Christina, over at Tumbleweeds and Seeds posed this question to me the very same day I mixed up a fresh load of potting soil, filled my homemade wooden flats and sowed seeds to be pampered in my greenhouse till it is warm enough to transplant them outside under row cover…..All this to say- -my gardening style is hardy simple. Because I love it and love to do it all myself it is totally worth all the effort, but simple it is not. So as I worked, I thought of all the ways you (or I if I so choose) could make gardening simpler.
The first would be simply Don’t garden. NO seriously I am not kidding, yes I am a garden teacher and yes I would love to teach you how, but seriously like any hobby, life-giving or not, one must consider the time, skills, costs, resources and water, that go into any new endeavor. Gardening can help take you out of an industrialized food system, it can get you out into nature more, it just might address pressing personal and global shifts, but consider if it is the right fit for you and your time and resources because honestly it may not be worth doing if you can’t do it well.
I worked as the school gardener a couple of years back and I had a co-worker who told me a great story.
She rode her bike to work, shopped locally, she did all she could to reduce her carbon footprint and contribute to her community. One summer she decided to add growing her own food to her good green efforts. She built a raised bed, bought fancy soil, invested in little plants from the greenhouse and watered like crazy. She worked so hard that summer and got very little return that ended up losing money & time, but she did gain the realization of how much effort it really took to grow your own food here in the high desert. She concluded her tale with,
“After all that, now I happily shop at farmers market and I will never scoff at a $3 bunch of Carrots again. Those farmers know what they are doing, have the appropriate resources to grow beautiful food, and man, the earn every penny!!”
Did you know that one of the biggest problems with the Santa Fe Farmer market is that the farmers CAN’T SELL all their beautiful food!! So much effort, water, land, money, highly precious resources here in the high desert all gone to waste….So if you can, just buy your food from the local pros and save your water bill and spare time for something else. Gift your local farmers with the value and respect you give any professional.
Now if you are continuing to read, it is probably because you love to garden, can’t afford market or have some other very good reason you are set on growing, or like me, you simply MUST, so my dear gardeners, here are a few more tips for you.
If simple is what you are truly looking for, the first advice I would give would be don’t make your own flats, soil or even grow your own starts. Though a wonderful and pleasurable task, it is not simple and not always easy to do all the pre-growing yourself. I would recommend buying starts from your local Nursery, Aqua Fria always has a good selection, and of course plenty of folks at Farmers Market.
2-Choose your crops wisely
Grow only what you eat constantly, what costs a lot and doesn’t travel well.
Like greens, salad, or herbs. I say make good friends with Swiss Chard, it can be eaten raw of cooked, grows almost year round, bugs don’t like it, it is truly a loyal pal. I also recommend people start with potted herbs that come come inside in the winter. This way you always have them on hand and start to really save money and those darn plastic containers most herbs in the supermarket come in. Dark leafy greens like Kale & Chard are always giving and take require very little attention and really you can’t eat enough of them!
Grow crops that will supply for your needs all year.
Garlic is super easy, low maintenance and you can grow a whole years worth in your backyard.
Skip field crops
If you have a small yard and are trying to grow some of your own food, skip crops like Onions, Winter Squash, Corn, and Potatoes unless of course you have really great success with them. You can buy all those in bulk locally and cheaply from farmers at market and store them all winter long. There is no way I could produce all that I consume, so I save my garden space for things I consume daily.
3-Consolidate Resources- Small is Beautiful
Plant intensively one area, don’t spread your gardening all over the yard. Choose a small are and really love it up, water it well, spoil it with compost and mulch and wind protection. Even use containers on your porch that have great soil and are convenient to water, but make sure this precious area is well cared for. Your work is a resource too, so make sure you are using your time and energy as wisely as well as your water and nutrients. A small intensive area that is well cared for will sing, rather than over doing it and spreading you and your garden too thin.
4-Mulch like crazy & STOP Weeding!!
Mulch suppresses weeds so you don’t have to worry about them. It keeps in moisture so you water much less and builds up organic material in your soil. If you do have weeds, let them be if they aren’t encroaching in precious vegetables. Just change how you see them , call them cover crops, call them water catchment, call them green in the desert. If they are getting in your veggies way, pull them up and lay them down right where they are and call them mulch. They will just dry up and look like straw anyway!!
I have found good gardening really is good planning. Sow succession crops so as you harvest you are continually adding more seeds. This makes so you are always harvesting something, so no time, water or space is wasted. If you need help, here is my handy planting calendar to help guide your way.
6-Low till to No till
Build up the soil with constant additions of organic material. You are building up an ecology that does not need to be disturbed every season. Once you dig deep the first couple of seasons, a light fluffing of the top soil should do the trick for sowing seeds and transplanting.
7- Chicken tractors
Have you ever had chickens loss in your yard? Then you have seen them scratch, pick and rake your garden to a nice fine tilth. Build a little cage that fits over you beds and put the chickens in there before you sow. They will do the work for you in day! No chickens? I guarantee you have a friend who will lend you a few for a day. They of course eat bug and weeds too, you don’t need to be the only one working out there!
8-Swap and share
Your friends have chickens and you have Chard- just trade, we don’t all need to do it all the time! Things are only worth the value we put on them. Create your own little underground swapper market.
You can plant your whole yard in edible berries, trees, herbs and shrubs and have a lot less work to do weekly. You may have bumper crops one year creating a lot of work at one time, but I am sure you will have tons of friends all of a sudden who want to come over and help pick. Also Perrenialize annuals too. Let things go to seed and they will be sure to sprout up in odd places next year. You can wild harvest out of your own yard if you let things naturalize and learn to eat your weeds! Generally perennials take less water too and you can use grey water on them more easily. All our dish water goes onto our perennial front yard.
10- Only garden if you love it!!
Forgive your self if you don’t love gardening and use your precious time and energy on some other righteous earth healing soul nourishing endeavor, I am sure you can think of one that is calling to you right now!