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Old 11-21-2011, 07:17 PM   #1
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High Density Gardening for Beginners

Everyone here probably agrees that the ability to provide at least some of your own food is a smart precaution to take, healthy, and inexpensive too.

It is great to have acreage or even a decent backyard, but that is not possible for everyone. Therefore, I'd like this thread to be a repository and discussion of gardening in very small areas. The kind of gardening that urban folks can do in a pot or box on the porch even.

In another thread the book Square Foot Gardening was mentioned, but what do you guys recommend from your own experience?

Personally, I would be interested in such veggies as broccoli, tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, chickpeas, carrots, and beans.
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Old 11-21-2011, 07:32 PM   #2
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Many fruits/veggies require a pollinator (bees, etc.) to facilitate flowers to bear fruit (like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.). So they don't do well indoors.

You can easily grow tomatoes and peppers in pot on the patio if you have the right climate for them. For limited space like this, I prefer growing plants that bear multiple edibles (like tomatoes, lettuces, chards, peppers, etc.) rather than veggies that are one and done (like broccoli, carrots, etc.).
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Old 11-21-2011, 07:51 PM   #3
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Here are a few tips that hopefully can get you started.

While most of my gardening has been in a big backyard, I have tried for the heck of it trying to grow lettuce in a flower pot. It worked out just fine, and don't see any reason why you could not grow many other veggies this way on a sunny balcony or porch.

Make sure your location is sunny. Veggies just won't do well in the shade. Preferrably at least 6 hours of afternoon sun, but you might be able to get by with maybe 4 hours.

Pots can be expensive, but one thing you can do is to go by your local gardening store (or landscaper) to see if they will give to you or sell to you 3-gal or 5-gal empty plastic pots that once contained landscaping bushes. These are not the prettiest pots in the world but they will do just fine.

Another thing to do would be to buy or build a plant "window box" and hang it over a balcony railing or a porch railing. This give you a long narrow area in which to grow a row of plants.

Soil. You could spend the money for Miracle Grow garden soil or topsoil from the gardent store, or dig just a little decent soil out of a friends land. If you can find a horse stable that will give you a little horse manure, mix this in with the soil before putting it in your pots. If not horse manure, then chopped leaves or fine ground mulch or any good organic material will work too.

Fertilizer. You can use a synthetic fertilizer, but in the long run it will be better for the soil and the plants to use an organic fertilizer (e.g. Espoma Plant-Tone or Espoma Vegetable-Tone, which can be purchased in small bags at many garden stores).

Fertilizer is labeled with 3 numbers x-y-z, where x is Nitrogen, y is Phosphorus and z is Potassium. Nitrogen is need most by green leafy vegetables. Rooting veggies such as carrots need plenty of phosphorus, and fruiting veggies such as tomatoes need plenty of potassium.

Seeds. In general I like to plant heirlooms seeds rather than hybrid seeds. Plants grown from heirloom seeds are not genetically modified and will produce seeds that will reproduce their own kind. Not necessarily so with plants from hybrid seeds, which are a cross between two or more other plants.

When to plant. There are cool weather plants and warm weather plants. Cool weather plants can be before last frost in spring. These include lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, peas, onions etc. I start these from seed around March 1 in my area.

Warm weather plants such as tomatoes, beans, peppers, etc can be started about two months later.

Nearly all veggies can be started from seeds, and can be started from seedlings that you buy (tomatoes, peppers), while others do good only from seeds (carrots, radishes, etc). Seed planting depth can matter. For example lettuce seeds should be planted only 1/4" deep as they need light to germinate. Spinach seeds on the other hand can be planted 0.5-1" deep. Most of this info can be found online.

I have had trouble with brocolli due to my climate, and also due to cabbage worms that tend to really tear them up.

Lettuce and spinach will "bolt" when the weather gets hot, turning bitter and sending up a tall seed stalk. But you can grow these, along with many other cold weather veggies, in both the spring and the fall. You can extend your fall harvest by protecting the plants from hard frosts.

Sorry to ramble so long. There is more I could say, but will stop here for now. Feel free to ask questions.
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Old 11-21-2011, 08:17 PM   #4
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It sounds like sunlight will be another challenge for me as my only places to put things out side are covered and face north, so they don't get a ton of sunlight.

