The secret to growing more in less space starts with love.
What do you love to eat? What can you add to your life that will immediately elevate everyday living? What do you want more of in your life? If you have a sense of ultimate satisfaction for your efforts, all that you do will be worth it, instantly making the garden you design and cultivate more impactful.
After that we look to ecology and creativity. With a little extra care and planning, you can increase your yields as well as your experience.
5 TIPS FOR BOOSTING KITCHEN GARDEN YIELDS
Healthy soil is an ecosystem and the heart of any garden. Whether it’s in a container, raised bed or directly in the ground, well tended soil is key to bountiful crops.
First, remember there are all sorts of creatures living in soil, ones you can see and can’t see, like millepedes, rolly pollies, worms, bacteria and fungi. These decomposers are busy doing what they do — all vital players in the soil food web. For our purposes, eating and pooping are two of the most critical roles, though living and dying bookend the deal.
The process of living and dying (and eating and pooping along the way) feeds the soil along with inputs from plants and animals — leaves fall to the ground, plants die, and animals leave scat or themselves behind. In fact, when we make compost we’re doing our best to mimic nature. Making small batch soil like a good micro-brew, with just the right ingredients to feed the system that is our garden.
This is one reason why organic practices are so important and also why compost is hailed as the supreme soil amendment. Well made compost may not be high in N-P-K but it delivers nutrients and organic matter like a well balanced diet — with nutrients that are readily available to plants, improving and protecting soil structure, and feeding the soil food web all at the same time.
Adding organic fertilizers throughout the growing season, particularly during fruit set and development, can be vital. Compost teas made from worm castings and/or manures can give plants the boost they need. I also apply a healthy top dressing of compost to soil at least twice a year, in the fall and spring between crop rotations.
Healthy soil with good structure means you can afford to grow plants closer than recommended. Use good judgement of course, you don’t want plants so squeezed they’re outcompeted completely and there’s no room to breath. At some point, resources will deplete and disease can set in without proper aeration.
However, if you set aside the need for nice neat rows and turn to organizing plants in triangles or groups of 5 (like the 5 on a playing card), space is maximized.
Vertical gardening has become a buzz word for good reason. It allows you to grow more plants in less space, it can look amazing and provide multiple functions such as screening views and creating space.
Climbing plants are an obvious first choice for vertical gardening — give them a structure and they’re on their way. Beans, cucumbers, squash and other fruiting vines are a good place to start. Pallet planters and pocket gardens support non-climbers. Strawberries, greens and other shallow rooted plants are perfect for these types of vertical planters.
You don’t need an excuse to plant flowers, but if you did, companion planting is it. Attract beneficial insects and pollinators, increase diversity, and add edible flowers and herbs to the table all in one go.
Consider edible flowers like violas, nasturtium, chives and calendula. Let your oregano and sage go to flower, plant sunflowers – anything in the sunflower family — grow lavender, rosemary, and natives in the surrounding landscape.
Some plants, like cauliflower can take 120 days from seed to harvest. You may love it, but it might be best to save that space for something with a shorter growing season or that is more compact. Also separate traveling plants like mint, raspberries, creeping yarrows, chives, and strawberries with runners. Instead, plant them in containers or risk them taking over core planting beds. More on that later.