The last few years gardeners across the country have recognized the value and sense of growing a vegetable garden. Vegetables and herbs have made a huge comeback in the gardening industry after years of dominance by landscaping and flower gardening. During the early 2000’s, so many new, amazing, different flower species arrived on the market that many gardeners drifted away from the work intensive vegetable garden (not so colorful and fun as flowers) and veggie gardens shrunk or disappeared all together as vegetables were abundant and inexpensive. How quickly the garden scene has changed, as prices have more than doubled, the demand for local produce and home-grown quality has boomed, and it’s “cool” again to grow vegetables.
As much fun as it is to grow a vegetable garden (serious, how much fun is it to pick a sweet pepper, or pull fresh carrots from the garden and eat them on the back porch!) there is an end goal in mind - the harvest! Not all of us have a large garden spot that can sustain a large family and produce excess food to keep all the neighbors content as well. The size of your garden isn’t so much the issue, as how to get the most out of what you have. The following are my best suggestions to get the most out of your garden without spending the whole summer working to harvest a few potatoes, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and pumpkins for the kids to carve. Let’s make those gardens count! It’s all about maximizing your resources.
First, maximize your space. If you have a 5000 square foot garden, maximizing space may not be a priority for you, but if you only have a few 4’x8’ raised beds, then every inch of soil is precious. If space is an issue, don’t grow behemoth pumpkin plants that need a 20’ diameter circle, or cauliflower that take up 10 square feet, but only yield one flower, or potatoes when you can buy a 50 lb. bag in October for $15. Plant vegetables that produce the most for the space that they take, especially quick growing crops like spinach and kale, or fruiting vines that need little soil, and can grow vertically like beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Early, cold crops like lettuce, kohlrabi and radishes are usually done by June, and can easily be replaced mid-summer with short-season heavy producers like summer squashes or bush beans. Some crops, like beets or turnips, can be used as greens, as well as allowing them to mature into tasty roots too. Just be mindful of how much space you have, the needs of your plants, and “recycle, re-use, & re-purpose” that soil from snow melt in the spring to first snow in the fall.
Second, maximize your time. Some gardeners avoid vegetables because they take more care, more weeding, more time than just dropping some annual flowers in the empty flowerbeds out front and letting them take over for the summer. If you plan it right, vegetables will reward you way more harvest than work required. Gardening is so much easier than it used to be! Timers and soaker hoses or drip systems remove a lot of the daily burdens of water control - my 5000 square foot garden takes me all of 5 minutes a day to unhook the quick connector couplings, move the water hose to the next set of soakers, snap the connectors back on, and make sure the timer is set. I weed multiple times a week in the morning or evenings when it’s cool and comfortable, leaving my phone and other distractions somewhere else, and enjoy the quiet time outside. I spend just long enough to get a row or two weeded, but it never becomes a burden - it’s relax and unwind time. I use a lot of weed barrier fabric or mulches to cover space between plants and rows, so there’s less weeding and watering needed. I’m not joking. Once planted, it takes one person, 15-30 minutes a day, to maintain a 5000 square foot garden. I know. I’ve done it many years running.
Third, maximize your production by giving your plants what they need. Improve your soil each year. Make sure your garden gets at least 12-16 hours of sunlight each day. Fertilize your plants with the nutrients your plants need to reach their full potential. Protect your plants from diseases and insects that will damage or limit your harvest. Many times these important steps get forgotten in the process - we just expect the vegetable plants to produce year after year with no regard for their specific needs. I amend our garden soil each fall with organic matter, humate, and zeolite to build up and enrich the soil, to add vital micronutrients and beneficial organisms, and to break down and decrease the clay content. You lose soil every year to erosion and other factors; it has to be built back up each year to compensate for that loss. I fertilize each spring, and multiple times during the growing season with a variety of nutrients and fertilizers that are specific to vegetables and fruits. They need food! Continuous gardening depletes your soil of essential nutrients for your plants, and it must be replenished yearly. As for bugs and diseases, there are so many new ways to combat these pests that are safe, effective, and inexpensive. Two of my personal favorites are: 1) a natural insect repellent that keeps the bugs away from the veggies so I don’t have to spray insecticides and 2) a new biological disease control that naturally kills fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases in the soil and on the plants that is so safe you can harvest and eat the same day it was applied. In the last 2 years I have sprayed for insects 2 times (Grasshopper season!) and the repellent took care of the rest. Without pests, and with the right environment, your garden will produce more than you ever anticipated - and with less work!
Maximizing your resources and time will pay dividends during the whole season. With a little planning, some timely soil prep, and a renewed effort on your part to work smarter, not harder, you can produce a consistent garden harvest truly beautiful to behold. And while you are at it, it can reduce stress, lower your blood pressure, improve your health, and just make you happier overall. Who doesn’t want that, and an amazing garden to brag about too?