Looking for ways to improve the productivity of our crops is one of my favorite topics. There are so many different options out there, you can spend weeks doing research.
Increasing Crop yield to have more fresh food directly out of the garden or to share with family and friends is very fulfilling, and most of the time also quite cheap.
Most ways to improve the productivity of your hobby farm are linked to soil quality, water availability, sun exposure, unconventional farming methods, and space optimization. Improving any of these factors will result in a higher yield.
So let’s get right into it, where is the best place to start, when I want to increase my harvest? Here I also want to mention that the Tips are in no particular order, I just grouped them together a bit.
Make a crop plan
Making a crop plan is a tedious job and often overlooked. Of course, making a plan will not magically increase your crop yield, it just helps you to keep an eye on the whole situation. This is more of a personal preference, as I tend to be more efficient at work with a set schedule.
Using a crop plan can help you to get your plants planted in time, add the right fertilizer (if necessary) and also makes it possible to use some of the methods I will talk about later like Inter-planting or Crop rotation.
That being said, it is in no way mandatory, most of the farmers I worked with just memorized their crop plan. So just give it a go and see if this works for you or not, keeping an overall plan of your hobby farm situation is always a good idea though, especially if you grow crops to earn money.
So let’s get into the more practical Aspects of improving crop productivity.
Grow the optimal crop
Deciding on the right seeds for your situation can greatly affect the harvest. Most plants are able to grow in pretty much every climate and soil if you really put your mind to it, but that doesn’t mean they are thriving.
Selecting Plants according to your soil and climate situation can be very bountiful. That doesn’t mean you have to stop growing what you like, just try to focus on plants with the right set of traits for your situation.
For example, if you are struggling with Powdery Mildew and want to grow and want to grow Squash go for a variety that is resistant like Multipik or Revenue
It’s very important to know the strengths and weaknesses of your property to get the absolute best plant for your situation, but just triying out some different types and settleing for the better producing ones is a good step to start with.
Soil rotation is another nice trick to increase productivity. Every plant needs different nutrients from the soil, planting one crop in the same space every year will drain the soil of very specific nutrients and increase risk of disease.
Choosing to rotate crops can help to diversify demands on your soil, for example, growing legumes will add nitrogen to the soil, which after you are rotating crops again will help to increase the next year’s yield.
Soil rotation is very complex with a lot of different plans to apply, so if you do not use a rotational system, consider informing yourself a little more in detail about this topic.
Start Planting early
Giving your plants more time to grow and mature will also result in a better harvest. Start growing as soon as possible, to give your crops a lot of time to grow. Using a Greenhouse to ensure a head-start is also a good method to get more out of your plants.
Getting a good feeling about when to start growing takes a lot of time and patience, as this is different depending on the crop you grow, where you live and the soil and weather conditions. The best way to get a good understanding is with trial and error. Grow a couple of them in 1-week intervals and see how the results turn out. Next year you will be able to adjust your growing period according to what you learned.
Weeding and checking Soil quality
Weeding is another process which takes a lot of time but is definitely worth the effort. Invasive grass will drain a lot of nutrients out of the soil, and can so big that they block sunlight from reaching your plants. In the
Weeding often and early can help your crops to grow much faster giving you a much better harvest later on. Use the time going through your beds to check soil quality and use compost or fertilizer in very poor areas.
Improve Soil Quality
Soil Quality is a huge factor in crop productivity. There are so many things to consider when talking about soil Quality, like nutrients, airflow, ph level, etc. that I won’t go into detail. Here is a link to an article taking a more in-depth look about soil in general.
It’s important to remember that soil is the basis on which all your plants will grow, so bad soil will produce bad plants and an even worse harvest. Taking care of your soil is the most important part of being a farmer and should never be neglected.
Soil Quality takes years to improve but good high quality soil will stay this way for a long time, providing you with a good productive harvest along the way.
Green manure in the off-season
Giving your soil a break is also part of crop rotation, but using this break to grow green manure is another good way to increase the next season’s harvest. Green manure is just another way to ensure proper soil quality, and an alternative to compost or fertilizer.
Using this method in combination with compost creates a good amount of organic matter in the top soil, which will break down over time and release a lot of nutrients. This will also invite useful critters like worms to increase the airflow in the soil passively.
Tilling causes the soil to compact, kills a lot of useful critters and reduces water drainage of your soil. There are a lot of great ways to reduce the impacts of tilling or negate it altogether. I personally prefer a no-till approach to farming, but there are some situations in which tilling is mandatory.
In some cases tilling is unavoidable so you have to decide if a no-till approach is working with your property. The impact of this procedure on the soil and on the productivity of your crops is something to keep in mind when you want to increase your harvest.
Maintaining a proper soil balance
A good balance of critters, bacteria,
It’s hard to get a good picture of this balance without testing methods, but you will definitely notice once it is not in balance anymore. Taking care of your soil and not overusing Pesticides, Herbicides or Fungicides will, in general, keep this balance alive and you do not have to do anything except for normal soil treatment.
