Plant Greens in Wide Rows
Wide-row planting involves broadcasting seeds in a wide band, thus creating thicker rows with fewer paths in between. Not all vegetables, of course, are meant for wide rows. Squashes, tomatoes, cucumbers and melons are examples of crops that need room to run. But for greens - including head lettuce, collards and kale - wide rows offer many advantages. Most important, you can harvest more than half again as much from wide rows as from single rows using the same space. However, there are other reasons for growing green in wide rows, too:
* Wide rows mean less weeding because after the closely planted greens grow up to shade the ground, they create a "living mulch" or ground cover that blocks out light from weeds, thus checking their growth. Some hand weeding is still necessary, but the living mulch in wide rows take care of most weeding.
* Living mulch shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist, which is very important for crops like lettuce and spinach that get bitter and bolt when the weather warms up. Wide-row growing extends the harvest into summer because the soil in the row stays cooler. The cooler the soil, the better-flavored your crop will taste.
With summer greens like Swiss chard, the moist soil of a wide row helps maintain continuous growth. There's less drying out of the soil, and consequently, less stop-and-go growth.
* Planting is quick and simple. You scatter seed over the wide seedbed with no worry about straight lines or precise spacing.
* Wide rows are proven space-savers. You can do away with long single rows of one variety and plant more varieties of your favorite crops. For example, in a 10-foot-long row, 15 inches wide, you can grow three or four kinds of lettuce.
* Harvesting is fast because you can reach so many more plants from one spot without moving. It sure beats the nonstop stooping and straightening it takes to harvest or weed single rows.
Planting Wide Rows
After you've prepared and fertilized your soil on planting day, follow these easy steps to plant your wide rows of greens and salad crops: Mark the wide row. Stretch a string between two stakes close to the ground for the length of row you want.
Smooth the planting bed. With an iron garden rake, smooth the soil along one side of the string. The rake will mark the width of the row. Don't pack the seedbed down by stepping on it. Always do your work from the side of the row.
Sprinkle the seeds onto the seedbed. Roll seeds off the ends of your fingers with your thumb. Try to scatter them across the seedbed as evenly as you can. The spacing of crops will vary a bit. Lettuce seeds can be planted much thicker than kale or collard seeds, for example. Don't worry if you plant too thickly, thinning will correct that. To give you an idea of how much seed you need, the average packet of lettuce seed will cover three to six feet of a row that's 15 inches wide.
Sprinkle in a few radish seeds. After you've broadcast the main crop, sprinkle some radish seeds down the row. They'll come up quickly and mark the row. Use about five percent as much radish seed as the main seed. You can either pull up the radishes while they're small or harvest them after you pick your crop of greens.
Firm the seeds into the soil with a hoe, so the seeds make good contact with the earth.
Cover the seeds with soil from the sides of the row, pulling it up with your rake. The rule of thumb for the amount of soil to cover seeds is two to four times the diameter of the seed. So for most seeds in the greens group, that's about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil. In midsummer or late-summer plantings, an extra 1/4 inch of soil will help keep the seeds from drying out.
Finally, firm the soil once more with the back of a hoe and water gently if the soil is dry.
Use a string to plant a single row, too. Rake the seedbed smooth right over the string and with the handle end of your rake, make a shallow furrow or planting line along the string.
Sprinkle the seeds in the shallow furrow, and walk by a second time and drop radish seeds every five or six inches. After firming the seeds into the soil, cover them with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil and firm down gently again. Mark the row with the seed packet or a small sign, remove stakes and string and proceed to the next row to be planted.
Double or Triple Rows
The double-row planting system is two single rows separated by four to five inches. It's a garden space-saver, and it's easier to irrigate, which is very important for gardeners in the West and South.
A simple irrigation system can be made by placing a soaker hose between the two rows. A soaker hose has many tiny holes in it so water oozes gradually from it, irrigating only the soil around your plants. This is a big watersaving advantage over sprinklers, which tend to water the walkways, too. You can even put three or four single rows four to five inches from each other and move the soaker hose to each aisle to water all the plants. This arrangement has the space-saving characteristics of wide-row growing and lets you water all the plants evenly, too.
Photography by the National Gardening Association.