Six secrets for a high-yield vegetable garden with limited time, space and effort.
By Melinda Myers
Lack the space, time and energy to garden on a grand scale? You can still reap bountiful rewards by using these planting, maintenance and harvesting techniques:
• Make wide rows to maximize your planting space. Leave just enough room for plants to reach their maximum size. Make rows, four to five feet wide, so you can reach all plants for maintenance and harvest. Minimizing walkways means more planting space.
• Try interplanting. Grow short season crops like lettuce and radishes between long season crops like cabbage, tomatoes and peppers. The short season crops will be ready to harvest when the long season crops are reaching mature size. You’ll double your harvest and grow more vegetables, not weeds between your longer season plants.
• Plant in succession to grow more plants per row. Start the season with cool season vegetables like lettuce and spinach. Once these are harvested and temperatures warm, replace with beans and onions. Harvest these and plant a fall crop of radishes or lettuce.
When you use these intensive planting techniques, be sure to incorporate a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer at the start of the season. Then add a mid-season nutrient boost if needed. The slow release nitrogen won’t burn even during the hot dry weather of summer. Plus, it won’t interfere with flowering or fruiting.
• Go vertical. Train vine crops to climb up decorative or functional trellises and supports. You’ll not only save space, but you will also reduce disease problems and increase the harvest. Growing cucumbers and melons increase light penetration and air flow, reducing the risk of fungal diseases. Pole beans are much easier to harvest and produce an additional picking. Secure large fruited vegetables like melons to the trellis with a cloth sling.
• Grow vegetables in containers if in-ground space is limited. A five-gallon bucket or comparable size container is perfect for a tomato. Peppers and eggplants will thrive in a bit smaller pot. Plant vine crops in containers and allow them to crawl over the deck or patio instead of valuable gardening space. Mix flowers and herbs in with your vegetables. You’ll increase the beauty while adding additional fragrance to the pot.
• Harvest often and at the proper time. Zucchini and other summer squash should be picked when six to eight inches long or, in the case of patty pan squash, it reaches three inches in diameter. The flavor is better than those baseball bat-size zucchini, and you’ll have plenty to eat and share. Harvest your head of cabbage when firm and full size. Leave the bottom leaves and roots intact. Soon you will have four or five smaller heads to harvest and enjoy.
With a bit of planning and creativity, you can find ways to increase the enjoyment and harvest in any size garden.
About our Guest Expert: Melinda Myers is a nationally known gardening expert, TV/radio host, author and columnist. She is a contributing editor to Birds & Blooms magazine and other publications, and maintains melindamyers.com.