Sep 18, 2014

Successful Gardening in a Tiny Back Yard

Before we moved into our townhouse we lived in a rental house that had a huge garden in it.  I was very successful at growing giant sunflowers, tomatoes and carrots, I even grew delicious giant ears of corn and had zucchini taking over my life. Well, we bought our townhouse, which I love, but the garden is lacking. It has a small 30' x 15' back yard that is half patio.   
There are of course, pros and cons to not having a massive yard and garden to take care of, like more time to do everything else, smaller water bills and less sun burns and heat stroke in the Utah summers.  
 The first year in our townhouse, I tried raised garden beds. They were a huge flop.  They didn't drain properly and the soil in them was such junk that nothing would grow very fast.  By the end of the season we had not one tomato.
The next year I tried container gardening as you can see in the picture below.  It was slightly more successful.  By the end of the season I had 4 green tomatoes which my son picked before they could ripen and I didn't even get one squash.  I know this method works for some... but it certainly didn't work for me. I thought long and hard about what made my garden successful for those two years in the rental house.  One, the landlord dumped amazing black topsoil AND compost from the waste processing facility into the garden. Amazing soil, very important. It got almost full sun. My backyard gets less than 6 hours a day of direct sunlight. But that year I tried container gardening something funny happened. A stray tomato from some kitchen waste got thrown into the back under a tree. It got maybe 3 or 4 hours of sun a day and it grew better than anything else I had planted that year. So I knew that sunlight in my yard should be less of an issue than I thought.  
Container gardening, not very successful. Grass area of 15'x15' before beds were put in. 
I decided I would get rid of the grass and use the soil available. I used the cardboard method.  I covered the spots I wanted to be dirt in cardboard and covered it with top soil. I left it all fall and all winter and all spring.  When the ground thawed I pulled up what cardboard had not composted and threw it out.  Then I turned it all in with a hand tiller.  Back breaking! But good exercise. All winter long we threw all of our kitchen scraps out into the soil.  I smashed every egg shell we used and threw it out there, knowing that the dirt in this area is often lacking calcium, which the tomatoes especially need but it benefits all plants.  
In the process of composting the grass for garden beds.
As you can see in the picture below, come June I had thriving tomatoes on the right (started from seeds inside), a zucchini that is now 3 times that size (started right in soil from seed), and some various squash and pumpkins, all stated in the soil from seed. I also have some peppers near the tomatoes, and have already harvested peas and a full crop of lettuce.  

squash vines after a month of growing. They grow so rapidly!  We went away for 4 days and when we got back the vines had doubled in size prompting us to build the permanent arbor.  
 Since my vines have gotten out of control, and I just don't have the heart to get rid of some of them I convinced the husband we needed to build this arbor out of scrap wood.
Simple arbor I designed and the husband helped build.  All out of scrap wood. 
 You can see below that the vines have already climbed over the arbor, with some coaching by me.  I have a small push mower that takes about 90 seconds to clean up the horseshoe shape of grass path.  I have a drip system tied into my hose and each section of the garden has one sprinkler.  This has seemed to be enough.  I have a simple timer that I just have to manually set to the time I want it to run each day.  I spend about 15 minutes a week weeding.  I expect by the end of August I will have plenty of food coming out of my garden. I only wish it was bigger so I could spend more time gardening!
Aerial view of tiny yard.  You can fit a lot of plants in a small space, they just need some sunlight, not full sun, some water and GOOD soil is the key.

Now we have almost an acre to tackle.  But I wanted to share how you can have a successful garden in a small space, soil is really the most important part of any garden.

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