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5 Secrets to a ‘No-work’ Garden

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It took over 20 years of gardening to realize that I didn’t have to work so hard to achieve a fruitful harvest…

By Greg Seaman, Eartheasy.com Posted Apr 26, 2011

A no-work gardenIt took over 20 years of gardening to realize that I didn’t have to work so hard to achieve a fruitful harvest. As the limitless energy of my youth gradually gave way to the physical realities of mid-life, the slow accretion of experience eventually led to an awareness that less work can result in greater crop yields.

Inspired in part by Masanobu Fukuoka’s book, One Straw Revolution, my family experimented with gardening methods which could increase yields with less effort. Fukuoka spent over three decades perfecting his so-called “do-nothing” technique: commonsense, sustainable practices that all but eliminate the use of pesticides, fertilizer, tillage, and perhaps most significantly, wasteful effort.

Here are the strategies we used which enabled us to greatly increase our garden yield, while requiring less time and less work.

1. Use the ‘no-till’ method of gardening

‘No-till’ gardening is a series of methods in which the soil is never disturbed, thereby protecting the complex subsoil environment for the benefit of growing plants. Amendments such as compost, manure, peat, lime and organic fertilizer are simply added to the top of the garden beds, and over time they will be incorporated into the subsoil by watering and the activity of subsoil organisms. There is no need to dig anything into the soil.

With ‘no-till’ gardening, weeding is largely eliminated. The use of mulch blocks soil-borne weeds from emerging, and any weeds which do emerge are easy to pull out because the soil is always moist. This moist, spongy soil is also the perfect medium to boost the growth of your seedlings and transplants. This process mimics the way plants grow successively in nature.

By switching to ‘no-till’ methods, you won’t have to do the heavy tilling or shovel work which so many gardeners suffer through each spring. You will need to ensure the beds remain well mulched, and take care to never step on the beds. To learn more about this gardening method, read our article No-Till Gardening.

2. Mulch, and mulch again

MulchA thick layer of mulch around your plants and over the entire bed will enhance the growing conditions for garden plants while reducing time spent weeding and watering.

Mulch saves water because it reduces water lost to evaporation, and it prevents the surface of the soil from drying out. The need for regular watering is greatly reduced. Mulch also blocks weeds from sprouting, and any weeds that make it through are easy to pull since their roots are in moist, loose soil. Mulch is an essential garden amendment in areas where water is scarce.

Gardeners are always on the lookout for free sources of clean organic mulch to add to their garden. Lawn clippings are a ready source, and fresh clippings are nitrogen-rich. If plants are close to fruiting, however, let grass clippings go dry and brown before using. Fall leaves, straw (not hay), seaweed, and forest duff can be used as mulch. Bark mulch, landscape cloth, geotextiles or plastic materials should not be used as mulch on vegetable beds.

View this chart of the common materials used for mulch and their properties when in use.

Once mulch is in place, it doesn’t need to be disturbed. Amendments like lime, compost and rock phosphate can be top-dressed. When transplanting or sowing seeds, simply part the mulch to sow seeds, then fold it back in place as seedlings take root.

The mulch you apply to your beds will gradually disappear as it breaks down and becomes incorporated into the soil. You’ll need to reapply mulch to your beds regularly, how often depending on the type of mulch used and the time of year. As the mulch gets thinner and disappears, you’ll know it all went into building new soil for the next crop.

3. Plant ‘green manure’ cover crops between rotations

Green ManureBy planting green manure cover crops, such as peas, vetch, rye or buckwheat, between crop rotations, we don’t have to purchase and haul heavy bags of peat moss as often. And we buy fewer bags of composted steer manure for fertilizer. The green manure crop is easy to seed, and when mature, it’s easy to turn under in preparation for the following vegetable crop.

Using green manures complements the ‘no-till’ method. Green manures and cover crops can be used to improve soil aeration, tilth and fertility without digging into the soil. Cover crops should be turned under before going to seed, but this can be done with minimal soil disturbance. We cut our cover crops to ground level using a garden shears, and leave the clippings in place, or we ‘smother’ the crop with a heavy mulch like seaweed. This creates a ‘lasagna effect’, and enables us to replant the bed without disturbing the soil. It also saves the work of tilling and weeding usually associated with gardening.

