April Gardening Challenge Round 5: Be Lazy

When it comes to gardening I am the lazy girl. I do start annuals indoors, and I weed like crazy, but each year I cut back more and more. One year while weeding I noticed after harvesting things like arugula and kale that what I was weeding were things like arugula and kale. And I was weeding those out so that I could plant things like arugula and kale. I’m a little dense sometimes but I finally recognized an opportunity for lazy. It led to me planting a “reseeding garden”, which is the vegetable gardener’s equivalent to the cottage garden. It’s not neat and orderly rows – but it is vegetables ready to harvest without any effort on your part. Lazy gardening at its best.

Once I figured that out I started thinking about gardening in a whole new light. If sowing seeds could happen without my help, what else could this magical garden do by itself?

In order to answer that I thought about what a garden, or rather the plants, really need.

Plant Needs – Just Enough, Not Too Much
• Air
• Soil and nutrients
• Water
• Temperature and conditions

And then I set about reducing the number of gardening jobs I had in order to meet those needs.

Main Gardening Jobs

• Preparing and amending the soil
• Sowing seeds
• Weeding
• Watering
• Harvesting

I looked closely at each garden job so that I could understand it and here’s what I found out:

Preparing and amending the soil – Because plants take air in through their roots, the soil should have air pockets and good drainage (so the roots don’t become waterlogged, suffocating the plant). By providing decaying organic I created an environment attractive to worms, pillbugs, centipedes, funghi, and bacteria – the web of life – who found and aerated my soil for me. As organic matter decomposes and creepy crawly critters move through your soil (depositing nutrient-rich outputs along the way), they create air pockets and soil structure.

What you can do
An initial heavy manuring gets the web of life off to a good start. Cover your soil with mulch (decaying matter like wood chips or straw or living mulch like creeping thyme or beneficial insect flower mixes) to prevent your soil from drying out in the sun or becoming compacted in driving rain.

Thereafter, compost “in place” and mineralize as needed to maintain good soil structure. Once you have good soil structure and decaying organic matter, limit soil amendments other than minerals to the top layer of the soil (it is, after all, possible to have too much organic matter). To compost in place, pull back the top layer of mulch, apply a thin layer of items to be composted and then replace the mulch. The web of life will find your compostable matter and convert it into minerals in a form that your plants can absorb.

Before applying minerals, get a soil test done. www.AL-Labs-West.com, www.LoganLabs.com, www.UMass.edu/soiltest/ all provide results but www.SoilMinerals.com will analyze those results and prescribe soil amendments. You can find organic amendments at www.BlackLakeOrganic.com, www.WaltsOrganic.com www.GrowOrganic.com or www.ConcentratesNW.com.

Also see the February soil building challenges for other ideas, including my passive compost post which reiterates much of the information in this post.

Sowing the seeds – Perennial and re-seeding varieties make this step unnecessary. In fact, perennials use less water and nutrients than annuals do. Perennials have more time to develop root structures and therefore are more efficient at absorbing moisture and nutrients from the soil. By pairing both nitrogen-fixing and nutrient-accumulating plants along with perennials (for example, a legumous cover crop and a deep tap rooted plant like comfrey) you create a near perfect planting combination. The occasional compost application may be all that combination of plants ever needs to thrive.

What you can do

See the book Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles for a complete list of perennial vegetables but here is a list of my favorites for the Pacific Northwest.

Top Picks for PNW Perennial Vegetables
Alexander’s Seeds (Smyrnium olusatrum)
Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
Chives (Alium schoenoprasum)
Garden Dandelion (Chichorium intybus)
Jeruselem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)
Tree Kale (Brassica oleracea ramose)
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
Ramps (Allium triccocum)
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)
Salt Bush (Atriplex halimus)
Sea Kale (Crambe maratima)
French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus)
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)
Turkish Rocket (Brassica unias orientalis)

Top Picks for PNW Reseeding Vegetables
Arugula (Eruca sativa)
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Garden Cress (Lepidium sativum)
Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonushnricus)
Kale (Brassica olerecea acephala)
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Mache (Valerianella locusta)
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris)

The book Gaia’s Garden, Second Edition: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture contains some amazing information about soil, plant combinations and other ways to get you on the path to lazy gardener.

