How to best maximize your garden in 10 steps

Everyone wants to get the most out of the things they have and that is no different for the garden.  You would be surprised how much more you can get out of your garden by following these simple steps.  These steps have helped my garden become more productive using less money and less time.  As a father, time is a valuable thing that I never have enough of.  As I have grown older and tried many different things I have learned that the things that are successful usually come from good planning.  I like to keep track of what’s going on in the garden such as planting/harvesting dates, successes,
failures, rotation schedule, and of course new ideas in a journal or log.  This keep things organized, preventing me from making the same mistake twice,
relieves some of my worries, and keeps me from wasting precious time and money.  Here are a few tips for anyone trying to bring out the full potential of their gardens.

1.  Less pathways
When I took over my current garden it was a labyrinth of walkways going everywhere.  If you are going for decoration OK, but if you are trying to be practical and productive keep walkways to a bare minimum and around a foot wide!  I put old carpet strips down in my garden that way if needed I can rearrange when needed.

2.  Planting everywhere
Don’t limit yourself to just your garden either.  Planters and containers can expand your garden, windowsills, and patios are all open spaces.  I am a teacher and school as ample space and their own garden that I can use freely.  Take advantage of that if you can or even planting in unused places at friends houses. When I first started gardening there were little spaces everywhere that went unused.  Now I am planting in every nook and cranny I can find.  Plants like lettuce, spinach, beets, carrots, garlic, and onions can fit into tight areas and are good for planting at the end of your rows or even right next to current plants.  This leads me to number 3.

3.  Companion planting
This is a big one.  You can maximize your space, quality, and yield by planting certain plants together.  They work together in helping each other fend of predators and/or giving each other much needed nutrients.  One of my biggest successes last year was my corn, beans, and pumpkins.  My beans and pumpkins crawled all over the corn which didn’t seem to mind and I had a huge harvest.

4.  Use all your space all the time
This is a little tricky but keeping seedling growing helps.  When one crop is finished, harvest and insert the next crop the same day. Most of don’t have the luxury of huge gardens so we need to use the space that we do have effectively.

5.  Using the proper tools
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the privilege yet to have all the tools I want and may never get them all either.  But having basic proper tools is key to saving precious time and sweat.  Last year I started gardening with just a shovel.  WOW….that is a workout!!

6.  Free fertilizers
Fertilizer is a necessary part of a successful garden in my opinion.  Due to the extremely low cost of free 99 I like the natural fertilizers.  There are many ways to get free fertilizer for your garden.  Composting is a great way to create your own rich organic matter and what’s more it comes from the leftovers from the garden and yard.  Another great source of fertilizer can be made from decomposing all your fruit and vegetable leftovers from the kitchen.  If you are fortunate to have lots of wildlife in your area like me you can use their droppings and throw them straight into the garden.  Hair from haircuts, leftover fish, fish tank waste, smashed bones, sawdust, and ashes from our fire pit are some other types of fertilizer thrown into our garden.  I find when we clean our ponds all the sludge does wonders for that area of the garden.  Being creative in finding organic waste material can go a long way for your wallet and garden.

7.  Planting Up
This is a common technique but used quite often here in Japan for just about any plant you can think of due to the limited land space.  Planting up can free up much needed space for other plants and can also be helpful in companion planting providing shade for plants who like cooler temperatures.  There are many natural trellises that you can use instead of throwing some big ugly metal trellis in the middle of your garden.  So be creative in planting up using rocks, walls, fences, netting, ropes, trees, or other existing plants like corn or sunflowers.  I found that even planting plants that don’t need to climb like edamame benefit from growing up giving them more air circulation and sun.

8.   Planting value plants
I like talking about this subject but I will keep it brief.  The staples in your diet, expensive supermarket items, and herbs are great to plant to cut down on costs.  Potatoes and onions are staples, used frequently and you might be surprised if you looked at your yearly spending on these two items.  Throw them in the garden!  Herbs are also easy to grow, store, and are used daily.  Weigh the costs of supermarket price, your use, the space in the garden to tell what is actually of value to you.  I also recommend planting plants that come back every year like asparagus and fruits if you have the space.

9.  Leaving plants over winter
Greens that didn’t mature fast enough in the fall such as spinach, cabbage, carrots, and lettuce should be left for the spring.  They jump back to life and give you a super fast start.  Also by planting garlic and onions in the fall and leaving them through the winter you can save time in the spring and have an early harvest as well.

10. Weeding
This one goes without saying, but it’s still very important and should always be on any gardeners to do list.  It’s easier to pick the two or three small weeds now then pick 10 large weeds out a week later.  Just be vigilant and try to ALWAYS devote a small portion of your gardening time to weeding.  If you have a large garden I suggest putting down either mulch or plastic both work wonders depending on your plants.  Mulching not only protects the plants from weeds it retains more moisture for your plant.  Black plastic is a tremendous help to me in minimizing my weeding time and it actually helps to magnify the heat helping plants like tomatoes and onions earlier in the season!

Unfortunately we all don’t have our dream gardens yet so it’s up to us to make do with what we have.  And that means being efficient and creative.  Of course, there are many other ways to maximize your garden but these particular ones have helped me greatly.  I encourage if you are not doing so already to incorporate some of these tips into your gardening.  I will leave you with one of my favorite phrases and something I try to live by…..Work smarter, not harder!!

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