Friday, June 29, 2012

How to Tell if Compost is Finished

Compost, also called “black gold,” is a great way to fertilize gardens organically. Adding finished compost to the garden has many benefits, but did you know filling your beds with compost that is still decomposing can slow plant growth?

That’s why it’s important to know when compost is finished, or in other words, when it has finished decomposing and is ready to work its magic in the garden.

What is Finished Compost?

Finished compost is organic materials that have completed the decomposition process.

Characteristics of Finished Compost

Compost has many telltale signs that it has finished decomposing. Look for the following characteristics before adding black gold to the garden.

  • Dark Brown in Color
  • Sweet & Earthy Smell
  • Moist
  • Crumbly
  • Spongy
  • Non Identifiable Compost Ingredients

Finished Compost Test

Not sure if the compost pile has turned into black gold yet? There are 2 methods, recommended by Organic Gardening, to tell if it has truly finished decomposing. Here’s how:

Sniff Test: Scoop a handful of compost into a Mason jar, make sure it’s moist, and put the lid on. Place the jar in the sun for 3 days and then open it and take a big whiff. If it smells like freshly tilled soil, the compost is ready. If it gives off a foul odor of any kind, it needs more time to decompose.

Germination Test: Mix equal parts compost and potting soil in a pot and plant a few radish seeds. Mix the same amount of potting soil in a separate pot and plant more radish seeds. If the pots germinate the seeds at the same pace, the compost is finished. If the pot with the compost germinates and grows the seeds at a slower rate, than the compost isn’t finished yet.

Finished compost can be added to the garden any time of year. If you have unfinished compost by the time fall rolls around, go ahead and add it to the garden so it will have plenty of time to finish decomposing before the growing season begins the following spring.

Additional Composting Articles

Reference: Organic Gardening (2007). Make Compost in 14 Days. Rodale Inc

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Types of Compost Bins

Did you know that there are many benefits to composting in a bin? If you want to take advantage of these benefits, there are different types of compost bins on the market to suit your needs, tastes and budget including wire cages, wooden bins or a combination of both, as well as commercial bins and tumblers. There are also a number of materials available to make your own.

Benefits of Compost Bins

Aesthetic Appeal: Bins keep compost ingredients out of view from you and your neighbors.

Odor Control: If you have a smelly compost, commercial bins or tumblers, which are fully enclosed, lock in odor.

Keep Animals Away: Most bins, whether they are enclosed or too high to jump, prevent animals from foraging through the compost.

Better Organization: Some bins come with movable shelves or as 3-bin systems. These allow you to keep slow and fast decomposing ingredients in separate areas while keeping finished compost in another.

Types of Compost Bins

Wire Cages: Organic Gardening recommends using 48 inch 12 ½ or 14 gauge wire fencing measuring 10 feet in length. When the piece of fencing is tied or welded together, the wire cage makes a 3 foot wide compost bin. You can also buy finished wire bins if you're not the DIY type.

Wooden Movable Slat Bins: These types of bins have movable slats that make working with compost easier. Each slat acts as a tray which holds compost in different stages of decomposition. The slats are built with spacers on their bottoms to allow air and water to penetrate the entire bin.

Wooden and Wire Combination Bins: Combination bins are 4-sided with wooden frames. Wire is used on the sides and a swinging door makes for easy access.

Commercial Bins: These types of bins are made from plastic, mostly recycled, and are designed to retain heat and capture moisture. They come in different sizes and shapes and come with or without movable slats. They also provide access for aerating and removing finished compost.

Compost Tumblers: Tumblers are typically made from plastic or metal and are designed to spin for easy aeration and mixing. Some come with handles for spinning while others are made to roll. They have hatches for adding ingredients and scooping out finished compost.

DIY Compost Bin Materials

You can always make your own 3 or 4-sided compost bin out of readily available materials. 3-sided bins allow for easy access while 4-sided bins have a swinging and latching door. No mortar is required for concrete blocks, bricks or stones.

