Grow More Food

A Vegetable Gardener's Guide to Getting the Biggest Harvest Possible from a Space of Any Size


By Colin McCrate

By Brad Halm

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Just how productive can one small vegetable garden be? More productive than one might think! Colin McCrate and Brad Halm, former CSA growers and current owners of the Seattle Urban Farm Company, help readers boost their garden productivity by teaching them how to plan carefully, maximize production in every bed, get the most out of every plant, scale up systems to maximize efficiency, and expand the harvest season with succession planting, intercropping, and season extension.
Along with chapters devoted to the Five Tenets of a Productive Gardener (Plan Well to Get the Most from Your Garden; Maximize Production in Each Bed; Get the Most out of Every Plant; Scale up Tools and Systems for Efficiency; and Expand and Extend the Harvest), the book contains interactive tools that home gardeners can use to assist them in determining how, when, and what to plant; evaluating crop health; and planning and storing the harvest. For today’s vegetable gardeners who want to grow as much of their own food as possible, this guide offers expert advice and strategies for cultivating a garden that supplies what they need.


This book is dedicated to Roy Brubaker, who has inspired many people to grow good food for the world.


Introduction: Become a More Productive Vegetable Gardener

Part 1: Plan Ahead & Keep Records

Chapter 1: Evaluating Your Current Garden Setup

Chapter 2: Crop Scheduling & Record Keeping

Chapter 3: Garden Mapping & Crop Rotation

Part 2: Build Healthy Soil

Chapter 4: Prepping Soil for Production

Chapter 5: Building & Maintainung Soil Quality

Chapter 6: Suppressing the Competition

Part 3: Get to Know Your Plants

Chapter 7: Selecting Seeds

Chapter 8: Transplanting & Direct Seeding in the Garden

Chapter 9: Fertilizing, Prunning & Hand Pollinating to Boost Production

Chapter 10: Managing Pests & Diseases

Part 4: Create Efficient Systems

Chapter 11: Setting Up a Home Nursery

Chapter 12: Starting Your Own Transplants

Chapter 13: Irrigating Consistently & Evenly

Part 5: Extend & Expand the Harvest

Chapter 14: Extending the Growing Season

Chapter 15: Timely Harvesting & Successful Storage

Appendix: Garden Planning Worksheets & Charts


Metric Conversion Charts


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Introduction Become a More Productive Vegetable Gardener

This book is for people who are intent on getting as much food as possible from their gardens, whatever the size of their plot. Our knowledge is drawn from a background in small- and large-acreage farming, as well as in backyard gardening. After years working on a variety of diversified vegetable farms, we launched a home gardening business. Since 2007, we've been running this business, called Seattle Urban Farm Company, which helps homeowners, restaurants, and communities grow their own food. We've taken the systems and practices used by professional growers and adapted them for use at the scale of a home garden.

A well-organized garden will have room for dozens of different crops in a small amount of space.

There are many reasons why a home gardener might want to implement the strategies described in this book. It may be that you simply want to be more efficient with your time and resources. Or feed your household from the garden year-round. Perhaps you'd like to set up a miniature farm stand by the mailbox for supplemental income, sell a few vegetables at your local farmers' market, coordinate a community garden, or prepare for the zombie apocalypse.

No matter what your goals are, the strategies and techniques described in this book will help you approach your garden like a small-scale farm, dramatically increasing its productivity. Focusing on production means that your plot will need more careful planning, record keeping, and management than a typical backyard vegetable garden.

How to Grow More Food in the Space You Have

The first step toward a highly productive garden is simply understanding what makes a garden successful. To get the most out of your garden, it's important to:

A vegetable garden can be both beautiful and productive.

Grow for a purpose. Take the time to consider the goals of your project. Grow for the tastes you prefer and yields you can use. Make sure to have a use in mind for each crop before it goes in the ground.

Select the best site and use it efficiently. Think ahead and place annual and perennial crops in appropriate locations. For most crops and climates, more sun is better. Lay out your garden to maximize productive space and find creative solutions for spaces outside of the main vegetable garden. Keeping a productive garden space requires using nongarden spaces in support roles.

Plan well and keep good records. Spend time before each season to make a thorough plan of the garden. Update the plan throughout the season as you make necessary changes. Maintain an accurate record of garden tasks and what happens in the garden, and use this information to inform future plans.

Maintain fertile soil. Successful growers say, "Care for the soil, not the crops." Ongoing and meticulous care of the soil is essential. Soil amendment should happen several times every year.

