threatening before your crop is ready to harvest.
Try a Raised Garden
Raised garden beds are like container gardens on steroids. The concept is the same — you plant in a contained area rather than directly in the ground — but allows for a larger garden. Raised beds can be made any size you like, so you can design them to fit your space.
There is a very simple how-to for building a raised garden box on page 192 of my book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living.
One thing to remember: your arms are only so long. Don’t make the beds so large that you can’t easily reach the center for harvesting.
The depth of a raised bed can vary as well. Many garden plants can thrive in a bed that’s only 6″ to 12″ deep. Crops like tomatoes, peppers, and squash will need twice that depth.
When making garden plans, consider the space above the ground. While you can’t grow your crops in thin air, that vertical space allows you free up some ground space.
Creating trellises is easy, and it allows you to train plants like cucumbers, beans, and peas to grow up rather than out. This leaves precious square footage at soil level for more plants.
Try Square Foot Gardening
With a focus on getting as much mileage as possible out of a small garden bed, this planting method utilizes a special planting mix to assure the best production. It’s one of the most popular ideas for small gardens and the creator of this method has quite a following. While I’ve definitely used my garden beds to grow plants close together, I’ve not used Mel’s mix.
Use Succession Planting
Using this method in vegetable gardens allows you to keep crops producing in your garden continuously during the growing season, essentially extending the harvest season.
Rather than planting veggies once at the beginning of the growing season, many can be planted every couple of weeks, so that the harvest continues throughout the season.
You can read more about the concept of succession planting here.
Grow in the Space You Have
When we moved into our old house, the very steep front yard was filled with pineapple plants (undeniably cool, I know). It was probably an easy way for the previous resident to use the awkward space, but we wanted more productivity from the only sunny spot in the yard.
The pineapples ripened over the course of several months, and as they did, we pulled out the plants and shared them with friends and neighbors. We still have some pineapple plants, tucked here and there, but large-ish plants that bear only a single fruit over a long growing season just wasn’t the best use of that small space. Terracing allowed us to plant several “levels” of productive crops.
If your only open space is awkward and steep, terracing allows you easier access to care for your vegetable plants and for harvesting, but it also prevents erosion and helps to retain water in your growing area. This method is used extensively in vineyards, allowing growers to turn hillsides into a growing area. Basically, it’s a method of adding a series of “steps” up a hillside, creating flat areas situated between rises, similar to what you see above.
You can adopt this method in the home garden by creating a garden bed at the lowest level, then using boards or concrete blocks to retain the next level, and so on.
Transform Unexpected Spaces
For me, it was the driveway. The concrete drive was situated in the sunniest spot on our lot. Vegetable gardens do best with plenty of sunlight. Instead of battling the shade and poor soil conditions that existed in other parts of the awkward yard, we imported some soil to create raised beds.
This allowed us to start growing in good soil immediately. I used grow bags and planters made from stacked banana stumps. The banana stumps only last a season, but worked for our purposes. You could to the same with logs.
Choose the Best Plants
Trying to grow an 8′ tall okra plant in a one-gallon container would be just silly. Choosing plants that are suited to the planter size and space you have will assure a successful harvest. Many vegetable plants come in dwarf varieties. These plants produce just like their larger counterparts, but the plant itself remains small.
If you’re limited on garden space, it makes sense to choose vegetable plants that are great producers. These crops are great options — consider them as you sort through all of your small garden ideas, trying to get the most from your space.
We’ve all heard stories about people running away from a gardening neighbor bringing yet more zucchini to the door. Squash does take up a fair amount of space in the garden, but it’s also prolific.
If you’ve got a neighbor who grows and shares squash, you might want to save that space for something else. If not, you will be pleasantly surprised at the abundance a single seed can produce.
Choose a small variety like Patty Pan to take up less space in your small garden plot. Another option is to grow your zucchini plant inside a tomato cage to force it to grow more upright.
Caged and supported, a tomato plant takes up roughly a 2′ x 2′ piece of ground. One will produce a steady flow of ripe red fruit during the summer months. As I estimated in an earlier post, a single tomato plant can bear 20-30 pounds of fruit. [How to grow tomatoes]
A happy green bean plant will awe you with how many pods you can pull off during the season. Six bush bean plants can produce a colander full of beans every few days. Or, save space and grow pole beans vertically. [More on growing green beans.]
Unless you like your food fiery, you probably only need one hot pepper plant for fresh use. A jalapeño pepper produces fruit all season long, so you’ll be able to spice up your meals throughout the summer. You might need two plants if you plan to preserve homemade salsa for the pantry.
Bell peppers, on the other hand? I’ve not had enough success with them to invite them back to my garden, with one exception. Gypsy bell (a hybrid) is a smaller sweet pepper that is prolific and has a shorter growing season.
Greens like lettuce and spinach are easy to grow and will keep your salad bowl full. Container-grown lettuce is a perfect addition to an urban garden when there’s a shortage of space, especially if you hang it.
Those with warmer weather to contend with will do well with Swiss chard, which will produce new leaves all summer long. And remember to save the tops from your beets and radishes – they’re edible, too! [How to harvest lettuce to make it last]
A single Japanese long eggplant takes up roughly 15 square inches, but continually produces fruit throughout the growing season, making it a great addition to an urban garden. Varieties that put out larger fruit take up a bit more space. [More on growing eggplant.]
If you’d like to grow cucumbers, growing them vertically is one of the best small garden ideas you can adopt. It will save space on the ground for more crops. But no matter how you grow them, a healthy cucumber plant will produce high yields over a long period.
Tucking flowers into your plantings can add visual appeal to a garden. Choosing flowers that are edible allows you to add visual appeal to meals!
Originally published June 2016; this post has been updated.