Square-Foot Gardening, Double-Cropping, Vertical Gardening & Integrated Pest Management

I have been working very hard planting out all of my spring vegetables, which have been growing in pots since late January. Gradually stepping up my seedlings into larger pots increases the size of their root systems. This gives my plants a greater chance of survival once they are planted. Mature root systems give your plants extra stability and can help stave off diseases and insect problems. Those of you, whom have still not planted out your garden, are running out of time. If you did not grow your plants from seed, then you will need to purchase starter plants from the garden center. Look for plants, which are in at least one-gallon containers to place into the garden now. In this article, I will go over several gardening techniques you may or may not be familiar with. I will also explain the importance of regular monitoring of your plants and integrated pest management or IPM. Let’s get started.

            All the planting methods I will be describing below can be utilized in the home gardens we all share. Some of these methods may sound different than you have used in the past or could be described as being borderline commercial in practice, but all methods can and will produce the crops desired as long as you continue to maintain the crop with the necessary plant nutrients and pest-control methods to keep your plants healthy. The bonus to you the consumer is to benefit from additional harvests of fresh vegetables for the kitchen. The first method I want to talk about is called double-cropping.

            Double-cropping is a method of gardening that is used both commercially and in home gardens to produce twice the harvest of vegetables by planting a second crop in the same space an initial crop has been harvested. In the first part of this example, vegetables are planted closely together in two or more rows and are spaced up to a foot apart depending on the crop. Examples of this can be found online and may help you decide which plants to use. Plants grown in this way will complement each other and can be treated as individuals. Onions, kohlrabi, kale, collard greens, carrots, spinach, turnips, and beets are all examples of vegetables that can be used. Similar-sized plants grown together will bear best results. I like to use onions and carrots grouped together and collard greens with spinach.   

            My second example of double-cropping is where vegetables are planted following the last harvest of an existing crop without having to remove the prior crop or replenishing soil nutrients. Cucumbers are commonly planted following tomatoes, eggplant, or bell peppers. Additionally, cucumbers have different disease problems than tomatoes or eggplants, and they can grow on the small trellises used to prop up these prior crops. Planting over existing crops also saves you money on pest control, disease control, and fertilizers, including the labor and expense of purchasing additional support structures. Please make sure that if you have decided to use this type of gardening, then you need to place your larger crops on the outer edges of the garden, and make sure the sun will not be blocked from reaching the shorter vegetables. The next planting method I want to talk about is called square-foot gardening.

            Probably the most talked about gardening method I see being used is called square-foot gardening. Square-foot gardening uses all available space in a garden. Rows and spaces between plants are eliminated to maximize production. A small four by four-foot garden properly planted out can produce as much as a garden twice its size. Because these gardens are based on four feet by four feet, planting, harvesting and maintenance can be easily performed from the edges of the garden. Once the garden is constructed, you can secure lattice over the top to create sixteen one-foot individual sections you will plant your vegetables in. Taller plants should be positioned as not to shade the smaller plants when the sun is overhead. A trellis built up over the garden can be used to support and tie off cucumbers, tomatoes, cantaloupe, beans and other vining plants.           

            The larger a plant is at maturity, the more room you will need for it to grow. Tomatoes may take up a single square of the garden and should be planted in the middle of the square. You may be able to grow four to six collards in one square, forty carrots in another, and fifteen onions in another. The choices are endless, and your imagination is your only guide. If you want suggestions on what or when to plant, then look to the internet with options for you to consider. You can even find instructions on building your square-foot garden, including examples of larger gardens with trellises. One great attribute about these gardens is weeds do not have room to grow or multiply. Even pests and diseases are easy to spot and control. The next garden type I want to discuss is called vertical gardening.

            Vertical gardening is very useful in yards with little space for raised beds or in areas where irregular elevations do not allow level growing areas. There are two types of vertical gardens I want to discuss. The first type involves using vegetables, which are trained to grow “up” instead of “out,” saving you much of the room you would otherwise need to grow a traditional garden.

            Start your vertical garden with containers, which are at least eight to twelve inches deep but are narrow. You can also use trellises made of wood or steel to provide a platform for your plants to climb. These trellises can be mounted to the planting containers or as an “A” frame mounted back to back then secured to the ground. I have also seen people using twine and eye hooks mounted to the ceiling to support the vines. Cucumbers, tomatoes, acorn squash, loofah sponges, chayote squash, lima beans, green beans, and peas are a few plants you can use as climbers. The second variety of vertical garden I want to discuss is normally called a “wall-garden.”

            Wall gardens involve much more work, but the results are very impressive. Pre-fabricated growing bags are used and mounted to supports to give you the finished look of an entire wall that is alive. Several companies offer various sizes of bags to give you more choices of what you want to plant and different configurations you can use to accommodate any situation. Grower supply houses sell wall mounted vertical gardens that have up to ninety six individual bags. Just fill with soil and plant your favorite vegetable, flower, or foliage plant to give you a wall of color. Most manufacturers supply mounting hardware to secure the product to any type of wall, concrete or other. Attachable grow bags are resistant to water, oxidation, and corrosion. All products are reusable for up to seven years of enjoyment. Just water and watch your plants grow.  

            Regular monitoring of your garden for pests is important to the health and productivity of your garden. The gardening methods described here offer homeowners the unique ability to scout for insects and diseases because of the close proximity of the plants. Unfortunately, this also offers pests and diseases the ability to do damage much quicker. Integrated Pest Management, or I.P.M., teaches us to monitor insect activity and employ various control methods to limit pest populations. Removing infested plants and using biologicals to control pests instead of randomly applying pest-control products, is one of I.P.M.’s methods of control. Cultural, structural, non-toxic forms of pest management, and even limited use of pesticides all are part of a good I.P.M program. Always look at all of your options in controlling pests before applying an insecticide.

            There are many alternatives for you in planting a garden. Double-cropping, square foot gardening, and vertical gardening are only a few methods you can use. Just make sure you monitor your gardens regularly and try to employ I.P.M. techniques to keep your plants healthy. Good luck and remember, without plants we would not be here.

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