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Downsizing the Garden

How to get the most out of less space

        Downsizing has become a familiar term. When children leave home to enter a new life, parents consider downsizing as they will no longer have the help to care for things. As one approaches retirement, it is not uncommon to see couples downsize so they can spend more time traveling, playing golf or becoming snowbirds.  The aging body also encourages downsizing. You can’t do the things you used to do. The Bay Gardener is now facing the same problem.
       I have always enjoyed my big vegetable and flower gardens. There is certain pleasure in growing and picking vegetables fresh from the garden. There is no breakfast better than a toast-and-tomato sandwich made after picking a vine-ripened Brandywine. I love being able to harvest five nice big heads of cabbage for shredding and making sauerkraut. The cabbage is so fresh and tender that it takes little pounding to extract the juices from the shredded leaves in preparation for fermentation.
       Canning, freezing or drying fruits and vegetables for the winter months has always been a welcomed challenge. Better yet is being able to give fresh vegetables to friends, neighbors or the local food bank. 
        Now it’s time to downsize my garden.
        A first step is making choices as to which vegetables to grow and which vegetable to let go. Eliminate those that are low yielding, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, sweet corn, melons, most winter squashes and pumpkins. These are readily available at local farmers markets and grocery stores.
        Tomatoes are readily available, but there is no substitute for a tomato from your garden. Tomato plants need not take up much space as they can be trellised or grown vertically on strings.
         To make your decision, keep in mind which vegetables you like the most as well as which will provide the greatest yield in the space available and which are not readily available at markets.
          If you enjoy vegetables that grow on vines such as cucumbers, save space by growing them on trellises in a north-side area where they will not shade other crops. Also consider growing dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties such as pickling cucumbers and Little Marvel peas. If you like squash, consider growing bush varieties that do not produce vines.
        If you are gardening in raised beds, plan to double-crop. Radish seeds can be sown in late March and harvested in 30 days. Broccoli, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, lettuce and small-headed cabbage can be transplanted in early April and harvested by early June. These crops can be followed with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.
         In raised beds, plant the smaller-growing varieties along the south side with the taller-growing plants in the middle and along the north side. Providing each plant with the maximum light is important in achieving maximum yields.
       Plants grow and mature faster in raised beds than in the ground. In raised beds, the growing media warms earlier and maintains higher temperatures during the growing season; drainage is near perfect.
       But because of warmer soil temperatures and faster growth, the plants must be irrigated more frequently. Like plants growing in containers, plants grown in raised beds are more susceptible to drought. To conserve moisture and control weeds, consider black plastic mulch made from leaf bags that are cut open and laid on the ground before transplanting. Use a sharp knife to cut an X about three-inches long for inserting the plant.
        Try these tips, and you’ll get the most out of less space.