wooden bowl of freshly picked vegetablesI love the Farmer’s Market for all the wonderful veggies and fruit that I bring home each week.  Oh yeah, and maybe that bread and hummus, too…ahem.  In the name of cooking organic and fresh, my wallet takes hit with each food stand I decide has something I can’t live without.  But I tell myself that my health is more important than how much I shell out.  Something similar could be said when walking in and out of a Whole Foods Market.

It’s easy to buy more than what I need when it comes to the variety and abundance of fresh produce at my market.  Although I am lucky enough to have it available to me almost all year, it does get a bit pricey.  I remedy this problem of buying more than I need by indulging in one of my most peaceful hobbies each summer: gardening.

I actually thought gardening days were over for me because I made assumptions that to have a garden it had to be BIG—even if just for me—with loads of space and rows of every veggie under the sun.  Then I was invaded by squirrels and every contraption I could buy to keep them out was turning my dream garden into a money pit.

Last summer, I pulled up my big girl panties and finally outsmarted the vermin who were all set to feast on a smorgasbord of my veggies.  I started to think more practically for me:  smaller space, fewer plants, less work.  I was amazed to see that just one cucumber plant could yield enough cucumbers to feed me with plenty to share with co-workers and friends–and all right outside my front door.  Chaos from squirrels made me re-think a traditional vegetable garden and think “small.”

Not sure you could pull off a garden?  Check out my tips:

1. Make the initial investment!  Get some large containers (a foot deep or greater) and some decent gardening soil.  Home Depot carries their brand for under $3 a bag.  It’s a decent soil and not a lot of expense.  Check out yard sales, if you have the time, for fun pottery.

2. Decide on the veggies you want to grow and limit your plants to one or two of each.  The best veggies to grow in containers are squashes, tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant, and peppers.

3. Pick all day sunny spots for your containers.  Veggies love sun—they will need plenty of it!  Make sure your containers are nearly filled with dirt and completely cover each plant’s root system snuggly with your gardening soil.

4. Don’t crowd those containers. Depending on the size, one or two plants are the max for each pot.  If planting in a small ground area, space about 2 feet apart.

5. Make sure your pots can drain. You may need to place a couple of bricks under each container to allow water to drain.  I recommend adding some small rocks to your empty containers around the drain hole then filling with dirt.  This ensures proper drainage and healthy plants!

6. Invest in watering each container a few minutes a day. If your patio or yard gets quite hot, you should consider an investment of watering in the morning and again in the later afternoon or invest in a small drip system.

7. Plant tags will tell you when it’s time to harvest.  Check your plant tags and record on your calendar when you planted and then make a note of days when each plant should be mature and ready for you to harvest.  Picking varieties that have varied maturity dates is one way to stagger your yield (tomato varieties differ in their maturity dates).  Depending on how long your growing season may be, you might be able to plant twice!  Just remember to plant after the last frost.  Mother’s Day is a good reference!

I am such a fan of small space gardening now.  I never realized how simple and abundant a few containers of veggies can be.  I am always looking for tips, ideas and creative ways in which people use containers and small spaces for a vegetable garden, and welcome your feedback here.

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