by Ginger Baer
For many years vegetable gardens were spacious, spread out and required a lot of weeding, water and upkeep. I loved my BIG garden, but hated the weeding and tried many methods to cut down on that kind of work. It wasn’t until I moved to the mountains and joined our community garden that I actually tried intensive gardening (due to the fact that my space was limited). Each garden plot measured 4' X 12', a far cry from my 20' x 20' garden at a lower elevation.
The most important part of selecting your garden location is location. You need to have plenty of sunlight, well-drained soils and availability to water. Leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, require the least direct sunlight, only 4 to 5 hours. Root vegetables require 5 to 6 hours, and fruiting vegetables (such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini) require at least 8 hours. In Colorado, water can be a challenge unless you have water rights. This is why I have a plot in the Gilpin County Community Garden. They provide the water.
If one has plenty of space, water, time and energy, row gardening can be a great way to garden. It does require a bit of money to amend the soil, maintain and water. I had successfully gardened this way for many years. You will need to be sure that your rows are straight (you can use a string for your layout) because this will make tilling between the rows easiest. In this style of garden, you will need to take care that you don’t walk on the rows as to avoid compaction of the soil, which will inhibit root growth.
Until recently, mechanical tillers were the recommended method for turning the soil. Recently, however, it is recommended that you hand till the beds with either a garden fork or a broad fork. This can be labor and time intensive if your garden is large, however, you are minimizing the chances for compaction (by footsteps and heavy equipment). If this is your style of garden, then by all means, go for it.
For me, however, I have really loved my smaller, intensive garden. Square foot gardening is a trend that started out in the 1970’s and 1980’s and was developed by Mel Bartholomew.  This method has been further developed and there is a garden note from CSU Extension on what is called Block Style Garden.  I have adopted this style of gardening in my community garden plot. The idea of this style of gardening is to maximize yields for the space allotted. In your space you should lay out a plan to plant crops with an equal-distance space between neighboring plants in both directions. In doing so you will also need to consider the sunlight requirements of each of your plants.
Another consideration is how much room each plant requires for growing. Lettuce, radishes and carrots are ideal for block gardening, whereas squash and vining vegetables such as cucumbers may require too much space. One thing that can help with those types of plants is a trellis. Remember the direction of the sunlight when using this method so that you do not shade the other plants in your garden.
Due to the fact that there is such intensity in your plantings you will need to be sure that you maintain the richness of your soil. Concentrate on improving soils with routine applications of organic matter and get soil testing along the way to be sure that you have a correct balance.
Block style gardens are well suited for both in-the-ground plots or raised beds. As mentioned above, I started mine in a plot that measured 4 ft x 12 ft and it was in the ground. In this plot, I was able to grow onion, lettuce, spinach, arugula, carrots, peas, radishes, turnips, beans, squash and a cherry tomato.
|Raised beds in Community Garden
The community garden also offers raised beds by way of galvanized water troughs measuring 3 ft x 10 ft. I love mine! Last year I grew onions, carrots, radishes, lettuce, arugula, peas, beans, squash and cucumber. One error I did make was to grow too many squash plants, and you know how those squash multiply (keep your car windows closed!). The squash really spread and overtook the cucumber plants and beans. One plant will be enough in the bed this year.
Whatever method you decide to use, it is always a good idea to layout your garden plan with pencil and paper. This way you will be sure of how much room you have for your plants and you will also have a good record from one year to the next of what you grew, what did well, and what did not. Make the most of your space and happy gardening!