The Lazy Lady's Low Maintenance Garden

They might sound like extra work, but crop rotation, companion planting, fertilizing, and cooperation with birds and insects are the way to go for a low maintenance garden.

| March/April 1981

What could possibly have caused me — an essentially lazy, laid-back person — to take up homesteading? Ignorance, I think. Some years ago, when I was new to country life, I had a vision of days that consisted of quiet strolls in the forest and peaceful walks down by the river. Long hours spent hoeing corn — in the hot sun — hadn't quite figured into my plans. I soon came face to face with grim reality!

Raising all the food my family needed — in an organic garden — turned out to be a lot of work until I discovered how to cultivate a low-maintenance garden. That approach has enabled me to be nearly food-self-sufficient and lazy at the same time. I'd like to pass along a few time-saving tips that have worked for me. Whether your cropping ground is in the city, town, or country, I think they'll work for you, too.

For Starters

Plan to have as large a garden as possible. The maximum size of your plot, of course, will be determined by the amount of land at your disposal, the tools you have to work with, and the quantities of manure you can get hold of for fertilizing it. A large garden allows room for nice wide paths between doubly spacious rows, a layout which provides built-in soil relief and easy rotation. Vegetable crops use lots of soil nutrients, and I've found that they grow especially vigorously in earth that has lain "idle" for a while. So let the paths between your crops rest under mulch this year, and next season they can be put back into production.

A good-sized garden will also provide habitat for a variety of insects, making it less likely that any one particular bug will become a problem. If you can keep a well-rounded, diverse population of these small creatures in the garden, they will — all by themselves — limit the chances of an infestation because the separate insect types will control each other. I've always believed that a productive and healthy garden isn't insect-free but is, instead, a balanced system in which the gardener works with (not against) the other creatures of the earth.

Anyway, if you have plenty of space, chances are you'll be growing more food than you need. There'll likely even be enough to feed your insect population (after all, they have to eat, too), which means that you won't have to worry about their snacking.

Tenderfoot Tips

In order to produce a lot of food, the ground has to receive a lot of food ... so feed your garden! In addition to the mulch and crop residues that you'll be turning back into the earth, mix about an inch of chicken manure or four inches of cow manure into the soil every year.

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