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Growing abundance, one year of planting and cropping on 25m2

I crop the ‘small garden’ here at Homeacres in a varied and productive way. There are three beds of 1.5 × 4.5 m (5 ×14.7 ft), and I plant four blocks on each bed with different vegetables.

With 12 different vegetables growing at any one time, and throughout most of the growing season, my aim is to demonstrate and explain:

  • No dig in a small area, and how to manage it for a high output.
  • How to crop a diverse range of vegetables over a long period, say three fresh each day from May to November, and some in winter too.

This was how my son Edward and I envisaged it, when starting the ‘Small Garden Project’ on You Tube in September 2017. Then he left for university, and we now film during his vacations; some filming is also done by David Adams, my local videographer.


In the 1960s to 1980s, this area was a shed with a hard floor and a coal fired boiler, which heated the nursery greenhouses. There are still slabs and gravel in the soil, making it difficult in places to push in a cane, or hammer in a stake. From the 1990s the nursery fell derelict; until later there were a few chickens plus many weeds.

In November 2012 I set to work, and it was my first clearing job for vegetables at Homeacres. First harvests were in April 2013, when there were also a lot of slugs. Now the ground is mostly slug free, from being tidy.

1. 25th November 2012: creeping shrubs and weeds from the neighbouring garden, all to cut off
25 November 2012 – creeping shrubs and weeds from the neighbouring garden, all to cut off
2. Clearing underway, shrubby stems are either to burn or to chop for the base of middle bed
Clearing is underway – shrubby stems will either be burnt, or chopped for the base of the middle bed
3. The next day and I have cut down the large weeds and left their roots in the soil, now mulching
The next day – I have cut down the large weeds and left their roots in the soil; we are now mulching
4. 28th November: all done and I planted the nearest bed with salad from my old greenhouse
28 November – all done, and I have planted the nearest bed with salad from my old greenhouse

A good space, small drawbacks

Lack of sun is only a small negative because you can grow a lot with say a half, or even a quarter, of a day of direct sunlight. There is still daylight when the sun itself is not shining and plants still grow, as you can observe a little in winter’s dull weather. This garden has sun for about two thirds of the time.

5. A paving slab I found in April 2013 when trying to plant perennial kale
A paving slab that I found in April 2013, when trying to plant perennial kale
6. May 13th shows the light contrasts: both shed and house make some shade
13 May shows the light contrasts – both the shed and the house create some shade

We keep the edges pruned and weeded, with extra time needed because of a wild border beyond the fence.

  • Bindweed, spurges and ivy appear regularly in summer, from Gert’s garden on the other side.
  • Ivy and honeysuckle need pulling off the wood, two or three times a year.
  • Three times a year we cut the stinging nettles behind the shed, and pull some out if they spread in.
  • The grass edge is mown and trimmed.

Edge maintenance takes longer than weeding the beds and paths, where very few weeds appear, and there are no perennial weeds.

We also apply 3 cm (1 in) of new compost once a year, between autumn and early spring. This happens either before planting vegetables to overwinter – such as spinach, spring onions and lambs lettuce – or after a last harvest in autumn. One application of compost grows two crops, and I use no other amendments.

In November 2018 I started mulching paths with old wood chips. Prior to that, the paths had received 3 cm (1 in) of compost in 2013 and 2014, then nothing for four years. However there are always bits of wood and compost spreading out from the bed mulches.

A year of planting – 2018

Here is a birds eye overview of the small garden planting plan for 2018.

The cold start to 2018 saw occasional harvests and no gardening until late March, when I spent two hours tidying plants and weeding – I removed yellowing, older leaves as well as slugs. The mesh cover on the chard was to keep birds off, and a fleece cover on spinach was to keep warmth in.


A first transplanting on 2 April included onions, beetroot, peas, kohlrabi, calabrese, cabbage, turnips, radish, lettuce, fennel, dill and coriander. Mostly they were four-week-old plants.

We sowed carrots with some radish, but the carrot seedlings were eaten by slugs when tiny, because it was a damp and cool April. I don’t regret attempting the early sowing: we lost only a few seeds and a little time. In other years it would have worked, with warmer weather.
Subsequently a resowing of carrots on 16 April was successful, in rows very close to the young radish.

7. December solstice 2017: and some harvests in early winter
December solstice 2017 – some harvests in early winter
8. February 2018: spinach unfleeced and winter leeks, salads
February 2018 –  unfleeced spinach, winter leeks, and salads
9. April 7th: raking new compost in the small garden before spring plantings
7 April – raking new compost in the small garden, before spring plantings
9a. April 29th: Steph with slow new growth of spring plantings after a cold April
29 April – Steph with slow new growth of spring plantings, after a cold April

Harvests were of spinach, salad leaves and leeks, in small amounts because of cool weather. This period of lean harvests continued as normal (the hungry gap) until the middle of May.

10. Harvest of March 26th: leek and leaves
Harvest of 26 March – a leek and some leaves

13 May – still mostly spring leaves, with the first lettuce and a radish too

From mid-May, harvests become more exciting. The first few picks of lettuce taste especially sweet, and they suddenly become abundant here at this time. Wild rocket grew from some self-sown plants, and the radish went quickly from being small and tender to large and firm, even tough if left too long.

