Are you using intensive vegetable gardening methods to grow and harvest the most possible produce in your available space?
Perhaps you have a very small yard.
Maybe only a patio or balcony is available for gardening.
Forget about a traditional garden with long rows of vegetables and lots of room to move between them for cultivating, weeding and harvesting. Instead, plan to grow your vegetables by making the best use of all the available garden space.
Some planning points to consider are plant size, nutrient needs, shade tolerance, growth patterns, and best growing season. Savvy gardeners use a variety of methods to gain the most produce from the smallest space.
Techniques for Intensive Vegetable Gardening:
Raised Beds and Containers
Raised beds simplify intensive gardening. It’s easier to prepare specific soil requirements for plants in a raised bed. The soil warms up sooner in spring, so planting can be done earlier. With plants raised above ground level, you simplify cultivation, weeding, and harvesting.
Seeds and transplants are planted in wide bands of several rows or broadcast in a wide strip. The goal is to space plants at equal distances from each other on all sides, so leaves will touch at maturity. This saves space, and the close plantings reduce moisture loss from surrounding soil.
Vegetables that grow well in raised beds in wide rows include carrots, chard, lettuce, radishes, spinach, bush beans, kale, onions, beets, broccoli and cabbage.
If growing space is at a premium, then consider either buying or building a large raised container like this one:
Vertical gardening makes used of trellises, nets, cages, poles, fences and strings to support plants. Vining and sprawling plants, like cucumbers, tomatoes, pole beans and peas are the most obvious ones for this type of growing.
Plants grown vertically take up much less space, but the plants are also more exposed to sun and wind, so dry out more easily. If you’re using this method, make sure your soil is deep and well drained so roots can extend downwards,
and not have to compete for moisture.
Sprawling plants like melons or squash do not have tendrils for climbing, so give them tall strong supports. Train the plants over the supports and use slings to hold the heavy fruits.
Tomatoes grown in the ground or in containers can be caged or staked, forcing them to grow upwards rather than sprawling and taking up precious space. Another method is to twine the tomato stem around a secured string. Here is an article with photos showing how to do that.
Interplanting is simply growing two (or more) types of vegetables in the same space at the same time. This method has been practiced for hundreds of years, and is one of the basic techniques of intensive vegetable gardening.
Several factors have to be taken into account:
- The growth pattern of both plants – height, below or above ground
- The growth period – time to harvest or season
- Possible effect on other plants – will they grow well together?
- Need for light
- Preferred climate – temperature, water needs
Plant long season and short season plants at the same time. For example, radishes and carrots can be planted together. The radishes are ready to harvest long before the carrots are growing large and becoming crowded.
Combine growth patterns by planting shorter plants close to larger plants – radishes at the base of broccoli, or leaf lettuce between pepper plants.
Shade tolerant plants can be grown in the shade of taller plants. Spinach and lettuce, which prefer cooler shade, can be seeded among taller plants like beans or chard.
After harvesting one crop, plant a second one. Warm season crops can follow cool season crops. Bush beans or carrots can follow spring radishes, lettuce or spinach. Early cabbage or broccoli, once harvested, can be replaced by Brussel sprouts, fall onions or kale.
Before planting a second crop for a fall garden, remove any weeds and plant residues. Fertilize or add fresh compost, just as you would in the spring. Plant the seeds or seedlings deeper in the summer, and keep them constantly moist to get a good head start.
Deciding What to Grow
Decide what crops you want to grow based on your own likes and dislikes, as well as how much of each you will need. Keep track of which cultivars were most successful or tasted best so you can make the best choices next year.
As always, good gardening practices such as watering, fertilizing, crop rotation, composting, and sanitation are especially important in a small garden space. Intensive vegetable gardening requires more detailed planning, but the time saved in working the garden and the increased yields make it worthwhile.
Use your imagination, keep records, and have fun!