organic gardening

@onlyyoudear asked: Hi! I was just hoping to get your advice on some raised bed gardening. In the past I’ve done just traditional gardens, but this year am building four 4'x8’ raised beds to hopefully have a more plentiful harvest. I’ve seen everywhere that people say you can plant things closer together in raised beds, but no one says HOW much closer together you can plant things. Do you have any recommendations on this? For instance how close do you think you could plant two indeterminate tomato plants? Thanks so much! Hope your planting adventures get to begin soon!! 

Okay, so this is probably going to wind up being rather lengthy, and I apologize for that.  But I have several different suggestions for planting, and you’ll have to test them out to see what works best for you.  

If you’re looking to follow “the rules” of garden spacing, I highly recommend looking into square foot gardening.  I’ve found that SF Gardeners follow the playbook pretty closely and swear by it. They have everything covered from plant spacing to soil mixes for the ultimate growing experience.  In other words, someone did their homework.  I’d done some reading into it myself after several gardeners convinced me that it was “The Way”.  And in some aspects, it was.  If you’re working with smaller spaces and want to really cram as much as you can in there, by all means, give it a go.  In my experience, SFG showed me just how closely you can place certain plants (for example, I’d always given peppers more room than they needed and wound up with a lot of wasted space), but for others I felt like it was just too cramped.  Also, if you like clean lines, neat rows, and order in your garden, this might be the plan for you.  I planted a garden two years ago that did not stray from the rules and didn’t care for it overall, so now I use the spacing rules loosely, and focus more on crop rotation and companion planting as my methods of choice.

You’d asked about indeterminate tomatoes.  SFG will have you allow 2 square feet per plant, which sounds completely asinine, and frankly, it is.  Unless you’re going to prune your plants back to force them to stay within this space, it’s just not enough room.  I wound up with a huge mess, more fruit loss than I care to admit, and so much unnecessary work when it came time to take the garden down in the fall.  That’s not to say that SFG failed me, but rather, my pruning theories didn’t match what is required for this type of gardening.  With tomatoes, I feel like you can never give them enough space, but I guess that all depends on how you prune.  Do you remove suckers?  Do you allow the plants to just take over all willy nilly like? 

I start off with good intentions and prune in the beginning, but once those plants start taking off and producing fruit, I tend to leave them alone, adding support as the plants get bigger. I fertilize with egg shells, ground dried banana peel, Epsom salts, and a large fish head in the planting hole. This sends the plant into overdrive, making for massive, towering monsters like I’d never seen before, and more fruit than I knew what to do with.  Last year, I had two indeterminate plants in a 4 x 8 bed (okay per SFG rules), and not only did they start growing into one another, but they heaved soil out of the raised bed and began crawling across my mulch path.  This year I’ll plant one tomato plant in that 4 x 8 bed, and maybe pop some basil in there, hoping for the best.  

So I guess what I’m getting at is that you can follow the rules that someone else set up, but there are so many variables in each gardener’s space and style that will determine the success or failure of those methods.  I’d mentioned companion planting earlier on, and I really think this is more important than anything else.  You’re looking to plant certain things together, or keep certain plants apart based on their ability to attract or repel insects, prevent disease, etc.  I find that I can ignore the SFG spacing rules on, say, basil planting, and kind of cram them into a space that is shared with tomatoes.  I’ve never had a problem with overcrowding, and aside from the random hornworm invading the space, the basil keeps a lot of other bugs and critters away.  I am guilty of breaking SFG rules and popping lots of flowers into the provided growing space of my veggie garden in the hopes that they will attract pollinators, and have never had a problem with that either.  You could also take into consideration the Native American “Three Sisters” method of pairing, say, beans, corn, and squash planted closely together.  The corn acts as the trellis, allowing the beans to climb up its stalk, and the squash grows beneath them, shading the ground and keeping weeds in check.  This is a traditional method that is proven to be effective.   It’s all trial and error, and you have to figure out what works best for you in your space.

So my short answer is this:  give tomatoes and brassicas as much space as you can afford (or be strict with pruning to keep their size in check), never crowd root veggies, but allow yourself to take liberties with plants like peppers, herbs and climbers (like cukes, beans, peas).  I am guilty of cramming a lot of these things into my growing space, and aside from the few extra minutes I have to give up to ensure that everyone gets watered and weeded sufficiently, the only downside I’ve encountered is difficulty when harvesting.  Densely planted plants hide fruit!  Also remember that you can maximize spacing by growing up via vertical trellising or plant in a triangular pattern instead of squares, which allows you to put at least one more plant in any given space.I really hope this helps!  If any other gardeners want to chime in, I’d love to hear your input!

Do you like organic gardening? Then you’ll appreciate this colorful and super helpful chart. It’s all about companion planting, an easy and effective permaculture technique that will help your vegetable garden flourish. The idea is that certain plants grow especially well together (and repel pests). Try it! You’ll probably become a convert to companion planting, like me.

A Vegetable Growing Cheat Sheet

This brilliant info-graphic gives some great tips to start growing vegetables. You might want to check about the months for planting listed for your zone, but the rest of the tips are relevant no matter where you live!

10 Things this Vegetable Growing Cheat Sheet will show you

  1. When to plant
  2. How far apart to plant seeds
  3. What needs propagating
  4. What needs to be in a greenhouse
  5. What size pot to plant in
  6. Distance to thin seedlings out to
  7. Germination & maturation times
  8. Which pests to look out for
  9. What veg works best together
  10. When to harvest!

Growing your own food instills a true sense of the value of food, and it’s not difficult. Large yards with plenty of sun can grow enough vegetables and herbs to significantly supplement your household needs, and even small homes and apartments can have herb pots.

​A Vegetable Growing Cheat Sheet: