Ron and Jennifer Kujawski are a father-daughter team in the garden and co-authors of the “Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook: Make the Most of Your Growing Season.” They cultivate a mix of raised beds and row-style gardens that cover about 10,000 square feet in a cold, short season, climate within Massachusetts.
I met Ron and Jennifer at the recent Mother Earth News Fair where they gave presentations on three of my favorite topics; Space-Saving Vegetable Gardening, Stretching the Growing Season, and Raising Homegrown Garlic. It was great to have an opportunity to chat with both of them and discuss ideas for getting more production out of the backyard garden!
Space-Saving Growing Techniques
Despite tending a huge garden themselves, Ron and Jennifer have plenty of experience and tips to share with those of us who work with a limited or smaller growing area. To begin with, they dismiss the planting and spacing recommendations that are found on the back of seed packets! That information is designed to facilitate the use of tractors and big equipment of commercial farmers rather than the cultivators and hand tools of the backyard gardener.
Instead of spacing rows far enough apart that they could drive a tractor through them, the backyard gardener can take advantage of the use of wide rows, double rows, staggered rows, square foot gardening, and other more intensive forms of crop spacing. Staggered rows space plants an equal distance apart in the row, and between the rows, allowing you to fit in three rows where there would normally be only two rows.
Other space-saving techniques included incorporating veggies into flower borders, growing plants in containers, and taking advantage of vertical space to grow plants up a trellis or down from a suspended pot. The use of vertical space allows you to enjoy a lush garden in areas like small patios, shaded balconies, and along barren walls, where plants would be otherwise unable to flourish.
Stretching the Vegetable Gardening Season
Ron and Jennifer are also experts at stretching their short growing season in order to get more production out of their vegetable garden. Raised beds allow them to get off to an early start in the spring since the soil drains quickly and warms up faster. They also use plastics over the soil to warm the ground and row covers, hot caps, and grow tunnels to shelter plants from the cold.
Starting seedlings indoors during late winter gives them a jump in the spring, and planting crops in cold frames allows them to extend the growing season in the fall. Leafy greens like mesclun, mache, spinach, and arugula are their top picks for production in a cold frame.
To get the most out of a fall vegetable garden they advise planning ahead and planting frost tolerant veggies such as cole crops, root crops, and leafy greens in mid-summer for cold season production. Combine proper timing, hardy varieties, and cold protection devices like cold frames and cloches to get the best results when stretching the growing seasons.
Other Great Tips from Ron and Jennifer Kujawski
Their advice for the new vegetable gardener that I gleaned from the pages of their book were to “Think small, grow what you eat… and save those dreams about preserving huge surpluses of vegetables for winter consumption until you are comfortable with home growing.”
Variety selection can be especially important for the backyard gardener and Ron and Jennifer point to specific varieties for the small space garden which include:
- Ruby Queen Beets
- Bush Cucumbers; Salad Bush and Spacemaster
- Dusky Eggplants
- Minnesota Midget Muskmelon
- Pic-N-Pic Summer Squash
- Little Finger and Danver’s Half Long Carrots
- Window Box Roma Tomato
As big fans of cover cropping for weed control and soil improvement, Ron and Jennifer utilize familiar cover crops like winter rye and buckwheat, as well as more exotic choices such as Berseem Clover and a Sudan Grass/Sorgum cross that is reputed to reduce grubs. They also make use of inter-cropping and succession planting to get more from less in the vegetable garden.
There are more reports to come from the stages and media room of last weekend’s Mother Earth News Fair but if you’d like to hear more about the Kujawski’s great gardening techniques and ideas just grab a copy of their new book; “Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook” and prepare to cultivate a “Perfectly Timed Garden for Your Most Bountiful Harvest Ever!”
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