As Spring is now just around the corner lots of people's minds turn to the possibility of growing their own food. Drawn to the ever appealing notion of allotments and smallholdings, and fired onwards by the programmes that are now all over the television and radio about growing your own, people dream of getting out there, getting their hands dirty and having the pleasure of eating delicious food that they have grown themselves. The problem for lots of people, a number of whom have contacted me on this blog, is that they don't actually have a great deal of space to grow in. They aren't lucky enough to have an allotment to call their own so may be grappling with the teeniest of spaces within which to grow.
Does this sound familiar to you? Are you an aspiring smallholder but only have access to a miniscule fourth floor window box? Well don't despair because I am a great believer that it is possible to grow a decent amount of food even in a seemingly impossible spaces. So, on that basis, this is the first of my guides to Growing Food in Small Spaces. I'll start by giving you some tips on how to plan your space, no matter how humble, and in the coming weeks will follow with specific tips about crops you may be able to grow successfully and fun planting styles you can use to get the best out of your space.
With regards planning how you want to use your space, this is even more important when you don't have so much to play around with. On a big allotment you may be able to throw in a bad of this or that willy nilly but if you've only got a small back yard to deal with you need to make sure you're making the most productive use of every inch as is possible. Bearing that in mind here are some hints to get you started with making a plan for your own mini-farm.
- Start by thinking of what wants and needs you have from your space. These aspirations and necessities should form the basis of the design that you go on to create. For example, you may want to produce salad crops and also to have an area to sit outdoors and eat, but alongside that you may need an area to store your bike. At this point think big about what you want to achieve - your space may not be able to deliver all of these wishes but it is important to give even the wildest fantasy some consideration in your thought process!
- Next think about the features of the site that you are working with. Which direction does it face, what already exists there, how does it work in relation to your neighbours...? Try and think of every detail that you can at this stage and add it.
- Then take some time to think about all the potential yields from your site. Some of them will be physical things like edible crops, herbs, flowers...etc... But some may also be more abstract ideas such as relaxation, tranquility, privacy...
- It is also worth considereing the potential risks on your site as these could be a hinderance in getting what you want out of it. For example the soil fertility may be low, or noise from a busy road nearby could be audible in your green haven. If you list these things and acknowledge their existence it makes it easier to consider how you may deal with them in your design.
- Finally, make a list of plants that are already in the space that you would like to stay in your new design. Alongside this create a list of the plants that you are intending to grow.
There you have it. You should now have five different lists encompassing - wants / needs, site features, potential yields, potential risks, and plants. The next stage is to draw up a plan of your space using this information as the starting point. And I'll tell you more about how you can start to do that next time.