23 Gardening Techniques Successful Gardeners Use To Maximise Yield, Improve Flavour, Save Resources and Make Gardening Easier & More Fun.
For centuries, across the world, gardeners have developed gardening techniques that work for them. Some are limited to their local conditions but others span the globe and can be used anywhere.
The best and simplest gardening techniques range from the most basic traditional methods, that go back centuries, to modern innovative high-tech techniques that are still being perfected today. However though some techniques may appear new, they may have actually been with us since the dawn of gardening.
From growing in the soil to raising plants in vertical gardens and hydroponically to Hügelkultur, raised beds, No Dig and Square Foot Gardening. This article examines the benefits and disadvantages of gardening techniques that may amaze, surprise and delight gardeners worldwide.
In this article I deal with over 20 growing techniques. It would however be wrong to think of them as distinct cultural methods. The reality is they can overlap. For example there’s nothing to stop us combining growing in the soil with growing in a raised bed and doing it by the No Dig method. We could even make the raised beds into Square foot beds and organic! I’m not advocating this as a growing regime. I merely point out that there is less purity in these methods than might be attributed to them. Often they don’t exist as single techniques, but get combined in clever (and sometimes ridiculous) ways.
Traditional Soil Based Growing: The Ultimate In Gardening Techniques?
When mankind first started to grow crops he didn’t use containers, raised beds or other techniques. Early gardeners grew crops direct in the soil. In fact the very first ones probably didn’t cultivate the soil but just spread seed on the surface and hoped.
Later developments became a little more sophisticated and involved digging or ploughing, cultivating the soil and even more advanced techniques such as what is sometimes called French Intensive Growing (more on that later).
Soil based growing is still popular today, in allotments (though many practice raised bed growing), market gardens and elsewhere. Indeed, as a commercial market gardening I grew in the soil, both outdoor vegetables and intensive “undercover” crops in greenhouses and poly tunnels. It wasn’t that I couldn’t grow hydroponically, aeroponically or even vertically, I choose not to as I wanted a simple system that provided high yields for minimal inputs without huge capital investment.
Advantages of Growing Directly In The Soil
Traditional gardening, straight into the soil underfoot, has many advantages. Competent gardeners soon get to know their soils. They know if one part of the their plot is heavier or wetter than other areas, its history etc. and they take advantage of this.
In my first garden I had a spring that created a little stream that ran diagonally across the plot. It looked strange, but I also aligned my crops diagonally across the plot to take advantage of it. Those that need more moisture were grown in the slightly damper soil.
It’s not moisture resilience though. Plants grown direct in the soil, in a natural environment, are more resilient in many other ways. In the soil, where they can root deep into the soil, they can access nutrients that are not available in other systems. And because soil is inhabited by the soil mycorrhiza, the mix of soil fungi and bacteria, the plants can access not only soil macro nutrients, but also the micronutrients and trace elements necessary for plant health and vigour.
Some argue that this leads to better flavour as well though often that is hard to quantify as we al have personal preferences. What is more certain is that costs are reduced. No special equipment is needed and that can save a lot of money. Better still time is often saved as there is no need to spend time on building beds, maintaining equipment etc.
Disadvantages of Growing Directly In The Soil
The downside of growing in the soil also need consideration. Space is often the first issue. Quite a lot of space is needed if we grow traditionally. Growth outdoors can also be slower, though not quite as slow as under glass. Of course growth rates are relative to other methods and we have to weigh the potential time issues against costs and other negatives attributable to the alternatives.
Another downside is the condition of the plot from the outset. I see many new allotment holders being offered weed infested, plots that need skips and hard work before they are capable of production. And, in some cases, people give up before they have sown the first seed or planted the first plant!
On a personal note I have to say I love growing directly in the soil. I recall my first crop of lettuce planted directly in the soil of a greenhouse. It held 12,000 plants that we’d planted in perfectly straight lines and they grew so rapidly. We planted them with 2-3 true leaves in early September and harvested them before Christmas. The speed of growth in well structured and maintained soil was incredible. It made me realise that growing was something I wanted to do and before long we were growing half a million lettuce each year.
Literally translated from German or Luxembourgish the word mean hill culture. And that’s exactly what it is. It’s a mound or hill of mainly organic matter on which too grow crops. It’s allegedly been used in Germany and Eastern Europe for centuries, though I can find no real evidence of this, only authors claiming it without citing references.
