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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ways to Make a Garden Bigger Than It Really Is

There comes a time for every gardener when the numbers just don’t seem to add up the way they should.

I’ve been reviewing the list of vegetables I’m planning to grow in my vegetable garden, all 492 square feet of it, and am not sure that if you figure out about how much space each crop needs that it will come out to 492 square feet or less.

In fact, I’m pretty sure it will come out to be more than that. So, I’m going to have to do some ciphering, figuring, planning, and squashing to get it all to fit.

Speaking of squashing, I was surprised to find out that I had purchased five varieties of summer squash to plant. So far, I have plans to sow seeds for:

‘Cocozelle’: It’s an heirloom variety!

‘Lolita’: They described this one as ‘very refined’. I’m all about refinement.

‘Cue Ball’: I first grew these round balls of squash two summers ago. They are the first to produce and are very prolific.

‘Eight Ball’: This is a dark green round squash, a good companion for 'Cue Ball' which is light green.

‘Horn of Plenty’: I have to have a yellow squash, to go with the green squash.

I bought all of these from Pinetree Garden Seeds. They included the best size for picking in the descriptions and not a one of these is best at any size which is close to “big”. Remember that, everyone, pick the squash when it is small and it will taste better. Those big clubs of zucchini are signs of a gardener not paying attention. Shameful!

Now, if each hill of squash takes about three sq. ft, and I plant just one hill of each variety, that’s only 15 sq. ft in squash plants. But, I like to plant two hills of each, just in case, so that’s 30 sq. ft., which would be one of the 4’ x 8’ raised beds. But I’ve never tried to get ten hills of squash in one bed. I think the most was eight hills and that was a little crowded, so six hills in one bed is better. So now I’m thinking it will take one and a half 4’ x 8’ raised beds just for the squash.

And I haven’t even figured out the space for the corn, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, and peppers and the early spring crops, and the flowers, including giant sunflowers. And did I mention that in my 492 sq. ft, there’s one 4’ x 8’ bed that is all strawberries, and one 4’ x 4’ bed that I thought should have a small apple tree in the center of it, so that takes out 48 sq. ft. right off the bat.

You can see how the numbers aren’t adding up like they should. Some special planting tricks will be needed to make my garden act bigger than it is:

- Plant close to the edges of the raised beds. Let some of the plants hang out over the sides. My raised beds are only about six inches deep, so I figure roots that hit the side will just grow down and find more good soil to branch out into, under the paths. Yes, that soil might be a bit more compacted, but in my garden, it isn’t that compacted right next to the beds. It may also make walking around the garden a bit of a challenge, and you may have to leave the wheelbarrow off to the side, but for more vegetables, try it.

- Use the corners of the beds. I sometimes plant something that grows more upright in the corners of a bed of squash, like peppers or eggplant.

- Plant vegetables in the flower beds and borders. In other words, designate more space for vegetables. Some gardeners plant their vegetables in amongst the flowers not because they ran out of room in the vegetable garden, but just because that’s what they do. Vegetables are plants, too. Peppers would provide a nice green backdrop. Carrots with their fern-like foliage would look good around the flowers, too.

- Interplant some of the vegetables. Most gardeners have heard of the Three Sisters garden, where corn, pole beans, and squash are interplanted. It’s a little tricky to time the beans so that the corn is tall enough for them to climb up when they are ready to climb, but it can be done.

- Plant vertically if you can, it uses up less ground space. Okay, now I realize that it might have been better to buy seeds for vining cucumbers so I could grow them up instead of out like bush cucumbers. But I already have the bush cucumber seeds, ‘Homemade Pickles’ and ‘Spacemaster’.

Hey, do you know what this means? It means that I have room for some vertical crops. I could grow gourds, spaghetti squash, maybe even a vining cucumber variety or two in that vertical space, which will now seem neglected if I don’t.

I knew I needed more seeds!

Does anyone else have any tips for making a vegetable gardener bigger than it really is?

25 comments:

MA said...

Would you be so kind, to elaborate, and tell me WHY you need a yellow squash to go with the green? Wouldya?

Kylee said...

ACK! MATH! *runs away*

Oh...you asked a question, didn't you? All math aside...I work the veggies into my flower beds when I can. I also plant varieties that grow vertically or in a bush when I can.

Barb-Central Texas said...

I know the short-on-space feeling well, Carol.

Trellising is a good way to save square feet. I've successfully grown gourds on trellises and shall try squash this year.

Last year I trellised some cantaloupes. It worked well, plus the vines were very pretty. I used metal T-posts and welded wire fencing for the trellises. Easy to put up, easy to take down at the end of the season, and nice to look at when they're covered with flowering vines.

I also like to include vegetables in the flower gardens. Chiles and determinate tomatoes are quite attractive -- in fact, I've read that tomatoes were grown as ornamentals in European gardens for many years before people began using them as food.

Okra plants are pretty as well, when they're in flower, as are many beans.

Katie said...

Carol - this was great advice. Thank you!

Gardeness said...

I follow the square foot gardening method and often refer to Mel Bartholemew's book of the same name. It tell you how many seeds to plant per square foot, including accounting for vining plants. You know you can trellis pumpkins?! I'm also going to incorporate veggies in with the ornamentals. Many edibles have beautiful foliage so why not go with it! Great post, thanks.

Ewa said...

planting vertically gives more planting space true, but I think I really need more regular space for vegetables.
greeting,
ewa

Leslie said...

If you pick all the squash when it's small what do you use for 'zucchini toss for distance' games???

Chookie said...

