Ask Jackie by Jackie Clay Issue 63

Ask Jackie
By Jackie Clay

Issue 63
Jackie Clay

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Can you give more information on the linear feet (or square foot space) of ground needed for each vegetable? In other words, how much wheat, corn, green beans, etc., in that acre you talk about need to be planted in what space?

This would help us plan our long range goal of being self sufficient. We have that acre we could put into garden, but would love some help from you in the layout. Also, do you plant in a single row or use the wide-row method. We have a Troybuilt tiller and can easily go between rows, but if we use single rows it would waste a lot of space. Could you tailor your answer for this planting method?

Rich & Mary MacKeen

There are lots of different ways of raising the same crops. We range from tractor planting, with very wide spaces between rows, to French intensive methods where just about every inch of the garden is used with beds, not rows, being planted.

Which works best for a self-reliant gardener? All of them, under given circumstances. And I’ve used them all, at one time or another, from tractor planting five acres of sweet corn for my market garden to tiny raised beds on our first Montana homestead, which was located in a narrow canyon with very limited gardening areas.
If your acre of garden space is a new garden, you’ll first have to decide how potentially “weedy” it is. If you have a tough weed problem, such as quack grass or bindweed in the area, you’ll probably want to stay away from wide row plantings or bed plantings as, once you stir up the soil, billions of previously dormant weed seeds will sprout and begin growing, as well as thousands of perennial weed roots chopped (read “divided”) and actually increased.

With less weedy areas, wide rows work very well for carrots, beets, peas, onions, greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, and parsnips. I’ll include a chart for
plantings. Generally I don’t like to make my wide beds wider than double the distance I can easily reach across. This way you can easily reach between the plants to weed and
harvest. With my short arms this
is 3½ feet.

Spacing Requirements
Type of vegetable Wide row spacing In-row spacing, paths 18 inches
Beets 6 in. 4 to 6 in.
Broccoli 18 in. 18 in.
Cabbage 20 in. 28 in.
Carrots 3 in. 2 in.
Corn, Sweet 12 in. 14 in.
Corn, Flour 20 in. 30 in. best in single row
Cucumber 18 in. 8 in. patches 30 in. apart
Lettuce 9-12 in. 4 in. – 12 in. (head lettuce 12 in.)
Onions 3 in. 3 in. pull to thin for green
Peas 4 in. best in wide beds
Peppers 18 in. 18-24 in.
Potatoes 18 in. 12 in.
Pumpkin 36 in. 36 in. patches 8 ft. – 12 ft. apart
Radish 3 in. 2 in. interplant in between vacancies to save space
Snap or wax beans (bush) 6 in. 4 in. (best in single rows)
Beans (dry, bush) 6 in. 4 in. (best in single rows)
Beans (pole) 6 in. 4 in. (wide paths, single row)
Spinach 6 in. 6 in. (best in beds)
Summer squash 24 in. 36 in. (wide path between row)
Winter squash 36 in. 36 in. (best in hills 12 ft. apart)
Swiss Chard 8 in. 12 in.
Tomatoes, determinate 24 in. 36 in.
Tomatoes, indeterminate 48 in. 48 in.
Turnips 6 in. 4 in.

You can group the wide row
plantings in the same area, then plant row crops, such as beans and corn, in long rows in line with each other so you can easily till between the rows. I’ve found that green beans, wax beans, and dry beans produce
more beans that are more easily harvested, when planted in rows at least 18 feet apart, than in wide rows or beds. Planting this way allows the plants to bush out and produce more flowering branches that go on to produce beans.

I’m a fanatic for making use of every inch of my garden, planting wheat where I’m not using an area (which also helps keep down weeds), making successive plantings, and interplanting quick-growing crops between slower growing crops such as watermelon. By the time the watermelon vines are getting big, I’ve already harvested radishes, early turnips, and lettuce from the otherwise “wasted” space.

As one does not eat pecks of radishes or fresh greens, don’t make the mistake of allotting a whole row or bed to them. Instead, plant a pinch here and there in the vacant spaces and, as a new space becomes available in the garden, pop something into it. Don’t just let that valuable space go to weeds. Many times you can get enough green beans for many late meals out of that space where you pulled up dry pea vines.

Your garden layout depends a lot on how you’ll use your space. Do you plan on growing flour corn for cornmeal? How about hominy? Or potatoes? Corn is a space-hog, but you can tame it by raising a multi-purpose corn. I’ve often raised a relatively small corn patch, eating as sweet corn the first ears that came in, then canning the smaller second ears that appeared on the stalk. I’d also save a row or two of the smaller second ears to mature and grind for cornmeal, as needed, if the corn in the pantry was getting in low supply.

You don’t say how many people you’ll be feeding out of your acre garden. But let me say I fed nine people out of my one-acre garden. Much is possible with creativity. And all of my gardens have supplied produce to can for winter, as well as fresh produce for our table.

Now, for the required number of feet for each crop, I’ll tell you what I plant, and let you change it to suit your tastes and needs. (See table.)

In assorted patches are watermelon, muskmelon, summer and winter squash, pumpkin, and radishes. I also plant assorted varieties of Native crops here and there where there is room. I isolate all crops which cross pollinate, as I save most of my own seed. So I don’t plant all my beans together in one area, for instance, but place them at different corners of
the garden.

