I really enjoyed reading this blog post about getting greater results from your garden by doing less work. That’s what I’m talking about! As much as I enjoy a good hard day’s labor every now and then, I have plenty of hard work to do around here without adding weeding, hand watering, and tilling a garden to my list!
The excuse I most often hear for why someone doesn’t think they can handle a garden is that it takes too much time and effort. Well, conventional gardening methods do require quite a bit of time and effort, but with a little planning and creative forethought, you can grow your own food in as little as 30 minutes a week. You do have to spend a little time a energy at the beginning laying out your beds, setting up some infrastructure if desired, and planting and mulching your beds, but from that point forward, you should only have to spend enough time in your garden to check for pests, harvest your bounty, and enjoy the beauty of your healthy plants.
Some of my best tips for making sure you have an enjoyable garden are in this post, but I’ll do a little recap here.
1. Kill the weeds before you plant. You can do this by laying down black plastic for a month or two (until the heat and lack of water has killed the weeds), or by laying down cardboard and covering with a thick layer of mulch. To plant, simply use a sharp shovel to dig a hole right through to cardboard in the place you want to plant. If you don’t get a chance to properly prepare your beds, you can just chop off the weeds as they grow and use them for mulch. Just make sure they never go to seed, or you will have many more weeds next year!
2. Set up your infrastructure. You may want to have neat and tidy raised beds or grow your vining plants on a trellis. You will want to build and fill your beds and set up your trellis before you plant. This will save you much heartache later. Ask me how I know… It is also helpful to have cold frames and/or row covers ready to protect your plants in the early spring and keep your harvest coming during the fall and winter.
3. Prepare your watering system. Another thing best done before planting. If you can lay out pipe or soaker hose before your mulch, so much the better. And to really make it streamlined, add a battery operated water timer at your faucet to make sure your garden gets watered regularly without you having to lift a finger.
4. Cover your ground. Use something as mulch between your plants to conserve water, keep your plants cool in summer and warm in winter, and suppress any stray weeds that may try to find their way to the sun. Wood chips, leaves, hay, straw, pulled weeds (without seeds), grass clippings, and even sticks can act as a mulch. If you don’t have food producing plants in your garden all year, be sure to plant something in your off season that can protect and enrich your soil. This is called a “green manure” and can be pretty much anything that can be cut down before it produces seed and will die back in time for the next time you want to plant. For instance, annual rye grass could be seeded in the fall and then cut and laid flat on your garden bed in early spring. It will add nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil that your garden plants can use. It’s root system can rot in the ground, opening up pathways for your new plants’ roots to grow and find nutrients and water. The rye grass won’t compete with your garden plants because it is an annual and you cut it before it produced seed.
5. Watch closely for pests and disease. If you follow these tips, as well as do some companion planting and plant disease resistant varieties selected for your climate and area, you probably won’t have many pests or diseases to worry about, but it is important to keep a close eye out for anything strange. A hungry tomato hornworm can take out a plant in one day, and a squash vine borer can destroy a vine overnight. Rust can damage whole plantings of green beans and blossom end rot can ruin your tomato harvest. However, most of these things are easily preventable if you are prepared and observant.
6. Enjoy your garden! This is the most important thing you can do to increase your garden’s productivity. Learn from your mistakes and your success, and keep growing- your garden will improve every year, and you will enjoy greater and healthier harvests than anything you can find in a store.