Planting a vegetable garden is something all of us can be doing to help boost our health, and help lower our collective carbon footprint. Even if all you have time and space for is one tomato plant in a 5 gallon bucket, get started! It’s so rewarding, and with a few tricks and a little bit of effort, you can grow your garden with minimal stress and maximum satisfaction.
- Amend your Soil with Organic Matter
A house is not sturdy without a good foundation, and your garden will not be as healthy without a good, nutrient-rich soil to plant in. Planting into unhealthy soil creates stressed plants, and stressed plants are susceptible to diseases, succumbing to bug pressure, and lackluster yields.
Building healthy soil is not complicated, and can be done with little to no money if you have the time to-
Start a compost pile!
A home compost pile is easy and is a great place to put your kitchen and yard scraps, keeping them out of the landfill. Adding compost to your soil is one of the easiest things you can do to help make your gardening experience easy and pleasant. Compost helps soil retain and use nutrients by being high in nutrients itself, and by adding loft and loaminess to your soil that allows for roots to spread easily in the soil. The bacteria in compost helps break down organics into nutrients that are available to plants. Soil that is enriched also invites lots of beneficial insects, worms, beetles, and other organisms that help keep the soil aerated.
- Add Mulch
I like to think of adding mulch like it’s a hug for your soil. The benefits of a good layer of mulch are almost endless. There are lots of options, like wood chips, pine straw, wheat straw, cocoa hulls, bean hulls, or a purchased bagged bark blend. Whatever you choose, make it organic so that it can feed back your soil as it decomposes.
Keeping your soil covered with mulch is your first line of defense against weeds, and fewer weeds mean healthier plants. Mulch helps retain moisture, meaning you have to water less and lose less water to evaporation. Mulch can deter soil living / laying pests in your garden but making it harder to access the soil to lay eggs during the season and overwinter when dormant. Be careful to not put much if any mulch up close to the stems of plants though, this can cause other problems. Mulch also encourages earthworms to multiply and beneficial burrowing beetles to hang out. Both of these garden friends are great for improving soil structure and nutrient availability to plants.
- Plant Cover Crops
The goal with cover cropping is to help build soil fertility and structure. Ultimately, we would do well to shoot for never having bare ground in our gardens. Something growing, 24/7. This of course takes some extra planning, and a bit of skill knowing when to sow your cover crop and when to cut it back so that it is ready for planting vegetables in.
Most backyard gardeners will do well with a nitrogen fixing crop like clover, alfalfa, peas or beans because we plant intensively in our beds and that causes us to go through our nitrogen stores rather quickly. Cover crop “cocktails” which are a mix of a few different cover crop seeds that are planted all together, are good choices for backyard gardeners as well. These cocktails are difficult to manage on a large scale because of their different flowering and maturing times but can be very effective in building biomass quickly in smaller beds.
Cover cropping can be unpredictable too. I will often broadcast sow greens in my beds around larger crops and cut and eat them as I need them as an edible cover crop. This does not build much biomass, but it serves as living mulch, and I get salads!
- Build Raised Beds
Raised beds can average four to five times more produce than the same space planted in ground rows. This is because the soil is looser much easier to amend with nutritious organic matter. Building up is by far the most effective way to grow a vibrant garden. There are many ways to create raised beds depending on your budget and aesthetic. Not good at building things? You can even create raised beds right on top of your soil by just piling up your soil, compost, and mulch into bed shapes and planting as if you’d built wooden sides.
- Extend your Season
A classic way to grow more produce is to start growing plants earlier and up your fall garden game. Depending on your grow zone, we can often get at least an extra two months of growing in our season. Some helpful tools in early spring will be cold frames, cloches, and low frame tunnels. In fall you can still employ your cold frames, and floating row covers will be incredibly useful. If you find these season extenders helpful, you may want to consider making or investing in a greenhouse for even more growing space.
What are your tips and tricks for increasing yields? Share in the comments so we can all learn together! <3
Written by Sow True Seed's Education Director, Angie Lavezzo.