Which Gardening Approach Provides the Highest Yields?

In which we consider forest gardens, annual crops, and small-space systems.

Basket of just picked vegetables at organic farm in Gardener's hands
Jon Lovette / Getty Images

Choosing the right gardening approach is one key way to make sure you make the most of your garden. When you decide to grow your own food at home, there are a number of important decisions to make. Early on, you should be sure to think about which approach or approaches will be right for you.

The best gardening approach will depend on where you live and the conditions of your space. To achieve the highest yields, it is important to consider sunlight and shade, wind and water, and soil. In addition, you need to think about what you will grow, and your own specific needs and wishes.

First of all, it can be helpful to narrow down your choices by thinking about whether you will:

  1. Create a low-maintenance forest garden, with a wide range of largely perennial plants.
  2. Grow mostly annual crops, in raised beds and/or in the ground.
  3. Grow food in a small space; predominantly or exclusively in containers, in a potting mix, or in water in a hydroponic or aquaponic system.

In order to choose which of these three main types of gardening and production is best for your site, and to determine which will deliver the highest yields, you need to think about how much space and time you have – and the limitations and benefits of your particular site. Once you have chosen a general type of gardening, you can hone in on different gardening approaches to obtain as high a yield as possible.

Obtaining the Highest Yields From a Forest Garden

In many climate zones and conditions, a forest garden – one that mimics the natural structure of a forest and relies on mostly perennial plants – can be an abundant and biodiverse ecosystem that can provide high yields, even in relatively small spaces. But careful design is required to make sure that the system can deliver as much as possible.

Remember, yields from a forest garden can be remarkable, but they may be somewhat different yields than those most gardeners will be used to. Be open to more unusual yields to make the most of all that a forest garden can provide.

Read more: Findings From My 5-Year-Old Forest Garden

Obtaining the Highest Yields From Annual Growing Areas

When creating and maintaining annual growing areas, establishing a sustainable water system and maintaining fertility by returning nutrients to the system over time are key. Approaches to consider in annual growing areas include:

No-Dig: To maximize yields over time, consider taking a no-dig gardening approach. In no-dig gardening, the soil is protected and preserved. It is disturbed as little as possible so that the soil web is able to function as it should.

Polyculture: Embrace polyculture planting – choosing as diverse a range of plants as possible – and combining them in beneficial ways. Remember to plant for a yield for wildlife, as well as for yourself. Since beneficial wildlife can help you obtain a higher yield as an organic gardener.

Successional: Take a successional planting approach, and plan your gardening year carefully to extend your harvest. Make sure you make the most of the space and time available by staggering plantings of crops or planting varieties with staggered harvest dates.

Obtaining the Highest Yields From Container Gardens and Small-Space Systems

In small spaces, thinking vertically and embracing vertical gardening techniques is one key way to make the most of the space and obtain the highest yields. Choosing the right containers and growing media is also key. Remember to consider options that involve growing plants in water rather than soil, in hydroponic or aquaponic systems, rather than taking a more conventional gardening approach.

Aquaponics systems can be particularly interesting to consider. Additionally, such systems can allow you to obtain a yield of fish as well as edible plants. They are frequently the most productive systems you can create in a small space garden.

Read more: How to Get the Most From a Small Garden

Climate appropriate forest gardens, polyculture annual production areas, and vertical gardening or aquaponics system can all be high yield food-producing systems. But remember that which one offers the highest yields will depend on specific conditions where you live.

In many gardens, taking an approach that combines all three of these types of gardening in the right ways can be the best strategy to obtain the highest yields from the land available.