The food garden, you could say, is a gateway garden. For is there anyone who does not savor freshly picked lettuce, or look forward to the first ripe tomato of summer? Millennials and foodies are discovering the excitement of gardening through food. This might play out in balcony containers full of herbs and peppers, or in a big
backyard vegetable garden. No matter what form a person’s first garden takes, it has the potential to forge a lasting relationship with real food, with the natural world, and with the cycles of the seasons.
It is important that this relationship start off on the right foot. A garden is not a once-and-done affair. However, given attention, care, and yes a little love, it will bring lasting rewards, both in the short- and long-term.
So how do you measure success? A successful food garden is one that yields crops throughout the season. Planting for a continuous harvest can be tricky for a novice, but it can happen with a little guidance. A step-by-step approach breaks the process down into one that is far less daunting, and easily achievable.
CHOOSE YOUR CROPS
Limiting the size can make a garden space more easily managed and less time-consuming—an important consideration for a busy gardener. And you can, in fact, get a varied yield from a modest space with a little forethought. Begin by choosing some crops that will produce food in cool weather, and others that will mature in the heat of summer. Your
goal is to have fresh food on your table from late spring through late fall, and even into winter. This list includes some of the more popular crops:
Step 2: PLOT SUMMER CROPS
Although you will not be planting your summer crops until after the frost date for your region, it is necessary to know from the start where they will occupy space in the garden. No doubt about it, summer crops like tomatoes and squash are the space hogs of the garden, but realize that their growth is slow at first. They take a month or more to
size up, and during that month you can use that space for other plants, so long as those plants are harvested by mid-summer. Place individual upright stakes in the ground where plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and squash will be planted. Use stakes and string to mark future row crops.
Step 3: PLOT EARLY SPRING CROPS
Peas, and greens such as lettuce, arugula, and spinach, can be seeded into the ground early in spring, as much as two months prior to the warm-weather crops. Some greens, notably kale, will soldier on through summer and into the fall, but most will send up flowering shoots as soon as the weather warms, signaling that their usefulness as table
greens has come to an end. Carrots and turnips can be seeded in spring also, and can be harvested as tender babies, or as full-sized roots. Choosing fast-maturing varieties—baby bok choy, tatsoi, salad turnips, and baby carrots and beets, for example—will offer more opportunities for succession planting.
STEP 5: PLOT LATE SUMMER TO FALL CROPS
Summer is in full swing, and you are pulling buckets of tomatoes, peppers, and beans from your garden. Peas are long gone, early plantings of lettuce, arugula, broccoli, and onions have been harvested, and the first bean sowings are no longer productive. Some root crops may remain to be harvested, but many of them have been removed as well. This
leaves ample space for late summer crops. Be sure to fortify the soil with compost or a dose of organic fertilizer before seeding your fall crops of roots and greens.
STEP 6: PLOT FALL CROPS AND COVER CROPS
When frost kills your summer crops, there will be plenty of space in the garden. This is your chance to take advantage of the still-warm soils and the relatively balmy days. Greens love fall weather! Often, gardeners have diverted their energies to other pursuits by the time of the first frost, missing out on a great growing opportunity. This final
step is just as important as all the rest—for the health of the soil, as well as for an extended harvest.