Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2004
Regional Report

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Veggies and posies share the same trellis.

Intensive, Double-Decker Veggies and Flowers

I used to consider my veggie gardening techniques of intensive planting and trellising to be common sense, but I've run into so many gardeners who haven't considered their benefits that I now perceive their specialness. Here are my 10 steps to growing a highly productive garden in a small space, whether in one raised bed or on a quarter-acre:

1. Enclose raised beds. Putting sides on your raised beds enables full use of the planting bed surface without loss due to natural sloughing at the sides (about 45 percent). It also makes watering techniques easier.

2. Amend soil. Incorporate manure and compost into the soil each time you change crops. Water well, and then let it sit for at least 2 weeks to cure prior to planting seeds or transplants. If you plant immediately, the heat generated by the manure/compost and water can burn your plants.

3. Make trenches. Form trenches along the length of, or across, raised beds from east to west, so sun will reach all crops for as much time daily as possible. At the bottom of each trench, bury a soaker hose that seeps water all along its surface. This will let water slowly sink down, and plant roots will follow it down to form a deep root system. With a timer, you can control the time and amount of watering. Keeping the hoses barely under the soil protects them from sun so they'll last more than a couple of years.

4. Bury water reservoirs. Bury 1- or 5-gallon nursery containers up to their rims between tomato plants or in the center of trellises of squash or cucumbers. Put a shovelful of manure or compost into the bucket. Then lay a hose in the bucket and let it run while you do something else ? like harvesting or weeding ? for the 10 minutes it'll take to fill and overflow into the surrounding trenches. The water in the bucket will become manure/compost tea as it exits the holes at the bottom and it will go directly to the root zone a foot under the surface of the soil. This will keep plant roots always satisfied and growing deeply, so they won't require your constant attention during the heat of summer.

5. Flood trenches. With a hand-held hose, flood the trench channels for auxiliary or emergency watering during especially hot weather.

6. Plant by height. Locate short plants like lettuce to the south, and tall plants like corn, or trellised plants like peas, to the north. This way they will all get as much sun as they want, without shading each other.

7. Use shade created by plants. In summer you can use the shade to your advantage: Locate lettuce to the north of trellised cucumbers or squash so the lettuce will last for a couple of weeks longer before bolting (going to seed) because of the summer heat.

8. Grow up. Most veggies and flowers that grow taller than 1 foot will benefit from being coaxed into growing straight up. Vining veggies like cucumbers can suffer from soil-borne pests and diseases, so growing up avoids this. And they will produce more, growing up than when sprawled on the soil. However, for heavy crops, such as squash and melons, provide additional support for the fruit, such as with slings made of pantyhose.

9. Mulch. A 2-inch or thicker layer of mulch helps moderate soil temperature, retains moisture, and decomposes into humus that continually enriches the soil. Mulch also protects tender-leaved veggies like lettuce, and fruits like strawberries, from soil-borne pests and diseases.

10. Keep seeding. Sow lettuce and other veggies and flowers every three weeks in trays or in a separate bed so you'll always have transplants to tuck into empty spaces as you harvest.

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