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Short On Gardening Space?

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You want a garden, but your space is limited: a patio, balcony, window box, windowsill, hanging basket or just indoor pot.

You want a garden, but your space is limited: a patio, balcony, window box, windowsill, hanging basket or just indoor pots. You can still have both a crop and a harvest!

First consider your space and sun exposure. If your balcony, patio or window is on the north side, you will not be able grow tomatoes, red peppers and eggplant as easily as lettuce, peas, parsley, kale, Swiss chard, turnips even beets and carrots if your container is deep enough. Choose bush-type peas and let them trail a little. Stuff the corners of your container with leafy lettuce and a few radishes. If you're prepared to provide adequate support, you can grow standard climbing sugar peas and snack on them all spring and early summer.

Beans, squash, zucchini and pumpkins (small variety) do best in warm soil in a sunny spot. they're beautiful on the balcony when staked and controlled. My favourite beans for decorative purposes are scarlet runners. But fava beans are attractive, too. To add heat to your garden environment, make an enclosure of plastic, either a tent, screen or even a cloche cover (like a plastic bag) on individual containers. Make sure to take the bag off for breathing periods!

Some people have wide windowsills (or create them) and thus raise a crop of tomatoes when it's freezing outdoors. If you live in sunny Calgary, you have a better chance of accomplishing this than in rainy Vancouver. You can dedicate a whole area of your kitchen, bathroom, laundry room or spare bedroom to gardening. Think how plants will contribute to your indoor environment: as your herbs and vegetables grow, they clean the air and provide essential oxygen for you to breathe!

The greening of your home is all about benefit. And it need not be messy. I don't recommend plant pots on your living room carpet, but, with proper floor protection, your garden will definitely enhance your home space. A wooden platform to put pots on works well, and steps are even better. And how much more convenient could it be to snip a handful of herbs growing in the kitchen, or pull a carrot for stew?

For container planting, a special soil mix is necessary. Buy the mix if your space is small, but if you want to mix your own, use equal parts of peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, sand (washed and screened) and potting soil. Some people prefer a "soil-less mix." I struggle with this because of my own love of soil, but the soil-less medium contains essential minerals, a water-retaining medium and good drainage and aeration, all of which plant roots require for both growth and respiration. Add plant food in the form of liquid organic fertilizer seaweed and/or fish.

Remember, because your plants are in containers, water will continuously evaporate from both roots and leaves. Water the pots once or twice weekly and mist or spray the foliage, especially on hot days. Hanging baskets need special care. And pay attention to drainage. You don't want your pot to sit in water in a drainage saucer, which is there to catch drips only. Empty it after each watering.

You can grow your herbs and plants from seeds, of course, but I recommend that you initially buy the young plants parsley, zucchini, squash, cabbage, whatever. Put pebbles or broken clay pot pieces (called shards) on the bottom of your container for drainage, and prune or separate the roots of pot-bound plants. Leave enough room in the top of your pot for watering space (about an inch below the pot level). You can put several Swiss chard seedlings in one container, for instance, or combine leafy or root veggies along with a marigold or chive plant. They will grow to fill in the container, but leave as little uncovered surface soil as possible. Mulch of a green ground cover, composted wood chips or pebbles all help retain moisture and retard weeds.

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