There are many benefits to growing your own healthy and fresh vegetables. While you can go the traditional route of planting directly in the ground, there are other ways to grow that are better, especially if you are space-constrained. Here are the best places to grow food.
There is nothing better than heading out into your garden and picking food for your breakfast, lunch or dinner or even just a snack (I call it walk-by snacking). Your own home-grown food is going to be healthier and fresher, compared to what you can buy at the grocery store. It is better for the environment – the so-called zero mile diet – and is a great way to teach children where their food actually comes from.
There are other health benefits as well from gardening, especially in growing food.
There are many different places you can grow food, some very common, others perhaps a bit more radical. Read on to find out what in my opinion are the best places to grow food in your garden.
While building raised beds is an expense and time commitment, there are advantages to growing in a raised bed. A raised bed:
- warms up quicker in the spring
- drains better
- looks better
- easier to access
- paths are separate – people don’t walk on planting areas, compacting them
Raised beds when built properly can last many years. You can also easily incorporate season extenders such as hoop houses and add trellises to grow your vegetables vertically.
Imagine this: you step out of your kitchen door, snip off a few leaves of lettuce and a green onion, pick a ripe tomato and a juicy cucumber and snip off a bright orange bell pepper.
You now have the makings of a salad! Something you can take with you to work in order to save money on pre-made salads from your cafeteria. Plus your taste buds will explode with the fresh, clean taste of your own vegetables, not the week-old, tasteless vegetables in the cafeteria salad.
You can easily achieve this with a salad container garden. It will have to be a decent size pot (wide as well as deep). Just plant:
- a couple of heads of lettuce (you can include a red-leafed and green-leafed variety)
- one or two green onions
- a tomato plant (cherry tomatoes work well as they usually are more compact plants)
- a pepper plant
- a cucumber plant (have this plant at the back of the container and train it up a trellis
- a basil plant
Or plants some peas in a pot, add a teepee trellis and watch the sprouts wrap themselves around, growing tall. Fresh pea soup anyone?
The advantage of containers is that you can move the containers around to best suit the food you are growing (shade vs. sun) or whenever you want to change the decor of your space. You can also move them into a greenhouse or under protection to extend the season. Or start the container in the greenhouse early in the spring and then move it outdoors to it’s final growing location. Flexibility is key, especially in a small garden.
These could be lumped under the previous section, Containers, but I think these deserve their own section.
The main advantage of hanging baskets is that you can keep the plants off the ground and away from walking or crawling pests. This works especially well for strawberries which are a magnet for slugs and wood bugs when they are planted in the ground.
It also supports the idea of vertical gardening. You can hang baskets above and have containers below, doubling your growing space.
The main disadvantage is the need to water frequently in the heat of the summer. You can however setup a drip irrigation system that will water the baskets automatically with a timer.
Caution: Always make sure you hang them from hooks that are screwed into structural members. There is a lot of weight from all the soil, especially when it is wet.
A greenhouse is the perfect place to grow heat-loving vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumber, melons and citrus. They will enjoy the heat during the day and at night benefit from the stored heat if you have a passive greenhouse.
You can also use it to start seeds as I do. They get a head start and can grow strong before you transplant them outdoors.
In the cooler seasons you can grow cool season crops in your greenhouse that would normally not do well outdoors.
The main problems to look out for are to ensure pollination can happen and that the greenhouse gets adequate ventilation during the hottest part of the day. These actually are complementary, as a greenhouse that gets too hot will stop pollination. Ventilating the greenhouse cools it down and air movement will help to pollinate your crops as well.
While greenhouses can be expensive and time-consuming to build, the payback is well worth it. Alternatives include building a hoop house out of PVC pipe and clear plastic, which is a less expensive way and is more portable.
Do you really need that large expanse of lawn? Whether it be in your back yard or your front yard, consider replacing some or all of your lawn with a food garden.
It is debatable if one is less maintenance than the other, but I do know that grass is not that tasty!
Lawns also require lots of equipment to maintain, such as a lawnmower, trimmer, leaf blower and aerator. Usually this means polluting 2-cycle gas engines, although my recommendation is to switch to electric or manual lawn equipment if you need it.
Lawns generally can be converted over to a garden bed with the lasagna method. You place cardboard or several layers of newspaper over the location you want to convert to a bed. Then add organic matter such as straw, compost, manure and other good soil-building materials.
And it is becoming more acceptable now to have food gardens in your front yard if it is allowed in your area.
Existing Flower Beds
I’ve left this place for the end, as it is not as mainstream as some of the other places above. Typically in an urban small lot, there isn’t that much space for garden beds to grow vegetables and fruit.
So in order to still have a bounty of fresh produce from your own garden, you need to expand your mind to other possibilities. Using existing flower beds is a great way for a few reasons:
- obviously you are using space more productively and can eat what you grow.
- if you pick colourful vegetables and fruit, it will stand out or blend in well with the other colours of flowers.
- your vegetables are closer to the flowers that attract beneficial insects and/or are companion plants
- food plants can be used as ground cover to help block weeds and retain moisture. Lettuce works well for this.
Incorporate colourful vegetables such as multi-coloured Swiss chard, peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. Use them as you would flowers – tall ones at the back and compact, short ones in the front. I’ve even seen basil hedges edging a flower bed or creeping thyme used to cascade over the edge of a raised flowerbed!
Bonus: Boulevard Gardens
Note: check with your local municipality or city to find out what you can and can’t do on the boulevard, seeing as it is not your property. It would be disheartening to have the city bylaw officers come and ask you to rip out a productive boulevard garden because you violated local bylaws. Most of the bylaws focus on safety as having tall plants on the boulevard can mask pedestrians from cars.
Okay, I’ll slip one more in. There is an untapped location that most homeowners have: the boulevard in front of their houses. This is usually the narrow strip of land between the sidewalk and the road. In areas where there are no sidewalks, it is the few feet/metres next to the road that is considered to be city property.
Growing on the boulevard means that you are willing to share your food with passerbys. However this is a great way to build community, especially with your neighbours. And to teach others that you can grow your own food.
One thing to watch out for: boulevard plants are prone to dogs urinating on plants when they pass by on their walks with their owners. And on busy streets, car exhaust could be absorbed by the plants, which you then end up eating. Not to mention areas that use salt to melt snow and ice on roads. These don’t make for tasty food!
As you can see with a bit of imagination and thinking outside of the traditional row garden, you can grow more in less space. Give some of these best places to grow food a try in the next growing season to see which ones work best for you.
Tranquil Garden, Victoria, BC