Well, Mother Nature answered my question (see January 14, 2013), and how.  The Christmas snow had completely disappeared and the ground was warm and soft.  But this morning, it is once again covered by four inches of fluffy (but strangely sticky) snow.  It took an hour and a half to shovel the walk and dig out the cars but at least I got some exercise.

Being otherwise confined indoors gives me the opportunity to finish up my recapping of last year’s garden.  Our main take-away from the entire season is that there is never enough space.  Two years ago, one four foot by twelve foot planter seemed huge.  That is, until we started planting, at which point it seemed to shrink.  We had to give away about half of the seedlings we had hoped to grow but for which we could not find room.

Last year, we doubled our acreage (using that term wishfully) by adding a second planter; we now have almost 200 sq. ft. of arable soil (that’s 0.5% of an acre).  And for most of the season, it seemed like enough.  We started vegetables from seed in about half of the available space and planted seedlings in the remainder.  Using more conservative planning in conjunction with the increased planter space, we were able to find room for everything we wanted to grow.

But then the zucchini went berserk.  We started with two plants—grown from seed—within one quarter of one planter.  They started off enthusiastically and shared the space amicably.  By the end of July, however, they were crowding each other (and the surrounding string beans) and both seemed irked to be crammed into such a small space with another plant.  The close quarters stifled their growth and probably contributed to one of them succumbing to disease (which we never identified).  By the end of the season, the remaining plant filled and then overflowed its allotted space.

The cucumbers also would have preferred more real estate.  Despite some very aggressive pruning on my part, the six vines we planted in one quarter of one planter quickly grew up and around the three cages we installed to support them, wrapping each tier with several lateral branches.  When the vines reached the top of the cages, they launched themselves overboard in search of other supports.  Some of the vines did belly-flops onto the soil surface below but at least one successfully landed on the neighboring trellis.

So how to deal with these space issues?  For the answer, I had to think outside the box.  Or, more specifically, outside the planter.

What I have concluded about the zucchinis is that they are not well suited to long, narrow planters such as ours.  They want to grow in large circular spaces so that they can extend in all directions, without restraint.  But building a circular raised bed or even an octagonal one would be beyond my carpentry skills.  And a square raised planter larger than four feet across would be impractical.

So instead, we will clear a space to the west of the west planter and build it up with new soil to create a low, raised bed without sides.  Planted there, the zucchini vines can sprawl as far as they want in whichever directions suit them.  We will need a large area—six feet by six feet per plant—and can probably fit two plants.  The only immediate problem will be a lack of sunlight but more on that in a future post.

Similarly, the cucumber plants are unhappy with the aspect ratio of the raised beds but unlike the zucchinis, they would prefer to be planted in a longer, narrower arrangement.  Instead of being wrapped around circular cages, they would like to be planted single-file with room for their main stems to grow upwards and their lateral branches to grow outwards.

Luckily, our pool fence is conveniently located just a few feet north of the planters.  It is certainly long enough (it extends for at least 50 feet) and even though it is only about four feet high, we can readily extend its height with posts and netting or chicken wire.  (Okay, this will probably take more effort than I think but it seems doable.)  In addition to providing more breathing room, spreading out the cucumbers laterally should make it easier to harvest the cucumbers and pick off the inevitable beetles.

In the garden, it seems, expansion is inevitable.