  • Concrete Blocks
  • Bricks
  • Large Rocks/Stones
  • Fencing
  • Pallets
  • Large Branches

Buying Checklist

Ease of Portability: Some types of compost bins are bulky and heavy. If you need to be able to move your bin, keep ease of portability in mind and buy one that is lighter in weight.

Capacity: How big do you want or need your bin to be and how much finished compost do you want to be able make? Bins come in small, medium and large.

Ease of Use: Buy a bin that fits your needs and lifestyle. Think about the ease of opening and closing hatches, aerating, adding moisture and removing finished compost when looking at different types of bins. Will a wheelbarrow fit beneath that tumbler for easy compost removal and are you physically able to lift movable slats?

Cost: There are plenty of compost bins on the market to fit just about any budget. The internet is a great place to do your research and find a bin with everything on your checklist and in your budget.

Finding and buying a compost bin that is right for you is easy when you know what you are looking for. With a checklist of your needs and a type in mind, you’ll be well on your way towards finding the best bin for backyard composting.

Reference: Organic Gardening (2007). Make Compost in 14 Days. Rodale Inc

Monday, June 25, 2012

How to Make Cold Compost

Making your own compost is a great way to add vital nutrients to your garden organically. It’s pretty easy to do in your own backyard using the right ingredients and techniques.

The wonderful folks from Rodale, a publisher of many organic gardening books, summed up the 4 components you need to create compost pretty well so I’ll repeat it here: “Air + Water + Carbon + Nitrogen = Compost,” and guess what, it’s pretty easy to create in your own backyard.

Choose a Spot for Your Compost Pile

First, pick a spot for your compost pile. If you have lots of space this shouldn’t be a problem. I live in the woods so I have mine at the edge of the lawn where the tree line begins. It’s out of the way, but still in a convenient spot.

If you have limited space or neighbors in close proximity, pick a spot where your compost pile won’t bother you or your neighbors. For those with limited space, you may want to buy a tumbler or small compost bin to keep your neighbors happy. These look good in the yard and lock odor.

Working with the 4 Components: Air, Water, Carbon & Nitrogen


Your compost pile needs air circulating in and around it. To tell if your compost is getting enough air, look at its density. Are the ingredients fluffy or compacted? A fluffy pile is porous, meaning it has air circulating through it. A compacted pile does not. Do your compost pile a favor and turn its contents when you notice they’re starting to compact. I turn mine about once a month using a pitch fork.


Water is an essential part of composting. To help your compost pile breakdown at a steady pace, keep it damp. If its constantly sopping wet it will start to smell, slow air circulation and drop in temperature. A pile that’s too dry will breakdown slowly due to a lack of heat.


Microbes are responsible for breaking down a compost pile and carbon is responsible for feeding them. Feeding your compost carbon-rich ingredients provides microbes with much needed energy. Carbon is found in organic matter such as fallen leaves, straw and corn stalks.


Much like microbes need carbon, they also need nitrogen to feed on. Nitrogen is full of proteins which help microbes to grow and then breakdown compost. Nitrogen can be found in matter such as fresh grass clippings and leaves.

Creating your Compost Pile with Ingredients

I put together a list of good and bad compost ingredients that you can look over so you know what to put in your pile. When adding ingredients, it’s best to keep a 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio. This really isn’t as hard as it sounds. Organic Gardening suggests adding 1 part carbon-rich ingredients such as grass clippings to 2 parts nitrogen-rich ingredients such as dead leaves to get the right ratio.

This ratio helps your compost breakdown faster. If you don’t hit the ratio your pile will still breakdown, it’ll just take a little longer. The folks at Organic Gardening say that compost piles with too much nitrogen can start to smell and those with too much carbon take longer to decompose.

Carbon-rich ingredients are often called “brown” ingredients. This is because they’re dry ingredients as opposed to fresh. Brown garden debris, hedge prunings and twigs, leaves, pine needles and straw all contain carbon when brown or yellowed due to dryness.

