Small-scale, intensive home vegetable production

It’s amazing how much production you can get from a small garden. I harvest a huge salad every day from this one. I planted it on Feb 12, and took this picture on March 21, 2020.

Recently I made a small, raised bed vegetable garden, so I could enjoy home-grown salads. At the same time as my garden grew and grew, so did the Covid-19 pandemic. I then realized what a great project this could be for other people to do right now. It’s spring planting season in the northern hemisphere, and in much of the world people are home due to the corona virus lockdown.

In the current situation, even a trip to the grocery store is fraught with danger and moral quandaries. Sure, you can stock up on many months’ worth of pasta and canned beans to minimize going out, but for good health you also need lots of fresh vegetables. Getting these important but perishable foods means regular shopping trips, which entails exposure to other people, with the risk of potentially spreading the corona virus further. And nobody knows how long this situation will last – I’m writing this in spring 2020, and some experts are predicting a second wave of the disease later this year that possibly could be even worse than the first.

In just one day, you can build a simple, raised-bed garden that will supply you and your family with a continuous, abundant supply of vegetables right through the growing season. Not only does this greatly reduce your need to venture into the virus-infested outside world, it improves your diet and quality of life – you can’t get any fresher food than vegetables you eat minutes after harvesting. And creating and tending a garden is one of the most satisfying projects you can do, whether you’re in a pandemic or not.

A garden like this can start producing food quickly – I planted mine on February 12, and I was harvesting food by March 1. Now I harvest a gigantic salad every day, and I can’t even keep up with all the abundance this little garden is cranking out.

I made my version as a raised bed garden enclosed by walls. This style of garden ensures your vegetables have deep soil for excellent growth, it helps prevent weeds from invading at the edges, and is a design that can fit neatly into many suburban yards. Perhaps most importantly in the current situation, it’s a garden that can be set up quickly – literally in a day if you want. There are many other ways to make a vegetable garden, including on level ground, or even a sunken bed garden, but here I’m focusing on directions for building a walled, raised-bed vegetable garden.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a garden like this:

-A sunny location:
All-day sun is best, but most leafy vegetables can produce reasonably with even a few hours of sun a day. Those few hours of sun don’t even need to be continuous – a spot with a couple hours of direct sun early and a couple more hours later on in the day can still produce a fair bit of food.

-Soil:

If landscape supply operations are still open in your area, they are a great place to get soil. In my area, these places sell a cubic yard of potting soil for about thirty to sixty dollars a cubic yard. That’s a perfect amount for a garden like this, and it’ll fit neatly into the bed of a small pickup truck (They’ll use their equipment to dump it in). Many places will deliver soil for an added fee.

If landscape supply businesses are still in operation in your region, you can buy soil from them. Materials yards sell a cubic yard of potting soil for $30-$40 in my area, and that’s a perfect quantity for this size garden. If you own or can borrow a pickup truck, a cubic yard fits neatly into the bed of even a smallish pickup. Otherwise, many places will deliver soil for an added fee. Or you can use some of your existing native soil, mixed in with compost or bagged topsoil or composted cow manure. One friend of mine reported getting excellent results from garden beds like this filled with a mix of equal parts of sand, clay, and commercially purchased compost.

-Retention walls:
Galvanized steel roofing metal roofing material works well. It’s steel coated with zinc (both metals are essential nutrients in small amounts). I used ratty old pieces – new ones will be prettier. The walls of my garden are 3 feet and 8 feet. I took 24-inch wide panels and I used metal snips to cut them lengthwise to 12-inch width (this was the most tedious part of the project).

For the corners, you can use angled flashing (or just cut pieces of roofing panel and bend to 90 degrees), and attach to the panels with self-tapping screws.
A couple 18-ich rebar sticks on each long wall keeps the walls from bowing outward.

-Fertilizer:
You can find a variety of conventional & organic fertilizers at garden centers or online vendors. Look for an all-purpose fertilizer, and follow the label instructions.

-Vegetable starts:
for fast production, you can get baby plants at local garden centers (if they’re still open). If they’re not open, or even if they are and you want to keep up production with successive plantings, order a 72-cell seed starter tray, a bag of “germination mix” potting soil, and seeds. An excellent salad mix is a combo of lettuce, mizuna, arugula, & Italian dandelion. Other good possibilities are carrots, kale, collards, & Chinese cabbage.

For growing your own veggie starts, you can order a 72-cell plastic seed-starting tray and a bag of “germination mix” potting soil for starting vegetable seeds. For a small garden like the one I built, you don’t need to plant the whole tray all at once. You can plant a few rows at a time. Doing this once a month allows you to succession plant for continuous harvest.

