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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jun 12

Small Investment, High Yield

Posted on June 12, 2015 at 9:13 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

The small investment mentioned is not solicited by your local stockbroker. Nor will the high yield come in the form of monetary dividends. The small investment is your time and space, if the space for a vegetable garden is limited. If this describes your situation, you might consider planting a garden in a bag or employing the "square foot" gardening method and choosing vegetables that will provide a high yield from a small space.

Many years ago, someone came into our nursery discussing the idea of gardening in a bag—that is, a bag of soil. I listened intently as they described buying bagged soil at the local nursery, poking holes for drainage, then flipping the bag over and making slits in which to plant veggie seedlings directly into the bag. What a perfect solution for someone gardening from a balcony or tiny backyard! (Note: If you are planting anything on a balcony, place a tray or some device under the planter to capture any escaped irrigation water.)

In the past few years, the gardening-in-a-bag concept has moved toward square-foot gardening, which has taken the gardening world by storm. The idea is to construct a small square or rectangular box and divide the box into 1-square-foot sections. For example, if the dimensions of the box are 3 x 3 feet, you would have nine sections in which to plant. The idea is to utilize the maximum amount of plant space in the square, rather than depending on rows of single type vegetables that require large planting areas and a family of 20 to consume. Besides saving space, you'll save the trouble of excess veggies that you have to pawn off to neighbors and friends, or spend the hot summers canning, or toss into a compost bin.

Miniature gardens have their drawbacks. Realistically, corn would not be a great choice for these small-space garden methods. But so many veggies have been hybridized to grow in a compact form. For example, "patio pick" cherry tomatoes and "space saver" cucumbers could each fit into a 1-foot square and produce substantial quantities of veggies. Leaf lettuce is a great choice, as are Swiss chard, spinach, and kale. These plants will continue to grow as the exterior leaves are snipped off to enjoy in a fresh salad or soup seasoning. Leeks, shallots, and garlic would also be great in these mini gardens. Green beans and peas would perform well if a teepee or trellis lined the back of the planter. The best part of beans and peas is that the more you pick, the more they will produce! Beets, herbs, and carrots can be tucked into a square or two. And companion planting can still work in these tiny spaces by placing complementary plants next to each other. A few beneficial flowers such as marigolds or nasturtiums would not take up vast space, but assist with attracting pollinators to the new garden concept.

 Potato plant in cardboard box
 Harvest time: potatoes in cardboard box
Don't allow limited container selections to get in your way. This spring, we planted Yukon gold potatoes in the greenhouse. Half the seed potatoes were planted in a cardboard box, the other half made their way into a plastic tub with holes drilled in the bottom. The highest yield of potatoes came from the seed potatoes in the cardboard box! Amazingly, the box didn't break down over the course of the growing season! I have seen pictures of creative folks using old worn work boots, cloth shopping bags, and 5-gallon flush toilets as planters! In fact, yours truly is growing onions in a claw foot bathtub. Gophers will be hard pressed to devour them in that location!

As with any container plants, it may be necessary to feed more frequently with worm castings or compost tea. But the benefits include saving water by irrigating only a minimal area, outrageously delicious fresh veggies, and the satisfaction of producing so much in such a small space. Low investment, high yield. Not a bad tip!


Scott Stokes
June 12, 2015 at 1:32 PM
On my ET controller, I have a separate zone/valve programmed just for Containers on our deck. I keep a close eye on the trays/deep saucers under the pots for excess water. "Pottery Trainers" no longer exist... long story. Big saucers are in. :-) PVC decking doesn't rot. :-)
Scott Stokes
June 12, 2015 at 2:12 PM
Thinking small.. Great THE TINY HOUSE MOVEMENT TALK & TOUR Wednesday June 17, 5:30 - 7:30 $20 General Admission 9817 Mill Station Road, Sebastopol, CA 95472
Charlene Burgi
June 15, 2015 at 9:03 AM
Thank you for the tips, Scott!

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