Know your plants. To get the most out of your crops, you must develop an understanding of the physiology, genetics, and cultural requirements of the plants. The more you know about your crops, the easier it is to increase their yields.

Extend your broccoli harvest by picking side shoots as well as the main crown.

Select the best crops. Choose crops and specific cultivars that will perform well in your climate. You'll want to select varieties that are vigorous, produce well, and that you like to eat.

Deal with pests, diseases, and weeds immediately. Closely and frequently monitoring the garden for problems allows you to deal with them before they get out of hand.

Observe and respond. You are the best ongoing source of information about your garden. Keeping track of which varieties perform best and what pests show up and when will enable you to customize your project to your specific conditions.

Maximize your time and energy. Develop systems and use tools that maximize efficiency by saving time and energy. Time is nearly always the most limited resource of a production gardener, so make the most of it.

Water well. Vegetable plants need consistent and adequate water. By the time you notice signs of water stress, you've already reduced your overall yield potential.

Extend and expand the seasons. Create spaces that allow you to extend planting and harvest dates earlier and later in the season. Stay organized with succession planting to grow multiple crops in each space throughout the year.

Harvest and store crops smartly. Know the appropriate time of day and stage of growth to harvest your crops. Pay attention to postharvest care for maximum quality and storage life.

Think like a Farmer

In our experience, the most successful growers have a decidedly positive way of thinking about their gardens. Although intensive food production is challenging, these growers understand that you are most successful when you find joy in the process itself. They don't allow the inevitable struggles to tarnish their experience.

The authors take a moment to reflect on the day's work.

There is no doubt that intensive food production is hard work and can be exhausting and frustrating. Crops will fail, seasons will be unexpectedly hot or cold, and more insects than you imagined possible will eventually cross your path. One day you may find yourself screaming obscenities and flapping your arms in the air like a deranged chicken in response to a Colorado potato beetle outbreak. However, it's essential to seek creative ways of overcoming these challenges and to find joy in the simple pleasure of doing a little better each season. A successful grower recognizes the highs and lows as part of the agreement to work with nature.

To be successful and to improve their growing systems year after year, gardeners must relish the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and from the vagaries of nature. Observation and knowledge are key in this process: Farmers understand that learning how their crops grow and how the plants respond to their care is vital to their livelihood and well-being. It is embracing this interaction and the give-and-take with nature that makes food production so captivating and rewarding.

The Art of Gardening for Production

You might say that production gardeners are a bit like artists. Their work runs like a thread through all of their activities; they may be struck by sudden inspiration at any moment; and they perform their tasks as dictated by the work, instead of trying to fit their work into a scheduled routine. The soil is your canvas, plants are your medium, and each onion, pepper, and head of lettuce is a work of art.

Like artists, many growers find that their passion increases over time. As you become intimately familiar with your crops and your soil, your techniques will become second nature and you will truly get lost in your work. The most successful growers are those who continue to find new inspiration in their crops and systems. For some, experimenting with new varieties every year helps keep them engaged and motivated. For others, achieving a continual harvest of salad greens or breeding their own variety of winter squash fuels the fire.

Anyone can become an artist in their garden. No matter the size of your plot, you'll find that as your knowledge and experience grow, so will your yields and your love of food production.

How to Use This Book

This is a guide to maximizing garden productivity at home, not a comprehensive encyclopedia of vegetable production. We include useful information for growers at every skill level and focus on techniques that will increase yields for the production-minded gardener. We show you the systems and techniques used on small vegetable production farms every day so that you'll learn to use your yard just like a miniature farm.

We focus on annual vegetables and herbs but also include information on perennials. The information is structured this way because we've found that most home gardeners are concerned primarily with their annual crops. Perennials take less care and often take up less space in the grower's mind.

Learning the skills and techniques farmers use can help turn your backyard into a miniature farm.

Developing a system to employ all of the techniques outlined throughout the book will take time. While this book will help improve your garden productivity from day one, you should approach gardening with a long view and gradually acquire skills as they become relevant and appropriate for your garden.

It should be no surprise that professional growers take their work very seriously. They monitor every aspect of their farm: recording when crops are planted, fertilized, irrigated, weeded, thinned, pruned, and harvested. They note which varieties perform best, and they continuously make adjustments to their practices as they develop more efficient and successful ways of caring for their crops.

