Easier Gardening

Everybody loves food straight out of a garden. Especially when prices at the grocery store keep going up for quality that keeps going down.

Everybody also loves it when the work to keep that garden producing doesn’t take over every free afternoon.

So let’s talk, how do I keep my gardening as easy as possible? I grow about 1000 square feet of vegetables and that’s in between my 2 jobs.

First off, quit tilling your vegetable garden. Yes, that’s right, just stop. I know, I know, it looks so nice right after you till it, all black and fluffy. I get the appeal, but you are destroying your soil structure, disturbing every last beneficial insect you had, plus the first rain will just compact all that bare soil back down again. You bring a whole new crop of weed seeds to the surface, and those will immediately start sprouting, giving you the crop of weeds you’ll be fighting all summer.

There’s a better way. Deep mulch. Every fall mulch your beds; in the spring, just use a hand trowel, make a small hole in the mulch and pop your transplants or seeds in.  No gas/oil/motors, no blisters, no renting of tillers involved. The mulch will increase your soil tilth and give you nice fluffy soil all by itself.

Speaking of beds, MAKE SOME BEDS!  Quit walking all over your growing space, dedicate some space for growing and some space for walking, and keep the two clearly marked and treat them differently.  You’ll compact soil only in the pathways, which you can mulch with something sturdy like wood chips to keep weeds down. Less compaction in your beds means easier weeding, harvesting and planting, as well as better water retention.

Know what you like to do, and stick to that.  If you don’t like to wrestle with 7 foot tall indeterminate tomato vines, don’t plant them. Plant a couple small cherry tomatoes, and pay your friendly farmer’s market vendor for a flat of ripe slicers. Your garden can still be a success if you don’t plant every last thing that could be planted. Stick to what you like to grow, and your experience will be more enjoyable.

garden

Speaking of every last thing that can be planted, there’s a fine line between square foot gardening, efficient use of space and over crowding.   Over crowding may keep weeds down, but you won’t get as much produce as you may have hoped for. Know how much room your mature plants will need, and plan to give them that, either through thinning or proper spacing. Thinning is my favorite because it’s an easy way to get baby and micro greens out of the same space where you’ll harvest mature greens in a few weeks.  I sow thickly so I get the benefits of a fully shaded soil base. (Less weeding.) Then I thin, every week, and eat the little thinnings. Weeks of baby greens, then after the babies have been thinned to proper spacing, the weeds won’t have enough time to sprout and over take the almost mature greens.

Hate digging roots? Try some vertical towers. I caution you though, it may cause just as much work in the moving soil and watering department, but if that sounds better than digging down into the dirt, go for it!

What have you found to be troublesome in your gardening? Shout out in the comments and we’ll see if we can’t find you an easier way to handle it.
– Calamity Jane

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9 comments… add one
  • Janey May 1, 2014, 9:50 am

    Love the info on easier gardening, especially the bit about mulching rather than tilling. I’m a novice and wondered is mulch the same thing as the stuff from my composter? Many thanks, Janey.

    Reply
    • Calamity Jane May 1, 2014, 10:46 am

      Nope! Two different things. Compost can be used like mulch, sometimes, but because it’s broken down so much, it will break down even quicker when you spread it in your garden, and within a month or less will look just like dirt.
      Mulch is something like leaves or wood chips, or even plastic, I’ve not tried the plastic sheets or chips though. Mulch is something that will take at least a year to break down, it’s job is to shade/cover the soil as well as retain water. Keep it even and deep and it will drastically reduce your weed count, and even out temperature and moisture levels, which is good for most veggies.

      Reply
  • Road Warrior May 1, 2014, 10:31 am

    I definitely have issues figuring out what will grow well in my area. I know beans do very well….last year I got two crops in, one early, one late. Peppers suck in my area. Lettuce grows upwards, not outwards…I’d like lettuce, what’s a nice bushy type to try? Tips on getting spinach to grow? And I haven’t had my soil tested; is there a good starting point to add nutrients (manure, whatever) to the soil? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Calamity Jane May 1, 2014, 11:09 am

      Your lettuce grows upward, so it sprouts, then immediately forms a tall seed stalk with pretty little flower heads on it?

      That could mean you planted it too late, and it got too hot.
      I’ve found that I have to start my lettuce pretty much as soon as the soil is workable. The cool temps of spring are when it really does its best. As soon as temps get into the 80s, it will start to bolt (go tall and go to seed.) Shade cloth can be hung to delay that or grow them in a naturally shaded spot. Or try a fall crop? There are so many different lettuce varieties, try finding a seed company in Maine, and try growing a couple different varieties that you know they grow there in state.

      That’s also the answer I’d give you for figuring out what grows well in your area, besides the old trial and error approach. Ask your local vegetable seed dealers, ask your neighbors, ask your farmer’s market sellers for the variety names of what they are growing.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
    • Calamity Jane May 2, 2014, 9:37 am

      Continuing on, spinach is even more heat sensitive than lettuce. I will literally seed my spinach bed right before the last snow. Letting that snow melt water in the seeds. I use old windows as cold frames to keep the bed mostly above freezing, and that spinach is up before the grass is even green. I sow pretty thickly, sometimes too thick honestly, and then they are cramped. But you’ll get a feel for that.

      Soil testing, well, on a garden scale, it can be cheap, only 20 bucks. But, if your plants are green and happy, the only reason to do it is if you suspect hazardous metals or chemicals. Plants that are yellow, purpley or brownish on their leaves can all be indicating nutrient deficiencies. The best way to diagnose with this method is to have a really thick book with all the plants and what their colors mean. Or google can find it sometimes too.

      Reply
    • Don May 2, 2014, 1:21 pm

      if you want to add manure, just point the speakers from your TV toward your garden and turn on C-SPAN

      Reply
  • Lumberjok May 1, 2014, 4:39 pm

    I’ve every trick known to man and the easiest / laziest method I have found is straw bale gardening. Hop on over to Amazon and order a copy of Straw Bale Gardens by Joel Karsten.

    Reply
  • R.C. May 2, 2014, 5:15 pm

    CJ,
    I am planting pickles for the first time this year. I have a great crop of seedlings so far, and am wanting to transplant them into ice cream pails and set them out onto the deck.

    How long do I wait (pending warm weather) until I take them out of the seedling greenhouse, and stick them (2 plants per bucket) into the buckets? How tall in otherwords? 5-6″ of growth? They have their own true leaves now, I just don’t want to crowd them out, prevent glorious bountiful growth.

    Any advice would be most appreciated! Thank you!

    Reply
  • ArmyVet May 2, 2014, 9:16 pm

    Your posts are always so informative and helpful. Keep up the great work.

    Reply

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