Which is everyone, right? I suspect this is a topic worthy of a long blog series, or an entire blog on its own, but I’m too busy for that *grin* so I thought I’d jot down a few ideas I had today and then perhaps all of you will have more to add in the comments.
It’s very easy to get started on a garden in the spring, have big ambitions, and then find that both life and weather get in the way and you just can’t manage to keep the beast caged. We’ve all been there, so when I display my community garden neighbor’s tomato patch as an example:
I am in no way picking on him. (Though I note here one of my community garden etiquette principles, which is that I’ll make two efforts to relocate things like flopping tomato plants and wandering squash vines, and after that anything that produces inside my plot, even if it got started in another plot, belongs to me.)
So here are a few hints that might assist the busy to keep their gardens relatively neat and productive, and then two strategies for crop choice that might also help.
- Start small. If you are a beginning gardener, don’t till up that 50×100 foot patch and expect to keep up with what you plant there. Try 10×10 instead, and then expand. Or start with containers. Of course, if you have a community garden plot, the size is chosen for you, but if you know ahead that you won’t be able to maintain 400 square feet or whatever it is, get a friend to help you and share the bounty.
- Mulch early and often. The value of keeping bare soil covered cannot be overstated. Do it in the spring before things get out of control and it’s just too hot to push wheelbarrows.
- Expect to weed anyway. It’ll be a lot less if you mulch, but remember that it has to be done and is best done on a regular schedule.
- In fact, working regularly is another important principle. Put gardening on your calendar, however it works for you (but at least twice a week). If you schedule it, it’ll be much more likely to get done. And you won’t show up after three weeks and get discouraged because you appear to be growing nothing but weeds.
- Use support structures. I mean that literally and not metaphorically, though it’s good to have family and community support! But putting in those strong tomato cages (not skinny little stakes or flimsy wire cones) and good trellises when (or before) you put in the plants will help immensely with later maintenance. And keeping plants off the ground helps limit fungal diseases and animal raids. For tomatoes, if you know you won’t have time to prune, use big cages so they can go wild.
- Figure out what happens when you can’t be there. For vacations and other extended absences, find a backup gardener to handle harvesting and perhaps a little maintenance, and if it’s possible install drip irrigation with a timer. (This saves you time otherwise as well – who needs to be standing there with a hose?)
- Get vicious. Some plants just end up requiring too much fussy work. This will vary depending on your pest issues, weather, etc. If you can’t grow something without spending hours picking off bugs or treating for diseases, it may not be worth growing. Rip it out before it causes more problems, and educate yourself over the winter about solutions – or else just don’t grow it again.
- On the other hand, floating row covers are a great thing. I would say “worth their weight in gold” if they weighed much of anything.