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How to Grow Vegetables in Any Outdoor Space

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No outdoor space is the “wrong size” for growing food! Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner gardener, all you need is a sunny spot, soil, and a container to start growing your own vegetables at home.

Not sure which veggies you can pull off growing? Read our guide to veggies for every yard size, plus our tips for making the most of your space!

Best Vegetables for Growing in Small Spaces

No matter how small or large your gardening space is, anyone (even beginners!) can grow vegetables in containers. Container gardening allows anyone to grow their own food, even if your only outdoor space is a tiny balcony! Here are a few delicious veggies that thrive in outdoor container gardens:

Great Vegetables for Beginners to Grow in Containers

• Tomatoes: Choose cherry varieties for small pots and slicer or sauce varieties for larger containers. Tomatoes need a very sunny location, lots of water, and plenty of organic fertilizer like Down to Earth All Purpose Fertilizer.
• Carrots: As root vegetables, carrots need deep containers filled with lots of compost, such as Organic Bu’s Blend Biodynamic Compost.
• Peppers: Peppers are related to tomatoes and thrive in many of the same conditions! Small, hot peppers are the easiest to grow in containers.
• Radishes: Radishes are extremely fast and easy to grow in just about any container! These are perfect vegetables for kids or beginners to grow in small containers.
• Salad Greens: Kale, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, and other salad greens are all easy to grow and will thrive in containers of any size.
• Strawberries: Prefer something sweet? Strawberries are ideal for containers as well as hanging baskets. They need plenty of sun to produce lots of juicy berries.
• Potatoes: Like carrots, these tuberous veggies do best in deep containers filled with fertile soil.
• Onions: These flavor-packed bulbs grow beautifully in a deep container in a sunny spot!
• Herbs: Some herbs are easier to grow than others (for example, cilantro grows quickly while rosemary can take a long time to flourish), but all herbs can live happily in a compact container with the right light conditions.

Roger’s Tips for Saving Space

Really short on space? You’d be surprised how much you can grow with these space-saving ideas!

• Add Height: Shelving units are a great way to stack smaller containers for herbs, strawberries, and other small produce.
• Think Vertical: Hanging baskets keep small produce out of the way, while using wall-mounted planters lets you enhance your yields and your living space at the same time.
• Pair with Care: Fill large, deep containers with companion plants that will grow harmoniously together.

For more information, view:
How to Plant and Grow Tomatoes with David Rizzo
How to Design a Raised Bed with David Rizzo

Companion Plants for Containers

Want to start a miniature garden in a single pot? These companion plants are better together!

• Tomato, basil, and chives
• Tomato, basil, and carrots
• Spinach, lettuce, and strawberries
• Spinach, chard, and onions
• Lettuce & herbs

Vegetables for Mid-Sized Yards

Got a little more space? If you have a big enough yard to build one or two raised beds, your options are almost limitless! A standard raised bed is about four feet wide by six to eight feet long; plenty of room to grow for most edible plants.

Here are a few veggies that do best with just a little extra space to stretch out!

• Cucumbers: While dwarf varieties are generally happy in containers, standard-sized cucumber plants do better in a sunny corner of your garden beds.
• Zucchini: Like cucumbers, zucchini plants need some room to sprawl, but each plant is surprisingly productive.
• Beets: These deep red root veggies grow fairly large and prefer not to have their roots disturbed, so it’s best to plant beet rows either in the ground or raised beds.
• Parsnips: Like beets, parsnips prefer to do their growing in your garden beds.
• Beans: Beans are technically container-friendly, but as climbers and fast spreaders that thrive on a trellis or other support, they’re best suited to an area with a bit more space.
• Broccoli: This cool-weather plant produces sizable heads packed with nutrients; however, you’ll need a fair amount of space to grow a decent harvest.
• Cauliflower: Similar to broccoli, this superfood needs a little room to stretch out and produce its dense, edible florets.
• Brussels Sprouts: It’s fun to watch Brussels sprouts grow due to the unique way the sprouts are produced. They can be grown in containers, but a season-long supply can quickly take up a lot of space.
• Peas: Growing peas in garden beds has benefits for the plant as well as your other garden vegetables. They’re known for their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, making it more available for other nearby plant roots. As the season is also short, it’s best to grow many at once and freeze what you don’t use.
• Citrus: Now that smaller citrus varieties are available that have been grafted onto dwarf rootstock, you can easily keep a compact-yet-productive citrus tree in a small-to-medium-sized yard!

Roger’s Tips for Growing Vegetables in Mid-Sized Plots

Make the most of your beds with these best practices for mid-sized gardens!

• Top Dress with Compost: Every year, add a few inches of compost to your beds before planting. This will do more for your soil than virtually anything else!
• Save Rainwater: Few things are as precious to your garden as water! Save as much rain as possible by keeping a rain barrel near your garden; the untreated water is a treat for your plants.
• Use Natural Mulch: Straw, grass clippings, leaves, and untreated wood chips make some of the finest mulches for your garden. They create a weed barrier, help soil retain moisture, and improve your soil over time.
• Don't Jump On The Bed: Walking on your garden soil causes compaction and disrupts the soil ecosystem. Avoid stepping on your soil at all costs!

Vegetables for Larger Landscapes

While many, many veggies can fit nicely into a small or moderately-sized yard, some veggies simply do better with more space to spread out. Large vining plants like pumpkin and watermelon not only need space to sprawl, but they also need lots of room to grow their heavy fruit. Meanwhile, large, tall plants like corn or avocado trees need lots of space and soil resources to produce a heavy yield.

Here are some vegetables that are best grown in larger gardens (one acre or larger).

• Corn: These tall, handsome plants perform best in rows twenty-four to thirty-six inches apart in blocks of four rows—not ideal for smaller gardens!
• Pumpkins: Even if you’re not trying to grow the Great Pumpkin, this iconic fall favorite needs plenty of space for its large vines and heavy fruits.
• Squash: Summer squash varieties tend to take on a large bushy shape, while winter squash grows on spreading vines. In both cases, they call for a larger plot!
• Egg Plant: Both the plant and the fruit grow pretty sizeable—it’s recommended that you space eggplant transplants eighteen inches apart! This one is, therefore, best suited to spacious gardens.
• Cantaloupe: These heat-loving melons need lots of space to prevent their vines from crowding, which can quickly result in powdery mildew.
• Watermelon: A typical watermelon vine can easily grow up to 20 feet long—make sure you have space for it!
• Avocado: Avocados come from avocado trees, which produce all year here in Orange County. However, as they do require cross-pollination, you’ll need at least two trees (and ideally two different cultivars) for a steady supply. Those trees can take up quite a bit of real estate!

Management Tips for Large Gardens

Lots of space to work with? Experiment with these techniques for even better results!

• Rotate Your Crops: Avoid planting vegetables in the same family in the same location for more than two years in a row. This helps to break disease and pest cycles and keep your soil healthier. Ensure the vegetables you’re rotating are really in a different family; you might be surprised which ones are related! For example, tomatoes and potatoes are both members of the Solanaceae family, also known as “nightshades.”
• Interplant Flowers in Your Veggie Garden: Who says flowers and veggies need to be kept separate? Flowers in your vegetable beds beautify the whole operation, and they also attract pollinators which improve your yields. Some flowers, like marigolds, can even help naturally repel pests.
• Consider Going No-Till: Many farmers and gardeners alike are starting to take a stand against the practice of tilling garden soil, which can be destructive to the soil biome. If your soil is fairly well built-up and you have no urgent need to amend it, consider applying your annual top-dressing of organic matter and calling it a day. Work smarter, not harder!

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