Home » 7 Ways to Get the Most out of Your Garden This Year

7 Ways to Get the Most out of Your Garden This Year



Gardening is not just a fun hobby – it can be a powerful, money-saving, life-saving skill. Back in the pioneer days, if you wanted to eat, you grew a garden. There weren’t mega stores in every town, filled with lush, 3-week-old fresh greens to fill your tummy. No, if you wanted food, you had to grow it yourself or work for someone who did. The thing about gardening though, is that learning to do it well doesn’t happen overnight. The blessed skill of gardening, once a must-have skill for every person, is now mostly a lost art. Most people don’t know how to garden – or to preserve the food that grows in the garden. Never fear, though, because today we’re going to share with you how you can get the most out of your garden, even if you’re a beginner gardener.

We’ll share a good several years of experience here that will negate you having to learn from your own mistakes like we did. Read, remember and utilize as you work to grow a bountiful garden this year and learn to excel at a time-honored skill that will reap benefits for years to come.

Get the Most out of Your Garden

Pick the Right Location

Picking a good location is super important in gardening. A wide open space that gets plenty of sun is key. Work to pick a location that’s as flat as possible too, helping you to avoid all of your watering efforts hanging out at one end of the garden or in the middle. Flat, open, lots of sun; that’s the ticket. Generally, the south facing side of the house is best, but it depends on the makeup of your yard, of course. If there are lots of trees on the south side, pick another location.

If you don’t have much space, you’ll love this guy’s gardening technique: All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space

I find it important too to place the garden where you’ll see it easily, especially if you have a large yard. Out of sight, out of mind applies, and can easily lead to an ill-attended garden if it’s not placed in an area where you’ll be often.

Also, work to place the garden near a water source for easy watering.

Prepare the Soil

This article will help you determine the type of soil you have with 4 easy DIY tests, and whether or not the soil is good for gardening. I would also recommend getting your soil tested. Many state universities have departments that will allow you to send in your soil to be tested. In our state, the test costs $17, and determines the organic matter, phosphorus, PH, potassium, lime requirement and estimated texture levels of the soil you send in. Expect up to a 3-4 week wait for the soil results to be returned.

With the results received from the soil test, you can then go about determining what types of fertilizer and other additives need to be used to make your garden’s soil prime for abundant growing conditions. For more on fertilization for gardens, check out this article.

Having healthy soil in your garden is key to maximizing your yield.

Keep Pests Out

Pests can come in a variety of manners. Depending on where you live, you might have deer, rabbits, neighborhood dogs and an abundance of bugs visiting your garden. For big pests such as dogs, deer and rabbits, you can install a tall chicken wire fence or electric fence. Personally, I like this fence idea for a country garden, however urban gardeners probably don’t need to go that intense and can install a basic chicken wire fence. I also shared in this post some other ways of keeping critters out of gardens.

Garden bugs can also be an issue in some areas. Crop rotation, natural deterrents (such as pepper) and organic sprays are all items we use to control pests in our garden. For more extensive info, I highly recommend this comprehensive gardening book:

If you only get one gardening book, let it be this one: The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, 2nd Edition: Discover Ed’s High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions: Wide Rows, Organic Methods, Raised Beds, Deep Soil

Choose What You’ll Grow Thoughtfully

Depending on the purpose of your garden, you’ll want to choose what you grow carefully. If your garden is simply a hobby at this point, go ahead and experiment with reckless abandon.

However, if your goal is to work to sustain your family with your garden, you’ll want to follow these tips for getting the most out of your efforts:

  • Plant veggies and herbs that you love and eat often
  • Plant LOTS of them. We usually plant about 50 green bean plants in our garden
  • Plant veggies that you usually buy at the store. The goal is to cut grocery costs and to learn to be proficient at growing the foods that you love

And while you’re at it, use your gardening book to learn how to best care for the veggies you grow. Our broccoli was a total fail last year because we simply planted and expected all to be well. This year, we’ll educate ourselves on getting the best yield from our broccoli plants.

Learn About Companion Planting

Again, a great gardening book can help with this, or you can check for online resources. The thing is, some plants do well next to each other – others don’t. In order to maximize your garden yield, it’s important to learn about companion planting and to put complimentary plants along side each other in your garden, and avoid putting plants together that don’t care for each other.

Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening

Tend Your Garden Well

A garden needs to be cared for and nurtured. Weeds need to be pulled and the garden needs to be watered on a regular basis. Don’t expect mother nature to handle everything here; carve out a good 1 to 3 hours a week to care for your garden, depending on its size. Keep weeds at bay, and keep the soil moist.

A Word About Weeds

If you’ve got a big garden, you may want to consider putting down a vegetation killer about a month before you plant in order to destroy all weeds. We spent our first three years without the use of one, and every year the weeds got too overwhelming for us to handle. This year we’re following our neighbor’s advice and putting down a vegetation killer. I don’t like the idea of using them, honestly, but we’re not getting the bounty from our garden that we could be getting because we can’t keep up with the weed growth. Also on the list for this year: we’re going to attempt straw bale gardening.

Learn to Preserve

Preserving is one of the most important parts of gardening if you’re truly looking to garden to sustain your family. Our goal for this year’s garden is to hook ourselves up with a full 9-12 months of garden veggies and fruits to last throughout the year. Freezing, canning and dehydrating will help us to do that. We use our Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to help us preserve as much of our garden bounty as possible. The Raspberry jam we canned a couple of years ago using this book was super easy to make. This book is perfect for those who don’t know much about food preservation.

My favorite canning and preserving book: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

Our other preserving “must have” is the FoodSaver V3240 Vacuum Sealing System with Starter Kit . This sealing system along with our zero temp freezer has helped our frozen garden veggies last for a year or more.

Friends, learning to grow and preserve our own food has been one of the most beneficial things we’ve ever done. We now take comfort in the fact that if an economic crisis hits our country, we have the skills and supplies we need to feed our family on our own, without having to rely on a job or on the local big box store. What a relief and a comfort that has been to us. And as an added bonus, we continually have farm fresh, organic, great-tasting veggies and fruits to feed our family. Farm-fresh organic veggies have a taste that is simply unmatched by any grocery store.

We hope you’ll take some time this year to learn this valuable skill and start growing and preserving some of your family’s food supply.

Are you planning on having a garden this year? If so, what will you plant?


  1. Kara @ Money Saving Maven says:

    Now you’ve got me all excited for garden season! I need to work on my preservation skills this year!

  2. We’ve had great luck with amending our soil with free manure. We look at the garden as a highly useful, thrifty, healthy & delicious hobby which is kid-friendly as well. Now I need to learn to preserve more of our food and embrace that along the same lines.

    • Laurie says:

      You can do it, Kalie!! I was really freaked out about preserving food at first. It does get easier with time though. Most of my fears about preserving were totally unrealized.

  3. Mr. SSC says:

    Pests are a nuisance! I had jus gotten a handle on all the bugs, and then Lola, our greyhound decided she would “weed” for me and ripped out about 40% of my cauliflower and brussel sprouts… I then added a chicken wire fence. Currently, I have 4 stalks of brussel sprouts with sprouts on them, and 2 heads of cauliflower with 2 more starting to bud/bloom? They’re a bit behind though, in respect to the others. I did get 3 harvests out of my collard greens though, and they keep growing like a champ. I couldn’t keep the lettuces from bolting, so I have some nice ornamental flowers as well, lol. It’s been fun, but my family would be “meat-itarians” if they depended on my gardening skills. I can shoot things a lot easer than grow things. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Oh no! Funny about the lettuce. 🙂 Well, at least you’ve got the meat hunting down. And I’m totally jealous of your ultra-long growing season. 🙂

  4. Miranda says:

    We have tried gardening on a very small scale before and it didn’t end well. Our yard now is around half an acre, and we are really wanting to have a decent sized garden, these tips will surely help. Do you have any advice on fruit trees and bushes? Thanks Laurie!

    • Laurie says:

      It definitely takes practice, which is why I so highly encourage people to start now. As far as fruit trees and bushes go, pruning correctly is key. We are still learning how to do that here. Also, using organic sprays is key too. The year we didn’t spray, our apples were FULL of holes. You’ll have to let me know how your fruit planting goes.

