Intensive Gardening How-to’s
Make the most of your garden time and space with intensive gardening. Sometimes called “French Intensive Gardening,” this method crams a lot of plants into a very small space. The cornerstone of this system is soil preparation. I say that a lot, don’t I? Well, that is because it is true-for a number of reasons. The soil is also where my
relatives and I live, so good soil is especially important to us.
Importance Of Soil Preparation
Successful French Intensive Gardening starts with soil preparation by double digging the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches, adding
as you go. This is heavy work, and must be done by hand with a shovel and spading fork. Here are the steps:
- Select the area for your bed and mark it out with stakes and twine. Each bed should be no more than 4 feet wide, and in any length that is convenient for you.
- If you have a rotory tiller, till the bed to shovel depth. This will make the digging easier.
- Start at one end of the bed and remove a swath of dirt onefoot wide across the width of the bed to a depth of 6-8", putting in a wheel barrow. Wheel the barrow to the other end of the bed and leave it sitting there.
- Now take your spading fork and loosen and work up the dirt at the bottom of that first swath to an additional 6-8" in depth, working in organic matter and other appropriate soil ammendments (garden lime, rock phosphate, compost, greensand, etc.
- Next, remove the next one foot swath of soil, placing in on top of the deeply dug swath you have just finished, working more organic matter and amendments into that soil as well as you move it.
- Continue your way until you reach the end of the bed. After deep digging the last swath, place the wheel barrow load on top, again working in soil amendments.
When you complete double digging the bed, you will have loose well areated soil to a depth of 12-16" that will grow anything. Because it is so well prepared and fertile, you can plant much closer together, making your garden space more productive.
This light soil will last a few years, but gravity happens and the bed will eventually settle. While there is no substitute for the process above initially, there is a special tool that serious intensive gardeners use to renew the beds every couple of years.
It is a U-Fork or U-Bar (below right) that allows you to loosen the soil to the full double dug depth with a single action.
Plants rely on their roots for support. The roots also take in oxygen and water from the soil. Plant roots can grow much easier and deeper in soil that is light and fluffy, which is what double-digging accomplishes. Additionally, soil that is not in any way compacted will hold more water and oxygen, making it easier for plants to “drink” and “breathe.” (Plants use oxygen when they metabolize the sugars they make during photosynthesis.)
Because you have added a substantial amount of organic matter and soil amendments as you double dug your new French intensive garden, you have raised the level of the soil into a raised bed garden, with better drainage. But what flows down will also now flow up.
Capillary action is a little known but important characteristic of water movement through soil. As it sounds, capillary action is movement of water up through tiny spaces in the soil, the way blood moves through tiny vessels in people, or doctors draw up fluids into capillary tubes.
This upward water pressure is maintained only as long as the connection between each water molecule is maintained. Soil with particles that are equally spaced, and contain continuous space for water facilitates better upward movement of water, toward plant roots. Fluffy soil that allows root hairs (that take up most of the water) to grow and penetrate the soil deeply helps plants take in water from lower and lower levels in the soil.
Importance Of Proper Plant Spacing
Intensive gardening is also successful if certain planting criteria are followed. Unlike traditional row gardening, this system uses wide, long beds. To reach each side of the bed, you have to be on either side of the bed. You do not walk in the beds, only around them, that way you do not compact the soil. Seeds are planted in the bed according to spacing of the mature plants. That way, less work is needed to thin the rows. The close spacing of the plants mean that when the plants are mature, they form a canopy over the soil that shades out weed seeds, keeps the soil cool in the summer and reduces evaporation.
Companion planting is another thing that will make this gardening technique successful. That is the practice of growing together plants that are mutually beneficial. For example, marigolds help protect tomatoes, eggplants, lettuce, and other plants from various insects. Radishes make good companion plants for peas, lettuce and cucumbers. You can read entire books about companion planting. This gardening method provides a kind of defacto companion planting, due to the close spacing of the plants.
Intensive gardening, or French Intensive Gardening, is an excellent choice of a system for vegetable gardening in small spaces. Because you amend the soil as part of the system, even if you do not have good soil, you can work with your soil to the point where it will grow a luxurious vegetable garden, and make a happy habitat for your garden gnome. Happy gardening,
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