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Space-saving veg to grow

A huge plot isn't essential for growing vegetables - in fact, it can be a drawback. A small, intensive, easily managed plot produces far more top quality, usable crops for most busy people. The secret of success is making best use of available space.

To grow good veg you need a sheltered site that gets full sun for at least half the day, with deep, fertile, well-drained soil that has been enriched with organic matter. Deep beds – the original no-dig technique – are perfect for small gardens; by working the soil deeply and adding organic matter to the surface, veg can safely be planted at two-thirds’ normal spacing with no paths between rows, so you pack lots into the space. You can also use large patio containers for certain crops, or create a decorative potager – a walk-through area with beds planted prettily with vegetables instead of flowers.

But if you have a conventional veg patch or allotment, with crops grown at traditional wide spacings, try intercropping. The idea of this is to sow or plant quick-growing crops, such as lettuce, radish or spinach, between big, slow- growing crops, such as sweetcorn or winter brassicas. The idea is that the quick crops use the spare space before their neighbours grow large enough to cover the soil (don’t try this on deep or raised beds, because the plants are already as closely spaced as you dare).

Pests and disease are more of a problem with closely spaced crops, so opt for modern pest- and disease-resistant varieties, where possible.

Another good idea when space is tight is to search the seed catalogues for space-saving varieties. You’ll find bush versions of courgettes and pumpkins instead of traditional long, trailing kinds. There are also mini-veg, varieties that naturally start cropping early in life.

Make the best use of your space by growing the four crops listed below.


Four space-saving veg crops

Spring onion

Spring onion

Easy to grow, producing high yields in a small space. Very versatile in the kitchen. Most varieties ‘bulb up’ if not pulled young, so any you don’t use turn into small ‘normal’ onions later in the season. Seeds are small, cheap and plentiful, so this is an ideal crop to share or swap with friends or family, or to store for a subsequent year.

Watercress

Watercress

When grown on a small scale, this crop doesn’t need a chalk stream; just a bucket of waterlogged potting compost in a sheltered corner close to the house. Watercress needs lots of light, but not hot midday sun. Start by rooting sprigs from a bundle.

Runner beans

Runner beans

These heavy-yielding plants keep cropping all summer, unlike French beans, so one sowing should be enough. runner beans are easy, reliable, and their flowers are decorative enough for them to grow up a fence, trellis or arch, or in a deep container on the patio. They are truly space saving, and add vertical interest too.

Lettuce leaves

Cut-and-come-again lettuce

Varieties such as ‘lollo rossa’ and ‘Salad Bowl’ can be picked a few leaves at a time as they are needed, leaving the rest of the plant to keep growing. This lettuce is good for tubs or a small salad patch, also as edible edging for a potager.

Tips on saving space

Stretch the season

Use cloches or horticultural fleece to cover early and late crops. Make full use of early varieties of veg such as carrots and peas, since these mature faster than maincrop varieties, for early and late cultivation.

Don't leave land vacant

As one crop comes to an end have the next batch of young plants in pots, ready to take their place. Just clear the row and refresh the ground with organic matter and fertiliser.

Exploit all your space

Think vertically – grow climbing crops such as runner beans over arches, on trellis or fences. Use tubs on balconies and paved areas for tomatoes, courgettes or peppers. Grow herbs in hanging baskets, and salad leaves and herbs in troughs. The biggest jobs when growing this way are watering and liquid feeding; there’s no weeding or digging, so it is labour-saving.

Use your flowerbeds

Grow gorgeous globe artichokes or jerusalem artichokes for their height at the back of a perennial bed. Team edible flowers such as heartsease, borage and calendula marigold with frilly red cut-and-come-again lettuce, or unusual salad leaves such as purslane or buckler-leaf sorrel.

Try sharing a veg plot

When you don’t have enough space yourself, try to find someone who has too much space. An elderly neighbour may no longer be able to tend their garden single-handed, but would welcome crops of fresh veg as ‘rent’. Or two busy neighbours could share the work and the crops from running a veg patch in tandem. Nowadays, the idea is so popular (and allotments in such short supply) that garden- share schemes abound. Several websites help pair people looking for land with people who have spare land – try landshare.net.


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