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Growing More In Less Space

Tips on using raised beds and vertical gardening to get the most from your vegetable patch.

Vertical Vegetable GardeningIntensive or square foot gardening uses space more efficiently than traditional methods. Instead of wasted room between rows of crops, the garden area is maximized — that way you get the most vegetables, fruits and flowers in the smallest amount of growing space.

Even if you have plenty of room in your backyard, intensive gardening can require less work while still providing lots of heathy plants. Usually there is less weeding involved since plants are spaced closer together and every bit of garden space is cultivated throughout the entire growing season. However, because there is less room between crops, weeding will need to be done by hand or with smaller garden tools — there will not be enough room for machinery. Another drawback — to some people — is that because plants are always growing, they are not all ready to harvest at the same time.

If you’re looking for the fastest ticket to a lush garden, start at ground level. Planet Natural offers a large selection of amendments, potting soils, inoculants and testing kits to help you produce healthy, productive plants year after year.

Raised Beds

A raised bed is simply when the level of the soil is higher than the surrounding ground. The Ohio State University Extension has listed several benefits of gardening in a raised bed. A few of these benefits are:

  • Higher yields
  • Improved soil conditions
  • Ease of working
  • Ease of pest control
  • Water conservation

A raised bed should be just wide enough that you can reach all the way across without climbing into it (or, if you can access both sides of the bed, you need to be able to reach half way across). See  (PDF).

One of the reasons raised beds have such high yields is that the soil is mixed with amendments to create a light, fluffy growing medium to a depth of about 2-feet. This encourages great root growth.

Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardens are both a wise use of space and aesthetically pleasing. They can help keep plants up off the ground and can be used to define landscaped areas, by creating interesting focal points and eye-pleasing boundaries (see our article Containers with Altitude). Plants grown on walls, trellises and fences can cool your home or garden and block views you don’t want to see.

Good support surfaces for a vertical garden include:

  • Openwork fences
  • Trellises
  • Hanging baskets
  • Arbors
  • Cages
  • Poles with string or nets

Choosing the right plants for a vertical garden is important. While many plants can be trained to grow upwards, not every plant is suitable. Some of the best fruits and vegetables are as follows:

Tomatoes do better grown in a cage or other support system than when left on the ground. Not only do they use up less space, but they are less likely to become infected with a soil-borne disease. Learn more about tomato gardening here.

Perfect for tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers… any tall plant! Reusable Tomato Clips make it easy to tie plants to stakes, trellises or support wire. Works with stems up to 3/4″ in diameter and features open sides to improve air circulation and reduce disease problems.

Cucumbers grow as vines and are a natural for vertical gardening.

Corn grows vertically, naturally, and can be used as a support for beans or other plants.

Peas, melons, and passion fruit take well to upwards growth. Even zucchinis, pumpkins and other squashes will grow vertically as long as their support system is strong enough.

Tips for a Successful Vertical Garden

  1. Make sure your vertically-grown plants are in a location where they won’t shade out sun-loving plants.
  2. Grow plants on the south side of the support structure for maximum sunlight.
  3. Don’t forget to water. Your vertical garden will dry out faster without plants laying on the soil to shade it.
  4. Soil should be deep and well-drained so plant roots can grow down into the soil, rather than growing outwards where they will compete with other plants.
  5. Heavy crops, such as melons, pumpkins and squash, may need additional support. Construct a “hammock” from strips of old pantyhose by tying it to either side of the crop you are supporting and place the vegetable/fruit inside.

Interplanting

Growing two or more plants in the same place at the same time is known as . This can be done by alternating rows within a bed, alternating plants within a row or mixing up plants throughout the bed.

