For those of us interested in living a sustainable and simple lifestyle, gardening is a great way to enjoy the benefits of healthy, fresh food and avoid the impacts of industrial agriculture. Yet, some days it is 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 when 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.
Photo by Christina Selby
As an avid gardener for twenty years, I have learned a few tricks to keep the task simple but often it still overwhelms 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 harvest. 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 gardening tips, and enjoy your garden and the warm season to the fullest.
1) Plant fewer plants but more of them – While biodiversity is good, having too many varieties each with different needs can complicate things quickly when you are working to keep them all happy in your garden. Narrow down what you grow to a handful of crops that you eat the 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. Can or store the abundance for winter. Skip specialty items or things like onions and potatoes you can buy in bulk at your local farmers market.
2) Focus on perennials and landscaping – Perennials, those wonderful plants that come back each year with minimal care, allow you to fill your yard with food. Plant fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs, and crops like asparagus and strawberries that will feed you for many years.
3) Skip the starts - 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 your local nursery or school’s seedling sale. Or cut down on the work by planning with a friend which seedlings you will 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 water, 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 your garden. Knowing what your soil needs and then adding the appropriate amendments will save you lots of headaches when you spend a lot of time planting and then things don’t grow well.
7) 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. Rake in amendments appropriate to you particular soil needs by gently raking it in.
8) Cover up – 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. This is the magic trick every gardener should know and practice. It keeps weeds down and moisture in requiring you to water less frequently.
Christina Selby is a mom, wife, educator, writer, and blogger. She lives on two acres of tumbleweed-ridden land in Santa Fe, NM into which she is constantly trying to breathe life. On her blog, Tumbleweeds and Seeds she shares tips and ideas to help readers live simply and sustainably- freeing up time and resources to follow your dreams and make a difference in the world. Visit her blog Tumbleweed and Seeds.