From the gardener.
Planning a vegetable garden?
Are you planning a vegetable garden? Pick a few tips from the expert advice here to make your vegetable garden a success.
Setting up and maintaining a vegetable garden is both fun and rewarding. All you really need to get started is some decent soil and a few plants. The secret to super productive gardening is taking the time to plan strategies that will work for your garden but to be a really successful vegetable gardener, and to do it organically, you’ll need to understand what it takes to keep your plants healthy and vigorous. Here are a few high-yield strategies gleaned from our specialists who have learned to make the most of our garden space.
This is the single most important factor in increasing crop yields. A deep, organically rich soil encourages the growth of healthy, extensive roots that are able to reach more nutrients and water. The result: extra-lush, extra-productive growth above ground. The fastest way to get that deep layer of fertile soil is to make raised beds. The nurseries are made raised beds which yield up to four times more than the same amount of space planted in rows. That’s due not only to their loose, fertile soil but also to efficient spacing by using less space for paths. Clay soils take longer to warm up and so then early crops can be tricky, but later crops should be abundant and need relatively little watering. Light soils, on the other hand, are great for early crops, but can be dry and unproductive later. One needs not to worry about the nature of their soils, so if you have a clay soil consider raising early crops in containers and if yours is a light soil, grow late-maturing crops in shallow rows of trenches that are easy to irrigate.
Mixed cropping not only saves space but also allows for interdependency among different crops for better growth. We have experimented this with our indigenous crops namely maize, beans and ground nuts can be planted in the same plot. The maize stalks will support the climbing beans, while ground nuts grows freely on the ground below, outcompeting growing weeds. A specialized version of inter-cropping is the “square-foot method.” This system divides the garden into small beds (typically 4×4 feet), that are further subdivided into 1-foot squares. Each 1-foot square is planted with one, four, nine, or 16 plants, depending on the size of the plant when it matures. On addition, inter cropping allows for bio-interdependency as beans fix nitrogen in the soils using the nitrogen fixing bacteria for other crops to exploit.
Crop rotation allows you to grow more than one crop in the same plot over the course of a growing season. That way, many gardeners are able to harvest three or even four crops from a single area. For example, an early crop of potatoes can be followed with a fast-maturing beans, and followed by greens like spinach or cabbages, all within a single growing season. Tips to consider
- Use transplants. A transplant is already about month old and so will mature much faster than a direct-seeded plant (one grown from seeds sown in the garden).
- Choose fast-maturing crop varieties.
- Enrich the soils with a ¼-to-½-inch layer of compost (about 2 cubic feet per 100 square feet) with every replanting
However, remember that with some careful planning you can intercrop (grow another crop in the space between the rows) and catch crop (a fast-growing crop that is grown simultaneously with, or between, successive plantings of a main crop and is harvested before the main crop) without disturbing your crop rotation. Planning on scaled paper should help avoid overcrowding later.
Enriching the soils with fertilizer.
In conventional chemical agriculture, soil fertility is boosted using synthetic fertilizers. When taken to extremes, this kind of chemical soil enrichment can gradually impoverish the soil and turn it from a rich entity teeming with micro-organisms insects and other life forms, into an inert growing medium that exists mainly to anchor the plants’ roots, and provides little or no nutrition in its own right. Organic matter is by far the most useful substance for maintaining healthy soils. However, a few fertilisers can be added periodically for example phosphate, and agricultural lime. You can add organic matter to your soil in many different ways, such as compost, fallen leaves, cover crops and animal manures. Organic matter improves the fertility, the structure and both micro and macro life components of soil needed for proper plant growth for all kinds of soils. Organic matter also provides a continuous source of nitrogen and other nutrients that plants need to grow. It also provides a rich food source for soil microbes as organisms in the soil carry out the processes of decay and decomposition, thereby making nutrients available to plants.
Minimise planting in rows.
An efficient way to maximize garden space is to convert from traditional row planting to 3- or 4-foot-wide raised beds. Single rows of crops have proved to be efficient on large plots of land that use large machines for agronomical practices but are often not the best way to go in the backyard vegetable garden. The downside of row cropping is that you don’t get as many vegetables in a small space, as much of the soil is used for footpaths rather than vegetable plants. One should endeavour to allow at least 18 inches between rows so as to have plenty of room to work between them. As an alternative to rows, raised gardens are a much better alternative as they reduce the work load and also are easier to manage.
Keeping good records.
Finally, one of the most important ways of improving your garden is to pay close attention to how plants grow, note which crops were planted during specific seasons, and note the successes and failures in a garden. Over time this kind of careful observation and record-keeping will probably teach you more about growing vegetables because the notes you make will be based on your own personal experience and observations, reflecting what works best for you in the unique conditions of your own garden.
Once you have decided what you want to grow and when, the next task is to fit them into the space available. Usually some things have to be left out.