If you get lost trying to figure out how to place vegetables in a raised bed, don't give up hope. There are ways to put space for food crops in almost any possible location!
While working for a food acquisition nonprofit in Washington, D.C., I drove around town in a large green pickup truck, affectionately known as "The Truck Farm." This farm on wheels is a small, thriving urban garden that we bring to community events, local libraries and schools as an educational tool to show kids where fresh food comes from.
We've grown leafy greens like spinach, aromatic herbs like basil, and gorgeous tomatoes to entice the kids to interact with them. Kids can even make their own salad with these ingredients! We also made several turns along the way. My colleague takes care of the garden and was a farmer before joining our team. He later expanded the program to include a transparent back door so kids could learn about root vegetables and observe worms in the soil! He is the real-life Ms. Frizier.
A truck farm is a tall raised garden that uses many of the principles of small space vegetable gardening, which we'll cover later in this article. For example, we added trellises to maximize vertical growth space and had to adapt the system to moving vehicles! We also take a lot of factors into consideration when choosing plants so that they can thrive in smaller spaces and be appropriate companions for each other. This little mobile vegetable garden brings a lot of joy and wonder to people's lives.
You don't have to wait for the perfect land to start developing your green thumb. You can buy containers like grow bags, or you can quickly assemble a modular wooden or metal raised bed. The key to having a large garden is getting started. Ultimately, it all pays off because nothing beats the taste of home grown tomatoes!
About vegetable spacing
Being able to balance water, nutrients, sunlight and space is critical to growing vegetables. When plants are crowded into confined areas, they naturally compete for these resources. In nature, some plants, especially trees, have evolved to release chemicals into the soil that inhibit the growth or germination of other plants nearby.
In your home garden, overcrowding can lead to small or no fruit, fragile plants, and more diseases and pests. Fungal diseases are especially prone to reaching adjacent vegetables if there is not enough air circulation in a confined space.
Raised Bed Plant Spacing Tips
When you pick up a seed bag, you'll find that the back or inside of the bag often contains information about the vegetables, such as soil pH, seed sowing depth, sunlight requirements, and how far each plant should be from its neighbors. If you grow your garden in containers or raised beds, you may be put off by spacing recommendations. I've seen some corn buns that recommend a row spacing of three feet, which is impossible for me since that's the full width of my raised bed!
These seed packs have row spacing requirements because in commercial farming, farmers need to be able to drive machines across their fields to plow, sow, water and harvest. Planted in widely spaced rows, it doesn't make much sense to the average home vegetable gardener. Don't throw away your seed pack as it still contains other valuable information, but you can follow the tips below to combine multiple ideas to customize your own garden.
Choose your seeds carefully
If space is a limiting factor in a vegetable garden, your first step should be to list what you want to grow and carefully choose varieties that will fit in a container or raised bed. For example, you may not be able to grow all types of winter squash because they tend to spread on the ground and take up a lot of space. However, you can choose varieties like bush acorn squash, which are more petite. Growing a decisive tomato variety may make more sense for your space than growing an indeterminate variety. For example, the Little Tim tomato is a dwarf cherry tomato that reaches a width and height of 24 inches when ripe and is a rich producer.
You also don't need to harvest plants when they are fully mature. Peas can be harvested for pods and sprouts. Beets like the popular early miracle variety have edible leaves that taste like beets. Radish vegetables are highly regarded in certain cuisines. You can grow many fruit or root vegetables specifically for greens and plant the seeds closer together. By coming up with new ideas for using crops, you can greatly increase the productivity of each bed.
You can also opt for early-maturing varieties if you want to put your raised bed garden on a super drive. Earlier varieties require fewer days to mature than later varieties. Lettuce is generally known for being fast growing, but even within this family, there is a great range. Butterfly lettuce can be harvested after 30 to 40 days, while Bibb lettuce can take up to 70 days. Many varieties are named for this attribute, including the aforementioned early miracle beet, early Xtra sweetcorn, early white Vienna kohlrabi, early snowball cauliflower, and more.
mounds to increase surface area
Small space gardening is not only about the width and length of your raised bed, but also the depth of the bed and the amount of vertical space you can create on top of your raised bed. Mounds are a way to increase the depth of the bed without further digging the soil.
The potato is a typical vegetable that will gradually accumulate more soil or compost as it grows. Potatoes form along the stem. By piling along the stem and covering some lower leaves, you create more surface area for the plant to produce a crop.
Applying Square Foot Garden Techniques
Square foot gardening is a gardening method developed in the late 1970s by Mel Bartholomew, a retired engineer and gardening enthusiast who was tired of wasting time, space and seeds. Throughout his engineering career, his job has been to make systems more efficient. He looked at his home garden through this lens of efficiency and questioned many gardening conventions of the time. The simplicity and accessibility of his plant spacing method began to take off, and his book became the principles of modern gardening.
A typical square foot garden uses 4-by-4-foot raised beds with clearly marked 12-by-12-inch grids with three to four feet between each bed. The bed is sized so that the typical gardener can reach out and comfortably care for the plants behind.
He specified that there should be clear and permanent guides every 12 inches to create a visible grid template. Each square can be further divided into four, nine or sixteen smaller squares, each containing a plant. Mel did the hard work of trying different flowers and vegetables and finally found the best spacing for them without compromising productivity.
Of course, different plants have different spacing requirements. For example, a cabbage needs the entire square foot to produce a full-sized head. Swiss chard, on the other hand, can be grown between four and a square foot, and so on. His book contains helpful guidelines for common vegetables, as well as master charts for when to direct seed, start seeds indoors, and transplant seedlings outdoors. We love this book so much that it's on our list of top garden books!
If you have an oval or round raised garden bed, you may want to skip the rows altogether.
Some of the benefits of using round or oval raised beds, like those available at the Epic Gardening Store, are their accessibility and aesthetic appearance from all sides. Keeping the circumference of the two raised beds the same, a round bed will have a larger surface area than a rectangular bed.
When planting a round or oval bed, you need to consider the perimeter of the shape and the concentric rings radiating from the center. For example, plant your most mature vegetables or perennials in the middle, surrounded by vegetables you'll harvest more frequently. Stacking the center with compost or soil creates a dome shape that creates more surface area in a raised garden. Likewise, you can add a cage or trellis to the center of a round bed and grow beans, peas, tomatoes, and other grape crops.
Another way to place plants in a round or oval bed is to stagger the plants. For example, if you are growing carrots and the seed package specifies 16-inch row spacing and 2-inch plant spacing, ignore row spacing entirely and use plant spacing only as a guide. Stagger carrots into diamonds so that each carrot is 2 inches from the nearest carrot. Repeat this staggered pattern on growing surfaces to optimize your space.
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