Grow your own fruits, vegetables

Space limitations needn't limit fresh produce options



Almost anyone can grow fresh fruits and vegetables. Even apartment dwellers who have a spot with at least six hours of direct sun a day can grow a few vegetables in containers. And if you don’t have a space with enough sun? There is probably a community garden nearby where you can rent some garden space.

If you are limited on space, it is important to choose what you grow carefully. Your best fruit choice is strawberries. You can grow a few strawberry plants in a container. I love to pick a few fresh strawberries to put on my cereal or ice cream. An espalier fruit tree can be grown in a space as small as 5 feet by 10 feet.

Leaf vegetables are the easiest to grow in containers or where space is limited. Lettuce and spinach can be grown in pots as small as 6 inches across. If you pick individual leaves or stems, plants will produce two or three repeat harvests. Herbs such as chives, basil, oregano and cilantro can easily be grown in pots.

A few fruits and vegetables can also be grown among shrubs and flowers. Strawberries make good ground-cover plants. Blueberry plants make attractive ornamental shrubs. Many vegetables have leaves which are as ornamental as flowers. Beets have attractive red and green leaves. Bright Lights Swiss chard has leaves with red, pink, yellow and orange variegation. Fernlike carrot leaves are also quite ornamental. Same goes for red leaf lettuce.

Next to light, soil is the most important factor for success in growing fruits and vegetables. Potting soil works best for containers and raised beds. You can easily improve garden soil by incorporating several inches of organic matter such as bark dust or compost.

Cool- and warm-weather vegetables

Vegetables are easily divided into two groups based on the kind of weather they prefer. All the root, leaf and flower bud vegetables love the cool spring weather we have in the Pacific Northwest. Seeds will sprout and grow even when the soil is cold.

Wait until weather warms to plant all the fruiting vegetables except peas. They prefer the warm weather of midsummer. In Clark County, the traditional planting date for warm weather (fruiting) vegetables is mid-May. Row covers or plastic tunnels can be used to create a warmer environment. You can also place red plastic under plants like tomatoes and melons to speed their growth.

If you are using containers or have limited space, grow bush-type tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. Trellises or cages can be used to take advantage of vertical space.

Don’t attempt to grow large vegetables such as sweet corn, pumpkins, melons and winter squash unless you have plenty of space. One pumpkin or melon plant can occupy a 10- by 10-foot space. An equal or larger amount of space is needed for sweet corn to insure proper pollination.

Intensive planting (wide row, broad band or grow box gardening) greatly increases the productivity of small and medium-size vegetables. Yields can be increased by twice or more over the conventional single-row method. With this method, seed is broadcast or plants are spaced across a band or row a foot or more in width at the usual spacing used down the row. For example, carrot seed is planted at half-inch intervals in a wide row one-foot wide. After thinning to a two-inch spacing in all directions, you have the equivalent of six rows of carrots in the same space where you would have had only one or two rows.

This method can be used for about half the vegetables commonly grown. Large seeds such as beans and peas can be planted in two or more single-file rows spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. Onions can be spaced an inch or two apart and gradually thinned and used for green onions until there is enough space for full-size bulbs to develop.

Rows can be as much as four feet across. The width is only limited by cultural practices such as cultivation, weeding, watering, and harvesting. How far can you reach to pull or hoe a weed?

Allen Wilson is a retired professor of landscape horticulture and co-owner of Natural Pruning & Landscaping. He offers a monthly gardening newsletter for the Pacific Northwest through his website, or by emailing