For whatever reason: peak oil, government collapse, zombie apocalypse, whatever, you want to put in a garden and start producing some calories fast. Maybe you can spade up 200 sq feet per day but you need to get all 10,000 square feet of your plot producing and can’t wait 50 days to plant. What if there was a way to plant the entire plot now and spade it later?
Steve Solomon is my favorite gardening author. He is by far the most knowledgeable, experienced and gangster author on practical, Organic gardening that I am aware of. In his book, “Gardening When It Counts”, a book about how to grow vegetables during tough times, he recommends an ingenious way to plant lots of potatoes when you need to quickly establish them in an unprepared field.
“A day or two before planting, dig the rows… If you’re growing more than one row, its best to plant spuds on flat ground, making the rows 36 inches apart on center (90 centimeters)… Deeply dig the compost covered rows (not the spaces between the rows)…If I ‘m shooting for the highest possible yield, and I have free time after the seed has been planted but before it starts putting roots out, I will spade up the earth between the rows.”
Essentially, he amends and spades up a foot wide strip of soil to plant the seed potato in then, before the roots occupy the space between those rows, he spades up the rest. In this way, he is able to plant the potatoes after spading up only 1/3 of the garden. Really, why spade today what you can put off until tomorrow？ In case you’re wondering why he doesn’t recommend intensive spacing, wide spacing will give a slightly lower yield but far larger (and easier to process) spuds that are more nutrient dense, have more protein and the plants will have far greater drought resistance. If you’re like me and don’t have irrigation or you lose your ability to irrigate when the SHTF, giving crops more elbow room is essential. Aint nobody got time for hauling buckets of water all over.
Being the mad scientist that I am, I wondered just how far this concept can be stretched, so I turned to the chapter of his book where he describes his personal recommended spacing for gardening without irrigation to find which crop benefits from the most elbow room. Turns out, winter squash is an antisocial mofo that achieves greatness only when the neighbors are far away. Solomon recommends 72 X 96 inch spacing for individual winter squash plants grown without irrigation. Now we can kick this concept into high gear!
Speaking from the armchair (because i haven’t tried it myself), I theorize that one could get a patch of calorie-dense, nutritious squash started after only spading up 1/12th of the total area into 2 x 2 ft, highly amended mounds and spading up the area in between later. It’s ok if it takes you, say, 50 days to spade up your entire plot because you would be spading up ground that is not yet occupied while the roots rush in to occupy the newly loosened soil behind you.
You’d still have to spade up the entire plot but you’d be able to harvest much more much faster. That could be a great convenience if you are impatient like me, or life saving if you are in a climate where you must harvest before winter shuts down garden production. But why wait until the zombie apocalypse? There is no time like the present for putting fresher, more nutritious food on the table.