Nitrogen-rich ingredients are called “green” ingredients. Green ingredients are still moist and fresher than those that are brown. These include aquarium water, algae and plants from fresh water tanks, chicken manure, dead houseplants, fresh grass clippings, green garden debris and horse manure.

Tending the Compost Pile

Compost is decomposed organic matter so you’ll want to add ingredients that breakdown. The faster they breakdown, the faster you’ll get compost. Toss your ingredients into your pile to get it started. Don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of ingredients at first, they can be added continuously over time.

Keep adding your ingredients as they become available, remembering to keep the carbon/nitrogen ratio in check. Once you have a good-sized pile, allow it to decompose and turn itself into compost. If need be, hose the pile down once in a while to keep it moist. Give the compost pile a good toss if starts to compact.

When enough of your compost pile has decomposed to spread in your garden, scoop out the dark, fine material leaving behind the ingredients that haven’t decomposed yet. At that time, start your new pile.

By mid summer I usually I have a second pile going. I add to this pile well into fall and during the winter. When spring rolls around and I have green ingredients once again, I begin adding those to my pile to balance out the brown ingredients and the cycle begins again.

Making your own compost is pretty easy. As long as the ingredients you add are decomposable and are free of toxins and other chemicals, you’re on the right track.

Reference: Organic Gardening (2007). Make Compost in 14 Days. Rodale Inc.

Friday, June 22, 2012

List of Good and Bad Compost Ingredients

What can and cannot go into a compost pile? This question is probably more common than you think and it’s one that I’ve thought about myself. Many gardeners stress about whether or not what they are adding to their compost piles is good, organic and or even safe.

To make things a little easier and less stressful, I consulted Rodale’s “Make Compost in 14 Days” guide and put together a list of compost ingredients that are good, bad and okay in moderation. I wanted to consult the pros and provide you with an excellent and trustworthy reference to ease any composting fears you may have.

Why do Compost Ingredients Matter?

A healthy compost pile has lots of scraps that contain nitrogen and/or carbon. Both of these compounds help the pile breakdown creating nutrient rich compost. 

Examples of Carbon Rich Ingredients

Microbes, those tiny guys that breakdown compost ingredients, feed on carbon. Carbon provides them with energy to do their work.Carbon rich ingredients are “brown” ingredients. This includes organic matter that is dry and brown or yellow in color.

  • Dead Leaves
  • Straw
  • Dead Flowers
  • Corn Stalks
  • Brown Garden Debris
  • Hedge Prunings
  • Twigs
  • Pine Needles
  • Straw

Examples of Nitrogen Rich Ingredients

Nitrogen rich ingredients are important because they provide microbes with protein. Protein helps them to bulk up and get the job done. Nitrogen rich ingredients are “green” ingredients. These include organic matter that is moist.

  • Green Leaves
  • Fresh Grass Clippings
  • Plant-Based Kitchen Scraps
  • Chicken/Horse Manure
  • Aquarium Water/Algae/Plants (fresh water only)
  • Dead House Plants
  • Green Garden Debris

Good Compost Ingredients

Anything that goes into your compost pile should be biodegradable, meaning it needs to be able to breakdown naturally. This includes most plant materials and lots of kitchen and yard scraps. Before tossing ingredients into your compost pile make sure they are free of chemicals, diseases and toxins.

  • Plant Materials (disease, toxin & chemical free) *
  • Kitchen Scraps (no meat or dairy products - this includes bones)
  • Leaves
  • Twigs
  • Grass Clippings
  • Pine Needles
  • Straw
  • Garden Debris
  • Fresh Water Aquarium Water/Algae/Plants
* Any diseased materials or those containing toxins and chemicals must be kept out of the compost. Disease and other toxins can leach into your compost making for an unhealthy garden and inedible fruits and vegetables.

FYI - Did you know that rhubarb leaves are poisonous? Keep these out of the compost but go ahead and add the stalks and peelings.

