Earth Day is this weekend, and what could be a more appropriate celebration than starting a vegetable garden. And for those of us in the Pikes Peak area, it’s finally time to get some dirt under our fingernails.
If this is your first year growing veggies, the first order of business is finding a promising spot for the garden. I talked about this in a previous post. Next, you need to decide how big to make the garden. This involves not only your desired yield, but also how you lay out the garden. Will you have traditional rows, wide rows (pictured here), beds (raised or otherwise) or a combination of these? Today I’m going to talk about rows… next Thursday I’ll cover beds.
Most non-gardeners assume that vegetables must be grown in rows, with minimal distance between plants in a row, but two to three feet between rows. This idea is reinforced by fact that directions on most seed packets give row-to-row spacing, along with how far apart to thin individual plants.
Laying out a garden in rows has some advantages. If you are using mechanical cultivation, the wide spaces between rows allows room for wheels and machines. Large-scale farms use rows for this reason. If your garden is large and you intend to run a tiller through it during the growing season, rows may be the best option.
Rows also enable furrow irrigation. Again, commercial farms frequently use this method. Water runs between all the plants, soaking the soil without wetting the leaves and spreading disease. On the downside, furrow irrigation is fairly inefficient, and definitely not the best choice for an arid region with limited water.
Row-based gardens require the most space for a given harvest. There is a lot of space between plants. All that space receives water, fertilizer, mulches, and amendments, but produces weeds, not veggies. If you don’t use a mechanical tiller, you’ll spend a lot of time eliminating those weeds.
Rows are good if you want to grow lots of large plants—tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, large cabbages—and are pretty much essential for growing wind-pollinated corn. (Corn needs to be planted in blocks to ensure that pollen from the tassels lands on all the silks; otherwise you’ll have empty cobs!)
Rows are also appropriate for vertically grown crops such as tall peas and trellised pole beans. Alongside one edge of our garden, we built a couple of frames from PVC pipe. One I covered with nylon netting for the peas. The other I strung with garden twine. Peas wrapped their tendrils around the netting while beans wound themselves around the string. In both cases, harvesting was a snap.
One variation on row gardening , often used for large, vining plants such as both summer and winter squash, is “hill” gardening—putting several plants in one spot and leaving several feet between these clumps.
Planting in hills also leaves a lot of empty space between plants, particularly at the beginning of the season. Covering that ground with mulch, or a quickly maturing crop, can help keep weeds down. If you aren’t planting anything there, there is no need to add amendments or water. Just enrich the soil in the area where the plant roots will be growing.
Gardening in rows isn’t the best option for many other veggies. Root crops such as radishes, beets, and carrots are so small that a single row is a huge waste of space. Leafy greens—lettuce, chard, etc.—also do much better growing leaf-to-leaf. Next week I’ll discuss the pros and cons of gardening in beds.