Feature

12 Tips To Increase Your Vegie Crop Yield

Whether you’re toiling in the soil on acreage, in an inner city courtyard, or on a balcony, you can increase your vegie crop yield with some skilled planning, smart planting and a little dedication.

Credit: saucyonion.blogspot.com

Credit: Milkwood Permaculture

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1. Planning

Whether you want to re-invigorate your garden or start afresh, the first thing to do is plan. It’s easy to get excited, but TV presenter and author of The Edible Balcony, Indira Naidoo warns that enthusiasm must be tempered. So before you decide on a terrace of tomatoes or shrine of string beans, there are a few things to ask yourself. Indira says, “The key issues to assess are how much time you realistically have to set aside each day to maintain your garden.” For Indira, 15 to 20 large pots of edibles require about 10 minutes every day. She emphasises the need for every day. “Next, look at what your light conditions are like. Lots of sun means high productivity; shade means you need to select your plants wisely.”

2. Getting back to your roots

Healthy roots equal happy healthy plants. Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia says building or maintaining a rich soil is the key to increasing your yields. “If your plants are nourished and watered they will do what they know to do: grow!” Costa also reminds us that soil is a living organism and we need to treat it this way. “It needs to be fed and nourished so that it can feed and nourish and create produce. A fertile rich soil also acts as a sponge to hold water. The true role of soil is to slow the passage of water to the sea and make it available for plants to take it up and create oxygen, create habitat, create groundcover and of course create edible produce. So there is nothing more important than the soil. It is living and breathing.”
Permaculture designer and teacher Nicola Chatham goes on to explain, “All of your abundant growth will depend on the quality of your soil. Not just the quality of your soil, but the number of micro-organisms that live in your soil. So, you really want to feed your micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, worms and protozoa). They love things like manures, compost, weeds (ideally without seeds so they don’t spread) and, funnily enough, molasses.”

3. Reach for the sky

Matt Pemble, one half of the Little Veggie Patch Co. talks about the benefits of growing vertically. “Look up towards the sky and devise a system to get your plants there,” he advises. “Look at using wall space to create a garden if ground level real estate is too sparse. Choose crops that aren’t space needy. Leafy greens and herbs are ideal as they’re not fussy and don’t mind their own company.”

Tim Sansom, CEO Horticulture of The Diggers Club, one of the largest gardening clubs in Australia, also recommends other vertical strategies. “Use fences to grow fruit up onto espaliered forms so that they don’t cast shade onto your garden beds and take too much space.”

4. Timing

Although there is something particularly rewarding about nurturing slow growing vegies over months and months, they do take up precious space. Tim suggests growing vegetables that give lots of produce rather than just one vegetable. “For example, grow beans as they give lots of produce over a cabbage that grows for four months and only produces one item to eat,” he says. “You can fit much more in if you choose varieties that yield heavily from smaller plants. Some examples of these are ‘Space saver’ cucumbers, ‘Mini’ cabbages and cauliflowers, and ‘Potimarron’ pumpkins.

5. Mix it up

Kirsten Bradley, co-founder of Milkwood Permaculture is an advocate for mixing up fast producing plants with slow growing varieties. “If something will grow tall, plant a smaller vegie underneath it once it’s off and running to utilise the understorey,” she suggests. “Plant lettuces along your borders for a quick harvest.” Knowing how your plants will grow is important, each will have a different rate. “For example, if you sow radishes closely alongside a slower crop, say, cauliflower, the radishes will grow up quickly and you’ll be harvesting them before they get in the way of the cauliflower’s slowly spreading leaves.”

6. Seasonal and perennial

Knowing the best time to plant different fruits and vegies seems like commonsense, although with the increase in hydroponics, large greenhouses and importing, it can often be overlooked. Indira encourages the natural approach of seasonal planting. “This is a big factor, as this will naturally increase your crop yield,” she says. So stick to your winter warmers and your spring salads.

However, there are always exceptions. A great way to lighten the load of seasonal planting is to grow a few perennials. Nicola explains; “The great thing about perennials is they grow year after year, without having to replant them every season. My favourite plant is sorrel. I planted it in 2010 and it still provides enough leafy greens for two salads daily! That’s over 1200 meals from one plant!”

7. Companion planting

Locating complementary plants together can increase diversity of yields in a small space. Tim suggests: “Grow plants that like to grow next to each other, such as tomatoes and basil, to utilise space.” For instance, planting marigolds in a vegie patch (below) may ward off pests that could damage the vegies or help to keep the soil free of bad nematodes.

9. Mulching

When planting many crops in a small space there can be quite a lot of competition for water and nutrients, a simple way to help keep the goodness in the soil is mulching, whether it’s using organic compost or lucerne straw, mulching can also save unnecessary watering.

8. Bring on the bees

We can often focus too much on planting the producers.However, Kirsten encourages planting for pollinators. “Pack as many flowers as you can around the edges of your patch (might as well make them edible flowers while you’re at it), of all shapes and sizes. If you were a bee, would you go to the backyard with a huge party of pollen and nectar in it, or to the backyard with only six tomato flowers? More flowers mean more pollination for the rest of your crops. Spinach looks great next to marigolds so it all works out regardless.”

10. Nourishing

Besides regular watering, feeding your plants is also important, especially while they’re producing. Indira says: “I like giving my vegies nutrient boosts every fortnight to increase their yield and build their resistance to pests and bacteria. I have a small worm farm on my balcony and the worm wee they make is an excellent fortifying fertiliser. I mix this in a watering can of water with a little fish emulsion and liquid seaweed to give my vegies a real immune boost!”

11. Compost

Costa believes one of the simplest ways to improve your vegie count is composting. “Eating mineral-dense produce actually means that you don’t require as much food. So feed your soil and it will feed and nourish you,” he says. “The ingredients to build soil using compost bins or worm farms are all around you.” Whether from your kitchen or the local restaurant, you can easily access quality scraps for compost. “And finally, think about putting your compost [ingredients] through another life form such as chickens. They will transform it into wonderful manure fertiliser, and you will get eggs as a happy by-product in the process.”

12. Bon appetit!

Lastly, harvesting is very important. After all that hard work you need to remember to reap the benefits of your labour – regular harvesting can help some plants to produce more and encourage further growth. So it’s important to like what you grow! Matt reminds us: “Grow things you will eat; it’s that simple. Start off with lettuces and herbs; things we all generally use often in our cooking and that are relatively easy to grow. Once you’ve mastered those then grow the things you love. There’s no greater incentive to succeed.”