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Tips and Techniques

Edible gardens are a world unto themselves in the landscape. There are many strategies unique to vegetable gardens that extend growing times, keep the garden healthy, and maximize crop yields. Here's a cheat sheet of common edible garden lingo and strategies. 

Succession garden

Think of a succession garden as a master plan for the garden from season to season. For instance, in June, you can plan to clear some spring vegetables and plant summer crops. Or you can sow and transplant alongside waning spring vegetables with a view to next season's produce. 

Succession planting

The primary purpose of succession planting is to provide continuous crop output within the season by sowing seed of a given crop at 1 to 2 week intervals. For instance, you can stagger corn production by making a subsequent planting when the first is 1 to 2 inches tall. Beans, turnips, seasonal lettuce, and beets are well-suited to this practice. 

Companion planting

Mix flowering plants into your vegetable garden to invite pollinators and other beneficial insects. Creative Commons
Mix flowering plants into your vegetable garden to invite pollinators and other beneficial insects. Creative Commons

Companion plants like aromatic herbs or flowers are purported to repel pests in the vegetable garden. Although there is a lack of science behind companion planting, growing a wide variety of pollinator-friendly herbs alongside edible crops does help attract beneficial insects and natural enemies. 


This involves planting early maturing crops between rows of late maturing crops to increase production in a small area. For example, beans, radishes, green onions, or seasonal leaf lettuce may be planted between rows of tomatoes, peppers or corn.  The quicker-maturing plants will be harvested before the others become large.

Crop rotation

Crop rotation is the practice of changing the location of edible crops from year to year. Rotating crops in the garden enhances soil fertility and lowers risk of pests and diseases. Backyard gardeners with limited space should at least avoid planting exactly the same crop or crops from the same plant family year after year in the same part of the garden. For example, do not follow melons with cucumbers or squash, and do not plant peppers, eggplant, or potatoes where tomatoes grew the year before.


Cold frames

A cold frame provides protected space for spring seedlings. Sandy Metzger
A cold frame provides protected space for spring seedlings. Sandy Metzger
Like mini-greenhouses, cold frames are structures that create a stable environment for frost-tender seedlings by protecting them from big temperature swings. Keeping delicate seedlings in cold frames helps them thrive until winter temperatures stabilize. Cold frames also work to protect seedlings from pests, including birds, cutworms, earwigs, slugs, and snails. Cold frames are easy to assemble and can be made from inexpensive or recycled materials. Because they are better acclimated from the outset, plants that start life in cold frames often do not experience the transplant shock that many plants face. Among the most transplant-vulnerable seedlings are basil, beans, cabbage-family plants, lettuce and peas. 

To make a standalone cold frame: 
• Place an old window pane or a rigid sheet of plastic on top of a four-sided box filled with soil.
• Be sure that the box receives plenty of sunlight.
• The box can be made out of any material that holds the soil in place, including wood, straw bales, metal, cinder block, or brick.
• If you want to reuse your cold frame every winter, consider adding a hinge to one side so you can easily open and close it.

Floating row covers

Floating row cover. Courtesy UC Regents
Floating row cover. Courtesy UC Regents
Floating row cover is a white, lightweight, synthetic fabric with a gauze-like appearance. Air, sunlight, and water can penetrate the material. Vegetable gardeners drape it over and enclose individual plants or groups of plants and secure it to the ground with pins, bricks, rocks, soil, etc. The cover “floats” directly on top of the growing crop. Some gardeners install simple frames to support floating row covers, creating a dome effect. Row covers are often used in the winter to protect plants from frost, and in summer to provide some shade. 

Floating row covers provide many benefits:
• Provides frost protection in early spring and late fall/early winter
• Encourages faster plant growth due to increased temperature and humidity under the cover
• Prevents insects, deer, birds, and other pests from eating your plants
• Inexpensive
• Reusable: can be re-used for two to three years