Here are some other ways green manure saves work:

  • Displaces weeds. Nature abhors a vacuum, and any exposed soil will soon be covered with weeds. Planting cover crops makes it more difficult for new weeds to get established.
  • Reduces the need for peat. Each bag of peat we use has to be picked up and put down about 4 times before the peat is spread onto the garden beds. We need the peat to lighten and help aerate the soil, but green manure also contributes to the soil in much the same way.
  • Reduces the need for fertilizer. Leguminous green manures will fix nitrogen into the soil, thereby reducing the fertilizer needed for new crops. We still need some fertilizer, and use canola meal for this. A benefit of using canola meal is that, unlike steer manure, it is lightweight and gardeners don’t have to worry about stray seeds being imported into the garden.

4. Grow in Raised Beds

Raised bedsAfter a few hours in the garden, my back would gradually get sore and tired, sending me indoors for a cup of tea and a different activity. And as middle-age wanes, the flexibility of the back and knees seems to diminish. One day I noticed that our best beds, the ones which were well tended and yielded good harvests, were the tallest beds. My wife and I, it seemed, each gravitated to these beds because they were easier to tend than the ground-level beds.

Over the years we have converted the entire garden to raised beds. Today, we can enjoy gardening longer, without sore backs! And the garden is evenly productive, since all beds are equally comfortable to tend. After experimenting with various configurations, we’ve settled on beds which are 4’ wide, so we can reach across the bed from one side. Our garden is on sloping ground, so we built our beds 18” tall on the high side and about 6” – 10” on the low side. We work mainly from the high sides.

Raised beds have also enabled us to control the pathway weeds which used to encroach on the ground beds. By having the bed sides as barriers, it’s easy to control pathway weeds by laying down sheets of cardboard or bark mulch. The garden is tidier now and gives us a feeling that things are not growing out of control. And we spend almost no time weeding!

5. Use soaker hoses for watering

soaker hoseFor too many gardening seasons, we dragged the hose from bed to bed in order to keep our garden watered. We were slaves to dry weather, often changing our personal schedules to be in the garden to water a bed with starter plants. Care was taken to avoid watering the leaves of some plants, like tomatoes, to prevent blight, which meant we couldn’t just set a sprinkler and leave. Watering was done by hand since different crops had different water requirements.

Today, we simply turn on the water spigot and each bed receives a slow, steady flow of water directly to the root zones. Soaker hoses are laid on beds, delivering slow, steady dripping to the plant root zones. This saves us time, and also saves water since no spray is lost to wind, and our pathways do not get watered. This is important because pathway weeds will dry up and require less work in weeding. Less work!

Soaker hoses can be laid beneath light mulch, like straw, so they’re not visible. We also use a battery-powered electric timer to turn on the soaker hoses, and to turn them off after a designated period. This enables us to be off-site, without worrying about watering our vegetable plots.

To our surprise, we’ve had more consistent gardening results since switching to the soaker hose and timer system. The plants are bigger and the yield is greater. The slow, steady supply of water enables the roots to maintain a slow intake, feeding their natural absorption capacity. Our hand-watering practice, on the other hand, applied the water faster, and in larger amounts, which resulted in considerable water lost to runoff (which watered the pathway weeds) and less water actually being absorbed by the plant roots. We found that use of soaker hoses helped us achieve better garden production with less work.

Here in North America, we have a cultural notion that hard work is a good thing. I prefer to think that results are a good thing. If we can enjoy better results in gardening with less work, more people will be encouraged to try gardening, and those who already have gardens will enjoy it that much more.

Browse Eartheasy’s line of natural lawn & garden supplies here.

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GregAbout Greg
Originally from Long Island, NY, Greg Seaman founded Eartheasy in 2000 out of concern for the environment and a desire to help others live more sustainably. As Editor, Greg combines his upbringing in the cities of New York, Boston and San Francisco with the contrast of 31 years of living ‘off-grid’ to give us a balanced perspective on sustainable living. Greg spends his free time gardening, working on his home and building a wooden sailboat with hand tools.

 

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  • Cory

    I do like the idea of the raised beds…I can't seem to keep my garden clear and am tired of weeding. As for mulching…do you find some mulches are better than others for controlling weeds? For different climates or plants? What about rotating your mulch material? Thank you – C

  • Greg Seaman

    Most mulches will control weeds when first applied, but some some muclhes break down and thin out faster than others. I like seaweed because it has some weight, which helps smother weeds. Grass clippings are good too, and readily available.
    We don't rotate mulch by intention, but most beds have a mix of mulches based on what was available at the time.
    The first application of mulch can dry and thin out in just a week or two. The second layer lasts quite a bit longer.

  • May

    I've read that newspaper works for mulch. Do you recommend using newspaper for mulch?