  5. I’m a bit sad reading this post because it makes me realize that I will probably never garden while living in the house we’re in now. Our small plot of land doesn’t include the “lots of sun, flat, south-facing” ideal. My dad grew up on a farm, and he had a big garden out in the back of my childhood home. I used to go out and pick raspberries, beans, carrots … My kids have never done that – at least not at home.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, not every yard is prime for gardening. Do you have a deck or a south or east-facing wall of the house that you could plant along? That might be feasible. There’s always CSAs too.

    • katscratch says:

      Most greens don’t need a lot of sun – I actually grow lettuce in the shade!

      I have big trees that shade my entire yard by August, but I’ve learned over time where the sunny spots are in the spring and early summer. Vegetables like peas that like to grow right away in spring do really well.

      One of my neighbors put a mirror in a corner of her garden to reflect sunlight. I haven’t tried that but I think it’s brilliant 🙂

  6. fehmeen says:

    I don’t think plants like me. I say that because I have a peppermint plant in my house that has unfortunately wilted away nicely, even though it got plenty of sun and water and was free of pests. The plate looks delicious by the way. There really is a lot of satisfaction in eating home-grown food.

  7. I’ve learned a lot about gardening over the past few years of experience, including several things you discussed. I’ve been VERY lucky with pests so far (knocking furiously on wood!!), although last year we came home from a five-day vacation in August, and found at least one third of the leaves on my tomato plants gone, and four ENORMOUS caterpillars on them.

    I’ve also learned the hard way to grow things my family eats, like you said. I successfully grew some gorgeous eggplants last year, but none of us like eggplant. #gardeningfail

    I tried straw bale gardening last year, and I’m a huge believer! I had six bales last year, and plan to expand to 18 this year!

    Happy growing!!!

  8. James says:

    Ugh, I just wish I have a bigger garden to accommodate more veggies to plant. Gardening has become a fun hobby for us. It has become a one great activity with my kids.

  9. My grandparents used to have a huge garden, and to this day I still crave their green beans. Store bought just don’t compare! I unfortunately live in the city with a small yard, so all I’ve been able to do up until now is keep a tomato plant alive. However, I’m looking to branch out this year and add some herbs & peppers. Looking forward to spring!

    • Laurie says:

      “Store bought just don’t compare.” SO TRUE!! You should add some stuff around the border of your house on the south or east side if you can. That might work!

  10. I’m hoping if we eventually move to a house, we can start gardening! I just read your tips about keeping away pests. My parents live in an urban setting but the squirrels always eat her tomatoes. I wonder if your tip about black pepper works with squirrels as well as rabbits?

  11. Tawcan says:

    We started a garden last year and we’re still eating the produce now. The best thing that we planted would be kale as they’re still going strong. Will need to start preparing the soil once it gets warmer here in Vancouver.

    • Laurie says:

      That’s terrific, Tawcan!! Kale is superb because it does well in colder weather too. We planted some last year and it was a huge hit since we do some juicing here.

  12. Great tips! My wife has been wanting a garden for about 3 years now (about as long as we’ve had the house). I built our massive retaining wall and excavated out 12 cubic yards of dirt. She may have to wait longer, though, as the next project may be another round of excavating and a short (but 80 foot long) retaining wall along the back. But gosh we’d love to have a garden.

  13. Mortimer says:

    Home gardening is so much fun! Especially with young ones. Involving them in learning about the different types of plants, their needs, and how the grow at different stages is one of our favorite parts. Last year we had lots of watermelon and boy is that fun for kids!

    • Laurie says:

      Agreed!! We are growing watermelon this year too! We grew some last year, but it wasn’t the traditional variety and didn’t go over so well with the fam. 🙂

  14. I had a nice straw bale garden at my new place last year, planting and growing right in straw bales. This year I have some great compost to work with, still choosing a location which is key to success as you said. Great tips, thanks!

  15. I love, love, love this. The weekend we moved into our house Mr. Picky Pincher built compost bins. We plan to start our raised beds at the end of winter and hopefully we’ll have some fantastic compost to use by then, as well.

    Mr. Picky Pincher is the big gardener in the house, so he has all kinds of crazy plans for the garden. I think we’re planting loofahs–my sister grew some and sent us some seeds. They’re weird little things but when they’re dried out they’re awesome scrubbing sponges (which means no more buying them!).