Watering - Hugelkulturs (incredibly high raised beds with woody mass at their core), ollas (buried clay pots full of water), proper spacing, mulch (which also cuts down on weeds), incorporating perennials, and sticking with just winter or spring gardening will all help reduce your watering needs. You can also use soaker hoses or irrigation tubes and emitters but these complicate things substantially and you may end up a slave to the system.

What you can do

The book Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening–With information on mushroom cultivation, sowing a … ways to keep livestock, and more…has information on hugelkulturs and other lazy gardening techniques that will change your idea of gardening forever.

Weeding – By planting or laying down mulch and growing perennials or self-seeding varieties you limit soil disturbance which means fewer weeds.

What you can do

After incorporating all these techniques in the garden I managed to meet all my plant needs by working in harmony with nature’s cycles.

  • I provided good soil drainage and oxygen by using manure and other organic matter that encourage creepy crawlies to aerate for me.
  • I provided and maintained soil structure conducive to healthy root growth and creepy crawlies by covering the soil with mulch.
  • I provided nutrients by enticing decomposers (and their excrements), fungi and bacteria with balanced compost and manure.
  • I periodically tested and replaced missing nutrients to keep the plants healthy and vigorous.
  • I paired plantings together so that nutrient needs were met by other plants.
  • I preserved the soil moisture when first putting in the garden by adding humus and woody matter to retain and release rainfall, and by providing slow release ollas that trap water at root level and slowly release it as the plants needed it.
  • I also prevented surface evaporation by mulching.
  • The last plant need is appropriate temperature and conditions. I met that need by choosing the right plant varieties for the climate and season. Growing semi-tropical and sun-loving plants in the Pacific Northwest requires a lot of care and attention to nurture seedlings along. If you want to be a lazy gardener here, you need to learn to embrace cold weather crops.

    Not only were my plant needs met, but I minimized most of the garden tasks by focusing on healthy soil and soil life, mimicking nature, suppressing weeds and preserving water by mulching and water trapping, meeting plant nutrients with healthy soil and smart plant pairings (along with periodic mineral applications), and choosing to grow perennials and reseeding plants suited to my climate and seasons.

    What About Diseases and Pests?
    Focusing on soil health and adding biodiversity to my garden solved many disease and pest problems.
    Creating a habitat that is attractive to wild birds and insects may take time, but eventually natural checks and balances can be restored. Ladybugs, birds, wasps, beetles and other beneficials are helpful and willing workers if we allow them to be.

    What you can do

    Encourage beneficials! You don’t necessarily need to get honey or mason bees (but then again you might want to.) By simply planting things that butterflies and other pollinators love, and by leaving some “wild” areas in your yard with native plantings you can attract an army of allies.

    Some of my favorite plants to attract beneficials:
    Mustards (left to go to seed)
    Queen Anne’s Lace

    Scattering plants around the garden instead of in blocks by variety can also make certain plants more difficult for pests to find, or limit pest spread to just a few plants instead of an entire crop.

    Focusing on soil fertility first and foremost will create stronger, more vigorous plants with established root systems better able to ward off disease and pest attacks.

    One Final Lazy Gardening Thought
    Gardening in the winter and spring virtually eliminates pest issues (slugs are the exception), the need to weed and water, and the crush of the late summer harvest. If you are the laziest gardener ever, you might just want to garden only during winter and spring!

    What you can do
    Become a winter gardener!

    5 Responses to April Gardening Challenge Round 5: Be Lazy

    1. Do you have any tree kale? I’m looking for a source!

    2. This is so inspiring. I was about to go pull my claytonia and kale; now I think I’ll eat them one by one. Changing my eating habits is part of the journey I need to take, since I’ve already on board with anything that encourages lazy.

      I would love to grow Crambe. I’ve tried to start if from seed and failed a couple of times. I follow the package – if you have tips, or leads on where to get a started plant, I’m happy. I love things that are edible to me, my bees and not toxic to my goats.

    3. Pingback: UHF 04 – Garden Challenges « Methylgrace

    4. The self-seeded stuff is usually stronger and hardier too. I like to let many of those on your list self seed, especially kale. I will move the kale seedlings around if they are in the wrong spot for my gardener brain, though. :)

    5. I’ve been wondering about this and was planning to leave some plants to go to seed and see what happens.

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