Saturday, March 7, 2015

Getting better yields from a vegetable garden

With the change in the morning and evening temperatures signalling autumn, my mind is once again turned to planning for the new season’s crops.

To be totally honest, summer harvests have been disappointing and because of my lack of time I certainly have not made the most of what we did get from the garden.

As I do a mental tally of what we have eaten or stored from the vegetable garden it really is not boast-able.

We had a poor marrow crop this year compared to last, our first two plantings of corn failed, our tomatoes yielded some fresh for salads but most had to be roasted for pasta sauce and that quantity was only about 4x 1 liter bags. Herbs we have had a plenty and chilies too…but a girl & her Superman can only eat so many chilies!

Salad leaves have kept us in good supply while we had hardly any asparagus due to a slight misunderstanding. Not one cucumber showed up for the party, which is simply rude! We had two – yes TWO – butternuts come out to play and no pumpkins.

In my experiment beds all the carrots and turnips came up, but it was too early for turnips so they went to seed. So all in all, I am a bit frustrated and saddened but I can truly lay the blame at my door.

Please see this as a personal therapy post…I need to vent a little. (At myself mostly!)

I am however one of those people who do not beat themselves up for long – just a good tongue lashing in the mirror and then its time to move on. I have therefore been doing some research – which is partly to get my mind in the right mode and partly to increase my knowledge – on how to get the vegetable garden to yield more.

Here follows my decisions….


Yup – the first thing to deal with is my own motivation. Even though we cut back on much superfluous stuff over the last few months, I am still a busy woman. But there are times when I could go out to the veggie garden or make newspaper pots for new seedling, but I don’t. I ignore that and do something else – also good, also worthwhile but not what will feed into the greater goal of growing more vegetables. 

So I need to deal with me. 

I’ll go and do that then...


I have noticed for a while now that my beans and corn have a yellow tinge to them, especially the ones in our newer section of the garden. This means that there is not enough nitrogen for them to stay nice and green. Growing vegetables organically means that I need to continually add manure, worm casing or blood meal. I have struggled to find blood meal in SA and I would only want it from an organic source anyway. So it is horse manure from a friend’s stable and our own worm casings and tea.

I also need to add topsoil as some of my beds have sunk way below the raised bed level. I have sourced topsoil, into which we will add our own compost and horse manure.

Because the winter vegetables, like broccoli, that I will be putting in shortly need a dose of fishmeal too into those beds. Later in the season I will add some Bounce Back pellets to all beds.

The soil is the starting place for all good vegetables. I have learned that you cannot save on compost hoping to get good yields. My compost is a bit slow to turn over at the moment because we haven’t had rain for a while, and I have forgotten to water the heap, but just yesterday we emptied the cages and added it back in layers alternating with leaves, manure and existing compost from the heap. A good watering once a week and covering it should have it ready by the end of March.

As the Stinkwood tree, which dominates our front garden, starts to drop it's leaves I am going to get Sam to make leaf mould. This will be a great mulch for summer days next year.


With the quality of the soil boosted I am going to plant my plants much closer together. I have always tried to follow the given instruction but most of the time those spacing guidelines are for the absolute maximum size of the ready to harvest veg. We tend to eat our vegetables smaller than larger so I am going to halve the spacing requirements when I sow the seed and see how it goes.


In addition to closer spacing I am going to keep experimenting with vertical growing. Unfortunately all the climbing and running veg come to an end in summer, except for peas. The peas will use the cucumber frame that we built last year and I will probably make another one for elsewhere in the garden.

I have a large expanse of wall that I am quiet keen on using as the backdrop to an espalier apple tree. I will be doing some research on this and then seeing what comes of it.


Watering may be a challenge in summer because of adding more plants to the beds than before. Here in winter we have plenty of rain and I generally do not need to water at all.

I really really really (Hey Superman do you get the hint) want to get an irrigation system installed. It doesn’t need to be on a timer, it needs to just have a simple black piping around the edge of the beds with some low sprinkler heads that I can plug the hose from the borehole into instead of dragging the hose and the sprinkler around for two days to water the whole garden.

I think it will also waste less and help with the water pressure issues we have.


