Have it All When Growing Small

Discover the benefits of backyard gardening
By Heather Brautman

You’ve heard the motto before: “Good things come in small packages.” But when it comes to backyard gardening, there’s a new phrase to remember: “Good things grow in small spaces.”

Having a small space can be beneficial for reasons other than needing to spend less time mowing and weeding. You’ll find that several vegetables actually grow better in small spaces. Learn to love your bitty backyard and discover the health benefits of becoming your own grocery store.

CONTAIN YOURSELF

No, we’re not telling you to put a cap on your excitement to start seeding. Small spaces, such as the backyard plots allotted to townhome dwellers, are ideal for a form of planting called container gardening. The environmentally conscious love this because you can repurpose many items for container gardening—including things already taking up space in your backyard, such as old tires and flower pots.

Despite your small space, there are nearly unlimited options for what you can produce. Try peppers, lettuce, carrots, radishes, squash, turnips, kale, green onions, Swiss chard, cucumbers, or eggplants, as recommended by the Ohio State University Extension Service.

Container gardens give you a few benefits that large-scale gardeners don’t enjoy. If your area of the country suffers major droughts (like last winter in Northern California), you can bring your plants inside and water them without risking fines. Sudden cold snap? Move those containers to your porch so they don’t freeze. But you’ll have to take a few extra steps to ensure your backyard container garden yields as much success as possible. Container gardens require a higher level of fertilizer than you may be used to, say experts at Ohio State University. You can also experiment with adding a tiny bit of fish emulsion to the containers, but remember to make sure to run off any extra water so the plants don’t sit in it.

DENSE AND INTENSE

Whether gardening is a hobby you use to de-stress at the end of the day or your life’s major passion, most growers harbor intense feelings toward their results. In fact, intensive gardening—also called high-density gardening—is recommended for growers who must deal with small backyard spaces. Intensive gardening has to do with area, not mindset. When you check your seed packets, you’ll find that most recommend two sets of distance between planting areas—a minimum and a maximum. Intensive gardening means you plant densely, with seeds as close together as suggested. This minimizes the space needed for your gardening.

Doing this also forces the plants to act together as a strong defense against weeds. When vegetables grow close, they force out invaders. Several layouts can be used to customize your backyard to grow intensively; North Carolina State University suggests raised beds, interplanting, vertical gardens, and succession planting. (Talk about maximizing your garden’s potential! When succession planters remove a crop, they immediately find something to fill in its space so they can continue to grow year round. For small space gardeners, this can help counteract the feeling of not having much room to grow because you’re more than making use of what you’ve got.)

WASTE NOT, WANT MORE

The power of suggestion is supposed to work wonders in the advertising and marketing world, so why not your backyard? Thought leaders at schools such as the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science say that if you grow your own vegetables, you may end up eating more than you would if you bought them. This could be due to simple finances—you spent the money (and the equivalent of your time) to grow the vegetables, and it may “hurt” more to see your yield end up in the trash.

Filling a salad bowl with your own bright backyard bounty may also be a point of pride. In many cases, it’s a simple chemical reaction—or, rather, a reaction to the lack of chemicals and pesticides. Backyard gardeners feel more secure that they know what did and did not touch their vegetables. That shiny red pepper from the grocery store may look like vegetable perfection, but it may be the next food recall waiting to happen. The only recall happening from your own backyard is your fondness for the efforts it took to grow the items. The University of Vermont goes on to note that “nutritional quality of vegetables is generally higher as well when freshly harvested.”

TO YOUR HEALTH

The food pyramid may have been eliminated (Did you know that? It’s now a plate!), but the USDA will never stop recommending that people continue to get the majority of their nutrition from fruits and vegetables. The recommended amounts of fresh produce help our bodies continue to function at optimum, healthy levels, but growing your own vegetables can feed your mind and soul, too.

Some gardeners like to picture weeding as pulling the plug on several things in life. Certainly, you must unplug when you spend time to garden. Even if your backyard is WIFI enabled, we hope you’ll actually spend time facing the plants, not FaceTiming. Literally getting your hands dirty means you may not want to immediately place them back on the keyboard, and when you’re filling a container with water you have to concentrate on your levels instead of the ringing phone.

You can picture pulling the plug figuratively, as well. Yanking out those troublesome weeds can work wonders for dealing with stress at work or anxiety at home. Picture an irksome face on the weed as you yank, or make yourself repeat, “As I yank out this weed, I yank out my troubles.” You may even start to look forward to that first meddlesome sight shooting up from the ground as an excuse to get out there and pull for all you’re worth.

Gardening can be great exercise, too! You haul containers, lift soil bags, port water around, kneel and bend, weed, and more. All that exercise is going to make you hungry, and there’s a great place to grab something quick to refuel: It’s right in your own backyard.

GET GROWING

Are you convinced that a small space can breed big activity? It’s time to race to your garden right now. Whether you choose to start small with a single plant, or with several different crops, the benefits of growing small are sure to have you standing taller, happier, and healthier to show for it all the way.

Heather Brautman lives in California where she enjoys learning about grow media. She is the marketing technologist at Power2Practice, the first and only electronic medical records solution for integrative medicine physicians. For more information, visit power2practice.com.