My last post on gardening small (other people’s gardens, 8/21/11) showed what you can do with a small space in the yard and foundation plantings of herbs, berry bushes, and other perennials. But what do you do if the only sunny place in your very small yard is … your driveway? My friend Paul, a fellow Plot Against Hunger committee member, set out to solve this problem a couple years ago, and after some research, decided to try square foot gardening.
Square foot gardening is a method of gardening intensely in a small space, popularized by Mel Bartholomew, whose latest book is All New Square Foot Gardening. If Paul’s garden is any example, it can produce spectacular results.
Paul and his partner Joe have one of those Arlington houses with a small yard and big trees that force their owners to learn about shade gardening or nurse thin patchy grass. Once the shady back patio and the small front yard were landscaped, there was no sunny spot left for vegetables until Paul began to consider the driveway on the south side of the house. With two and a half car lengths of driveway to work with, he started small, then expanded so that now only one car can pull in the drive.
He ordered planter kits made of cedar and constructed them in the driveway. With four 4’ x 4’ planters on the house side of the drive and four 3’ x 4’ planters on the fence side, he now has 112 square feet of vegetable garden space. He uses the smaller planters for salad greens and the larger, deeper planters for tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, peppers, eggplants, and other veggies that need more space.
The driveway, house, and fence, combined with a southern exposure, provide a very warm microclimate. Paul starts gardening about four weeks earlier than he might otherwise and is able to winter over a number of vegetables and greens as well. Because of the heat in the driveway, the planters can dry out fast, so he uses irrigation drip lines he built to keep things moist.
Paul said the initial excitement of the project has not worn off. He starts seedlings early in the basement and has planted things like okra and Brussels sprouts that he had never seen growing before. He has tried new varieties of spinach and Asian greens and grown successful crops of beets and carrots. He has trellised both tomatoes and cucumbers against the house and has thriving peppers and eggplants as well as Swiss chard. One whole planter is devoted to strawberries—protected by bird netting draped over a structure of small PVC piping.
Paul likes experimenting. If he grows something and the results are “phenomenal,” he plants it again. If the results are just okay, “well you’ve grown that,” and can move onto something else.
He has been too busy to think much about his winter garden this year. Last year, he planted rye grass as a cover crop to enrich the soil, but turning it over in the spring was labor intensive and letting it sit afterward took time when things could have been planted.
He is pondering another possible cover crop, and thinking of future plantings, including garlic.
For those of you who would like to know more, the next post will show how Paul built and filled the boxes—discussing a bit more of the nuts and bolts. In the meantime, think about what 112 square feet or less can yield!