Are you thinking of starting a garden but aren’t sure what method to use? There are a ton of different methods - some are traditional and some are more modern. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s talk about some of the most popular methods so you can decide which one is best for your garden.
Hydroponics is a method of gardening without soil. With this method you can control what kinds of nutrients you give your plants. This way you can give the plant exactly what it needs so it grows faster and produces more food.
Instead of soil the seeds are planted in a grow medium while they sprout. A grow medium is a material that holds the seed (or sometimes the roots) of a plant but does not deliver nutrients. There are a lot of materials that the grow medium can be made from such as coconut fiber, sand, and gravel. In some hydroponics set-ups the grow medium is less than an inch thick; it’s just there to hold the seed. After the seed sprouts the roots grow out of the medium and into the water that is filled with minerals and nutrients. In other set-ups the roots are sitting in the grow medium and the nutrient rich water drips through so the roots can soak it up. Hydroponics is usually done indoors so you can also control the environment as well as the nutrients. This way you can grow a lot more in a shorter amount of time than you would in a traditional garden with soil.
There are many different methods for hydroponics that use a number of different techniques. My dad is teaching a class on hydroponics right here.
Square Foot Gardening
Square foot gardening is a method of gardening that uses raised beds - elevated areas that promote easy access. The raised bed often has a wooden grid on top sectioning off the bed into one square foot areas. The idea is that if you grow your plants closer together you can maximize the space in your garden. Depending on the type, you can grow anywhere between one (for the bigger plants like watermelon) and up to sixteen (for the smaller herbs) plants inside one square foot. Another benefit of a square foot garden is that you can customize it in many different ways. You can build things over it like a hoop/greenhouse, a wire frame to keep the birds out, and a trellis for vine plants (like cucumbers) to grow up and take up less space.
The word conventional means to adhere to accepted standards. Unfortunately, today in modern agriculture accepted standards include the use of chemical pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and sometimes genetically modified seeds. If a seed has been genetically modified that means that its DNA has been changed so that it is resistant to bugs and/or diseases. Conventional gardening is the method that is used by commercial farmers since it is often the cheapest way for them to grow a large crop. The problem with this method is that there is a controversy over whether the use of chemical pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds is a sustainable method and produces food that is safe to eat.
Permaculture is not so much a method as it is a concept. The idea of permaculture is that everything is organic, it’s self sustaining, and that your garden is like a miniature ecosystem. By organic I mean that you don’t use chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Permaculture doesn’t necessarily have step by step instructions because everyone has a different idea of the way it should be done. It means doing things like using natural fertilizers (compost), landscaping to prevent erosion, and letting nature grow at it’s own pace.
Aquaponics is basically hydroponics but fish are thrown into the system to help fertilize the plants. It combines hydroponics with aquaculture, which is the practice of raising fish. In this method the fish live in the water below the plants. The fish waste provides fertilizer for the plants and the plants act as a natural filter for the fish. This way not only can you grow plants for food but you can also grow fish for food as well.
If you have any potted plants in your house then you're already familiar with this method. Container gardening is simply gardening in pots, barrels, or anything that can hold dirt. This method can be helpful if you live in an apartment and don’t have a lot of room, or you don’t want all the work that comes with having a "real" garden.
Do you have a trellis in your garden? If you do then you’re already familiar with this method. In most methods of gardening plants grow out, to the side, or along the ground. Vertical means growing up. Some plants naturally grow upwards, like trees. However, vine plants that naturally grow along the ground (like watermelon and pumpkin) can be enticed to grow up or climb a trellis. The benefit with this method is that you can save horizontal space so you have more room to plant.
Raised Bed Gardening
Do you have a raised flower bed? Even if you don’t you probably have seen one before. Raised gardening is exactly the same thing. You have four walls, short enough so you can reach the middle from every side, made out bricks, wood, or cinder blocks, which are simply filled with dirt. With raised gardening you don’t have to worry about stepping on your plants or compacting the dirt. Weed control is also easier with this method.
Organic gardening is the opposite of conventional gardening. The idea of organic gardening is that instead of using chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers or genetically modified seeds you use organic pesticides, fertilizers and non-GMO seeds. Non-GMO seeds are seeds that haven’t been genetically modified. One of the simplest of organic herbicides is vinegar. Vinegar works great for a weed killer, especially concentrated vinegar. An example of an organic fertilizer is compost, which is simply taking food scraps and brown material like cardboard and throwing into a pile so it can decompose into nutrient rich soil. With this method you don’t have to worry about potentially harmful chemicals in and on your food.
Cold Frame or Greenhouse
A greenhouse can be as simple as a plastic frame around your garden, although some of the more elaborate greenhouses are made out of glass and have an additional heat source to keep the plants warm at night. A cold frame is basically a glass lid on top of your raised bed. The idea of both is that they let sunlight in while also keeping the heat inside. With these methods you can grow plants in the winter that would normally not do well in that season.
The Mittlieder method combines hydroponics with vertical gardening. The Milltieder method uses raised beds and trellises to make plants grow upwards. This method also incorporates drip irrigation, which is a system that allows water to drip into the soil near the base of the plant. This is usually done by using a soaker hose or a drip system. Using the Mettlieder method, the plants get their nutrients from added conventional fertilizer and not from the soil. Some gardeners disagree with this method because either they don’t want to use conventional fertilizer or they believe constantly giving plants conventional fertilizer it is not sustainable.
A keyhole garden is a raised bed with a hole in the middle of the bed for placing compost. This method uses a specially designed raised bed. The raised looks like keyhole. It’s round, with a slit cut out to the center for walking, and a hole in the middle for placing compost. The bed is filled with soil and chicken wire is placed in the center and filled with compost. When you pour compost into the chicken wire basket you replenish the nutrients in the soil. The advantage of this method is that you don’t have to worry about spreading compost on the surface of your garden.
Straw Bale Gardening
Straw bale gardening is similar to container gardening, but instead of a pot or barrel it uses a straw bale. With this method you place soil on top of the straw bale and keep it moist for a few days before planting. Then just plant the seeds in the soil. As the plants grow the straw will decompose and fertilize your plants.
Lasagna gardening combines your compost pile and garden into one. In this method you create layers of brown material (like cardboard) and green material (like kitchen scraps or leaves) in a lasagna pattern in your garden. You place everything right on top of any weeds or compacted dirt already in your garden. The amount of brown material should be about twice the amount of green material. If lay out your scraps this way a few weeks before you’re ready to plant, then everything should decompose down into compost. Now you can plant your seeds in the compost. With this method you don’t have to clean out your old garden that you may have neglected over the winter, and it also eliminates the need to till the soil.
Back To Eden Gardening
The idea with Back to Eden gardening is to do everything naturally like the Garden of Eden might have been, hence the name. The aspect that makes Back to Eden gardening different from organic gardening is a soil covering. A soil covering is something like wood chips or straw on top of the soil and then compost is placed on top. The covering keeps the moisture inside the soil and the wood chips help the soil not to compact. There is an excellent film on the subject that you can watch here.
I only went over the basic aspects of each of these methods so before you decide which one is best for your garden, you might want to do some additional research before you decide which one you want to use.
Here is a list of my favorite books and web sites on my favorite methods:
Square Foot Gardening
Straw Bale Gardening
There are also many more methods and combinations of these methods that I didn’t mention. If you have a favorite gardening method share it in the comments below.