Water Conservation Program Coordinator, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™, UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County
If you want to maximize vegetable production in your backyard or community garden, start thinking like a farmer and become more efficient. Instead of expanding your garden plot, consider optimizing what you have already established. Our recommendation is to go back to basics, and to fine tune your planning methods. We have three simple tips every vegetable gardener should and can easily adopt.
First, think vertical versus horizontal. Increase your gardening space without expanding your beds by growing vertically. Kits are available online, but save money and conserve resources by making your own trellis. Be creative. I have been known to trellis southern peas on large sunflowers like the Mongolian Mammoth. You are not limited to beans, peas, tomatoes and cucumbers. Last fall we grew Zucchino Rampicante, a unique winter/summer squash cultivar that we trellised. Smaller musk melon cultivars may also be trellised as well as Malabar spinach.
Be selective with your plant selection. If you struggled with diseased tomatoes in the past, take a break from growing that crop or consider varieties with resistance. Seed Sources for Florida Homegrown Vegetables includes tables for recommended varieties and sources for seeds: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep486. Last season we grew Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, which have high resistance to fusarium wilt, a soil-borne fungus that negatively effects tomato plants. This recommended variety is not only productive but also addictive to my taste buds.
While you are selecting vegetable seeds and plants, pay close attention to the days to harvest, and use this information for succession planting. Choose varieties with different maturation rates or stagger planting dates. My favorite succession planting technique is to sow carrots and quick-growing radish next to each other.
When the radish is harvested, I resow with carrots. Successively planting provides steady vegetable production over a season and reduces food waste.
If you like these tips, check the calendar of events for gardening workshops at: http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/hillsborough/upcoming-events/. The vegetable microirrigation and composting workshops provide great techniques for amazing gardening results. Contact UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County, 813-744-5519, for horticultural assistance.