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Lazy Gardening 101: 8 Tips to Grow Your Own Food with The Least Amount of Effort

Lazy gardening through permaculture is a way to grow your own fresh, organic food without spending so much time in the garden! Nicky Schauder shares 8 practical tips to grow your own food, even in an urban environment (read more on container gardening and really maximizing your space!). 

8 gardening hacks

Let’s face it. You have hardly enough time to cook dinner let alone actually grow the fresh and organic food you want to make for your family. But maybe, just maybe, there was a way you could get something fresh from your yard without a lot of work.

In fact, how about the least effort possible? I’m going to smash the myth that gardening takes hours out of your day and teaches you all about lazy gardening.

Have you decided that it’s time to take the reigns back from the food industry and feed your family wholesome, fresh foods that you grew yourself? It’s a fantastic way to save money on groceries, but did you know it also reduces stress and increases mental clarity, improves flexibility/dexterity, and can also be a great way to connect with your family? (source 1, 2)

Basic gardening advice, however, will probably set you up for failure!

Weeds can easily take over (especially when you go on vacation or have a busy week) making it a lot less fun to spend time out there and the cost of buying common gardening tools and fertilizers can become cost-prohibitive. So many people give up the idea before they even get started.

The real problem is that you simply don’t know how easy (and cheap!) gardening can be!

8 Easy Tips for Lazy Gardening

I know these tips by heart because I AM a lazy gardener and permaculture designer.

My favorite principle of permaculture is: “Minimum input for maximum gain” or “less work for more food!”

Basket of kale

Throughout history, we humans have devised better and easier ways of getting our work done. Drive-thru banks save us the hassle of getting our kids out of the car, washing machines save us both time and effort, and online shopping can give us extra hours to spend with our family.

We all live busy lives, so let’s take a look at my favorite easy gardening hacks to help you grow food without the added stress of trying to find the time to do it.

1. No-till Gardening Will Save Your Soil

Tilling actually kills the soil life that is so crucial in maintaining a productive and healthy ecosystem. Repeat after me, “The soil is like my gut.” You would never dream of exposing your gut to the elements if you didn’t need to. And yet, we do just that, every time we till the soil.

There are billions of microbes in the underground soil that support the life above and send necessary minerals to your plants. While tilling the soil might initially bring a surge of oxygen to your garden, when done every year, tilling kills off essential fungal networks and beneficial life forms that we are only beginning to discover now.

Since healthy soil is the most important aspect of your garden you need to stop tilling it! The added bonus is that you can save money by not buying a tiller, don’t have to store it in the garage/barn to use only once a year, and won’t need to wrestle it around trying to break up the weeds.

So, how do I deal with weeds and get my soil ready to plant?

2. Lasagna Gardening Will Create Rich Soil with Little Effort.

This method of gardening consists of layering different types of organic material to mimic the different horizons of the soil.

  1. Base layer – The first thing I always put on top of the existing soil is my weed barrier (often using one of my many flattened Amazon boxes). Just lay cardboard, or multiple layers of newspaper, on top of the grass or wherever it is you will soon be calling your “garden bed.”
  2. Second layer – Here is where you’ll place a layer of sand or rock debris.
  3. Middle layer – This layer always contains some form of compost like manure (NOT from your dog or cat, but properly aged manure) or composted kitchen scraps.
  4. Fourth layer – Cover the manure or compost layer with grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds.
  5. Top layer – Time to cover the compost so that the flies don’t get to it! Straw mulch or natural wood chips make a great cover.

Once all of the layers of your lasagna garden are in place, weeding is almost non-existant and your plants will be well fertilized without any more effort!

lasagna garden layers

3. Plant as Many Perennials as You Can!

Most vegetables most of us like to eat tend to be annuals, which need to be planted every year, but growing perennials can save you time every spring since they’ll come back with no effort from you.

My favorite perennials to plant:

  • Asparagus
  • Lovage
  • Rhubarb
  • Artichokes
  • Kale

Berries are also perennials, so adding a strawberry patch and a few blueberry bushes make a great addition to your garden. If you have space, think about growing fruit trees!

Once you plant these, you won’t need to replant them every year.

4. Regrow the Food in Your Pantry Instead of Throwing it Away!

If you peek in your pantry and find these following food staples to have sprouted, do not throw them out.

  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • onions

Put them in a pot or in the ground (season permitting) and keep them growing! Instead of wasting money on food you didn’t eat you’ll multiply it. Free food for the win.