But don't take it too seriously. Gardening is fraught with challenges. It will make you lose your mind if you don't take a step back every now and then and laugh at the whole process. Get away from your garden, play a game of Parcheesi or Ping-Pong—whatever it takes to calm down after you've lost all your tomatoes to late blight. With time, consideration, and a sense of humor, you will become a successful, highly productive gardener.

Part 1Plan Ahead & Keep Records

Increase yields by using space efficiently, timing your plantings & planting more often.

Taking the time to prepare a thoughtful plan is one of the most important things you can do for your garden. You'll need to consider which crops to grow, how much of each crop to plant, when to plant, and when to expect your harvest. It's no exaggeration to say that a detailed garden plan alone can double or triple the productivity of a garden.

Chapter oneEvaluating Your Current Garden Setup

If you already have a garden, take the time to consider any challenges it presents. Seemingly small details can make a big difference. Maybe your beds never get enough compost, because the pathways are so narrow that a wheelbarrow won't fit between them. Maybe it's located near a giant pine tree that sends new roots into your beds every spring. Maybe it's already perfect. In any event, it's a good idea to think holistically about your space and try to identify opportunities for improvement.

Late-summer garden harvests are bountiful and diverse.

what are your growing priorities?

Why are you interested in increasing the productivity of your garden? Do you want to sell tomatoes to the local corner store? Do you want the most diverse range of edible plants possible? It's important to identify your personal goals so you can lay out the garden properly and dedicate appropriate amounts of space to each crop.

For example, if you want to grow salad for dinner every night, you'll have to determine how much salad your household uses, how many nights per week you eat at home, how long it will take each planting to grow, and how many plantings you'll need to make through the year. This planning process is actually a lot easier than it sounds, and it can be fun to do, as you'll see in Chapter 2.

Write down your big-picture priorities as clearly as you can, and use them as a reference during the design process. You'll need to keep these goals in mind as your guiding light through the process, so you stay on track and actually get what you want from your project.

How Much Garden?

The chart below provides some general guidelines on the needs and potential productivity of different gardens according to size. Please keep in mind that these are rough estimates: Everyone uses a garden differently. Not everyone is growing food for the same number of people, and those people will vary in age and dietary preferences. The time needed to manage your space will also depend on how tidy and weed- free you like to keep it.

Spend some time considering the full range of time commitments you have throughout the year. This will help you home in on which garden size will work best for you. If you're just getting started with your garden, we recommend starting small. It's relatively easy to expand a garden in subsequent years, but it can be overwhelming to manage a large garden if you don't have much experience.

A 90-square-foot garden

A 150-square-foot garden

Garden Size

Management Needs

100–200 square feet

An appropriate size for a beginning gardener who wants to try a few different crops and eat consistently from the yard during peak harvest season. Half an hour to an hour a week will be enough to keep up with all garden tasks.

200–400 square feet

A good size for the intermediate gardener with a hectic schedule. It will yield adequate fresh produce for one to four people throughout spring, summer, and fall, with some produce left for putting up. An hour or two of work a week will be sufficient.

400–800 square feet

A group of two to six people can expect to eat fresh from the garden during the main growing season and also harvest quite a bit for late-fall and winter storage. A space this size will require at least 2 to 3 dedicated hours per week for upkeep, harvesting, and processing of crops.

800–1,500 square feet

Large enough to feed four to eight people through the growing season and produce enough storage vegetables to supplement your diet through much of the winter. Plan to spend at least 4 to 6 hours a week managing the space for maximum production and appearance.

1,500–2,000 square feet

Large enough to feed 6 to 10 people during the season and still distribute small quantities of especially productive crops. With proper planning, it's possible to grow substantial storage crops and cool-weather greens. Expect to spend 6 to 8 hours a week keeping up with the garden.

2,000–4,000 square feet

Entering into the realm of a serious undertaking, with a garden that will supply 8 to 15 people with fresh produce through much of the season. Keeping up with this much space will require at least 8 to 12 hours a week. During peak harvest season, you may need to spend several nights a week processing and storing your crops.

4,000–8,000 square feet

A very substantial home vegetable garden, this much space will feed up to 20 people and may also provide a few crops for wider distribution. Plan to spend 12 to 15 hours a week, plus extra time for processing and distribution, as needed.

8,000–15,000 square feet

The largest home garden we have seen falls in this range. You will have the opportunity to produce great quantities of food year-round for up to 25 people. Plan to spend 15 to 20 hours a week managing your space.

