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In these troubling times, more and more people are turning elsewhere for their food supply – their own backyards. Since we are all focusing on providing more and more of our own food sources, it’s important to know how to maximize our garden space.
Whether you have a small raised bed, or a sprawling 1 acre garden, if you want to provide more of your own food, you need to know how to maximize that space. This is very important to protect your family’s food security.
My goal for this year is to grow almost all of the vegetables that my family needs for the year. Maybe this is your goal too?
There are a few ways to maximize your garden space. Let’s go over those today, shall we?
Make sure your garden soil has enough nutrients
If your garden space is lacking in the proper nutrients, your plants won’t be very productive. This can really “put a wrench in the works” if you’re wanting to maximize your garden space.
Throughout the growing season, you will also want to fertilize regularly. Different plants will have different fertilizing requirements, so you will need to do a little research on your particular plants.
You should try to use organic fertilizers if at all possible. Keeping chemicals out of your food is part of the reason why we grow our own food, right?
Succession planting to maximize your garden space
In my opinion, succession planting is the best way to maximize your garden space. Succession planting is necessary to get more harvests in a small area. And there is a couple of ways you can succession plant, as well.
Sow the same plant a few times
I love this method! For the plants that are best eaten fresh, this is the best way to stretch the time that you can enjoy them. Some great examples of this are radishes, spinach, lettuce, beets, and turnips. You just sow enough seeds to get enough plants for your family to eat within a 2-week period. Two weeks later, you sow the same amount. Keep going with this rotation until you’ve reached the latest recommended planting date.
This is best done with the cooler season crops that have a fast growth rate. You can then start sowing them again when summer begins to wane. Just make sure you count backwards from your first average frost date, and compare this to the days to harvest listed on the seed packet. This way, you can make sure your plants will have enough time to give you another harvest.
You will need to know whether a plant is a cool-season or a warm-season crop. The cool-season crops like spinach and lettuce will likely only be good to plant a few times at the beginning of the season, then again at the end of the season. If you plant a cool-season crop when it’s too hot out, the plant will bolt, and the vegetable will be bitter or woody.
Planting the same plant several times allows you to eat fresh from that harvest for two weeks, then the next harvest for two weeks. Imagine having a fresh lettuce supply throughout the growing season!
Sow different crops at different times in the same space
Sowing different crops in the same space, but at different times, has many advantages as well. This is typically where you plant a cool-season crop, harvest it, then plant a warm-season crop afterwards. Radishes and carrots are great to plant before something like tomatoes. They help break up the soil, aerating the soil for the tomatoes to thrive.
At the end of the season, when a plant is done producing, the plant can be pulled up and another short-growing, cooler-season crop can be planted. Again, you could go with another root crop, or do some leafy greens.
With this method, you should do a short-growing crop first, then you can do one longer-growing crop, then another short-growing crop. Don’t try this with more than one longer-growing crop unless you have an extremely long growing season.
In my area, the last average spring frost date is May 15. But I am already putting cool-season crops in the ground. I have started radishes, spinach, lettuce, and onions in my raised bed. When these are ready to harvest, I will pull them, then plant sweet potatoes in their place.
In my 100’x100′ garden, I am planting more radishes, spinach, carrots, and beets in a small section off to the side. These will be ready to harvest by the time I can plant my tomatoes. So this 10 foot wide section will be able to provide several harvests of different vegetables.
Intercropping to maximize your garden space
Another good way to maximize your garden space is to intercrop. Intercropping means to put a few different types of plants in one general area. This is a little like square foot gardening.
To make this work properly, you will need to know the basics of companion planting. You don’t want to plant green beans right next to onions, for example. Or plant your zucchini near potatoes.
A classic example of intercropping is called the Three Sisters gardening. This involved planting corn in slightly wider rows. When the corn is a few inches high, you plant beans to grow up the corn stalks. Finally, you plant squash among them all to shade the roots and hold in moisture.
Another good example of intercropping would be to plant basil plants directly around tomatoes. The basil helps to sweeten the tomatoes and deter pests, and the tomatoes help to shade the basil from getting too much sun and bolting. You could also plant a row of spinach on the north side of vertically-grown cucumbers, to give the spinach some shade.
With a little research and ingenuity, you should be able to find crops that grow well together, that you can successfully intercrop to get the most out of your garden area.
Grow vertically to maximize your garden space
Growing vertically is a wonderful way to maximize your garden space. Most vining plants will do great growing up a trellis or other structure, to save garden space. Cucumbers, for example, grow very long vines that tend to take up a lot of room in the garden. If you grow them vertically, on a trellis, they take up much less room.
Growing vertically has other advantages as well. It keeps vines and vegetation off the ground, where it can harbor disease and fungus. It also allows the vegetables to grow in a hanging manner, so they can have a more uniform shape and coloring. And it also makes the vegetables easier to harvest.
Peas are perfect for growing vertically, as they are an excellent climbing plant and appreciate being off the ground. They shoot out little tendrils that will wrap around virtually any structure. This allows the plant to grab on as it grows taller and taller.
Squash and pumpkins can be done in much the same way, but you may need to give some additional support for the individual fruits as they get heavier.
Your trellises don’t have to be fancy or expensive, either. Many people use cattle panels, lattice, or even poles or branches with wire strung between. Use your imagination, and reuse what you already have laying around.
Harvest at the right time, and discard unproductive plants
Harvesting at the right time is important to maximize your garden space. You’re growing food to consume, not to waste, right? Then you need to know when to harvest your vegetables.
Leaving your veggies on the plant too long can cause the plant to produce less, or even stop producing. Regular harvests will help keep your plants their most productive. Plants have the innate drive to produce seeds, so you can stimulate that by harvesting as the plants produce them.
