At the end of 2020 I put in a decent-sized set of single row gardens. We had lost our gardens in Grenada during the pandemic and were forced to move back to the states, so it was imperative to get food growing quickly. I never like to be without a big garden, and with how bad our soil was here I thought single rows were the best tool for getting a fast yield.
It worked. And not only did it work, I’ve found it to work better than most of my other beds.
So much so that I did a video on the method a year after we started growing in simple single rows:
It’s refreshing to go back to something simple and effective. Weeding, watering, planting and harvesting are all simple. I didn’t have to build beds, make tons of compost, or throw down tons of mulch and cardboard.
I can basically just sit around and watch the turnips grow.
This video on the topic of single row gardening has racked up around 40,000 views so far, and its garnered some good comments. Sometimes we need to go back to basics!
Let’s look at what people have to say about single row gardening:
My Parents Used Row Gardening!
Many people noted that this method of gardening brought them back to their childhood.
A M writes:
“I lost my Papaw 2 days after Thanksgiving… he was 80 years old and raised on a farm in Arkansas. He would till every spring (red clay soil), made his own compost, and grew in rows. He had a wonderful garden and taught me to love growing things.”
Susan Huggins writes:
“Man, I am so glad you made this vlog. I’m in my 60’s and have been gardening, well, most of my life. Grew up helping my mom in the garden. I garden just like she did. Which is exactly the way you are explaining today with minimal tilling. All I ever hear, in most vlogs, is DO NOT TILL, and I get it, but how I’ve been doing it with amending my beds with old leaves and manure and never ever any chemicals. All organic. And my gardens are very abundant. I love my row garden. I love being old fashion on purpose.”
Charles DeVier writes:
“Single row is the way that my parents taught me ; and I have mainly used it every year – I’m now 78. I have grown a lot of food during my life.”
Kathleen Sanderson writes:
“Growing up, we gardened in rows. When I had my own garden as an adult, I’d been reading all the ‘garden in beds’ stuff, and that’s what we did, for the most part. It’s fine for small spaces, but if you have a large garden and need to produce a lot of food, beds are a lot of extra work. They have to be weeded by hand because the plants are too close together to weed with a hoe, or with a wheel-hoe. They take extra water and extra fertilizer, because, as you keep saying, the plants are too close together. I’ll still use beds if I only have a small garden, but if I’m trying to produce a large percentage of our diet? Plus possibly growing some feed for our chickens and goats (and feeding the livestock guardian dog)? It’s going to be mostly row gardening.”
I remember my Great Grandpa Greene’s huge garden in Upstate New York. It was also a row garden, and it was very productive.
Single Row Gardening Should Be in Your Toolkit
Though it’s not the only way to garden, I mention in the video that row gardening is an excellent way to grow food which we should not rule out, especially if we’re just prejudiced against it because it’s “old fashioned.”
Mj K notes:
“David brings up an excellent point. All systems have pros and cons. Using wood mulch and leaves, I find it almost impossible to do direct seeding (which is why I only plant perennials). If I had less clay and more time for bigger gardens, I would definetly do single row. Find the system that matches your time, knowledge and interest and try it out! The worst thing that can happen is you learn some things and pass that knowledge on to others in your area. We learn more from our failures than our successes. We grow through trying.”
Dylan Lemay writes:
“The idea of it being a toolkit, is really an important point. It’s great to learn all the different methods and see what works and what doesn’t for you and your area. My father did and till, single row garden, but at the end of the season in upstate NY, he’d throw mulched leaves (free local resource) over his entire garden area. Come spring, it would be completely broken down and he had the darkest, super nutrient rich soil I’ve ever saw. Then he’d till his rows and plant transplants and seed. It’s basically a mix and match of different concepts. It’s great to know them all if your growing for survival, and practice makes perfect!”
Spells of Truth writes:
“I was one of those edgelords that thought the straight line garden beds was outdated and in need of a ‘better and more natural’ method. So I tilled a little 30x40ft plot of land and used one of those ‘fertilizer/salt spreaders’ to mix together about 20 different species of plants. I did this pretty late into August so that is a massive factor. By late October I had decent sized turnips in patchy sections, about 20 cherry tree saplings spread evenly throughout the plot of land, 1 or 2 pumpkin patches that never got to fruit and thats about it. I couldn’t tell what was weeds, or what was vegetable/fruit and I stepped on a few turnips without noticing they were even there(meaning I prolly stepped all over other plants). Now that its December everything is ‘mostly dead'(like Wesley from Princess Bride…) except the turnips keep truckin. Im sure the result would be different if I did the same in April but just the not knowing what plant is which, and the absence of any ways to walk thru the plot of land without damaging what was growing makes me want to go back to the straight line garden beds.”
Timothy Pollard writes:
“I do a lot of single rows too and surface tilling… Because like you food was more important than the method and this works.”
