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Intensive Vegetable Gardening

By Carmina Arney, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

When you live on a small city lot, vegetable gardening takes on new meaning. You learn just how much produce you can reap from small spaces.

Two rules are mandatory:

  • Intermingle plants for optimum performance

  • Don't plant in straight rows.

A third rule, also important, is to garden in raised beds. For best results, the beds should be about two feet deep and be amended with organic compost. These beds will drain faster and heat up earlier in the spring. The problem of soil compaction also is minimized. A suggested size for beds is about 12 feet long and four feet wide. This provides enough growing room and allows for access from both sides.

From the end of March on, you can plant a "salad" in the beds. Toss in seeds of radish, onion, Swiss chard, lettuce and carrot, mingled together. Radishes will mature first; harvest them along with thinnings of green onions. Be sure to thin out other vegetables. As the season progresses, eat your other vegetables and enjoy the carrots in the fall.

In April or May, plant sugar snap peas and let them climb on make-shift trellises of broken branches. Among the peas, plant dill seed; they seem to find their way up to the sun.

In April, you can set out walls-o-water and fill them with water. By leaving them for two weeks, the water heats the soil beneath, so tomatoes can be set out in early May. At the end of May, remove the walls-o-water, and install tomato cages. For good measure, sprinkle some basil seeds between the tomatoes. In the heat of June, they can germinate rapidly

Seed winter and summer squashes during the first two weeks of may, and toss some parsley seeds in between. Behind the squashes, plant corn intermingled with bush beans. You also can sow a second round of onion seeds among the beans. Use soaker hoses to keep all this watered throughout the summer. The height variation of the different vegetables being planted so close together keeps the soil at a constant temperature and moisture level. This foliage canopy also keeps the raised beds virtually free of weeds. As fall approaches, clean the beds of spent plants and re-seed the area with lettuce. Fall also is a great time to plant garlic, arugula and radicchio, as well as to harvest the winter squashes.

Intensive gardening means not being able to see a patch of soil among all the plantings. This provides a greater yield than planting in traditional rows. The deep friable soil allows roots to stretch deeply while the tops luxuriate in the sun. As your garden matures through the summer, the variety of plants should make your raised bed resemble a vintage patchwork quilt.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010