Intensive gardening techniques maximize yield from limited space while improving soil health.

Square-foot gardeningutilizes intensive spacing, which is not a new concept, but American gardener Mel Bartholomew coined the phrase "square-foot gardening." A 4-foot-by-4-foot space is divided into 16 squares. Each square is planted with a different crop. Each crop has a specific spacing. Radishes and carrots are planted 16 to a square. Tomatoes are one plant per square. Spacing requirements are listed on the back of seed packets.

Keyhole gardensare raised beds typically round in shape. The garden is built around a centrally located compost pile. A slice-shaped aisle is left open for access to the compost pile in the center. The thought process is that nutrients from the compost leach into the soil, and the soil stays moist by adding water to the compost pile. The plants located next to the compost pile might benefit from the nutrient leaching and water from the compost. The plants on the outer ring are probably too far away to benefit from the compost leaching and water, but plant roots do grow toward water and nutrient sources.

Straw-bale gardeningeliminates the labor of installing a garden. The initial step is purchasing straw bales. Lay the bales out so that the strings run around the sides and not the top. Water and fertilize the bales for the next two weeks in preparation for planting crops. After two weeks, plant each bale using intensive spacing guidelines. Crops grown in straw need to be watered more often than crops grown in soil. Straw will decompose and provide some nutrients.

Lasagna gardeningreduces the labor of installing a garden by layering organic materials over sod. The initial layer is cardboard and newspaper to kill the sod. The next layers are 3 inches from a carbon source, dry leaves, then 2 inches from a nitrogen source, kitchen waste, then 3 inches of carbon, then 2 inches of nitrogen source. Thoroughly wet the materials and allow it to "cook down" like a compost pile. Sources claim the process takes six weeks. These materials are not going to cook down in six weeks; it will be six months or more to build a garden using this method.

Ruth Stout no-work gardeningfollows the emerging theme of reducing labor. The story reads that one season, Ruth, an American gardener and author, got impatient waiting for someone to till her garden. She added a thick layer of mulch to her garden and planted. As the mulch decomposed, she added more. She used anything that would decompose — hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, weeds, garbage and sawdust. And she never went back to tilling.

Common themes emerge from our discussion of intensive gardening techniques.

  • Attention to soil with a focus on improving soil health to produce nutrient-dense vegetables
  • Conservation of water by avoiding overhead watering, applying water directly to the plant roots and utilizing intensive plant spacing
  • Practicing no-till or no-dig, which improves soil structure, reduces erosion and promotes biological activity in the soil
  • Weedless gardening by using dense plantings, mulch and minimal disturbance of the soil
  • The use of techniques for reducing labor and increasing accessibility to encourage gardening

The gardening season has not been cancelled!