Traditionally people in our country have grown vegetables in large fields with lots of space between the rows. City gardening is something totally different. Here we have to make the most of the small spaces of land we can get and the best way to do that is to build beds that you never step on.
Raised beds can double you yield. A bed should be between 1 and 1.5 meter wide so that you can work in it without stepping on the soil. There are different ways of creating a raised bed, here you get two alternatives.
- In many countries people have for a long time used the technique of double-digging. You start this by marking exactly where you want the bed. Then you start the digging and dig a trench at one end of the bed. You remove the soil and put it on a barrel and carry it to the other end of the bed. Where you have removed the soil you put the fork into the ground and loosen the soil even deeper down. Then you put as much organic material as you have i.e. leaves, grass, weeds, hay, manure etc. in the trench. Now you dig a new trench close to the first one but this time you don’t have to take the soil away. You just put it on top of the organic material.
You go for the same procedure with the whole bed, putting in organic material and filling up with soil from the next trench. At the end you use the soil that you transported there from the first trench.
- Another, easier method is to build the bed on the ground. Start by digging a shallow trench where you want the bed. Take the top soil up and keep it by the side. Then you start building a compost heap. Start off with branches and stems in the bottom. Then you put whatever material you have that can compost. The best way is to start building the heap in the autumn when you are cleaning up in you garden. Then you just continue in the spring with leaves etc. In April or may you can put the soil back on the heap. Then you plant or sow for instance squash and pumpkins that love to grow on a compost heap. Next year the compost has transformed into soil and you have raised bed without heavy digging. Now it is very good for growing roots like carrots and parsnips.
When we grow veggies we try to do it in a natural way and to copy the techniques that life itself uses. In nature many plants grow together and give each other support in different ways. We also try to grow different plants together for support but also for getting the most out of the soil.
We have beds that are 1.20 meters wide where we can have two “main rows” and two or three “side rows”. In the main rows we grow veggies that need a long time to get ready. In the side rows we have plants that grow fast and that we can harvest earlier in the season. For example winter carrots can be grown together with onion or cabbage together with peas.
Another way of looking at companion plants is to think of the bed in different levels. Squash or pumpkins can in that way be grown together with runner beans. The pumpkins cover the soil and the beans grow upward, for example on bamboo sticks. The American Indians used to grow pumpkins, corn and beans together. They called this combination The Three Sisters. As the beans fixate nitrogen from the air into the soil they “feed” the other plants and makes us less dependent on other types of fertilizers. Companion plants also help to keep insects away.
Overlapping crops is a good way of using your land in an efficient way. I my front yard (only a few square meters) I start the season in mars with lettuce and different Asian greens. In the middle of May I start harvesting the greens and as soon I as I have taken some of them away I replace them with tomatoes and cucumbers. I also sow runner beans that climb the tomatoes and gradually build up a green wall around my little front yard. Tomatoes and cucumbers can be harvested in July and the beans in August. In July I again sow lettuce and greens which can be harvested in the autumn. This technique gives me many different vegetables on a small plot.
Two crops or more
Traditionally people in this part of the world have sown their crops in the spring and harvested in the autumn and that was it. Only one crop every year. But many vegetables grow very fast and even here, in this cold climate, it is possible to get two or three crops of many veggies. To get this you have to plan very carefully. As soon as you have harvested you can immediately sow a plant something new. You can start already in the winter indoors and raise plants. Even if they are small you will be 4-6 weeks ahead once you get them out on your land. Continue to grow plants during the summer. As soon as you have harvested something replace it with a plant. In this way you can get so much more out of a small plot. But of course, growing more also demands more of your soil so when you use this technique you must be sure to replenish the nutrition that you take away from the soil.