Easy Small-Space Vegetable Gardening Tips to Use Anywhere
Everything you need to know to get your garden growing in even the tightest of corners
Spring has finally sprung, and with it comes a season of abundance: asparagus, radishes, snap peas, and more. Though it seems suburbanites have all the fun when it comes to awe-inspiring vegetable gardens, city dwellers have a few tricks up their sleeves. After all, a compact yet efficient small-space garden can yield produce that's just as fresh, colorful, and delicious as their country counterparts. So we turned to Valery Rizzo—lifestyle photographer, Brooklyn resident, and gardener extraordinaire—for her tips on making the most of a small space. Here's to planting the seeds for ripe, photo-worthy vegetables all year long.
How much space do you need to plant a garden?
You don't need much, but it also depends on what you'd like to grow. Zucchini and pumpkins, for example, need more room, but the fun part is being creative with whatever space you have. I've seen it all—from a concrete front yard in Brooklyn, growing tomatoes in buckets and squash in an overhead trellis, to a large pot on a balcony in Italy, where my aunt grew her eggplant. I've even seen okra grown in whiskey barrels. Anything is possible, really.
What are some tricks to help maximize space?
Growing things in pots and containers is a great way to save space and control your soil quality. Raised beds or stacked milk crates lined with landscaping fabric are great if you don't have actual ground to grow in. You can also build trellises and tepees for climbing vegetables such as string beans and cucumbers.
When is the best time to begin planting?
Some crops do better in cooler temperatures and some like warmer weather. The rule of thumb is to start planting after your area's last spring frost (in New York, it's after April 17th). Seed packets often list when to start planting and whether you should start them indoors or directly in the soil outdoors.
What vegetables do well in a small space?
If you're really pressed for space you can grow bush varieties of crops like beans, but most things grow well. My go-to crops are flowers that attract pollinators, herbs, tomatoes (especially cherry), string beans, eggplants, peppers, and cucumbers. Last year, I even started a few black currant bushes from clippings someone gave me.
How do you begin the planting process?
After the big garden clean up and soil prep, I carefully plan out my space first so I know where everything will go. Then I just read the seed packets, which give you easy to follow instructions for how deep to plant the seeds, how far apart, etc. Once planted, I give the seeds a good watering. Later, I'll buy seedlings from farmers markets and start adding them to my garden.
What's the benefit or drawback of planting seeds over sprouted plants?
You're never completely sure that seeds will germinate. You may need to leave space in the garden if you're starting them indoors, and you may need to plan for more time between crops. At the same time, it's much cheaper to buy seeds and it's rewarding to see them develop—you feel like you really grew something yourself. Seedlings give you instant gratification. But watching and caring for both is equally satisfying, and I always use a combination in my garden.
How do you know when to harvest your crops?
If it looks good enough to eat it probably is. I also think it's important to know how to harvest your vegetables so your plants keep producing. Each year is a learning experience for the following year. Plus, you can find information and videos on the Internet for just about anything you would like to grow.
Is sunlight a factor for certain plants?
Most vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
Do you have to water plants daily if they're outside?
Outside, you have the rain to help water your garden, so it's usually a combination of researching how often each plant needs watering together with common sense as far as whether the soil is dry or moist. In the very hot summer months you will probably need to water every day.
For more inspiring images, follow Valery on Instagram @valrizzo