By Susanne von Rosenberg, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
During this uncertain time, many of us have become more committed to growing our own vegetables. A logical next question is: how can I produce more vegetables in the space I have available? Keep in mind these four principles if you want to increase the yield from your garden: picking the right vegetables, planning carefully, interplanting and extending the season.
Picking the right vegetables simply means picking vegetables that are high producers. One watermelon plant will take up at least as much space as a large tomato plant and you might get only four or five small to medium watermelons. If you plant the right kind of broccoli, you can harvest the main head and then harvest side shoots for many more weeks. If you plant cauliflower, you get exactly one cauliflower.
Also look for varieties that mature relatively quickly. Some broccoli varieties produce a main head in 60 to 90 days from transplant. Some tomatoes can produce ripe tomatoes in as few as 55 days after transplant; big beefsteak tomatoes may take 90 days. Quick-maturing varieties are often referred to as early varieties.
Planning carefully is essential to growing more vegetables in the same space. Know exactly what you're going to plant and where. By having more seedlings ready to plant whenever you finish harvesting a crop, you can substantially increase the volume of vegetables you harvest.
Let's say you planted lettuce, and you plan to replace the lettuce with beans once the weather warms up. With such a plan, at the very least you will have the seeds ready. You can get a little further ahead by starting the beans two to three weeks before you're ready to take out the remaining lettuce, and then planting them as seedlings.
When you know how much food a plant yields and how quickly it will produce, you can figure out how many plants you need and when. You can also plan to save space by “going up.” A trellis on the north side of a garden can allow you to grow pole beans, cucumbers, melons and other vining crops vertically, saving you a lot of space.
I also use flat trellises for my tomatoes rather than space-hogging cages. I tie the vines up with twine made from natural materials. Keeping your trellis on the north side prevents it from shading the rest of your vegetables. If you live in a hotter part of the County, consider using space behind the trellis for plants that prefer some shade during hot weather.
Interplanting, also known as intercropping, is the concept of tucking smaller or faster-growing plants in among larger or slower-growing plants to take advantage of available place. There are many opportunities for interplanting, such as planting basil between tomato plants. Another common grouping is radishes and carrots. Radishes sprout and grow quickly; carrots usually take quite a while to sprout and are still small by the time the radishes are ready to harvest.
Many greens such as arugula, tat soi, mizuna, and Swiss chard grow to harvest size quickly, so you can usually grow them between larger plants, such as cauliflower and broccoli. The greens will be ready to harvest by the time the bigger plants start to fill out. Small plants, such as leeks and garlic, can be tucked in just about anywhere. Cool-season herbs such as dill and cilantro are also good for interplanting because they only last a few months.
If you really want to increase your yield, grow vegetables all year. We are lucky to have a mild Mediterranean climate that allows us to grow cool-season vegetables well into the fall. Planning your garden carefully is even more important for year-round vegetable gardening. As the days gets shorter and cooler, plants take longer grow to maturity.
Your more casual gardening friends will probably be surprised when you tell them in mid-July that you just seeded broccoli and cauliflower for your fall garden. But when you plant out seedlings in mid-August, you will have mature broccoli by mid to late October. Because there is less sunlight and the days are getting cooler, broccoli seedlings you set out at the end of August may not mature until mid to late November. Planting just two weeks later in the fall means that you harvest about a month later.
One final thought: As you increase the productivity of your garden, it's even more important to amend your soil and provide adequate fertilizer for your plants.
What are you going to do this year to get more food from your garden?
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide University of California research-based information on home gardening. To find out more about home gardening or upcoming programs, visit the Master Gardener website (napamg.ucanr.edu). Our office is temporarily closed but we are answering questions remotely and by email. Send your gardening questions to email@example.com or leave a phone message at 707-253-4143 and a Master Gardener will respond shortly.
Time to Plan and Plant Fall and Winter Vegetables.
By Susanne von Rosenberg, U. C. Master Gardener of Napa County
If you are a regular reader of this column, you already know that you can grow vegetables year-round in Napa County. Growing produce in autumn and winter extends your harvest and protects the health of your soil because you are practicing crop rotation.
