Small potted vegetables

Red cabbage is decorative in a pot of vegetables

As the prices of fresh vegetables soar and the safety of commercially cultivated crops comes into question, there is no better time than now to grow your own vegetable garden. If you don’t have a lot of space or time to spend growing your own edibles, you can still build a small vegetable garden. There are many ways to do this, so here are just some ideas on how to build a small vegetable garden that will reward your efforts.

Find a location in the garden — front or back yard or patio — in full sun. Make sure it is easily accessible for maintenance and harvesting. If you have to hike to crop food, you may not use your vegetable garden enough. You can build a vegetable garden directly into/onto the ground, or, if you don’t have that space, you can build it using containers or a container concept. A small space garden can be adapted to many different forms and formats with a little imagination.

Outline your shape. Design it so it enhances your space. A well designed vegetable garden can look good enough to go in a front yard or decorate a back patio. Much will depend on the materials you choose. For example, if you use interesting materials for containers, your garden can create its own sculptural effects. You can even add decor like a waterfall or container water garden. Or if you build a raised garden planter that curves along the side of a patio with ornamental blocks or stone, it can be highly decorative. Raised beds are particularly useful in dry or wet soils, areas with poor soils or tunneling pests.

Convert a large receptacle or build your own form into a vegetable garden by punching drainage holes in the bottom, adding a two to three inch layer of broken clay pot shards or 3/4″ gravel and filling the rest with a rich loam. If your tub or form is not decorative you can paint it or edge the front of your vegetable garden with showy cascading flowers.

The easiest way to build a vegetable garden is simply to carve out a small area of your garden and plant your edibles, amending the soil to make it as rich as possible. Better yet, building a raised vegetable garden will be easier to care for, stay safer from pets and wild critters, and can be made of decorative materials so it makes a statement of its own in the garden.

Always start by choosing a spot where your edibles will get at least 6 hours of full sunshine. Look at the space you have and sketch out a shape that will look attractive (and be reasonably easy to build) in the spot you chose. It’s always wise to draw your ideas out on paper first where changes only require an eraser! Design the shape so you will have easy access to all parts of the planter — including the middle. And make sure you have a water source convenient.

In areas where gophers cause damage, you can place a sheet of 1/2″ hardware cloth or similar material over the bottom of your planter to bar their entry from below. Sides can be made of rot-resistant wood, vinyl, bricks, fitted cement blocks or any other interesting, convenient or decorative material that will form a solid wall.

You can fill your planter with nice rich organic soil and you won’t have to deal with digging or amending the local soil.

You can then pipe in water inside the planter or slip in a drip irrigation line over the outside walls. By focusing water in this confined space, you’ll avoid water run-off and wastage.

If you prefer lower sides — 18″ to 2′ high, you may want to put a decorative fence around the top to deter wild animals or curious pets. If you build it higher, the fencing will be more optional. You can also add trellises or single-sided fences for growing up twiners like beans and peas.

No matter where or how you build your vegetable garden, you will want to use a rich soil with lots of humus and organic material. Vegetables are heavy feeders and they will grow best with plenty of water, good drainage, sun and nutritious soil. Whether built on soil or a solid base, always make sure you have good drainage. Crocking and gravel make good base layers for drainage and if you are in an area that can flood naturally, build in drainage pipes to conduct standing water away from your vegetable garden for potential winter storms. Also consider what kind of watering you want; low emission sprinklers or drip. Most vegetables and fruits will not forgive drying out — even once — so make sure you build your vegetable garden close to a hose bib for occasional supplementation.

Having a even a limited-space vegetable garden will not only help feed your family with more flavorful, healthy food and herbs, but it can be a decorative asset to your home and landscape. And building and maintaining it is a fun project for people of all ages. So, consider building a small vegetable garden of your own. Once it is built, you just plant, watch it grow and harvest!