Make the Most of Garden Space
Martha Maletta, Horticultural Consultant

VeggiesVegetable gardeners can increase their production without expanding the size of their garden. By using non-traditional cropping systems, more plants can be grown in a given space.

Standard row spacings are generally geared for large scale agricultural practices. There are many alternatives for the home vegetable garden. Intensive gardening systems aren't new, just not as familiar as the traditional row system.

Double tow and wide row seedlings are simple modifications of the row system. Seed is sown either in close double rows or in a 10 - 12 inch band. Plants are then thinned to recommended plant spacing in all directions.

Crops established as transplants - tomato, pepper, broccoli, etc. - can be planted in beds in a staggered arrangement with equal spacing in all directions. Ease of harvest should be kept in mind in planning the size of the beds, however. As far as you can reach from two sides is ideal, probably 4 - 5 feet.

Fast and slow growing crops may be interplanted for more efficient use of space. Plants may be alternated within rows or row to row. Some possible combinations - pear and carrot, lettuce and corn, spinach and tomato.

Succession plantings are planned to make full use of space throughout the growing season. For example, early lettuce might be followed with snap beans. Spring planted broccoli might be followed by late zucchini (to beat the borer).

Take advantage of vertical growing space with suitable crops, but be aware that shade will be created so locate the crop accordingly. Tomatoes can be staked, caged, or racked; beans can be trellised as can peas, cucumbers, some squash and melons.

Be sure to make the support structure strong enough to serve its purpose. Tomato stakes should be at least 1 inch square. 4 feet long and set in the soil 12 inches. Tomato cages should be six feet high, about 2 feet in diameter made of 4 to 6 inch mesh concrete reinforcing wire or cattle fence; the cages should be securely anchored to the ground. If you would like instructions for building a tomato rack, or how to use a short stake system, send a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope to Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Hunterdon County, 4 Gauntt Place, Flemington, NJ 08822 - Attention Pat.

Beans can be trellised by the row or grown in hills and supported with a teepee of poles and strings. Bush snap beans may benefit from being supported with a simple trellis of three-foot stakes and string. A system for pole beans should be 8 feet high. Heavy vines, like squash and cucumber, need a substantial trellis or rack or fence for support; large fruit may need additional support from slings attached to the main support. Peas may simply need some twiggy branches stuck in the row for support. Most books on vegetable gardening will provide some details on various systems for vertical training of crops. See accompany article, also.

There are some special considerations and cautions to be noted with intensive garden plantings. The more dense plant cover reduces air circulation and may aggravate disease problems. Fertilizer and water requirements will be increased. A benefit: weed problems may be reduced because a larger portion of the soil is shaded by crops. Make sure to leave enough space for moving around in the garden when the crops are full grown.