Intensive Planting

I first heard about this method of gardening in a book called "How to Grow More Vegetables" by John Jeavons, first published in 1974. Many of the topics contained in my newsletters; raised beds, composting, double-digging, and companion planting are all endorsed in this book about self sufficient, environmentally sound food production techniques. The purpose of an intensively grown garden is to harvest the most produce possible from a given space. You may have heard of this method by the name "square foot gardening." This technique (based on a book of the same name by Mel Bartholomew) involves planting vegetables very intensively. The growing area is  divided into square foot sections. In each section, plants or seeds are carefully spaced the same distance from all seeds nearest to it so that when the plants mature, their leaves touch. This provides a "mini-climate" under the leaves that retains moisture, protects the valuable microbiotic life of the soil, retards weed growth, and provides for high yields. The method avoids problems encountered when planting in narrow rows and allows plants to mature without competing for nutrients and water with adjacent plants. The raised bed or growing bed is the basic unit of an intensive garden. A system of beds allows the gardener to concentrate soil preparation in small areas, resulting in efficient use of soil amendments and an ideal environment for vegetable growth. Soil preparation is the key to successful intensive gardening, deep, fertile soil high in organic matter provides an ideal plant environment. Soil should be deep and well-drained to allow roots to extend vertically rather than compete with  others at a shallow level. The goal of intensive planting is to use space more efficiently. Space plants by thinning or transplanting so they are evenly spaced in the beds. 

The spacing should be whatever the seed packet recommends for spacing between plants. For example, if the seed packet says to thin lettuce so plants stand six inches apart in rows two feet apart, ignore the row spacing, and thin all lettuce plants to stand six inches apart. Root crops like carrots and beets still can be sown in rows, but plant two or three rows the length of the growing bed and stagger the plants so that the plants in every other row are between the plants in the adjacent rows. Plants like lettuce and radishes can be sown by lightly sprinkling seed over the bed and gradually thinning young plants to their recommended final spacing. Intensive" gardeners must pay close attention to scheduling plantings to ensure that no part of the garden is left unoccupied. Also called succession planting, it is an excellent way to make the most of an intensive garden. To obtain a succession of crops, plant something new in the spots vacated by spent plants. Corn after peas is a type of succession. The intensive gardening ideal is to have something growing in every part of the garden at all times during the growing season. One way to do this is to plant one variety several times at about two-week intervals (more time between early plantings in colder soil but only 10 days between the last plantings). Another approach is to make one planting of two or more varieties that differ in maturity time, e.g., 50-day and 60-day beans or early-, mid-, and late-season sweet corn. planting a spring, summer, and fall garden is another form of succession planting. Cool season crops (broccoli, lettuce, peas) are followed by warm season crops (beans, tomatoes, peppers), and, where possible, these may be followed by more cool-season plants, or even a winter cover crop. Growing vertically is another technique used in intensive gardening. The use of trellises, nets, strings, cages, or poles to support growing plants allow for more intensive planting because plants grown vertically occupy much less space on the ground. You can then plant shade-tolerant crops near the trellises to take advantage of the shade and make better use of your growing space.

Besides saving space, vegetables grown this way are easier to pick and may have less rot because the fruit does not contact the soil. Improved air circulation can reduce diseases. The last foundation of this type of gardening is called interplanting. Growing two or more types of vegetables in the same place at the same time is known as interplanting. Growing a root crop right next to a leaf crop or planting a row of peppers next to a row of onions are examples of interplanting. Long season (slow maturing) and short season (quick maturing) plants like carrots and radishes can be planted at the same time. The radishes are harvested before they begin to crowd the carrots. Another way is to combine growth patterns by planting smaller plants close to larger plants, (radishes at the base of beans or broccoli). Shade tolerant species like lettuce, spinach, and celery may be planted in the shadow of taller crops. Heavy feeders, such as cabbage family crops, should be mixed with less demanding plants. Root, leaf, and soil-building crops (legumes) may be mixed to take advantage of available nutrients. By mixing different plants within the same bed you also keep insect pests under control. Since pests tend to be plant specific, you break up the areas they infest and give more opportunity for control. It takes a little more planning but the rewards are a greater variety of crops and a surprisingly large harvest from a small area with less labor.


Never add meat or dairy products to the compost heap. Those will not decompose acceptably, and they will attract animal pests. Instead, add vegetable (plants) or woody-based materials.


Next month is Herb Month, so look for the newsletters to feature herbs and their uses.



"Gardening is a kind of disease. It infects you, you cannot escape it. When you go visiting, your eyes rove about the garden; you interrupt the serious cocktail drinking because of an irresistible impulse to get up and pull a weed"



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