Summer is the optimal time for growing your own fresh, organic produce.

Tess Gibney & Adele Palfreeman

Unfortunately, many people see this as unfeasible due to space restrictions – whether they live in a rental house with little outdoor space or a high-rise apartment with a poky balcony.

Though it can be hard to have the vegetable patch or herb garden of your dreams where space and fertile soil is limited, there’s no reason to rule it out altogether. Pete Bachak, of Landart Landscapes, shows us how to create big ideas for our small spaces.

What are some of the best ways people can create a vegetable/herb garden in a small space?

The simplest and most accessible way is just old-fashioned pots. They don’t have to be new and they don’t have to have a bladder system, because that can be retrofitted. From an aesthetic point of view, if you have an old pot that someone has handed down from you, it is really easy to retrofit a reservoir [the water system] at the bottom of them.

The problem with all pots on roof top gardens and balconies is pots drying out and that’s the first obstacle for growing anything – particularly because vegetables are very thirsty and very hungry. So they need to have lots of light and lots of water and they need lots of nutrients constantly.

How often should people be watering their small gardens?

If you stick your finger in the soil, it should be moist but not wet. The equivalent would be if you soak a sponge and wring all the water out of that sponge it would still be moist afterwards. That’s what you’re going for – because if it is too wet they will drown.

How would you maintain a vertical edible garden?

Vertical gardens are good too, but the same rules apply: they need to have lots of sun and lots of nutrients. A simple watering system will help [with vertical gardens]. There are lots of different types depending on the size and price… some are where you plug it into the wall and turn on the tap physically. Others are timed where they work on a spring-loaded system. Then they go up all the way to computer systems that go on at specific times.

The main thing with vertical gardens is that you need to get water to that system, and if it is on a wall then that wall should be water proofed or you have some kind of plastic liner in between.

You can build your own ones out of found objects and that’s all fine but the main thing is that you need to get water to it, it all has to be free draining, you have to collect the water that passes through at the bottom, it needs full sun and nutrients.

What is the best way to maintain a small-scale vegetable/herb garden?

For pest [control] there is a mixture of chili, garlic and pyrethrum, which is the simplest and most ‘green’ way to do it. It’s not a chemical, and the pests find it offensive so they will not even sit on the leaves. It’s a really low impact, green way to do it.

With fertiliser, a combination is the best. A little bit of liquid fertiliser, the fish guts, Seasol – there are plenty of different products. Some chicken poop is good time to time, but it’s kind of smelly.

I find the best thing to have is a little compost, even in a small place. I have a 500mL pot that was left over from a plant and that just has a little bit of soil in the bottom. Every time we make a salad we put in the onionskins or banana skins. It will attract worms, and the worms break it down even further and you have this great little cycle.

What are some good plants/herbs/vegetables to grow on a balcony/in a small, paved space?

Really anything. We have lemongrass, basil, thyme and tomato – anything that you cook with. I don’t think that there is a rule. I mean corn or bigger things like that, they require more soil and a bigger pot [so might not be best for small spaces]. Carrots might be better off in the physical ground as well.