10. High Yield Gardening by the Square Foot

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High yield gardening, also called Intensive gardening, is a way to get the most possible produce from your vegetable garden. Using raised beds and the SFG (Square Foot Gardening) method is probably the easiest way to achieve it.

photo of tomatoes in raised bed.

Principles of High Yield Gardening using the SFG method:

  1. High yields are obtained by utilizing all the surface area in the beds.
  2. Spacing. Vegetables are planted close enough so that their leaves act as a living mulch, blocking sunlight from the soil under them to inhibit weed growth. At the same time, proper spacing provides enough space between the plants to allow the vegetables to develop as they are supposed to. The SFG method uses specific spacing based on the type of plant.
  3. Vertical gardening is used to gain more produce per square foot of soil. Simply put, add trellises or fencing in your garden for peas, pole beans, cucumbers and other vining crops to grow up. Tying tomato plants to a tall stake and removing lower leaves instead of using a cage will allow more room around them for more crops.
  4. Provide a good growing medium. In raised beds, the soil does not get compacted because you are not walking on it. However, gravity, snow and rain can compact it some over time. Start with a good loose mix, incorporating compost and other organic matter. If you add this every year, or as you add new plants, your “soil” will remain loose. Add some slow release organic fertilizer every time you add new plants. Note: have your soil tested in early spring to see if other supplements or minerals are needed.
  5. Plant high yielding varieties that are meant for your growing zone. Vegetables such as tomatoes, beans, summer squash, beets and swiss chard will produce more edibles per square foot than say, pumpkins, corn, melon and winter squash. Don’t waste your space by growing what you and your family don’t really like, either.
Photo of brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower growing in hoop house.

Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower in hoop house. 5/27/2017

Planting methods for High Yield Gardening.

  1. Succession planting, or immediately planting something else in a spot where another has just finished. This results in two or more crops from the same space.
  2. Inter-planting. This is planting two crops very close together, usually with different growth rates. Plant fast growing seeds like radishes between slow growing seeds such as carrots. The radishes will be harvested before the carrots really develop.
  3. Planting by season. Early spring crops such as cabbage, peas and kale can be planted much earlier than summer sun lovers like tomatoes. The same cool weather crops can be planted towards the end of summer (to replace crops that are finished) for a late fall or early winter harvest. Choose short season or faster developing varieties.
  4. Start seeds indoors whenever possible. This alone can take six or more weeks off the time plants are taking up space in the garden. Have sturdy seedlings ready to go into an area that has just finished. Instead of dealing with grow lights all summer, start seeds in trays outdoors. Just keep them in a protected spot so seeds don’t get washed out of their small cells by summer storms, or dry out due to the intense heat.

Top 15 Vegetables In Economic Value

Tomatoes, Beets(greens + roots), Green onions, Carrots, Leaf lettuce, Cucumbers, Turnip (greens + roots), Peppers, Summer squash, Broccoli, Edible podded peas, Head lettuce, Onions (storage bulbs), Swiss chard, Beans (pole, bush).*

*This is from the Virginia Tech Horticulture Department. It is based on pounds produced per square foot, retail value per pound at harvest time, and length of time in the garden.

Planning is the first step

Probably the best time to start planning your High Yield Garden (or any garden) is in the winter. After the hectic holiday season is over, it is nice to just relax and dream of sunshine and gardening while looking over a seed catalog or two. Maybe try something new? Pull out your notes from the previous growing season, take note of what worked and what didn’t. Make your list of what you will be growing and how many of each. Mark the dates they should be started indoors, planted into the garden, and approximate harvest date. Use graph paper and plan out your square foot gardens; “this is being planted there”, “this crop goes in when that crop is done”, etc. Once your plan and timeline is complete, all you have to do is order your seeds and start your countdown to planting!

chart showing vegetables, planting dates and growth habits.


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