Some people think that growing vegetables in your backyard garden is like growing vegetables on a farm, only less of everything. But that is absolutely wrong! Anyone growing food for sale – whether a small-scale market gardener or a huge industrial food producer – wants a whole bunch of one or a few things ready at once. So they can harvest it all on the same day and pack it and transport it for sale.
Growing vegetables for household use in your home garden is just the opposite. You want a tiny bit of this, and a tiny bit of that – but hopefully lots of different things over a very long harvest period.
There are two main ways you can arrange for this type of small-scale but extended vegetable harvest.
One is to stagger your plantings. For example, I seed a very short row of carrots every two weeks or so, rather than one giant carrot bed in spring. This also works for other quick-growing vegetables, like lettuces and green beans.
Another way to spread out your harvest is to grow different varieties of the same vegetable. Just as apples come in many varieties (Granny Smith, golden delicious, Mackintosh, Gala, to name a few), so do most vegetables – like carrots and broccoli and squash and, well actually, pretty much everything.
If you buy your seeds from a specialist seed-seller (not one of those big national seed suppliers with seed packs for sale at every grocery and hardware store – but one who specializes in vegetable growing in your specific climate zone), they should have that information in their seed catalogue or on their website.
For example, looking at my own local seed catalogue, I see that most of their cabbages are ready to harvest in roughly 65 days. However, they also have a hybrid called “Tiara” that is ready in a mere 45 days! And they also have a few varieties that take between 85 and 105 days.
So, if you don’t want to stagger your plantings, you could just plant two or three varieties of the same vegetable that have different maturity dates. This works really well with tomatoes: I plant both cherries and regular main-season tomatoes.
I usually do my cherries in containers, and they take 55-60 days to start producing. I am harvesting them by early/mid-summer (July here) while I wait for the “big guys.” The, just as my cherry tomatoes are peaking, my main-season tomatoes start to kick in, and I harvest them through the late summer and fall.
I actually also grow a blue tomato, Indigo Rose, which is supposed to take 80 days, but it seems to take a lot longer here (you have to use those dates only as guidelines, and gradually learn how things work in your exact microclimate). When my other main-season tomato plants are starting to mildew and I am picking their fruit green to ripen indoors, the blues are only just starting: I am often still picking them through October! (And eating my indoor-ripened tomatoes through to Christmas).
Here are some photos of what is a typical summer-day harvest for me, from the day before yesterday. (Too busy gardening to blog!)
I am checking every morning for the vegetables that won’t keep well on the plants and that need to be harvested daily (e.g., peas, beans, tomatoes, squash, and especially broccoli).
And of course I always have lots of greens like kale and arugula and lettuce in the garden, ready to pick as needed and add to anything we feel like whipping up – whether salads or cooked dishes.
I’m at the end of my snow peas and broccolis, and the green beans are only just starting, so I only got a small handful of each.
These may look like “pathetic” amounts – but little bits like this are perfect for a quick stir-fry for lunch. You don’t need a whole pile of one thing!
And then we used much of the rest for dinner: fried squash flowers as an appie, then a tomato-basil salad as a starter, and then the yellow pattypan squash tossed in olive oil for our vegetable with dinner.
Haven’t got to the tomatillos yet, but I see a fresh-cut salsa coming!
My first book, the gardening “bible,” will be published this November, and the two specific volumes on backyard gardening and container gardening will follow early in the New Year. Those two volumes will explain in detail the strategies I have developed to stagger my harvest – to make sure you get a little bit of food every day (rather than end up with a truckload of cabbages or zucchini all at once!) If you want to be first in line for gardening news and special offers, then join The Food Garden Club by signing up on my contact page!