Plant In Succession To Maximize Space And Variety
Each week, gardening expert Charlie Nardozzi shares his expertise and answers questions about gardening, house plants, veggies and more. This time, Charlie suggests several growing methods that use every possible inch of soil to maximize the variety of veggies and flowers in a raised bed.
Gardening can lead to your own ever-changing farmers' market, right outside your door. With these raised bed planting methods, you can enjoy an abundance of veggies and plants all season long.
The basics of planting beds ... in succession:
At his home plot, Charlie plants in groups, or in blocks, and not in rows. He plants the veggies in succession, meaning that he devotes a 1-foot by 2-foot patch of soil for lettuces, lets those plants grow, harvests them and then plants them again. And he uses this method throughout the summer and into the fall. You can utilize this method with all kinds of greens and beans!
Intercropping or interplanting:
This method takes advantage of plant growth rates and sizes. For example, if you plant tomato plants in a raised bed, you'll need to plant them at least three feet apart in order for them to grow properly and have the space they need. But in-between those tomatoes plants, there is a lot of soil space, just sitting there, unused.
Why not plant a quick-maturing crop like arugula, mesclun greens or radishes in between those bigger tomato plants? Once planted, they'll sprout, mature and be ready to harvest before your tomato plants are even big enough to cast too much shade over the smaller ones.
This raised bed planting method works with plants' shapes, sizes and nutrient needs. For instance, you can take a bunch of greens seeds (lettuces, mesclun, mustard greens, etc), mix the seeds together, then broadcast them onto your raised bed. Next, take a bunch of root crops' seeds (like carrots, beets and parsnips) and do the same thing: Mix them up and sew them onto your raised bed. Once you add compost-amended soil over the top, the seeds will all begin to grow together.
This method is a bit more work-intensive at first. You'll note that as things begin to sprout, you'll need to thin the seedlings out. This is when it is necessary to know the difference between a radish sprout, a mesclun sprout and a weed! The plus side: You have a lovely green cover crop on top of your raised bed.
Throughout the summer, continue to harvest and thin and eat as the season progresses, all the while making sure the carrrots, beets and parsnips have the space they need. As space opens up from your mini-harvests, you can pop in bean seeds, onion transplants, leeks, broccoli, or even flowers like nasturtiums and marigolds. The idea is that those plants grow up tall but they don't shade the smaller plants. They also provide a hardy root system and keep the soil moist, so both plants win!
Note that you won't get a big harvest all at once for any particular vegetable (I see you, overabundance of zucchini!), so this is a great technique for houses with just a couple people. What you will have is a larger variety of options to pick and choose from more often. This method also creates less weeds, less insects and less invasives.
Q: Help! I've gotten a plot in a community garden. But it has been let go and is overrun by weeds, especially grass. What can I do? — Kathryn, Montpelier
Fear not, Kathryn! You can have a garden harvest this year and make some headway on clearing out those overgrown grasses from your community garden plot. Here's how: Try to reclaim that plot!
For starters, nourish the soil with compost and nutrients. Then cover your garden plot with a poly or plastic tarp and seal the edges. Poke holes in the tarp, then dig into the soil and pop in tomato transplants, broccoli, carrots, squashes, etc., and they will grow well.
At the end of the season, pull off the tarp and go in and try to pull up some of the grass roots. Especially late in the season and after we've had some rain, the soil will be nice and moist, and you'll find it easier to pull up the grasses and roots systems.
Now, this might be a yearly thing for awhile, especially if there is quack grass or other grasses that spread in your community plot. Look into putting some edging around your plot, too: That can help keep unwanted grasses out.
All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.
Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.