Disease and Pest control
Pests and Disease can reduce your harvest by a lot, sometimes even 100%. Dealing with Pests and Diseases can be a hard struggle, so it’s important to notice if something is affecting your garden as soon as possible.
One of the gardens I work with has a huge problem with mice, so much that growing any root vegetables is nearly impossible. I had to build specific growing containers to protect my crops from being eaten before I get a chance to harvest them.
It’s very important to know potential problems within your hobby farm and either solve them directly or work around them. Ignoring them will cause the issue to build up until it’s literally impossible to grow anything.
Water is the most important resource for your plants to grow and produce food. Lack of water will either kill your plants or hinder their growth, leaving you with a much smaller harvest.
It’s important to find a good balance between too much and to little water, soil quality plays another huge role, as good soil will be able to absorb and hold water. Using Mulch to reduce evaporation is also a great method to improve your irrigation.
Watering your plants after sunset can also reduce the impact of evaporation if you don’t use a drip irrigation system but sprinklers. Ensuring a good water flow to and around your crops is one of the easiest ways to improve their productivity.
Improve Water drainage
Standing water and erosion can kill your plants or hinder their growth massively. Ensuring good drainage is essential for good crop productivity, taking the time to invest into soil drainage is worth the effort. Most of the work is done by critters like worms if they get the chance to and are incentivized to do so.
A good layer of organic matter can help to improve soil drainage in short and long term, but I’ll cover this later. In my opinion, it’s better to improve soil drainage gradually over time using natural soil management. However, installing pipes to help drainage is s
Avoid Afternoon sun exposure
Intensive afternoon sun can cause plants to burn, they can actually protect themselves in a process called “non-photochemical quenching”. This process does, however, hinder plant growth and reduce productivity by quite a bit.
Taking care of your plants to not be exposed to high intensive afternoon sun is a good way to improve your harvest. In my
Consider other farming methods
There are a lot of really powerful farming methods out there, which can improve your productivity immensely. I can’t cover all of them, so I will only cover my favorite 3.
- Raised Bed farming: Building raised beds makes it much easier to maintain good soil quality, ensure proper drainage and protect your plants from different kinds of animals, like moles. Adopting Key-hole raise beds can also help you to use your space more efficiently. In my opinion, using raised beds is a very good way to get started and cultivate a garden, which has been neglected for a long time.
- High-Intensity farming: This is a method, which can be combined with pretty much every way of bedding for crops. It only tries to increase productivity by reducing the space between plants giving you higher yields on less space.
- Permacultural and Biodynamic farming: Going away from conventional row farming is also a good way to improve the overall harvest of your small hobby farm or garden. These growing methods try to take the whole picture into consideration, growing is not only planting a seed and waiting but more of an organic process which affects the nature around it. Growing supportive plants together and focusing on an intact system as a whole and not single aspects of the system can reward you with
Mulching, which is the covering of Topsoil with organic matter can improve soil quality and water absorption by a lot. Mulching also helps to prevent the negative effects of erosion and other soil-related issues.
Adopting this farming method is also a good way to improve your soil quality over time, organic matter will break down and release nutrients into the soil. The soil consistency will also improve as worms and other useful critters use this the organic matter creating better airflow throughout the soil.
Optimize planting area
Reducing space wasted by huge walkways and areas covered with nothing but grass can also increase your productivity by a lot. Generating a very space efficient garden will take some time, but starting to optimize your garden can be quite easy, just look out for places where land is unused.
Growing vertically is another option to optimize planting space. Many plants take up a lot of ground area, guiding the plant to grow vertically and not horizontal will decrease the space needed to grow these kind of plants.
Space you clear this way can be used to grow more plants, in a smaller area increasing your total harvest by a significant amount.
Vertical gardening is not hard to implement but doesn’t work for all plants. The best plants for this method are tomatoes, beans, pumpkins and in general all vining crops.
Growing two different types of plants in the same bed can insure a much more space efficient way of growing. Important for this method is to use plants which take a lot of time to grow and plants which will mature very fast and plant them together.
Once you harvest the fast growing plants the bed is not just sitting around empty but still grows other plants for a late summer harvest.
This also works for plants like potatoes, as soon as the plant starts to die and you brought in the harvest, plant another crop on-top of it. This works very well and is called
Reduce Plant spacing
Growing plants as close as possible without hindering their growth can increase your harvest significantly. There are a lot of great books out there talking about the minimum space required by each plant, I really like this book (link to amazon), it gives a very good overview and easy to follow recommendations. Just following this book can help you save up a lot of growing space.
Leafy Greens can be planted much closer together in an intensive growing style. This enables a cut&come again harvest method. Giving you both an earlier and more bountiful harvest.
This method is very helpful if you do not have a lot of space to grow food, as it not only requires less space and spreads out the harvest over time but also ensures a very productive environment.
Use Pots and Containers to increase planting area
Using Pots will allow you to grow food pretty much anywhere. This way you can optimize and use all the leftover space to grow even more food without much initial work. Not all plants will thrive in Pots but most will grow just fine and give you a good harvest for otherwise unused space.