This is something I came across about 20 years ago. At the time I had a garden that was 30' X 80' and I was having a ball working that garden. The Block Planting was incredible in how it worked. First of all, it was easier than row planting. You can stagger the timing of different plants like green beans so you will have them coming on at different times. When you block plant, the plants seem to keep the weeds from coming up because of the shade the plants provide and the sun cannot get to the soil. I had long blocks but not more than 3' wide so that you can reach to the middle of the bed. I do believe that during dry times, the soil doesn't dry out as much as row planting because of the shade. In the attachment I put on here, they used raised garden beds, I didn't have that at the time and the block planting method worked great.
One thing I look for is free things, free is always good. On the Victory Garden they showed a garden that when they started, the soil was terrible. What the person did was they went to a lumber company that had a mill and got saw dust which they added to their garden. Well I did the same, not only saw dust but also wood shavings, I put it about a foot deep all over my garden, then tilled it in. Well my big mistake was that I did that in the early spring and my soil was kind of hot that summer, because of the wood decaying. I did get some things out, but it wasn't my best year. So I would start at the end of summer to do that. Eventually it will turn your soil into something wonderful.
Using a block planting approach to sowing seeds provides many benefits.
Grows significantly more produce in the area planted
Forms a living mulch from the close-growing plants
It's much easier than single seeding a very large area!
I do not use it for all my plantings - but I have found it particularly useful for garden (shelling) peas, bush beans, and for large patches of spinach. Block planting is nothing more than "wide-row" planting gone large. I am a fan of Dick Raymond's book "Joy of Gardening" which introduced me many years ago to this concept. Like just about everything else, I have taken key elements of the wide-row gardening method and incorporated them into my own gardening practices but do not necessarily follow the exact methodology prescribed by others - rather I have customized it to work for me and my garden set up. For the purpose of illustrating this method, I will be showing my 2009 spring garden pea patch planting. The concept works similarly for bush beans (however, they do not require any growing support) and for spinach -although spinach requires a thinning process shortly after they have emerged and formed their true leaves whereas beans and peas do not require thinning.
Now the fun part begins! The easiest way to sow seeds in a block planting area is by sprinkling or broadcasting them over the bed like you would grass seed. It's incredibly simple. You do not make furrows like traditional row gardening - nor do you make a grid and plant seeds in individual holes pressed into the soil like square foot gardening. Instead you can sow a large planting bed in a just a very few minutes. For the most even distribution over the entire bed pass your hand over the area and scatter the seeds. It takes a little practice to get the knack of it. The idea is to land the seeds over the full width and length of the planting area without clumpbing a bunch together or leaving bare patches. Don't get too worried if you get some bunching up though, just come back afterwards and pick up the extras and redistribute them to an area that is less densely seeded. This is what the seed spacing looks like for peas. They are approximately an inch apart - some more, some less, but on average they are about an inch apart.
Once the seeds are sprinkled over the garden bed, I use a 2'x2' board to firm them down into the soil. This ensures proper contact with the soil for good germination and also "locks" the seeds in place so they do not move when they are being covered with the top cover of soil. This is the board I use for this purpose:
Place the board in a corner of the bed and then press firmly down on it by either leaning on it with both hands or gently stepping on it. Do not worry about stepping on your garden soil in this way - the board disburses and distributes the weight evenly and you will not create significant compaction from this.
Work your way down both sides of the bed until it is entirely firmed in.
The next step is important in that you must cover the seeds with the right amount of soil. I like to use potting soil from containers that are due for replacement soil this year. It's a great way to recycle the soil into your garden beds. If you do not have containers with soil that needs to be replaced, then you can use fine (sifted) compost as well. I just layer the potting soil (or sifted compost) on by using my hands to scoop it up and then broadcast it.
Work your way over the entire bed, layering on a cover of soil to the approximate depth needed for the type of seed being planted. For beans and peas this is a little deeper than you would use for spinach for example. Use your hand to gently smooth the soil over the surface of the bed to ensure even and smooth coverage. Since the seeds were previously pushed into the underlying soil by the firming in process, they should remain fixed in place while you smooth the surface covering soil.
Next, you need to use the 2'x2' board once again to firm down the cover soil over the seeds. It's the exact same process you used to initially firm the seeds into the soil. This step ensures the soil is in firm contact with all the seedlings and is necessary for proper hydration and germination of the seeds.
Water the bed thoroughly and you are done. That's all there is to it for beans,spinach and most other crops you might plant in a block fashion. For spinach and other finer seeds, you will end up with spacing that is too close for the good health of the mature plant so you will need to do a thinning process after the seeds have emerged and formed their first true leaves. It feels brutal, but it is necessary for these finer seed crops. The way I do it is to drag my rake across the width of the bed so that the teeth dig into the soil only about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. The teeth in an iron garden rake catch just enough seedlings, and pull them from the row. It looks a little ragged immediately after but just water the remaining plants well and they will quickly bounce back and be much healthier for the thinning. Do NOT rake thin bean or pea seeds. You should be able to broadcast these larger seeds over the soil with adequate distance between them and they do not do well with a rake thinning process.
Even low growing garden peas grow much better if provided some support. After block planting a bed of peas you can add some support structures such as pea fencing or even some branches stuck into the soil at various places in the bed. This year I am trying a horizontal growing support for the pea patch. I have seen this done using large panels of stiff hog wire laid across the bed with the panel resting on the boxed bed edging. I designed a similar system using the trellis netting I already use for my vertical grow supports and some bamboo poles I also had on hand. I purchased some 3/4 inch square doweling and some screw in eye hooks to construct the end support pieces that fit in my bed bracket holders. Rather than try to explain it further - I will just show you by a sequence of photos.
I added a second netting tier to provide maximum support. Not sure if that was really necessary - but I thought I would give it a try.