Waiting too long to harvest also often results in undesirable results. Zucchini and squash get woody, cucumbers get bitter. Do your best to harvest the vegetables at their peak.
If your plants are done producing, don’t be afraid to pull them out and plant another crop in its place. If you are limited on garden space, it just doesn’t make any sense to keep plants around that aren’t being productive.
Use season extenders to maximize your garden space
There are all sorts of season extenders that you can use in the garden to extend your growing season. Greenhouses, hoop houses, floating row covers, water walls, or even cloches can help greatly.
A good greenhouse can allow you to plant even warm-weather varieties long before your last spring frost date. It can give you a good jumpstart on your growing season. I love to start seeds in my greenhouse, as I have limited room inside for starting seeds. Plants like tomatoes and peppers, which need to be pretty warm in order to germinate, are very good to start in a greenhouse. Greenhouses also keep a more steady temperature and protect against frosts.
Floating row covers are great to keep the in-ground plants at a more steady temperature. They will also hold in moisture, to help minimize water usage. Row covers will help protect plants from unexpected frosts at the beginning or end of the season.
I love using water walls around my tomatoes. The water helps hold in the day’s heat, so the plants will stay warm much longer through the night. They also help protect the delicate, heat-loving tomatoes against frost.
Cloches can be used to protect delicate seedlings from random frosts. If you don’t have the fancy glass cloches, you can use something like a milk jug to cover the plants. These can also be used for winter sowing. When it gets warm outside, however, you will need to remove the cloches.
Pay attention to production and yield
If you are really trying to maximize your garden space, it is important to pay close attention to the production and yield of the plants you want to grow.
Corn, for example, takes up quite a bit of space in the garden. And for each stalk, you only get 2-3 ears of corn. So if you are tight on garden space, you might not want to grow corn. Potatoes can also take up quite a bit of space, but can be grown more vertically in a potato tower.
Indeterminate tomatoes typically produce more tomatoes, but they are staggered throughout the season. Determinates are smaller plants and will therefore usually produce fewer tomatoes, but they will all be ripe for harvest at the same time.
Cherry tomatoes, for example, will give you lots of bite-sized tomatoes. You will most likely get a lot of tomatoes, but since they are small, they aren’t really the most productive tomato plant to maximize your harvest.
When buying your desired seeds, do some research to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Look up the desired variety, and other varieties, to make sure you’re getting a variety that is the most productive.
Consider the ability for long-term storage
If you want to really maximize your garden space, there is another thing you will want to take into consideration. Long-term storage of your vegetables. For example, lettuce and spinach don’t store well. These are crops that are best eaten fresh. So you will really only be eating them during the normal growing season. If you are trying to grow food for your family’s yearly needs, you won’t want to plant a lot of lettuce and spinach.
Root crops, like potatoes, beets, turnips, and parsnips are good ones to grow a lot of. They are filling, but they also store very well. Same thing goes for winter squash. You can easily eat these all year-round, so you can plant more of these and less of the more tender greens.
Having crops that you can store long-term is a good way to maximize your garden space. You will be able to feed your family from the garden for much longer if you have long-storing vegetables.
Grow plants that have more than one edible part
Another way to maximize your garden space is to grow vegetables that have more than one edible part. There are a food good options for this. Radishes, beets, and turnips grow fabulous greens that you can harvest without damaging the main root. Just don’t take the whole top off. Be sure to leave at least the center most part of the greens to allow the plant to still grow its bulbous root.
Sweet potatoes grow very big vines, and the leaves are edible like spinach. The smaller, more tender leaves are the best, as they get older they tend to turn bitter. You can also eat the flowers off a squash plant, but removing too many will decrease your yield.
Many leaves from vegetable plants are edible, though that is not a common use for them. Young cucumber leaves, bean leaves, and pea leaves are edible. Young leaves and immature ears of corn are edible, and corn silk is medicinal (excellent for bladder infections) and makes a refreshing tea.
Use fall gardening to squeeze another harvest in
It is important to use as many seasons as you can if you want to maximize your garden space. Fall gardening is your last chance to get another harvest in.
There are many crops that will give you a decent harvest when fall hits, and sometimes even taste better when touched by some early frosts. Kale is an excellent example of this. Kale thrives in cooler weather, and gets a sweeter taste after a frost or two.
Many other shorter-growing vegetables can be planted in the fall and still get a good crop before, or right after, frost hits. Just count backwards from your first average fall frost date to ensure your vegetables will be ready before a hard frost comes to your area.
If you have gotten as much food as you need for your family during the normal growing season, you can plant other things. If you have chickens or other livestock, why not grow some crops for them?
Austrian winter peas are a fabulous cover crop to plant after your vegetable harvest. Peas are a legume, and legumes are nitrogen-fixing. This means that they take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil. This type of cover crop helps to improve the soil, as well as provide a valuable food source for your animals.
Winter wheat is another good cover crop that you can grow for your animals. It is planted in early fall, and can be harvested in early summer. Winter wheat is a great food source for many animals. Just be a little wary of winter wheat, as it may interfere with your early planting next year.
Oats may be a better option for a winter cover crop to use for your animals. Oats can be grazed on into the winter, but will usually die at some point throughout harsh winters. This will free up your garden space for even the earliest of plantings.
How are you going to maximize your garden space?
With our “new normal”, I am going to be focusing much, much more on growing our own food. This is the one thing that I can control. I can protect my family’s food security by growing as much of my family’s food as possible. While my garden area is not at all small, my goal for this year is to grow the majority of the food that my family will eat.
How are YOU going to grow the most food possible in your garden space?
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