However since the the 1960s there seems to have been a few books published on it. in German. The earliest one I can find is Beba, Hans; Andrä, Herrman. Hügelkultur – die Gartenbaumethode der Zukunft which was apparently firs to published in 1962, though the earliest one I can find for sale as a second hand book, which was the 5th edition, is dated 1976. It looks like the book ran to at least 15 editions but was quite a small volume as it only weighed 78g.
More to the point! What in reality is Hügelkultur? And is it effective.
Well, though the translation is hill culture it is perhaps best described as “mound” growing.
Logs and other organic debris, such a small branches and leaves, are piled into a mound. It’s left to decay and form a rich and fertile mound on which plants can grow. To speed the process the mound is often further covered with compost and/or soil.
The Advantages of Hügelkultur
It use woody debris that is hard to recycle in other ways. I’ve seen minded heaps like this when woodland hillsides are clear felled and after a few years the heaps breaks down into rich material. So, in my mind, hügelkultur originated in woods and came about due to woodland processes.
- The mounds help retain moisture on site. this makes sense as logs left in this way suck up a lot of water as they rot and would make it available to plants it they rooted into the area.
- Building of soil fertility. As the material roots there is going to be a lot of humus formed. This is going to be very rich and demonstrates the way nature works. When trees die they take years to rot and gradually feed the soil in this way. It’s a long process that can take years. But by being slow it acts like a slow release fertiliser to the plants that fill the gap the tree leaves. In a wood this is going to be more trees.
- Improved drainage. Not only is the addition of organic matte to the soil going to encourage worms and other soil living organisms that form channels in the soil and improve drainage, there’s another effect. The mounds are above soil level and that potentially means less flooding of the plants that grow on the mounds.
The Disadvantages of Hügelkultur
- Rodents and other burrowing animals are encouraged!
- It takes a lot off time and energy to build hügelkultur mounds (though it might be easier to do this than remove the debris). To get going its going to take a few years of decomposition before they mounds really build up fertility.
- A lot of material is required. Large quantities of wood are required to build mounds. This is wood that cannot be used for other purposes eg firewood.
- Mounds tend to be untidy. This is certainly often true when they are set up in woodland etc. However, if hügelkultur is used in a modified form, eg used in raised beds this is largely overcome.
Raised beds are used to raise the growing area above ground level. They are useful where the soil is non existent or where the bedrock is exposed at ground level. They are also useful where the growing area is concreted.
Another valid reason for them is where the gardener has a medical condition that makes gardening at ground level impossible.
On the downside, raised beds can be expensive to build and fill with compost or other growing medium. Indeed, the cost maybe prohibitive for new gardeners with limited incomes.
Some gardeners suggest raised beds can be filled with branches etc as per hugelkulture . This will reduce costs but there are other negatives associated with the method. This includes the potentially increased levels of slug damage that are often reported, increased need for watering, winter exposure etc.
Terracing has been around for thousands of years. It’s the process whereby steps are dug into hillsides and mountains to enable crops to be grown. In Asia that crop is often rice, but it could also be tea or fruit.
In Madeira, where I explored many terraced gardens and orchards, the terraces are irrigated by levada. I explain more about this and some English terracing methods in the linked article on Terrace Gardening.
Imagine a forest or woodland where everything that was growing could be eaten or used medicinally. That’s what you’ll find if you visit a food forest.
Food forests normally consist of seven layers of vegetation. From tall trees and climbers right down to crops that grow underground or in the leaf mould.
There’s a lot more about the seven layers and how to build and maintain a Food Forest in the linked article.
Here’s The Full List Of The Gardening Methods & Techniques We’ll Be Discussing In This Article …. I’m Regularly Updating It
- Traditional Gardening – soil based outdoors and under cover. See above
- No Dig Gardening
- Garden Terracing
- Modified No Dig
- Lasagna gardening aka Sheet Mulching …not quite the same as no dig.
- Vertical Growing .. up walls, drainpipes outside and inside with heat and LEDs
- Core gardening
- Hügelkultur See above
- No Till …. Similar to no dig but also uses woodchip layer
- Straw Bale Gardening …grow in them or use in deep beds like hugelkultur
- Raised Beds
- Square Foot Gardening
- Container Gardening
- Aquaponics .. there’s something fishy in this garden!
- Upside Down Gardening
- Hanging Baskets
- Keyhole Gardening
- Edible Landscaping …. including edimentals
- Food Forests & Perennials
- Window Box Gardening
- Covered Growing … greenhouses, tunnels and cold frames
Thats the promised 23 Gardening Techniques Successful Gardeners Use in the U.K. … and as a bonus here is another one .. or maybe more!
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