The Twenty-Minute Vegetable Garden
by Derek Fell
from Flower & Garden Magazine, February-March 1988
Bountiful planting makes for a bountiful harvest. Compare this
photograph with the list and plan of the garden at right, and you can see just how much fresh produce can be grown in a
relatively small space. Because his family likes the stir-fry method of cooking, the owner of the garden has
devoted considerable space to hard-to-find Oriental vegetables. The garden is an updated version of a large kitchen garden, but condensed to make the most of available time and space.
If you’ve said that you don’t garden – though you’d like to – because you don’t have the time or the space here’s some good news. Just 20 minutes a day is all it takes to care for the vegetable garden shown here, using a combination of raised beds for salad greens, vertical trellises for vine crops, and some unique high-rise planters, called “Living Walls,” for growing bushy plants like corn and tomatoes. And all of this is a space approximately 25 by 25 feet. Designed by Edwin J. Toth, director of the Leonard J. Buck Garden, near Far Hills, New Jersey*, the”20-minute vegetable garden” uses every inch of space behind his home to grow a multitude of tasty, nutritious fresh vegetables from early May until the first fall frost in October.
The raised planters are made from 2- by 12 inch pressure-treated pine lumber, formed into frames and nailed together. They are simply place on top of the ground, which is first leveled. The planters are filled with a mixture of garden compost and peat moss bought in bales from a local garden center. This mixture makes a good growing medium that is virtually weed-free. The raised planters are perfect for growing broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce, peppers, eggplants, and a number of gourmet Chinese vegetables.
The trellises are made from 8-foot wood posts, sunk two feet in the ground and nailed to the ends of the raised planters. Inexpensive but tough nylon netting goes up between the posts, providing surprisingly strong support for pole beans, cucumbers, melons, and sugar-pod peas.
The “Living Wall planters are prefabricated PVC units that assemble into round or square vertical column with drainage hoes in the bottom and pockets around the side to grow from 13 to 77 plants, depending on the size of the model. These convenient planers include a special lightweight granular growing medium and a liquid fertilizer that allows feeding at the tame time as watering; prices begin around $20. Peppers, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and sweet corn planted in these high rise planers produce high yields, especially when planted in the open top portion, rather than around the sides. Some of the “Living Wall” planters have a wire cylinder to support vining crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers.
The garden also features five “pillow packs” – plastic bags filled with a peat-based soil mix – laid flat, with planting holes punched through the top. For bushy vegetables like tomatoes and eggplant, space planting holes 12 inches apart; six inches apart for compact vegetables, such as lettuce and bush beans. Drainage holes are punched in the sides and bottoms of the plastic packs. Success in this unique form of “instant gardening” is entirely dependent on regular watering and feeding.
In the middle of the vegetable plot are two of the popular Juwel cold frames
butted end-to-end to form a 78- by 34-inch space, perfect for early crops of lettuce and spinach. The
cold frame also allows transplants of tender vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, to be hardened off before being set out in the garden. The tops of these
cold frames feature automatic vent openers to prevent overheating on unseasonably warm days.
The walkways are covered with a thick layer of wood chips to keep them free of mud and weeds, Wood chips can often be obtained from municipal work crews for free.
After the garden has been readied for planting, the only regular chores are daily watering with a hose outfitted with a fertilizer application. The applicator (a Hyponex siphon feeder) allows for simultaneous watering and feeding. Toth uses Peters 20-19-18 Peat Lite Special fertilizer, diluted at the rate of one tablespoon per gallon of water. Checking the vines for pest, applying an occasional spray, and training and tying the vines to the trellises is all the regular attention the garden requires, apart from the pleasant task of harvesting armloads of fresh vegetables. At the first sign of insect attach, Toth uses an organic control such as hosing away whitefly colonies or using BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) for control of cabbage worms. More persistent pests, like flea and bean beetles, are controlled with diazinon, with special care taken to heed all label directions regarding length of time between application and harvesting.
Most of the vegetables are started from seeds, purchased from seed catalogs, and sown indoors, under lights. Transplants, including broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers, are purchased locally from plant sales and garden centers. Beans, sweet corn, spinach, and lettuce are all seeded directly in the garden.
* Edwin Toth served as Supervisor of Horticulture Services, Somerset County Park Commission, Far Hill, New Jersery from 1985-1988.
BIG PRODUCTION, SMALL SPACE
In approximately a 25- by 25-foot growing space, Ed Toth grows an amazing variety and quantity of vegetables. Consult the legend while looking at the plant below to see how he does it.
Living Wall Gardens (LW)
LW 1: ‘Slenderette’ and ‘Tendercrop‘ bush snap beans
LW 2: ‘Pixie Hybrid II’ and ‘Bitsy’ tomatoes
LW 3: ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ cabbage and ‘Ruby’ and ‘Premium Crop’ broccoli
LW 4: ‘Pickle Bush’ and ‘Streamliner’ cucumber
LW 5: ‘Bonanza’ broccoli
The tops of all five Living Wall planters were planted with ‘Early Sunglow’ sweet corn
Pillow Packs (PP)
PP 6: 6 ‘Wonder Giant’ peppers
PP 7: 6 ‘Ichiban’ eggplant
PP 8: 1 each, ‘Musketeer,’ ‘Oliver’s Pearl,’ and ‘Minnesota Midget’ melons
PP 9: 3 ‘Bush Charleston’ watermelons
PP 10: 3 ‘San Marzano’ tomatoes
Bed 11: 2 each ‘Small Fry’ and ‘Ultra Boy’ tomatoes on trellis, spring onions, ‘Lucullus’ Swiss Chard, 4 ‘Wonder Giant’ peppers, 4 ‘Rossa di Treviso’ radicchio, 4 ‘Sugarhat’ chicory, 4 ‘Kyonza’ mizuna, ‘Buttercrunch’ lettuce, ‘Snappy’ peas on trellis, shungiku (edible chrysanthemum).
Bed 12: 2 each ‘Heavyweight,’ ‘Bitsy.’ and ‘Yellow Cocktail’ tomatoes on trellis, 6 ‘Bonanza’ broccoli, ‘Tyfon’ greens, onion sets, 4 ‘Sweet Chocolate’ peppers, dill 12 ‘Giulio’ radicchio, ‘Oregon’ sugar snap pea on trellis, 8 tah tsai, and a total of 28 plants Chinese cabbage; ‘Shanghai,’ ‘Two Seasons,’ ‘Spring,’ and ‘Crispy Choy.’
Bed 13: Chives, basil, ‘Tendergreens’ mustard spinach, leaf lettuce, spinach, ‘April Cross’ daikon (oriental radish), ‘Cherry Belle’ radish, sugar snap peas on temporary trellis.
Bed 14: 3 ‘Parks’ Whopper’ and 1 ‘Golden Boy’ tomatoes on trellis, 3 ‘Little Fingers’ eggplant, leaf and bibb lettuce, parsley, chervil, cress, and slicing cucumbers on trellis.
Bed 15: Parsley, ‘Ramamesco’ broccoli, ‘Buttercrunch’ lettuce, ;Kurume’ eggplant, celery, New Zealand spinach, and bitter melon and yard-long beans on trellis.
Bed 16: Chinese chives, ‘Wonder Giant,’ ‘Frying,’ and ‘ Golden Bell’ peppers, water spinach, sweet potatoes, and Chinese bittermelon on trellis.
Bed 17: Cold frame for growing lettuce.
Bed 18: Strawberries.
Seeds for named varieties sourced from Burpee, Parks, Thompson & Morgan, Johnny’s Selected seeds, Tsang & Ma, and others.