15,000–22,000 square feet

Managing this much space will be a part-time job. Expect to spend at least 20 hours per week or more. A garden this size can feed dozens of people and can provide opportunities for storage, processing, and selling of produce.

22,000–44,000 square feet

This is an endeavor large enough to require a full-time or three-quarter-time manager. This range is approximately half an acre to 1 acre (there are 43,560 square feet per acre). A garden this size is a serious endeavor and will likely require additional equipment and supplies that are beyond the scope of this book. The techniques and systems we describe will be very applicable to your project, but you'll need to research the equipment necessary to effectively manage such a space.

A 1,200-square-foot garden

A 4,000-square-foot garden

Create a Map of Your Property

If you're starting a garden from scratch, creating a detailed map of your yard will help you think about your space holistically and place the elements of your garden in the best location possible. If you have an existing garden, this process can help you reorganize or expand your garden and find ways to add new production spaces.

You can draw a site plan any time of year, but the off-season is a great time to get started. Knowing that you have a few months of lead time will make you less likely to rush or cut corners, as you might be prone to do when you are eager to get your plants in the ground. If you already have a garden on your property, the best time to create your map is right after the end of a growing season. Putting the pieces together is often easiest when you're cleaning up your summer crops and the past year's successes and failures are fresh in your mind.

Create a Base Map

To create your site plan, you'll need to start with a base map of the space you'll be working with. Try to make the representation of your property as accurate as possible, so that different areas are drawn in scale to each other.

In order for areas and elements to appear in scale on the map, you'll need to measure how large and how far apart they are in your yard. Also measure the edges of your property line, the dimensions of your house, the location of any other notable items (such as the driveway or walkways), existing planting beds, and the placement of water spigots. Even small details can matter. For example, a dryer vent will blast very warm, drying air outside and can coat nearby plants in a film of lint, both of which can result in stress and lower productivity.

Using online resources will make mapping your property much easier. Depending on your location and other variables, such as how much tree canopy cover is on your property, you might be able to trace an image of your lot in Google Earth and print the image, or even export it to a computer drawing program such as Canva, SketchUp, AutoCAD, or Inkscape.

You may be able to use a few other shortcuts to create your property map. For example, you may have received a map of the property when you purchased your home. If not, you may be able to request a map of your property from the city or town government. If you have an existing map, scan it into a computer or trace it onto a new sheet of paper as a starting point for your garden design. Be sure to draw in elements like utility lines, trees, ornamental landscaping, fences, patios, decks, water sources, streets, alleyways, light poles, and known time capsules.

The first step to planning the garden is to create a base map. This one shows existing structures, impermeable surfaces, and landscape elements.

selecting the best site

Whether you already have a garden or are planning to build a new one, we recommend assessing your site to ensure you're utilizing every advantage your yard has to offer. Poke around your site like an amateur detective. Take a holistic approach and consider if your garden is getting enough sun, if you're making use of beneficial microclimates, and if your garden is laid out in a way that's comfortable and efficient to work in.


  • “Backyard gardeners looking to bring crops into their kitchen need look no further.” — Publisher’s Weekly 

    “Essential reading for all vegetable gardeners. ” —Niki Jabbour, Growing Under Cover 

    “Any home gardener will love the professional tricks of the trade.” —Jean-Martin Fortier, The Market Gardener 

    Co-authors and founders of the Seattle Urban Farm Company, McCrate and Halm have gathered their years of experience working with backyard gardeners and small-space farmers into five informative chapters packed with growing tips and strategies for gardening with purpose and an eye on increasing production."  —Pacific NW Magazine

    Authors Colin McCrate and Brad Halm, founders of Seattle Urban Farm Company, want to show you how to grow more food in the space you have—whether that’s a 90-square-foot garden or a half-acre one. They walk you through planning your garden setup, selecting seed varieties, making nutrient-rich compost, managing crop rotation, propagating cuttings, storing seeds and more. This book is a great guide for every stage of the vegetable-gardening process." —Modern Farmer

On Sale
Feb 1, 2022
Page Count
304 pages

Colin McCrate

Colin McCrate

About the Author

Colin McCrate and Brad Halm are experienced CSA farmers and co-founders of The Seattle Urban Farm Company, a business that designs, builds, and maintains edible gardens. Their work has won awards at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show and has been profiled in GQ, Sunset, Newsweek, Outside magazine,,, and more. They both live and teach near Seattle.

Learn more about this author