Bad Compost Ingredients

If you don’t know whether something is biodegradable or chemical and toxin free, don’t add it to your compost. Why take the chance? Also, if any of your yard scraps, i.e. weeds have gone to seed, meaning their seeds have developed, keep those out of your compost as well. Most weed seeds will have no problem establishing themselves in the garden once the compost has been applied.

  • Diseased Plants/Garden Debris
  • Domestic Animal/Reptile Manure (this includes pig manure) *
  • Paper (anything glossy or printed with color)
  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Dairy Products
  • Black Walnut Leaves/Bark/Chips (naturally contains a chemical called juglone which slows or stops plant growth)
  • Gypsum Board Scraps (may contain toxins or paints)
  • Plant Materials not from Your Yard (only put materials from your yard into your compost to ensure they don’t contain any chemicals or toxins)
* Horse and chicken manure are safe to add to your compost. These are great organic ways to add nitrogen. Other types of manure can contain parasites or harmful pathogens that can make you sick. STAY AWAY from these.

Okay Compost Ingredients

The list of “okay” compost ingredients should only be added to the compost pile in moderation or in certain ways. Most of these ingredients breakdown very slowly and some may even contain elements that aren’t biodegradable. Though these items can be added infrequently in small amounts, you can forgo them all together if it makes you more comfortable.

  • Cardboard: Shred or chop it up first to help it breakdown faster.
  • Black & White Newspaper: Shred it first.
  • Dryer Lint: Can contain non-biodegradable fibers.
  • Human/Pet Hair: Takes a long time to decompose, doesn’t hold water and mats.
  • Sawdust: Must be untreated. Can hog nitrogen.
  • Vacuum Bags: Can contain non-biodegradable fibers and other items.
  • Wood Ash: High in alkalinity. Remember, not all plants grow well in alkaline soil.          
For the best results, your compost pile should have a 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio. This helps the pile breakdown at a steady pace without emitting a funky odor. Compost piles with too much nitrogen start to stink and piles with too little carbon take longer to decompose.

The folks at Organic Gardening suggest adding 1 part nitrogen rich ingredients such as grass clippings to 2 parts carbon rich ingredients such as dead leaves to keep your compost pile decomposing at the right pace.

Reference: Organic Gardening (2007). Make Compost in 14 Days. Rodale Inc.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

6 Benefits of Backyard Composting

Attention all organic gardeners; are you composting? If you answered no, you should be. Backyard composting has many benefits that fit naturally into organic gardening. It’s easy to get started and unless you buy a compost bin, it won’t cost you a penny. The big plus is you’ll be cutting down on decomposable household waste and feeding your garden with organic ingredients.

Slow-Release Plant Food

Compost slowly releases its nutrients over time. This benefits your organic garden because it gets fed all season long without the need for chemicals. In early spring and late fall when the soil is cool, compost releases nutrients at slow rates. As soil temperatures warm, the release of nutrients speeds up when plants need them the most to produce flowers and fruit.

Over time, nutrients build up in the soil making it healthier and better able to retain the nutrients left behind from compost. Healthy soil needs less amending, i.e. less and less compost season to season.

Better Soil Aeration

Soil that doesn’t get enough air circulating through it becomes compacted. Compacted soil prevents water from soaking through which leads to pour seed germination and brittle, dry plants. Adding compost helps prevent this problem by allowing air to circulate and water to penetrate.

Fewer Plant Diseases

Did you know a touch of compost helps to prevent and control plant disease? Well, it does. According to a handful of studies referenced in Organic Gardening’s Make Compost in 14 Days, compost helps to prevent certain kinds of plant rot, turf diseases and mildew.

Drought Protection

Soil that contains compost has an easier time retaining moisture. Soil granules form in compost rich soil. These granules sop up water and hold on it. Furthermore, once compost has completely broken down it turns into humus. Humus rich soil is incredibly moist meaning you’ll spend less time watering the garden.

