Melinda's How-To: Get the Most Out of Your Vegetable Garden

Melinda's Gardening How-To: Get the Most Out of Your Vegetable Garden

Increase your harvest without increasing the size of your garden or workload.

All you need is a bit of intensive planting, along with some low maintenance techniques.

What You Need
• A Bit of Space
• Seeds and transplants of your favorite vegetables
• Soil amendments such as compost, peat moss or other organic matter

Getting Started
Soil Preparation – Invest a bit of time and energy upfront to reduce on-going maintenance and increase your harvest. Dig or till in a few inches of compost, peat moss or other organic matter into the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. You’ll improve drainage in heavy soils and water holding ability in fast draining soil.
Fertilize add a slow release fertilizer when preparing the soil. One spring application will cover 6 to 8 or more weeks of the growing season. That means less time spent fertilizing.
Match the plants to the light conditions.  Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, melons and other vegetables that produce flowers and fruit that we eat, need full sun. Leafy crops like lettuce are more tolerant of shade. Check plant tags and seed packets for planting.

Intensive Planting
Plant seeds and transplants in blocks and wide rows with fewer pathways.  Give each plant enough room to grow to its full size. Your rows will be closer together with just enough paths for weeding, watering, and harvesting. You will be growing more plants and pulling fewer weeds with this strategy.
Interplant to further maximize your planting space. Plant short-season vegetables like lettuce and radishes in between properly spaced longer-season vegetables like broccoli and tomatoes.  By the time the longer-season plants start filling the space, the shorter season plantings will be ready to harvest.  You’ll be pulling radishes or cutting lettuce instead of weeds. Plus, you’ll harvest two crops from one row.
Plant successive crops throughout the growing season. Plant cool weather vegetables like spinach, radishes, and lettuce in spring. Once these are harvested, replace with warm weather vegetables like beans, tomatoes, or cucumbers.  Finish off the season by filling any voids with a fall crop of cool weather vegetables.
Go vertical to save space, reduce disease, and make harvesting easier. Growing vine crops on supports lifts the fruit off the ground and increases the amount of light and airflow the plants receive, reducing the risk of disease. Plus, you’ll do less bending when it’s time to harvest.  

Low Maintenance Care
Mulch the garden with pine straw/evergreen needles, shredded leaves, or other organic matter.  These materials suppress the weeds, conserve moisture and add organic matter to the soil as they decompose. You’ll have fewer weeds to pull and not have to water as often.  
Watering. Save time and water with the help of soaker hoses or drip irrigation. These systems apply the water directly to the soil where it is needed. Less water is lost to overspray, evaporation, and runoff.  They also reduce the risk and spread of disease by preventing water from settling on the leaves of the plants.

Harvesting Tips for Greater Productivity
• Pick leaf lettuce when the outer leaves are 4 to 6 inches. The plant will keep producing. Place your harvest in a bucket of water to keep it fresh. Use the same technique with Swiss chard. Harvest just the outer leaves when 8 to 10 inches. The plant will keep producing and looking good all season long.
• Remove just the full size firm head of cabbage. Leave the lowest leaves and stem intact. Several smaller heads will develop. That’s a lot of cabbage from one plant.
• Remove just the main head of broccoli when the flowerbuds are tight and bright blue-green. Then harvest the smaller side shoots that continue to develop on the plant.
• Harvest eggplant when the fruit are full size, skin glossy. Gently press and release. If just a small indentation remains, it is ready to harvest.
• Pick tomatoes when fully colored. Leave them on the vine for a few more days for a sweeter flavor. Just make sure the animals don’t beat you to the harvest


 Written by gardening expert, Melinda Myers. Melinda Myers is a nationally recognized gardening expert with more than 30 years of horticulture experience. She is a wealth of knowledge and we are pleased to share Melinda’s Gardening How-To with you!