Now that you have no-till, wide growing beds in your vegetable garden, what’s the best way to maximize your harvest? We discussed the first step, growing almost year-round, in the last post. The next step is to plant in succession and replace everything you harvest with a new crop. Use all of your space wisely. This is what we mean by growing intensively.
Even though we have land, it has always struck me as silly to put too much of it into vegetable gardens. If I can get the same number of vegetables out of a smaller space I save on the effort I put into the garden, time walking around the garden, and the money I put into maintaining the garden. We spent a few years early on growing a large variety of crops, including some pretty unusual ones, and determining what we really enjoyed eating. Then we experimented with which ones intercropped well and how late into the season we could grow each one. We’ve now devoted the smaller garden to edible flowers and herbs. In the main garden, about 2000 square feet, we grow 75% of the vegetables our family of three eats in a year. And we eat a lot of vegetables!
Methods for gardening intensively abound in books and on the internet. Information on two of the most popular ways can be found in Intensive Gardening. You need to determine what works best for you. Many of the named methods require either a significant amount of work or money to implement. Desiring to minimize both inputs we came up with our own approach. Our approach to lazy, yet productive, gardening includes intensive intercropping, lots of homemade compost, going vertical, and succession planting.
Each winter we gather our seeds, plan out the garden for the next year, and determine which quick growing crops can fill spots emptied by partial harvest of other vegetables. Each bed has something growing in it for the majority of the year. Every bed supports a minimum of two crops in a year, while many grow 3-4 crops.
When harvesting a few individual vegetables from a bed we quickly pop in fast growing seeds of something else. When harvesting an entire crop, we top the soil with our farm grown compost then immediately plant a new crop. We try to alternate heavy feeder crops (think cabbage and corn) with light feeders such as beans or sweet potatoes. We also go vertical whenever possible which allows us to plant other crops in front of, or in between, teepees or trellises.
Here’s how a few of our beds are shaping up for 2020:
- Winter sown spinach, followed by sweet corn, and ending with rutabagas
- Winter sown sugar snaps on a fence, with beets in front; zucchini rampicante on the fence with lemon squash in front; a final planting of kale to carry through into winter
- Broccoli, followed by bush beans, and ending with fall beets
- Successions of spring lettuce, followed by caged tomatoes, and winter radishes planted wherever a tomato plant stops producing
- Beets, then small melons (partially on the fence), then turnips into the winter
We use the fences surrounding our garden as trellises, having made the garden beds right up to the fence lines. Pole beans grow on bamboo pole teepees creating shade for summer lettuce to grow under them. Our tomatoes and peppers are all caged to contain the growth and keep them off the ground. Fencing is strung between poles within a couple of internal garden beds for more vertical growing space. We have found a number of vegetables trellis well including small melons, Italian summer squash, pole beans, sugar and English peas, and runner beans. It is important to take the sun into consideration when planting vertically so that you know where you will be creating shade. This allows you to carry spring crops over further into the summer.
Having a place to grow our own seedlings is a big part of our year-round abundance. We start seedlings off inside during the depths of winter to plant out as soon as the temperatures allow. During the summer we grow seedlings of fall crops so that they are ready to transplant as soon as summer crops are harvested.
The key to intensive gardening, no matter the method you use, is to regularly replenish the soil with compost. When you do that you can keep most of the garden planted for most of the year and harvest continually for more months than you ever thought possible. Let us know what how your experiments go and what methods you try. Are you ready to eat better than you ever have before?