We have two apple trees, two avocado trees, a bramble for berries, a prolific fig tree, two lemon trees and two orange trees, two grape vines and loads of Cape Gooseberry plants. Our strawberries are grown in baskets and are now sending out their runners. Despite this we only had enough strawberries this year for one batch of jam and some fresh each day for breakfast. 

We also have a splendid granadilla vine which really comes in this year as our winner producer. It makes me smile every time I walk in from the carport as it trails its way over the gate.

Our figs were used in jam, preserves and ice cream, our apple and orange trees are new, but our lemon trees give is a few lemons each season. Our avocados trees gave us their first few fruits this year after being in the ground for 6 and 4 years.

Companion planting

I dabble with this all the time and what I actually enjoy most is the variety and colors that companion planting gives to the vegetable beds. It is also a way for me to bring flowers into the garden, which the pollinators need. It may not directly increase the yields but companion planting does keep the bugs down (…down – not gone – as this utopia I have not yet found!)


I recently connected again with a friend’s brother who is an urban beekeeper. This movement of homing bees on top of garage roves is taking the world by storm and its hitting South Africa too.

Slight problem…

I am very allergic. Mmmh.

But this beekeeper will install two hives here for me and maintain them, collect the honey and everything for me.

This means that our garden will have more bees, which I have battled to attract for all the years we have grown veggies.

I have tasted his honey too and it’s like toffee…supremely delicious. I guess you can tell which way I am leaning.

All that I am waiting for is to get municipal confirmation that we are indeed able to be part of this movement. 


So there is the big plan. Looks so good and simple on the page, but there is a Rands and Cents as well as time cost to calculate.

I think I had better go and make myself a Red Latte and contemplate the future here on our little patch of Earth and how we can implement all my plans.

Thanks for reading and I do hope you are inspired to increase your garden yields this year too.


Gina Masson said...

Reading this post is a carbon copy of my experience - the previous season grew like a jungle on steroids, but this last season barely fed an ant!
There were two things I didnt do this year 1) mulch with straw and 2) watered less. Not sure if these are the reasons for my non-harvest.
I went to visit Sean from Living Seeds and he has a permanent drip system which he says is the only way to irrigate as far as his experience goes.
So roll up your sleeves, put on your boots and give the winter crops a good successful go!

Urban Homestead South Africa said...

Rolling up my sleeves, Gina :)

Miss Bee said...

It is wonderful that you are actually implementing permaculture principles 1, 3, 4, and 12 to address your issues. :) I hope everything goes well after your thoughtful changes.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I have had such a similar experience! I also had much less coming to the kitchen table or being preserved than in previous summers. I injured my elbow using the weed-eater for the first time in November, and I am still struggling to not re-injure it in my gardening ... and my soil and plants have suffered for the lack of work. The excessive heat and some cute, interfering farm ducks who dispersed my mulch and wood chips caused my soil to dry out and harden. I noticed that the micro sprayers are not effective enough with the heat, and I desperately want to change to drippers. (Yes, my hubby has also heard my request, but we'll have to find time ...)
After giving myself my own little lecture, this is what I decided to do ~
1. Do NOT give up!
2. Be faithful with what I have and what I know works.
3. Start fresh with autumn beds and mulch and manure them well. My chicken manure and tea is a winner! (No weeds in them.)
4. Convert to dripper lines where I can.
5. Keep the ducks out.
6. Use straw bales if I cannot find/ make woodchips and mulch thick and well.
7. Water well regularly.
8. Plant more things that make me happy to garden = herbs and edible flowers.
9. Convert to as many perennial plants as I can.
10. Get strong, healthy seedlings growing now!

Blessings as you start your new season!

Urban Homestead South Africa said...

Hi Miss Bee, glad to see that I am implementing permaculture - without even knowing it. It just seems like good sense doesn't it?

Urban Homestead South Africa said...

Nadene, that is a great list! All the best to you as you get going in your autumn garden.

mindbodymaths said...

Well I'm another one who had a very empty garden, partly through lack of involvement but, indeed, what was it with those squash plants just dwindling around and the beans, normally coming up in spring, are suddenly wanting to take over now! Your and Nadene's strategies are ever so helpful, starting with manure, fixing the (livingseeds)drip irrigation dog damage and putting on my planning cap. Love, thanks & keep us posted!