  • jeannie

    Thank you for this! We live in a water-starved county and have to learn low water gardening methods. I look forward to putting some of these ideas into practice!
    Jean Kirby

  • Celeste

    I was given a copy of One Straw Revolution many years ago and didn't finish reading it. It was only three years ago that I began using mulch, and this has transformed my garden. It really does keep the water in and the weeds down. It has taken some time for the worst of the weeds to die but just keep adding mulch and you will win.

  • Goutam

    I am in a hilly area.. Though I am involved in gardening, here is some problem because of the red soil. Can you please recommended some tips for this type of area.

    • Greg Seaman

      Regardless of local soil conditions, all gardeners are in the business of building soil. Any nutrients and trace elements will be depleted in a season or two, and then the process of building and nurturing soil begins.
      Red soil usually indicates extensive weathering and good drainage, but often needs nutrients and organic matter. The red color is due to the oxidizing of iron compounds in the soil.
      You will want to add organic fertilizers such as manures which release their nutrients slowly so that plants take up all the nutrients.
      If you use plenty of organic matter and compost, your soil will improve and you will not need many other nutrients. You should also consider applying mulch to your beds, as this will reduce the water loss to the well drained beds.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/SDXB2LIELTNNUHGYRBWQ4UHJHI TED

        I’ve learned something already.  I did not think of the red color being due to the oxidizing of iron compounds.  Around here the red soil is not really soil.  It is red clay.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/SDXB2LIELTNNUHGYRBWQ4UHJHI TED

      Goutam: if you use raised beds as described in this article you won’t have any worries with your current red soil.  Simply create your raised beds and fill them with the perfect soil mix which is 1 part compost, 1 part peat moss, and 1 part coarse vermiculite.  Alternately you can buy bags of garden soil–just make certain that they contain the word “mix” (IE: “Garden soil mix”).  (Make sure you don’t use plain top soil or anything like that.)

  • Jenny

    Good tips…..Makes perfect sense. I'm going to have to try some of these ideas this year. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Christine

    I have had better success by buying small starter plants and transplanting them into my garden beds. When I plant from seed, the success rate is slow. Maybe the soil is too damp, or wire worms or other bugs get the new shoots. The extra cost for the starters is minimal and the better success is encouraging.
    Thanks!

    • Greg Seaman

      Good point. We do the same with some of our crops, for the same reasons you mention – wire worms, damp-off, birds or bugs often get new seed shoots. We now use a portable cloche to protect new shoots in the beds that are planted from seed.

  • Parkers

    This is the first I've heard of no-till gardening, and it appeals to me very much. Looking forward to learning more!

  • Uncle B

    So important in these volatile times to develop good gardening skills! This page should be compiled with all other 'survival' type information, ready for easy access, just in case America faces another recession, higher gas prices, higher food prices, even some system break-down. Even this precious information, freely given on the web today, might be harder to find, more expensive than today, in an economic crunch. Keeping in mind, oil at all time highs and rising, Gold at all time highs and rising, purchasing power of the U.S. dollar falling, Fed's printing money like drunken sailors, all these things indicate stress on the very fabric of our society. gardening, as a survival tool if harder times come is not such a bad thing at all, is it!

    • Greg Seaman

      I try to remain positive in advancing the ideas found in this blog, but your comment is well founded.

  • Lynnette

    I have to wait for seeds to sprout before mulching, right?

    • Greg Seaman

      Yes. And when you do apply mulch, pull it back a bit from the sprouts.

  • http://naturalhistorybookshelf.com/blog Rob Beer

    I’m still at the opposite stage, with my garden being very high maintenance. There’s alot of food for thought in this article, and I will look at the recommended book and link.

    Perhaps this will change the way I do things from now on.

    • Greg Seaman

      As you become proficient at low maintenance gardening, and begin to enjoy the rewards, you will see parallels to other areas of your life. Gardening is an excellent guide to living, for plants and humans.

  • Michelle

    The seaweed needs rinsing before laying it down, right? I'm assuming the salts would damage the soil.

    • Greg Seaman

      You can rinse the seaweed if you are concerned about salt, but we have never rinsed the seaweed and there seems to be no harmful effect. We have been using seaweed as mulch for over 30 years in the same garden soil.

  • Miller

    Too many weeds have discouraged me from improving my garden, it's too much work for the small amount of vegetables we get. Maybe the mulch will work, I hope to give this a try. It would make a big difference if the weeds could be reduced or eliminated. Thanks for these ideas.

    • Greg Seaman

      I used to feel the same way. It seemed more time was spent weeding than any other activity in the garden. Today, with the help of much, very little time is spent weeding.

