Limited Space Intensive Gardening Secrets Revealed

David Thornton By David Thornton, 22nd May 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Gardening>Organic

Learn the secret to growing a productive intensive garden. Select an adequate site, use beds instead of conventional rows, use drip irrigation instead of overhead watering, and grow sprawling plants vertically to conserve space.


Combine intensive planted garden beds, with rows, and drip tape irrigation. With a design that reflects the most productive yields, with the least amount of labor involved, the least expensive components, and the best use of your space and resources.

Use Any Space You Have Available to grow your own vegetables. To grow what you need for fresh use throughout the growing season, and grow more for food storage, up to five times the amount that you get from a conventional row system.

There are many approaches to intensive and raised bed gardening. Most designs are very labor intensive. Use a system designed to make the labor less intensive.

Depending on the size of your project. You can spend a few hours a week, one day a week, or more working your garden. In many urban areas just the water bill alone can be a major expense. By combining intensive gardening with rows, automatic drip irrigation and beds, water use can be reduced considerably, and your labor will also be reduced.

By using walkways the soil compaction will be eliminated from the growing the area, and cultivation minimized. Overhead watering will cause water loss from evaporation, can cause diseases to develop, and cause insect infestations. Save money, Eat healthy, Get exercise, and enjoy growing many more times the quantity of vegetables that can be produced in a conventional garden with less physical labor.

Healthy plants tend to be disease and insect resistant if you provide the correct conditions. Avoid using pesticides that will kill beneficial insects like ladybugs, bees, wasps and praying mantis. Provide organic matter for rich fertile soil.

Avoid using chemical fertilizers. You can create the conditions needed for healthy plants. To get a jump on the season you can buy transplants from a nursery or start your own from seed.

Rotating crops will make the best use of fertilizers; prevent disease and insect infestations, build your soil so that your garden beds will continue to produce year after year, without decreasing in quality or quantity.

If you have many things to do, have jobs, and families to support. You do not have a lot of time to waste. If a garden is to time-consuming, your labor spent on gardening, can be worth more than what the garden will produce. Use a system that will make your time spent worthwhile. You can build and maintain your own compost, or if you do not have the time, you can pickup ready-made compost.

Use a system designed to be compatible with a front tine tiller, which will save time versus hand digging, and a flatbed system that will not require labor intensive, and expensive sides to be built around the beds. Combine row cropping within the beds, so you can make use of a labor saving garden seeder, and by covering the walkways you eliminate weeds from growing, and the mud from the walkways.

Selecting a site for your intensive garden beds

Growing vegetables will require a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day. Selecting a garden site will be your first objective. Try to find a spot on the south side of any buildings, or trees if possible. However, in the Summer when the sun is high, a spot north of a building will work, if it is not to close to the building, and can receive sun in the morning and afternoon.

Whenever possible find a spot free from tree roots. Tree roots can rob your plants of water and diminish the quality of your garden. If you are unable to find a spot without roots, you may have to cut through them. Trees on the north of the garden are generally ok, as long as the branches do not overhang enough to shade your beds. You may have to keep them trimmed. Some trees like Chinese elm have a shallow root system and get most of their water from close to the surface. It is a good idea to try to avoid placing your garden close by if you can avoid it. Even if you cut them down the roots continue to grow sprouts.

Finding a flat spot is not always an easy task. If you can’t find one then it’s recommended you create one. You may need to adjust some landscape by terracing, digging out some bushes, removing trees, rocks, and other debris. Keep in mind that the most work will be required in the beginning, and your extra effort at this stage will be greatly rewarded.

A spot where there is lawn, that can be tilled under will provide organic matter, and fertilizer for your first season. I have gardened in soil that was sandy, rocky, clay, and many combinations. There has not been any spot where I had sun and water that could not be gardened, by building up the soil.

Personally I prefer to have a little lawn in my yard. But I think most yards have too much lawn. We spend a lot of time and energy to keep them up. Spend money on fertilizer, weed control, and other things as well as water, but you can’t eat grass. Why not sacrifice a little lawn for something worthwhile? What lawn remains will provide clippings for compost to help feed the vegetables. You can even turn the whole yard into a garden and get the grass clippings from the neighbors since they will likely throw them away anyway.

