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Published on November 12th, 2013 | by Jami Scholl

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Community Garden Plots: Make the Most of Limited Space

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Tomato dreams and hot pepper fantasies unite apartment dwellers and homeowners in community gardens. Some gardeners are strictly production focused, while others look forward to human-to-human interactions that humanize our increasingly computerized lives. Yet no matter who you are or what you are growing, everyone has the same options for plot size in community gardens. Community gardens offer those without a yard a chance to get their hands into the soil and support the growing urban farm movement.

British allotments are huge in comparison to their American counterpart. The average size of an allotment is 1/16th of an acre, or 50 meters square. These allotments have growing wait lists. The less transient population of Britain as compared to the United States has, in the past, often transferred allotments on from one generation to the next. With a deep history that I suspect is based on a size plot that is needed to sustain a family with food for a year, and with a cultural heritage of tending gardens, I have seen these allotments grow vegetables, brambles and also house poultry.

American garden plots, by comparison, are tiny.  Some public plots in New York City are 4 feet by 12 feet. In Austin, Texas plots offered are a small of 10 feet by 20 feet or large of 20 feet by 20 feet. Here is my hometown the choices are 10 feet by 10 feet or 10 feet by 20 feet. I am not aware of any garden plot allowing chickens, others nothing perennial, as most are rented for what are considered “the growing season.” There are also limits to one might grow in their garden.

In some community gardens you can have up to three plots. Other community garden’s require an individual to start small in order to demonstrate that they are dedicated to taking care of their plot before they are considered acceptable caretakers for one or two more plots. Because of the limited size of garden plots, it no wonder that I have had people in my classes who wish to learn how to best maximize their food production.

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Here are four tips to help you maximize the amount of food grown in a community garden plot:

1)   INTERPLANT: this is a technique that can be planted once or used with succession planting (tip #2). If planting your garden at one time companion planting can be used. Companion planting is when planting certain plants next to each other so that they gain mutual benefit in some way. An example of this is to plant basil next to trellised tomatoes. As the tomatoes grow up, lower leaves can be pruned, while basil is pinched to become bushy.

2)   SUCCESSION: when one plant has come to the end of it’s life span, then something else can be planted in the space that was created. An example of succession planting: when spinach is harvested by the roots, lettuce can then be planted. Since lettuce will go to seed (or bolt) in heat, this space can then be planted with beets for fall harvest. Depending on your plant choices and your location, 2-3 crops can come from the same space.

3)   VERTICAL: Trellises to grow plants up are great for vining and climbing plants like beans, peas, cucumbers, and certain types of small melons. I’ve made trellises in an upside-down “V” shape so that vining plants will cover the ground with shade, which then will extend the harvest of plants that like cooler temperatures and less sunlight, such as lettuce.

4)    DESIGN DIFFERENT: think outside the box of your plot… or better said, is think different inside the box. Now that the plot is designed using a vertical element such as trellising, how about not thinking in the mono-cropped pattern of rows? When using a design such as the keyhole garden, you eliminate most of the pathways and increase growing space. The way to create a keyhole is plan out a circle in the center of the plot, then one pathway going into the garden. In this way you can sit in the middle of the garden and reach all the way around you. Scale the circle to allow for 3-4 feet from the edge of the circle to the edge of the garden plot to assure you can read all areas of your garden.

No matter what size is your garden plot, at least three of these tips can be used in even the most narrow of spaces. An added benefit, is like smaller homes, there is less space to clean… ahhh, weed! By interplanting, the amount of sunlight getting to the ground is less, producing less competition by weeds. Keep in mind when selecting plants that roots can compete, but also enhance nutrient transfer from plant to plant.

October and November are a great months to find deals online at your favorite seed companies for the seeds you know you will want to plant next year, such as beans, onions, garlic, peas, spinach, carrots and lettuce.  Corn takes a lot of space to grow and would take up your entire plot to grow and pollinate successfully so I advise against growing it. For a community garden plots’ unless you want a special variety of tomato, pepper or eggplant, I suggest buying seedlings from a local farm or nursery that uses non-GMO seeds and prioritizes natural or organic methods.

Community garden image from Shutterstock



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