I've been serious about vegetable gardesn for about 7 years now….
After the first years of too much work and frustration, I think I've figured out the best way to get maximum yield with minimum work – at least, for me.
I shall pass on my (limited, but well-earned) words of wisdom.
First, rotate your 'crops' each year as best you can. It's not always easy in a small garden and sometimes one has other constraints to consider. I have an area that gets afternoon shade. It's perfect for lettuce but would never produce sweet corn. Use a good fertilizer, either your own compost, or a purchased, natural fertilizer. I also have to add lime (calcium) to my soil in order to prevent blossom-end rot in the tomatoes. These are things you learn from trial and error – or ask the neighbors.
Second, plant compactly. It saves work in the preparation, in the on-going maintenance and in the watering.
I put big, leafy things like pumpkin, squashes and melons with the beans and corn. They don't mind a bit of dappled shade and they keep the weeds down and the ground moist for their taller neighbors. I put the tall skinny dill in with the cucumbers for the same reason. This system give the tall plants the air space they need and the low plants the ground space they need. You must learn to walk carefully by the end of summer, but it's worth it.
I plant the lettuces and radishes anywhere they fit as they will be long gone before they have a chance to get in the way.
Example #1: If you have 2 rows of tomatoes, spaced 24 inches apart, you have lots of room when the plants are young, but it gets pretty crowded when they are all producing tomatoes.
Space them 36 inches apart and you have lots of lovely room to pick your wonderful tomatoes…. And for those wonderful tomatoes to get lots of sun.
At the same time as you plant the tomatoes, plant an early crop, spinach, radishes or lettuce, down the middle – 18 inches from either row of tomatoes. You'll have lots of room in early summer, and, by the time the tomato plants are big, the early crop will be done.
Example #2: Sweet corn should be planted in blocks with each row spaced 3 feet apart and the plants 12 inches apart. That's a lot of wasted space.
Plant trailing vines like butternut or acorn squash. They'll find they're way in and out of the corn stalks, providing shade to keep the weeds down and the ground moist for the corn.
Or plant the corn 4 feet apart and put one or two (that's all you need, anyway) bush-type zucchini or summer squash (courgette) in the middle.
Example #3: Plant pole beans rather than bush beans. They're much easier to harvest, you can space the rows 3 feet apart and plant melons or cucumbers in the middle.
Plus, bush beans produce one main crop all at once, then a smaller, second crop, all at once, perfect for preserving. Pole beans produce small amounts continually for 6 – 8 weeks, perfect for eating. And I usually have plenty for the freezer as well.
Example #4: If you want small gherkins for making pickles, let them climb like the beans, easier to harvest…. And you can plant a row of dill down the middle.
Example #5: Where ever you have large plants, like zucchini (courgette) or bush type acorn squash, plant radishes or lettuce around them in early spring. They'll be harvested before the big plants get big.
This method of gardening gets a lot of vegetables in a much smaller space than a typical garden, which means less to maintain. My garden is weed-free but I never weed and I don't use chemicals. I hoe. More on weeds next week.
The only plants I buy are tomatoes. And I don't start anything early, in pots. I direct seed right into the ground. I once did a test with zucchini. I planted a seedling I had nursed for 6 weeks and a seed at the same time. 3 weeks later the plant from the seed was bigger and better than the transplanted seedling.
As to the yield: I don't buy any vegetables or lettuce, other than carrots, celery, peppers, onions and garlic from mid-May through October. I tried growing those 5 and, given my area, soil, etc., the yield wasn't sufficient for the effort.
And I always end up with a freezer full of tomatoes, zucchini, butternut squash and green beans…. I have a freezer just for vegetables.
Now… What to serve with all those lovely, fresh vegetables?
These could be made with ground turkey or chicken as well. The addition of the onions, breadcrumb, ketchup and teriyaki keeps them moist and flavorful. I normally make 3 patties and serve 1 1/2 each.
12oz ground beef (350 gr mince)
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 rib celery – about 1/4 cup
1/2 onion – about 1/4 cup
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tbs breadcrumbs
1 1/2 tbs Teriyaki sauce or Soy sauce
1 tbs ketchup
Finely chop onion, celery and mince garlic. Heat oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, celery and onion and sauté until onion is transparent. Remove from heat and put into a large bowl. Add Teriyaki or soy, ketchup, breadcrumbs and ginger. Mix well. Add beef and mix, hands work best. Shape into 3 or 4 patties. Oil hinged basket. Place patties in basket and cook on barbecue grill over direct heat for 4 – 5 minutes per side. Or cook directly on barbecue grill. Or sauté in nonstick skillet for same amount of time. Remove and serve.
To all the mother's….
Happy Mother's Day!