Intensive Vegetable Gardening- Gardening Advice for Small Spaces
The use of intensive vegetable gardening methods can increase the yield per square foot by a great amount. It will give you more area to plant while still producing full or nearly full crops from your garden plants.
While it is often used with raised bed gardens, there is no reason it cannot be utilized in traditional in ground gardens as well. I've used it in my in ground garden for years.
If you have a limited amount of garden space that gets enough sun, or there are other reasons you can't go larger, then the intensive vegetable gardening principles may be the right choice for you.
The traditional in ground garden is usually planted in straight rows, a few feet apart. This leaves a lot of ground between rows under-utilized. It allows more weeds to flourish, and limits what can be produced per square foot. It also wastes fertilizer and water.
So if you would like to grow more in the same space, then you should consider applying these principles to your garden area.
What is Intensive Vegetable Gardening?
The principles of include going vertical, by the use of trellises and cages for large plants that ordinarily would sprawl everywhere.
If you can use tomato cages, for example, then you can plant your tomatoes about 18-20 inches apart instead of 2-3 feet apart. This works best for indeterminate tomatoes, those that will set fruit several times per season and keep producing until frost.
Determinate tomatoes, those that ripen a large crop all at once, generally produce better if left to sprawl. You can stagger the crops by planting them several weeks apart.
Unless you plan on canning large amounts of tomatoes, however, that won't really be an issue. Most of us prefer to have a continuous supply of fresh tomatoes during the growing season anyway. Be sure to check the variety you plan to purchase to make sure which type it is.
Melons, cucumbers, pole beans, peas, and other vining plants also will do well and save space by the use of trellises, fences, or cages. This not only saves space for planting, it also keeps the fruit cleaner.
The space you save by going vertical with these large plants can then be used for interplanting, another principle of intensive vegetable gardening.
Interplanting and Companion Planting
Varieties of lettuce, radishes, carrots, parsley, turnips, beets and others that don't require huge amounts of light to flourish can be planted in the area that the tomatoes or other vertical plants would have taken up.
These crops can be planted while the tomatoes or vines are young, and many will be ready for eating before the tomato even sets fruit.
Another principle is to make small beds, no more than 3-4 feet wide, and alternate rows of above ground and under ground vegetables.
For example, a row of bush beans, then a row of carrots, then another row of beans, and so on. Leaf lettuce can be planted on either side of radishes and onions, and will be harvested before mid summer.
This type of companion planting makes it possible to grow more in the same space.
Once these plants are harvested, a new crop can be sown for harvesting in fall. Foot paths are only between the beds. The beds are never stepped on, so the soil stays fluffy and not compacted for excellent growth of plants.
Each year you should rotate the areas used for particular vegetables. The reasons for this are that different vegetables use more of some types of vitamins and minerals than others.
By rotating the location, heavy feeding plants will get a new more vital area, and the area they depleted the year before will support plants with different requirements.
It also reduces disease and insect infestations that could become severe if the same areas are used each year for something like tomatoes.
Benefits of Intensive Gardening
These methods will produce far more per square foot. It requires more planning so that the plants don't crowd each other too much. The soil must be very loamy and fertile.
You might need to fertilize more frequently, but what you use will go where it is needed, and not be wasted on walking paths. The soil in the beds should be tilled to at least an 8-12 inch depth.
Double digging the beds, by removing the top 10 inches of soil and loosening the soil below with a garden fork, will allow better aeration and water tranport.
The beds can be raised, but it's not required in order to use this method. In fact, in very hot areas it is better not to have them raised as the soil will heat up too much.
The goal is to have the plants just, or almost, touching by time of harvest. This helps to shade the soil as the weather heats up, reducing the amount of water needed. Close planting will reduce the weeds, as they will be crowded out eventually.
The vining plants that are vertical will need more water than if sprawling however, so you will need to keep an eye on them. In very hot areas they might need some shade screen to reduce water loss.