Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

A Systems Approach

Gardening (and all agriculture, really) can be classified into one of two types: Intensive and Extensive.

Extensive gardening is characterized by a large area with relatively low investment per square foot (or acre). Most farming is extensive.

  • It covers a large area
  • Plants are spaced far apart enough so they don’t have to compete for the limited nutrients and water
  • The focus is on the area of crops rather than on the individual plant

Intensive gardening is characterized by a smaller area with relatively high investment per square foot.

  • The space is utilized to its capacity by dense planting
  • Improving the soil so that it will support that denser planting
  • Scheduling planting to produce the maximum yield

Our discussions here at the Southern Agrarian will all be focused on Intensive gardening. This approach calls for a systematic plan to get the greatest yield out of a small area. There are three major parts of this system:

The Garden
We use a Raised Bed Garden to grow our vegetables. This is where the major investment of time and material has been made, and it is the limiting factor. The other parts of the system serve to make this part as efficient as possible.

The Transplants
The period of time from when a seed is first planted until it is ready to transplant is a very inefficient way to use the garden space. Our objective is to push productive plants through the garden as quickly as possible. Instead of planting seeds directly in the garden, we plant them in soil blocks so that each plant takes up only a 2″ x 2″ space rather than the growing space required by a mature plant. A transplant area 4′ x 6′ will hold approximately 600 seedlings in the standard 10″ x 20″ greenhouse trays.

While fresh vegetables are clearly the favorite from the garden, getting the highest yield often means that we don’t keep plants even though they may still be producing. Once they are past their prime, they are replaced with new plants. The vegetables that we cannot eat fresh are pressure canned for use throughout the year.

Measuring sticks with 6 inch markers. These are made from 1x2 and the markers are shallow saw cuts filled in with a black marker.


  1. Joe Butler

    Thanks for all the pictures you provide. It help the rest of us stay motivated. I am working on my first garden, in a long time, this year. Again thanks.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Good to hear from you, Joe. I agree – a picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words.

  2. Christina Gagnon

    I don’t know if you can answer this question or not but last Summer I tried to can my own tomatoes for the first time. I watched a Youtube video demonstrating the water bath method and they said not to tighten the lid anymore than you could with three fingers of one hand until the jar started to turn (you were not to support the jar with your other hand). Anyway, my tomatoes ended up getting a lot of water leaking in when I covered the jars with water in my canner. Do you have any ideas on what I may have done wrong? Please let me know and thanks for your help.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Hi, Christina. Thanks for writing.

      I’m afraid that we won’t be much help here. All of the canning that we do is pressure canning – we’ve never even tried the regular water bath method. If you find the answer, perhaps you could post it here in case others have the same problem?

  3. Christina Gagnon

    Thank you Stephen – if I find an answer I’m post it here. I really enjoy the content on your web site, it’s very useful.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Thanks, Christina – I hope you find the answer.

      You’d think that for a process as old as canning is, we’d have it all figured out by this time, but it just doesn’t work that way. Each generation seems to have to learn it all over again.

  4. Marcia Little

    When you are processing tomatoes for canning in a water bath, grab jar with one hand and tighten that ring as tight as you can with your hands. “Hand tighten”, then after the processing in the water bath, hold the jar with a towel and one hand and see if that baby needs to be any tighter. Usually upon removing the jars from the canner, my lids are already making that lovely ping noise when they vacuum down onto the jar. Sorry that someone allowed you to waste all those yummy tomatoes, I would not eat them.My canner has rust and I would have to feed to the pigs or the compost pile. Have a great day. For canning information, go to the Ball or Mason website.

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