Small Space Homesteaders UNITE!

Are you a Small Space Homesteader? Share your story here...


  • Ruth Ann Reyes
    Ruth Ann Reyes Posts: 576 admin

    You might be surprised at how much you can grow in small spaces!

    I am so grateful that Elderberry grows everywhere on the South Texas Coast!

    I have been able to gather enough elderberries to make enough syrup for the entire year from this one bush!

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,585 admin

    Love this thread @Ruth Ann Reyes

    I'll try to get my firend Shannon to post about the quail she is raising in her living room.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,920 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited October 31

    You can grow a surprising amount in small spaces if you carefully select what you are growing. And you can increase the space available by growing in pots that supplement the ground space available. You also want to grow vertically wherever possible.

    My challenge is a little odd. I have almost an acre of open ground, some of which is shaded by trees or buildings, and all of which is heavy clay. Much of it is proned to flooding, holding a couple of inches of standing water. Apple trees and crabapple trees do well in the clay, but few other food plants do well. Jerusalem artichokes don't mind the clay, but growing them outside the garden just feeds the voles.

    So my actual vegetable growing space is quite small, a few hundred square feet of raised beds with excellent soil made of peat, vermiculite, and compost. About 2/3 of it is fenced, the rest is not.

    I have good success with pole beans (for green beans), pole peas, lettuce, mustard greens, green onions, garlic, and strawberries. All of these can produce a year's worth of crop in a relatively small space. I'm going to try runner beans next year, and expect they will also do well.

    Several types of dry or shelly beans grow well here, including Vermont Cranberry, Jacob's Cattle, and Turtle (black). But they don't produce many beans per area. A 4ft x 4ft bed of nothing but beans produced a small bag of beans at the end of the season, after tying up the bed all summer and fall. Unlike green beans, where you pick the pods and more are produced, dry and shelly beans only produce one crop per year. I'm trying to get these to grow in the native soil outside the fence so that I can give them more room, but more experiments are needed.

    Spinach will grow fine in the raised beds, but doesn't produce much edible leaf per plant compared with lettuce or mustard. So not very productive for me. It's also much slower to sprout and grow than lettuce.

    I grew collards one year previously and they were very productive, so I plan to grow them again next year.

    Potatoes will grow in my raised beds, but because I am forced to crowd them they don't produce enough to justify the cost of certified disease-free seeds. On the other hand, I haven't had much problem with potato diseases even in year 2 or 3 of replanting my own potatoes (sometimes accidentally through failing to harvest all of the tubers). I tried potatoes in bags last year, and while they grew, they didn't produce a lot of tubers. I discovered the hard way that using a layer of pure peat (because of limited compost available) to top off the bags above the plants is useless. The plants will grow through the peat, but they only produced tubers in the fertile layer below, which was a mix of peat and compost. I would need to get at least 10 lbs of potatoes out of a 4 ft x 4 ft bed to justify the space used. I never get enough potatoes no matter what I try. They seem to be a plant that really needs to grow in uncrowded conditions.

    Raspberries grow well if fenced. The ones I tried to grow in the flower garden didn't compete well with the surrounding plants. Growing them is a multi-year project, because they only produce a few fruit per plant. You need a lot if you want more than a tiny crop. Eventually the plants you buy will spread and produce more fruit, and my long-term goal is to have them growing all along the inside garden fence in the native clay. They are well on their way toward that goal, but more years will be needed for them to spread further. I have to dig up ones that come up in the paths and move them to along the fence.

    Tomatoes are inconsistent. They grow well, but some years I get quite a bit of fruit and some years very little. I hope to identify or breed one or more strains of tomatoes that will consistently be very productive here.

    I still haven't solved the problem of producing a significant number of calories in a small space in Zone 4. Growing nutrient rich foods is easy, growing a significant amount of calories in a small space is harder.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,517 admin
    edited November 1

    My daughter LOVES flowers; so much that most of her garden space looks as though it is just for beautification. However, she has grown veggies mixed in with her flowers as well as edible and medicinal herbs. All of her growing is done in raised beds or pots with the exception of a few shrubs and roses.

    Potatoes have done very well for her despite the limited space. She has produced enough for a year for herself and husband as well as some to share with us. In one bed she planted spuds and then nasturtiums. The nasturtiums really took over but didn't deter the potatoes at all.

    Her carrots didn't do nearly as well this year as last. Similar to last year, they were planted at the base of sunflowers. Not sure what the problem was, although I am beginning to suspect they didn't like the sweet peas that she planted to climb up the sunflowers. They liked the beans she planted with them last year. The beans certainly did well climbing on the sunflowers. Because of her exposure, I'd like her to try shell beans next year. A friend in the community has been able to produce enough dry beans to do her for the year with extra to trade. She has been growing them in the centre of a bed that is 3' wide and about 8' long with strawberries on either side below.

    Tomatoes and peppers were done mostly in pots at my daughter's but she had a couple of tomato plants that were mixed in with her dahlias that produced better than the ones in pots despite being almost hidden amongst the dahlia foliage.

    She has a strawberry bed that is about 3' x 12'. I'm really amazed at the amount of fruit it produces. They are ever-bearing strawberries that have produced from June right through until the recent hard frosts. She was able to freeze quite a few bags in addition to eating berries almost daily. I have plans to build a similar sized bed and get some of her runner starts.

    I think one of the tricks of small space gardening is studying companion planting and see which plants do best together, to make the most out of your space. Find a foliage crop or a vining plant that works well with a root crop, so your space does double or even triple duty. Like the 3 sisters grouping.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,920 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Torey I'd like to hear more about your daughter's potatoes and how she grows them in quantity in a small space.

  • Lisa K
    Lisa K Posts: 1,842 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Due to gophers and poor soil (our houses are on an old airstrip) I started to grow things in towers. I have one for culinary herbs, two for vegetables, one for strawberries and one for medicinal herbs.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,517 admin

    @VermontCathy The bed that contained both potatoes and nasturtiums is about 4' x 10' and is 3' deep. The soil that went into it: on the bottom layer was leftover garden debris from the previous year and then filled up well rotted manure from a local ranch. I know you aren't supposed to have soil that is too hot for potatoes so this must be well composted enough; just like black soil.The other potatoes have been tucked in here and there in beds where there was open space. Those beds are between 18" and 2' deep. Similar soil. She has a southwestern exposure and unlimited water, so she was able to keep everything very lush despite our drought conditions here.

    This year she has grown Prince of Orange which is a red-skinned, orange flesh variety. Also Amarosa, Russian Blue and All Purple. Its quite a pretty mix when they are roasted together with my white fleshed Haida potatoes. I think the Prince of Orange is the best producer of all the one she has grown.

    I just checked and at least a couple of websites indicate that nasturtiums make good companion plants for potatoes. Maybe that's part of it. She has nasturtiums everywhere.

  • Lisa K
    Lisa K Posts: 1,842 ✭✭✭✭✭

    My dad used to grow climbing beans and peas in a strip of soil between his retainer wall and the fence between his house and his neighbors. It was about 2" wide and 20' long.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,920 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Torey Hmm, I wonder if the 3 ft deep beds really helped. For tubers that grow near the root soil line and must be protected from sunlit, depth could make a big difference.

    My wooden beds are only 1 ft high and typically have at most 6 inches of soil in them.