Kaufman County Master Gardener Association

Sharing research-based best practices for lawns and gardens

Topics:

Garden

A quick Internet search or trip to the library will show that there are many, many ways to garden. Many are adaptations or improvements of very old methods. Some, like hydroponics and aquaponics, are relatively new. Although there are numerous books and articles proclaiming the superiority of one way over others, there is not much supporting research.

That same search reveals that there is a lot of overlap in the way gardeners talk about gardening. There aren’t clear distinctions between why you garden the way you do and what you actually do in the garden.

A practice is the reasoning behind a way of gardening, like intensive gardening, and a method is the way that practice is carried out. For example, intensive gardening can be done in traditional rows, raised beds, square foot frames or containers, as can crop rotation, succession planting, and intercropping.

Garden Practices

Intensive gardening, or intensive planting, aims to reduce the space and labor required while creating an ideal plant environment. It requires a lot of planning because you must think about the interrelationships of plants, including their nutrient needs, shade tolerance, above- and below-ground growth patterns, and preferred growing seasons. Intensive gardening isn’t for everyone, since the close plant spacing prohibits machine cultivation. Also, some gardeners prefer to have their crops come off in a short period of time, so they can get the canning out of the way. Source: Intensive Gardening Methods

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Intercropping refers to planting two or more vegetables or a vegetable and a non-vegetable crop in the same garden space in the same growing season. Fast-growing, short plants can be sown between slower-growing, taller ones. The key to success is to arrange spacing of different kinds of vegetables in a pattern that will permit each to receive maximum light.   Source: Vegetable Rotations, Successions, Intercropping, & Solarization

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Crop rotation refers to the practice of planning planting areas so that crops in the same family are not planted in the same place year after year. Problems that can be reduced by rotating crops include number and type of soil-borne diseases, nematodes, and soil insects; lower organic matter, more chance of toxic chemical residues, and imbalance of essential mineral elements. Each crop in the rotation should be of a different family than the one it replaces. Source: Vegetable Rotations, Successions, Intercropping, & Solarization

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Succession planting, or interval planting, aims to reduce space and labor requirements while maximizing yield by replacing a crop that has finished producing with another one of the same or a different vegetable. As in crop rotation, each plant in the rotation should be of a different family than the one it replaces. Source: Vegetable Rotations, Successions, Intercropping, & Solarization

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Companion planting is the practice of planting two or more crops near one another to enhance crop production. The classic example is the “Three Sisters” garden, combining corn, beans and squash. Corn, a tall crop, provides support for beans, a climbing plant. Beans provide nitrogen in the soil needed by corn and squash. Squash plants provide weed suppression and shade that reduces moisture loss.

The benefits of companion planting include saving space, providing weed suppression, returning nutrients to the soil, deterring pests, and attracting beneficial insects.  Source: University of West Virginia Companion Planting Source:(https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/gardening/garden-management/companion-planting)

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Gardening Methods

Row gardening is an ancient practice that has come done from the days when fields were planted by plows pushed by humans or pulled by animals. Rows gave clear lines separating crops and allowing for passage of people and plows. The spaces between rows also helped to channel water to the roots of crops, allowing the row soil to remain loose.

When the Industrial Revolution introduced more complex machinery, they kept with the traditional style of gardening. It was a kind of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality that has stayed with us. Source: Planting Garden Vegetables in Rows and Staggered Rows

Several modifications of traditional row gardening have sprung up, including wide row planting, raised row planting, and raised beds planted in rows.

Resources:
Gardening Channel. (Accessed 2022. May 30). Planting Garden Vegetables in Rows and Staggered Rows. 
Masabni, J. Planning a Garden. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. 

Raised beds offer home gardeners several benefits over traditional row gardens.
Space saved by not needing so many paths or spaces between rows.
Less need of amendments like compost or fertilizer, since they go directly to the plants, not the rows.
Less water needed for the reason just mentioned and because shade from closely spaced plants shades the ground, decreasing evaporation and keeping soil temperature down.
Fewer weeds because of the close spacing of plants.
Better pest control because insect screening can be more easily applied.
Longer growing season because soil in raised beds warms faster than the ground, and coverings like sun screen and frost cloth can be applied. Rainy weather is less of a problem because the area around beds can be covered with gravel, mulch or other substances to prevent mud. Source: Raised Bed Gardening

Raised beds are also a good alternative when you have soil that is too rocky or too compacted, has too much sand or clay, or is severely low in nutrients.

In the late 1970s, Mel Bartholomew combined the principles of intensive gardening, intercropping, crop rotation, and succession planting to create a gardening method he called square foot gardening. Its goal was to produce high yields of crops in a small space with minimal materials and work.

While he was not the first to combine some of these methods, his 1981 book, Square Foot Gardening, started a movement. Bartholomew died in 2016, but his legacy lives on through the Square Foot Gardening Foundation he founded in 1996.  Source: Square Foot Gardening Foundation.

Over the years, much has been written by other practitiones of square foot gardening, and much of it deviates a bit from Bartholomew’s original formula. Most of the changes are minor and have been done more for convenience and personal preference than because they significantly imporve on the original method. As always, make sure the source you follow is based on sound science rather than anectdote and hearsay.

Resources:

Square Foot Gardening Foundation. Square Foot Gardening.  (Accessed 2022, May 30). 
Burgess, L. (2019. May 2). Square Foot Gardening. Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center. 
Browning, S. (2016. April). Making the Most of a Small Garden Plot. University of Nebraska Extension. 

Growing plants in containers solves some of the same problems addressed by raised bed and square foot gardening, including space, soil issues, pest problems, and ammendment administration. In addition, containers can be relocated to increase or reduce sun exposure and temperature.

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Vertical gardens are excellent for addressing issues of small space, but their other benefits include better air circulation, fewer pest problems, protection from sun and wind damage for smaller plants. Having plants near eye level makes it easier to track pest problems and to get to the produce at harvest. An often overlooked benefit, especially for those with edible landscapes, is that vertical garden structures can block unattractive or ill-favored features like a compost pile on a small plot of corn. Source: Vertial Gardening Makes the Most of a Small Garden Footprint

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