DIFFERENT PLANTING SCHEMES FOR YOUR RAISED BEDS
Vegetable, annual flower and herb planting season is upon us in many areas and getting closer in others. I extolled the virtues of raised beds in the last Gardening with Nature newsletter. Now I want to talk about ways to plant those beds.
The traditional way of planting most vegetable and herb seeds and plants is in straight rows, which works fine if you're a farmer. It's easier to plant seeds and transplants in rows using a tractor or tiller, and easier to weed and harvest. But most home gardeners aren't farmers and don't have a huge garden to tend. There's little reason to plant in straight rows in a small, home garden. It wastes space between the rows, makes for more work weeding and doesn't allow for a diversity of plants to be grown in that bed at the same time. If we can be more efficient with spacing our plants, we won't need as big a garden to maintain. That's why I'm a big proponent of interplanting, succession planting and polycultures.
Interplanting or intercropping is a technique where you take advantage of the plant's natural growth characteristics. You can match cool season veggies, such as spinach, radish and lettuce, with warm season veggies, such as tomatoes, eggplant, and summer squash, to use the space more efficiently and get a bigger harvest, per square foot, than if you gardened in straight rows. An example I use is planting cool season veggies, such as lettuce, spinach and radishes, in between slower growing warm season veggies, such as tomatoes and zucchini. The bigger plants are spaced 2- to 3-feet apart in spring leaving lots of room to sow the seeds or transplants of lettuce, spinach and radishes. By the time the larger tomatoes and squash get big enough to shade out the greens and radishes, I'm usually finished harvesting them. I've done a similar planting with cucumbers trellised above a bed of lettuce.
You can also plant vegetables that help each other. We plant peas on a trellis in the middle of our bed with lettuce and greens planted along the sides. In this case we grow in straight rows because of the trellis for the peas. The peas fix nitrogen from the air and transfer it to their roots. The greens use that nitrogen in the soil to grow, while not competing with the peas. Both plants grow better.
Another clever planting scheme is succession planting. You can do it in a number of ways. The simplest way is to use the cool season/warm season crop distinction to grow at least three types of veggies or herbs in a bed in one season. Start with a cool season crop of spinach in a bed. Once that's finished producing, cut it to the ground and use the cuttings as mulch. Plant bush beans in the same bed. After harvesting the main crop of bush beans, cut those plants to the ground, use them as mulch and plant fall kale. Not only are you saving space, the beans will fix nitrogen in the soil so the kale grows better.
Another succession planting technique is planting small patches of veggies every 2 weeks to extend the harvest and avoid the veggie glut. Instead of planting a whole, long bed of bush beans, lettuce and cilantro, plant 2 foot wide patches of them every two weeks throughout the summer. The veggies and herbs will mature on a staggered schedule allowing you to harvest them at a reasonable pace. Even in Northern areas, I can plant bush beans as late as the end of July and still get a fall crop.
When planting in succession try to plant in blocks by broadcast seeding veggies and herbs instead of in rows. Greens, root crops and certain herbs, such as basil, can be broadcast seeded. You'll still have to thin them but it will save space in your garden.
If you want to up your planting scheme game, try polyculture beds. This is where you're planting veggies, annual flowers, and herbs together based on their top and root growth patterns. For example, onions have shallow roots and feathery tops. I've planted them next to deeper rooted veggies, flowers and herbs, such as parsley and cabbage, that have shorter, bushy tops. The onions feed on the nutrients in the top layers of soil and don't shade the parsley or cabbage. The parsley and cabbage don't compete with the onion roots. I've used other combinations such as dill with peppers, nasturtiums with summer squash, and leeks with bush beans. As plants mature and are harvested you can pop in other plants to fill the void in the bed. The idea is to always have something growing in the bed.
So, try out some of these planting scheme combinations with your vegetables, herbs and annual flowers. You may be surprised how little space you'll need to create a great bounty of food and flowers for your family and friends.
Until next time, I'll be seeing you in the garden.
About Charlie Nardozzi
Charlie Nardozzi is an award winning, nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. Charlie delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. He's the author of 6 books, has three radio shows in New England and a TV show. He leads Garden Tours around the world and consults with organizations and companies about gardening programs. See more about him at Gardening With Charlie.