High-density Gardening

vegetable gardenSummertime, and the living is easy ... That's how the song goes, but as far as I'm concerned, summertime gardening can be a touch stressful, especially when we get a long spell of very warm weather and the seedlings, which I was certain would wait at least another three weeks before requiring transplanting, are suddenly sending roots through the bottom of their punnets! What am I supposed to do with them when there doesn't appear to be a scrap of space left in the garden?

The answer, of course, is to get inventive. Which is why I've been cutting both ends off the baked bean tins. Parsley, or any other "floppy" vegetable such as young brassica, have their foliage gently gathered up, and a tin collar popped over them. This creates oodles of surrounding space where I can sow or transplant something quick growing such as a short row of radish or purslane, or even a spinach plant or two. By the time the "restrained" green is emerging, I'll be polishing off the faster growing veg. I also don't believe in letting garlic have all that garden space when all it does is grow straight up! So, in-between, I grow upright lettuces such as cos, or a row of stalky herbs such as dill or coriander – edibles that will be harvested long before the garlic is ready to be lifted.

If you've nourished your garden well before sowing, and are keeping up regular feeding with liquid manure, there's no reason at all why vegetables can't be crammed in – providing of course that they don't shade each other. Ensuring this doesn't happen is simply a matter of thinking of height. Keep taller-growing vegetables (peas and beans, for example) at the south end of the garden, medium height plants (such as brassicas and potatoes) in the middle, and low growing vegetables (which includes lettuce and mizuna) at the south end where they won't be shaded. You can even grow vegetables in hanging baskets at an even higher level.

There's also no need to wait until you've harvested a complete row of any one vegetable before you plant something else. If you don't take advantage of the space, a weed will soon will! "Take one out, pop one in", is my motto. And all I do in-between sowing or transplanting is refresh the soil with a trowel or two of compost and animal manure, and away I go!

Right now, space is so tight that I'm even cultivating under my espaliered peasgood nonesuch apple, and popping some cauliflower seedlings into the space between two rows of gooseberry bushes. I've also spied a spot in the flower garden where the rhododendrons, having finished flowering, won't mind sheltering a few space-saver cabbages. "Mix and match" is the name of the game, and it actually makes for a very decorative garden.

Of course, there's no better answer to making room in the garden than harvesting as soon as you can. Vegetables are at their most tender when young, so don't wait until they're past their best-by date before consuming. There's also no need to wait until lunch or dinner to chow down on the produce. In our house, creamed spinach on toast, spicy curry laksa with tender misome and Chinese cabbage, silver beet and free-range egg patties, and rhubarb and home-made yoghurt are all featuring on the breakfast menu. And there's always a bowl of radish, celery sticks, baby carrots, and white turnip chunks in iced-water plonked in the middle of the table to encourage family and visitors to snack whenever the feel like it.

Summer comes but once a year, so make the most of your garden, and cram in those vegies!

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