When I plant densely I'm enriching the soil. The weeds and grasses provide shade and protection for vegetables and herbs in summer. The downside is the roots compete for nutrients, so the plants don't grow as big. If I'm lucky, the tops compete and I get tall leafy plants; this happens with spinach especially.
When I plant sparsely or according to packet recommendations, the vegetables grow bigger because of less competition. The problem is the lack of shade and protection, and unless I can source some mulch to keep the clay soil moist the soil becomes a hard brick.
I’m old school when it comes to annual vegetables, and plant according to spacing requirements as determined by historical gardening practices. I want each plant to maximise output and not compete. Likewise, follow rotational practices to deter pests and diseases and make the most of soil nutrition throughout a ‘x’- year cycle.
Root crops are particularly affected by crowding – carrots, beetroot, etc become stunted, woody and bolt to seed quicker. With lettuce the outside leaves can rot and the plant becomes bitter quickly. Ditto with parsley, etc.
With confined garden space, succession planting is easier if they’re not crowded.
Watching my Dad, who was a country lad, routinely dig around seedlings and mature plants made me question a lot of practices – he produced excellent veggies. The digging cleared weeds, aerated the soil preventing compaction, and improved water infiltration. He never mulched and the plants were never stressed.
Equipped with ‘alternative gardening methods’ I dismissed the idea, using mulch on annuals and leaving them alone – result – nowhere as good as Dad’s methods!
So, I bow to greater wisdom, and the tried and tested knowledge gained over centuries, and now practice Dad’s methods.
'Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.'
I've been growing my vegetables very densely recently and have been very pleased with the results.
It has greatly reduced the work to almost nothing. I plant a lot of seed, let what survives survive, harvest it, and save the seed to create more vigorous growing and healthy plants for my particular area.
I'm currently experimenting with planting different things together and planting seeds at different times to give some a head start and so they all play nice together.
Even if an individual plant yield may be slightly less, if it is, it hasn't been noticeable, my overall harvests have actually increased, due to the greater number of producing plants in a particular area and the increased soil and plant health due to living mulches and polyculture.
I used to have a traditional garden, and I spent hours weeding and working, and in my area the weeds just grew back even stronger and the plants struggled in the heat and drought.
Different methods may work best in different areas, as each climate and area is unique, but I am very happy with how planting densely has been going so far here. I have a lot more time to enjoy my garden.
Striving to grow things as naturally, simply, and cheaply as possible!
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I think there is a difference between dense planting and simply densely scattering seeds needs to be stated.
For instance, if you take 1/2 of the packet recommendation for a species, I would consider this dense planting. If you completely ignore the packet and put high concentration of seeds you will produce a lot few lbs of vegetables. Intense seedling competition + competition from even the same species will produce substandard crops even before considering natural adult size of plants.
Dense planting can work if the canopy doesn't have hard requirements, but you need to have healthy soil.
We plant densely our root vegetables and the vining winter squash, melons, cucumbers and beans.
With the root vegetables we thin every time we want some baby greens while the beets, carrots, etc. are developing so that we end up with no two roots touching by the time they are up to around 1.5 inches in diameter.
All the others get their growing tips pinched once the tendril has set some fruits, that allows more energy to go into fruit growth.
For me it depends on the plant like others have mentioned. In my experience, having plants such as tomato too close together results in challenges such as keeping the soil wet to prevent wilting, shading the neighbor plants, and gentle breezes being unable to pass through all the dense foliage to keep things dry which has given me troubles with disease like anthracnose. It's a slightly humorous psychological thing for me at the start of the gardening season, because I'm transplanting tomatoes and putting like 4 feet of empty space in-between each plant which feels like I'm wasting space, but come the end of July, all the indeterminate varieties are out of control growing into each other and it's a mess. Maybe I need six feet in-between tomato plants. Peppers I find do better with room around each plant. I have found so far, no troubles with peas and beans sown densely. Crops I thin as I go include beets, radish, and carrot, which start off quite crowded but thin out as I pick every other one as they grow, harvesting baby versions to use. Same with greens like lettuce and spinach, cutting baby heads and leaf clusters to leave the neighboring ones to grow larger.
"Study books and observe nature; if they do not agree, throw away the books." ~ William A. Albrecht
It depends. most things I have found do not do well for me when dense, the weeds become impossible to remove, they don't seem to get shaded out at all, just the plants get shaded by the weeds. I also have issues with slugs and snails hiding under the foliage and rot/mold etc etc as the inside never dries out. The only things I do like planted close to eachother are leaves that are harvested young, so cut and come again lettuce, spinach and some herbs.
I've been planting more densely. Hairians plant very sparse with 18 inches wide irrigation canals between each row, and that results, in this dry region, in crop failure, but they won't consider changing. So I'm attempting to show how to use close planting and mulch and flat, wide beds to improve things. But I've got lots to learn on this!
Somewhat densely.....Things like peas & beans love being a little crowded anyway, but I also use companion planting methods to get more out of the same space. Usually the companion plants have different needs from each other and can maximize use of the space.
I grow pole beans on towers and celery inside the tower. The beans feed nitrogen to the celery and provide shade protection in the heat. Similar with onions or carrots planted with tomatoes or strawberries. Cabbage family planted between potato hills right next to corn, etc.
Then as soon as something is harvested, the area is planted with something else.
I seed bomb the shit out of my leafy green gardens, they grow healthier that way. Here is broccoli raab, lettuce, english spinach, coriander, carrot, celery, silverbeet, beetroot and a few surprises if I look hard enough. Its really nice to look at and the insects love it.