I'd plant the sunflowers over the squashes, and I always plant corn and cucumbers together as the cucumbers need the shade. I can't imagine planting corn AND beans AND squash together as squashes are garden thugs here! And you don't mention succession planting; is that not possible in your climate?

Hope your numbers work out!

Frances said...

Hi Carol, we are doing the exact thing here too. The diagram has been drawn of the veggie garden and the numbers are not adding up! The veggies are going to have to spill over in to the flower beds. I have been cogitating over which ones to place where. We both will be eating well this summer! :-)
Frances

Daphne said...

Well since you asked about making the vegetable GARDENER bigger. I'll recommend zucchini bread, blueberry muffins and pumpkin pie. Oh and lots of potatoes. ;> But in all seriousness I'm having the same issues too. My biggest problem is that I want to keep my rotations mostly intact since we are so humid and get so many diseases. Usually I plant my tomatoes and peppers together. Tomatoes in the back and peppers in the front for the wide row. This year carrots are going down the middle and will be pulled before the peppers and tomatoes grow into it. I'm going to put basil in between some of my tomatoes at the edge of the beds. I'm doing a three sister's plot. And I'm thinking of ways to make my 4x4 potato area go up a bit for a larger harvest (wood or wire). I might also steal parts of my perennial bed for more tomatoes. Tomatoes are my flaw this year. I have way, way too many.

Dave said...

Good ideas! Can your family eat that many squashes? We had three plants and had way more than we could eat. Of course that's not a bad thing. You can bet this year is going to be an important year to maximize veggie crops.

Rose said...

Carol, I have an easy solution to make my vegetable garden bigger--I just till up more of the yard:) I'm not as ambitious a veggie gardener as you, so so far this has not been a problem. I've seen trellises and arbors in other small gardens, though, and was amazed at what all can be grown vertically.
The burning question for me, though, is what do you do with all that squash??

Amber said...

I also use the square foot gardening method and raised 6" beds. My plans for planting are posted here. Don't know if it will help though! That's a lot of squash! I have the additional problem of wanting to save seeds from my heirloom veggies - so have to isolate varieties. In addition to this bed, I have a "cool weather" bed and 2 more beds with various varieties of squash and watermelon.

PlantBuddy said...

Hi Carol, I garden in zone 5. Last summer had lots of luck growing eggplant in containers.

vertie said...

Can you trellis any of those squash? I am thinking of trying that this summer.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I need to try the interplanting veggies with perennial flowers method. Whatever I try with this is going to have to be a very attractive plant.

inadvertent farmer said...

I use the fences around the garden area a lot. I have grapes trained on them. I grow gourds on them. I have espaliered apples along one. It is amazing what you can grow along a fence past the garden paths and the raised beds

I can't wait to see what you can cram in your garden! Kim

Patsi said...

Nice selection of seeds.
I do have one idea to get more space out of limited space which my husband did with his tomato beds.
First, like yours...raised beds are a must.
Second, I remember reading that all you need to move around furniture in your home is 18 inches...so that is the size of the walking space in between the beds.
It's been working for 6 years now!!
What to see? Go to my husbands "Heirloom Tomatoes" blog on my page.

Rosella said...

Containers! I interplant veggies with perennials and annuals, and this year I have a very nice spot against the garage door (no, we don't put the car in there) with lots of sun and I am going to put some big handsome containers there for peppers, cherry and small tomatoes--Totem from Pine Tree Gardens is a nice pingpong ball-sized tomato, cucumbers, some Thumbelina carrots, and one zucchini -- husband HATES it, so it's just for me. Other containers on patio for basil and other herbs. Lettuce already started in improvised cold frame

Eggplant, tomatoes, beans, both bush and pole, sunflowers, cosmos, marigolds, and Cocozelle squash in perennial bed. Eggplants are very decorative, and pole beans make a great backdrop for flowers. Anyway, that's my plan.

Carol said...

Thanks all for the great comments and the additional ideas. I think I'm going to have a garden that seems twice as big this year.

Oh, and all that squash... I'll give a lot of it away.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Meems said...

Hi Carol,
Just finished planting out my veggie garden yesterday (except for succession planting space). After I had all the veggies seeds in place and my map filled in with where each plant is - I went back and filled in every space in between with wildflower seeds. I'm sure I've overplanted using every edge and corner, too. But I'd rather do that than the other way around. I've also planted some veggies in the back yard perennial bed this year. There was just no way to make all those seeds fit in the side yard designated for the veggie garden.
Thanks for the great information.
Meems

Anonymous said...

Dear Carol, I am a brand new zone 5 vege gardener and have thought about getting some dwarf apple trees and espalier them on the side by the fence to save room in the general vege garden. I am reading up on this and you can do pears and apples and have really smal dwarf trees that would not get that tall and be easy picking. I guess it takes time and some pruning the designs are so cool. What do you think ???
LK

Jane Ellis said...

If you are planning to home-grow tomatoes this year, I highly recommend The Tomato Stake.

www.thetomatostake.com

Its easier to use than metal cages or towers, stronger than bamboo sticks, and wont rot or splinter like wood stakes.

Happy Gardening!

garden girl said...

Lots of good tips! I have way more seeds than space, but I'll plant what I can using trellises, succession planting, square-foot gardening (without the grid,) and I will probably use some of the pots I usually plant annuals in for tomatoes and peppers next to the garage where the veggie bed is.

I'm tall and have long arms, and with a bed only 4' wide I should be able to reach everything without having to walk in the bed, so all available space will be planted, including right up to the edge of the bed.

robbie said...

These are great tips! Thanks!

(And why do you need 5 packs of squash? I get the yellow summer squash vs. zucchini but still...)