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Steve Solomon's garden innovations

Steve Solomon's raised bedsSo what does Solomon's garden look like?  He makes raised beds nearly identical to my beds, only shallower (two to three inches high.)  When working up new land, first he tills or shovels to break up the sod.  Either way, he loosens the soil to a depth of twelve inches, marks out three to four foot wide beds, and scoops dirt out of the aisles to increase the beds' height.  (It's worth noting that Solomon recommends 20 to 24 inches for bed width instead in non-irrigated areas or for certain crops.)

This sounds a lot like an intensive garden, right?  Although he does like raised beds, Solomon differs markedly from intensive gardeners when it comes to fertilization, seed starting, and plant spacing.

Steve Solomon's gardenRather than enriching an entire bed, Solomon uses a modified Native American technique and plants cucurbits and tomatoes in what he calls hills --- shallow mounds about twelve to eighteen inches in diameter with lots of concentrated soil amendments inside.  The high fertility soil in the mound helps the plants get off to a fast start so that they can outcompete the weeds.  He uses a similar method in miniature to give transplants a quick boost and get them growing quickly.  With smaller plants, he will enrich an entire bed, but just rakes the amendments into the top inch of the soil to give the plants a similarly fast start.

That said, Solomon doesn't fiddle with transplants much.  He argues that (with the exception of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants), most vegetables will reach harvest nearly as quickly if you direct seed as if you begin seedlings indoors and transplant them.  These direct seeded vegetables also tend to be much healthier.  Not only do they never have to deal with transplant shock, they keep their taproots (often damaged during transplanting) and are more drought-resistant.
Steve Solomon's widely spaced rows
Up to this point in the book, I was nodding along happily.  Then Solomon started writing about plant spacing.  The table below shows a comparison of Solomon's recommended plant spacing for some common vegetables and the spacing recommended by intensive gardeners (and me.)  He recommends spacing plants even further apart if you don't plan to irrigate, so that the vegetables will be able to suck water out of the surrounding soil.

Crop
Intensive spacing (inches)
Solomon spacing (inches)
Beans, bush green
6X6
12X18
Broccoli
15X15
24X48
Cabbage, late
18X18
24X30
Carrots
3X3
1.5X18
Cucumber
12X12
36X48
Chard, Swiss
8X8
12X24
Collards
8X8
24X24
Kale
15X15
24X24
Lettuce, looseleaf
8.5X8.5
10X18
Melons
15X15
48X48
Okra
12X12
24X24
Onion, bulbing
4X4
3.5X18
Parsley
5X5
6X18
Peas, bush
3X3
2X18
Peppers
12X12
24X24
Potatoes
9X9
10X48
Squash, summer
18X18
48X48
Squash, winter
18X18
N/A
Sweet corn
15X15
N/A
Sweet potatoes
9X9
15X48
Tomatoes, indeterminate
24X24
48X48

Steve Solomon in front of his gardenPart of the goal of Solomon's wide spacing is to be able to fit a hoe between the plants even when they're mature.  I have to admit that I'm extraordinarily jealous of his estimate that he spends about an hour a week hoeing his 2,000 square foot garden --- my garden is maybe half again as big and it takes me more like 5 hours a week to weed.  Now I understand why his method takes half the work!

I can't wrap my mind around putting lettuce and greens so far apart since I prefer to harvest them in the baby stage, but I may take his advice with some of our larger plants this summer.  Maybe I should try out some test beds and compare the results of two different spacing methods?

Do you have an innovative idea?  Don't let it moulder on the shelf --- turn it into your path to Microbusiness Independence.



This post is part of our Gardening When It Counts lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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