Productivity of vegetable garden
Some information from Sweden on productivity: we live in an area with winters down to -20oC (-4oF), around 4 months of snow, generally warm summers. Very short days in winter, long daylight in summer. Mid-April: soil thawed up 2 weeks ago, but we still have frost during the night.
Last year we grew vegetables outside on freeland on around 60m2 (72 square yards), have an old rickety greenhouse of 10m2 (12 square yards) for tomatoes and sweet peppers and had around 20 pots outside with more tomatoes and sweet peppers.
We're a family of 4, with 3 who love vegetables and a son who every day lifts the lid of the pot in horror :).
- Vegetables (around 50m2 planted in freeland) and production from greenhouse and pots: we were self-sufficient for 4-5 months (difficult to give an exact time as we freeze, can, store in the root cellar and use other preservation methods. We leave several vegetables in the ground also to reap in spring (e.g. leek, parsnip).
- Potatoes (around 10m2 planted): self-sufficient for 20-30 days. They seem to have stored well in the root cellar (first year we tried), we still have a trial batch stored from last year that still looks (and last week tasted) excellent.
- We use mulching, great for soil life, moisture management, and saves a lot of time in avoiding to have to deal much less with weeds. Very bad for slugs though who thrive in the mulch… With mulch we water very little, even in dry periods. Without mulch we had to water maybe 30 times in a year, with mulch 10 times max?
- We started gardening vegetables seriously 3 years ago, where I do most of the 'dumb work' (i.e. digging and preparing the beds, buying the books 🙂 while my wife does the 'clever work' (i.e. planning, planting, reading the books, research), so we're not very experienced yet, and have on-and-off success. It's like most things in life, you try many things, some work great, many are OK, some are disastrous; learning is continuous. My wife is amazing, the amount of knowledge and experience she has accumulated in such a short time is admirable, it's the commitment and trying things that counts.
- We pre-grow plants inside to have an early start, we have had pots and growing lights all over the place since March (we actually took in some sweet peppers after last summer, which have continued to give some peppers throughout the winter, not efficient though as it took 2m2 of space and we possibly had 15 peppers over the entire winter). We hope the plants will pick up again this year though.
- We did heat the greenhouse between end of September and beginning of November, stiff electricity bill.
- The first beds we made were wooden frames, but later ones we just raised a mound, while still early, it seems to work well too.
- We want to go to the no-tillage approach, which worked well last year. Works well with mulching.
- I do put a lot of work in preparing the beds in removing roots, breaking up the original soil (dense clay), and mixing it thoroughly with compost, planting soil (bought) and manure (2 years ago it was too fresh, so it burned the roots of the squash, they picked up after 6 weeks though).
- We rotate vegetables to manage nutrient demand and avoid disease. We do adapt fertiliser levels to the needs of the crops planted (at least we try :).
- Last year we tried to plan the beds so we can have several vegetables on the same area in different periods of the growing season. Our inexperience, lack of time, and competition with slugs made this less effective, but the potential is there.
- We fertilise regularly with green fertilisers.
I think these are the key points. It is quite intensive if you combine with two full-time jobs, a family, fruit production and processing, and maintenance of several wooden buildings in various states (in the growing season the vegetable garden takes on average probably 1-1.5 hours/ day?), but is is possible to have a good production even in colder climates if you manage the agenda well and have the ability to prepare things.
This year we're working on an interesting (for us new) thing: perennial vegetables (see http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/vegetables/perennial-vegetables-zm0z12amzkon for some background); many advantages compared to annual vegetables…
Though we continue (and count on expanding) on our annuals too.
Here a picture of what it looks like (in summer '16):