I also like to “plant my pantry” by sprouting some of the seeds I often have on hand (or the veggie seeds I would normally throw away). You can do this easily with sprouting lids on your quart size mason jars.

  • quinoa seeds
  • chia seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • tomato seeds
  • seeds from pumpkins or squash
Lazy Gardening tips

I toss these sprouts into my stir-fries, salads, and casseroles. Delicious and nutritious! Not only is this lazy gardening but cheap gardening as well!

RELATED: How to Sprout Legumes and Grains (for cooking or salads)

5. Use What You Have to Fertilize the Garden

Kitchen scraps make the best fertilizers! No more tossing your fruit and veggie waste. Instant fertilizers you can easily find are:

  • crushed eggshells
  • banana peels
  • shredded paper 
  • nitrogen-rich water from the fish tank
  • coffee grounds (my all-time favorite!)

Since our coffee machine broke, I stop at the local coffee shop and I ask the barista for the grounds that he would have otherwise had to throw into the dumpster. His life is easier, my soil is richer. Win-win!

tomatoes and peppers

RELATED: 8 Things I Plant with my Tomatoes

6. Minimize (or Better Yet Eliminate) Lawns

What do you currently use your lawn for? If the answer is: for the kids (and pets) to run around in, that’s great! Let’s reconsider how much running around space might be put to productive use. Just imagine all those hours of mowing… Gone!

Gardening author and permaculture proponent Toby Hemenway calls lawn-mowing “crazy.” Why? In a typical lawn, we nurture the plant (in this case, grass) and yet we hold its full-potential growth back intentionally. As soon as grass grows, we mow it down!

Instead of grass, that does nothing to feed us, get a few more lasagna garden beds planted!

Even if you don’t have a lot of yard space you can learn how to grow up to $700 worth of food in a simple 10×10 plot! Nicky offers FREE webinars and online courses that teach you how to grow an organic garden!

7. Mulch with Fallen Leaves (and Your Neighbor’s Too!)

Fallen leaves make excellent mulch for any garden. They biodegrade over the winter and infuse your soil with rich carbon and minerals.

My neighbors never have to rake their leaves because my kids rake them into our yard. Win-Win!

Kid raking leaves
8. Easy Water Irrigation

Let the garden water itself (even in times of drought)!

This gardening hack comes in handy during dry spells and especially when you leave for vacation (or simply have an extra busy week). As an added bonus it’s great for overall water conservation.

Here are three ways I let the garden water itself:

Rain barrels

I live in a 1600 sq. ft. townhouse and whenever it rains just one inch we can capture up to 996.8 gallons of water from our roof! To do this, we simply divert some of the rainwater down the spout and into our rain barrel. It’s great for water conservation but also saves money if you have to pay a monthly water bill.

Want to know how much rain is captured on your roof? Check out this rainwater harvesting calculator?

Drip-irrigation for no-fuss watering

If you plan to use drip-irrigation:

  • Put the drip hose down before you plant! (this makes it so much easier than digging up your beds again)
  • Do not scrimp on the drip hoses, the cheap ones burst quite often.
  • Consider connecting it to your rain-barrel and you’ll have a super-easy way to water with practically no effort from you once it’s set up!

Dig an irrigation channel

You can dig a shallow trench in the ground that leads into your garden bed to bring water where it’s needed all while reducing erosion. In permaculture, we call these “swales” and they are not as complicated as they sound.

I dug a mini-swale from the downspout on my roof to my front lawn in 4 days. But I never have to worry about my strawberries or lettuces having enough water now! Now that’s what I call pretty lazy.

Want to Dig into Gardening?

organic gardening

I want you to imagine increasing your harvest with proven techniques that won’t consume your time.

I also want you to imagine decreasing disease and pests with time-honored crop rotation and companion planting.

Check out my dear friend Melissa’s Organic Gardening Workshop. ​​Melissa is a 5th generation homesteader with 20 years of experience growing her own food. In fact, she raises more than half of her family’s fruits and vegetables with a day job and on only a half-acre. 

She has got an amazing special going on to help you learn:

  • how to naturally build healthy and organic soil at home with composting and/or cover crops
  • vertical gardening to grow MORE in the same amount of space
  • natural pest and disease treatment options that WORK
  • how to easily work permaculture techniques into your property to take advantage of nature’s design for your food
  • how to use cold frames in the spring and fall to increase your ability to grow food longer & extend your growing season (if not all year long)
  • easy seed starting with vigorous seedlings that not only sprout but thrive when you plant them outdoors
  • how to evaluate YOUR property and growing space to its best advantage so you don’t waste precious time, resources, and energy having to replant or move beds

Sign up TODAY for this awesome program.

