When I wrote The Potted Garden in 1997, I devoted a few pages to growing vegetables, and other edibles, in containers and other small spaces. In my newest book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegetable Gardening, I explore the concept of small space gardening even further. It's a topic that really intrigues me.
Our tiny, in-town back yard is too small and too shady for a typical vegetable garden, so for years I have grown tomatoes, kale, lettuce, spinach and herbs among the geraniums and other ornamentals in pots on the terrace. It's easy, rewarding and inexpensive.
This morning, I was delighted to read a New York Times article about a program in San Jose that is helping families create organic vegetable gardens in their urban back yards. Organized by a Master Gardener, the program's volunteers have, so far, installed 30 raised-bed gardens, each with seedlings, new soil and a drip irrigation system, in low-income, mostly Latino neighborhoods where many residents are food pantry clients. Each garden costs $210 to install. The program, called La Mesa Verde, also provides bi-lingual gardening classes and twice-a-year visits from volunteers to help the novice farmers master gardening techniques. La Mesa Verde plans to install a total of 100 gardens by spring.
The new gardens are producing onions, broccoli, peas, cilantro and more. One newly-minted gardener claims that the garden is saving her family $90 a month on their food budget. Since the climate in San Jose is suitable for nearly year-round gardening, that family may be saving close to $1000 on food a year. And they'll be eating fresh, organic foods that might not be accessible in their urban environment.
As the program grows, organizers and volunteers hope that gardening know-how will be passed along from parent to child and neighbor to friend. Small space organic vegetable gardening, while not a cure-all for the economy or the environment, is one of those little green and frugal steps just about anyone can take.
Do you garden in a small space? I'd like to know about it.