HOW TO HAVE SUPER YIELDS FROM THE GARDEN
Build up your soil. Building up the soil is the single most important factor in better yields. A deep, organically rich soil encourages the growth of healthy, extensive roots that are able to reach more nutrients and water. The fastest way to get that deep layer of fertile soil is to make raised beds. Raised beds yield up to four times more than the same amount of space planted in rows. That’s due to their loose fertile soil and efficient spacing. Raised beds save you time. Plants grow close enough together to shade out competing weeds, so you spend less time weeding. The close spacing makes watering and harvesting more efficient. Space smartly. To get the maximum yields from each bed stagger the plants by planting in triangles. Don’t space plants tightly. Weight yield per square foot is more important than the number of plants per square foot. Tight spacing can stress plants, making them more susceptible to diseases and insect attack.
You can grow more by going vertical. Grow space-hungry vine crops—such as tomatoes, pole beans, peas, squash, melons, cukes, and so on—straight up, supported by trellises, fences, cages, or stakes. Growing vegetables vertically saves time and harvest and maintenance are easier. Upward-bound plants are less likely to be hit by fungal diseases thanks to the improved air circulation around the foliage. Try growing vine crops on trellises alongside raised beds. Use sturdy end posts with nylon mesh netting or string to provide a climbing surface. Tie the vines to the trellis. Don’t worry about securing heavy fruits. They will develop thicker stems for support. Plant compatible crops saves space. The Native American combination of corn, beans, and squash works. Sturdy cornstalks support the pole beans, while squash grows freely on the ground below, shading out competing weeds.
Other compatible combinations include tomatoes, basil, and onions; leaf lettuce and peas or brassicas; carrots, onions, and radishes; and beets and celery. Succession planting allows you to grow more than one crop in a given space over the course of a growing season. You are able to harvest three or even four crops from a single area. An early crop of leaf lettuce can be followed with a fast-maturing corn, followed by more greens or overwintered garlic—all within a single growing season. To get the most from your succession plantings: Use transplants. A transplant is already a month or so old when you plant it, and so will mature.
Choose fast-maturing varieties. Replenish soil with layer of compost each time you replant. Adding a few weeks to each end of the growing season can buy you enough time to grow yet another succession crop—say a planting of leaf lettuce, kale, or turnips—or to harvest more end-of-the-season tomatoes. To get extra weeks of production keep the air around your plants warm even when the weather is cold by using mulches, cloches, row covers, or cold frames. Give heat-loving crops (melons, peppers, and eggplants) an extra-early start by using two “blankets”—one to warm the air and one to warm the soil in early spring. About 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date, preheat cold soil by covering it with either infrared-transmitting (IRT) mulch or black plastic, which will absorb heat. Then, cover the bed with a slitted, clear plastic tunnel.
When the soil temperature reaches 65° to 70°F, set out plants and cover the black plastic mulch with straw to keep it from trapping too much heat. Remove the clear plastic tunnel when the air temperature warms and all danger of frost has passed. Install it again at the end of the season, when temperatures cool.
Round out your beds. The shape of your beds can make a difference. Raised beds are more space-efficient if the tops are gently rounded to form an arc, rather than flat. A rounded bed that is 5 feet wide across its base, for instance, will give you a 6-foot-wide arc above it—creating a planting surface that’s a foot wider than that of a flat bed. That foot might not seem like much, but multiply it by the length of your bed and you’ll see that it can make a big difference in total planting area. Lettuce, spinach, and other greens are perfect crops for planting on the edges of a rounded bed.
Grow up No matter how small your garden, you can grow more by going vertical. Grow space-hungry vining crops—such as tomatoes, pole beans, peas, squash, melons, cukes, and so on—straight up, supported by trellises, fences, cages, or stakes. Growing vegetables vertically saves time. Harvest and maintenance go faster because you can see exactly where the fruits are. And upward-bound plants are less likely to be hit by fungal diseases thanks to the improved air circulation around the foliage. Try growing vining crops on trellises along one side of raised beds, using sturdy end posts with nylon mesh netting or string in between to provide a climbing surface. Tie the growing vines to the trellis.