The space between the garage and the neighbors' fence on most people's land is usually forgotten. The often long and narrow space becomes a place to store garden tools, garbage cans or pool equipment.
But Joan Baron knows that tiny space can produce a bounty of fresh produce.
At her south Scottsdale home there are eight fruit trees apples, peaches, plums, apricots and seven large tomato bushes growing in about a 3-by-10-foot area.
"You don't need a lot of space to grow your own food," she said.
As the price of food and just about everything else continues to rise in the East Valley, local nurseries and garden consultants are seeing an increased interest from gardeners both new and experienced in growing some of their own food.
No matter how small your yard, garden experts say you can grow a number of food plants. Baron, for example, grows everything you might need for a salad lettuce, cucumbers, onions, herbs in a "salad spiral" in the front yard. The spiral is a multitiered planter about 3 feet in diameter that can be placed in a very tight space.
The cost savings of growing your own food will vary, though, depending on what you're growing and what you're starting with in terms of tools and soil.
"It probably isn't much cheaper, if at all cheaper, to grow the produce yourself," said Kirti Mathura, a Chandler gardener and curator of shrubs at the Desert Botanical Garden. "But with the rising cost of food because of oil prices it may become more economical."
With some plants, though, just a few in a pot on the patio could produce enough to greatly supplement the family's food source, she said. A plant yielding two or three peppers, for instance, could save you from buying them in the store for a couple of months. And crops such as radishes, which grow quickly and produce a high yield, are a cost-effective choice for a family looking to reduce its food bill.
For people like Baron, who converted the property of a rental home she owns into an entirely edible landscape and is now working to convert her own property, the yield of fruits and vegetables is so great she gets to eat her fill and share it with friends and neighbors.
She believes growing food is economical and healthy, but said another reason she puts in the work to grow food is for the sustainability and community building it can provide.
"We need to be better partners with what the land can offer us and food is one of those areas that is available to us," said Baron, an environmental artist, educator and garden consultant. "Growing our own food is a really valuable and powerful tool and it offers us a gesture of goodwill because you can share what you produce with the community."
Tempe gardener Beth Hoffman said she produces far more food in her two raised garden beds than she can eat herself.
You don't need an acre of land to have a fruitful garden, she said, and she thinks more people should try their hand at growing food, even if it's on a small scale in planters at an apartment or town home.
"When my garden is in good shape and I want to make a sandwich I can just go out there and grab a handful of lettuce, or a tomato. It tastes so much better when it's that fresh," she said. "And it's not nearly as expensive. I go into the stores and it's unbelievable from week to week how much the price changes."
While some gardeners say the growing season here ends in April, others, like Baron, are learning to work with our temperatures to tend gardens that will produce year-round.
Even in the desert summer, a fruit and vegetable garden can thrive if you keep in mind several factors, including the type of soil you are using, the orientation of your garden in relation to the sun, proper watering and choosing the right types of plants for the season.
"We have a warm season and a cool season in the East Valley," Mathura said. We're in the warm season now, which means produce such as squash and peppers will thrive.
In Baron's garden, herbs like peppermint, rosemary and basil are growing strong and will continue throughout our long, hot summer with the proper care and a nutrient-rich soil.
Even if you don't grow enough food to significantly impact your pocketbook, gardeners who have been at it for a while say there are other benefits.
"Of course there are health benefits because you're eating better. But the garden also offers you emotional and spiritual health. You're taking the time to be outdoors and have a connection with your space," Baron said. "One day the little tomatoes are green and then you come home from work and the colors are changing. It makes us feels good. It helps us relax, to go out and check on things. It takes the edge off."