Most people now practice intensive gardening – but is it really the best way to garden? Here are some of the pros and cons of intensive gardening methods.
There has been a lot of focus on intensive gardening in recent years. We talk about it often on this blog, as many of our readers have expressed interest in maximizing their garden yields, or growing some of their own food in limited garden space. Most likely you are practicing intensive gardening in your own backyard, whether you realize it or not!
Intensive gardening practices include Square Foot Gardening, container gardening, and raised bed gardening. These methods are designed to help you get more crop yield out of a smaller amount of space.
But is intensive gardening really the best way to grow your own food?
This interesting article from The Grow Network discusses the pros and cons of intensive gardening methods, and why they may or may not be a good idea for you.
The Pros of Intensive Gardening
More food—less space. That’s hard to argue with!
With a well-planned intensive garden, you can maximize your yields with minimum materials. Unlike a single row garden that takes up lots of space, you can plant vegetables tightly in a little square foot garden bed or a horse trough converted into a raised bed.
You can also pack high fertility into a small space by stacking up lots of nutrition rather than trying to spread compost over a large area like you would with a traditional garden.
Another benefit of intensive gardening is that it’s usually based on permanent beds you can protect from compaction easier than you can a big row garden which requires walking between the rows in order to weed, maintain and harvest.
Intensive gardening lets you grow a lot of food in a perfect small space — what’s not to love?
Like many things in life, the initial picture doesn’t give you the whole story.
The Cons of Intensive Gardening
We have this idea that raised beds are pretty much the only way to garden at this point. Yet there are notable benefits to ditching intensive gardening for wider rows and in-ground non-raised plots.
A couple of years ago I grew a good-sized plot of corn that was watered by rainfall.
If I had planted my corn at intensive garden spacing, I would have had to water a few times a week — at least! I got a nice harvest of grain corn from that widely spaced row garden because of how much room the corn roots had to search out water…
Intensive Beds Require Intensive Water
Our first square foot garden beds five years ago needed a lot of water compared to my corn. The spacing was very tight, as recommended in Mel Bartholomew’s book, so the roots ran out of moisture rapidly.
When it got hot out, we were watering every day… and the plants were still looking thirsty. The yields on the space were great, though, so I can’t complain too much.
It’s just this: if there was ever a sustained period where the city water shut off or your well quit working, you’d lose all your harvest for that year. In a widely spaced garden, you’d likely still get some yields just because of the rainfall.
There’s a reason the pioneers didn’t use tight little raised beds for their crops!
Intensive Gardening Uses Permanent Beds
Another “con” of intensive gardening is the method’s use of permanent beds.
I don’t know about you, but I change my gardening arrangements all the time…
If you build perfect little beds and fill them with perfect soil, you’ve made a commitment.
The Bottom Line on Intensive Gardening
…Intensive gardening has its appeal but isn’t a perfect method… If there’s a breakdown in our complex world, wide, single-row gardening is likely to come back with a vengeance as we turn to the heavens for our rainfall, rather than a faucet.
…If you’ve got a wide open patch of lawn, why not put in some widely spaced rows of beans or corn and care for the plot with a wheel hoe? It’s like going back in time… and the yields may surprise you.