Small Spaces, Huge Potential

Video by Anahi Ruiz and Lauren Pollack

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One of my favorite spaces at home is my backyard. Spanning two-thirds of an acre and backing up into the Mianus River State Park, it’s always been just the right size for flag football games, fetch with my dogs and swinging on the swingset. 

What to Plant?

I was staring at the pathetic pile of dirt sitting on my porch. A small, one-square-foot area with some composted leaves and dirt — what could I possibly grow there? What could I plant?

I love tomatoes. Tomatoes are my favorite fruit; sometimes I even eat them like apples. That’s how much I like them. You can understand then, how disappointed I was when I learned tomatoes need more space than I had and much more sun than my porch provided. Tomatoes need at least eight hours of sun. My porch gets about 3 to 4 hours at most. So it was back to the drawing board.

Once I considered shade as a factor the options were not as colorful as before. They included arugula, Asian greens, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, scallions and as well as others. I choose to go with Asian greens because they prefer shorter, cooler days and therefore will last into autumn — a big bonus in my opinion. 

—​ Anahi Ruiz

When I moved to Washington, D.C., for school, my “backyard” nearly vanished (unless you count the National Mall) and each year I miss the potential of a green open space more and more. According to the United Nations, the world’s urban population is expected to increase by 84 percent in the next 35 years, reaching 6.3 billion in 2050. Soon, there will be more people living in cities like D.C., and in cities that are even bigger; they will have to trade their backyards for small balconies and patio spaces, just like I did.

However, all has not been lost. These small spaces hold some incredible potential as Love and Carrots, a business in Washington, D.C., is revealing to their clients in the form of vegetable gardens that can be designed specifically for small deck spaces, balconies and windowsills. Urban agriculture is not a new concept, but more unconventional city spaces are being redesigned into small gardens, which can yield great payoffs.

When I visited Love and Carrots “headquarters,” which includes an outdoor vegetable garden, greenhouse and office space, Meredith Shepard, the founder of the company, walked me through a typical discussion she has with her clients on a design consultation. Her goal is two-fold; give her customers the ability to grow and eat the vegetables they love and advise them in picking vegetables that will give them the highest yield for their urban space. When it comes down to it, what you choose to grow influences the productivity of your space.

Take carrots, for instance. One carrot seed produces one carrot and it can take up to 3 months before it is ready to be harvested. In smaller garden spaces, carrots are not and ideal crop to grow because they are not efficient. In order to maximize urban spaces, choosing plants like kale, Swiss chard and beets, vegetables that all have continual harvests, will maximize the production value of any space, big or small.

“Another example of something that is good to grow in small spaces are radishes. You can have 3-4 cycles of radishes in a season and they can be harvested in about 30 days,” Meredith said pointing to the radishes that she had tucked into tiny spaces all around the Love and Carrots vegetable garden. According to FAO, an area just under 11 square feet can produce 44 pounds of food a year. 

To reduce my grocery store costs and maximize the potential of my small balcony, I’ve started considering what my own ideal container garden would look like. Potted plants would clutter my very small balcony, so I would want to maximize the vertical wall space that I have and create an innovative shoe organizer garden; I would plant salad greens like spinach, peas and herbs like thyme and rosemary.

I’ve found that there are many creative ways that you can grow food in a city space, and why not? The USDA expects prices for fresh fruit to increase 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent in 2015 and in 2014, prices went up 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent. Growing even just some of your food at home can benefit your bottom line. Growing vegetables is the most practical and sustainable use of any small city space.

 

The Shoe Organizer Garden

Shady Corners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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