Beware of spots that have walnut trees, the nuts have fallen in that spot for years, and they are poisonous to most plants. Also spots where oil has soaked into the ground from automobile mechanics or junk storage. The soil can be repaired, some of it may need to be removed, and replaced with good topsoil, or a lot of organic material added to dilute it.

Almost any spot along a fence line or the side of your house east, west or south will provide a good growing spot for vegetables, a 24” bed is ideal for those locations. The east location would not be good for sun-loving crops but would work well with some cool season crops. Creating beds in those spots can be very useful for vertical growing.

Crops like pole beans, tall peas, cucumbers, other curcubit family plants including melons can be trained up tomato cages or posts that will provide support for them. Of course tomatoes can be strategically placed among other low growing plant types also. You will want the beans, tomatoes and melons on the south if possible, or the west if you do not have a south location, and the peas and cucumbers should do fine in any location.

Water Availability and Design for Intensive Garden Beds

There are some places in this world, where there is enough water in the form of rain, that irrigation is not necessary. Unfortunately I have never lived there, and have always had to irrigate. However with an intensive gardening system, it is doubtful that there are many places that will receive enough rain for it.

Therefore when you choose a site, you need to think about where the water is, and how you are going to get it to your site. If you are fortunate enough to have a free flowing well that is great. Free water is nice! Even if it doesn’t have enough pressure to power a sprinkler it works well for drip irrigation. I have grown a large plot, with a free flowing well, using electric valves, and running the water 24 hours a day.

Many municipalities have a separate water meter for irrigation. The sprinkler systems tie into this line, and the water is less expensive. If you do not have those options, then culinary water is the next option. If your property already has a sprinkler system with a timer, try to make a plan where you can tap into it, by adding a valve. Or if you are digging up some lawn, you can use the line that was already there for watering the lawn.

There was one spot in the Desert Mountains where a small stream that was dried up, it had a spot uphill, where the water surfaced in a small pool, and then disappeared. This pool had water in it all year long. My friend put a tank above his garden spot, and siphoned from the pool into the tank constantly. It took all day to fill the tank each day. Then he ran the drip irrigation all night, and emptied the tank.

The same principle can be used with a pond, river, stream or irrigation ditch, if you are fortunate enough to be near one. You can also collect water that runs off from buildings, or collect gray water from sinks, tubs etc. Water from those sources will need to be filtered so the drip lines will not clog.

While selecting an adequate site may be easy, it is necessary that you have a good understanding of how the system should work. Keep in mind that the ideal bed should be 4’ wide and can be as long as you like. Each bed should be planted in rows and each row will have the same type of plant along the entire length of the row.

The bed design should have the taller and longer growing plants in the center row, and shorter plants will be planted in rows along the outsides near the walkways. The rows in between will be your choice of short season plants that will harvest out early to make room for the longer season plants. This is what gives you the ability to grow so much in so little space.

Based on this concept your beds should be positioned so the rows go from north to south. The plants will form an “A” shape and as they grow, the east side will be getting the morning sun while the west gets most of its sun in the afternoon. If your rows run east to west, the south will get sun all day, and the north will always be in the shade.

The bed length will determine how much of one vegetable you will get from each row. By planting in succession you can insure that not too much of one item harvests at one time. Keep your vegetables fresh and your garden efficient. As an example, if you have a 20’ row of lettuce or onions, they might all need to be harvested at the same time.

Then again, if you are growing for food storage or to sell, then longer beds may be suitable. I have found that 8’ to 10’ long beds are the most desirable for the home garden, but the beds can be shorter if you are limited on space.

Keep in mind, a well-planned garden ensures good use of space allowing for more of your favorites to be harvested throughout the season. I have used 20’ long beds in commercial applications, and as short as 4’ long beds in home gardens.

The drip irrigation will have a main line running across the top or bottom of the beds providing the source water. The soaker hoses will connect with tees and elbows from the main line. Regardless of how long the beds are, it will still take the same amount of tees, elbows, and supply line. Only the soaker hoses will vary in length depending on how long you make the beds.


Drip Irrigation, Garden Beds, Grow Vegetables, Grow Your Own, Intensive Gardening

Meet the author

author avatar David Thornton
Gardening expert with over thirty years of experience with intensive organic gardening research. The main focus of my articles will be to teach others how to create a limited space intensive gardening system and save time and money.

Share this page

moderator johnnydod moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Denise O
19th Jul 2011 (#)

Darn good advice. Thank you for sharing.:)

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?