I noticed in your article in the Mar/April 2000 “Jackie’s tips for hard core homesteading,” you mentioned making lye by seeping water down through wood ashes. I love soap-making and always have to make that trip into town to buy lye. If it is possible to make it at home, I would love to learn how. Would you please write some instructions for me?

Erin Harrison, Conroe, TX

In the old days lye was made by collecting hardwood ashes in an oaken barrel (about 20 to 30-gallon size), which had small holes bored in the bottom so it was not water-tight. Over these ashes enough water was poured to moisten the ashes, and the ash-leached water, which contains the lye, was allowed to drip into a bowl. When making your own lye this way, use glass or pottery, never aluminum, to catch and hold the lye. Aluminum will react with the lye.

Making good lye for soap is more of an art than making good soap itself. This is why most folks (me included) make that trip to the store and buy lye of consistent strength. Homemade lye can be too weak or too strong, and result in soap-making failures. It is fun to give it a try, though.

You will use the same amount of lye in the soap-making, whether home-made or store-bought.

I read with interest Jackie Clay’s article in the March/April 1999 issue. She mentioned an open pollinated squash called the Hopi Pale Grey. I have searched seed cataloges and the web for this squash and cannot find it. I tried the Reader’s Forum at your website ( but no one could help me.

I was wondering if she could provide me with the source of the company or person she got this seed from?

Has she written a book?

Mark Gotberg, Riverton, UT

Sure, I can give you a source for Hopi Pale Grey squash. You can buy seed from Abundant Life Seed Foundation, P.O. Box 772, Port Townsend, WA 98368. I received my first seeds through a friend several years ago and have grown them ever since. We’ll see how they do here in our new homestead up in the mountains not too near Wolf Creek, Montana. My guess is that they’ll do well everywhere. I have never grown a better tasting, longer keeping, or more productive squash.

16 100-ft. rows of sweet corn (I plant four rows of early, the rest mid-season for canning and eating fresh.
10 100-ft. rows of Cherokee White or other corn for meal and hominy.
4 50-ft. rows yellow wax beans
4 50-ft. rows bush Romano beans
4 50-ft. rows Native American variety of dry bean
4 50-ft. rows King of Early dry bean
2 100-ft. rows pinto bean
2 20-ft. by 4-ft. beds of peas
1 20-ft. by 4-ft. bed of spinach
2 separate tomato patches of 50 ft. by 50 ft.
2 25-ft. rows peppers (chili & sweet)
1 wheat patch 50 ft. by 50 ft.
1 10-ft. row parsnips
4 25-ft. rows carrots or 1 25-ft. by 3½ -ft. wide row
1 25-ft. row turnips or rutabagas
1 25-ft. by 3½-ft. bed of broccoli
1 25-ft. row cauliflower
1 25-ft. row cabbage (mixed early and late)
2 25-ft. rows cucumber (trellised)
4 50-ft. rows onions or 50-ft. wide bed gives green and storage
1 25-ft. row pole snap beans
6 100-ft. rows potatoes

Hopi Pale Greys like manure, as do most larger squash. I dig a 3-foot- square hole 18 inches deep, add 6 inches of composted manure, add 6 inches more of good garden soil, add 5 seeds, well spread out, then cover with another inch of fine garden soil. Add water and stand back.

No, I haven’t written a book on gardening or self-reliant living yet. Publishers don’t seem interested. But I just finished revising A Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners for Rodale Press, and writing two Country Wisdom Bulletins for Storey/Garden Way on Building Fencing For Horses and Building and Rebuilding Horse Shelters.

I am planning to move my chicken house out of the pen where I have kept them (25 hens) for the last year. The area is about 30 by 30 and I plan to plant my garden there this year. The ground has no grass anymore and I want to put the hens on fresh grass. Would the ground where the pen is now be too hot due to all the droppings from the last year or would it be a good place for the garden? I plan on tilling it up pretty good and getting it all turned over.

Tim Barrett

Sure, go ahead and till up your old chicken yard. I’ve done that many times with excellent results. In fact, it’s a great idea to build a chicken coop smack in between two fenced areas and rotate the chickens and garden between them. (See John Silveira’s article, Save time and energy with the chicken coop/garden, in Issue No. 44"March/April 1997.) The chickens benefit from new, clean soil, vegetable leavings, weed seeds, and insects; the garden benefits from all that chicken manure and the weeds/seeds the flock picks up.

I’d till the ground just as early as the soil can be worked this spring to give the manure a chance to rot well before you plant. If your area is dry, soak the tilled area well, then keep it fairly moist (not wet) for a couple of weeks. Do let it dry out between waterings. Moist, well-tilled ground will allow the manure to compost better than if the soil is dust-dry.

Then about a week before you plan on planting, till it again. You’ll notice a great improvement in the appearance of the soil. Another tip is to add about six inches of organic material on top of the yard before you till. Leaves, weed-free straw, or even pine needles are my favorites. Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen and with the extra organic material you will be building the best organic soil you can imagine. I did this and in a year’s time the soil was black, fluffy, and full of earthworms. I could flip a stick into the ground and gather a whole can of worms to go fishing with.

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