NGA Articles: Gardening in the South

Gardening in the South (cont)

By: Felder Rushing

Smaller Patches, Shorter Rows

I've had small raised beds for some years, planted in the potager style of Europe -- an almost random mixture of flowers, culinary herbs and ornamental vegetables. This approach suits the real me. It's easier to plant in a mess. The wide variety seems to confuse pests and encourage beneficial critters. And it always looks nice -- even when something is harvested, or dies, there's someng else to look at.

A New England friend, Shep Ogden, once showed me a trick for having year-round salads in my "potager patch" without all the sweat or effort. He told me to plant just a few short rows at a time in one of the beds, and harvest as they grow.

This made instant sense. Fresh salad greens are especially hard to grow here in summer. To have them at all, you need to get them in and out of the garden as quickly as possible. Planting little salad patches makes this easy, and I immediately adopted the method for my own garden. Now we can enjoy fresh salads almost year-round. With planning, we can plant and pick from late summer through winter and into the following summer.

The first step is to make a simple, shallow raised bed. It should be four feet wide and as long as suits you -- four, six, eight feet or more. My beds are dug a foot deep, and I mix in lots of bark and compost. This raises the soil only a few inches high, which works well for winter drainage, yet doesn't make me a slave to the hose in the summer the way a higher bed would.

I don't worry as much about using pressure-treated wood for the beds as do some of my more respected peers. But then, I eat greasy tamales slathered with hot pepper sauce, so I'm probably not long for this world anyway. I do take the precaution of not growing root crops right next to the wood.

Soaker hoses plus lots of mulch keep my soil moist and cottonseed meal delivers plenty of nitrogen to my plants. Plus, my worms have all the protein and moisture they need to get big and fat and churn my soil.

I plant four little rows together somewhere in the bed, front to back, six inches apart. Easy enough. I do this weekly, and by the time the third weekly crop is sown, the first is ready to be "grazed." And just as the last four rows are put in, it's time to rework the soil in the first one and begin over again, or move to a new spot. Ogden builds his salad beds over spread-out compost, but my garden area is too limited, my compost in too-short supply.

Succession planting is the key. We can keep up this continuous cropping until we figure we ought to stop either because of impending hot weather or because summer vegetables need the space. Everyone in the family can help with all stages. Easy.


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