When  make sure to grow plants with similar requirements near each other. Consider the following factors for each plant:

  • length of the plant’s growth period
  • growth pattern (tall, short, below or above ground)
  • possible negative effects on other plants (such as the allelopathic effects of sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes on nearby plants)
  • preferred season
  • preferred light
  • nutrient and moisture requirements

Increase harvests in small spaces with Dalen® Trellis Netting. Made of high-quality nylon, it can be used to support extremely heavy crop loads and has large 7 in. reach through mesh for easy harvesting. Lasts for years and is available in 3 convenient sizes.

Spacing

In a raised bed or interplanted garden, plants are grown more closely together than in a traditional row garden. When growing vegetables, herbs or fruits, stagger your rows so that a plant in one row is between two plants in the other row. This creates an almost continuous leaf cover that shades out weeds and reduces the amount of area that needs to be mulched.

The following chart from the  indicates how closely seeds or seedlings can be planted.

Vegetable Inches Vegetable Inches
Asparagus 15 to 18 Lettuce, head 10 to 12
Beans, lima 4 to 6 Lettuce, leaf 4 to 6
Beans, pole 6 to 12 Melons 18 to 24
Beans, bush 4 to 6 Mustard 6 to 9
Beets 2 to 4 Okra 12 to 18
Broccoli 12 to 18 Onion 2 to 4
Brussels sprouts 15 to 18 Peas 2 to 4
Cabbage 15 to 18 Peppers 12 to 15
Cabbage, Chinese 10 to 12 Potatoes 10 to 12
Carrots 2 to 3 Pumpkins 24 to 36
Cauliflower 15 to 18 Radishes 2 to 3
Cucumber 12 to 18 Rutabaga 4 to 6
Chard, Swiss 6 to 9 Southern pea 3 to 4
Collards 12 to 15 Spinach 4 to 6
Endive 15 to 18 Squash, summer 18 to 24
Eggplant 18 to 24 Squash, winter 24 to 36
Kale 15 to 18 Sweet corn 15 to 18
Kohlrabi 6 to 9 Tomatoes 18 to 24
Leeks 3 to 6 Turnip 4 to 6

To determine spacing for interplanting, add the inches for the two crops to be planted together, and divide the sum by 2. For example, if radishes are planted next to beans, add 2 inches + 4 inches = 6 inches, then divide 6 inches by 2 inches = 3 inches. The radishes should be planted 3 inches from the beans.

Tip: Be careful not to sow seeds too closely together or your crops may be at a higher risk of plant disease (often caused by poor air circulation). Always refer to the seed packet for appropriate spacing.

Succession and Relay Planting

Once a crop has reached its full production, it is time to plant more. Cool-season crops (peas, lettuce, broccoli) are followed by warm-season crops (peppers, tomatoes, beans), and if you live in a mild climate, these may be followed by more cool season plants, or even a fall/winter crop. Read our article on successive planting in the home garden to learn more.

Relaying is overlapping planting of one type of crop. For example, spinach may be planted at 2-3 week intervals to ensure a steady harvest. Or you can plant early, mid and late season crops all at the same time (see ).

If seeds are started indoors, there is always something ready to go into the garden as space opens up. Don’t forget to add compost or an organic fertilizer to get the soil ready for the next crop of plants.

Say goodbye to leggy plants! The Jump Start T5 Grow Light produces more than double the light output as standard shop fixtures — perfect for seedlings, cuttings and houseplants. Each system includes a T5 high output grow light fixture and bulb (6400K daylight spectrum – 10,000 hour life).

Planning & Design

Start early when planning an organic garden. In January or February, while snow still covers the ground, it is time to get out some graph paper and seed catalogs and get to work.

1.) Pull out last year’s garden journal to see what did and didn’t work in your garden. What? You didn’t keep notes? Learn  here.

2.) Grab a pencil and paper and draw your garden plot(s). Using graph paper helps determine how much space you have to work with more precisely.

3.) Choose what plants you wish to grow. For each plant consider:

– Nutrient needs
– Shade tolerance
– Above and below ground growth patterns
– Preferred growing season

4.) Determine which plants can be grown together or successively. Read our article about companion planting here.

