Jan 7, 2010

Fruits & Vegetables - Even from a Small Yard

Winter is the time to plan your spring and summer garden, but what if you want to start growing some of your family's food, but don’t have room for a traditional vegetable bed or orchard? Or what if you simply want to use every available space in your yard to produce food? With a little creativity, you can grow food almost anywhere in your yard.

Growing in the Shade
Most vegetables and fruits require a full six hours of sun to produce decently. However, there are some vegetables that will grow in three to five hours of sun a day. These include: beets, lettuce, arugula, endive, cress, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, peas, Brussels sprouts, radishes, Swiss chard, collards, spinach, mustard greens, kale, beans, onions, garlic, chives, radishes, mint, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, raspberries, and even strawberries.

Just be sure you measure your garden's light in the season the crops will be growing, since the amount of sunlight your yard receives can change from season to season. Not sure how to measure your garden's light? Simply choose a location in your garden and every hour, check to see if it receives at least six hours of sun. If you're too busy for that, use a handy little gadget called a SunCalc; all you have to do is set in the soil in the morning and read it in the evening.

Growing in the Front Yard
The newest trend in vegetable gardening is to dig up the lawn and replace it with a full veggie garden; this is an excellent option if your front yard receives at least six hours of sun, but do consider whether or not your plants will be too tempting for passers-by. My mother grows blueberries near the sidewalk, and each year people steal the fruit – some even bring buckets with them. At my own house, I’ve seen people stop their car, pull up to the mow strip (the space between the street and sidewalk, which I have planted with flowers) and pick a bouquet of blooms; I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if I had edibles growing there!

If your city allows it, a fence around your edibles, even if it’s only the short variety allowed in many suburban areas, can help deter thieves. Planting edibles close to the house – and especially the front door or large windows – may help, too.

If you don’t yet have trees in your front yard, or you’re willing to kill purely ornamental trees in your front yard, you can plant trees that produce fruit and nuts. Hedges that are only for looks can also be replaced with berry-producing shrubs like currants, gooseberries, pineapple guavas, blueberries, bush plum, hazelbert, natal plum, and American cranberry bush.


Some plants we consider completely ornamental also provide food, including roses (the petals are edible and many roses also produce rose hips), some honeysuckles, some dogwoods, and nasturtiums (which are great in salads). Excellent edibles for foundation plantings include current, blueberry, currant, gooseberry, natal plum, bush plum, and rosemary.

And try mixing some attractive lettuces, Swiss chard, pepper, scarlet runner beans, eggplants, chives, rosemary, lavender, carrots, artichoke, rhubarb, and okra in with your purely ornamental plants.

Go Vertical and Small
Many fruits come not just in “standard” sizes (the tallest variety, 20 to 30 feet, and sometimes taller), but also semi-dwarf (about 10 to 16 feet tall) and dwarf sizes (about 5 to 8 feet tall). Despite their small size, one semi-dwarf apple tree, for example, can produce 500 apples a season. And dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties live a long time, producing for about 15 or 20 years. Dwarf fruit trees can also be grown in pots that are 24 inches larger, making them somewhat movable. (Not all fruit trees will live longer than a few years in a pot, however. Check out this article by the University of Florida's on growing trees in pots before you make your decision.) Just remember that fruit trees usually need to be planted in twos to produce fruit.

You may also grow any size fruit tree in a style called espalier, meaning flat against a wall. Espalier takes patience and time, but with careful training and pruning, espalier fruit trees take up a small amount of space, but produces 30 to 60 pounds of fruit each season. If the idea of training a young fruit tree flat against a wall, fence, or trellis in your yard is intimidating, you can even buy already-trained espalier trees at some nurseries.

Some variety of apples grow in what looks like one tall branch; these are called “columnar” varieties, and grow 8 to 12 feet tall, but are only about two feet wide. These could be a great choice if you can't fit even a dwarf tree in your yard.

Many fruits also gr
ow on vines, making them fit more comfortably in many small yards than trees will. Kiwis, grapes, passionflower (some varieties produce fruit if you live in a warm area), hops, scarlet runner beans, and groundnuts are just a few possibilities. You can even go vertical by using planters attached to a fence or wall.

Think creatively! Squash, zucchini, and eggplant look gorgeous grown on a sturdy arbor. Beans grow up corn stalks, without taking up an extra row of garden space. With limited resources, herbs can be grown outside a hanging shoe storage device with fabric pockets.

Many vegetables and herbs can also be grown in pots, too. I don't recommend the hanging variety, except for small herbs, because most veggies need plenty of room for their roots. In addition, whenever you plant in pots, the soil gets leached of nutrients quickly. Therefore, always try to water your potted plants from the bottom. You can do this somewhat effectively just by placing a pot saucer under your potted plants and only putting water in the saucer, or you can buy or make an "earth box."

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