You don’t have to invest in a large hobby farm to enjoy the benefits of gardening. Whether you’re limited by a small lot size, an abundance of shade, or apartment dwelling, you may be surprised at how many vegetables can actually be coaxed out of even relatively small amounts of space given the right planning. In this post, we’ll take a look at five specific techniques to maximize your harvest, regardless of how much room you have to work with.
1. Nurture the soil
You may have heard the expression “no deposit, no return,” and it’s a principle that’s eminently important when it comes to gardening. Anything coming out of the garden can only be as good as the ground it’s grown in, and if you’re going to expect more from the dirt, it’s imperative to put more in to begin with. Many of the other strategies listed below rely on high-density strategies which can push soil to the limit. If there aren’t adequate nutrients in the ground, these approaches can be a disaster. And even if you aren’t planning to implement high-yield techniques, simply improving your soil will still result in a noticeably improved harvest.
While there are many soil improvements available for purchase, creating your own compost remains one of the best, most cost-efficient, ways to keep your garden happy. Compost naturally returns nutrients to the soil while simultaneously improving its water-retention abilities, making it the secret weapon when it comes to improving yields.
2. Get rid of rows
Unless you own several acres and a tractor, there’s no reason to stick with conventional rows. When space is at a premium, opting for less linear arrangements ensures that every inch of the garden is put to good use by eliminating walkway areas and other wasted space. Two of the most common routes to row-less growing include square foot gardening, which involves raised beds divided into individual square foot sections, and bio-intensive gardening, which relies on a tight hexagonal planting pattern.
Banishing the idea that true gardening only takes place when there’s room for long straight rows can also be liberating for apartment dwellers. Even a modest patio can provide room for a handful of carefully planned planters, bringing the goodness of home-grown vegetables literally to your doorstep.
3. Go vertical
Another way to increase how much you get from a home garden is to stop living in two dimensions and start looking up. Trade in traditional tomato cages for tall-growing stakes, and train indeterminate varieties to climb as tall as you can pick — you’ll be amazed at how many tomatoes a single vine can grow given the opportunity to move up rather than out. You can also set up a sturdy trellis on one edge of your garden and encourage small melons, gourds, squash, and pumpkins to reach for the sky rather than rambling all over.
Adding hanging planters that allow tomatoes and other vegetables to grow down is another way to capitalize on unused vertical space that not only increases your opportunities to grow, but adds a touch of beauty to enjoy from a deck or porch.
Once you’ve embraced a non-linear growing strategy, it’s time to take things to the next level by exploring interplanting — the practice of placing different kinds of plants in practically the same growing space.
Successful interplanting requires some experimentation and extremely healthy soil, but when it’s done right the result is a delightfully dense harvest from even a small space. Looking for some go-to combinations? Consider planting lettuce, basil, parsley or carrots under tomatoes — the shade won’t be prohibitive and tomato roots are generally hardy enough to handle the invasion. You also may want to plant spring crops, such as lettuce and peas, near large sprawling summer plants such as zucchini and pumpkins to get the most out of that space before the bigger plants take over. And, of course, there’s always the old standby “Three Sisters” — corn, beans and squash interplanted for mutual benefit.
5. Embrace rapid succession planting
Finally, if you’re serious about maximizing your yield, it’s time to stop thinking about sowing as a “one-and-done” activity. In most places, gardening easily be divided into three separate (though not necessarily distinct) growing seasons — spring, summer and fall. Careful planning means you can take advantage of all three seasons, resulting in multiple harvests.
For example, as cool weather crops begin to slow down, replace them immediately with summer seedlings. When your neighbors are kicking back, ready to settle for simply gathering the end of the tomatoes and late-season squashes until winter arrives, stay in the game by putting down another round of cool-weather crops. As long as you continue to amend the soil throughout the season, there’s no reason to waste even an inch of garden at any point during the growing months.
Whether you’re on a tiny plot in suburbia, a heavily wooded country acre with too much shade, or trying to crowd everything you can onto an urban balcony, it’s still possible to enjoy the benefits of home-grown food. Take advantage of these five tips to start getting more out of your garden, regardless of its size.
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