Moving my vegetable growing from an allotment into my smaller back garden has taught me a lot about effective spacing.
Initially, I was excited about cramming as much in as possible, and whilst the idea of productive, creative growing in a small space is inspiring, I’ve realised it isn’t as easy as lumping stuff in willy-nilly.
Where I’ve tried to squeeze plants too close together, negotiating my way around the patch has proved difficult and plants face a precarious existence in the face of my size nines.
I took the photo a couple of weeks ago, and hopefully this will give you an example of what I’m talking about. In the space on the right hand side I’ve got 3 fruit bushes, 3 courgette plants, a row of squashes, raspberry canes, potatoes, 3 cucumber plants and a lone sweetcorn.
The suppleness of a yoga expert is required to move freely, and flexibility is not something I am particularly blessed with! With my balance, the risk of wobbling onto a delicate seedling is rather high…
Don’t Underestimate the Space Required!
At the same time I’ve underestimated the space that some veg occupies. Although I’m grateful that my pink fir apples are looking healthy and verdant, the plants have spread nearly 4 feet across, taking up space I’d planned to use for more crops. Understanding space requirements is important if the patch is going to be used to its maximum.
Paths and Hard Soil
Another problem is the lack of natural paths, which has led me to walk all over the patch on a daily basis. Subsequently, the soil is rock hard on top and the surface is more suited to parking the car on than growing veg. Sowing seeds direct has become impossible and even planting out seedlings is difficult. Delicate second crops, such as lettuces, have struggled when I’d expect them to be fine after transplanting.
The harder the soil, the more the water runs off too, so the plants don’t necessarily get a good soaking each time I venture out with the watering can.
However, things aren’t all bad. In fact, there are one or two big plus points. For starters, the area in the photo has hardly needed any weeding, as the plants have shaded the ground and suppressed the weeds.
The shading has helped retain moisture too, so I haven’t needed to water as much as I did on my big, open allotment plot.
I did worry that planting so close together would increase the chances of mildew and blight, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Maybe this is because the summer has been so dry, but in the future I need to watch that the plants are far enough apart for decent air circulation.
Next Year’s Plan
As the nights draw in and harvests curtail, I’m already thinking about how I plan my plot for next year. The biggest changes I want to make is addition of good, wide paths and clear marking of beds, rather than one big veggie free for all.
Getting the spacing right is a delicate balancing act, but as I’ve found out this year, well worth doing.
The tape measure awaits…