Saturday, May 05, 2012
Make the most of limited vegetable and herb garden space by planning "wide row" or "square foot" planting areas.
Karen Hager | The Roanoke Times
My own vegetable garden is an example of wide-row planting. The trellis at left is for tomatoes, squash and other vining plants.
Karen Hager lives in Blacksburg with her garden-loving family: a husband and son. She learned her skills by trial and error, and encourages all gardeners to do the same. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Home gardener needs differ from those of farmers in many ways, but one of the most basic is efficient space planning.
While a farmer often needs to allow paths in the garden big enough for tillers and cultivators, the home gardener is usually more concerned with how to produce the biggest harvest out of a smaller space.
For space efficiency, traditional row gardens are not the best method of garden planning. A better plan for home gardens is to increase the width of your rows and plant crops close together. Two common schools of this type of planting are "wide row" and "square foot" gardening.
Wide row gardening means that you create wide planting rows of whatever length is convenient for you, with the width determined by the distance that you can comfortably reach to the center from the walking path. For most people, this is usually a row width of 3 to 4 feet.
Square-foot gardening refers to a planting scheme that plans garden plots in 1-by-1-foot squares, placed together to create a 4-by-4-feet plot. A garden is made up of as many 4-by-4-feet plots as the gardener would like to tend. The concept is the same, requiring a gardener to reach only 2 feet to tend the center of the plot.
For both methods, gardeners are never forced to step on planting soil, avoiding compaction, which would no longer allow the soil to support abundant root growth.
And, for both methods, plants are spaced throughout the planting bed, with very little wasted space.
Feel free to create your own hybrid of these methods. Make your rows any width that is comfortable and use a square foot of space as a reference for placing plants close together.
The point is to maximize your growing space and minimize your walking paths, making the walking paths only as large as needed for you to comfortably work.
Plant more in less space
Close planting will increase your yield dramatically. Quite simply, you can grow more plants in the same amount of space.
Say, for instance, that you are planting bush beans. If you were to plant beans in a traditional 1-by-4-foot straight row, this 4-square-foot space would allow you to plant about eight plants.
But, that same 4 square feet planted as a 2-by-2-foot space would allow you to plant four times as many beans.
To determine plant spacing, you'll need to do a little math. Most seed packets give spacing recommendations based on planting in rows, but, in general, you can use the thinning recommendations on the seed packet as a guideline for how closely you can plant.
Instead of planting in rows with extra space between each plant, the plants are placed in a configuration that put them the same distance apart in all directions.
Seed packets, for example, usually recommend thinning bush beans to 6 inches between plants. If you place one bean seed in a planting hole, place another 6 inches to the right, another 6 inches below, and so forth, you'll find you can get nine bean seeds into 1 square foot of space.
As you plan spacing, you should also try to determine what the final diameter of the plant is going to be when it's fully grown. Plants must have sunlight to grow, so don't grow your plants so closely together that they shade each other. It's OK if their leaves barely touch, just don't go any closer together.
Make double use of your space by planting small plants in the perimeter of plants that require larger planting areas.
Peppers, for example, require a 1-square-foot area when fully grown, but you can plant the perimeters of peppers with fast-growing smaller plants, like radishes, scallions or lettuce, that will be harvested before the pepper reaches maturity.
Here are some general guidelines: One square foot of garden space could hold: nine bush beans or spinach plants; 16 beet, carrot, onion, or radish plants; four lettuce, Swiss chard, parsley or corn plants; or one broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, pepper, or potato plant.
Plant tomatoes one plant per 2-by-2-feet space and summer squash one plant per 3-by-3-feet space.
Grow plants vertically
Another great way to maximize your space is to use a trellis. Not just for pole beans and vining cucumbers, a trellis can be used on most sprawling plants, saving lots of space in the garden.
That summer squash plant that gobbles up 9 square feet of your garden bed requires only 1 square foot when planted on a trellis. One square foot is also enough room to grow a watermelon or muskmelon on a trellis. Small pie pumpkins require only 2 square feet of ground when you grow them vertically.
And, don't forget about trellising your tomatoes. Trellises are an excellent way to grow tomatoes, requiring only 1 square foot per plant. Trellised tomatoes are far easier to contain, because you can simply feed the plant through the trellis holes, with no need for further staking. It's also far easier to keep suckers trimmed and easier to harvest.
The key with trellising larger plants is to make sure that your trellis can support the weight of the growing plant. I use a trellis built from galvanized pipe with netting attached that is rated to support 60 pounds of weight. I grow small pie pumpkins, squash, tomatoes and gourds on this netting with no problem at all.
Take the time to rethink your garden space and you'll be amazed at how much you can grow in a small space. A break with tradition will net big rewards for home gardeners.
Meet me at the blog
I'm happy to say that "Down to Earth" now has a companion online, a new blog at blogs.roanoke.com/downtoearth It's a place where you can find an archive of my past columns and where we can continue discussions.
Please visit and let me know what you think.
Karen Hager's column runs every other Saturday in Extra.