  • Kestutis

    Greg, you have a fine website, and thank you for all the great advice. I just love StumbleUpon when it leads me to sites like this. I’m a city dweller with a full time job and a garden, trying to live with both :D Your advice is very useful.

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks, I appreciate your comments. I think it's great when city dwellers find ways to garden. It enriches the city living experience and help keep one grounded amidst all the stimulation.

  • Uncle B

    Uncle B mulched, after the tomatoes, with plastic rings around them, to discourage pests, were tall enough! We watered daily with humanure too! Dilute human urine 4 or 5 to one with water at least,, then pour it on – no fear of burning out plants! Water around the roots, in the soil, not on the plant! Worked miracles in my particular soil. The rate of dilution is the thing. Hard sometimes to get it dilute enough not to burn plants, roots. Piles of any green garden matter, and lots of leaves, piled in loose fashion so soil can breath, not heavily matted (encourages snails and such) is best. Remember even a 60% yield is a sucessful garden – in the old days we concentrated on what we did get, not on what we lost to the bugs and stuff!

    • Greg Seaman

      "Remember even a 60% yield is a sucessful garden – in the old days we concentrated on what we did get, not on what we lost to the bugs and stuff! "

      Your experience speaks! Good advice to those just getting started in gardening.

      Thanks UB

  • Uncle B

    Try the potatoes in a barrel too! Great fun! Get the right kind of seed potato though or you will not be successful at all! Check the web for the right information on this first!
    We fed a family of four, in Canada's severe climate, for twenty years at least, from our 30' X 30' garden, and cabbages in the flower beds! Son makes very fine pettilant blond Rhubarb Champagne to this day, and prefers home brewed beer to store-boughten. I Sauerkrauted most my cabbage for good storage – remember to add ascorbic acid when hot-water canning – just like tomatoes.

    • Lisa

      Rhubarb Champagne sounds really good. How do you make the champagne?

  • Uncle B

    Best bargain ever was butternut squash – stored them under the bed, after a thorough washing in conc. Javex, first. This to work well but you must never touch them after, let wet javex dry on them in place, in storage, get the bottoms, the rough parts at stem, well wetted. Most winter squash lasted til at least February, March, by then we ate the best of them. Sometimes had one or two for the compost, but that's OK! They were for the bigger part, free anyway! never save old squash seeds – you get the damndest stuff if you do! Watch closely for vine borers in spring – there is some kind of waxy spray with poison in it available in Canada, spray the vine, right from where it comes out of th ground, up about two or three feet in spring. Works every time. For real treat, and good savings a the same time, perfect your wine-making skills, beer making skills. Happy sustainable living to you all! It is so possible!

    • Greg Seaman

      Good info. We consider squash one of the most productive vegetables in our garden. This week we're finishing the last stored squash from last summer. Pretty good to have squash available for 9 months of the year.
      You mention not keeping the squash seeds because they are variable. We save the seeds from our longest lasting squash and plant 5 to a hole (in a circle). Then the best sprout is kept and the others culled. This has worked well for us over the years.
      Our favorite is buttercup squash. It's the only winter squash we plant now.

  • Diane

    Can I mulch like this for onions, beets, carrots and other root veggies? Love this idea have been fighting crab grass and using plastic . and newspaper but would rather use mulch/straw to solve this problem. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Greg Seaman

      Yes, mulch is effective when used on onions, beets and root veggies like potatoes. We do not mulch carrots, but we do cover tham with reemay to prevent the carrot rust fly.
      I use grass clippings, straw, forest duff, leaves, and seaweed as mulches, In fact, I'm just going out to mulch our new onion starters after finishing my online correspondence.

  • Daniell

    I am using the soaker hose this year for the first time… BUT, I keep getting mushrooms springing up. I am using mulch, but maybe I don't have a thick enough layer? Would love to hear some thoughts on this. thx!

    • Greg Seaman

      Let the ground dry out for a few days between waterings. You may be overwatering.

      • Daniell

        Thanks, Greg!

  • chloe

    Try the potatoes in a barrel too! Great fun! Get the right kind of seed potato though or you will not be successful at all! Check the web for the right information on this first!

  • MichaelD

    Too much mulch will kill it I guess. Also, how do we handle roses in rised beds?

    • Greg Seaman

      I'm not sure what you're referring to regarding too much mulch.
      Roses can be grown in raised beds just like any other plant. However, we use our raised beds for vegetable crops which are rotated each year. We plant perennials, such as asparagrus (and roses) directly in the ground.

  • quintessencecreations

    Interesting approach. I'm all for less work and more enjoyment of my gardening efforts. I had read an article how to get more from your space, which entails turning of the ground to "aerate" it and therefore get more vegetables for your space. Your approach is way less work.

