Plant spacing and reduced water use
This week’s video on “Grow Food with Less Water” examines the pros and cons of conventional plant spacing, a practice borrowed by gardeners from large-scale farmers. It also discusses how proper plant spacing maximizes yields and reduces the amount of water necessary for palnts to thrive.
What is the right spacing for each vegetable?
Spacing vegetables is one of the most important components of successful gardening. In order to grow a strong and healthy plant, the gardener must provide sufficient space both for roots to grow below ground, and for vegetation to grow above ground.
For more than thirty years, John Jeavons, director of the Ecology Action Center in Willits, CA, has done significant research to determine the best ways to space a variety of edible plants. The results are published in his acclaimed book,How to Grow More Vegetables, Eighth Edition: (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You … (And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains,)
One practice that has proven particularly effective is companion planting ( also called inter-planting), in which multiple plant species are planted together. This is basically pairing of plants with minimal competition. These companion planting techniques can improve yields and taste, while simultaneously reducing pest problems.
However, designing a garden bed that caters to the particular spacing needs of multiple plants can be difficult and time consuming. For this reason, Kentucky State University has published an online, downloadable plant spacing calculator that makes the job fast and easy.
The drawings used in this week’s video are from the 1927 book Root Development of Vegetable Crops by John Weaver and William Bruner. The book’s illustrations are invaluable in helping a gardener understand what is going on below the soil level. This book, along with many other useful books on farming from the public domain, can be found in The Holistic Agriculture Library.
Giving each plant the right amount of space can even reduce the amount of water needed in the garden. Proper spacing will create natural mulch above the ground and a moist environment for the roots. In this way, one can maximize a garden’s yield while using minimal water. These guidelines, along with the proper amount of water and nutrients, will meet the needs of the plant and allow for healthy growth.
Update June 3, 2014
As soon as this post was published, several people asked about companion planting. The companion planting page on Wikipedia lists a lot of plants. You will notice much of their work references this classic book Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening.
I have had Great Garden Companions: A Companion-Planting System for a Beautiful, Chemical-Free Vegetable Garden since 2010 and still refer to it.