What can you expect to grow in a small garden? How much garden should you plan for?
Start small if you have never gardened before. Even if you have room for more garden, resist the urge. You could start with just one or two raised beds. 150 square feet is plenty for a first season.
Grow what you eat, eat what you grow. In all gardening, grow foods that you like to eat in quantities that you can reasonably expect to consume. One or two summer squash plants is plenty for most gardeners. A whole row of summer squash just provokes Zucchini Rebellion.
When planning, consider that 30 square feet of garden space per eater will provide all the green stuff a person can put in their face. You can raise plenty of lettuce, greens for salads and stir fries, green onions, fresh radishes for salad, and broccoli in a small garden. You can grow snow peas on a trellis in the spring or pole green beans in summer.
If you can, set aside an additional 10-20 square feet per eater for a winter garden. If you are organized and get the winter garden bed built at the same time as the summer garden, plant a spring cover crop (fava beans and spring oats are a great combination for small spaces) and turn it under in June. The winter garden is where you will really save money over the cost of buying fresh food. The winter garden is planted from June to September and harvested through the fall, winter and following spring.
If you are out of space, you can rotate the winter vegetables into your summer garden. I used to reverse the ratios when I was gardening in a patio, and devote most of the space to winter gardening. In summer, I grew heirloom tomatoes, cover crops and herbs. Bellingham is bursting with fresh vegetables in summer.
Plan on an herb bed or cluster of pots. Herbs and greens for salads and stir fries are the most cost-effective use of a small space. Herbs can be used fresh and also dried to bring sparkle to winter meals. A year's supply of rosemary or thyme can be grown in a fat pot. 20-30 square feet of herb garden will provide plenty of herbs for cooking and tea.
Tomatoes need 4 square feet of space each in a raised bed, or just two square feet if you are willing to train them on a trellis. Tomato plants do well in containers and small spaces if some thought is given to matching the variety with the location. For fresh eating, plan on a minimum of two tomato plants for yourself and add one for each additional eater. The patio and small cherry tomatoes are great for containers. Determinate tomato plants are smaller and more compact than the sprawling indeterminate tomatoes. The larger tomatoes can be trained on a sturdy trellis.
Plan on a mixed flower border or a couple of large pots. Flowers delight the gardener's heart. More than that, flowers bring pollinators and predators to your garden. The pollinators love small blossoms and a succession of different flowers.
If you still have room left, there are compact bush versions of summer squash and cucumbers, fingerling potatoes, small winter squashes and other delights.
Next up: managing a small garden.