Ready to get your hands dirty? Here are some more Gardening Posts from KS: 

I hope these tips have given you inspiration for planting your own “lazy garden!” Fresh wholesome food will soon be waiting for you to pick it, right in your backyard.
Nicky & Dave ProfileNicky Schauder and husband Dave run Permaculture Gardens, a website dedicated to helping urban and suburban families grow their own food.

They live on 1/27th of an acre in the suburbs of DC with their 4 children, fish, red wriggler worms and mason bees.

With help from school staff, friends and a grant from The Whole Kids Foundation, they installed a permaculture garden in their kids’ Title 1 Public School, where they also run an after-school garden program.

Every month, they teach lazy gardening through their “Grow Your Own Food” webinars, you can Sign-up and learn how to “Grow Your Own Food!”

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

13 thoughts on “Lazy Gardening 101: 8 Tips to Grow Your Own Food with The Least Amount of Effort”

  1. Nicky Schauder

    Hi Amanda!
    My email is [email protected] and we actually have an upcoming webinar called, “Growing Food in Small Spaces” https://bit.ly/GrowSmallSpaces to register. Hope to reconnect with you and so happy that you are growing!

  2. Nicky Schauder

    Hi there! This is Nicky (author of this post) and I love seeing all your comments. Thanks for reading and now, I will try to answer them one by one:

    JOANNA:
    My question is, how do you allow the perennials to grow through the cardboard?!

    NICKY:
    The cardboard is actually used to stifle the growth of any perennials beneath it. If you have perennials, you would still like to keep, we suggest finding another dedicated spot in which to lasagna garden or poking a hole for them through the cardboard. Thanks for your comment Joanna!

    STEPHANIE:
    My question is, what’s the best timing for laying it down? Falling leaves make me think lasagna should be laid in Fall. Seeing as it’s already February… what can I do now to have a garden this year?

    NICKY:
    Great questions! Honestly, any time of year is good. If you can, I would suggest waiting 2 weeks for stuff to break down before planting. Alternatively, you could literally poke a hole through the cardboard also start planting right away but with seedlings and not direct sowing anything yet. As to your last question, we just had a webinar on that literally 2 hours ago… And if you send me an email, I’ll send you the replay of it.

    1. What is your email? I would also be interested in this webinar! I always feel like o get the gardening bug too late in the year to do anything about it…

        1. Nicky Schauder

          Oops! I commented above! Yes, that is my email! Thank you so much, Carolyn! Our next webinar (Growing Food in Small Spaces https://bit.ly/GrowSmallSpaces) is on April 29, and we’d love to have you join!

  3. This does sound amazing. I have spent hours weeding! My question is, how do you allow the perennials to grow through the cardboard?!

  4. Lasagna gardening sounds AWESOME… and thanks for giving a proper order (because I’ve tried it before but clearly failed!). My question is, what’s the best timing for laying it down? Falling leaves make me think lasagna should be laid in Fall. Seeing as it’s already February… what can I do now to have a garden this year?

    1. Ideally, stephanie, fall is the best time to start lasagna gardening. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work at other times! You are ultimately going to have to spend some $ on topsoil and such. I have found that doing a combo lasagna and raised bed garden costs me no more than had I done a ’tilled’ garden and enriched the soil. I would suggesst if you are starting this in the spring that you use newspaper rather than cardboard for your weed suppression. Cardboard takes longer to break down obviously. And don’t forget, only black/white print, not color, and definitely not glossy adverts. Hope that helps.

  5. If you want the Lazy Garden, check this out. The easiest way to garden. Soil Free, Sweat Free, Weed Free, 90% Less water, Garden year around, Garden inside or out, Time and Money Saver. Let me know if you wish to learn more.

    http://janicecude.towergarden.com/

  6. Love this! This is a goal for this year, start my very first garden! I’m headed over to your website now! 🙂

    1. Woohoo! That’s a big an very do-able goal! So glad we connected via Kitchen Stewarship and can’t wait to meet you live this coming Thursday!

  7. Please be careful planting store-bought produce in your garden. It can have pathogens, such as white rot, which will make it impossible or nearly so to grow that produce again.

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