Here are five absolutely effective methods to ensure the maximum output of your vegetable garden.
Whether you're a first-time vegetable gardener or have twenty years of experience, we can all agree that having a bountiful harvest at the end of the season is as good as it gets. With a few tricks and some spare time, you'll have a plentiful yield this year.
Start Intensive Planting Beds
The most reliable way to increase the yield of a vegetable garden is to reduce the spacing between plants. The idea is to plant in wide bands, thus minimizing the area occupied by pathways.
To begin an intensive garden, create a bed of any length, or you can purchase pre-made garden beds, which not only look tidier but also prevent soil from collapsing onto the pathways. This will also make it easier for you to install row covers or establish vertical support structures.
You'll notice that some vegetables thrive better with support. They perform well on trellises, walls, and other structures. By growing upwards instead of outwards, your garden will generate more yield per square foot. Vegetables grown on supports also tend to have fewer disease issues.
●Tomatoes. Choose indeterminate varieties that continue growing and producing over an extended period, often until frost. Plant tomatoes in wire cages or tie them to 7-foot-tall wooden stakes driven 2 feet into the ground. Cage-grown tomatoes require minimal attention but are more susceptible to fungal diseases. Tomatoes grown on stakes benefit from being pruned to a single stem, which involves constantly pinching off new shoots that emerge in the crotch between the main stem and a leaf.
●Pole Beans. While they take longer to mature than bush-type beans, pole beans have a longer yield period. Train pole beans to climb tall wooden poles or sturdy bamboo trellises.
●Cucumbers. Vine-type cucumbers (as opposed to bush varieties) thrive on walls and trellises. Vertically grown cucumber fruits also tend to be straighter and more uniform than those grown on the ground.
●Snap Peas. These super-sweet edible pod peas are among the most productive vegetables in the spring garden. By selecting tall vining varieties (such as the original Sugar Snap pea), you can easily grow them on 5- to 6-foot-tall mesh trellises. Pick carefully to avoid damaging the delicate vines.
●Melons and Winter Squash. These long-season crops require robust support when grown vertically. Larger varieties might even need slings made of fabric to support the fruit. You'll also need to use fabric strips to tie the vines to the support; avoid using string or metal wire, which can cut into the vines.
Extend the Season
There are two types of succession planting, both of which are incredibly straightforward!
The simplest form involves planting varieties that produce for a limited duration over several weeks. For instance, instead of planting 40 corn seeds all at once, you could plant 10 corn seeds every week over a four-week period. This way, you'll have corn for a month rather than all at once.
Another example is planting bush beans every two weeks to ensure a continuous supply. If you aim for three harvests, plant one-third of the bed every two weeks. Other crops that benefit from this type of succession planting include corn, carrots, radishes, and lettuce.
Replace Spent Plants
The second type of succession planting requires a bit more planning. It involves removing a crop that has finished producing in your garden and replacing it with another crop.
For instance, once your peas are done for the season, remove the vines and plant cucumbers in their place. The key to success with this system is to have a new batch of seeds or seedlings ready to go when the first crop is done. This system works best when starting with vegetables that perform well in cooler weather but not so well in the heat of summer. Besides peas, you can use this technique with lettuce, spinach, and radishes.
A related technique is to plant several varieties with different maturity times. For example, you might plant an early-maturing tomato like 'Early Girl' at the same time as a main-season beefsteak variety.
This technique capitalizes on the fact that some vegetables grow rapidly while others take their time. For instance, if you plant carrots and radishes together, you can harvest the radishes in about 30 days, while the carrots will still be relatively small. Another option is to combine a vertically growing vegetable (like tomatoes) with a low-growing crop (like melons).
Some interplanting combinations that work well include:
●Growing sprawling melons and squash under stake-grown tomatoes.
●Encircling corn with lettuce or peas with radishes.
●Combining quick and slow vegetables, such as lettuce with tomatoes, beets with pole beans, spinach with winter squash, leeks with sweet potatoes, and radishes with sweet corn.