Great crops from small spaces

Last weekend, I held the first of my new “grow your own” workshops from my veg plot here in Cornwall. I had 5 guests, all with fairly small gardens, and one question that came up a lot was growing in pots in small spaces (outside the front door or in a tiny patio garden), and one lived in a garden-less flat but was keen to grow in window pots. A conversation with another potential guest a few days afterwards reflected this need to be able to grow crops in small spaces – he lives in a flat and has just a small balcony and space at the top of the stairs up to the flat.

I have the luxury of a huge plot with several raised beds as well as pot space. However, there are many advantages of growing in a small space in pots. Slugs are less of a problem. Weeds are less of a problem. Time is less of a problem. Gluts are less of a problem. Soil quality is less of a problem. I was keen to help my guests to make the most of their spaces, so here were some ideas I put forward:

  • Salad leaves are a brilliant crop for small spaces. They needn’t take up much space at all if you treat them as cut & come again. Plant them close together and keep harvesting the outer leaves. You could plant 15-20 different salad plants in a single grow bag and have a huge crop. Or 3-4 plants in a reasonably large, but fairly shallow pot.
  • Choose the veggies that give you maximum yield. I’d personally avoid roots, as you only get one veg per plant. Instead I’d stick with fruiting veg like tomatoes, chillies, beans, or leafy crops that will keep going for months.
  • A small planter (like the ones Rocket Gardens sells) is perfect on a balcony or patio. It gives enough space to grow a few different things. This is how I’d plant one for maximum cropping…set the planter so that it faces the sun with the long edge at the back. Along the back, use 2 short bamboo canes and some chicken wire to make a little trellis. It only needs to be 40cm high. Grow 10 sugar snap plants along this trellis. Then, in front of the peas, you will have space to grow a few rows of veg, running from back to front. I’d do a row of 2-3 dwarf french beans, 2 rows of salad with 2-3 each of wild rocket, mizuna, sorrel and lettuce, and 2-3 curly kale.
  • Club together with neighbours/friends with small gardens to share the cost of plants. Rocket Gardens tends to sell things in 10s, so you probably won’t need all the plants. If you get together with a neighbour or two then you can halve the cost and share the plants. Alternatively, pop your excess seedlings in small 5cm plant pots and give them away to friends.
  • If you don’t have much sunlight, try these plants: Salad leaves, spinach, chard, coriander, curly kale. They will all produce plenty of leaves for you to enjoy.
  • Grow new potatoes in deep pots or tyre stacks. If you have a patio garden, this is a perfect way to grow potatoes and needn’t take up much space.
  • Window pots are great for: cut & come again lettuces, rocket and mizuna, as well as herbs. You’ll enjoy delicious salads for months.
  • Choose quick growing crops for window pots, too. If you don’t want to be restricted to salad leaves but want to grow on the windowsill, then you can have quite a lot of fun with faster growers and successional planting. For example, spring onions grow quite quickly and once harvested you can plant something else in the pots. Also, you can normally plant and harvest 3 rounds of beetroot in a season.
  • Don’t forget strawberries! They usually grow really well in pots, and you could easily grow 6-8 to a grow bag.