Sustainable Gardening for Compact Spaces

By rotating the crops you grow within your small garden, you can guarantee a longer life for your soil.

| August 2016

Small garden bed

You don’t need a farm or a homestead or even a giant backyard to start a sustainable garden. All you really need is three square feet of space.

Photo by Fotolia/Ivonne Wierink

Not everyone who wants to begin living sustainably can move out to a homestead and work their own land. Sometimes this effort must start in an apartment, in a city, in a suburb. So how do you live frugally in such a compact space? Lolo Houbein has the answer in her book, One Magic Square Vegetable Gardening (The Experiment, 2016). Here, Houbein outlines simple ideas for food preservation, original recipes, and various sustainable techniques, from composting to water conservation. And at the core of all of this are the dozens of different plans for plotting a garden in three square feet of “magic” space, as well as the explanation behind why these designs can successfully produce an abundance of fresh produce for your home throughout the year. With these tips, you can hone your green thumb no matter where you live.

You can purchase this book from the Capper's Farmer store: One Magic Square Vegetable Gardening.

Crop Rotation and Green Crops

Crop rotation restores the nutritional balance in the soil and prevents plant diseases from developing, but it cannot restore all nutrients taken from the soil by previous crops. Therefore, soil needs additional nutrients through green crops, compost, manure, and organic fertilizers.

The word has been out a while now that mono-cropping — the growing of one variety on the same soil year after year — leads to root diseases, fatal for root crops, as well as those on big feet like the large brassicas. Mono-cropping is putting all your eggs in one basket and is frequently practiced with vegetables that increase prolifically, delivering the greatest harvest for the least amount of cost and labor. Mono-cropping is performed by poor people who need to feed many mouths for next to nothing.

Such was the case in Ireland where potatoes were the staple food until, in 1845, the Great Potato Famine struck. Cold wet weather gave rise to a fungal disease, and the potatoes rotted. One million people died of starvation and two million migrated, leaving five million to try to survive off the blighted land. In the hills where I live, the growers of an entire valley were prohibited from cultivating onions for five years because of a disease caused by continuous mono-cropping.

In Bali, the hills have been terraced to grow rice for a thousand years. But with a recent surge in population to 3.5 million, in a climate where rice can grow all year, continuous mono-cropping was reducing soil fertility and causing problems requiring chemical spraying. Now, Balinese farmers practice crop rotation with peanuts, corn, sweet potatoes, tapioca, and vegetables after two rice harvests. Their fields are small, and those surrounded by shelter belts of mixed trees and weeds have the best-looking crops.

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