There are a lot of tutorials out there for apartment/small-space gardening. And that’s all well and good, but it’s a little silly for me to follow these tutorials when I live on a half-acre. But, unfortunately, I just can’t find really upfront instructions for low-maintenance gardening for those of us with ample space. I suppose it makes sense to assume that those with gardening space are invested enough to go all-out, but, like most assumptions, it’s only partially correct.
So far this year our gardens are turning out really really well. Considering this success (especially after the weed-crazy disasters of last year), I thought I’d share a few tips that have made a difference to my vegetables.
Disclaimer: I’m by no means a gardener to be trusted. I’ve read a slew of books and dealt with a slew of weeds/pests/plant diseases, but what works for me may not work for you.
I know, it sounds dramatic. I’m not saying you buy stock in Monsato, just that if you have space and that space has weed seeds in it, you will need to either put a lot of work and time into that space or employ a little chemical help. This year we have only used two weed-repelling products: Pre-emergent and Round-up. Pre-emergent kills all ungerminated seeds in the soil (see hint #2 for more info on working with that), and the Round-up takes care of large spaces that threaten to be consumed by weeds despite the pre-emergent. We do not use Round-up near our vegetables.
Because of the pre-emergent, we didn’t plant any seeds straight in our back plot this year. A few nursery-bought seedlings were planted, but we also started seeding plants in pots outside; this is the first year we’ve done this for any other reason than gardening before the frost. And, let me tell you, it is working so well. In pots our seedlings don’t have to compete with weeds and therefore are growing twice as fast as they did last year. Also potted seeds tend to be watered more gently; we use a watering can whereas seeds in the back plot were just watered with a sprinker.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Split your garden into as many plots as possible; this way, if one plot doesn’t work out for any reason, not all is lost. And though it may seem intimidating to spread out in this way, it’s actually working out to be a great benefit. Instead of focusing all my efforts every day on one main plot, I can spend one day on each little space. It’s more rewarding and less stressful.
I can’t stress the benefits of composting enough. There are so many ways to create this brown gold that just about anyone can do it. Read a book, gain a basic understanding of the composition of good compost, and determine what works best for you. While I have grand plans of someday composting in-garden and having underground compost pits, this year I’m sticking to our hand-me-down compost tumbler and spreading a thin layer of compost around each plant (topped with a layer of topsoil & either coffegrounds or washed crushed eggshells to keep pests at bay).
Where you’re not going to grow, spread water-proof tarps (topped with plenty of bricks or stones) to keep weeds at bay. If this space (like the one pictured) has trees, be sure to leave space around the trees uncovered so that you don’t block off their water supply.
This year we are partnering with our neighbors; they bought a lot of the plants we’re growing, and we grow/water/take care of them. A little less investment means it’s not as awful if the plants don’t work out.
Over-fertilization can burn a plant out; especially if you’re also using compost. But this year our gardening season was cut short by a long, cold, wet spring, so I’m carefully and patiently applying all-purpose fertilizer every 3 weeks or so. If you only want to do it once, do it right after planting seedlings or after your seeds have sprouted their first real leaves. (The first couple leaves on a seedling don’t count.)
One of the most interesting things to me in this book I will never be able to stop raving about is the way she talks about nature’s tendency to over-prepare. Example: At 20 weeks, a female fetus already has 4 million eggs. Through a beautiful & fascinating process called apoptosis, a woman’s body kills most of these eggs, narrowing it down to a slim 450. I’ve been adopting this concept in so many aspects of my life, including gardening. Plant your entire packet of seeds, and then narrow it down based on which sprouts are healthiest. Let double the wanted amount of plants grow, then worry not when harvest comes that you’ll be left wanting. After all, you can always store your bounty & enjoy it through winter. Or better yet, donate it.
You might think this sounds like a waste of energy. But, however you believe the human organism was created, that process is smart. The energy exerted in over-creation and apoptosis has been proven worthwhile by that body you’re using to read these words.
(Sorry. That damn magnificent book makes me wax all lyrical.)