You’d be amazed at how much you can grow in a relatively small space. When I first developed the veggie garden, it seemed like I had quite a big space. Next to the house got maximum sunshine so I reserved that garden for a lemon tree, lime tree and my herbs. The other veggie garden was perfect for a tomato plant, a capsicum, peas, runner beans and some lettuce – with a scarecrow from time to time if I was feeling whimsical. Plants were well spaced out and grown up supports as required. Life was simple.
Once I started to try to grow more of a greater number of fruits and vegetables, space was at a premium. I became an expert at cramming a vast amount of plants in a small space. I found that if I prepared the soil well with compost and blood and bone or sheep pellets, and watered the garden regularly the garden could support plants at a much higher density than indicated by usual planting instructions. I went up whenever I could, supporting not just peas and beans up poles and wire mesh, but discovering that cucumbers for example were as happy to climb up as they were to sprawl on the ground (although choosing a smaller Lebanese or patio variety is important to avoid heavy cucumbers weighing everything down). This year my climbing cucumbers did so well that after I had eaten and preserved cucumbers until I was sick of them I started to give them away to everyone at work. I became known as the cucumber fairy as they were deposited on desks on a regular basis. I went away for a week at the end of summer and the plants were succumbing to powdery mildew so I expected to just be pulling them out when I got back. It was a great surprise to then harvest 20 large cucumbers on my return and a further 20 the following weekend!
As the plants mature it may be necessary to trim some of the large outer leaves off things like broccoli to avoid them shading everything else. But generally some plants mature much faster than others so they are harvested earlier leaving space for the others. Lettuces seem to appreciate protection from the hot summer sun and thrive in the shade of taller plants. Carrots and radishes can be sown together because the radishes mature much more quickly and can be harvested leaving the nicely spaced carrots behind. Having a fence screen (in a north-south direction) in the garden gives two sides for you to grow things up and/or attach bird netting to at critical times. My lemon tree even seems to regularly tolerate having a rampant cherry tomato sprawling over it for support without impacting on its harvest later on.
Eventually the time came when there was just not enough space, so my friendly garden guy was commissioned to build a raised garden bed in waste area to the south of my shed. It was a tricky exercise as the ground slopes away deceptively quickly and the bed is 2m wide by the shed and only 1m at the other end where it had to allow the path up the side of the house. I was able to extend the growing space by using planter bags for potatoes and other containers for herbs and strawberries – these could easily be moved out of the way if something big had to come up the path. I even managed to squeeze in a ‘glasshouse’ on the end of the platform that the shed was on – not quite the walk-in variety I fantasize about having but big enough to experiment with a few things.
The raised bed is great for easy gardening without the need for too much bending and digging. I was inspired to put edging around my other garden beds, both so that I could accommodate the extra compost and goodies that I was applying to them and also so that I could raise the level of the bed making the soil warmer and the whole thing easier to manage.
Although my garden is north facing, it is also on a south slope so in the winter it gets quite shaded and the new garden bed doesn’t get any sun directly on it in the middle of winter. It used to get quite heavy frosts too but now the trees at the back have grown high enough that they stop most of the frost settling further down the hill. A couple of years ago I decided to experiment to see what might grow in the garden over the winter. To my surprise everything I put in grew really well and now I keep trying new things. They do tend to do better if I plant them in autumn whilst there is still some good warmth to get them well established.
I have started to eye up a patch of lawn for conversion into another veggie garden …