  • Kelley Dees

    Wow! Thanks for this information! Definitely useful to anyone who gardens, but especially those who are aging or have disabilities! Thanks!

  • alex9aug

    This post is awesome for whom are old and keep the gardening as a hobby and those person whom have this hobby bt dont gave the time for this.

  • http://www.homerevolution.com.au/ Garden Improvement

    I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your blog. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create your theme? Great work!

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks. We designed the blog ourselves.

  • Andy Weiser

    This is the first I've heard of no-till gardening, and it appeals to me very much. Looking forward to learning more!

  • http://www.acnedietsreview.org Anthony Vanwhy

    My aunt used to have a nice raised garden surrounding her patio. It was about at knee level to mid-thigh level so you could just sit down and work in it.

  • patsquared2

    I am a long time organic, no till-no weed gardener. And I think this is a nice post – good advice, well-written. However, I would have enjoyed it more if the author had given some credit to the pioneers who went before him and whose ideas he articulated here. Ruth Stout wrote the book on no till gardening, literally. Lee Reich and Eliot Coleman learned techniques from her and picked up the baton when she died. Patricia Lanza wrote a whole book on layering called "Lasagna Gardening" in 1998. Crediting these pioneers and even linking to their work would have made this a more honest post, in my opinion.

    • Greg Seaman

      Thank you for your comment and for noting some of the pioneers in the gardening methods we benefit from today.
      Your comment about "a more honest post", and "whose ideas he articulated here" disturbed me. I have never read any of the authors you mention and have not intentionally used any of their ideas in writing this article.
      This article comes from 31 years of gardening – learning and experimenting, and sharing advice with neighbors who love to garden. The no-till, use-mulch ideas came from Fukuoka's highly regarded book One Straw Revolution. Fukuoka is credited in this article, and I have also written a separate post about his book and his unique gardening methods.

      • g gentry

        You may have to be of a certain age to be familiar with some of these pioneers of gardening. I am 66 and read Ruth Stout many years ago. She was my hero.

    • Terry

      This article is obviously not intended to be a definitive history of the ideas the author explains as he provides what you label "good advice, well written." Experts in many fields (certainly Mr. Seaman qualifies) often expound and explain many ideas which were invented by other wiser people. In many contexts, this is one, it would be completely out of place to cite the origen of every idea he expresses. His most obvious motive is simply to get more people to buy products such as the raised bed garden kits-that he sells. When he pursues that interest by writing good advice well, I applaud him!

    • John

      I think Greg wrote an excellent an honest, heartfelt article. I live in South Africa and have never heard of any of the above authors or "inventors". I learned about mulching and alternative gardening methods from my Dad mostly, that's just the way we gardened. I'm sure many countries have pioneers in these areas, but no one country or person should be given credit for labelling a proces or method. I believe what is important here is that many of these "invetions", are names given to processes and methods that are visible in nature daily and are God-given ways for us to garden, if we want to use them. Many of these methods were lost when we gave up our own veggie gardens for quick-fix comercially produced crops and we started relying on someone else for our food security. Forest floors have been "mulched" since time began, blocking out weeds, keeping the soil moist and nutrient rich. We call it "God's blanket", others call it "mulch", others call it "covering". As soon we remove this covering or blanket that has been provided for plants in nature, water evaporates, soil loses life, plants start to suffer, topsoil is lost, erosion sets in etc. "No-till" is also available in nature every day as animals tread seeds into the mud. Once again, I believe the importance here is that more and more people are turning to better gardening practices, and that's what the joy and excitement should be about… People producing healthier crops, enough for themselves with plenty to spare for difficult times, and for the community around them.

      • Greg Seaman

        Thanks for your comment John.
        I like your description of mulch in nature as "God's blanket".
        Once we understood the value of mulch our garden became much more productive, and we could focus on growing things instead of weeding.

  • Lyn

    Just started with raised beds last year, so much stuff in a small space and such good eats! Good ideas here :)

  • http://www.aussie-storage.co.uk/ David Anderson

    Hey good tips and thanks for sharing

  • carolyn

    Thanks for all the information.The raised plant beds gave me A LOT OF IDEAS.And now i can use the horse manure from my horses.thanks again.

  • PennyJ

    My small garden is my soul haven. Even pulling weeds is satisfying. But learning ways to get my garden more productive interests me, so thank you for these ideas!