17 May – a mix of lettuce, just before their first pick of 0.75 kg (1.7 lb) of leaves
After a harvest on 17 May of lettuce, spinach, chard, wild rocket, radish, turnip, sorrel and herbs

Early summer

Late May through June is my favourite harvest time. Growth changes from hesitant to exuberant, and there are new flavours every week. We picked cabbage hearts, baby beetroot and tender broad beans in early June, carrots from mid-June, and calabrese by the end of June. Cherry tomatoes then followed in early July.

25 May – everything looks better after rain, and there are no weeds
21 June 2018 – small garden harvests of carrots, broad beans, spring onion and lettuce

Summer keeps you busy

Harvests increase in July, as plantings of early spring give a final flourish, combined with first pickings from beans, new salads and tomatoes. This month of high summer in 2018 had the biggest weight of harvests.

At different times throughout summer, you take a final harvest from each planting. Then twist out any remaining plants, level the surface and replant. Only the carrots were direct sown.

  • 6 June – we intersowed carrot seeds in drills between lettuce.
  • 7 June – we cleared sorrel and planted 20 leeks, from modules multi-sown on 5 April.
  • 7 June – we cleared chard and planted eight French beans, from modules sown on 14 May.
  • 7 June – we cleared over-wintered spinach, spread compost, and planted six kale, from modules sown on 9 May.
  • 7 June – we twisted out kohlrabi and planted eight French beans, from modules sown on 14 May.
  • 10 June – after we had twisted out cabbage, we planted eight Czar runner/pole bean for dry seeds, from modules sown on 14 May.
  • 16 June – we pulled the last carrots and planted 13 beetroot, from multi-sown modules sown in late May.
  • 27 June – we cut off broad bean plants after their last harvest, then planted 24 lettuce from a sowing on 4 June.

You can see how many May to June sowings and plantings are possible.  All through summer and early autumn there is a progression of possible sowings – as late as September for lamb's lettuce.

15 September – a view of the small garden from the drone
29 September – all second plantings since May
7 November – autumn closes in, but there are still many harvests

A look at each bed in autumn

The photos below, taken on 20 November, are to give you a closer look at each bed, and the varied plantings as winter approaches. Carrots and beetroot could be harvested to store, any time from now. I had already pulled 3.3 kg (7.3 lb) of leeks; see how many are still there.

I pulled the last carrots on 14 December, and there was some damage from root fly maggots – laying a mesh cover over from August would have reduced this problem. Beetroot stayed in the ground until needed, all through the winter, and withstood a frost of -6°C (21°F). There were another 1.53 kg (3.37 lb) of leeks in January.

Bed 1 – carrots, coriander, parsley, spinach and kale
Bed 2 – beetroot, spring onions and leeks
Bed 3 – peas, kale, salads and spinach

Deciding what to plant and where

It works better to be flexible with areas that are planted with different kinds of vegetables, rather than delimiting, say, a precise quarter of each bed. Partly because some vegetables need more space, but also because you want to eat more or less of each one.

Linked to this approach is the understanding that rotation need not be over four years, nor precise (see the crop rotation myths in Lesson 6). There is no requirement for a fixed length of time between plants of the same family, but some time is good, when practical for your needs. The first column in my table shows what preceded each planting of spring 2018.

20 December – a range of vegetables for winter
A January pick of kale, 0.22 kg (0.49 lb); spinach, 0.21 kg (0.46 lb); beetroot, 1.51 kg (3.33 lb); salads, 0.5 kg (1.1 lb); and purslane is growing

2018 plan and harvests

In this temperate climate of Zone 8, I can grow two crops a year of many vegetables. The second and third columns are first and second plantings. It’s a quick job to twist out the remains of the first vegetable and pop in the second, without adding compost or other amendments throughout the summer. Apart from the direct sown carrots, I sow seeds in trays or modules in the greenhouse.

2018 planting plan

The list below shows which harvests arrived when, and in what quantity. For example, the 24 lettuce we transplanted in early April gave large amounts of leaves for over two months. Ease of managing the growth comes from regular picking, whether you need the leaves or not – you may need to give some away.

This highlights an aspect of growing which is so different to shopping: the garden keeps giving! And it links to a saying I hear from old farmers: ‘To have enough, you need to have too much.’ The changing pattern of weather and pests, every year, means that harvests cannot be predicted, so plant a little more than you expect to need.

R R on You Tube, Small Garden video, 9 September 2018:

‘I have learned a lot from you and now my neighbours also get free vegetables during the growing season.’

One thing we can be sure of is the amazing variety of seasonal produce, and how harvests vary through each season in a way that matches the conditions. For example, tomatoes taste better in August than they do in February.

Small Garden harvests, 2018

With a Small Garden harvest in late February
With a Small Garden harvest on 13 May
8 August – pinching out tomato tops and more side shoots
With a harvest in mid-October

2019 plan and harvests

Below is my plan for 2019, which includes a few overwintered plantings in the first months. Plans like this are a starting point. Weather, pests and seed quality cause alterations.

(Plan credit – Which? Gardening magazine, whose 2020 magazine featured the small garden at Homeacres.)

Small Garden harvests, 2019, by month


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