One of the challenges of a rapidly increasing global population is that each person and family has less space for growing food. Traditionally, families had their own herb and vegetable garden, with many families owning a milk cow and planting fruit trees in their garden as well. Today, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, where the only place for growing a garden might be a balcony, patio, window sill, or countertop. Read on for tips and tricks for gardening and farming in small spaces.

Be Selective

The first rule of farming in small spaces is to choose your plants carefully. For example, you won’t be able to grow an almond tree indoors, but you can find dwarf varieties of citrus and avocado that do well in large pots and can produce regular-sized fruit when kept on a sunny patio. Climbing varieties of cucumbers and peas are also an excellent choice for a patio garden with a sunny wall.

Think about the Layers

A permaculture approach works especially well for farming in small spaces, by mimicking the levels of nature. Think about this for a moment. In a forest, you can find up to seven layers, including:

  1. Overstory trees
  2. Understory trees
  3. Shrubs
  4. Herbs
  5. Roots
  6. Ground cover
  7. Vines

Applying this to a miniature garden or plot, you can fit in more plants by planting in layers. When farming in small spaces, the tallest level would be the shrub layer:

  1. Shrub layer: tall bushy plants like peppers and tomatoes
  2. Herbaceous layer: herbs like lettuce and celery
  3. Root layer: vegetables like carrots and beets
  4. Ground cover layer: spreading plants like nasturtium and oregano
  5. Vine layer: climbing varieties of cucumber, beans, sweet peas, and grapes

Ensure the Best Conditions for Your Plants

After choosing the best species for farming in small spaces, you will need to ensure that your plants have the necessary inputs to thrive — including sunlight, water, and nutrient-rich soil.

Sunlight

Depending on the variety, your plants could need anywhere from three hours of sunlight per day to eight or more hours of direct sun. Usually, a south-facing wall, balcony, or window is ideal, or in the case of potted plants, you can sometimes move the pots from the eastern side of the house in the morning to the western side of the house in the afternoon to catch as much sunlight as possible.

Water

When farming in small spaces, it is easier to keep an eye on your plants’ watering requirements compared to a larger garden that’s far from your home. Whether planting in pots or directly in the soil, make sure that each plant is watered appropriately and able to drain freely.

Soil

Just as a healthy diet makes for a healthy body, the soil is the key to healthy plants. Before you begin, research the soil requirements of each plant you wish to grow in your garden, add organic matter in the form of compost and humus, and amend the pH with lime as needed. Soil with plenty of organic matter and microorganisms will drain better than compacted soil, and many premade potting mixes already include a balanced soil culture.

Companion Planting, Guilds, and More

In addition to boosting productivity by planting in layers, another benefit of farming in small spaces is the ability to create beneficial relationships between plants that are in close proximity to one another. One example of this is planting a young basil plant under the shade of an established tomato bush to provide it with protection while it grows. Another example is planting a ground cover like nasturtium to prevent weeds from growing up around your radishes and parsley.

Here are three common groups of plants (called “guilds”) that you might like to consider for your compact garden:

  • Tomato – basil – garlic
  • Carrot – onion – lettuce – rosemary
  • Corn – beans – squash

Applying the Principles on a Larger Scale

 A fruit orchard with ferns in the foreground and mountains in the background.

If farming in small spaces has piqued your interest, you might consider applying some of the same principles to your orchards and groves as well.

Introducing Layers into Your Orchard

Most of the fruit trees that are now commercially grown were originally species that grew in the wild. Consider turning your orchard into a food forest and boost the productivity of your land by adding in plants in the seven strata:

  1. Overstory plants: mature fruit and nut trees
  2. Understory plants: semi-dwarf fruit trees like apples and pears
  3. Shrub plants: roses, berries, and fibrous plants used for weaving and crafts
  4. Herbaceous plants: herbs such as parsley and mint or fruits such as tomatoes and peppers
  5. Groundcover plants: strawberry, clover, and nasturtium
  6. Vine plants: edibles such as grapes and passionfruit, nectar-rich ornamentals like roses, honeysuckle, and clematis 
  7. Root plants: carrot, onion, garlic, radish, turmeric, potato, licorice, Jerusalem artichokes

The aim when farming in large or small spaces is to include some plants that fix nitrogen, some that attract beneficial insects, some that repel pests, and others that protect the soil. Animals can also form an essential part of an orchard-based food forest. For example, bringing beehives into your orchard should boost pollination. Ducks are another traditional fixture in an orchard system, providing natural fertilization and pest control.

Maximize Your Growing Space at Fruit Growers Supply

Farming in small spaces can seem daunting — especially if you’ve never tried it before. That’s where Fruit Growers Supply can help. With over 100 years of experience in California, we are more than happy to offer you tried-and-true growing advice — whether you’re planting your very first garden or wanting to move into a new commercial growing endeavor. 
For growing tips, tool recommendations, free site visits, and more, please contact our first-class customer service team or visit us in-store at our Porterville, Orange Cove, Woodlake, Santa Paula, and Riverside locations.

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