Top 5 Sustainable Gardening Projects for Small Spaces

These are our favorite eco-friendly ways to grow more vegetables with less space, less water, and less chemicals.

You don’t need to go to the market to have tons of delicious produce. Here are 5 easy-to-implement sustainable gardening projects that you can do at home to maximize your garden’s potential no matter how big or small. These techniques will help you to maximize yields, fully utilize your limited space, and grow your food in an eco-friendly way.

Focus on Growing High Yield Vegetables

Some vegetables tend to yield more food than others. Try growing these specific vegetables if you want lots of fresh-grown produce to eat! Sustainable gardening projects don’t have to be complicated. Being selective of what you grow makes for a better garden.

Pole Beans

Pole beans can grow over 10 feet upwards using almost anything for them to lean onto. They produce more than bush varieties and can yield 10 pounds a year at 10 feet long. If you have the space, you can grow bush beans as well, which have high yields compared to other vegetables. According to Frugally Sustainable, for each plant you could use a 20 inch pot with simple bamboo rods to make a trellis.

Salad Greens

Leaf lettuce, arugula, spinach and Swiss chard are perfect for small spaces because they grow in a tight bunch. With leaf lettuce you can repeatedly pick leaves or cut the whole stump and the plant will grow back a few more times. The same goes with arugula.

Salad greens can be grown in containers at least 16 inches deep and 10 inches wide. Keep in mind that greens are generally cool weather crops. They won’t germinate in over 75deg F. Arugula will germinate between 40 and 55 degrees. The USDA zone you are in will determine when to plant your greens in case you plant them outdoors. Alternatively, greens are super easy to grow indoors. Plus, their bright leafy looks will help liven up your home.

Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers

Zucchini, squash, and cucumbers all come in vine varieties that will produce more vegetables than you’ll know what to do with. Three or four vines of manageable size can produce well over 10 pounds a season. The key is to train them to grow upwards using a tomato cage. Just push the plants into the middle of the rings as it grows.

Compact and bush varieties of these vegetables are great for growing in containers as well.

Peppers

Bell peppers grow vertically and are fairly easy to grow so long as you start the seedlings off indoors; they are kind of temperature sensitive when it comes to germination. However, they can be grown in lots of places nonetheless; specifically hardiness zones 4 -11. Just check out the USDA hardiness map. This website is super useful for learning about how to grow crops in your area, so I recommend you always consult it before planting.

 Smaller peppers such as hot chiles are easy to grow in containers and look nice in your landscaping. Of course, chile peppers are super fun to grow because they come in many varieties with different colors and spiciness levels. Your containers will have to be at least 14 inches deep to let their long roots out.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are another great vertically growing or container vegetable to add to your garden. They can be trained to climb up any trellis. Tomatoes come in two types: determinate and indeterminate.

Determinate tomatoes grow like a bush and produce lots of fruit all at once. Patio and Better Bush are determinate varieties that you can grow in pots a simple stake to support. Most Determinate varieties will require a tomato cage.

Indeterminate tomatoes continue to pump out tomatoes throughout the growing season while growing vertically. Growing them vertically makes for generally healthier tomatoes since the plant isn’t compacted in the moist soil where the bugs and fungus hide. You won’t have to get our hands dirty to pick them, and they’ll be around all summer long. Vertically trained tomatoes can produce up to 20 lbs on a single plant!

Radishes

Radishes are one of the hardiest plants you can grow. According to the FDA, they will grow in every single hardiness region in the contiguous US. Radishes only take about 23 days from plant to harvest, which means you can do it multiple times a season in both spring and fall, as long as it’s not too hot and sunny. They can easily be grown in any container at least six inches deep. Fast growing varieties include Cherry Belle or French Breakfast radishes.

Plant Herbs Around

Another way to conserve space is to plant herbs around the other plants in the garden. The herbs do really well with the protection of the larger plants around them. You don’t need to have bare dirt around each plant; there are plenty of soil nutrients to go around. You’d be surprised how much lush green vegetation can grow in one place.

Creative Constructions

With some basic landscaping and woodworking, you can custom make you garden to fit in your available space. Take a look at this mix of ancient and modern gardening techniques that you can build yourself. We made sure to leave links to descriptive, easy-to-follow guides for each construction. It might seem daunting at first, but building your own garden is one of the most effective sustainable gardening projects for small spaces.