5.) Add the plants to your chart after determining how closely together they can be grown.

6.) Order your seeds. You can start some plants indoors so they are ready to go or directly seed into the soil.

Other Resources:


Vertical Gardening: Containers with Altitude

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8 Responses to “Growing More In Less Space”

  1. Kim Roman on May 12th, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Good article except you forgot the cornerstones of Square Foot Gardening (TM) and the All New Square Foot Gardening book by Mel Bartholomew – the special soil blend (Mel’s Mix) that is the heart of SFG and the use of a visible/permanent grids. Without those it’s “just” raised bed intensive gardening.

  2. Ali on June 27th, 2014 at 7:58 am #

    Found what I was looking for (companion, insect deterrent planting) but agree with Kim’s response, This is after all square foot gardening. Thanks Kim and Planet Natural.

  3. …dez... on September 25th, 2014 at 3:11 am #

    California high desert sq ft garden. New home, August, garden prep. I love home grown tomatoes.
    I dug 5, 2’x2’x2’ft holes and put my garbage in them over the winter. Bought some 8ft surplus concrete wire from a contractor and made 5, 3’x8’ cages for the tomatoes. I located a racing stable with a huge pile of aging shavings and horse manure who would loaded my pickup for a six pack of beer. I spread the manure over a 20’x 40’ area about six “ deep and bought a pound of red worms and put them under the manure.
    Spring! I laid out 6, 4’ x 20’ rows with a two ft path between. Raking the left over shavings to the paths, I started digging at the North end so I could grow the warm weather crops later at the South end.
    Digging up the 4 ft planting areas and sowing cool weather seeds (onions, garlic, lettuce, cabbage etc., as I progressed. Carrots and lettuce are easy, just scatter the seed and barely cover. Gardening this way involves very little weeding. I kept expanding my garden every year to over ten years. The one pound of red worms spread out every year with the additional manure coverage. Over 10 years, I ended up with over 20,000 square foot garden with grapes and fruit trees. The most fun was heritage indian corn that grew over 12 feet tall with some 13 inch ears that were multi colored.

    • Monica on January 29th, 2016 at 5:07 pm #

      I loved that story! I’ m retiring next year to fl and can’t wait to start gardening again…I did French Intensive gardening years ago in Chicago and had great results. NO idea what will work in Cape Coral Fl, but can’t wait to find out!

  4. Rick on August 18th, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

    I have the book “how to grow more vegetables” by John Jeavons . ISBN: 0-913668-96-2
    If still available, it is a complete guide to this type of gardening.

  5. Parrish on November 1st, 2015 at 12:29 am #

    SFG never worked for me. Nothing ever grew in that Mel’s mix in my experience. I went back into the good old earth and used some of the concepts of not using rows, what I guess is intensive gardening. My garden is thriving now. thanks for the great info on spacing, I will certainly refer back to it.

  6. kenay hackson on January 11th, 2016 at 4:33 am #

    Gardening has been always my passion. Nothing could give the serenity and peace that a bunch of lilies can give you. I moved into a new place in Calgary and i am very disappointed about the very less space we have finally I spoke to infinity gardens and got a customized flower box in each every possible corner. Now my question do all kinds of plants survive in a flower box? I mean considering into condition the soil, quantity etc?

    • JC on May 22nd, 2017 at 12:25 am #

      HI Kenay,

      Greetings. I am a fellow Calgarian and an avid Toastmaster. I will be organizing a Sustainable Gardening Awareness Open House in collaboration with the Acadia Community Garden for my Toastmasters International High Performance Leadership project. Please contact/email me to find out more. Also check out Acadia Communities Newsletter May issue
      Community Event: Sustainable Gardening Awareness Open House (FREE – No cost to you!)
      Date: June 10, 2017 10AM-2PM
      Venue: Fellowship Hall (Lutheran Church of Our Saviour) 8831 Fairmount Dr SE

      Cheers

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