Produce tastes best and has the highest amount of vitamins and minerals when picked at its peak; probably the primary reason to grow your own food.
An increase in reports of food safety issues has given even more reason to lessen exposure through home-gardening. There are plenty of reasons for and benefits to growing your own produce that are sometimes met with challenges of space constraints.
Through methods of intensive gardening, small spaces will give higher yields through planning for the best use of time and space.
Intensive gardening means to harvest the most produce possible from a given space by careful consideration of plant interrelations, nutrient needs, shade tolerance, above and below ground growth characteristics and growing seasons.
Referring to seed packets for minimum spacing information, space plants at equal distances from each other on all sides so their leaves touch at maturity; this will save space, reduce moisture loss and discourage weeds.
Soil preparation is the key to success. Provide a deep, fertile soil, high in organic matter. Because the plants are so close together, they will want adequate nutrients and water. Extra fertilizer and irrigation may help. Recondition the soil in between plantings with compost or organic fertilizer.
Vertically grown plants take up much less ground space. Good candidates for vertical growing are cucumbers, peas, pole beans, tomatoes and squash.
Provide the appropriate trellising to support the plant whether it requires tying or will entwine and climb without assistance. Wire cages, string trellising and poles are a few supporting material options. Plant verticals on northern borders and consider neighboring with shade tolerant plants.
When interplanting there are lots of factors to consider for each plant:
Days to maturity and seasons of growth — Sow short-season plants such as radishes together with long-season plants, as they will be ready for harvest before being crowded out, even if planted at the same time. A staggered planting of beans can be harvested early enough in the season to recondition the soil and plant a winter crop in succession. Cool crops can be succeeded by warm crops and then again by cool crops for the winter growing season with careful planning and soil reconditioning.
Aboveground growth pattern — Place smaller plants among larger ones, i.e. onions alongside lettuce or radishes at the base of cole crops, for possible pairings that fill the canopy without overcrowding.
Rooting depth characteristics — Combine shallow-rooted plants with deeper-rooted ones to make the best use of underground space. As an example, carrots will need to grow straight down in deep soil and would pair well with onions that have a root ball closer to the surface.
Light, water and nutrient requirements — Consider growing shade-tolerant plants like lettuce in the shadow of taller plants. Group plants together having the same or similar watering and feeding needs.
If lacking space for a garden, consider growing in containers. It is best to select plants that need little space, but just about any vegetable will grow in a container. Containers need to be made of non-toxic materials, have drainage and be deep enough to fully support plants and their root systems.
Planting media required for container gardening is generally a lightweight potting soil with porous properties for good water and air retention. Extra care should be taken during warmer weather to assure the containers are properly watered to keep from drying out.
Through a little creativity with small spaces, planning your intensive garden is as easy as following seed packet information. The results will have you enjoying high yields of delicious, nutritious home-grown produce without a lot to plot.
Michele Mangiantini is a Clallam County Master Gardener.