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One of the things I really enjoy during the quieter winter months is planning ahead for my garden for the next season. The cold winter days are a perfect time to spend some time inside looking through seed catalogs and dreaming of the spring and summer months ahead. Recently, though, I’ve been focusing more on garden planning for a bigger harvest and on figuring out ways to grow more food in my garden space. In addition to making decisions about which seeds to buy and which types of vegetables to plant, I’m also trying to figure out ways to plan out my garden so that I can grow the most amount of food that is possible for the garden space that I have.
Trying to plan out your garden to have the maximum yield possible takes regular garden planning to another level because you have to make more strategic decisions about what to plant and where to plant it, especially if you have a smaller garden area. If you’re like me and you’re a suburban gardener with limited space, then you have to plan out your garden carefully to make sure that you are using your smaller space to the fullest. And even if you are a homesteader living in a rural area with a lot of land, you still want to make the best use of your space and resources to have a bigger garden harvest.
These four tips are ones that I’ve found to be helpful in planning my garden for growing more food in the space that I have, and thinking through some of these things now during the quieter months of the year can help you to be prepared for a more successful gardening season ahead.
4 Tips for Garden Planning for a Bigger Harvest
1) Choose High Yield Varieties
Some varieties of plants tend to produce higher quantities of fruit than others do, so if one of your main goals is to have a productive garden that allows you to have a big harvest, then you might want to stick to those types of plants. Some vegetables such as indeterminate tomato varieties will keep on growing and producing tomatoes right up until the weather turns cold, so you can harvest a lot of tomatoes throughout the season. And since tomato plants grow vertically and can even be grown in containers, they can allow you to have a big harvest without using up too much space in your garden.
Other plants, such as melons and winter squashes will take up quite a bit more space in your garden since their vines will sprawl out all over the ground. If you really love eating melons and winter squashes, though, they could still be a good choice for your garden if you keep in mind the fact that each plant will take up quite a bit of square footage in your garden.
Sometimes you might have to make some decisions, based on what your priorities for your garden might be. Watermelons, for example, will take up a lot of space in your garden and they aren’t something that you can keep for long term storage like potatoes or onions or other good storage crops. So, watermelons might not be the best choice if your goal is to have the largest harvest possible from your garden. But if you really, really love watermelons then you might find that it’s worth it for you to still try to plant some in your garden.
It’s also sometimes possible to grow more food overall if you stick to growing just a few different types of vegetables and focus on growing a large amount of them. So, if you were to grow just tomatoes, beans, potatoes, and onions, for example, it might be possible for you to grow enough to each of those four vegetables to store and preserve through the winter. But if one of your reasons for gardening is to enjoy the variety of growing several different types of fruits and vegetables, then you might decide that you would rather grow a little bit of a lot of different plants than a large amount of just a few plants so you can create a bit of your own farmer’s market variety in your backyard.
2) Map Out Your Garden Space for Maximum Growing Ability
I found it very helpful this past year to actually draw a little map of my garden space to help me to visually plan out which plants I was going put in which spot in my garden. I drew an outline of the overall space in each of my garden areas (I have a few different small garden spaces, some of them are rectangular and some are a bit more irregular in shape as I’ve squeezed garden space in where I can.) I used a measuring tape to give me an estimate of the size of my garden space and figured out the approximate square footage.
Then I look at the recommended spacing for each of the vegetables that I was planning on growing to help me figure out how many plants I could fit in the garden space. This allowed me to plan out how many of each variety of vegetable that I should plan on either planting by seed or by transplanting seedlings, and writing down everything ahead of time was very helpful when it came time to actually plant because I knew exactly which plants I was putting where and how many.
One of the resources that I found really helpful in planning out the spacing of my garden is this video about spacing for high density planting by the MIgardener YouTube channel. I realized that I was actually able to fit more plants into my garden space that I had originally thought that I could while still giving each plant the space that it needed.
If one of your goals for having a garden is to provide a substantial amount of food for your family then you might also want to think through some factors about how much to plant per person in your garden. There are a lot of different factors that can go into the decision of how much of each type of vegetable to plant per person, but doing some thinking and planning about that ahead of time can help you to avoid having either too little or too much of a crop at the end of the growing season.
3) Choose Varieties that Will Thrive In Your Climate and Growing Conditions
This is a very important step because even if you plan out everything else for your garden to try to get the best harvest that you can get, if you are growing a plant that isn’t going to thrive in your particular climate then you probably aren’t going to get very good results. Even if a certain type of vegetable is know to have very high yields, if it is one that needs a lot of warmth and a long growing season, then it probably isn’t a good choice for you if you live in a place with a shorter growing season and cooler summers, for example. Or if a plant needs a lot of water and you live in a place where it’s very dry during the summer, then you might have a hard time giving it enough water for it to thrive.
The amount of sunlight that you get in your garden space is also a big factor in which varieties will thrive in your garden and which will struggle to produce a good harvest. If you get a lot of shade with only a couple of hours of direct sunlight a day, then sun-loving plants that require full sunlight won’t be as productive in your garden. My garden, for example, doesn’t get as much sun as would be ideal for growing tomatoes. I still choose to grow them because I love the taste of home-grown tomatoes and enjoy growing some more obscure heirloom varieties that you don’t see at stores or even at farmer’s markets. But because of the lower sunlight, my harvests aren’t as big as I know they probably would be if there was more sunlight, so I have to adjust my expectations accordingly and plant more tomato plants overall to make up for the difference.
4) Make a Plan for Soil Health and Improvement
It’s a lot more difficult to have a productive garden that will give you large harvests if you don’t have soil that is healthy, so another important part of garden planning is to figure out how you will improve the health of your soil so that you have a good balance of organic matter from compost as well as nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Ideally, getting your soil tested is the best way to see what the current state of your garden soil is and to make sure you have the right balance of nutrients in your soil. Of course, if your garden is covered with snow during the winter months then that would be something you have to wait for until the spring. And since a lot of people tend to get soil tests in the spring time, it make take a little while to get results back.
Even if you aren’t able to get a soil test done before you plant your garden for the season, though, you can at least be planning on where you will source your soil amendments so you are ready for the future. And even if you don’t get your soil tested every year (I have to confess that I don’t!) it’s still a good idea to think about what sort of things you will add to your soil to replace some of the nutrients that were taken out of it from the previous garden season.
Compost is a great way to help to improve the organic matter in your soil and to add some fertilizer without overwhelming your soil with too much of a particular nutrient. Starting your own compost pile is a great way to save some money and reduce waste at the same time and you can make use of lots of free materials like vegetable peelings, leaves and grass clippings from your lawn, etc. Since it takes a little while to build up enough material to have a compost pile that will break down fast enough to be used in our garden, though, you might not be able to start a brand new compost pile in enough time to use on your spring garden. So you might have to purchase some compost to start off with, but if you work on creating a compost pile now you can have one ready for the following season.
Composted animal manures are another natural way to add some organic matter and fertilizer to your soil. I’ve used purchased composted cow manure in the past, and this year since I have backyard chickens for the first time, I am excited about composting their manure and bedding material to make my own fertilizer for my garden.
So, during the slower winter months, it’s a good idea to start thinking about where you might find soil amendments like compost and fertilizer so that you are ready for the spring time. If you aren’t able to create your own compost and if you don’t have the ability to keep your own animals, then you might be able to buy some compost and composted manure from a local farm store or garden center. Of, if you have friends that have animals you might even be able to get some manure from them for free.
Whatever decisions you end up making about your garden this year, the winter season is a great time to get cozy inside with a cup of coffee or herbal tea and make some plans about your garden for the coming months.
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.