  • Linda

    Does anybody have a way to kill grasshoppers that's not a pesticide??? They destroyed my garden (again)….. I have free ranging chickens but only 2 so they can do just so much

    • Greg Seaman

      Nosema locustae is a beneficial parasite that kills grasshoppers in their early satges of development. It can be purchased at garden centers. This will not be effective on the adult population, but will help reduce new generations.
      Neem oil spray is also a natural deterrent to grasshoppers. This may be effective if you have a small garden.

  • Haiku Hammock Swings

    As well as newspaper you can also use cardboard. This has worked well in my experience for mulch.

  • http://harmonicmama.com HarmonicMama

    This is great! We switched to a method like this this year and it’s been wonderful. We have a great yield out of a 15×15 garden and we only need to visit it to pick and weed once a week. We used paper leaf bags over the soil instead of newspaper, it worked like a charm.

  • Justin

    Thanks for this article. Growing up, my grandparents on both sides of the family were active gardeners and I have fond memories of husking corn, snapping string beans, helping till the soil, etc. I also remember nothing beat the taste of those fresh fruits and vegetables. Lately, I've been daydreaming about starting a small garden but it hasn't progressed past that stage because I keep thinking about all of the labor involved in maintaining a bountiful garden. It seems that in the time between my grandparents gardens and now many changes have taken place. Based on your information I think I will seriously look into starting my own garden. You have a new subscriber!

    • Greg Seaman

      Wonderful, Justin!
      Right now I'm enjoying a tomato that is so rich in flavor. Supermarket tomatoes just don't seem to have any real taste. And growing my tomato patch was simple. I think you'll enjoy getting into your own garden. Start small, and expand as your time allows.

  • adore55

    This article is great!!!!!!inspired me. My family will be moving into a new house soo and I will have to start over from scratch with the raised beds. However, this is such useful information to me. Although I am a 65, disabled female, I look forward to the challege and the pleasure that I get from having a garden. Thanks again!

    • Greg Seaman

      Your comment is very gratifying to me. Thank you. Please feel free to email me anytime (greg@eartheasy.com) should you have questions about raised beds or gardening in general.
      Gardeners love to share information, as well as the harvest.

  • Tammy E.

    i am new to earth easy so forgive me if i sound a bit naieve. born and raised in the deep south. gardening was very successful for me.living in the heat and humidity was like having an outdoor greenhouse year round.
    in 05, my husband and I moved to Alaska. actually we live in Kodiak, Alaska…fortunitly its one of the warmer areas of AK.. but it is still a big jump from the south.
    there are still more colder months than warmer.and we are just now shutting everything down up here. also the temps on the isle can vary as much as 5 to 10 degrees from one area to another. And there is quite a bit of rainfall. we bought a house up on the side of one of the mountains, and I will definitly have to do my gardening in raised beds. i have been doing my perrinials in pots and have to bring them in during the winter, which we had a pretty nice summer and folks around here say the winter may be tough because of it.
    I got one of those tall green greenhouses for in or outdoors. first one i have ever had.on the best way to garden here and which plants would do best here. I got a grow lite for my GH. will appreciate any tips.
    my point with all of this is if theres anyone out there who can give me any tips

    • Greg Seaman

      Hi Tammy,
      Your timing is good. We are just finishing a Guide to Greenhouse Gardening which is a comprehensive look at the greenhouses availabe today, the pros and cons of different designs and materials, and a lot of tips for first time greenhouse gardeners. This guide will be posted to Eartheasy in about two weeks. Here is the page where it will be listed: http://eartheasy.com/grow_menu.htm
      You can also sign up for our newsletter. When any of our new pages are posted to the site, we put a notice in our newsletter, so you don't need to look through the site trying to find new items.
      In your region, greenhouses are especially useful. I hope you have good luck with your new garden.
      Greg

    • ROY

      Tammy E, I do believe the following is all the tip you may need…and don’t worry about the cold weather in Alaska. In my neck of the woods we have about the same weather as you.
      GOOGLE IN…”BACK TO EDEN PERMACULTURE AGRICULTURE ” MAKE SURE IT’S THE ONE FEATURING PAUL GAUTFCHI. WATCH THE WHOLE MOVIE. IT’S FREE!!! AND IT SHOULD BE OF A GREAT HELP TO YOU…BIG FARMING, OR SMALL GARDENING. GOOD LUCK.

    • Bob Edmondson.

      Hi Tammy,i live just outside of Calgary,Alberta,Zone 3.I have much the same climate as you do.I have quite a large garden,110ft by 40ft and 2 small greenhouses,1 is 12ft by 8ft and the other is 20ft by 8ft,I have to start all my plants in the greenhouse because our growing season is so short.Our last frost is around June 10th and our first is anytime after the end of August.I start my seeds on heating pads under grow lights.If you search (Garden With Bob) on facebook i have a garden page on there,i started it to try and help new gardeners in my area.You will find some good tips on there,also i have some pictures and video's on there to explain how and why i do things.Cheers Bob.