PMBug, I like your idea on planting things that repeatedly produce food and will keep it in mind.
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Old 11-22-2011, 12:43 PM   #5
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Here's a link to what I think (note qualification - everything I post here is IMO) is the definitive book so far on the topic:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_foot_gardening


Even if you don't do it this way, you should have a copy.

The only fertilizer I use is miracle grow, usually just at transplant time. Else it's all organic. We tried composting separately, which is interesting, but when you get to size we found out it's just as good to simply pile the materials right into the garden between the existing plants - by next year they're part of the soil anyway. Less work. You don't get the high temp seed killing effect this way, though. We are of the Ruth Stout school on that one - more mulch till they die of it. If nothing else, it makes 'em real easy to pull up.

Broccoli is NOT one and done - leave the plant after cutting off the head, and little sprouts continue to appear and be edible, and you get about double what that one head alone was. Doesn't work too well if it gets crazy-hot, but often it works quite well. Cauliflower on the other hand IS one and done.

Lousy sun means you just plant different things that like shade. Forget corn, tomatoes and suchlike, but a lot of things do fine and like it cool and damp. I'm lucky to have two gardens, one high and dry and so sunny it's often a problem, and down down by the creek that's practically in the dark. It grows peas, lettuce, spinach, carrots and other crops of similar types to beat the band - peas die upon getting out of the ground in the up-hill garden. You just adapt, and part of the fun is finding out what does well under your conditions.

I like some heirlooms myself, but I also use hybrid seeds, because I've found out something interesting with them. For example, Burpee's better boy tomatoes were made by crossing a big tasteless mushy tomato with a dynamite miniature one. The throwbacks to that are far better than "sweet million" types in taste and quality - you just are careful not to remove the volunteers next year. Heh.

One thing I find is that if you're going to use transplants (a good move where I live), whether you plant your own greenhouse style, or buy them from (hopefully) a good nursery - don't even bother with ones that are less than perfectly vigorous. Any setback they experience early in life, that's it for productivity. Just one letting of broccoli, tomato, pepper not be watered enough - it's never going to do really well from then on. Especially with the former, it's almost like there's a clock built in. After some set time, it's going to fruit - whether the plant is big by then or not, and if it isn't growing like stink, well, it stops then and you don't get diddly. Better to toss some out the window than waste square feet on them. That's based on 30 years of experience.
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Old 11-22-2011, 01:28 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by DCFusor View Post:
...
Broccoli is NOT one and done ... Doesn't work too well if it gets crazy-hot, ...
They are one and done down here in Texas. It gets crazy hot every summer.
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Old 11-22-2011, 02:28 PM   #7
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Oh yes, crazy-hot and it bolts - one day can do it (but can still be OK cooked with a little vinegar if only a few flowers have opened). In that case you might try starting seeds indoors in the cool around mid-summer and going for a fall/winter crop. The stuff doesn't mind a frost or few one bit - even a hard freeze or two...I know some people in FLA that do that with good success, I'll have to ask a pal in TX how it works out for him. But it's not something to skip entirely - that's a lot of food/vitamins/fiber per sq foot/year compared to many other things. It's nothing for us to get a 1 lb head from 18" sq (2.25 sq foot) in good soil, not counting the re-sprouts. You might try it after you pull out something else at the end of the normal season. I know it doesn't do well in pots, though, it needs to be in the ground where the soil temperature doesn't vary so quick.

In TX, I'd guess swiss chard does better than spinach...it does in the hot times here by a lot, and isn't too nasty to eat.

We also do potatoes, generally "by accident" as you never seem to get them all dug up, and they just regrow, sometimes fantastically. A trick there is to go ahead and harvest some while they are golf ball size or smaller - better than anything you can buy at the store in eating quality.

We just plant the ones we get from the store when they start growing in the bag in spring...just cut 'em up and stickem in the ground, put a bunch of grass clippings on top...not much work, and dig 'em when hungry. You don't save much money with them, they're just better eating than store-bought and a real reliable crop in lousy acid clay soil.
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Old 11-22-2011, 05:31 PM   #8
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So I would need to figure out what grows well in hot, humid climates without good sunlight...
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Old 11-22-2011, 05:53 PM   #9
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Plenty of plants grow well in hot, humid climates. It's the lack of sunlight that is your biggest obstacle as far as fruits / veggies is concerned.
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