How to get the most out of the space in your garden

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I just planted my vegetable garden last weekend, and to my surprise, I still didn’t have as much space as I thought. Despite growing fewer varieties of vegetables and reducing the number of plants, a couple of things had to be planted elsewhere.

It’s nice to have the option to expand your garden or create a separate space for crops that didn’t make it into your garden, but many gardeners face space limitations and don’t have those options. Fortunately, there are ways to make the most out of the space you have and planting techniques to successfully grow more food with a smaller garden.

Interplanting

Interplanting is a way to grow different varieties of vegetables in the space at the same time. It can be done by alternating rows, mixing plants within a row or distributing them throughout your entire garden.

One way to decide which plants might work well together is to consider the number of days it takes different species to mature. Mixing fast-growing plants with slow-growing plants make it possible to harvest one crop before the other takes up the space the first one was utilizing. 

Some successful interplanting combinations based on maturity date include tomatoes and peppers with lettuce, radishes or scallions planted in between or Brussels sprouts with radishes or beets planted in between.

Be sure to factor the light nutrient and moisture requirements of the vegetables you are interplanting to make sure they will have a symbiotic relationship. A good example of compatible interplanting is mixing onions, carrots and lettuce. These vegetables have similar moisture requirements, different root depths and varying leaf structures that accommodate their individual light needs.

Another way to interplant is by grouping plants that compliment each other or companion planting. Not only does companion planting maximize space, but it also benefits your garden by providing nutrients, attracting pollinators and beneficial insects and luring pests away from other food crops.

Planting beans and peas with corn stalks is a great example of companion planting. The corn stalks provide a trellis system for the beans and peas to grow up and the beans and peas return nitrogen to the soil for the corn. Another example is planting herbs such as basil, parsley and rosemary or root vegetables such as carrots or onions with tomatoes.

Relay planting

A second strategy to make good use of garden space is relay planting. By staggering the planting dates or plants or seeds, you can ensure a continuous harvest throughout the growing season. You can ensure a new crop will be ready as an earlier one nears its end by planting in two-week intervals. Mesclun greens, Swiss chard, beets, bush beans, carrots, cucumbers, radishes and summer squash are vegetables to consider relay planting.

Succession planting

Succession planting is the practice of planting new crops in space left behind after crops that mature earlier are harvested. Planting corn in place of peas and squash in place of spinach are a couple of examples of succession planting.

 You could take this a step further and plan a three-season garden, which would include planting cool-season crops such as broccoli and peas in early spring, replacing those with summer crops like tomatoes and peppers and planting more cool-season crops in the fall after the summer crops have been harvested. If you choose to attempt a three-season approach, keep in mind shorter days in the fall and fewer daylight hours. Plants grow slower, so you should add a week or two to the days-to-maturity estimate for your fall crops.

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

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