  • Farmgirl Gourmet

    What a fantastic post. I just found you via StumbleUpon. This is how I've been gardening for the past 7 years and I wouldn't change a thing. I also do no-till and get truckloads of bio-waste compost from my city's waste management department. It get layered on top of each bed for the winter and by spring, I'm ready to roll. I get massive yields from 6 raised beds, more than enough to feed our family of 4 and give tons away to neighbors and friends. I do this on my city lot in town too.

    • Greg Seaman

      You are so lucky to have access to all that free compost. That alone can make all the difference in making gardening easier and more productive.
      Your comment is a heads up to those who live near a municipal waste management facility. This may provide a source of compost at low cost or free for the taking.

  • Tee KC

    Hi new to gardening and this site. Well back in June i started a container garder. I live in a condo and so i have a wood deck or cement patio, so i am using containers. I have actually been having a great time with this. This is not like when i was a kid and we had to get up and weed the garden. BLAH hated it!! hey it was summer vacation wanted to be out roaming the neighborhood (back when you could and not have to worry about crazies). I have multiple containers (just big plastic buckets picked them up for $5). In one there are peppers and eggplant. 2) eggplant and thai basil 3) tomatoes, basil, marigold, oregeno 4) four okra plants in each container three containers. and beans. In the front there is lettuce, mustard and collard green, more beans. So far even though i live in texas and we have been dealing with a drought, i have had it easy. I installed a drip irrigation system that is set on a timer.
    This weekend however i am installling a raised bed on my concrete sidewalk. my idea is to make it 1'x5'x12". I figure if i put down an inch of rack/gravel then put over that planter sheet (i think that is what it is called) then put a combo of composte/peat moss/vermulite. in this bed i will be putting in broccoli, green onion and carrots. Well wish me luck, hope this works if not then i will just stick to my containers.

    • Greg Seaman

      Although we garden almost entirely in raised beds, my neighbor grows in containers on her deck, like you. I am impressed with the results she gets. The containers can be moved around into the sun, or set under the eaves if she doesn't want them rained on (some crops like tomatoes don't like getting their foliage wet), or spun to get even growth and fruiting. And there's no need for fencing, just a small bit of mesh covers the entrance.
      With your plans for a raised bed, remember to use plenty of garden soil. The compost, peat and vermiculite are great amendments, but should be incorporated into soil. Good luck with your new project!

  • Robert D. Allen

    what a fantastic website. My partner and I are moving to a new space and have been very keen to source ideas of what we can put together and this website has opened up many concepts we would like to implement. Thank you so much

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Robert!

  • Lily M

    Very useful information about the green manure cover crops. I've never heard of using a lasagna method for building your soil. I also learned a bit more about the importance of mulch. So much information to absorb when you first start gardening! Thanks!

    • Greg Seaman

      Yes, there is an endless amount of information about gardening! But to make things simpler, try to focus on soil development. If you provide well aerated soil with organic nutrients, your garden should do well.

  • barnyarddave

    Just found your site. I really like your post on cover crops and no till gardening. I have tried no till gardening but need to start using a cover crop to make it work better. Thanks again for a very informative post.

  • Barbara Kimm

    I, too have just found your site. I have a question about using green manures. I have been gardening for over 40 years, using most of the methods you talk about. However, I never seem to have any luck with either straw mulch, or green manues. Straw mulch always seem to have some dried seeds which love to grow. I, also, live in the Pacific N.W. And most of my garden grows well into November. I have had lettuce grow well all winter in spite of hard freezes. Green manure needs to be planted in August. I have delayed until a warm September and still not had it grow well. I do not have a lot of garden space so hate take any beds out of production. What do you do?

    • Greg Seaman

      I hear you about the straw. It has to be clean to avoid introducing new weeds to your beds.
      If you cannot take any beds out of production, then you will have to use amendments in spring to fluff up the soil and add nutrients. Peat is commonly used to lighten the soil, and we use canola meal as a fertilizer. (Store canola meal where mice can't get it!)
      Have you tried over-winter crops of brassicas? We have no problems with kale, purple sprouting broccoli, chard, beet greens and sometimes parsley and arugula can overwinter. We have harversted broccoli from under the snow. And in spring there are usually some volunteer starters ready to go.
      If you are not going to plant overwinter crops, and cannot grow green manure, then cover your beds with black plastic sheeting – this will reduce soil compression and loss of nutrients.
      We planted fall rye in September and it's now a few inches tall. It is slowing down but should pick up in early spring. These beds will be for late spring planting. With rye, be sure to cut it before seed heads appear or it becomes woody and difficult to turn in.
      "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades", by Steve Solomon, is a terrific resource for gardeners in this region.

