Many gardeners are finding out that by not following the straight and narrow they can triple, even quadruple, their vegetable harvest while spending less time weeding, watering, and feeding their plants. Gardens laid out in traditional long rows with packed-down walkways between may be pleasing to the eye but not necessarily to the plants that grow in them. Narrow rows restrict root growth and are prone to compaction and drying. Intensive gardening replaces rows with wide raised beds that are deeply cultivated and prepared with generous amounts of compost or manure, which creates an excellent environment for root growth, earthworm activity, and the microorganisms that break down organic matter into plant food. Plus, the soil in raised beds warms up quickly in spring, allowing for early planting.
You can surround the beds with cement blocks or timbers, or simply form six- to eight-inch-high mounds of earth. Each bed should be no more than three to five feet wide, so that you can work from each side without having to walk on the soil. Plants are grown close together so that they touch at maturity, forming a living mulch that shades out weeds and conserves soil moisture. While the plants are young, spread organic mulch, such as grass clippings or straw, between them.
You can take advantage of the space between slow-growing plants like squash or tomatoes by interplanting quick crops such as carrots, radishes, and lettuce; harvest them before the slow-growers mature. Succession planting ensures that every part of the garden stays productive during the entire growing season. Early plantings of lettuce, peas, and radishes can be followed by warm-season crops like peppers and beans.
Another way to coax more space from a garden and up its production is to go airborne. Growing tomatoes in cages and raising peas and pole beans on wire fences not only frees up ground space for other plantings, but also keeps the harvest clean. Cucumbers, squash, and melons can also be grown on fences and trellises to increase their yield, leaving a lot of gardeners thinking that they might just have a little growing up to do.