Many of us homesteaders want to grow as much of our own vegetables as possible. We want to eat fresh AND have enough produce left over to can some to take us through the long winter months. Obviously, the best way to have enough food to can is to grow more vegetables! Simple, right? But with limited garden space, pest problems, and disease issues reducing yields that can be a challenge! The good news is there are many things we can do to maximize our garden space and increase yields. Here are 25 gardening tips to help you grow more food in less space!
25 Gardening Tips to Increase Yields in your Vegetable Garden
Grow Hybrid Seed Varieties
Not to be confused with genetically modified seed, hybrid seed varieties are plants that have been selectively bred and cross-bred for improved characteristics. They still produce seed after their kind (an eggplant will still produce an eggplant). But unlike heirlooms, their seed won’t produce plants with the seed characteristics of the hybrid parent.
Hybrid seed has increased vigor so they’re more hardy. They may be disease resistant or unappealing to pests. They can extend your season, or decrease the days to maturity. This allows you to grow plants in a colder climate when you might not have had enough time between frosts to grow before.
Hybrid varieties often are selected for the size of the produce they bear or the abundant quantities of vegetables they can grow. I purchase hybrid seeds from companies that serve farmers and market gardeners. This is because I know they want seed that will result in you being able to increase yields.
All of these qualities of hybrid seed will work together and help you to grow more vegetables in a smaller space!
Check the Viability of Old Seeds
Don’t waste your time and garden space planting seeds that won’t grow! Check the viability of your garden seeds before planting so you know how much seed you need to over-plant in each hole. It’s better to plant too many and thin them later if they all grow than to have none come up.
And that’s saying something coming from me because I hate thinning seedlings! I feel the weight of responsibility for the decision over which one to kill! (What if I pick the wrong one?!)
Choose Fast-Maturing Varieties
Some types of vegetables have plants that take only a few weeks to reach maturity. Other varieties of the same type of plant may take months. (Tomatoes are a good example. They can range anywhere from 55-85 days to maturity.) If you are trying to grow as much food as possible and increase yields in your garden, you would want to choose to grow the faster-maturing varieties of seed.
Use Great Compost
Compost is the ultimate way to build nutrient-rich organic matter in your gardens! The nutrients in the compost not only feed your plants but all the soil life that transports those nutrients across the garden making them more available over a larger area. And, you guessed it, well-nourished plants grow more vegetables!
Not all compost is created equal and there is an art to learning to make your own, especially in large quantities. If you decide to buy compost, make sure you get an analysis of it. In my experience, most compost sold isn’t done composting and the C: N ratio is still too high which means it should still be cooking. Which also means those nutrients won’t be available for your plants yet. If that’s the case with the compost you buy, try to buy a year ahead and let it finish composting on your property. A good C: N goal before mixing compost into your garden is 15:1. Anything more than that and the nutrients in the compost will be tied up to finish the composting process anyway.
Learn more about how to make good compost in The Intelligent Gardener.
Make an Investment
Vegetable gardening can be a great way to save money on the grocery bill, but with an upfront investment (beyond seeds and a tiller) you can save even more!
Season extensions, seed starting supplies, garden tools, insect netting, soil amendments & fertilizer (which we’ll talk about more later), even more, expensive seed from a higher quality company can all add up. It can make gardening seem like one expensive hobby.
But with proper care, some of these tools and equipment will last for years (or longer!) And all of them allow you increase yields your vegetable garden and reduce the cost of your produce over time.
From sowing seeds to putting up the harvest, make your busy life a little simpler with proven, durable tools from Lehman’s.
Keep a Gardening Journal
A Garden Journal is an invaluable resource for the gardener! It allows you to record your observations, closely monitor your successes and failures so you know what to repeat… or what not to repeat in successive years. All of these bits of information come together in your journal and form a broad snapshot of the pulse of your garden. And knowing what is best for YOUR garden, which methods are the most productive and highest yielding both in quality and quantity helps you to make the best decisions each year as you plan your next garden.
Use the gardening worksheets in the Homestead Management Printables to save valuable information about your garden this year so you can grow better next year.
Amend Your Soil
Amending your soil goes beyond regular fertilizing. And is equally important if your goal is nutrient-dense vegetables! Think of it as making sure your plant-children have 3 square meals a day and fertilizing is the snack that gets them to the next meal without whining.
Before amending your soil, you must have it tested to determine which nutrients are available for the plants to feed on. And then you supplement any deficiencies. You can also amend soil to balance out excesses. But the proper ratio of nutrients will ensure your plants are their healthiest. And healthy plants have increased vegetable garden yields.
Contact your County Extension for help with this or I follow the soil amendment recommendations in The Intelligent Gardener. Either way, the annual test is not expensive to perform and while organic amendments may be an expense the first year because if they are bought in large quantities, with proper storage you will have them for years to make amendments in the future.
Learn more About Different Organic Soil Amendments
Know When to Plant
Knowing when to plant your seeds is key to getting increased yields! If you plant them too soon and it frosts one last time, you risk killing them all. Some gardeners have learned that by planting some vegetables later they can avoid certain diseases and pest infestations.