    • http://www.conversation2sales.com Lesa

      i, too, live in the Pacific Northwest. I'd recommend what I use to mulch around my tomato plants — newspaper covered in grass clippings from the yard. We get so much rain during the winter, you don't want to cover your beds with plastic. The newspaper allows the water in, but will protect the soil from being taken over by wind-borne weeds. Best thing is that you can mulch whenever your garden slows production and uncover whenever it warns enough for planting.

    • Lorine

      I have a fabulous worm bed, and do very little to the border garden around my house except lots of grass,
      leaves, and the rabbit litter scattered throughout fall and winter. Compost greens from the kitchen get tossed in there occasionally too….but the consistent water helps. I would love to try soaker hoses next year: how do you network many from one spigot?

      • Greg Seaman

        You can buy plastic or metal 'Y's which enable you to add hoses. They are available at home supply, irrigation or gardening centers. We use these ourselves, and our preference is the black plastic ones. They cost a few dollars each.

  • thedogwalkinggardener

    Good morning .. have you read Ruth Stout's "how to have a green thumb without an aching back"? She advocated mulching many years ago. She used to write for Organic Gardening .. back when it was the small magazine format. Quite an amazing lady, she was. I've mulched for years, what an amazing process this is!!

  • Lauren

    Hi, Greg. Nice article. Your raised garden beds (in the article) look like they have a stain to them. Is there a stain that can be used on the raised beds that will be safe to use around a vegetable garden? I have a Farmstead raised garden bed.

    • Greg Seaman

      Hi Lauren,
      You can apply any finish to the outside of the bed. We like tung-oil based finishes because of their low toxicity.

  • John Wilson

    Thanks for the very useful and interesting article! I do much the same myself at home and at the church whose grounds I look after.

    The one big dfference is that I use drip irrigations and drip lines to water as I get to target the actual plant roots that way and that drip is far more resiliant than soakers. They can be run at greater water pressure and still deliver exactly what is needed and rated for to just where it's needed so running them off a timer is simple.

    For those of you who don't know about drip it was developed by the same Isreali scientist who came up with soaker hoses as they began to turn parts of the :"desert:" green in Isreal, Palestine and elsewhere. (Funnily the almost rabid anti-Isreal stance of some Arab states has never extended to useful agricultural equipment developed in Isreal and sold by Isreali companies.) I find it much more convenient to use, easier to control and, as I said, accurate in getting water where I most need it for as little time as possible. That and I don't need to do the constant repairs needed with soaker hoses when they spring a leak.

    Just thought I'd mention it as an alternative to soakers tor those who have had back luck with them. (I know very few who have had good luck.) I live in an area with the mildest climate in Canada and the longest growing season so I'm fortunate in that I get to experiment outside pretty much 12 months of the year;.

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks John. I agreee with you. The drip system is a bit more work to set up, but well worth it once installed. We use a drip system for one of our gardens, and soaker hoses for some beds (tomatoes lend themselves to soakers since the foliage stays dry). And a drip system, like soaker hoses, can also work on timers, which is very helpful.

    • Anniekahlert

       Anne  we have done the same at ours too

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Green manures are crops which you can plant which, upon maturity, you chop and till back into the soil. Thye will lighten your soil and contribute nitrogen. Type “green manure” into the search box to find our articles about this subject.
    In your climate you need to lighten your soil with peat or plant a green manure crop. When you have transplanted sseedlings, then add mulch. Mulch is essential in hot climate gardening.

    • http://www.green-talk.com/ Anna @GreenTalk

      I actually grew oats last year and they were beautiful. Rye was a pain in the you know what. Timing is everything with crop covers if you want to use them in the fall if your area of the country kills crop covers. Rye grows back in the spring and is hard to kill.

  • Pemick2

    I found that using a soaker hose didn’t work. They always seem to get clogged, and I can’t move them around if necessary because the plants grow around them.  My boxes are 4 x 16, so I need 2 soaker hoses to cover the area sufficiently.  Any ideas?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      We open the tap full pressure every once in a while to clear any clogs in soaker hoses. This seems to work. Another alternative is ‘drip-tape’, which is a thinner, flat hose with drip holes. This is easier to bend around plants.

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