Growing Methods for Gardeners are quite simply the different ways in which you can grow fruit, vegetables and salads.
There are a surprisingly wide variety of crop growing methods and types of cultivation.
For the home gardener and allotmenteer, using the phrase ‘crop growing methods’ can seem a bit large scale. But the categories are the same regardless of the size of your vegetable garden. Crop in this sense is the plants which will give you produce, or a harvest.
It’s just a matter of finding which is the most appropriate for the situation you have. And of course, what style suits you personally. There is no ultimate right or wrong on which techniques to use. Much of it is trial and error and gardener preference.
Before we go any further, you may find helpful a little clarification of the terms and phrases ‘crop growing methods’ and ‘types of cultivation’. These definitions are those I was taught to use, and as I have tried to make more accessible to the less technical gardener.
‘Crop growing method’ – the physical boundaries or style; for example, raised beds.
Within these methods you can then use different
‘Types of cultivation’ – for example, three sisters.
There are some systems which are a mix of both, but these definitions work as a general rule of thumb.
Growing Methods for Gardeners
Traditional gardening methods encompass systems that we would recognise as ‘historical’ and in long tern use. But they also include some which we may think of as terribly modern. For example, Aquaponics has been used for hundreds of years in the paddy fields of south eastern Asia.
The focus in this blog would seem to be raising food plants, but the majority of these growing methods can also be used for ornamental plants. I have considered some of these cultivation techniques in other blogs. Check out the Gardening Glossary too. And if I haven’t given you the low down yet, I will be doing so!
Crop rotation is a crop growing method which can be used with different types of cultivation, for example, growing in rows, raised beds.
I’ve discussed crop rotation in another blog (see below) for you to check out more detail.
Briefly however, crop rotation is a means of production where the different types of crop are grown in the same area in successive years in order to reduce pests and diseases and to maximise the soil nutrients.
Raised bed gardening can be as simple as mounding up the earth in your productive border or as complex as an ornamental potager.
Thomas Hill in his ‘Directions for the Gardiner’ in the sixteenth century described raised beds as the best method of production. He based his advice on the Greek and Roman gardening treatises that had become available during the Renaissance.
These raised beds should be no wider than a gardeners arm or reach; unless they are accessible on two sides, in which case they could be twice as wide. This way the earth in the beds does not become compacted from having been walked upon.
You can plant in rows, blocks, plant monocultures or biodiverse plant communities within the raised beds.
If you build the beds with a brick or wood edge that is wide enough to sit on, it can make cultivation easier.
A further advantage of raised bed gardening for small spaces within gardens is that it allows for a more intensive style of cultivation so more crops can be grown.
The downside of raised beds is they are more expensive to form and possibly, in very dry weather, will dry out quicker than beds at ground level.
On a simple level, this is using walls and fences as support for productive climbing plants and adding extra trellis and wigwams structures to create extra vertical space in your garden or allotment.
Cut and come again lettuce, strawberries and other small plants can be grown gutters or troughs fixed to sheds and walls; trailing tomatoes with red and yellow cherry fruits are decorative as well as practical grown in hanging baskets.
However vertical gardening also encompasses the newer techniques and technologies, including hydroponics. Most of us will have seen examples of greenery growing on a living wall, part of the ‘greening the city’ movement.
The watering system is automated, so, as long as the crops can be reached when they’re ready to harvest, there’s no problem. It’s even possible to grow plants in this way in your kitchen – herbs and salad leaves easily picked as you prepare dinner.
A variation on this is where the edible plants are grown in towers. Those sold to the domestic market are fairly small, like overgrown strawberry pots; some need watering whilst others work on an aeroponics system.
Growing Methods for Gardeners – Types of cultivation
So much for the main crop growing methods. Next comes a whirlwind tour of the types of cultivation.
This is more of a list. However, do look in the Gardening Glossary for more detail, as they are all in there. Each is fascinating and worthy of a separate blog where there is room to give you ‘how to’ tips. And discuss some of the origins and theories surrounding them too.
Growing in rows
A cultivation or tillage method used in conjunction with crop rotation.
A traditional method of cultivation where space allows for plenty of room for both the rows of crops and paths between. Read ‘Grow your own Vegetables in rows’ for more detail.
Square foot gardening
An intensive cropping system used in conjunction with both raised beds and open ground cultivation.
It’s easier to describe from a raised bed perspective, as you can plan ahead and build your beds four-foot square. The idea is that you sow or transplant one plant per square foot if it’s a larger plant such as a cabbage; four or nine more plants if smaller.
‘Three sisters’ cultivation
Both the North and South American Indians grew a lot of squashes; they had a system called ‘three sisters’ where they grew squashes, beans and corn together for the benefits each gave to the others whilst growing.
The maize provides support for the beans; the squash acts as a ground cover to reduce weeds and keep moisture in the soil; the beans provide nitrogen for the other two crops.
This is a no-dig option for building raised beds and great soil. It is based on a similar principle to sheet composting, and allows you to build raised beds without stripping grass or weeds off the site.
Basically, you layer cardboard, newspaper, lawn and plant shreddings, alternating ‘green’ and ‘brown’ as you would in a compost heap. Top off with a layer of compost rich soil. Then let the worms and soil microbes do their work.
Straw bale gardening
There is quite a lot of preparation involved so not a quick fix; the bales have to be soaked for up to ten days before you plant; but you’d need to prepare the ground or the container whatever method of cultivation you choose.
Soil less Growing Methods for Gardeners
Hydroponics is where the fruit and vegetables sit on troughs with their roots dangling in a water based solution containing the necessary minerals and nutrients required for growth.
As it is through their roots that plants take up nutrients this is an efficient growing system.
It combines the aquaculture of raising aquatic animals with the hydroponic system of raising plants in a sustainable symbiotic manner, which is why it is sometimes referred to as ‘pisciponics’.
Aeroponics is where the plants are supported so that they are upright and so the roots can easily be sprayed with a nutrient rich mist.
Growing Methods for Gardeners – even more choice
Forest gardening or agro forestry is a sustainable perennial system to grow food crops in a manner that mimics a deciduous forest. The plants grown are trees, shrubs and other perennials and crops produced include fruits, nuts, edible leaves for food, honey, medicinal products, baskets and fuel.
Permaculture is not just about growing plants, it’s about the whole interaction between plants, animals, birds and humans.
The concept is to design spaces for sustainable living that work with nature. The word comes from ‘permanent agriculture’ and ‘permanent culture’.
Also known as planting by the moon. This technique dates back thousands of years. It works on the premise that certain crops do better when planted or harvested during different phases of the moon and constellation positions.
The no-dig method
This idea rests on the notion that the roots of your plants will only go down around 20cm and so it is only the top level of the soil that needs work. It is also based on the thought that deep digging destroys the soil structure.
Succession Planting, Catch Crops, Interplanting
You could call these multi cropping rather than mono cropping!
These terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The purpose behind them is to maximise the harvest. Particularly useful when you only have a small space, they do improve the overall biodiversity of the soil.
Common usage over hundreds of years has demonstrated that companion planting works. Scientific study of companion planting has more recently confirmed the benefits.
Growing Methods for Gardeners – what do you do next?
Have another cup of coffee probably, you’ve taken a lot of information on board!
After which, you could check the further information we have on these topics. Consider whether you’d find a gardening lesson helpful to get you confident in using one or more of these techniques in your own garden. Or ask us for a garden advice visit for pointers on what might work for you, your lifestyle and your garden.
Or have yet another cup of coffee and do some more reading…
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