Harvesting more from your vegetable garden is a worthy ambition, but just what are the most effective ways to increase productivity? Healthy soil, careful planning, and defending your crops from pests, weeds and weather extremes is the answer, so let’s dig a little deeper.
Here, then, are 10 proven ways to boost productivity this growing season...
1. Nourish Your Soil
Deep, nutrient-rich soils encourage extensive root systems and strong plants. Nourish your soil with plenty of organic matter such as compost, manure, or leaf mould.
Compost and leaf mold can be easily made at home for free, so compost everything you can and put a thriving composting setup at the heart of your garden.
The best time to add most organic matter is in winter to give enough time for it to become incorporated into the ground before spring. Then top up with more organic matter during the growing season, laying it 2-5cm (1-2 inches) thick around existing crops. This surface mulch will also help to slow moisture loss and suppress weeds, saving you time watering and weeding.
2. Feed Your Plants
Many plants will benefit from a further boost of organic fertiliser such as liquid seaweed concentrate.
Alternatively, grow a patch of comfrey (next to your compost bin is ideal) and make your own comfrey tea, a potent brew ideal for hungry plants like tomatoes. You can also simply drape cut comfrey leaves around plants, or add them to the compost heap where they’ll help to speed up decomposition.
3. Grow in Dedicated Beds
Convert to a system of permanent beds and minimise wasted space while concentrating your resources. Beds may be accessed from all sides and plants can be grown in blocks, which maximises productivity. And because you’ll add organic matter directly to the beds, there’s no wasting it on paths or other unproductive ground.
4. Choose Plants that Thrive
It may seem obvious, but growing what thrives in your soil and climate will result in stronger growth and bigger harvests. For example, warm climates are ideal for growing sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Or in cooler areas, opt for crops like chard and cabbage that can cope with the cold.
Choose varieties that have been bred to thrive in your climate. Early varieties are great for short growing seasons, while heat-tolerant varieties are a must for areas with scorching summer sun.
5. Grow More in the Shade
Increasing productivity means making the most of every space available to you – and that includes shadier areas. They’re great for leafy vegetables such as lettuce or Asian greens, slow growers including leeks and parsnip, and hardy fruits like blackcurrants and gooseberries. You can use our Garden Planner to filter crop choices to show only those suitable for growing in the shade.
6. Collect More Rainwater
Rainwater is the best option for watering vegetables. Rainwater is softer, contains fewer contaminants, and is at a pH that is preferred by most plants, encouraging better growth all round. So if you’re still using treated water to irrigate your crops, now’s the time to install additional water barrels and collect as much rainwater as you can. You can use a connector kit to join multiple barrels together.
7. Extend the Growing Season
Get familiar with your first and last frost dates, then plan to push your growing season further using plant protection. Cold frames, row covers and cloches enable sowing and planting to begin up to two weeks sooner, while harvests can continue a few weeks longer at the end of the season.
The Garden Planner demonstrates this beautifully. Add crop protection such as a row cover to your plan. Then bring up the accompanying Plant List, which now displays earlier planting and later harvesting dates for the plants grown under protection.
A permanent structure such as a greenhouse opens up more possibilities, making it easy to enjoy an even earlier start to spring while affording just enough protection for winter-long cropping of, for example, hardy salads.
8. Space Plants Correctly
Plant too close and your crops will fail to grow properly and be prone to disease, but too far apart and you won’t make the most of the space you have. The Garden Planner shows you exactly how many plants may be grown in the area available.
Excellent soil can help you to push the boundaries by growing vegetables a little closer than recommended. Square Foot Gardening takes this to the extreme, with plants spaced up to five times closer. Select the SFG option in the Garden Planner to design your own square foot beds.
9. Companion Planting
Some plants are mutually beneficial. Grown together they can help to increase overall productivity. Companion planting takes many forms. For example, lofty corn can be used as a support for climbing beans, while lettuce grown in-between rows of carrot or onion helps to smother weeds while these slower growing crops establish. The Garden Planner takes care of companion planting too. Simply highlight a crop then select the Companion Planting option to display suitable partners in the Selection Bar here.
10. Preventative Pest Control
Take a preventative approach to pests to stop them in their tracks. For example, place barriers over susceptible plants to protect them from flying insect pests, or reduce a nuisance slug population by removing hiding places such as upturned pots or long grass in and around growing areas. Then every few weeks, head out when slugs are feeding in the evening to pick off and dispose of them by torchlight.
Make room for flowers in the vegetable garden too. Flowers like alyssum, calendula and poached egg plant don’t take up much space and will improve productivity by attracting predators such as hoverflies and ladybirds to control pests including aphids, mites and mealybugs.