Home gardeners work on a smaller scale, motivated more by taste and nutrition than profit, but "Farmer Dave" Zelov believes some form of SPIN - "Small Plot INtensive" - farming can work in the backyard, too.

"The basic principles are the same," he says.

Designed for people with an acre or less in a rural area, suburb or city, SPIN is a veritable code of common sense for vegetable gardeners: You farm your space intensively, organically and by hand, as much as possible. And you try not to break the bank in the process.

Zelov suggests planting closer together than the seed packets suggest. You may not grow the largest squash ever, but you'll have a bigger harvest.

And he'll plant in succession, a new wave every few weeks, to ensure a full summer's worth of salad greens and other vegetables, rather than a onetime burst.

"You might think you have a disadvantage being small," says Wally Satzewich, the godfather of SPIN, "but you have the ability to make many small plantings over the growing season. The larger grower can't do that."

Zelov will plant in long, narrow raised beds, which provide warmth and depth and hold water and nutrients better. But they aren't fancy. Zelov has dug troughs and built up the beds using the scooped-out dirt.

"Simple," he says, as are the cold frames he made - for seedlings - from old windows.

Zelov uses every conceivable space, planting peas along the fence and blueberries and raspberries where he can. And he's a believer in compost, the true "miracle grow."

He likes drip irrigation, too. Sounds like water torture, but a low-pressure, low-volume system like soaker hoses provides the slow, steady, targeted watering you want.

And no matter what your garden's size, Zelov says, don't forget to rotate your vegetable families every year so they don't endlessly deplete the soil. (Families include tomato-pepper-eggplant and broccoli-cabbage-cauliflower.)

By summer's end, you'll have eaten better and earned fashionable bragging rights for slashing your "food miles" - the distance between producer and consumer - to nothing.

- Virginia A. Smith