Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Small space gardens

In my dreams I have a good-sized yard with a small greenhouse in a back corner.  Nearer the house I'd have a decent patch of lawn surrounded by gardens with roses and perennials and a few pockets where I could plant my favorite annuals.  In between would be a sitting area with the fire pit and a large-enough vegetable garden to grow whatever I want and try new things.  Of course I have all kinds of ideas for the plants I'd like to grow and where I'd hide the composter and even how I might keep a couple of chickens.  But the current reality is that my yard is smaller than I'd like and gets too much shade.  Still, I've managed a raised-bed on the side of the house and a number of pots around the pool that are fairly productive.  It's not as much 'earth' as I'd like for a garden, but it's probably just as well since my current calling at church barely leaves me enough time after work for what I've got.

So I'm always looking for ways to make the best use of limited space, and when I saw The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden: Grow Tons of Organic Vegetables in Tiny Spaces and Containers by Karen Newcomb offered by bloggingforbooks, I jumped on it.  This is an updated and revised edition of a book that was first published 40 years ago and has a new focus on growing heirloom varieties of vegetables – which I've become very interested in over the last few years.  The techniques are mostly organic and encourage improving the soil and making the most of your space with "crop-stretching" techniques and using vertical space.  About half the book is an encyclopedia-like section that lists the different vegetables and their suitability for the small "postage stamp garden," as well as recommended varieties.

This is a nice simple and straight-forward book with minimal illustrations.  The plant advice seems to be similar to what I've seen elsewhere except that it specifically addresses how to grow them in small spaces and make multiple plantings each year.  The recommended heirlooms are usually the ones I've seen in catalogs and the book suggests which vendors might carry them.  There are a few illustrated plans that seem a little better than some I've seen that are meant to get you thinking.  But some of the advice seems a little dated, such as roto-tilling and double-digging, although much of what I've read elsewhere no longer recommends either practice.  I was also a little confused by the suggestion to add red worms to compost piles, although I think the author is talking about cold composting as opposed to hot composting, which I imagine would just toast any worms in the pile.

Still, I appreciate that it's more like the traditional approach to gardening I learned when I was young.  Some of the recent advice I've seen (like 'no-dig' and no chemicals) doesn't always make sense to me, and this seems more like a 'tried-and-true' method – or at least a rational mix of the two.  It leans more to the beginner, but if you're trying to make the most of limited space (and limited time), this might be a very useful book.

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