I often recall spending time on my grandparents’ farm in rural Missouri, and my grandfather’s meticulous garden - sitting in the porch swing snapping green beans, shucking sweet corn, and running through the mud barefoot during the routine watering. Now that I’m older, I realize how much work was put into reaching the wonderful end result. You probably have a handle on the basics of gardening - pull the weeds, give them a home with lots of sunlight & water, and keep the bugs away. Simple science, right? But aside from the essentials, there are many tips and tricks that will help get the bountiful harvest you’re hoping for. Here are a few that may help you obtain the best harvest possible.
Use Your Zone
You’ve probably noticed the tags on seed packets or plants stating its ideal “zone”. This refers to the USDA Hardiness Zones; a map based on average low temperature readings throughout the US. In short, 13 zones varying in 10 degree increments make up the map. Those 13 zones are sub-divided with A/B at the end, breaking down the temperatures further to 5 degree increments. A plant that is “hardy to zone X” should be able to survive and produce year-round in that given location. Having this knowledge will help you understand which perennials can survive in your area, how long your annuals growing season will last, and which plants will thrive in your area.
Planning the layout of your garden before throwing seeds in the ground can prove extremely beneficial. Many species can be planted close to (or far away from) one another with surprising results. Many herbs omit scents that will repel pests. The same is true on the opposite end of the spectrum, when plants will actually attract beneficial predators of pests. Tall vegetables that enjoy extra sun can provide shade for shorter plants that don’t require as much. You can find a detailed list of companions, enemies and allies on Burpee's website here.
Succession planting also requires quite a bit of thought before starting your garden. The process involves planting the same vegetable at staggered times, or in separate areas, so that they will be ready to harvest at varied times instead of all at once. It can also be used to transition from cooler weather plants to warm ones, extending your growing season. Once one plant has been harvested, pull it up and replace it with another. Most seed varieties will be sown one row or square section at a time, 2-4 weeks apart. This can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but a little organization can help tremendously. Use labels in your garden, or keep a garden journal of what veggie was planted when. That will eliminate any confusion that may occur.
There are many other tips that have withstood the test of time and have been passed from generation to generation. The Old Farmer’s Almanac can be a lifesaver if consulted! One of the best ways to keep learning is to reach out to other local farmers or gardeners. Present any problems you’ve had in the past to someone who’s been working on their green thumb for many years, and you’ll likely find the answer. With a little preparation, time, and hard work, you’ll be ready to get growing and enjoy your harvest!