Authors: Registered Dietitians
(HealthCastle.com) It may seem like early days yet to start thinking about gardening, but now is actually the best time to start planning your garden to maximize your harvest come summer. (In fact, if you're really keen to get going, you can actually start planting a few hardy spring veggies almost right away.) A little planning can save you a lot of frustration when the good weather comes and help ensure you get the maximum harvest from whatever gardening space you have available. Here, then, are our top planning tips for getting the most out of your garden this summer.
Top Planning Tips to Maximize Your Harvest
1. Map Out Your Space
Whether you have a small garden plot, a huge backyard garden, or just a few pots on your balcony, it's a good idea to map your space out on paper, making notes about which areas get the most sun or shade. This will help you get a basic idea of what types of plants you can grow in each area. Some plants, like beans and tomatoes, need full sun, while others, like lettuce and other greens, appreciate a cooler temperature. Planting each crop in the area best suited to its growing needs will help you produce healthy plants, and healthy plants have a better yield.
2. Learn How Much Space Each Plant Needs
If you have a small space, you may be tempted to cram in as much as possible. But rather than increasing your harvest, this strategy may actually work against you. When plants are crammed in too close together, they end up competing for sunlight, water, and nutrients from the soil. They may not have enough space for their roots to take hold. So, rather than maximizing your garden's production, cramming too much into a small space can actually reduce your total harvest. Packets of seeds provide guidelines on how much room to allow plants, or you can ask the staff at your local garden center. If you want to maximize the amount you can plant in a small space, check outSquare Foot Gardening for a strategy based on dividing your garden into one-foot squares rather than rows.
3. Investigate Companion Planting
Unless you have a huge space, the odds are that you'll have different types of plants growing quite close to one another. Since plants can affect their neighbors, it's a good idea to learn which plants grow well together, and which can actually cause problems for each other. For example, planting basil near your tomato plants can help increase your tomato yield, but planting dill in the same area can attract tomato hornworm, a caterpillar than can do major damage to tomato plants. Likewise, onions help repel slugs and aphids, which benefits carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, and peppers, but when they're planted too close to peas or beans, those plants can end up stunted. Wikipedia's list of companion plants is a great place to do your companion planting research.
4. Don't Start Too Early
It's so easy to make this mistake – you get excited about your garden and start putting things in the ground too early. You might think that planting early will give your plants a head start on growing season, but unfortunately that's just not how it works. Seeds or seedlings planted outside too early have to fight hard to survive against the elements. They may die, or just not sprout. If they do survive, the plants will be weak and will produce less than they should. Follow the directions on your seed packets or ask the staff at your local garden center for a planting schedule for your area. To make sure you plant everything at the appropriate time, try making notes on your calendar about what crops you can plant each weekend throughout the summer. That way, you'll always have something to look forward to, so you won't be tempted to plant too soon.
The Bottom Line
A little planning now can help maximize your gardening success this summer. Following these tips will save you loads of frustration and ensure you get the best harvest of fruits and vegetables from your gardening efforts.