As we begin the ascent into peak planting and gardening season, many at-home gardeners are actively putting their well-thought-out growing plans into motion. But for those who are just starting out cultivating vegetables, or have a less-than-green thumb, it can be daunting to find the most efficient and least wasteful way to go about planting, nurturing and harvesting. Many gardeners opt to compost excess or overripe veggies to ensure anything that can’t be consumed has its nutrients returned to the soil and keep their garden as healthy as possible.
But even before resorting to composting, there are a few growing strategies and tactics to consider that can make your garden more efficient and less wasteful than ever. Join us as we explore them below!
Pack It In by the Square Foot
One of the biggest ways to up your gardening game is to be smart about the space you’re using and proactively plan to use it more efficiently. It’s possible to grow a lot of produce in a small space if you’re organized and know where to cut corners especially when it comes to spacing (and harvesting) your plants. There are dozens of ways to approach space-saving gardening, but one of our favorites is to pack in the produce using the square foot gardening method.
The square foot gardening method is a great way to grow a lot of produce in a small space and one that is great for beginners. With this approach, gardens are broken into clear, straightforward areas measured by—you guessed it—square foot sections. Within each square foot “plot” or area, you select a different crop to grow there and organize accordingly making sure you allocate the right amount of space to grow each effectively.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac has great guidelines and recommendations for arranging a square foot garden to make sure you’re maximizing your garden bed while giving each plant room to grow comfortably within their boundary. If you’re just starting out, this way of dividing up the garden can be significantly less overwhelming than starting with a giant blank slate of garden bed.
Plant for Now *AND* Later
Another great method for keeping an efficient and less wasteful garden is one that is extremely popular among longtime gardeners and growers: succession planting. The goal of succession planting is to reduce empty space in your garden bed by planning and seeding new plants to enter your plots just after you harvest your produce. Using the succession method can ensure that you have a steady supply of vegetables, herbs and other produce throughout the growing season.
One plant that excels using the succession planting method is lettuce. Many varieties of lettuce, from Buttercrunch to Rouge d’Hiver, grow relatively quickly and can be planted consistently throughout the season so that you always have a fresh garden salad at your fingertips!
Succession planting in earnest takes some planning as certain varieties of plants prefer the cooler temperatures of spring and fall over hot summer days and vice versa. But with some practice you could have an efficient and productive garden all season long.
Use ‘Em Up
Once you’ve put in all of that hard work organizing, planning and planting your garden, plus all the work tending to your plants and harvesting your produce, you definitely don’t want the literal fruits of your labor and invested time to go to waste. Those green beans, tomatoes and carrots you grew are full of that hard working energy you gave to them and they’re ready to give it back in the form of nutrients. It’s best not to waste any part of your efforts!
There are multiple ways to use most vegetables and herbs grown in the garden. Whether it’s trying a new recipe or learning that parts of a plant you’ve been throwing away your whole life are edible, keeping things interesting in the kitchen is a great way to be less wasteful with produce. Knowing how to store excess produce for later is another big step in gardening efficiently. There are a few different methods of storing food, but freezing your excess produce is probably the easiest way to get started.
No matter how you plan to use or store your haul, there’s always an opportunity to make the most of your harvest. We’ve collected a few of our favorite ways to ensure every last bit out of some of our favorite garden veggies get used:
- Garlic: Garlic scapes (the above-ground stem) are harvested before the garlic itself and can be used in the same way you would normally use garlic. You can use them as cooking “starter” cubes by throwing scapes and flower bud into a food processor and, when finely chopped, add them to an ice cube tray with olive oil and freeze. You’ll have a ready-to-go garlic saute starter for any meal you’d like!
- Carrots: Carrot tops are edible and can be made into their own tasty pesto, they also make great additions to flower arrangements.
- Beets: Like carrots, the tops are edible too and make a great salad or sauteed green.
- Kale and Chard: It’s great to eat leafy greens like these every day but if you already are and still have a ton leftover you have two options - share with friends or you can chop, blanch and freeze any excess. These frozen greens portioned out make it really easy to add some practically-fresh summer greens to a winter soup!
- Marigolds: These are multipurpose plants in the garden. Marigolds help with pest management by keeping harmful nematodes at bay, they are great for attracting pollinators, make beautiful cut flowers and can also be harvested to use as a natural dye.
- Basil: Create a big batch of pesto at the height of summer and freeze for later.
- Tomatoes: Oops, you grew too many tomatoes? Simply cut them up into chunks and freeze - makes a seriously delicious as-if-it’s-summer-tasting tomato soup in the middle of winter!
- Herbs: Herbs like lemongrass, mint, rosemary and lavender are dual purpose, they are wonderful edible additions to your cooking and also repel unwanted insects.
Looking for even more tips on using up each and every bit of your garden veggies, or exploring ways you can grow produce more effectively? Check out some of our other stories and resources: