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Gardening - Toddler in the Dirt

If you haven't already, it's time to get serious about garden planning. But if your space is at a premium, that's not as simple as it sounds. What exactly should you plant when you haven't got room to plant much at all? Here are some suggestions for maximum nutrition in minimum plots.

Start with some new strategies. There are several worth considering:

First, expand your definition of "plot" to include containers. You can garden in everything from a decorative patio box to a pail with homemade drainage holes. With containers, you can put a "plot" almost anywhere. This flexibility can greatly expand your growing space if you don't have much to begin with. And don't be afraid to let your imagination run wild, like this gardener, who uses hanging shoe pockets!

Second, grow up not out with vertical gardening. This means planting crops that take up more air space than square footage. Think plants you stake to encourage upward growth or crops that rely on vines, which a trellis or poles can guide skyward.

Lastly, try succession gardening, the art of sowing multiple crops in the same space each season. This can mean planting a heat-loving crop in the space used by a cool-weather spring crop once that spring crop is spent. Or replanting a new crop of the old crop once the old crop is done. For example, we plant multiple crops of greens in the same spot all summer long. And when the peas quit we'll plant a heat-seeker in their place.

With that in mind, here are some crops that give you lots of delicious nutrition yet take little room in return:

  • Broccoli. This powerhouse is called nature's healthiest food by some. It's loaded with good stuff and grows on space-efficient stalks. Cut the crowns before they seed and new crowns will continue to emerge until winter letting you eat the same plant all season!
  • Brussel sprouts. Here's another cruciferous dynamo that grows up -- not out -- on a big stalk and lasts into winter. I know people say they hate them, but that's because they've never eaten them fresh.
  • Greens. They grow fast and can be replanted, too. You can plant spinach, leaf lettuces, arugula, kale, and more in virtually any size space and replant more as soon as it's all been picked. And every bite comes packed with all kinds of nutrients.
  • Tomatoes. Stake or cage them and they'll soar. You only need about a square foot per plant, and each fruit contains vitamins A, B complex, and C, potassium, and phosphorus, plus lutein and lycopene, two compounds with all kinds of benefits. Plant varieties with different harvest times so your small space can produce over a longer period, and look for those that produce lots of medium-sized fruits vs. fewer big ones.
  • Pole beans (for drying). Beans come in endless varieties and most have loads of protein, fiber, and antioxidants. Make a teepee shape out of four poles tied together at the top and let the vines climb. Dry the pods on the vine then harvest and store the beans inside for soups, sides, and more.
  • Carrots. These roots contain impressive amounts of cancer-fighting, eye-boosting, carotenoids plus lots of minerals, vitamins A and C, and fiber. And you can grow a lot of them in a small space. Plant them early, harvest before the heat, then replant in late summer and harvest into winter.
  • Beets. Here you get double the eating -- both their greens and red roots are edible and come with high levels of minerals, vitamins, and healthy phytochemicals. Thin (and eat!) your initial planting, then pick the rest when they're 1" to 2" big.
Geoff the Inkslinger and his Dog

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!