The biggest challenge for the novice year-round gardener is mindset. How many of us are really ready to start planning our fall edibles now, when our biggest concern is staying cool, and the best tomatoes are yet to come?
To help you get into the groove, here are a few easy things you can do now to have a successful fall and winter vegetable garden.
First, make a list of the fall and winter vegetables you really enjoy. Broccoli is a favorite for many folks, and lettuces and greens for cooking are also good choices. For more ideas on what to plant, consult the Master Gardeners' “Healthy Garden Tips: Cool Season Gardens for Napa County” (https://ucanr.edu/sites/ucmgnapa/files/153368.pdf).
Next, think about when you want to harvest. As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, plants grow more slowly. Getting them into the ground early is important. If you start broccoli seeds now, you can plant the seedlings in early September and probably harvest some by late October. But wait until mid-August to start your seeds, and your broccoli will likely take until late November to mature because it will grow more slowly than seedlings planted two weeks earlier.
Plantings that mature in mid- to late November can also be left in the garden and picked throughout the winter. Most vegetable plants grow slowly, if at all, between mid-November and mid-January. Your garden is a terrific storage location for fresh produce in the winter. Don't be dismayed if your plants look wilted after a frost; they'll make an amazing comeback as the day warms up.
How do you know what to plant when? Check out the Master Gardeners' spring/summer and winter/fall planting guides (in the Healthy Garden Tips section of our website). Use this link [https://ucanr.edu/sites/ucmgnapa/files/153875.pdf ]for detailed charts, and this link [https://ucanr.edu/sites/ucmgnapa/files/218030.pdf] if you prefer a written summary.
Now comes the most difficult question: where to plant your fall and winter vegetables? Most of us need to be creative to find room. Take a hard look at your garden. Are there plants that are not performing well? Or maybe you don't like that new tomato you tried? Perhaps you're just tired of zucchini or wish you hadn't planted so many.
A little ruthlessness will serve you well as you make space for fall vegetables. If you need more room, interplanting is a great option. Plant your fall starts among the summer plants. Fall plants, which prefer cooler temperatures, will benefit from the shade cast by mature summer vegetables.
Leafy greens can sometimes grow to maturity before summer vegetables need to be removed, but for many fall crops you will eventually need to remove the summer plants so your fall vegetables get enough light. By late September many summer vegetable plants are really slowing down and looking tired, so it's a bit of a relief to take them out.
If you can't bear to remove plants that are still producing, you can grow some fall vegetables in pots. Many leafy greens do well in containers. Look for vegetable seeds specifically intended for growing in pots. One of my favorite container vegetables is sugar snap peas. Some gardeners buy extra time for their summer vegetables by starting fall crops in one-gallon pots, then transplanting them later.
If you're still struggling to find space in your summer garden, consider growing onions, garlic and fava beans, which like to be planted later. Or focus on vegetables that mature rapidly. Some lettuces and leafy greens such as tat soi may yield a crop from seed in less than two months.
Growing mesclun (salad mix) is another option. The greens in most mesclun mixes mature to harvestable size in as little as four weeks. Also consider planting long-maturation vegetables relatively late (mid-October or later) to get a head start on your spring garden. Those plantings probably won't produce anything to harvest this fall or winter, but they will have a big head start when the weather warms in early spring.
Next workshop: “Cool-Season Vegetables: Now is the Time to Plan and Start” on Saturday, August 10, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Repeated on Sunday, August 11, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Yountville. For more details & online registration for the Napa workshop: http://napamg.ucanr.edu. Or call 707-253-4221. For the Yountville workshop, go to Online Yountville registration or telephone the Parks & Recreation Department at 707-944-8712.
The UC Master Gardeners are volunteers who provide UC research-based information on home gardening and answer your questions. To find out more about upcoming programs or to ask a garden question, visit the Master Gardener website (http://napamg.ucanr.edu) or call (707) 253-4221 between 9 a.m. and noon on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.