    I also want to grow tomatoes, herbs, onions, carrots, lettuce, and peppers. Peppers grow extremely well here, but this will be our first garden, which is always a bit of a learning curve.

    • Laurie says:

      I can’t believe you’re growing loofahs! That is SO cool! We do lots of onions, carrots and peppers. Two years ago we did lettuce and and it was so wonderful, just running out to the garden and coming back with fresh-cut, organic salad fixins. 🙂

  16. Mr. SSC says:

    Our raised bed garden did so so last year. The collards still grow like crazy, so I love that, but everything else has been hit or miss. We realized we stuck the raised bed in a fairly shady area of the yard, so it’s getting moved as soon as we harvest everything and reboot for spring/summer. Of course, that’s only in a few weeks now for around here.

    My cauliflower is still slow growing this season, probably due to less sunlight and the extremely warm temps we’ve had, like 70’s still. Sigh… Carrots did well, and radishes, rutabagas and turnips were sort of a fail. They made little withered versions of themselves. Again, i think the warmer days did them in, fooling them into growing and not making their tubers bigger.

    I really need to get that gardening book. And move the garden. The mainr eason it was moved was to keep a better eye on it since the first year it failed due to the out of sight out of mind principle. I still ahve chicken wire around it, so Lola hasn’t weeded anything since last year, lol.

    • Laurie says:

      K, first of all, I’m SO jealous – 70’s?? We had more snow again today. It’s been a relatively mild winter but winter still sucks, IMHO after 50 years of living in it. 🙂 I always wanted to try collards but have no idea what to do with them. Are they like a salad? Or do you have to cook them?

      • Mr. SSC says:

        Well, just in the 60’s the next 4 days and then 70’s again. 🙂 It was actually hot when I was fishing last Friday.

        Oh, you can actually do both with the collards. You can use them raw as salad greens they’re a little tougher than most salad lettuces, so a bit more chewing is involved, or you can cook them. This varies depending on your method, but most methods involve using bacon/similar diced up in the bottom of the pot, I sometimes add in diced onions, then after they cook down, add the collards, sliced in 1/2″ – 1″ strips and sautee until they cook down. You can stop there if you want, and they eat fine that way. Or you can add liquid (water or chicken broth) to cover them and let them simmer. I usually add garlic and sometimes yellow/brown mustard at that point and then simmer them for an hr or 3. They soften up more, but essentially are really good to eat then. Plus, if you let most of the liquid cook down, you get some tasty “pot likker” type sauce that goes great with cornbread to use to sop up that leftover sauce. No… I didn’t grow up in the south at all, lol.

        They’re hardy, easy to grow and I’ve had 2 plants for almost 2 years now and planted some more. You trim the leaves and then they grow up and make more leaves, and repeat.

  17. katscratch says:

    I love garden planning! I’m hoping to start some seeds this weekend. Every year I think it’s too early and then by Memorial Day I wish I would’ve started things earlier — it’s a tradeoff between using more potting soil as the plants get bigger or having to purchase tomato starts instead.

    I think I made a mistake in letting the cat use the heated seedmat as a window perch, though – he’s not going to want to give that up 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, yeah, you might have a battle on your hand with that one. 🙂 I get lazy about starting our seeds. Too much work. Easy to go buy starters at the nursery. 🙂

  18. OMG, Laurie, I love ever book you posted. This year, we’re planning to improve our garden, and these books will surely be helpful to make that plan a success, and I am so excited how it could affect our budget as we’re trying to lessen the our buying veggies from the market.

    • Laurie says:

      Awesome, Jayson!! Glad you are working on expanding/improving the garden. You’ll love having more fresh, home-grown veggies to eat!

    • Laurie says:

      You should, Brad! Just plant 3 or 4 things that you guys like and eat a lot. Start there. You’ll reap the benefits of eating fresh veggies you’ll like and it will spur you on to keep going? 🙂

  19. Michael says:

    Great post, Laurie! You have inspired me to grow at least a few herbs and veges this year. I am going to give it a serious try 🙂 Do you start with seeds or do you buy the plants?

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