Seed starting guides and charts are a great place to start. I have even made a Custom Seed Starting Calculator for you to use. (It’s real easy too! Simply type your first and last frost dates into the spreadsheet and it will tell you exactly when to plant! It’s pretty slick!)
But whether you use the calculator, a chart, or figure it out yourself from the back of the packet, if you base the dates on your USDA agricultural zone they are simply a guess at best. Each garden has it’s own microclimate and frosts can vary greatly across an area. You’re best bet is to start now and record when you observe your first and last frost so you can pinpoint the true best time to start your garden seeds!
Download your Custom Seed Starting Calculator and Learn When to Plant Your Seeds
Start Your Own Seeds
Learning to start your own seeds increases the variety of plants you can choose from. You can choose those seeds that will perform best in your garden or were selected for their size and quantity of yields.
If you grow an organic garden, these seedlings you start will have increased vigor at transplant time and beyond since they won’t be dependent on chemicals to bolster their chance for survival. Chemical-based gardening creates plants that are like they’ve been on antibiotics since birth and suddenly are expected to have an immune system.
The lower cost of starting your own seeds also means you can grow more now and thin later, choosing the best-looking plants to put in your garden.
Undersowing and Interplanting
Undersowing is the gardening practice of planting certain types of plants that would benefit from a cooler microclimate under a larger sun-loving plant. The vegetables you undersow should be light feeders so they don’t rob a lot of nutrients from their neighbor. “Light feeders” means they don’t take a lot of nutrients out of the soil to grow.
A good example of this would be to lettuce under your tomatoes (provided you pruned off a few of the tomato branches nearer the ground.) Lettuce grows best without becoming bitter if it stays cool and wet. By planting it under the tomatoes you can recreate the microclimate lettuce loves.
Interplanting is where you plan to plant 2 different vegetable types in the same plot knowing the one will be harvested in time to make room for the second to fully fill in space afterward. I would really be interested in trying to interplant kale with the garlic in the spring. Because garlic is harvested fairly early in the summer (July here in Ohio) you just have an empty bed till it’s time to plant the fall crops. Interplanting allows the garlic to be harvested and the next crop is already well on it’s way to maturity.
There are symbiotic relationships between some types of plants. These beneficial exchanges allow plants to thrive. Some companion plants will deter pests from one plant by attracting them to themselves. Some will attract pollinators where they are needed most. Others help each other with gathering nutrients from the soil. (Think of the “Three Sisters” where beans create the nitrogen corn needs to grow.)
Check out these great Companion Planting Combinations
There is definitely a science behind growing vegetables in an intensive garden. And small-scale market gardeners like Eliot Coleman and Jean-Martin Fortier seem to have mastered the skill. Thankfully, they share spacing guidelines in their books and you can learn from them the optimal spacings of any vegetable you would want to grow. That way you can squeeze in as many plants into as small a space as possible!
Of course, intensive planting is only successful if you follow certain tips to avoid problems. Thankfully, several of those tips, like properly timed fertilization and using soil amendments will also increase yields!
Bring bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your garden and increase your rate of pollination! More pollination means more flowers that won’t abort but instead reproduce and put more vegetables in your harvesting apron.
Plant these easy-care perennials to encourage more pollinators in your garden.
There are many benefits to growing a no-dig garden! And many of those benefits also translate into higher garden yields as well! Rototillers break up the oh-so-valuable soil food web which is the nutrient transportation superhighway underneath the surface of your soil. When you till the garden it’s kind of like taking a birds nest and scattering it all over the yard. Now the bird has to start their work all over again before she can start laying eggs and having babies. In the soil food web, all those pathways for transporting nutrients have to be built again before the invisible little creatures can start moving around the nutrients that will ultimately feed your plants and nourish your family. Again, under-nourished plants have decreased yields.
Learn How to Grow Your Own No-Dig Garden Organic Home & Garden
Some crops normally sprawl along the ground and waste huge amounts of the garden outside of their root zone. Trellising crops like beans, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, even squash allows you to grow more plants in less space.
You can grow many plants like potatoes, lettuce, and strawberries and herbs in towers, pallets, or a myriad of other vertical planters.
Check out these trellising ideas for inspiration as you create a vertical garden.
Fertilizing your vegetable plants helps them not only grow well but increases the amount of produce they yield. Because you are supplying the nutrients they need on a regular basis, the plants are able to be more hardy, productive, and fight disease and pest pressure. (Weak plants are more vulnerable to disease and pests.)
The amount of fertilization each plant needs varies depending on the type. Some plants, like tomatoes and cucumbers, are heavy feeders and require more frequent fertilization. Some are light feeders, such as lettuce or kale. They only require a little boost maybe once or twice a season. Many fall somewhere in the middle.
I choose to fertilize with foliar sprayings of cold-pressed liquid fish fertilizer. It stinks to high heaven so try not to do it on a windy day or it will blow all over you. (Normally Bill doesn’t help much in the garden so I can usually guilt trip him into helping with this task!!) But when cold-pressed it is full of the vitamins, amino acids, and nutrients plants need. Since I’m gardening “beyond organic” that is extremely important to me. Think Native Americans & Pilgrims and the whole fish-in-the-hole story. Using fish in the garden is a classic organic solution.
