Growing an abundant crop of great vegetables isn’t a mystery, but it can be a process of trial-and-error if you don’t do your homework. For a small home garden, all you need to know are the basics, but as your garden grows, you may want to look into a few ways to increase your yields. From early summer until past the first frost in fall, you can enjoy an abundance of delicious, fresh vegetables even in a limited space by using some standard gardening techniques, plus a few special tips and tricks.
Time to Maturity
The best way to get the greatest yield is to understand each vegetable’s average time to maturity. This will help you with successive gardening and interplanting. The length of time it takes various vegetables to ripen can be found on the seed package and in most seed catalogs. By understanding the time to maturity, you can double your yield by starting your plants early in starter trays, which depending on the type of vegetable, can give you two complete crops before fall.
Growing a succession of vegetables in the same garden can double or even triple your total yield. Traditionally to save space, the seeds for the second crop were planted right after the first one was harvested. However, there’s a better way. To save weeks of growing time, particularly for lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, sow the seeds in a nursery bed a few weeks before you harvest your first crop. Don’t bother with rows or spacing, since you’re going to move them in a week or so. When the seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall, dig them up and transplant them into the rows you just harvested.
Interplanting involves using every available space, but you need to first understand the time to maturity for each vegetable. For example, cabbages need to be spaced about 1 ½ to 2 feet apart. If young lettuce plants are set between each pair of cabbages, the fast-growing lettuces will be ready to harvest before the slower-growing cabbages can overshadow them. Onion sets can be planted in very early spring. Two months later, when the weather is warm enough, plant your tomatoes in the same row, taking the space vacated by onions already pulled as scallions. Leave the rest of the onions for harvesting later, well before the tomatoes grow big enough to crowd them.
Several vegetables, especially those in the cabbage family, are cold resistant, and can be planted in early spring. These plants will grow past the first fall frost and until the ground freezes. The growing season of other plants, such as spinach, peas and lettuce, are limited to cool weather. In certain areas of the U.S., you can grow vegetables in the spring and again in early fall, but not in the heat of summer. For a high yield, learn the difference between cool-weather and warm-weather vegetables; this information can often be found on the seed package.
The planting season for warm weather vegetables such as melons, tomatoes, eggplant and sweet potatoes, for example, is not determined by the first frost, but by consistent temperatures that stay above a certain point. It’s pointless to plant these vegetables when the temperatures are low and the soil is cold because the seeds won’t sprout. If by chance they do germinate, the seedlings will “stand still,” in gardener’s terms, and refuse to grow until warm weather sets in. You can, however, start these plants indoors, in a cold frame or a hotbed to plant later when the weather starts to cooperate.