Gardeners have been practicing intensive planting techniques for hundreds of years. This method is most often used to coax high yields of vegetables from small plots of land. Crops are planted closer together than they are in conventional rows. Emphasis is placed on developing and maintaining fertile soil, which is filled with organic matter. Practice succession planting, which is the practice of never allowing any part of the plot to lay fallow and use vertical growing to make the most of your available garden space.
Improve the Soil
When using intensive planting techniques, fertile, friable soil (not compacted and full of organic materials such as peat moss, compost and shredded hay) is of primary importance. Before planting, you should turn the soil over in the bed and add organic matter. Add 1- to 6-inches of peat moss to the surface of your soil, along with 1- to 6-inches of compost and incorporate them into it by turning the soil over with a spade or tilling with a rototiller. Use partially decomposed compost as a mulch around your vegetables and it will further improve your soil, retain moisture and discourage the growth of weeds.
Plant vegetables in wide rows that are 12 to 18 inches wide, or plant in a grid-type of spacing, filling the entire planting bed, rather than in traditional rows with wide open spaces between them. Plant every possible inch of space in your garden plot and plant vegetables at the closest recommended distance, or even closer. Most vegetables will grow and produce crops even if planted closer together than the distances recommended by seed companies and gardening books.
Practice Succession Planting
Succession planting is the practice of planting a new crop as soon as one matures and is harvested. For example, as soon as you harvest vegetables that grow in the cool weather of spring, such as lettuce or radishes, immediately plant the area with a crop that grows in the hotter weather of summer, such as green beans, tomatoes or peppers. Another aspect of this is to plant two crops in the same space. The most well-known example of this is the "Three Sisters" method practiced by Native Americans, wherein corn, pole beans and squash are planted in the same plot. The corn provides support for the beans to climb upon and the squash vines cover the ground, suppressing weeds and keeping the soil cool and moist.
Another intensive planting technique is to grow crops vertically, such as cucumbers, pole beans, squash and melons. Plant seeds of cucumbers about 12 inches apart, pole beans 4 to 6 inches apart and melons 18 inches apart in the rows when growing these crops vertically. Space vertical rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Rather than sprawling along the ground taking up a lot of space, they grow in the space of one garden row. Situate your garden so the northern edge is along a fence for a built-in support for your vining crops. Or make a simple trellis using 8-foot fence posts with garden netting or chicken wire strung between them.