Ellen Davis is saving money on lumber:
“Thanks for saving me a lot of money. I will not do my 4 4 by 2 by 12 foot beds. I’ll just up my game on single rows.”
jabba0975 jj writes:
“Wait….you want me to use critical thinking skills about gardening? Are those even legal? Can I buy them on Amazon?”
Criticisms and Questions About Single Row Gardening
My single row gardens are tilled, and that has brought some push-back.
Matthew King writes:
“I grew up gardening that way with my grandparents. While I think the initial results are great I do think long term results maybe different We can also learn from the past about the erosion from cultivation washing or blowing away the hummus your working to create and cultivation bringing weed seeds to surface. Here in Georgia some six inches of top soil is gone from share cropping and erosion from having bare soil. I would think cultivation would also not be very productive to soil biology. It would seem counter productive to add a food source for biology by growing a cover crop but cultivating it in and disrupting the biology. It would seem better to chop, drop and tarp or chop gather and compost. While I have nothing against using rows, I used rows of compost and use compost as a mulch. Dowding has years of comparisons that his no dig beds always produce more than his dug bed experiment. I put Dowding’s cardboard and compost method to the test here in Georgia and was surprised by the results and being cost effective. While being mostly a gardener and new to mushroom cultivation I find what I thought and knew about fungi as a gardener was not all correct. I think there is a gap between these two worlds. How some fungi have bacteria living within the mycelium and they live in a symbiotic relationship. Then some fungi consume bacteria, nematodes and insects. Then you have primary and secondary decomposers and they can grow on all types of things like straw, wood, grains, alfalfa, soy, manures, worm castings, compost, sucralose, fish hydrolysate and they seem to thrive with a added source of nitrogen. I thought fungi preferred acidic conditions and that’s not always true 6.5-7 and in cultivation you can add lime to raise the ph to 8 to keep contaminates from growing in the substrate. I didn’t know fungi breathe air and produce Co2. I do think most soils are bacterially dominate because they can reproduce much quicker than fungi can grow. It is somewhat difficult to culture mushrooms without some type of airborne bacteria or fungi growing and taking over. I do agree with the pest issue with deep mulch like slugs and wood lice but the ability to grow edible mushrooms like wine cap or almond blazei along with my veggies as another food source while improving soil heath out weighs the pest. Their just doing there part to brake things down. In experiments growing wine cap mushrooms with veggies showed great results with providing plant health, mulch binder and breaking down matter. I do know a Youtuber that is converting some of there row plots to no till plots by adding a layer of compost every year and have good results. I focuses on making good compost and providing good biology. I have heard someone say before if you focus on being a microbe farmer you will produced good plants and good food.”
Yes – tilling can definitely wreck an area, and building up the soil life is certainly a good practice.
Janet Robison writes:
“I use single row gardens and I put grass clippings from my lawn on the bare ground to keep the weeds out and the moisture in. It breaks down and feed the plants too.”
Benny Walsh asks:
“You touched on a subject that has me lost. I’m fascinated by Johnson Su and Dr Elaine Ingham; sites about no till, regenerative growing and deep mulching. BUT, I’m in Georgia zone 8b by about ten miles and very few, if any southerners practice or have faith in woodchips, deep mulch etc. You mentioned pests. Do you think our humid climate and awesome critters make these methods too difficult or unnatural to try here?”
I responded to this with:
“I had bad problems with deep mulch in the south. It builds great humus, but the insects in the south are amazing.”
jax I writes:
“i bag all my grass clippings and put it down in my rows i till it in in early fall and plant clover and mustard over the winter for cover crop i started with basically beach sand and now over the years bult the soil up to where i dont really have to do much during the summer months. everyone in the area comes to me and asks what i done to be able to grow a garden.”
Humus is key!
ManofInterests responds to my threat to write a new book on single row gardening with:
“”The book” has already been written. “Joy of Gardening” by Dick Raymond from Garden Way press.”
Good reminder. I own that book and enjoyed reading it some years ago.
Back when Raymond wrote his book, Troybilt tillers were still well-made…
“In a drier climate, do you think you would just increase spacing?”
Robin Lillian notes:
“Old time farmers had plenty of land. The majority of modern people in America only have a small backyard, if they even have that luxury. Raised beds and other techniques that maximize productivity in small spaces work better if you have a small backyard. If you have acres of land, you can afford to spread out your garden more.”
This is a good point, though you don’t lose as much productivity as you think by spacing wider.
If you have very tight space, it is vitally important to maximize soil fertility and irrigation so you can maintain a crowded population of plants. Widely spaced plants need very little care. If you plant close, you need to baby them. Sometimes that is the only option.
Charl Heynike asks:
“How is it game changing when all the farmers use rows already?”
To which I responded:
“Good question. Most backyard gardeners are not currently growing like farmers and have only tried raised beds. Many have the idea that single rows are outdated or bad in some way. I believe this is a failing.”
And finally, Cody Edison Tate has a name for the system:
“David The Good’s Grandpa Gardening”
I like it!
Thank you all for the input. We’ll be putting in more single row gardens in spring, so stay tuned.