Conventionally, garden rows are narrow things, at the most a foot wide, and in between each one, there lies a trough, which helps to keep crop roots from getting waterlogged. Read the package of just about any crop seed, and it’ll likely tell us that well-draining soil is the ideal growing medium. The conventional row seems to get this done, and while that’s great, many would say there is a much better way.
For those looking to grow more food in the same amount of space, to get the same drainage benefit of rowed gardens, double-reach rows might be the answer. In addition to providing the benefits of rowed gardens — tidy, organized, accessible, good drainage — they also help with space-saving, companion planting, and other useful gardening techniques.
In other words, before getting the tiller and hoe out next time, it might behoove us to investigate double-reach rows and why we might want some in our garden.
What Is a Double-Reach Row
Rather than being narrow like conventional garden rows, double-reach rows are wide, typically between 30 and 42 inches across. The idea is to make them the right distance, an arm’s length, to reach to the middle from either side. This enables gardeners to tend and harvest from the growing space without stepping in it. More or less, these are elongated versions of raised beds. They can stretch the length of the garden, and they should have troughs between (as with conventional rows) in which to walk, and where over-abundant water can release.
Why Double-Reach Rows Are Better
While these hardly seem like a big deal or all that different, there are some serious benefits to making gardens this way rather than the narrower rows. Double-reach rows provide more planting space and are easier to mulch. The wide rows also invite companion planting, which helps to protect plants and keep them healthy.
- Where conventional rows are generally about a foot wide with a foot between each, double-reach rows are about three-feet wide with about a foot between each. In essence, that means there is an extra foot-width of planting space between every couple of conventional rows, which means a big increase in yield per square foot.
- Mulching gardens is a great idea. Not only does it prevent weeds and lessen watering, but it combats erosion, builds soil nutrients, and encourages soil life. The wider space of double-reach rows is perfect for mulching, whereas with conventional rows, mulch material tends to slough off (if mulch is used at all).
- Companion planting is grouping certain plants together so that they benefit each other. For example, basil and garlic help thwart pests from tomato plants, but they don’t compete with the tomatoes for growing space. The wider row means they can be clustered, but thinner rows don’t really work as well for that.
How to Make Double-Reach Rows
Ideally, these rows would run along the contour lines of the garden, helping to eliminate erosion issues and allowing the water to sink into the landscape rather than completely running away. Finding the contour line isn’t difficult, but perhaps is too involved for this article (Check it out here.)
Depending on the size of the garden, the next step would vary. For smaller gardens, say 20-feet long or less, making long lasagna-style beds (check out how to do that here) would probably be the best bet. This would create instant raised rows with plenty of nutrients to come and great drainage right off that bat. Just build the rows one at a time, extending the garden as material becomes available.
For a larger space, the rows would be created by dealing with the garden as normal (be that tilling or plowing or whatever happens, then simply heaping the soil into wider rows. Just remember to move across the slope (on contour) rather than with it so that the water doesn’t drain and erode the landscape.
How to Maintain Double-Reach Rows
Garden rows or beds should not be stepped in or on. This compacts the soil, making it more challenging for young roots to dig into. That’s why it’s important to make the rows only so wide as to be able to reach the middle from either side. The other benefit of this is that, when the soil hasn’t been compacted and has instead been mulched, it doesn’t have to be tilled.
To keep the garden soil fertile and loose, just add mulch. Leaves or grass clippings can be piled on the rows in the autumn to rot down over the winter. Then, put on some fresh compost once plants are going in the spring. The rows will be wonderful, efficient, and productive.
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