Burlington, Vt. — Dick Raymond suggests you grow a bed "just for the fun of it." But like almost everything else this very practical Vermonter does, his "fun" suggestion makes a lot of serious sense for all gardeners, particularly those with small plots.
What Mr. Raymond suggets we all try is the mixed-salad garden -- lettuce, carrots, onions (sets), radishes, etc., all growing thickly together in one bed.
I had already heard about the Raymond salad-garden experiment, and heard, too , that it was an outstanding success. But I wanted to see it myself before I committed any comments to print. "Seeing is believing," as the saying goes.
I had seen several gardens on a recent swing through this state. While they all looked good to me at the time, without exception none appeared quite so intensively productive as my own backyard.
Then I arrived at the Raymond spread. It was ahead of mine in almost every respect, and the mixed-salad garden -- or multicrop bed, if you wish -- was king of them all. The day I visited here, leaf lettuce and radishes completely covered the bed.Pushing up through this living mulch were carrots and onions.
In a way, says Mr. Raymond, the mixed-salad bed is similar to planting succession crops. You plant everything together but harvest different crops at different times, because they mature separately.
Here are his suggestions for the multicrop bed:
*Prepare the soil as you would normally, adding the usual amounts of compost or fertilizer, or both, to the top 3 inches.
*Using one-third as much seed as you usually would use for a single crop, sprinkle loose-leaf-lettuce seed (the Raymonds chose black seeded Simpsons) over the entire bed. Next, sow the radish seed, followed by the carrots. The seeds should end up about 1 1/2 inches apart in all directions.
*Plant onion sets, or transplants, 3 to 4 inches apart.
*Cover the seeds with soil and firm it down and around the onions.
The radishes are the first to come up and yield a quick harvest; lettuce harvesting begins and continues over a long period. Obviously, you do not wait for each lettuce plant to reach maturity, because they are too close together. Instead, as they fill in the space, you harvest every other one -- and those remaining grow into the vacated space.
Finally, the onions and carrots are harvested. Onions, by the way, can be pulled early as scallions or left to mature into bulbs.
Rather than competing, all the plants seem to complement one another. Certainly the lettuce provides a leafy cover that shades the soil and keeps it moist. Carrots thrive in the soft soil and have no difficulty staking their own claim to a place in the sun. The broad lettuce leaves and the fernlike carrot tops provide a most attractive contrast.
If you never thought that grace and beauty belonged in a vegetable garden, you never saw a mixed-salad bed. Onions that are picked for scallions are blanched by the lettuce leaves for several inches up the stem. In other words, you get more edible onion from a scallion in a mixed-salad bed than you do from an all-onion bed.
This is what the Raymond multicrop bed -- 16 inches wide by 10 feet long -- yielded last year: radishes, 10 pounds, 3 ounces; onions, 5 pounds, 9 ounces; leaf lettuce, 23 pounds, 2 ounces; carrots, 33 pounds, 8 ounces. That's more than 72 pounds of food from 13 1/3 square feet of garden space. From the look of this year's bed, the results should be as good again or better.
It is important in this type of bed to harvest regularly so that the row does not get overcrowded.
You might like to try your own multicrop combinations: beets instead of carrots or small white turnips instead of radishes, for example. Do some experimenting until you find your own preferences.