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Permaculture Growing in Small Spaces

It’s surprising what can be grown in relatively small spaces. Over the years I’ve come across some really creative solutions for growing in urban areas. Some of these mini urban gardens are actually more productive (per foot) than some allotment sites as the grower is pushed to make the most of the small space. So what can you grow, and how?

Strawberry Container
Photograph: Living in Monrovia, Flickr, CC


As always with permaculture design the first thing is to survey. Once you’ve picked your growing space pay attention to where gets the most light, wind, temperature fluctuations and what else the space is used for. It’s all well and good filling your balcony to the brim with home-grown veg, but you might also want somewhere to sit outside on sunny spring and summer days. 

Surveying isn’t just about observing the space, it’s also about observation of the grower. If you work from home, for example, you might have time to move your plants during the day to maximise the amount of sunlight they get. Or, if you’re away from home a lot, you might need to get some capillary mapping so the soil doesn’t dry out.

Picking plants

Once you’ve decided on the best spot for growing and done some analysis you’re ready to decide what to plant. Some plants that might be perfect for windowsill growing are things like tomatoes, basil, peppers, parsley and coriander. If you have a bit more space you could think about growing cucumbers, beetroot and even carrots and squashes in pots. 

If you’ve got no direct sunlight at all, don’t despair. Leafy greens grow well in shaded areas with the added bonus of being much more nutritious, crunchy and tasty in comparison to the supermarket options that travel long distances (usually all the way from Italy). You can also try growing beetroot in containers, you can harvest the beetroot leaves as well. Radishes will also grow fairly quickly without much light, and are the perfect size for a window box. Herbs like peppermint and lemon balm are also fairly shade tolerant. Perfect for refreshing summer cups of tea (if you haven’t given up hot drinks for the environment).

Photograph: Wiccahwang, Flickr, CC

Grow up

Peas, runner beans and peas are great options for making the most out of vertical space. You could think about using the railings on your balcony or making a trellis out of bamboo, and if you’re growing indoors why not think about putting up some shelves in the window.

Hang down

If you’re lucky enough to have some outdoor space hanging baskets are a great option. They can go on balconies and in small garden spaces. Tumbling tom tomatoes and strawberries are perfect for hanging baskets and you can grow things like lettuce, peas, cucamelons and nasturtiums. 

For those limited to the indoors, over the door racks can go a long way in extending your growing space. Just pop some plants in pots and make sure you have them in trays to collect the water. 

Companion Planting Container  
Photograph: Taifighta, Flickr, CC

Success makes good company

A great way to maximise the productiveness of any growing space is to use companion and succession planting. You can companion plant for many different reasons and one of these is to maximise the yield for the space. You could think about planting lettuce at the back of a mounted window box and planting peas at the front so they can trail out. You could also use these technique in your hanging baskets with basil and trailing tomatoes. 

Another good way to make the most of your growing space is to plan for succession. Plan ahead for the growing season and get your seedlings going ready to pop in as soon as the previous plant has finished producing.

If you have a slightly bigger space and are looking for some more growing inspiration, a recent Learn Permaculture PDC graduate, Huw Richards, has written a fantastic beginners book about how to grow vegetables year round. I’ll be revising it in my next youtube book review but until then you can purchase the book and check out some online reviews here



Tags: permaculture, design, growing, urban growing, small spaces