For continuous production, you’ll want to keep planting seeds regularly, maybe every month. One way to do this is to try planting seeds directly in the garden among the existing vegetables, but to baby the starts a little more, plant seeds in a seed starter tray filled with germination mix. You don’t need to plant the whole tray at once – you can do just a few rows at a time, for
I’m playing around with planting several rows of a seed starter tray at the beginning of every month with whichever vegetable varieties seem like they’re starting to fade in the garden.

For my garden, I’ve focused mainly on salad greens, because I really enjoy a big daily salad. In the photos, you can see mizuna, arugula, Florida Finley onions, Italian dandelions, garlic chives, culantro, and Indian lettuce. Most salad greens are so quick to start producing that by doing successive plantings, you can keep your garden in nearly constant production.
You can also plant things like tomatoes, peppers, even potatoes and sweet corn in a garden like this, but be aware that they have a longer period from planting to harvest.

Mulch is helpful in a garden like this to suppress weed seed germination, and to help keep the soil moist. I just raked up leaves from some small-leaved trees, and spread them in about an inch-thick layer over the soil of my garden.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how much to water your garden, and how often. Basically, when you poke a finger into the soil, it should feel moist. And on sunny days, the plants should show very little wilting. With my garden, it depends a lot on the weather – on hot, sunny days I need to water the garden daily. But if the weather is cooler or overcast, I only need to water a couple of times a week.

In my garden I planted mizuna, arugula, lettuce, Florida Finley onions, Italian dandelions (which are actually a chicory), garlic chives, culantro, and Indian lettuce.

One regular task in any garden is weeding. Depending on the source of the soil you used, you’ll very likely have fewer weed issues than in most gardens, especially if you apply mulch, but there will still be a few. If you stay on top of pulling any weeds while they’re still small, it doesn’t take long, whereas if you let them grow for a while, it can become quite a chore. Get to know which plant species are the common garden weeds in your area, so you can yank them as soon as they show themselves. It doesn’t take long to weed a small garden like this, and pulling weeds while they’re still small is very quick and efficient. They longer they last, the bigger the weeds will get, and the more work it takes to pull them. When I see a little weed in the garden, I tell myself, “That weed will never again be as easy to pull as it is right now.”

For many areas in the northern hemisphere, you can keep a garden like this growing through spring, summer, and part of fall. Some gardeners extend their growing season by placing hay bales all around a garden like this, with a slanted pane of glass over top to let sun in. Depending on the severity of your area’s winter temps, a setup like that might allow harvests into much of the cold season.

Here in Florida, we have the opposite problem. Vegetable greens are easy to grow during fall, winter and spring, but summer’s heat and humidity sizzles many of the common salad vegetables. I plan to experiment with my garden, combining tropical vegetables and heat-tolerant varieties of common vegetables, probably with the use of shade cloth, to see how well I can keep up my daily home grown salad through the steamy summer months. I will report back on how that goes in a future blog post.

If you make a garden like this, hopefully you’ll find it so enjoyable that you’ll continue making it an essential part of your life and diet long after the current pandemic has passed into history.

For more posts on this website about growing vegetables in Florida, see this tag: #vegetables


11 thoughts on “Small-scale, intensive home vegetable production

  1. Nice project, Craig!
    I’ve been posting pictures of my vegetable gardens in Austin and Yoakum, not really the one I grow at the clinic, though I spent a long day working on it Monday. http://www.johndayblog.com
    Scroll and scroll for garden images at ends of news posts.
    Lots of news these days… As usual, the stuff you get inundated with is just meant to steer you, not free you…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your little salad garden. Great timing on the post. People do not realize the little self sufficient things they can do that make a big difference. Your metal raised bed construction looks oddly familiar..lol…

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    1. Hi Leilani, thanks for dropping by! Yes, this bed construction was partly inspired by the garden beds at the Heart Institute in Lake Wales, and partly by your impressive array of raised beds. I definitely got the corner construction from you. Hey, you’ve got a whole lot of knowledge of things you’ve figured out – ever thinking of starting a blog to document all that?

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  3. Hi! We live in Sarasota, FL, and I am getting ready to install a raised garden in the Fall. I am interested in galvanized metal but I am wondering if it can get too hot with our sun and dry the soil out. Based on your experience, do you think metal raised bed are fine for our latitude? I dismissed wood because I am pretty confident it would rot quite fast. Thank you in advance!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My raised bed garden has turned out to be a bit more prone to drying out than I’d like, but I think that’s because the type of soil I used was excessively fast-draining. Recently during a turnover of plantings in the bed I mixed in a bunch of clay to the soil, which should help with that. I’ve seen other raised bed gardens in Florida with galvanized metal walls, and those were growing great crops, didn’t seem to have any issue with excessive drying.

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  4. Hey! The guy who wrote about Florida Finley onions is out of them. (Subtropical Abundance) I hope he sells them again! In the meantime, could I possibly buy some from you? I intend to plant them and keep producing them in my home garden. I’m up on the panhandle, still in Florida!

    Thanks in advance!

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