Learn more about Cold-Pressed Liquid Fish Fertilizer
Yes, many weeds can be beneficial as food or medicine, but you need to look at weeds in the garden as thieves. They are robbing the soil of nutrients as they grow which means that much less available nutrients for the plants you’ve invested time and money into.
As much as I love chickweed, I realize that it’s not going to feed my family over the winter like the crops I planted. So I pull my weeds, eat some, and feed the rest to the chickens or pigs, or add them to the compost pile and increase yields.
Check out the 11 Reasons you Should Pull Garden Weeds
Tackle Garden Pests
You know what really decreases your garden yields? When other things eat your vegetables.
If you tackle garden pests as they become a problem you have a greater chance of rescuing your produce from their destruction. Here are some great ways to beat pests at their own game!
- The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control
- How to Kill Squash Bugs
- Rhubarb Leaf Pest Spray
- How to Get Rid of Tomato Hornworms
- Should Organic Farmers Use Natural Sprays
- How to Naturally Control Cabbageworms
- The Ultimate All-Natural Insecticide
- How to Kill Mexican Bean Beetles
If I am anything, I’m an avid fan of using mulch in the garden! There are so many benefits to mulch, not the least of which is that it can actually increase yields in your garden! The most immediate effect is that mulch retains moisture so even in a drought year, you’re plants are less likely to be stressed. Beyond that mulch can prevent soil-borne disease because when rain falls it doesn’t splash the soil up onto the leaves. It increases the organic matter and soil life both of which increase the nutrients available to the plants. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, healthy plants are going to yield more fruit.
Grass-based mulching systems like hay, straw, or grass are the best for annual vegetable gardens… here’s why.
Record Your Yields
There are several good reasons why you should keep homesteading records, but being able to increase yields is definitely one of them!
Learning to keep good gardening records of our yields (and expenses) has been a game changer for me! Now I don’t have to rely on my memory from years past to know which varieties produced the most vegetables for us to eat and put up. I can look back an easily compare which gave the highest yields at the least expense.
This invaluable information helps to make better decisions about what to grow in the future!
In fact, I think record keeping is so important that we developed the SmartSteader homestead management app to track expenses and yields. It’s the one tool we wanted for our gardens and couldn’t find anywhere so we made it ourselves. It has simplified and streamlined keeping homesteading records so much in our lives we had to make it available to gardeners and homesteaders everywhere!
Now when I want to record how many pounds of tomatoes I bring in from the garden, I literally have to make a couple taps on my phone and I’m done. No finding a pen, going to my binder, flipping through to the right page, writing in the totals, and, most importantly, adding up the math!
Start your Free Trial of SmartSteader today!
Many crops such as lettuce, radishes, beets, greens, carrots, have very few days to germination. Plan for a continuous harvest by succession planting and sowing a few new rows every couple of weeks. You can only eat so many radishes at once, but by practicing succession planting you can guarantee you’ll always have radishes growing and ready when you want to enjoy them.
Extend your Seasons
Whether it’s in high tunnels, greenhouses, caterpillar tunnels, cold frames, or fabric, providing plants with an insulator from the frost will allow you to harvest more, longer! This is another area where keeping gardening records is super helpful! You can determine the cost-effectiveness of the systems you try. Records also allow you to find the best times to start planting in the spring or fall as you detail which dates were too soon, too late, or just right.
Start Growing Vegetables Year-Round (Even in Cold Climates)
Practicing crop rotation allows you to balance the heavy feeders and light feeders in the soil. One year you grow a heavy feeder in a row, the next year you grow a light feeder there. Which means each part of your garden won’t have an undue portion of nutrients being used up. Crop rotation has other benefits too like reducing pests and diseases because the crops aren’t growing in the same spot every year.
Learn How to Make a Crop Rotation when Planning Your Garden
Using rainwater instead of municipal water will put fewer chemicals in your garden, is soft, and has the proper pH for plant development. Rainwater has more nutrients and even organic matter if collected from the roof. More than even well water too! Plants simply grow better with rain!
So whether you use rain barrels or swales, you should consider a plan to make use of rain as your primary irrigation method.
Using raised beds increases the surface area you can plant in because you basically can plant on the sides too. Raised beds are also beneficial because they are easier to amend. Raised beds drain water away more easily. So if you live in an area with really wet springs, this means you can work the soil sooner. (On the flip side, make sure you’re mulching raised beds in the drier months to help retain moisture. That way you don’t have to water as frequently. The good news is using mulch will increase yields.)
Check out Planning and Designing the Family Food Garden to learn more about growing enough food to feed your family.
Implementing even a few of these garden tips may increase yields in your garden. We want you your garden to be successful so go slow and make changes a few at a time. Next year, make a few more. Once you put these suggestions into practice you will notice you’re growing more vegetables AND they’ll be healthier too!
What garden tips do you have to increase yields from your vegetable garden?