Best Way to Use Space Efficiently in Your Vegetable Garden

In a small vegetable plot it is particularly important that you use every space to its best advantage. Try not to leave areas vacant and plan ahead so that when one crop is harvested another can be planted out to reoccupy the space. The five main techniques for using space efficiently are listed below.

Sow little and often

Rather than sow all the seed from a packet in one long row, sow a small proportion of it in a short row, small patch or couple of pots and repeat this every two or three weeks. This will help to provide a longer harvesting season and avoid a glut.

Vegetable Garden Best Way to Use Space Efficiently in Your Vegetable Garden

Try to have young plants in pots ready to replace vegetables that are harvested. This is particularly useful in borders, potagers or containers, where gaps will be really obvious. You will need a holding area – a bit of unused concrete or part of the patio – where reserve plants can be kept until needed.

Double cropping

It should be possible to make efficient use of space by fitting two crops into the same area in one season. It also means that hardy crops which suffer from pests and diseases later in the summer (e.g. peas with pea moth grubs and broad bean with chocolate spot) can be replaced in mid-summer by tender vegetables that are generally pest-free, such as dwarf beans and sweetcorn.

Any crop that is harvested in June, for example, shallots, early potatoes, the first sowings of calabrese and cauliflower, can be followed by tender vegetables started off in pots. Courgettes, cucumbers, marrows and squashes, tomatoes, sweetcorn and dwarf beans all fit the bill.

Later on in the summer, during July, overwintered vegetables can be planted to replace those harvested in early summer.

Early starters

Even the best-planned vegetable plots are likely to have bare soil in late winter and early spring. This is where cloches and the modern alternative, garden fleece, come in. By starting the hardiest crops in February or March, you can be certain that you will be able to follow them with another crop in early summer.

Vegetable Garden 1 Best Way to Use Space Efficiently in Your Vegetable Garden

Catch crops

Small, fast-growing crops can be used as temporary space fillers. Particularly useful are beetroot, carrots, lettuces and spinach, which can be picked immature. The following examples show how catch crops can be used to increase the productivity of an area.

Between slow root crops – Parsnips are notoriously slow to germinate and take months to fill their allotted space completely. Use quick crops of radishes, spring onions or short-rooted carrots between the rows of parsnips.

Between large brassicas – Even if you start them in pots or a seedbed and transplant them, Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli, autumn cauliflower and kale all take a long time to fill their space. Use a related crop such as radish, turnip or lettuce to fill the space. If you start them earlier in the spring you should be able to get a crop of summer cabbage, cauliflower or calabrese. In this case, leave sufficient space to plant the winter brassicas between them.

Before tender crops – Tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes are planted out after the last likely frost and do not fill their allotted space for a couple of weeks. Use hardy catch crops from March or April until June.

Between rows of runner beans – Runner beans are not sown or planted until late May or early June in most areas of the UK, although the supports may already be in place. So there is plenty of time to grow a quick crop of peas, lettuce or spinach before the beans start to cover their supports and cast too much shade.

Between sweetcorn – Even when fully grown, sweetcorn plants allow enough light through for a crop of lettuce, spinach, radish or spring onions to reach maturity. Sow these early and leave space to plant the sweetcorn later. You could even try planting dwarf French beans between the sweetcorn after the last frost. Or grow a crop of hardy broad beans and allow space to plant the sweetcorn among it. By the time the beans are cleared, the sweetcorn should be well established and will benefit from the nitrogen fixed by the beans’ roots.

Vegetable Garden 2 Best Way to Use Space Efficiently in Your Vegetable Garden

Follow-on crops

By May, the vegetable plot is probably pretty full, but it is worth starting late or overwintered crops to follow those that will be harvested during June and July. All of them can be sown into small pots or a seedbed and, provided they are kept well watered, will wait until you are ready to plant them out. The table below lists the best follow-on crops. In milder areas, you could also try overwintered peas and broad beans. It is also possible to grow a second crop of early potatoes.

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