By Jim Sincock
This diagram shows an example of how a traditionally planted row, and a intensively planted row might look. You can see that traditional methods use wider spacings and do not utilize the space as fully as intensive planting does.
The goal of intensive planting it to utilize your growing space more fully so that you can increase your food production without having to increase the amount of land you are growing on.
Seed packets offer details on planting in traditional rows, while the Fantastic Farm and Garden Calculator will allow plant spacing for intensive planting as seen in this chart. Lets say the diagram above is for a crop where the seed packet suggests a 12" space for traditional planting methods. With the intensive planting method, perhaps the spacing is reduced to 8" and the plantings are staggered as seen in the diagram. This staggering of plants allows the tighter spacing while not completely over-crowding the plants.
If you've determined that you need eight heads of lettuce to feed your family, that would take the entire row as shown in the traditional planting example. Using the intensive method you can grow the same amount in less than half the space (as shown in the diagram). This leaves the rest of the row for you to plant other items, therefore maximizing the amount of food you can grow in a given space. For the sake of argument, lets say that you wanted to plant the whole row with similarly spaced plants. Lets say head lettuce, kale, bush beans and Swiss chard all have the same plant spacing. In the intensive diagram you could plant 8 heads of lettuce, 2 bush bean plants, 5 kale plants and 3 Swiss chard, whereas with the traditional planting example you could only get the 8 heads of lettuce in the same amount of space.
Don't feel limited to keeping the same type of plant spacing for each row! For example, I had a row with bush beans and winter squash. The first five feet of that row has bush beans with about a 6" inch spacing, and the rest of the row is filled with winter squash with a 12" spacing. I also planted basil in blocks between tomato plants. Both of these worked quite well, just remember to allow some space between the varieties so they don't take over each other.