Put an End to Erosion

Loose and compost free soil has a hard time retaining water; when heavy rains and strong winds hit, they tend to wash it away. Mixing compost into the soil will help it retain moisture and grow strong plants preventing erosion. Humus rich soil is even better at preventing erosion.

Benefits the Environment

Composting benefits the environment in many ways. First, it cuts down on the amount of biodegradable kitchen and yard waste that takes up room in landfills. It also returns nutrients to the earth, naturally benefiting the environment around it. Using compost eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers as well.

Besides feeding my garden and being good for the environment, saving money is one of my favorite benefits of composting. Composting doesn’t cost a thing unless you invest in a composting bin. All the compost ingredients are found in and around the home and using compost in the garden eliminates the need to spend money on chemical laden fertilizers.

Additional Composting Articles

Reference: Organic Gardening (2007). Make Compost in 14 Days. Rodale Inc.

Friday, June 15, 2012

How to Control Slugs Organically

Image: born1945, Flickr
I don’t know about your vegetable garden, but mine has already begun attracting slugs and its still early June. Slugs are common garden pests here in Maine and in other parts of the country. They slither their way in during the dead of night and chew through the leaves of our plants. So what are we as organic gardeners to do?

We take a stand and make our own slug traps; organically. Learning to make your own slug traps is pretty easy, takes a matter of minutes and most supplies are already around the home. Here’s what you need and what to do.

Slug Trap Supplies

Empty Containers - Tuna or cat food cans will do
Beer - Beer can be leftover and warm from the night before or from a newly opened bottle or can

How to Make Your Own Slug Traps

1. Clean your empty containers and place them around the garden where you’ve noticed slugs or the destruction they’ve left behind

2. Fill the containers halfway with beer

Beer attracts slugs; don't ask me why but it does. Filling your traps no more than half way with beer prevents the slugs from slithering back out. Once in the traps, they drown. 

Once you’ve set your traps, check on them a day or two later; I bet you’ll be amazed at how many slugs you’ve attracted. Make sure to check on your traps at least a few times a week, empty their contents and refill with beer.

This is how I control slugs in my vegetable garden every year. I place my traps in the shade from my plants to help keep them from getting moldy. They usually need to be emptied and refilled a few times a week until the slug population gets under control.

Related Articles
Guide to Identifying and Controlling Aphids Organically 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is Organic Vegetable Gardening for You?

What does it take to be an organic vegetable gardener? For starters, it takes planning, sweat and work, but, if you have a passion for gardening and growing and eating your own organic vegetables, the work really isn’t that bad.

For me, knowing where my vegetables came from, how they were grown and having the peace of mind that I won’t be ingesting any chemicals or pesticides makes enjoying the fruits of my labor well worth it.

I don’t want to discourage you from organic vegetable gardening, but it does take some work; how much depends on your commitment and the size of your garden. Most of the work takes place during planting and mulching. From then on the work gets much lighter leaving time to enjoy the summer.

After your seedlings have been transplanted, your seeds sown and a fine layer of mulch added, the majority of the work is over; it’s basically up to your garden to do the rest of the work. Sure you’ll have to pull a few weeds here and there; they are stubborn after all and some will pop up through the mulch, but they are much easier to pull from beneath a layer of mulch than bare ground.

You’ll also have to combat garden pests, but with the right know-how, doing this organically, without any pesticides, really isn’t that complicated. In the end, you’ll have the satisfaction of providing healthy, organic vegetables for your family - I know I do.

How to Grow Vegetables Organically

Seeds: There are lots of seed companies that sell organic vegetables seeds. They haven’t been coated or treated with any chemicals which makes them organic. They’re a bit more expensive and choosing to go this route is up to you. You can still garden organically without using organic vegetable seeds.

Fertilizer: Fertilize your garden with organic fertilizers. These can be bought at garden centers and nurseries. I use compost and year-old manure and it works wonders.