Keyhole Garden

A keyhole garden is a circular, 6 foot wide, raised planting bed structure. It has a notch on one side for adding compost in the form of vegetable scraps, greywater, and manure to a basket in the center of the bed. Generally they are constructed out of stone about 3 feet high. The top layer contains rich soil slanting away from the center, while the bottom consists of various materials such as cardboard, straw, compost, ashes, and manure to allow for drainage. Also, rocks are placed under the basket. They’re ideal for intensive gardening of leafy greens, herbs, and roots like onions or carrots. Something like zucchini or tomatoes wouldn’t grow effectively. Unless, you put one bush variety in the center so the basket supports it. This is the ideal garden setup for someone in a very dry region and, unsurprisingly, it originated in Africa. Meanwhile, you can find some easy-to-follow PDF instructions on how to build a keyhole garden from Baker Institute here.

keyhole garden sustainable gardening projects

Keyhole Garden” by Julia Gregory is licenced under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Lasagna Garden (Sheet Mulching)

Lasagna gardening, AKA sheet composting or sheet mulching, involves adding different layers of organic materials in order to mimic the soil-building process of forests. The bottom layer contains decomposable material like cardboard and newspapers to kill the existing vegetation including weeds. Then you add thin layers of dry, brown material like leaves, pine needles, or newspaper along with thin layers of green, wet, compostable material like kitchen scraps or garden trimmings. Soon, given the proper moisture level, the garden’s layers will decompose. Another key point, you should do it in the fall, so that it will decompose all winter long, then in the spring it will be perfect. Then, it is treated as a normal garden. But now you have nutrient-rich, loamy soil to grow whatever you please. Check out the PDF guide by Robertson County Master Gardener Association taken from Patricia Lanza’s Lasagna Gardening to start your own lasagna gardening project here.

From a sustainability standpoint lasagna gardens have less weeds, retain water better, and don’t require fertilizer. By far this is one of the easiest way to make your garden more eco-friendly.

Vertical Gardening

There are tons of options for vertically growing vegetables. Many plants naturally love to climb up and around a supportive structure. Sustainable gardening projects in urban areas often utilize vertical gardening techniques to maximize limited space.

vertical garden sustainable gardening projects

Vertical Farming” by Blaine O’Neill is licenced under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Trellis

You can grow vining plants like tomatoes, peppers, squash, peas, and beans using a trellis, fence, ladder, poles, or anything that the plants will find climbable. If you want to be extra green, use corn stalks of sunflowers for your vining plants to climb up.

Hanging Baskets

Hanging baskets are both decorative and productive. Sweet potato vines, peppers, cherry tomatoes, and more can be grown easily in hanging baskets. The plants will grow above you and out of your way. Plus they are relatively easy to harvest and water.

Hanging Herb Garden

An easy way to grow herbs just about anywhere is to hang some landscape fabric against a wall or fence with pockets of soil to keep your plants. XXX shows you how to do this hear!!!!!!

Step Ladder Style

You can easily arrange your container plants in a step ladder fashion. To be sustainable, use an old step ladder or build your own using scrap wood. Just make sure your plants are proportional to their containers and that each of them gets plenty of sunlight. Essentially, all you’re doing is stacking plants, and staggering them so as not to block all the sunlight.

Old Containers

Used household items such as washtubs, crates, aluminum food cans, and buckets. Ensure that each container has drainage so you don’t flood them. You could use virtually anything you can find as a container. Remember to think about the space required for each particular plant you plan to grow. Combine these with your stepladder or get creative and build something on which to put your containers.

Permaculture

You might not like the idea of attracting critters to your property, but permaculture is about embracing the cycle of nature. Lots of sustainable gardening projects use permaculture to create self-sustaining food sustems. Food doesn’t just grow on its own. There is an entire ecosystem that supports it. The goal of permaculture is to have a self-sustaining, natural ecosystem which humans can benefit from. Below are some great ways to implement permaculture in your home.

permaculture garden

Ron’s Forest Garden & the adjoining conventional Plot” by London Permaculture is licenced by CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Grow Perennials

Perennial vegetables or fruit survive for many years and continue producing food throughout their lives. Raising perennial crops instead of annual crops has environmental benefits in regards to soil health. It’s deep roots prevent erosion and out-compete weed. Also, it increases the fertility of the soil due to less disturbance and fallen leaves.

Fruits

  • Grapes
  • Berry bushes (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries
  • Fruit Trees (Apples, Apricots, Plums, Pears)

Vegetables

  • Artichokes
  • Rhubarb
  • Asparagus

Mulch with Available Materials

A simple way to be greener is to use your own mulch. Use dead leaves, pine needles, hay or straw, grass clippings, shredded bark, sawdust, woodchips, cardboard, newspaper, wool, or manure. Mulch is essential for preventing erosion, maintaining soil moisture and temperature, and suppressing weeds. Basically, mulch in your garden works in the same fashion as it does in a forest ecosystem.

You totally don’t need to go to Lowe’s to get mulch. Ask your neighbors if you can bag their raked leaves or pine needles for them. Or, every time you mow grass, save the clippings. Maybe even save up your newspaper and cardboard material.

Worm Composting

Most think worms are pretty gross, but you might be fairly comfortable with the idea of worms considering you dig around in your garden. But have you ever thought about using worms to improve your compost? Some sustainable gardening projects are quite dirty. In a process called worm composting, or “vermicomposting” worms eat food scraps and yard waste and from turn it into what is called vermicompost, or castings, which is just worm poop. The result is exceptionally nutrient rich soil. The US EPA has some great instructions on worm composting here.

