Time is a precious resource. And it’s why many people think they can’t grow food at home. But they can. It’s a matter of putting nature to work for you in ways that reduce your workload while allowing you to produce the freshest food possible
Start with the soil
Soil is the bedrock of your garden. Get it tested by a lab. These tests are simple and inexpensive. Search online for a local lab (preferable) or use the University of Massachusetts soil lab. Lab-based soil tests will tell you precisely what is in your soil, what is needed, and what may be present in excessive levels. Adding more fertilizer is not always the right choice.
Is your soil sandy, loamy, or clay? Plants have preferences. The more you know about your soil, the better equipped you will be to select the right plants for your low-maintenance garden.
Consider your climate
There’s no sense in creating extra work by installing plants unsuitable to your climate. A successful low-maintenance garden contains plants suited to your landscape’s temperatures, average annual rainfall, and frost dates. Identify your yard’s USDA Hardiness Zone and use that information to guide your plant choices.
Shop for strength
Learn about the pests and diseases most likely to cause problems in your neighborhood. You can get that information for free from your local County Extension Office. Once you know what your plants will be up against, invest in naturally resistant plants.
Put the sun to work
Plants need sunlight to produce food. And the type of sun exposure matters. Some plants prefer direct morning sunlight but need protection in the afternoon. Others thrive in all-day exposure. Seed packets and plant labels tell you about each plant’s sunlight needs. Use this information to make your life easier:
Some plants, such as artichokes and asparagus, can do well in partial shade or partial sun. But very few edible plants can thrive in full shade. And before you put any seeds in the ground, consider mature plant sizes. Sun-loving herbs will get too much shade hidden behind a wall of corn or sunflowers.
What about water?
Water is heavy. Hoses filled with water are heavy. You can reduce your workload by putting plants with similar water needs closer together. Hydrozoning prevents over- and under-watering while saving your back.
Provide for pollinators and other beneficial insects
We all know that bees pollinate the flowers that turn into fruits we love to eat. But other insects can lighten your workload by killing insect pests as you relax. All you need to do is provide pollen, nectar, and water. There is no need to buy these tiny workers. They will come.
Install insectary plants that flower sequentially and provide a variety of shapes, colors, and heights. Butterfly and pollinator gardens look pretty, and they provide for an army of tiny helpers. And sprinkle those old coffee grounds around the garden. Earthworms love their java as much as we do!
Make space for trees
Fruit and nut trees can produce a surprising amount of food with little effort on your part. The older they get, the more food they produce. Trees provide shade, increase property values, and improve biodiversity for many years. Imagine plucking a sun-warmed peach from your backyard tree or an abundance of avocados, free for the taking.
Good cultural practices
Good cultural practice in the garden can reduce or eliminate the need for many tasks, treatments, and tribulations. You do not need to fumigate, rototill, or become a slave to your landscape. If you do nothing else for yourself and your garden, do these:
Evolve your plan as plants grow
As your perennial plants grow, they will change shape and size. While they are small, surround them with sun-loving annuals. As they mature, change your plan to match the changing sun availability.
Herbs, edible perennials, and trees can fill your larder without eating into your leisure time. Sit back and relax while your private victory garden takes care of itself.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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