Most of us have little yard space to dedicate to a garden, but even a small space can yield a lot of wonderful produce.
Rule #1: Don't plant anything you can buy at the grocery store for cheap that's better quality than what you can grow yourself. Why plant ordinary carrots when you can buy them for less than $1 a bag?
Rule #2: Plant those things you crave and that your family loves. Tomatoes are at the top of the list because no grocery store can ever compete with a fresh tomato grown in your own garden. NEVER. And it won't cost you $3.50 a pound. Plant peppers--Bells, Serranos, Paprikas, Pasillas, Habeneros--all those exotic flavors that you have to search for in the grocery store, and, if found, are over-priced and often past their prime. Plant herbs so you have fresh on hand. In warm climes, many herb plants produce all year around.
Rule #5: Plan your garden layout. Consider the effects of sunshine and shade on different plants. Don't place large plants next to small ones if you know that the large plant will so dominate the space that the small one can't survive. Don't crowd plants too close together. Ones that can grow on trellises will use space economically, but some plants, like winter squash, need a path to sprawl and sink in roots every few feet. If your garden is tiny, squash and melons may not be a good choice. One last thing--some plants do great in pots. Consider planting herbs in large pots and conserve your garden space for the plants with larger root systems.
Rule #6: Everything grows up and over. Pole beans and cucumber vines can be trained to grow up a trellis or other support system. (Sometimes beans and squash end up hanging out in the branches of my lemon tree.) Tomatoes need sturdy cages to keep them off the ground, where they are likely to rot. Any plant that tends to become over heavy with fruit, such as peppers or eggplants, should have a lightweight cage to keep the plant erect and the branches from breaking.
Rule #7: Learn to listen to your plants--what makes them happy, what makes them ill. Save some seeds from the plants you love. Next growing season you won't have to pay $3 for a package of seeds that doesn't even fill a 1/8 teaspoon measure.
Rule #8: Enjoy the bounty of fresh produce that will come into your kitchen during the growing season. Try a mediterranean breakfast of fresh tomatoes, olives, cucumbers and cheese instead of the usual fare. If you can find the time, learn how to preserve excess produce by freezing, drying, and canning or give it away to family and friends.
Littlest gardener, grandson Jake at 19 months, learning the ropes.