Native Plants

Rather than having a huge lawn that requires lots of upkeep, you can take some space to plant some native species. In this case, you will use less water, and need to use less pesticides and herbicides. Because they have evolved to live in specific places over thousands of years, native plants will thrive in your local environment. As a result, they will require hardly any maintenance, as they are resistant to local diseases and insects and adjusted to your local climate. Native plants will benefit local wildlife by providing natural habitat and food. They are especially beneficial to pollinators, which have suffered much due to chemical use in commercial agriculture. Any sustainable gardening projects that benefit nature are in turn benefiting us. You might even be able to find some native plants that can supply you food! You might even be able to find some native plants that can supply you food! For example, in my original home of Indiana, I could harvest blueberries, elderberries, pawpaws, or walnuts; all of which are native species. Where I currently live near Lake Tahoe, I could harvest raspberries, blackberries, chokecherries, Sierra onions, or miner’s lettuce.

pawpaw tree native plants food
Pawpaws, an edible native fruit tree with tropical taste found in the Eastern United States

Pawpaw” by Melissa McMasters is licenced under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Chicken Tractor

A chicken tractor is basically a mobile chicken coop that you can place in different areas of your garden to enrich the soil and eliminate weeds or pests. There is no floor so the chickens can turn up the soil, fertilize the soil with manure, and eat weeds, grass and bugs. Putting your chickens in a tractor helps reduce feed required for the chickens and improves soil health. It’s like having a low-maintenance, multi-functional tractor, but it’s just your chickens being chickens.

Natural Pesticides That Actually Work

Believe it or not there are natural ways to effectively repel or remove pests. The world of plants and insects is complex, but if you do some research you can eliminate pests using these simple methods.

spray bottle and insects

Intercropping

One easy way to control pests and increase yields is to plant certain types of plants with other plants. Organicgardeninfo.com has a great guide on intercropping here. These intercropped plants can function as chemical repellents, attract predators such as parasitic wasps, form barriers, visually hide your crops, or even trap insects in one place. For example, intercropping tomatoes with asparagus will repel asparagus beetles, or intercropping corn or broccoli with cucumbers physically blocks the striped cucumber beetle. Also, to deal with blue sharpshooters on your grapes, you can plant a blackberry bush to host parasitic wasps. You will have to do your research and find out which plants you can intercrop with your main crops.

Natural Bug Sprays

You can make various sprays to ward off pests: Salt sprays, garlic and onion sprays, crushed tomato or rhubarb leaves, cayenne pepper, neem oil, eucalyptus oil, and more. Mix your ingredients up in a spray bottle and spritz it on your plants every once in a while.
You can make your own garlic and onion spray by blending them with water and biodegradable soap. Adding cayenne pepper makes it a bit stronger. A saltwater spray is an even simpler recipe that’s perfect for house plants. Eucalyptus oil and neem oil can be purchased in pharmacies, nutrition stores, natural markets, or Target. Check out this nice list from tipnut.com covering a variety of sprays.

Simple Ways to Conserve Water

Some areas have more or less water than others making water conservation a tricky business. However, if you have a feel for how rainwater behaves on your property, you can try any of these sustainable gardening projects designed to control and recycle water.

Get Rid of Your Lawn

An easy way to use less water is reduce the size of your thirsty lawn. You can replace grass with edible fruit trees or nut trees and berry bushes. The flowering fruits will make your lawn look beautiful and you will have fresh food growing just outside your door.

Store and Control Water

Collecting rainwater is an easy way to harness nature’s available resources. There are various inexpensive means of doing such which include rain gardens, swales, french drains, rain barrels, or cisterns.

Rain Barrels

A rain barrel is a brilliant way to save rainwater for later. The idea is exactly as it sounds; a barrel that holds rainwater. Most people will place them so that rainwater falls into gutters on the roof. You could create a funnel to divert water to your barrel as well if you don’t have gutters.

rain barrels water in rain barrels
Rain Barrels

Rainwater” by Jan Tik is licenced by CC BY 2.0

Rain gardens or Swales

Rain gardens are designed to reduce the flow of water coming from impervious urban surfaces such as walkways or rooftops. They store rainwater, filter pollutants, support biodiversity, and even decrease air temperatures. They mostly consist of native wetland plants like grasses, shrubs, and flowering perennials, but can also support edible plants such as asparagus or berries bushes. Their primary benefit is that they function as flood control as gravity brings water to the bottom of the rain garden where it is stored then soaked up by plants and eventually discharged.

Swales function similarly to rain gardens, but filter water much more slowly. They are more used for purifying rainwater and redirecting it away from roads or parking lots. Plants must be able to survive deluges. As expected, native plants do best.

French Drain

French drains are trenches filled with gravel and sometimes fitted with slotted agricultural drainage pipes. They are very useful for controlling excess water in specific areas of your garden. Check out Deepgreenpermaculture’s excellent guide on water management and building french drains.

Now You Can Garden Sustainably

We hope you find some ideas from our list of sustainable gardening projects that improve your garden and make it more sustainable. As you can see, it’s easy to find ways to improve. Whether you have a tiny backyard or acres upon acres, you can grow food efficiently and sustainably using these methods. Your health, neighbors, and the Earth will surely thank you!

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