More Food in Less Space
Back in the 1970ís the average backyard vegetable
garden was about 100 square feet. Now it is typically 200 square feet. New
houses tend toward smaller yards, so the farm model of growing food and
the generous space if required has become obsolete. Contemporary vegetable
gardening borrows the best design ideas from the past, while incorporating
new technology and materials to make smaller vegetable gardens easier to
manage, and more productive.
Two ways to coax more production from limited space is
by borrowing from old cultures the concepts of raised beds and vertical
growing. Shifting a garden layout from rows to raised beds almost doubles
the available growing area, as most of the ground formerly devoted to
paths is dedicated to production. Growing food vertically to exploit the
airspace above the garden again almost doubles its effective production
area. This configuration facilitates the use of soaker hose irrigation,
woven fabric mulches and other space age materials to dramatically reduce
the amount of work involved in producing crops.
Raised beds are permanent, rectangular plots holding
soil that remains loose and rich because it is never compacted by foot
traffic. Paths between beds are also permanent. While they require a
significant investment of physical labour to dig and box, they do not have
to be dug again every year. Raised beds promise years of virtually instant
bed preparation and easy planting each spring. Try one bed at first. Dig
it in the fall when the weather is cool, then add more beds over time.
Because their excellent soil permits intensive planting, it will not be
necessary to have a big a garden overall as before.
Making Raised Beds
Lay out the bedís dimensions with stakes and string.
A width of 3 or 4 feet is a comfortable reach from either side for most
adults. Lengths of 8 or 12 feet (conveniently allowing for even spaced
trellis supports every 4 feet) are most adaptable to the typical backyard.
Begin digging with the string at one end, cultivating the soil to a
depth of at least a foot--deeper is better. If working in a turf area, put
aside pieces of sod for the compost pile.
Working backward to avoid stepping on newly dug soil,
turn over shovelful of soil and mound them in loose pile within the
measured dimensions of the bed. This is a good time to incorporate organic
material such as compost, peat moss, or chopped leaves into the soil.
Overachievers may wish to double dig the bed, but it is not required.
Designate at least 3 feet for path area around the bed.
Scrape off the valuable top few inches of topsoil from the paths and mound
it on the newly dug bed to increase its height, then spread wood chips or
gravel, or lay bricks in the path to eliminated future problems with mud.
Rake and level the surface of the mounded soil in the bed and it is ready
A layer of straw or chopped leaves will protect the
soil over the winter and discourage erosion of the mounded soil into the
paths. While it is not necessary, boxing each bed with 2 by 10 inch wooden
planks prevents erosion most effectively, making beds easier to manage and
looks more attractive. Boxed sides also provide a place to fasten fixtures
to permit quick attachment of sturdy vertical supports for various crops.
Reasons to Use Boxed Raised Beds:
Maintain soil texture
Do not need annual digging
Heat up earlier in the season
Use water and fertilizer more efficiently
Improve soil drainage
Permit intensive planting
Are neat and accessible
Support trellises securely
Permit use of shade cloth or plastic tents
Avoids soil compaction due to foot traffic
The Value of Vertical
Another way to maximize production in limited space is to exploit the
air space above the garden bed. Combined with raised beds the potential
for dramatically increased production with vertical growing is enormous.
Plants grown vertically can be planted more closely together and produce
more in the rich, friable soil of a properly managed raised bed.