5 easy tips for better harvests in small outdoor spaces
Now that you’ve planned your space, become creative about putting friends close by and enemies apart and have enjoyed time spent nurturing your babies along, it’s time to enjoy the harvest. That is, of course, assuming you’ve taken some steps to ensure your seed starts make it to culinary creations.
Below are five tips to help you get more enjoyment from the fruits of your labor:
- Harvest at the right time: Some crops are simple to call. Ripe tomatoes, young summer squash (don’t give that ideal length another few days), red strawberries and sweet peas are easy to pick perfectly. Some are less obvious. Beans, cucumbers, turnips, broccoli and many culinary herbs, left too long, don’t taste good. Either they go to seed (and get bitter or woody) or produce seeds too big (cucumbers,squash and beans) that destroy both the taste and texture. At times, you may want to let your vegetable plants go to seed (asparagus must for future health; beans, peas, lettuce, broccoli and radishes are easy to harvest for next year’s crops; annual herbs like dill, cilantro and parsley will reseed for next year). Usually, though, you want to gather the goodies when the taste is ideal (and plants can still be found). Items like garlic and potatoes die off on top when ready. Loose leaf lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli and herbs keep reproducing more after cutting off edible parts (provided it doesn’t get too hot). Root crops like carrots, turnips and parsnips and cold hearty plants like Brussel sprouts can be harvested throughout the winter, provided you get a good snow covering before the ground freezes (just make sure to mark your rows).
- Use herbs as insect and deer repellents: Besides the culinary flavor herbs add (as substitutes for high calorie or salt-heavy processed condiments), most herbs discourage pests too. Check companion planting charts to be sure, but most herbs get along with your vegetable crops and need little maintenance, once established. Consider adding ground cover perennials such as thyme and oregano to deer favorites. Most pungent herbs will discourage insects, including mosquitos. Basil adds flavor to tomato crops and also is a great companion plant for deterring parasites. Dill gets along well enough with strawberries to discourage most nibblers. Herbs offer a great garden addition by taking up little room while adding protection for a healthier vegetable harvest.
- Know your climbers and spreaders: Some crops won’t work well in small spaces. Watermelons, cantaloupe, some squashes and, depending on how you grow them, cucumbers, can take up a lot of space. If you’re looking for something to choke out weeds, these are good, natural crops that will do so. Just know, they’ll likely spread way beyond the area you allocated. Climbers like beans and cucumbers grow great with corn (provided they get enough early sunlight), or along a fence line (with training).
- Reseed: Crops such as lettuce, radishes, broccoli, peas, turnips, kale, Swiss Chard and cilantro do well planted in the fall. Depending on where you are (heat matters), you can continue reseeding loose leaf lettuce and radishes for harvests about every three to five weeks. Broccoli, peas and some beans can give you both spring and fall harvests if you reuse beds. Pay attention (particularly on broccoli) to days to harvest information. Shorter is better when working with vegetables that don’t like the heat.
- Perennials: Perennials are great in a vegetable garden. Most are ready to eat early in the season and require little care once you get them established. These include strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus, fruits (blackberries, raspberries and blueberries can work well in small spaces with the right soil and sunlight conditions) and many herbs. Consider adding some of these to your plot to satisfy your palate as spring fever hits. Most of these go great in salads. Since lettuce, radishes and other salad items are cool weather loving, you’ll enjoy tasty fresh-picked meals while others are just starting to buy vegetable seedlings.
Climate, sunlight, soil, weed control and pest management all affect your yield. Starting any edible garden requires some experimentation. Expect misses. If you can have fun learning along the way, you’ll bring lessons learned to next year’s bounty. The important thing is to enjoy your garden time.