Mulch: Use organic mulch such as grass clippings, leaves, straw or hay etc. Mulching keeps the soil warm and moist and blocks weeds from growing. It takes some work to completely mulch a large vegetable garden but it is worth it when you spend minutes as opposed to hours weeding every week.

Pest Control: No chemicals or pesticides needed. Hand pick pests, use organic traps and plant insect repelling herbs and other plants in the garden.

The whole point of organic gardening is to eliminate the use of chemicals and pesticides. You can grow a productive and healthy garden without them, trust me, I’ve been doing it for years. My advice is to read about different techniques and tips and give them a try. Figure out what works for you, what doesn’t and what fits into your lifestyle.

Do you have any organic vegetable gardening tips to pass along?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Garden Cleanup after a Heavy Rain

“Rain, rain go away, come back another day.” Wow did we get some heavy rain here in Maine over the weekend. In fact, as I write this, it’s still raining outside. So, what can you do besides wait out the storm and hope your garden hasn’t been ruined?

Well, before getting discouraged, put on your big girl galoshes and head outside to check things out. Your transplants and seedlings are tougher than you think and forgoing a torrent of water streaming through your garden, I bet it held up better than you think. Take the following steps to cleanup your garden after a heavy rain.

Steps for Cleaning Up the Garden after a Heavy Rain

Access the Situation

Now that the rain has stopped, it’s time to access the situation and see exactly what you are dealing with. Look for toppled plants and fallen garden structures as well as any areas of the garden that have been flooded. Has the water drained? Are there washouts?

Fix Drainage Issues

If part of your garden is under water, you have a drainage issue and you need to get rid of the water as fast as you can to prevent further damage. Seeds and plants that are drowning in water are susceptible to rot.

First, decide on the best place for the water to drain. Next, use a garden hoe or shovel to create a small trench allowing the water to flow out of the garden. Be weary of draining the water near your foundation or into your neighbor’s yard.

Fix Washouts

Washouts happen when loose soil is swept away after a heavy rain. These are less likely to happen once your plants have become established and even less likely to happen if you’ve applied mulch in the garden. Though mulch helps prevent washouts, a harsh rainstorm can wash away some of your mulch, so that may need fixing.

Rebuild any mounds that have been damaged. Keeping your mounds built up helps to protect the roots of your plants which is important, especially while they are still developing. Add more soil or mulch in areas that need it and take preventative measures to protect your garden in the future by mulching around mounds and rows that were washed out.

Check for Damaged Plants

Check your plants, especially young seedlings. Look for leaning or bent stalks and push the soil up around any that need a little extra support. Tape any cracks or splits and pull the plants that have been damage beyond repair. As I write this in early June, it’s still early enough to replace plants with seedlings as well as some seeds.


What needs to be cleaned up around the garden? Rake away any mulch or soil that washed away and pick up other debris leftover from the heavy rain. Make sure the areas where you planted seeds that haven’t germinated yet aren’t buried beneath a layer of light and rain blocking debris.

Cleaning up and making repairs around the garden after a heavy rainstorm is sometimes needed. If your garden was hit hard and the cleanup is getting overwhelming, break it into steps. Always access the situation and start by making the most needed repairs first.

Was your garden affected by this weekend’s heavy rain?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

3 Steps to Protect the Garden from Heavy Rain

Dealing with heavy rain is something every gardener has to deal with from time to time. When you know sopping wet weather is on its way, there are 3 steps you can take to protect your favorite veggies and prized flowers from a downpour.

Cover Your Plants

That’s right, cover them up. You don’t have to go crazy and cover every plant in your garden, only the delicate or finicky ones. Garden centers and online stores sell plant cloches and covers.

Cloches are glass or plastic domes that fit over your plants. They come in different sizes to accommodate your needs and allow light to penetrate the glass. Other types of plant covers are made from plastic, resembling trash bags, and slip over the tops of plants. Most plant coverings are reusable.

To save some money, make your own plant covers out of empty gallon-sized milk or water jugs. Simply cut the tops off the jugs and slip them over your plants. No matter which types of covers you use, remember to remove them when the heavy rain has passed.

