How to Start a Small Garden: 5 Tips for Homestead Gardeners

how to start a small garden

While we would all ideally have large spaces for gardening with rich soil and plenty of sunshine, many of us have to make the most out of what we have. This is the case even on a homestead, where space is usually aplenty! Insufficient space is probably one of the most common problems for gardeners. But it doesn’t need to be a reason for gardeners or people thinking about gardening to be discouraged. Before saying, “I’d like to have a garden but don’t have room” or “My small garden doesn’t produce enough to be worth all the effort”, give the techniques here a try. By following a few simple strategies, you can learn how to start a small garden. And remember, that small garden can produce oversized bounties of diverse produce!

How to start a small garden

Think vertical

The sky is the limit for vertical space in your garden, so take advantage of it. Vegetables can be trained to climb all kinds of creative and attractive supports. They can even hang upside side down or climb another plant. Supported vegetables take up less space, and there is also less risk of rot from contact with the ground. Just remember to arrange the garden so that short plants can enjoy the southern exposure. Even if placed correctly, taller neighbors might act as shade for smaller plants.

The first step toward optimizing vertical space is to select vegetables for the garden that thrive on supports; peas and tomatoes are popular examples. Pea fences, for example, use a modest amount of square footage on the ground. Yet they can reach up to an adult’s full height. Heavier produce including cucumbers and melons are also suitable for vertical gardening. That is, provided they are treated to a gentler incline and attached securely. Root vegetables like carrots that grow predominantly under the soil have similar advantages in the opposite direction.

It’s not necessary to spend money on single-use plastic supplies from the nursery. Support structures can be built using low-cost materials that are attractive, effective, and reusable. One of the most common types of support is the basic tepee made from sticks arranged in a circle and tied together at the top with twine. Twine is the best material for making the tepee. This is because it will compost after use instead of creating trash in the garden. Found objects, like bicycle tires affixed to a wall, can also be employed in creative personalized designs. Perhaps the cheapest and easiest option is to use other plants. Pole beans are happy to climb up corn stalks and are said to discourage raccoons from eating the corn.

Don’t be so patient

Wasting sunshine on bare soil is a shame when successive cool and warm-season plantings can double that soil’s output. Fast-growing cool-season vegetables such as spinach and radishes can mature and be harvested before the soil is even adequately warmed up for many warm-season favorites. If the early plantings are not ready to take out completely, no problem. Seeds planted in the warm season will need time to grow and spread. Try placing radishes between potato hills in the space that the large potato plants won’t fill right away.

Expand the garden into unexpected places with edible landscaping

Not all gardening has to take place inside the garden. You can also grow great food in various nooks and crannies! This adds up to a whole lot more growing space. Herbs in particular require minimal space. What’s more, they are more convenient when they are located where they can be grabbed quickly while cooking. The aromatic quality of most herbs is an added bonus that strategic placement outside the garden best utilizes. Sunflowers and strawberries are two examples of other options that perform double duty as ornaments and food producers. For more adventurous palates, decorative flowers such as daylilies are edible too.

Cut down on pathways

Nobody wants to end up stepping on the plants to access the harvest, but walkways in the garden cut down on usable space. In the traditional row method of gardening, where single rows alternate with walkway after walkway, the space occupied by paths can be quite significant. The solution is planting in beds. Four feet across is a good general rule for the width of beds, an individualized idea of ideal bed size can be obtained by simply taking a measure of how far it’s comfortable to reach and making the beds double that (assuming they are accessible from both sides). The length of beds is theoretically unlimited, although gardeners will want to keep in mind how far they will want to walk when getting from one bed to another.

Within the beds, block-style planting allows for a higher yield than traditional rows. Block planting means placing seeds the appropriate distance from the gap between seeds in the next row over, creating triangles rather than squares. This way, you can virtually eliminate the gap between rows. Alternating the seed types planted this way is worth considering if the spread of insects and disease from plant to plant is a problem.

Swap surpluses with a neighbor

While this strategy doesn’t exactly make the garden any bigger, it’s probably the best way to obtain a variety of produce when fitting everything in a small space isn’t an option. At the height of the season, it’s common to have an excess of one kind of vegetable or another, and odds are good that the neighbors have the same problem. Unless a gardener is serious about canning, drying, and pickling most of that excess will go to waste. If bringing a basket of fresh vegetables over to the neighbors house isn’t the usual order of things already, be the first to reach out and they will most likely return the favor.

Any tips on how to start a small garden?

Although it may not be possible to grow everything a gardener dreams of in a limited space, these strategies will make it easy to exceed expectations. Without working any harder, smarter approaches to gardening get more out of each square foot of real estate. The result, once you’ve learned how to start a small garden, is enjoying plenty of truly fresh produce complete with the added satisfaction of knowing it came from the gardener’s very own efforts.


Alice is a writer who grew up on a beautiful homestead in rural Old England. She now lives in New England with her fur babies and is on a mission to return to the land for a simpler, greener, and all-round kinder existence.

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