Finding More Space to Grow Veg in My Small Backyard

Making a no-dig veg, compost is being added over a layer of cardboard. A trowel and a bag of compost are to the side. A pile of cleared bricks is in the foreground and another veg bed with seedlings planted in it is to the side.

Finding space to grow vegetables in a small space can be challenging. Here’s how I started to expand my growing space in my small backyard.

Starting Small and Expanding Your Growing Areas

When I first got started with growing vegetables I set up one raised bed in my backyard. I’ve written before about how it’s good to start small. One of the advantages of this approach is you can expand as you go along.

This has worked well for me for several reasons. I was able to build up my supplies of compost gradually. When I started growing it was spring. At first, I only had a few seedlings to fill the garden. As the growing season advanced there were more seedlings to plant out and fill spaces.

Another advantage is that when you have limited time and energy you can pace yourself. You don’t need to put pressure on yourself to get your garden growing to its full capacity straight away. And you don’t have lots of space to maintain as you are getting started.

Once you’ve got going you’ll begin to see where you have the potential to add to your growing spaces. And you can also see what space you actually need for the vegetables you want to grow and have ready to plant. 

I set up my first bed in January and started to propagate seeds and raise seedlings in mid-February. I was able to start planting the vegetable bed with my homegrown seedlings in late March.

Close-up of a pea seedling next to a hole ready for it to be transplanted in. Another planted pea seedling is in the foreground.
Peas for shoots seedlings being transplanted

Save Space While Growing Seedlings

When I started sowing it seemed like I hadn’t sown many seeds. I filled just three propagation trays with 40 cells in each. They did not take up much space. Sowing seeds in propagation trays is a great way to save space when raising seedlings. Of course, not all of them grew well but it turns out that 40 cells in 3 trays do create quite a lot of plants!

I had started with peas for shoots, radishes, spinach, lettuce and spring onions. These are all great crops to start sowing and growing in early spring. They are also great for small space growing. You can harvest them several times so they are an efficient use of limited space.

When I started to plant my seedlings in the vegetable bed, I realised I was going to run out of space soon. I was able to plant about half of the seedlings I had raised in the bed. I had more seedlings that I’d sowed later and would want to plant out in about a week.

Two propagation trays that are full of seedlings including lettuce, spinach, peas for shoots, radishes and spring onions ready to transplant. They are on the ground next to a wooden planter.
Seedlings ready to transplant

I started to get organised to plant the rest of the seedlings in containers. I planned to use containers as concrete covers my backyard. I considered that I’d need a large amount of compost to create a second deep-enough raised bed. I had set up the first bed to be 20cm deep which meant I’d needed a lot of compost. I wouldn’t need as much compost if making the bed directly on the soil.

If there was no concrete I definitely would have opted for making another bed. Growing vegetables in containers is a good way to grow them in a small space. But if it’s possible to make a bed on the soil instead, I would opt to do that. Crops in pots need more care and attention.

To set up my containers, I needed to tidy up an area of my backyard to the side of my veg bed to make space for them. I’d had an issue with some stubborn perennial weeds in this space. I had already tried to deal with these by mulching the area with cardboard.

The previous owners had created raised beds at the side of the garden. They filled them with pebbles and lined them with bricks. The bricks made it difficult to mulch the area. So I decided to remove them, flatten the area and make more space for containers.

When I did remove the bricks I had a wonderful surprise. The concrete covering my backyard ended just where the side beds began. This meant that behind the bricks was actually an area of gorgeous soil. Though it’s only a very narrow strip of concrete-free soil, it is a space I can easily make work as a growing bed. It felt like striking gold!

Where bricks have been pulled away a thick layer of soil is visible underneath a layer of pebbles and woodchips. Weed growth is protruding from the edge of the bricks.
Dealing with weeds and striking gold (well ok, soil, but it was like finding gold!)

So that day I set about removing all the bricks and pushing aside the pebbles that were covering the soil. Pulling the bricks away also made it easier to get to the roots of the weeds. I was able to pull them out without disturbing the soil too much.

A long thin area of bed at the side of the yard, in front of a wooden fence. Most of the bricks that formed the raised bed have been moved but some are still by the bed, next to a slab of concrete. half way down the bed pebbles are cleared.  On the other end of the bed there is still a layer of red pebbles to clear away fro the top of the soil.
Clearing bricks and pebbles to create space for a veggie bed

Setting Up and Planting a New No Dig Bed

I then started making a no-dig bed which was easy and quick to do. I placed down some layers of cardboard to mulch away any weeds I had missed. I poured water over the cardboard layer with a watering can. This helps the cardboard break down quickly so that crops can grow further down into the soil freely. I covered the cardboard with about 5cm of compost.

The bed can be seen now clear of stones with a layer of cardboard added, and compost is being added. A trowel and a bag of compost are to the side. A pile of cleared bricks is in the foreground and another veg bed with seedlings planted in it is to the side.
Putting compost down over cardboard on the new bed.

The bed was then ready to plant my seedlings in. I watered it well, used a dibber to create holes for the seedlings and dropped them in.

The veg bed from above. A row of peas for shoots seedlings are planted in the newly added compost.
A row of peas for shoots planted in the new bed.

As it was still early in spring I placed 30 gm fleece over the bed and weighed it down with stones. This helps protect the young plants from frost. It also keeps off birds and other creatures that might fancy having a munch on them! The fleece lets light and water through to keep plants growing well.

I still had a few more seedlings to plant. So I did go ahead with planting them in a trough planter. I made sure there were lots of holes for drainage and as with the beds I covered the plants with fleece.

A view of the whole backyard. There's a picnic table and chairs at the front. Behind is a large raised veg bed covered in white fleece. To the left of that is a narrow bed running alongside the fence and a small container trough also covered with fleece. At the back of the garden is a chimenea, a shed wall and a bush with yellow flowers on it.
My growing space has been expanded and my backyard now has two no-dig beds which are both planted with seedlings.

I realised that there are more spaces at the back and sides of my garden that are not blocked by concrete too. So I will go ahead and make more no-dig beds in those areas in the coming weeks.

Watch this space for more news on how I filled my small space garden with lots of lovely edible crops.