Real Men Sow

6 Things I’ve Learnt From Growing Vegetables in a Small Space

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Having started tidying up my veg beds in readiness for moving, I’ve been reflecting on hat I’ve learned since I went from growing on an allotment to having my vegetable beds in the garden.

My growing space was effectively reduced by two thirds, but I found learning to produce good yields and tasty crops from a small area an interesting and invigorating challenge.

We’ve had an offer accepted on a house in Somerset, complete with smart greenhouse and a similar sized space to cultivate some veg as my current garden plot. There are also some ridiculously cheap allotments for rent just up the road, priced at a fiver a year for a full size plot, so whilst I decided on whether to start growing exclusively in the garden or rent myself an allotment too, here are 6 things I’ve learnt from growing in small spaces.

Order is Important!
In my first year of growing in the garden, I went all in. I dug over one single bed and filled it with plants. At first the space looked lovely and neat, until all the plants began growing and overlapping with each other.

Not only did this help spread pests and disease such as blackfly and blight, but the plot became difficult to manage and very untidy. Plants fought for space and harvests were down, and getting around became more like an advanced yoga class than a potter on the patch.

So in my second year I made some raised beds, which helped with the order loads. The beds were much easier to work and everything was more organised and thus more productive too.

Growing Dwarf Varieties
Growing in small areas is a lot about crop choice and efficient use of space, especially when compared to the free and easy, chuck it anywhere option on my roomy allotment plot.

The next year, my plot plan was very different. One change I made was increased use of smaller, dwarf veg varieties. These littler but equally productive plants are great if you’re growing in a small space. Dwarf French beans are incredibly productive, but kale, runner beans, and broad beans are also excellent smaller alternatives.

Smaller Space Focuses the Growing Mind
With limited space to grow in my back garden beds, I’ve had to make some decisions about what to grow and what to leave out.

In the past, I’ve used a prioritisation matrix (I know, I know…) to help choose which veg to grow. Some of the criteria, like cost in shops, were generic, but other were personal to me. Not all veg are equal to my palate. Tomatoes tickle my tastebuds, but turnips… well, turn me off.

And some veg, I just need a break from. We’ve all got those problematic ones that leave you scratching your head because you can never quite perfect them. Limited space has focused the mind on my veggie growing. The troublemakers are out, as are some of the lower value veg and those that just don’t get cooked with much.

You get more in than you think you will
Despite many a pretty plot plan, there was always something I forgot, or some stray seeds I couldn’t resist sowing and come planting out time Id’ be anxious as to where everything was going to go. Somehow though, everything always works out okay and you actually surprise yourself with how many plants you can get in to a small space.

And if you fill every inch of space in your beds, there are always containers. When I’m at the limit, I’ve used pots and containers to grow lots of different crops including lettuce, tomatoes, chard, radishes and mangetout.

Teaches You to be Creative and Resourceful with Space
I’d only dabbled with intercropping before, having been fairly blessed with space on the allotment. At the outset of my garden growing adventure, I’d often be found frowning and head scratching at where the next crop will go, so the idea of growing two crops together in a space where I’d normally grow one became interesting to me. I’ve grown a number of different intercropping duos since, such as beetroot and kale, radishes and sprouts and dwarf French beans under sweetcorn.

I’ve also enjoyed growing upwards too. I now use wigwams for peas and mangetout, which I’ve found to be an incredibly productive way of growing these vegetables. The taller the pea variety the better. I used 8 6ft bamboo canes to make my structure, occupying an area of 3ft squared, and joined at the top with a cable tie to make the wigwam shape.

It’s Easier to Manage than Allotment
One thing I learned quickly is whatever short cuts you take on a bigger plot, smaller is always much easier to manage.

A smaller space will also give you more time to focus on what’s important, and I’m a great believer that 10 good harvests are better than 20 average ones.

Allotments can be hard work, and take up a lot of your time. If you can’t keep on top of things, it can get you down, especially if harvests suffer as a result.

This is a message I’ve taken now I’m growing in the garden. I now concentrate on the bits I enjoy, like melons in the greenhouse, different varieties of squash; and not trying to grow so much that I can’t maintain a neat and tidy plot.

So, if you’re thinking of taking on a plot, keeping things small and manageable is the best possible tip I can offer. Make sure you enjoy yourself, and grow some veg you’ll love.

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About Real Men Sow

meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope.

However, three years on, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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