Proper row spacing pays big dividends for gardens

May 22, 2013 

I like to fish, but even more than I like to fish, I like to talk about fishing. Of course, some people might say, “No Willie, you just like to talk.” Well at least fishing gives me something to talk about. Otherwise I just mumble.

I like to fish from my kayak, which leaves me in some interesting situations. The other day, I was anchored in deep water, fishing. When I tried to pull up the anchor to leave, I found that it was stuck. I could not pull in my anchor. My kayak was stuck in the middle of the pond, and I could not paddle away. To make it worse, the fish were striking the water too far away for me to throw the lure to them. Fortunately, I had some scissors to cut the anchor line. I had to leave my anchor in the deep.

Then there was the time I caught a snapping turtle. I was determined that he was not getting in the boat with me. I took a few photos, found a long pair of pliers and unhooked him and let him drop back into the water.

Sometimes, the things we enjoy are not the big things. Rather, they are the small events that make up our lives. The small things we see and experience that make a big impression on us can be called “little big things”: little things that have a big impact. Little things mean a lot in the vegetable garden as well.

One of the little big things in the garden is row spacing. How far apart will you put your rows? While many gardens have planted in rows, you can make better use of space by planting in wide beds such as raised beds. In a raised bed, plants are planted closer to one another with no room in between for walking. Make these beds no wider than 4–5 feet across so that you can reach all the way into the bed from the sides.

If you want to plant in rows, you can use double rows to make better use of space. Plant two rows of vegetables close to one another, and then leave a space in between for walking and tilling. Sweet corn is best planted in several short rows rather than one long row, so it will pollinate properly.

The width of rows should be related to your method of tilling for weeds. If your tiller or plow is 18 inches wide, then make the row width a multiple of 18 inches -- 18 inches, 36 inches, 54 inches, etc. This will make it easier to till the middles. Till very shallowly when weeding, and do not damage the roots just below the surface.

Most vegetable rows will be about 30-36 inches wide. Plants that grow large or are hard to harvest require wider rows -- tomatoes, okra, etc. Vegetables that grow into long vines need wider spacing or they will take over -- watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins. Row widths of 60-72 inches may be necessary. You can till lightly between the rows until the vines get long enough to cover the middles.

Trellising and staking help you to make better use of space. Build trellis at planting for vining crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, mini-pumpkins and pole beans to climb as they grow. Make the trellis very sturdy because vegetable vines get heavy.

The overall width and length of the garden should be defined by your watering system. Before you begin to plow or plant, turn on the sprinkler and wet the ground. Then, make your garden this size. This will allow you to more easily water the garden. Apply 3/4 inch of water twice a week if it does not rain. This will help the vegetables to produce more and better-quality fruit.

A 2- to 3-inch thick mulch will prevent weeds and reduce water loss. And no, there is no chemical that you can use in gardens to kill all weeds. Trifluralin and related compounds (Preen, etc.) can be used to prevent weeds, but once weeds come up options are limited. Read and follow all label directions when using pesticides. Mulches will prevent weeds before they start.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps train the turf and landscape industry.

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