scaling up...efficiency tricks?

rob_in_westernwa(7b?)June 5, 2014

Hi all,

We moved last year and I'm now able to have larger vegetable/fruit plots. I'm by no means "large scale" (~2500 sqft), but it's a bigger toy box than what I had before ~(200 sqft). So to me, I'm "scaling up".

I've gotten decent at growing the stuff, but I'm starting to feel that I should be thinking more "industrial" in my techniques and become more efficient. Rely a little more on the hoe and a little less on hands if you know what I mean.

So, for those who have already made this evolution, what are the most important techniques you've learned to help make you efficient enough to keep up? Some of the things I currently do to save time/work:
- direct seed what I can (to avoid extra potting/care of starts)
- automate whatever I can (e.g., watering)
- plant intensively (to shade/suppress weeds)
- nurture the soil structure (to make weeding easy)
- get the most I can out of a single plant (e.g., lots of harvesting outer leaves of greens)
- lean more towards freezable than need-to-can foods for the surplus crops

I still find myself thinking that I'm doing several things "the hard way". Not that I don't enjoy all the time gardening...I just want to be more efficient (plus the wife keeps throwing more home improvement projects at me...ugh).

So what's on your short list of time savers? What corners are worth cutting? How can I shave time off of the steadily-growing gardening chores?

Who am I kidding? I know full well that increased efficiency will just lead to larger plots, not less time. :)

Thanks.

-Rob

P.S.: I've already tried mulch as a source of weed control. I live in the soggy Pacific Northwest, though, and that quickly becomes a haven for slugs. I'd rather fight weeds than slugs.

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loribee2(CA 9)

I've got my garden on a drip attached to an automatic timer. I will never grow a plant without it being on an automatic watering system. It allows me to go on vacation, or just step away from the garden for days on end, which I do frequently.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 3:49PM
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glib(5.5)

1) weed control: More mulch, but use Sluggo. In particular, more wood chips, to get 2 or 3 years of respite.
2) weed control: sacrifice some of the growing season, let weeds germinate in beds that are too weedy, then hoe them out, then plant or seed. Always hoe a bed when harvest is finished.
3) drip irrigation. Nowadays, twist-on drip pipes take a few hours to set up for 2500 sq.ft.
4) bigger, maintenance free plants. More butternut, more tromboncino, fewer zucchini. More collards, fewer kale. More rutabaga, fewer carrots.
5) similar to 4), more green manures/cover crops: fava greens, bush peas
6) single harvest crops: winter squash, cabbage, turnip, onion, garlic, carrots, etc. Plus build your self a root cellar.
7) I have 2200 sq.ft. and I always cut whole plants instead of picking outer leaves. It saves time with radicchio, lettuce, chard, collards.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 3:52PM
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glib(5.5)

To me drip has to be manually controlled. It is used very intermittently to limit plant stress. It can be used only for large plant seedlings, but not for, say, carrot seedlings. Sometimes one goes two months without.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 3:56PM
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loribee2(CA 9)

Oh yeah, I forgot about plant selection. I won't grow cherry or small salad tomatoes. Too much tomato drop (i.e. next year's volunteers), too much picking time, and too much hassle. I've learned to just take a big one and cut it up in the kitchen. LOL

And glib, I should add that I do adjust my watering depending on the weather, etc. Carrot seedlings got hand watering until they were established, stuff like that. But it's beautiful to be able to control it from the timer and walk away. Make me stand there with a hose and my garden will be dead by August, LOL

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 4:07PM
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planatus(6)

Interplanting is helping us garden more efficiently, though my list of good combos is short (so far). In spring, lettuce and arugula go between the onions as short-term smother crops. Pole beans go in skips in the corn row when the corn is a foot tall. Winter squash goes next to the corn so it can run as a weed-suppressing ground cover.

See the garden work table in the link below. Anything similar -- an old table on saw horses -- will save lots of steps and time. You should also get a Japanese nejiri weed scraper, an amazing tool!

Here is a link that might be useful: garden work station

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 7:37AM
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nugrdnnut(6a n-c WA)

rob,
I don't know if you are looking to save time or to produce more (or both).

I have recently "grown" my garden space to 4 x4'x10' raised beds and I want to get the most out of them that I can.

I use 2 beds strictly for season long plants - tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, etc.
The 2 other bed I am using for succession planting - radishes, peas, beans, carrots, beets, lettuce, broccoli, onions, kohlrabi, garlic, etc. I plan on succession planting as soon as 1 plant type is done, planting with another.

Several things that have helped with this:
- Winter sowing. This is a great way to get plants going and ready to plant in the spring. There is a winter sowing forum on Gardenweb.
- Seed tape. In the dead of winter I made seed tape as I had time and helped to get ready for spring planting with out the need to thin seedlings.

Happy gardening.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 12:48AM
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catherinet(5 IN)

I've gone to lots of vertical trellis. It saves on space and back pain!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 7:32AM
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rob_in_westernwa(7b?)

Thanks, all good comments. I do automate watering, try to plant intensive/successive enough to keep the weeds suppressed, grow vertically, and do some "mock root cellaring", all big time savers. I agree 100%.

One thing mentioned that I'm not doing is winter sowing. I spend a lot of time/effort getting starts ready in winter/spring to maximize my season, but perhaps I'll experiment with winter sowing to minimize that.

I should also take up the cover crop suggestion as well. I'll have to experiment with how it fits in with my usual winter veggies, but I've heard of several benefits it can bring (soil fertility/structure and weed suppression).

I also like the garden work table suggestion. That's been on the todo list for awhile now. Now that my location/layout is getting settled I'll probably also build a small shed so I don't have to keep dragging tools across the property.

With those improvements (and what I'm already doing) the remaining main time sink is probably still keeping up on the weeds. Hopefully this will get better as I maintain the growing space, but I know it'll never go away. I'm still leery on mulch though...even with Sluggo. I'm my experience this creates more problems than good. Has anybody else in a similarly wet, slug-infested area had luck with this approach?

As far as maximizing production vs. minimizing effort...I guess my goal is a combination of both. When I had a smaller plot I was all about maximizing production regardless of effort (lots of dense succession planting with ready-to-go starts, and frequent weeding to minimize competition). Now that I have a larger area to play with I was thinking I might be able to get away with not working each sqft as intensively. If I open things up too much though, then I'll have more weeds. So it feels like I'm now just stuck intensively gardening 10x more space...which is why I came asking for "industrial"-style tips. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't imagine that home gardeners with 3-5K sqft are doing things the same way that those with smaller plots are.

If anybody has any other "no, you're doing it all wrong" or "the way to scale up is to change your mindset to..." suggestions I'd love to hear them. I'm always up for expanding my bag of tricks.

Thanks again for the help.

-Rob

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 5:32PM
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glib(5.5)

Last tip: you can save 1000 sq ft of cardboard in one year if you try. When beds become too overrun with weeds, cardboard is one other trick that can be applied at your scale. But I still prefer wood chips and large plants for efficiency.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 7:33PM
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ju1234((8 Dallas TX))

I have covered the non planted / walk areas with old carpet and / or cardboard. Clean area to walk and no grass/weeds. Divert your bath/shower water to garden and use as stored water, save money and time.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 11:38PM
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pnbrown

I use cardboard a lot.

For efficiency, I don't think anything beats the old straight rows and the hoe, dirt mulch. Of course, it also tires ground out quickly, so fallowing is critical. The fallow is when weeds often take over, so the smart farmer plants the cover crops in rows as well and hoes, just like for the food crop.

Too bad I'm not that smart, or that energetic.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 6:55AM
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