Expert advice on laying out your home garden for success
Guest Contributor: Cassey Anderson, CSU Horticulture Agent
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Seed catalogues are coming in soon so you can begin to plan your 2024 vegetable garden yay! But, if you’re anything like me, your eyes are bigger than your garden space, so why not spend some time this month planning where things can go? There are many ways you can plan your vegetable garden and there are benefits and/or drawbacks to each. Let’s take a deeper dive into a few of them.
When we imagine a traditional vegetable garden, we often picture vegetable crops in long, tidy, respectful rows, with nary a weed in the middle, often plagued by pesky rabbits Mr. McGregor style. Row planting can be a great way to keep a garden organized, and tidy, but it does require some planning, and upkeep. For large-scale urban production row planting can still be one of the most effective options.
When planting in a traditional row garden you need to ensure that you have a way to weed in the space in between rows. This can be achieved with mulch, cultivation (a stirrup or shuffle hoe works great!) or manual weed removal. If weeds get too large they can begin to outcompete the desirable vegetable crop.
Block style planting
Also known as close row plantings, or possibly called square foot gardening is an approach to increase yield over a comparable traditional row-style planting pattern. In a block style planting you don’ have large spaces in between each row, but rather you plant with similar spacing between each plant both on the x and the y axis of your garden. You may have a small gap in between vegetable types but not much space in between the same crop. Imagine if the image below had a carrot in the middle of each square and there was about 3” of space from one carrot center to the next, this is an example of block style planting.
Block planting works best if you have beds of indeterminate length, but no more than 3-4’ wide (I prefer 3’ since my arms don’t like to stretch hard to reach to the middle of the bed.) Block planting can be very helpful in reducing weeds as there is less space available for them to germinate because plants are likely to cover the entire area.
If you plan to go with a block-style plan you will need to ensure you have defined walkways as there will not be rows to move in between crop types.
Raised beds vs in-ground
Raised beds are a very popular way of arranging a vegetable garden, they delineate the space well which helps reduce compaction issues for your vegetable beds (unless you have pets or wayward children who won’t listen to your repeated requests to stay out of the beds!). Raised beds also warm more quickly in the summer and will drain better if you have a clay-type soil. They can, however, be more expensive and require some maintenance over the years compared to an in-ground garden
If you have neither the time or inclination to build a raised bed but you want some of the benefits of raised beds you can make raised rows. This can be achieved manually by pulling soil from your walkways into a mound in your in-row beds, or by renting a raised-bed tiller which will do the work for you.
Planning for succession
Back to our over-clocked vegetable garden planning. If possible, check out your seed list and compare it to your garden space. It’s likely that you’ll have some warm-season crops you want to get in as cool season crops are maturing, or you want to ensure you have greens to harvest throughout the entire season. In both cases you can multiply the impact of your garden space by succession planting. Know where your cool season crops will be finishing up in time for warm season crops to come in. If you know you need lettuce for a long season, rather than planting 12 rows of lettuce to all be ready to eat at the same time, plant 2-3 rows, then another 2-3 in two weeks, rinse, and repeat. Once you get your harvest, the next row should be just about ready to go!
Intercrop planting or companion planting can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Some may try the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash. The squash shades the ground, the beans provide nutrients, and the corn provides a trellis for the beans. An even simpler example of intercrop planting is to plant tomatoes in with your lettuce. You’ll get several great lettuce harvests while the tomatoes are getting going, and the tomato can eventually shade your lettuce to allow a slightly longer season of lettuce harvesting. Win, win! There is not a lot of scientific research showing that planting one vegetable crop next to another is necessarily beneficial, but if it works for you, go for it!
Additionally, you can incorporate flowers into your vegetable garden. The wider diversity of species we can introduce into the garden, the more chance we have of breaking up monocultures and encouraging beneficial insects to come to the party. Plus, you may get excellent pollination on your flowering vegetable crops!
As always, reach out to your local Extension office with additional questions and for further resources. Happy Gardening!
What if every gardener shared just a little?
One small donation can have a tremendous impact. Just imagine, if every gardener planted one extra plant to share, or donated just a pound from the garden. Collectively, we would have an abundant source of fresh, healthy produce available to be distributed to families experiencing food insecurity in our own communities! The free Fresh Food Connect mobile app connects you to a local hunger relief program, then manages and tracks your donations of homegrown produce throughout the season. Download the app today!