Vegetable Gardening for Beginners: One hundred pounds of tomatoes of just 100 square feet. Twenty pounds of 24 square feet of carrots. Delicious vegetables from a 15 by 20 foot lot. Believe it or not, it is not impossible to grow your own vegetable garden with this kind of yield. All that is required is a little patience and clever tactics to get the most out of your garden space. Follow these tips and tricks to plan the vegetable garden of your dreams.
Develop a practical plan.
The first step to growing a healthy garden is to mark exactly where the beds should go. Consider the size, shape and location of your garden to find the best facility for you. Note that if necessary, it can be changed over time at any time.
Plant in raised beds with rich soil.
Experienced gardeners agree that building the soil is the most important factor in increasing yields. A deep, organically rich soil promotes the growth of healthy, extensive roots that can reach more nutrients and water. The result: extra lush, extra productive growth above earth.
The fastest way to get this deep layer of fertile soil is to make raised beds. Raised beds offer up to four times more space than planted in rows. This is not only due to their loose, fertile soil, but also due to efficient distances. If you need less space for paths, you have more space for growing plants.
Raised beds also save time. A researcher tracked the time it took to plant and maintain a 30 by 30 foot garden in beds, and found that he only had to spend 27 hours in the garden from mid-May to mid-October. Still, he was able to harvest 1,900 pounds of fresh vegetables. This is a year of food supply for three people with a total of three working days!
How do raised beds save so much time? Plants grow close enough to dislodge competing weeds, so you spend less time weeding. The close distance also makes watering and harvesting more efficient.
Round off the floor in your beds.
The shape of your beds can also make a difference. Raised beds save space by gently rounding the floor to form an arch. For example, a rounded bed that is 5 feet wide can make a 6 foot arch above it. This foot doesn’t seem like much, but multiply it by the length of your bed and you’ll see that it can make a big difference in the total planting area.
For example, in a 20 foot bed, heaping up the soil in the middle will increase your total planting area from 100 to 120 square feet. This is a 20% gain in planting area in a bed that takes up the same amount of soil. Lettuce, spinach and other greens are perfect for planting around the edges of a rounded bed.
Consider worm castings.
Worming, a.k.a. Poop, are a natural fertilizer that can stimulate plant growth. It also helps the soil retain water, which is vital for a healthy vegetable garden. Work in the worm castings as you turn and break up lumps of earth. If you don’t see a lot of earthworms in your soil yet, be careful with the castings. Your local garden shop can give you clues as to how much to add.
The goal is to plant plants in triangles rather than in rows.
Pay attention to how you arrange your plants to get the maximum yield from each bed. Avoid planting in square patterns or rows. Instead, put the plants in triangles. This way you can add 10 to 14% more plants to each bed.
Just be careful not to place your plants too closely. Some plants do not reach their full size – or their yield – when they are overcrowded. For example, if a researcher increased the distance between romaine lettuce from 8 to 10 inches, the crop weight per plant doubled. (Remember that the weight per square foot is more important than the number of plants per square foot.)
Too close a distance can also pollute plants and make them more susceptible to disease and insect attack.
Try climbing plants to make the most of the space.
No matter how small your garden is, you can grow more by going vertically. Build space-hungry vine plants like tomatoes, beans, peas, pumpkins, melons, cukes etc. directly, supported by trellises, fences, cages or posts.
Growing vegetables vertically also saves time. Harvesting and maintenance are faster because you can see exactly where the fruit is. Fungal diseases are also less likely to affect upward bound plants due to the improved air circulation around the foliage.
Try growing vines on trellises along one side of raised beds using sturdy end posts with a nylon net or string in between to create a climbing area. Tie the growing vines to the grid. But don’t worry about heavy fruits. Even pumpkin and melons develop thicker stems for support.
Choose the right pairings.
Planting compatible plants also saves space. Consider the classic Indian combination, the “three sisters”: corn, beans and pumpkin. Robust corn stalks support the runner beans, while the pumpkin grows freely on the ground and shadows competing weeds.
Other compatible combinations include tomatoes, basil and onions; Leaf lettuce and peas or brassicas; Carrots, onions and radishes; and beets and celery.
Know how to schedule your harvests well.
Follow-up planting allows you to grow more than one crop in a given space during a growing season. In this way, many gardeners can harvest three or even four plants in a single area. For example, follow an early harvest of lettuce with a fast-ripening corn and then grow more greens or hibernating garlic – all within a single growing season. How to get the most out of your follow-up plantings:
- Use transplants. A transplant is about a month old when you plant it and ripens much faster than a seed sown directly in the garden.
- Choose fast-ripening varieties.
- Refill the floor with a layer of ¼ to ½ inch compost (about 2 cubic feet per 100 square feet) every time you replant. Work it into the top few inches of the floor.
Cover the beds to extend your season.
If you add a few weeks at each end of the growing season, you’ll have enough time to grow another crop – like planting lettuce, kale, or beets – or harvesting more tomatoes at the end of the season.
To get these extra weeks of production, you need to keep the air around your plants warm (even in cold weather) using mulches, cloches, row covers, or cooling frames.
Or give heat-loving plants (such as melons, peppers, and eggplants) a particularly early start to spring by using two “blankets” – one to warm the air and one to warm the soil. Warm the cold floor about six to eight weeks before the last frost date by covering it with either infrared-permeable (IRT) mulch or black plastic that absorbs heat.
Then cover the bed with a slotted, clear plastic tunnel. When the ground temperature reaches 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, plant the plants and cover the black plastic mulch with straw so that it doesn’t trap too much heat. Remove the clear plastic tunnel when the air temperature warms up and the risk of frost is over. Reinstall it at the end of the season when the temperatures cool down.
But think about the disadvantages of mulching the seed beds with straw.
A disadvantage of straw mulch is that it provides a hiding place for snails during the day. Suze Bono, an accomplished farmer, likes to pick her up at night with a spotlight and a tub of soapy water to throw her in. Accompanying planting with allies that naturally repel snails is also a good idea.