The Cranky Gardener

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Garden Planning 101: Tall or Wide or Side-by-Side1

What image springs to mind when you think about a vegetable garden? Chances are you visualize a large rectangle with straight rows of vegetables with broad paths between the rows. That is the traditional way to lay out a garden, and is still the best way if you have enough ground to make it practical. The straight rows are easy to plant and makes spacing of your plants and seeds easy to calculate. And the wide paths make it easy to water, cultivate and harvest your crops. But you wind up with more ground being used for paths than for vegetables.

If you're like me, you're gardening in your back yard, which means that space is at a premium. For this reason you will probably have to be more creative with your garden design. For many years I have used wide row planting as a means of using my space more efficiently. Most people make their rows three feet wide. I prefer to make mine 30 inches wide because I'm short and a three-foot row is hard for me to reach across. The exception is the row I intend to use for tomatoes. I make it 45 inches wide.

I like to allow 30 inches also for my paths, but I know people who have paths as narrow as 18 inches. The wider width lets me get my garden cart between my rows of vegetables. Remember, when the plants are full-grown, the tops will intrude into your paths, so if you use narrow paths you're going to be brushing against your vegetables.

I have a 30-inch row and a 30-inch path, so for planning purposes I have a five-foot working width. Shrubs near my vegetable plot have grown since I first laid out my plot, which made it necessary for me to measure it again this fall. I will have a rectangular plot 15 feet wide and 48 feet long. Since I don't want to put my vegetable rows right next to the lawn, I will come in 18 inches on all four sides. This gives me a working area of 12 feet by 45 feet. When I divide my length by 5, I discover that I have room for 9 wide rows of vegetables. And remember that I have the final path of 30 inches, which will be unnecessary, so I have those 30 inches to add to the width of two rows for tomatoes. I will have seven 30-inch rows and two 45-inch rows.

If your space is more conducive to curved beds, round beds, triangles, trapezoids or whatever, then by all means design them that way. Just make sure you leave yourself enough room to work. One of the prettiest and most successful gardens I ever had was a 30-foot square plot designed with L-shaped beds at the four corners and a round pyramid bed in the centre. Then the planting areas in between were trapezoids.

Now, before you decide what to grow in your vegetable plot (especially if your space is limited), I want you to be honest with yourself when answering a few questions.

  • Do we eat this vegetable often enough to make it worthwhile to grow it? I have a brother-in-law who loves to plant new things just for the heck of it. Take Kohlrabi. He'd always wondered what it tasted like, so he decided to grow some. Another year he grew sweet potatoes just because he'd never grown them before. And he's always experimenting with unusual varieties of tomatoes and peppers. This might be ok if you have plenty of gardening room. I succumbed to the temptation to grow Okra one summer because the plants are so decorative, even though I don't even like Okra. But for the most part it is a good idea to plant the things that you actually enjoy eating and eat often.
  • Is this vegetable readily available at the grocers for a reasonable price? If you are limited on space you may want to forgo planting those crops that are available year round for a fair price at the grocers. Examples of vegetables easily obtained in my area are Carrots, Cabbage, Potatoes, Onions, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Celery, Lettuce, Radishes, Spinach and Green Onions. Granted, the flavour and texture of homegrown will be better, but you need to plant those crops that are either hard to find at the grocers, are expensive, or are of poor quality.
  • Do you really have enough room to grow it? Some excellent vegetables are space hogs. Cucumbers, Squash and Corn are three of my favourite vegetables to grow. But in my current vegetable plot, I have eliminated the corn and have planted the Winter Squash and Cucumbers to grow vertically on bamboo teepees. Summer Squash is limited to two plants each of two varieties – White Patty Pan and Goldrush Hybrid Zucchini. Neither of these varieties is available locally for sale. Pumpkins also are space hogs, and unless you grow your tomatoes in cages or stake them, they will take up a large amount of space.
  • How many days will it take to mature? I love leeks. And they are expensive to purchase at the grocers. But I don't grow leeks any more because they take the entire season to mature. In order to get the most benefit from my garden plot, I practice succession or relay planting. This means that I begin a garden row in early spring by planting a cool-weather crop such as peas or lettuce, then when the vegetable is harvested I work some compost and manure into the soil and plant a warm-weather crop such as Peppers or Tomatoes in the same space. A crop that occupies the row for an entire growing season makes this impossible. So, determine how much time the varieties you select take to mature before you decide whether or not you want to plant them. And be aware that some varieties of the same vegetable will mature at different times. So, if your heart is set on growing tomatoes, for example, but your growing season is short, look for the varieties that mature the fastest.

I intended to talk about succession planting, crop rotation, and companion planting this week, but I'm about out of space. So, that will be next week's topic. I'll give you some suggestions for two-way and three-way relays and tell you which vegetables can be planted together and which ones can't.

We had a killing frost a few days ago, which means that I have green tomatoes to do something with. This week's recipe is for a delicious chutney that I've made for years. It is guaranteed to please.

Green Tomato Chutney2


  • 8 pounds - 3.6kg - green tomatoes
  • ¾ cup - 4½oz, 125g - chopped onions
  • 1 cup - 7oz, 200g - brown sugar
  • ¼ cup - 2oz, 50g - salt
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns or ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • ¼ cup - 1oz, 25g - mixed pickling spices
  • ½ clove garlic
  • 3 cups - 24floz, 720ml - white vinegar
  • 1 pound - 450g - apples
  • ¾ cup - 4oz, 125g - white raisins
  • ¾ cup - 6oz, 175g - sugar

Core and quarter the tomatoes. Combine in a large kettle with the onions, brown sugar, salt, peppercorns, pickling spices, garlic and vinegar.

Bring to a boil and boil for 15 minutes. Put through a colander or food mill to strain out the whole spices. Return to heat and simmer for four hours, until the mixture is thick and clear.

Core and chop the apples. Combine with the raisins and sugar. Simmer until the fruit is soft. Stir into the tomato mixture and pout into hot sterilized pint jars. Makes 4 pints.

The Cranky Gardener


13.11.03 Front Page

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1Plant names capitalised for clarity.2More recipes can be found here: Chutney

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