Create a Barrier

If your garden is positioned on a lower level than the rest of your yard, this can cause 2 problems: standing water and washouts after a heavy rain. When water has no where to drain, it can wreak havoc in your garden before the ground has time to absorb it.

Standing water can cause root rot and a washout can wipe out everything in its path. To stop this from happening you have 2 options before planting your garden. 1 - move your garden to a higher elevation or 2 - put in some raised beds.

If you don’t have the time, money or space for the first 2 options or you’ve already planted your garden, set up a barrier to prevent flooding. These can be permanent or temporary, whatever works for you and fits into your landscape.

A handful of garden stakes and a few square bales of hay make for an easy to assemble barrier in a jiff. Simply pound 1 stake through each bale of hay at both ends to secure the bale to the ground. Make sure to stake the bales far enough away from your garden to stop water from entering but not so far away that water has time to curve around the bales and into the garden.

Stake, Support & Tie

It’s not unusual for strong winds to accompany a heavy rain. If you know rain is on its way make sure you’ve secured your plants and trellises. If need be, secure your supports with extra stakes and ties. Place cages around delicate or weak plants and add extra soil around the base of plant stems. This will give plant roots a boost of support.

A little rain is normally a good thing for a garden but when it comes down in droves, the aftermath isn’t always pretty. Protect your plants before the storm hits so you’ll have less cleaning up to do when the clouds part and the sun reemerges. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

6 Time-Saving Gardening Tips

We don’t always have as much time to spend in the garden as we would like. If you’re busy with work, school or kids, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow a fabulous garden and enjoy spending what little time you have in it. With a few time-saving gardening tips, you’ll be able to grow those organic vegetables you love without it feeling like a part-time job.

Tip # 1: Grow what You Eat

Only grow what you eat; that’s it. Why spend the time planting and caring for a bunch a vegetables you and you’re family aren’t that crazy about? Only grow the vegetables you like and the one’s you find yourself spending the most on at the grocery store.

Also, you don’t have to grow an acre of crops or plant the entire seed packet. Think about how much time you have to spend in the garden and plant accordingly.

Tip # 2: Plant Seedlings

Using seedlings instead of directly sowing seeds in the garden is a great time-saving tip. You can purchase as many or as little seedlings as you wish from your local plant nursery. Using seedlings cuts the amount of time spent planting your garden in half. Remember, not all vegetables transplant well, so, depending on what you want to plant, you may have to sow some seeds as well.

Tip # 3: Containers

Plant what you can in containers lining the deck or stairway. Maintaining a handful of containers - watering, weeding, feeding - takes up much less time than maintaining a garden plot. You may have to downscale but container gardening fits well into the lifestyle of a gardener with limited time.

Tip # 4: Mulch!

I can’t stress how much of a time-saver mulching is. Mulch helps control weeds organically and we all know how much time it takes to pull weeds, especially in a garden that hasn’t been tended to in a week. Mulch also helps retain moisture in the ground which means less time spent watering.

Tip # 5: High Yielding Varieties

Why not get more bang for your buck? When buying seeds or seedlings, look for varieties that are “prolific growers” or “high yielding.” These phrases mean that the variety produces an abundant amount of vegetables compared to other varieties.

Tip # 6: Seed Tapes

Seed tapes are great for planting tiny seeds. I use them every year to plant my radishes and carrots. Simply follow the spacing requirements on the back of the seed packet, stick your seeds to the tape, place in the garden and sprinkle with soil. You can make your own seed tapes or buy them already made. 

I find it easier to make small gardening goals for myself throughout the week, especially those weeks where the time I have to spend in the garden is limited. Setting these goals helps me to get more accomplished. For instance, on Monday I’ll pull the weeds that snuck through my mulch. Wednesday I’ll re-stake any plants that need it etc. Breaking down the work that needs to be done into small goals makes the work doable and less overwhelming.

Do you have any time-saving gardening tips to share?