A good harvest from a small space

What a satisfaction to grow your own vegetables. Not only you are sure of how you grow it, it is also such a zen activity, take care of your space, of the little things that grow. Have the patience to do the right thing in the right moment…  Yes but what if we only have a small space? How many plants do we need in order to have a decent harvest? My backyard is a weird long triangle with the longest side of ca. 26′, as you see from my sketch below. It was necessary for me to do a little planning on how to have a “good harvest” and a nice looking backyard at the same time, without sacrificing all the space to vegetables. Let’s start from the beginning. I organized my thoughts in three main questions that I asked myself and I hope these suggestions will be of help to those of you that are planning to have their own veggie harvests this summer.

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1)  How many plants do I need to have a decent harvest?

According to most forums that I have read (this for example), an average of one-two plants per person should ensure a decent harvest. You need more if you want to can and freeze for the winter. We are only two, but we love vegetables, and I want to can. So, I figured that this is the quantity of plants that I need:

  • 9 tomatoes (Roma, Early girls, Big boy, Celebrity)
  • 6 peas
  • 6 string beans
  • 6 bell peppers
  • 5 zucchini (of which: two Italian green zucchini squash, one yellow, two “ronde de Nice”)
  • 3 eggplants
  • 5 bell peppers
  • Several hot peppers and herbs.

I am sure that I will not have full harvests of each plant every day, or every other day. But growing many different plants, I believe that I will be able to pick at least some mixed vegetables every day, to grill, for a sauce, for a salad, etc. And at the top of the season, start to can some!

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2) How do I fit these plants in my small backyard?

After a brainstorming with my husband we had the idea of planting vine vegetables along the perimeter of the backyard, all around the fence, so that they can give produce and at the same time serve as decorative plants. Tomatoes, peas, and beans, grow very tall and luxuriant if you sustain them with high vertical posts. I placed the plants in one line all around the fence, about 2 feet apart from each other and half foot from the fence. As the plants start to grow and get heavier, I will fix poles every other plant and have firm strings running between the poles. As the vines grow I will tie the new branches to the poles and strings, and I will keep adding strings higher so that the younger branches grow in height and not too large. In order to have also a nice scent I planted two jasmins along the line of vines. The plants are still small now, but I am sure that altogether they will make a nice beautiful green wall all around my backyard. The bell peppers will go in the narrow space to the right of the sketch, in front of the tomatoes. The hot peppers will probably go into a half barrel planter.

Also, I built with my husband a square redwood planter on a dent of the concrete pavement that covers the rest of our backyard (the rectangle on the left side of the sketch, and below), expanding of additional 4′ x 5′ my veggie garden. If you make a search for “how to build a planter” on the internet you will find lots of useful and well done videos and projects (like this). We followed these instructions, if you login you will also get very nice and precise sketch plans. In the planter I placed the eggplants and the zucchini squash. All herbs will be in the lower narrow part of the planter (1 foot x 4 feet). In the photo of the planter you see a couple of zucchini starters that look “knocked down” from the very recent abundant rain… risks of planting so early. I hope they will recover.

To complete the plan, we planted an eco-lawn and small flowers scattered in the foreground and right below some of the vegetable plants..

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3) Should I buy starters or should I plant my own seeds?

I did both. I bought starters for tomatoes, eggplants, and three zucchini, and I am doing the rest from the seeds. Why the starters? Because I couldn’t wait to see some plants in my backyard. Why the seeds? On one hand to have more plants spending less money, but also for the satisfaction of doing it myself. In fact, I bought a starter greenhouse kit that is a lot of fun (below the kit just seeded). I have planted here herbs, peas, beans, bell peppers, and some more zucchini.

I see it on Amazon for very cheap… I paid it more at Home Depot (15-18 dollars, I don’t remember exactly). Anyways, I loved the pellets that expanded in seconds with the warm water and filled the cells completely. It is quite a fun adventure! I have never grown anything, not starting from the seeds, so it gave me a great sense of satisfaction to see the first seedlings. I found this interesting forum that discusses in very detail how to make the best use of a seed starter greenhouse: for how long to keep the dome on the seedlings, when remove it, if use an artificial light to make your seedlings grow faster, etc. I learned a lot.

In fact, I was keeping the greenhouse covered with its dome all the time and over the days I observed, full of surprise, the incredible growth of my peas and beans that are already quite long, and so are the zucchini; whilst the peppers are just starting to appear. The fact that I kept the dome on after the seedlings were growing has caused a few of them to break :-(. So, following the advices of our friends in the above mentioned forum I removed the dome. Also, I have my greenhouse located close to a window that receives a lot of light, which is good, but now I have started to turn it every now and then so that the plants don’t grow in the same direction following the light.

We’ll see how it goes. Today, Friday April 9th, after two weeks from planting, the result is quite encouraging (see above) and I should already move the larger seedlings in the backyard, but this weekend will be pouring rain and is still quite chilly in Marin in these days. I will wait a few days more, hopefully the weather will be less crazy from next week on and finally bring in a long waited spring.

More soon…

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