Gardening is a great way to enjoy the benefits of healthy, fresh food and avoid the impacts of industrial agriculture. Yet, some days it’s hard enough just to keep up with the kids, job and house cleaning. With all we have going on, we can get discouraged with growing food, especially if the effort put in doesn’t pay off at harvest time. In these moments we might question if sustainable and simple are at odds with each other.
As an avid gardener for 20 years, I’ve learned a few tricks to keep the task simple, but gardening can still overwhelm my schedule throughout the growing season. Recently I picked up a few new tricks from experienced gardeners with full lives who keep low-maintenance gardens that still provide ample harvests. Turns out, gardening doesn’t have to be another chore that saps your time without giving much in return. Simplify your garden with these basic tips, and enjoy the upcoming warm seasons to their fullest.
1. Plant fewer types of crops but more of them.
While biodiversity is good, having too many varieties, each with different needs, can complicate things when we are working to keep them all happy. Narrow down what you grow to the handful of crops you eat most and have had success growing, and grow lots of those. They will have the same requirements, so you can tend to them all at once. Preserve the abundance for winter. Skip specialty items or foods you can typically find for good prices at your farmers market, such as onions and potatoes.
2. Focus on perennials and landscaping.
Perennials, those wonderful plants that come back each year with minimal extra care, allow you to fill your yard with food. Plant fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs, and crops such as asparagus and strawberries that will feed you for many years.
3. Skip starting your own seeds.
Starting from seed is a great way to save money gardening, but if your top priority is to save time, this is one activity you can cut out. Buy organically grown starts from a nursery or local seedling sale. Or, cut down on the work by planning with a friend which seedlings you will each grow and trade. You don’t have to grow them all.
4. Minimize watering.
Hand-watering a garden can take up a lot of time and energy. Use your resources wisely and invest in drip irrigation with a timer. As long as you keep the system in good repair, the watering will be done for you.
5. Consolidate your garden.
If you have let your garden spread out over the years, consider consolidating to one area. With good watering, soil amendments and rich compost, it is possible to grow more in less space. A small, intensive area that is well cared for will provide more abundance than spreading your efforts all over your yard.
6. Test your soil.
Soil is the foundation of the garden. Knowing what your soil needs and then adding the appropriate amendments will save you the headaches you’ll get from spending a lot of time planting, only to find that things don’t grow well.
7. Go low- or no-till.
After a couple of years of deep digging, lightly fluffing the top layer to plant seeds is all that should be needed. Build up your soil by adding organic material to the top. Gently rake in amendments appropriate to your soil.
8. Cover up.
Mulching is the magic trick every gardener should know. Mulching is the practice of covering your garden with a layer of organic matter such as straw, wood chips, grass clippings or leaves. Almost any organic matter can work, as long as what you are using doesn’t come with weed seeds. Mulch keeps weeds out and moisture in, allowing you to water less frequently.