Making the Most of a Small Garden Plot
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Maybe you want to make the most of a small garden plot. Maybe you've heard of wide rows or seen them in someone else's garden and you want to try planting that way. Whatever your reason for trying wide rows, you're likely to find that your garden will produce more. The reason isn't hard to figure out -- more of your garden is dedicated to crops and less to walkways between rows.
How wide is wide? It's whatever works for you, so you might want to experiment with row widths ranging from 12 to 36 inches and see which you prefer. The aim is to make each row no wider than you can comfortably reach halfway across so you can tend it -- plant, weed, harvest, etc. -- without a great deal of stretching. If you can reach it from one side only -- because it's backed up to a fence, for instance -- it must be narrower so you can reach all of it from one side.
Most common vegetables can be planted in wide rows, those grown from transplants as well as those grown from seed, as long as you maintain the recommended spacing between plants.
With transplants, you simply set them into the garden so each one is, say, 16 inches away from any other. Whether you plant a zigzag row or two or three staggered rows is up to you.
With plants grown from seed, you can either broadcast the seed and cover it lightly or sow it in rows within the wide row. An advantage of planting rows within rows is that it makes it easy to tell seedling crop plants from seedling weeds. At least with large-seeded crops such as peas and beans, it may be easier to achieve the desired spacing if you plant in rows. And the spacing makes cultivation for weed control easier. If you're accustomed to controlling weeds with a tiller walked between the rows, you may find yourself doing more hoeing and hand weeding with wide rows because there will be weeds coming up in more places where the tiller doesn't fit.
An advantage of wide rows is that they tend to make efficient use of mulch, fertilizer and irrigation. A given amount of mulch serves more plants because they're closer together. Likewise, a midsummer side-dressing of nitrogen can serve two rows within a wide row rather than a single row of plants and the weeds in the walkway between rows. It's also easier to water just the crop plants when they're concentrated rather than widely spaced.
For ease of both irrigation and mechanical cultivation, keep row widths constant even when you change crops. When early-harvested crops are finished, replant the space with cool-weather crops for a fall harvest, maintaining the wide row format.
There's no rule that wide rows have to be straight or planted only with vegetables. Plant your wide rows in broken circles or arcs or S-curves, intersperse vegetables with annual herbs or flowers if you like -- just make sure you can get to each block of plants to tend and harvest your crops.
What you choose to do may depend on whether you're production oriented or you garden for enjoyment. If maximum production is your goal, you may find straight rows more efficient. If you garden for the pleasure of it and want to try a more non-traditional approach, go for it -- it's your garden, after all.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office