The Garden Patch: Make the most of your garden space

Sometimes we all wish we had more garden space. Well, we can have more space without increasing the area our garden currently demands. What are we talking about? Read on.

Interplanting: Making the best use of space

Using garden space wisely and efficiently produces better yields.

Get the most from your garden  by using space efficiently.

Interplanting, or combining two plants in the same space, allows you to fit more vegetables into your allotted space. The practice, also called intercropping, can be mutually beneficial to the plants involved. A classic example of intercropping is the Native American custom of planting corn, squash and pole beans together. This combination, called the Three Sisters of the Cornfield by the Indians, is ideal for nutrient exchange. As they grow, the beans release nitrogen into the soil for squash and corn. In addition, the three crops use a minimum of space – vining beans are supported by the tall cornstalks, while the squash spreads out along the ground.

Another way to exploit a small space is to combine fast-maturing, early crops with larger, slow-growing vegetables. For example, plant Brussels sprouts among spinach plants; by the time the slow-growing Brussels sprouts need more room, the spinach will have been harvested. To mark a row of seeds that are slow to germinate, such as parsnips, interplant radishes, the fast-sprouting wonder of the vegetable world. As an added bonus, when you pull the radishes, you are cultivating the soil for nearby plants.

The practice of interplanting can also extend the growing season of spring vegetables if you combine them with taller, warm-season plants. Sow spinach or lettuce on the east side of a row of trellised beans, a stand of sunflowers or a bed of corn; the shade from the tall plants will protect the lettuce from going to seed or wilting in the hot afternoon sun. You can also extend your harvest by interplanting fast- and slow-maturing vegetables at the same time. The growing season will last longer, and you will have the opportunity to taste the flavors of each vegetable type.

Getting the most from a small garden

Even the smallest of spaces can produce a lot of vegetables when you use intensive gardening methods. Your first consideration in a scaled-down garden must be to prepare and enrich the soil, since a large number of plants in a small area will compete for nutrients.

When planning your garden, emphasize vertical crops. Peas, pole beans, cucumbers, some melons and some tomatoes are vining crops that actually perform better when they are kept off the ground. These can be grown on an attractive trellis, tied to stakes, or trained to follow twine that is anchored to the ground and an overhead frame.

Also, to reap as much harvest as possible from each plant, choose compact varieties or prolific producers. Tom Thumb, a “midget” head of lettuce, requires comparatively little room, for example, and Jade Cross Brussels sprouts yield an early, bountiful crop.

As a rule, the smaller the fruit, the more the plants tend to produce, so make the most of your selections from small varieties such as cherry tomatoes.

Avoid the temptation, though, to plant too many hugely prolific vegetables such as zucchini. If you have extra plants, give or throw them away and save space for other crops. When laying out the garden, make use of succession planting and intercropping to maximize your growing space.

Herbs, anyone?

While many gardeners plant culinary herbs among vegetables and fruits, you may decide you’d like to devote a separate bed or two just to herbs. Most successful herb gardens use a combination of annuals, biennials, perennials and woody sub shrubs. Because perennials and sub shrubs give an herb garden its structure, it’s especially important to satisfy their cultural needs so that you can count on their long-term presence.

The short lifespan and rapid growth of annuals and biennials make them the ideal subjects for sampling unfamiliar culinary herbs. Some annuals and biennials can be more or less permanent residents it they are allowed to sow themselves. BUT they don’t necessarily stay put: Between the wind and birds scattering the seeds, sometimes the plants end up in surprising places from year to year.

And now …

Sources for seeds

Once your planning is done and you are ready to purchase seed, you should follow one basic rule: Do not make your choices based on price! Often, retailers mark down seed because it is old and less likely to germinate. It makes no sense to put in hours of labor preparing your soil and planting it only to end up with weak plants – or no plants at all – because of faulty seed. Check the freshness date on seed packets and only buy seed that has been packaged to be sold in the year that you are buying it.

Hardware stores, home and garden centers and mail order catalogs are primary sources for seed for the home gardener. Local shops are often cheaper and more convenient, but catalogs offer a greater selection of plant varieties. Moreover, local or regional seed-catalog companies feature seed that is particularly suited to your area.

As you read descriptions of the various vegetables, look for the qualities that are most important to you! You may want early-maturing plants for a short growing season, compact plants for containers or plants that are resistant to disease, heat tolerant, exceptionally flavorful, unusual looking or a combination of these qualities. No doubt you will have to compromise on some features, but with the wealth of selections available, you should be able to find what you want.

OK, friends and neighbors, that’s all for this week! Hope you got as much out of reading as I did out of researching and writing this material. I got my mind changed on a couple of items! In any case, have a great week and dream about that garden! Till next time.

stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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