Intensive Gardening Basics for a Huge Vegetable Harvest

Reader Contribution by Sheryl Campbell and The Lazy Farmer
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Intensively grown garden in full productivity
Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Do you know the best way to maximize your vegetable harvest? Gardening intensively will give you twice or thrice the amount (and types) of vegetables than you can achieve in traditional gardening. Using the same amount of land, you can learn how to plant in succession and replace everything you harvest with a new crop.

There are many methods for gardening intensively and information on two of the most popular ways can be found in Intensive Gardening. Since we take a lazy approach to gardening we came up with our own method that cuts down on the amount of work and money that many named methods require. 

Let’s take a look at how to:

  • use your gardening space wisely
  • replenish your soil
  • plan for the following growing year.

The garden in full production
Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Wise Use of Spaces

Harvesting more from the same gardening space saves you both time and money. Your tasks can be planned for more efficient movement, and you’ll save both time and money because it takes less input to keep up productivity. In our main garden of 2000 square feet we grow 75% of the huge amount of vegetables our small family eats in a year.

Having a place to grow our own seedlings is a big part of our year-round abundance. We start seedlings off inside during the depths of winter to plant out as soon as the temperatures allow. During the summer we grow seedlings of fall crops so that they are ready to transplant as soon as summer crops are harvested. Our approach to lazy, yet productive, gardening includes both succession planting and inter-cropping. 

Late spring in the garden
Photo by Sheryl Campbell

In March we begin planting cold season crops that mature quickly. Spring radishes are ready to eat in 4 weeks, leaf lettuce can be harvested after 50 days, and small cabbages planted as seedlings are picked 6 weeks after planting. As those beds are harvested we replant them with summer crops. Vegetables with a shorter and earlier harvest season, will be followed with fall crops. For tomatoes, peppers, okra, melons, and other vegetables with a long harvest window, we’ll utilize inter-cropping or wait and plant quick growing fall/winter veggies after the summer harvest is completed.

When harvesting just a plant or two from a bed, quickly pop in fast growing seeds of another vegetable in those spots.  When harvesting an entire crop, top the soil with compost then immediately plant a second crop.  Alternate heavy feeder crops (think cabbage and corn) with light feeders such as beans or sweet potatoes.  Go vertical whenever possible on teepees and trellises so that you can plant other crops in front of, or in between, them.


Summer in the garden
Photo by Sheryl Campbell

Here’s what we’ve planned for a few of our beds in 2021:

  • Purple bush beans, followed by drumhead cabbage for winter harvest
  • Winter sown spinach, followed by sweet corn, and ending with rutabagas
  • Spring beets, then sweet corn, ending with winter radishes sown under the corn
  • Winter sown sugar snaps on a fence, with beets in front; zucchini rampicante on the fence with lemon squash in front; a final planting of kale to carry through into winter
  • Spring carrots, tall climbing cucumbers on the fence, and a planting of mustard late summer
  • Successions of spring lettuce, followed by caged tomatoes, and winter radishes planted wherever a tomato plant stops producing
  • Spring radishes, then lots of sweet potatoes, ending with tatsoi and Swiss chard
  • Beets, then small melons (partially on the fence), then turnips into the winter
  • Early cabbage, succeeded by bush beans, finishing off with fall beets


Using your fences in the garden
Photo by Sheryl Campbell

We use the fences surrounding our garden as trellises, having made the garden beds right up to the fence lines. Pole beans grow on bamboo pole teepees creating shade for summer lettuce to grow under them. In addition to the usual suspects, small melons, summer squash, and climbing cucumbers trellis well. Take the sun into consideration when planting vertically so that you know where you will be creating shade.  By planning summer shade you can carry spring crops over into the hotter months.

Feed Your Soil

Compost is an important part of the process so take a look at Create Your Own Compost for some ways of making your own without a lot of effort. The key to intensive gardening, no matter the method you use, is to regularly replenish the soil with compost. When you do that you can keep a large part of the garden planted for most of the year and harvest continually for more months than you ever thought possible. Here in Zone 6b we have something actively growing in the garden almost year ‘round and typically harvest during 10 months of the year.

A thin layer of soy bean meal on empty garden beds, topped with a layer of fluffed straw, at the end of the season will nourish your garden for the first crops of spring. You can replenish your soil with nutrients and minerals by using fish fertilizer, seaweed tea, or beneficial microbes. If your soil tends to be acidic, you should test your soil to determine its pH balance. Adding dolomitic lime at the end of the growing season will “sweeten” your soil over the winter.

Looking Ahead and Planning

During the winter months we select our seeds, deciding which crops to grow the next year and planning the garden on graph paper. The goal is to have every bed growing at least two crops during a year, while some grow as many as 3-4 crops. It’s also important to identify quick growing crops for each season that can be spot-planted as we harvest individual plants of other vegetables.

Developing a Seed Plan will help you through all the details of getting your garden plan on paper during the winter. It’s always fun to begin your gardening year in the comfort of your chair in front of the fireplace.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth GardenerandGrit and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.

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