Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What did we learn? Tips and highlights from 2014 Grow100 - Maximum Production Category

Now that the Grow100 competition is complete and our winners have been congratulated, we wanted to take a moment and highlight some other great gardens that were sent in.  The following are highlights from those participating in the Maximum Production category:

The National Gardening Association estimates the average U.S. food garden produces ½ lb. of food/square foot. Jonathan Coppola produced three times that amount in his community garden plot in Baltimore (150 lb. in 90 sq. ft.)! He used block planting and equidistant spacing (plants in a group spaced the same distance apart in each direction) and tracked his progress using charts, diaries, and data sheets. “I use bio intensive farming methods taught by John Jeavons, and Ecology Action. Rather than crowd plants, or plant them in rows, I give crops like lettuce three to five inches on each side, resulting in a hexagonal pattern.” In addition to growing transplants under fluorescent lights indoors, Jonathan uses outdoor seedbeds to produce the plants he needs for succession planting and harvesting. He also uses wire frames to cover his plants with clear plastic or floating row cover to extend both ends of the growing season.
Jonathan Coppola's garden with row cover

Rasma Plato’s favorite vegetable was kohlrabi. Rasma observed that “interplanting borage, calendula, alyssum and sunflowers helped attract beneficial insects as well as a skink. My team of allies has helped control some of the harmful insects.” If we had a garden writing category Rasma would have been our grand winner. Here’s an excerpt from Rasma’s first update:

The sun is shining in a previously shady part of my yard. The nourishing light beckons to my seed collection. I must confess, I have a seed-collecting habit. The seed catalogs that arrive in winter are full of promise. I still find it hard to believe that something so tiny grows into dinner with some care, soil, sun and water.

Eating freshly picked produce grown a few feet from the kitchen is nourishment for the body and for the spirit. A summer garden without fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit only feeds sadness.

The intense desire for a crisp cucumber, a tender bean and sweet basil became the driving force for starting a farm in the basement. A shop light rigged to tulip crates hovered over trays of fluffy soil mix entrusted with those tiny specks of hope. The process began in late February, delayed by a cold that left me bedridden for days. I cheered every seed that sprouted and sowed new seeds in the trays where none would grow. Many more seeds would sleep in their packets until it was time to be sown directly in the garden soil that was amended with compost made of slowly decaying leaves, peels, coffee grounds and some mysterious items from the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.

Kim Roman likes to experiment. She planted a 3-ft. X 8-ft. hügelkultur, “a German method where you dig a trench and put in logs then compost; branches and sticks then more compost, sod turned upside down with soil. On top of this I used more Mel's Mix (as noted in the Square Foot Garden).” She planted her 18-in. high hügelkultur with shade tolerant plants on the shady side and sun-lovers on the sunny side. The root crops- turnip, carrot, radish- grew exceptionally well using this system. By Check-in #2 Kim had harvested over 100 lbs. from her 100 square feet. Kim lets about 10% of her heirloom crops go to seed so she can collect seed for next year’s crops.

Kim's hügelkultur

Nathan Parrish produced high tomato yields per square foot by training the plants to a single stem, thus allowing closer plant spacing. One San Marzano plum tomato plant produced 150 fruit! And one Better Boy tomato plant produced 42 fruits weighing 10-16 ounces each. Nathan advises gardeners to make their own compost from fallen tree leaves and keep a log so you can learn from your experiences.

Pam Leifer used square foot garden techniques, deer fence, and an automated soaker hose watering system to produce a continuous harvest.

The demo garden operated by Montgomery Co. Master Gardeners produced an astonishing 380 lbs. of produce (almost 8X the national average!!) through October 14 “using compact but productive varieties, succession planting, and planting vertically.”
Derwood Demo Garden


  1. Just to clarify, that's 380 pounds from just 100 square feet at the MCMG demo garden, an amazing achievement from a talented team of gardeners! The garden as a whole has donated over 1800 pounds of food to Manna Food Center this year, which probably means we grew 2000 pounds (bits and pieces are taken home by gardeners) but we weigh at the delivery point rather than at the garden (as the 100-square-footers do - their contributions are included in our total and are a disproportionately high percentage of it, due to intensive techniques).

    Congratulations to all these gardeners! Wow!

  2. Great inspiration! Thank you all for sharing, collating and editing! Loved the pithy descriptions of the different methods used... to prove that there's more than one way to skin a carrot!

  3. Dear Dr. Traunfeld:

    Thank you so much for your kind words about my gardening efforts! I would not have been able to accomplish the win without the help of the articles posted on the University of MD Extension website that you and other extension specialists have written.

    Most of the credit goes to you and the extension specialists on your team. I just went to the garden and followed your farming wisdom and insight.

    Many thanks to you, Dan Adler, and the University of MD extension master gardeners that have run a great contest! You all have contributed to making me the micro farmer that I am.

    With much gratitude, and sincerely,



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